The Korean If fir

In early 1943 the US Naval Research Eaboratory became interested in the possibility of fabricating a lightweight body armour for use by Marine ground troops and exposed shipboard personnel. At the same time the Military Planning Division, Office of the Quartermaster General, was investigating the feasibility of non-metallic ballistic materials for body armour and helmets, both to reduce the overall weight of the items and because of the critical shortage of metals. In May 1943 the Dow Chemical Company succeeded in developing a promising material consisting of layers of glass

The crew of an M43 8in. GMC pose by their vehicle, which is sheltered in an 'elephant hide' near the 'Punchbowl', 3 July 1953. All the crew members are wearing \11 i vests; the corporal on the left has his vest back to front. With the adoption of the M-1952 vest the earlier M12 models were issued to support troops, such as artillerymen, and to other contingents of the United Nations forces in Korea. (US Army)

filaments bonded together with an ethyl cellulose resin under high pressure. 1'he glassfibre laminate was named 'Doron' after Col. (later Brig. Gen.) Georges F. Doriot, then director of the Military Planning Division.

Because of the bi-service interest in the possibilities of Doron, a Joint Army-Navy Plastic Armor Technical Committee was established, headed by Col. Doriot and Rear Admiral Alexander H. Van Kueren. F urther research demonstrated that ethyl cellulose did not give adequate ballistic performance at extreme temperatures. Accordingly, a new resin to bond the glass cloth was developed (methacrylate) which gave superior performance over a wider temperature range. This improved material was referred to as Doron Type 2. Ballistic research indicated that a ,'6in. plate of 8-ply Doron Type 2 was just sufficient to stop a 45cal., 230-grain bullet fired from the standard service automatic pistol at a velocity of 800 feet/second. On the basis of these tests it was decided to use *in., 15-ply Doron Type 2 for service use. This thickness ensured a safety factor of two over that required to defeat a •45cal. bullet, and this number of plies gave maximum body coverage compatible with comfort and mobility.

At this stage the Army Ordnance Department decided that, as a ballistic material for body armour, nylon-aluminium combinations were superior to Doron, and its development programme culminated in the production of the Armor, Vest, M12. The Navy continued to favour Doron, however, which seemed highly suitable for shipboard personnel and amphibious troops, not only because of its ballistic properties in resisting shell fragments but also because of its low weight in water as compared to metallic armour.

During further studies into the mechanics of body armour conducted under the auspices of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery by Lt.Cdrs. Andrew P. Webster, USNR, and Edward L. Corey, USNR, several important factors emerged. The detrusion factor was particularly significant. Detrusion or 'dishing' refers to the depth and area to which the armour is deformed under missile impact. If the 'dish' or identation is deep, severe injury or even death may result, even though the projectile does not penetrate the armour. This factor is now called 'blunt impact trauma' and is a fundamental

Heavy Military Body ArmorChinese Burp Gun

A Marine holds the M-1951 armoured vest that saved his life when a Chinese 'burp gun' (PPSI141) was fired at him from a distance of 20 feet. His only injury is the heavy bruise on his right side, which illustrates the effect of 'blunt trauma'.

A Marine holds the M-1951 armoured vest that saved his life when a Chinese 'burp gun' (PPSI141) was fired at him from a distance of 20 feet. His only injury is the heavy bruise on his right side, which illustrates the effect of 'blunt trauma'.

consideration in the design of any 'soft' body armour. Also, the importance of incorporating large plates in the body armour became clear. By the law of the conservation of momentum, the object which a missile strikes will acquire a velocity inversely proportional to its mass. Experiments showed that small 2in.-square plates tended to be driven into the body, whereas large plates, because of their greater mass, resisted a projectile with reduced acquired velocity, and also had less tendency to deflect, which might allow a missile to ricochet past.

