The Marine initiative

Upon its return to the United States in September 1951, the joint Army-Navy mission recommended that approximately 1,400 vests incorporating changes suggested by the Korean field trial be made, to be followed by additional combat tests. The Marine Corps realised that speed was of the essence, however, and on 16 November the Commandant approved the standardisation and procurement of 500 vests for airlift to 1st Marine Division in Korea by not later than 31 January

Marine Vietnam M69 Flak

Two crew members of an M48A3 of 1 77th Armor sit atop their tank wearing M69 flak jackets. The principal external differences of the M69 as compared to the M-1952 are the 3 4-collar and the deletion of the shoulder straps. Against standing orders flak jackets were frequently worn open in Vietnam because of the heat, thus providing no protection to the vulnerable thoraco-abdominal region. (Tim Page)

1952. With only weeks remaining before the deadline, the vest was redesigned time and again until the armour came within a weight limit of 81bs without any sacrifice in protection. A plastic fibre manufacturer agreed to supply 70,000 Doron plates, and a Philadelphia sportswear company contracted for the first 500 vests, plus an additional 2,500 to be delivered by 30 March 1951. The armour was immediately put into production as the Vest, Armored, M-/95/.

The M-1951, weighing 7|lbs, was described as: 'A zippered, vest-type sleeveless jacket constructed of water-resistant nylon incorporating two types of armor. One, a flexible pad of basket-weave nylon, covers the upper chest and shoulder girdle; the other, overlapping curved Doron plates, covers the lower chest, back and abdomen... Although the ballistic properties of the flexible pads of basket-weave nylon and the Doron plates are virtually the same, by using the rigid plates where flexibility is not mandatory the problem of protrusion [blunt impact trauma] and the resultant wounds under the armor is reduced.'

The first 500 vests reached Korea within days of the deadline, and were issued to the 1st and 7th Marines for field trials. In his first letter to Headquarters, Marine Corps, dated 4 February

Two crew members of an M48A3 of 1 77th Armor sit atop their tank wearing M69 flak jackets. The principal external differences of the M69 as compared to the M-1952 are the 3 4-collar and the deletion of the shoulder straps. Against standing orders flak jackets were frequently worn open in Vietnam because of the heat, thus providing no protection to the vulnerable thoraco-abdominal region. (Tim Page)

1952, the project officer, Capt. David R. McGrew, Jr., USMC, wrote . . up to tonight we have had nine men hit while wearing the vest. One was killed outright as a 120mm mortar round landed right in his lap. However, the other eight showed excellent results. All of the eight were wounded in other places not covered by the vest—but they arc all WIA instead of KIA.' He cited the case of a rifleman of 2nd Bn., 7th Marines who was wounded by the explosion of an 82mm mortar round only 15 feet in front of him. He received several fragments in the face and his leg was fractured, but there were 45 holes in his vest without any penetration. Fifteen of the fragments had been large enough to inflict mortal chest or abdomen wounds.

Early results proved conclusively that the M-ig5i armoured vest reduced battle casualties by as much as 30 per cent, with the largest reduction in the KIA category. Most authoritative Marine statistics indicate that body armour prevented 60 to 70 per cent of chest and abdominal wounds, and

Rok Marine Corps

South Koreans of the ROK 2nd Marine 'Blue Dragon' Brigade retrieve their dead after a battle near Gia Quang, March 1967, in which a Viet Cong battalion was annihilated: its forward scouts were silently despatched by 'tae-hvan-doa fearsome Korean martial art, then the main body was drawn into a devastating killing zone. These ROKs arc wearing M-1952 flak jackets and Mi helmets. (Tim Page)

South Koreans of the ROK 2nd Marine 'Blue Dragon' Brigade retrieve their dead after a battle near Gia Quang, March 1967, in which a Viet Cong battalion was annihilated: its forward scouts were silently despatched by 'tae-hvan-doa fearsome Korean martial art, then the main body was drawn into a devastating killing zone. These ROKs arc wearing M-1952 flak jackets and Mi helmets. (Tim Page)

that from 25 to 30 per cent of wounds occurring through the vest were reduced in severity. Further, as one Marine report concluded: 'There are no records to indicate what in" all probability is the most significant figure—the number of cases where the wearer was hit but did not become a casualty at all.' An additional 2,500 vests arrived in Korea early in March 1952, and on 13 March 1st Marine Division ordered 25,000 more. By 14 July 1952 9,772 armours, sufficient to equip all frontline troops on a rotation basis, were 011 hand in the division—the armoured vest had become a standard item of Marine equipment.

In the meantime, the Army had developed an all-nylon vest covered with a vinyl-coated nylon poncho material, olive drab in colour, with a gin. layer of sponge rubber beneath the covering over the ribs and the shoulder girdle. The sponge rubber served to offset the vest from the body to alleviate contusions or fractures which might have resulted from the impact of non-penetrating missiles. On 18 February the Body Armor Test Team left for Korea with the aim of testing the experimental nylon body armour in combat under the codename Operation 'Boar'. At the outset there were only 48 vests available; they were classified Armor, Vest, Nylon, T-52-1. During the course of the test, from 1 March 1952 to 15 July 1952, a total of 1,400 T-52-1 vests were worn by over 15,000 men for an aggregate of approximately 400,000 man-hours. In addition to personnel of the six American infantry divisions in Korea, other United Nations troops used the vests to a limited degree, including such specialised units as the helicopter pilots of 3rd Air Sea Rescue j Squadron and the 8063rd, 8076th and 8209th Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals (MASH).

At the conclusion of Operation 'Boar' the body armour team presented its findings. The report stated:

'The Armor, Vest, Nylon, T-52-1 is much more effective against fragment type missiles than small arms missiles. During the test period, 67.9 per cent of all type missiles hitting the armor were defeated. 75.8 per