In order to ascertain whether an inner padding was necessary between the armour and the body to alleviate detrusion, experiments were performed by firing a 45cal. automatic pistol from 15 feet using the human hand as the test object. Lt.Cdr. Alexander Webster recounts:

Armor Body 1952

A Marine rifleman in Korea adopts a firing position on the battleline wearing an M-r1 vest and 'lower torso armor', which was designed to protect the abdomen and those 'assets' so precious to all soldiers. It was nicknamed the 'diaper' by Marines, and was used in limited numbers in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. (USMC)

A Marine rifleman in Korea adopts a firing position on the battleline wearing an M-r1 vest and 'lower torso armor', which was designed to protect the abdomen and those 'assets' so precious to all soldiers. It was nicknamed the 'diaper' by Marines, and was used in limited numbers in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. (USMC)

'Dr Corey, with a great deal of physical courage, volunteered to be the subject of this test. The strain of this first test is understood when one considers that we did not know whether his arm would be torn off by the blow from the bullet or whether I would even hit the armor on his hand. The shots proceeded as follows. When Doron was backed with iin. sponge rubber or a heavy layer of kapok, the impact of the bullet on the hand resulted in no discomfort, and even with a few thicknesses of duck cloth no injury resulted. The bullets were literally picked out of the air and caught as if catching marbles flipped at the hand. When the backing was reduced to a single thickness of duck cloth, severe bruising resulted, with hematoma, pain and edema, but without fracture. Deep sensation did not return in the hand for a period of about six weeks. It was concluded from these experiments that since our problem of armouring ground troops and shipboard personnel was one involving maximum protection and comfort for minimum weight, no backing should be used.'

By now a sufficiently detailed concept of the requirements of a practical body armour had been achieved to address the problems of fundamental design ofa garment which would be light in weight, comfortable, and capable of being worn aboard ship or with the equipment of combat troops. The final design involved the simple expedient of placing the Doron plates in sheathlike pockets sewn ' to the inside of the standard issue Marine Corps utility jacket and to the outside of the standard Navy kapok life jacket. Both types were demonstrated before representatives of various agencies. During the demonstrations Lt.Cdr. Corey | wore both jackets, and was shot in the side with a •45cal. automatic pistol fired by Lt.Cdr. Webster. The demonstration was repeated 21 times with no serious injury. As a result, the Marine Corps ordered 1,000 jackets to equip a full battalion of landing troops, and they were issued to 2nd Marine Division of III Amphibious Corps in time for the Okinawa invasion of April 1945. As it happened, the division remained in reserve and only a few of the armoured utility jackets were used in the final phase of fighting.

Experiments were resumed after the Second World War at the Naval Medical Field Research Laboratory at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, where a simple, slipover type of vest incorporating curved Doron plates was in the process of development under the direction of Lt.Cdr. Frederick C. Lewis, (MSC), USN. At the same time the Biophysics Division of the Chemical Corps

Soldiers of 443rd QM Group model three types of flak jackets used in Korea: (left) the Flyer's, Vest, M6; (right) the second-pattern Marine M-1951 with right-over-left snap-fastener fly covering the zipper; and (centre) the US Army nylon T-52-3 vest which was standardised in October 1952 as Armor, Vest, M-1952. It features a fly front, dash-type pockets with grenade loops above, and bandolier retaining straps at the shoulders. (US Army)

M1952 Vest Loops Military Body Armour

Medical Laboratories was undertaking basic research in the fields of wound ballistics and body-armour, using materials including nylon, Doron, steel and aluminium in various combinations to ascertain the relative protection they afforded animal tissue against various types of missiles.

With the outbreak of war in Korea in June 1950 the Biophysics Division despatched a wound ballistics team to the Far East Command. On its return to the United States, the team reported in May 1951. Among its findings were that approximately 92 per cent of wounds were caused by fragments, primarily mortar and grenade, as opposed to approximately 7.5 per cent by small arms; 72.7 per cent of wounds were of a penetrating, as opposed to 20.3 per cent of a perforating type. Having also noted the protective effects of ordinary items of clothing—finding, for example, that bullets remained in the foot even when shot through the boot at very close range, as in self-inflicted wounds—the team concluded that some form of body armour was both feasible and desirable.

Meanwhile, 500 of the Doron-armoured utility

Infantrymen of the US 7th Inf. Div. wearing standard-pattern M-1951 armoured vests help a wounded soldier (who lacks body armour) to safety during the battle for Pork Chop Hill, 17 April 1953. The standard-pattern M-1951 has a left-over-right fly front and suspension webbing at the bottom of the vest— here obscured by the equipment belts. (US Army)

jackets as used at Okinawa were airlifted to the ist Marine Division during the Inchon-Seoul operation of September 1950. Most of them went astray during the sealift to Wonsan, and only 50 garments were issued to the Division Reconnaissance Company at the time of the epic Chosin Reservoir battles. Understandably, this unit kept no records, but the commanding oflicer, Maj. Walter Gall, USMC, credited the armoured jackets with saving several lives.

Acting on the recommendations of the wound ballistics team, the Army conducted further laboratory tests into suitable ballistic materials for an armoured vest. Steel was rejected because of its lack of flexibility and excessive weight. Aluminium proved to have a relatively low ballistic limit, and was difficult to tailor into a garment with adequate flexibility. Despite its proven performance against shell fragments, the Army once again rejected Doron because it also lacked the desired flexibility, and because fibreglass splinters have unpleasant properties if introduced into a wound. Nylon cloth (12 layers of 2 x 2 basket weave) was found to give the required ballistic protection against simulated fragments, and its great flexibility was well suited for fabrication into an armoured vest.

Armed with these findings, the Army conferred with the Naval Field Medical Research Laboratory at Camp Lejeune, where models of the Doron slipover vest were held. It was agreed to incorporate into the vest certain modifications including the addition of 12 layers of nylon to the area covering the shoulder girdle. The modified vest was described as: 'A slip-over, semi-flexible thoracoabdominal vest weighing 6.1 lbs made of 2 x 2 basket-weave nylon covering the upper chest and shoulder girdle, and a lower portion made of 16 curved Doron plates covering the lower chest and upper abdomen. Ballistic properties as follows:

A classic image of the 'grunt' in Vietnam, as a \larine with an M-1955 armoured vest gives himself an impromptu shower with his M-i helmet. In March 1961 an improved liner of ballistic nylon was introduced for the Mi which raised its protective level by some 15 per cent. The Mi helmet is credited with reducing casualties by 8 per cent during the Vietnam War. (Tim Page)

Tim Page Vietnam

capable of stopping a -45cal. pistol or Thompson sub-machine gun bullet at the muzzle; all the fragments of the USA hand grenade at three feet; 75 per cent of the USA 81 mm mortar at ten feet; and the full thrust of an American bayonet.'

In, June 1951, 50 of these vests were fabricated at Camp Lejeune. On 14 June a joint Army-Navy medical mission was despatched to the Far East Command for the purpose of field testing the body armour under combat conditions. The team arrived at the headquarters of 5th Regiment, 1st Marine Division in Korea on Independence Day. Only 40 vests were available, and these were rotated among as many wearers as possible in the three regiments selected for the trial—the 5th Marines and the 23rd and 38th Infantry Regiments of the US 2nd Infantry Division. During the course of the following two months the vests were worn by approximately 6,000 Marines and soldiers in the Inje and 'Punchbowl' areas. The troops were carefully indoctrinated in the use and in the protective ballistic properties of the nylon body armour—nylon being more associated in their minds with alluring feminine attire than with protection from shell fragments.

Once this psychological hurdle was overcome, troop acceptance was almost unanimous, particularly among fire-fight veterans. It was proved that body armour could be worn for operations in rugged, mountainous terrain in a hot, humid climate with only a few complaints about additional weight. The principal criticism of the vest was that it became excessively hot, and that a water-resistant fabric cover was needed to prevent gain in weight from perspiration or rain. This could be as much as to 2lbs—a significant increase over the initial 6.lib weight of the armour.

Was this article helpful?

+1 0

Post a comment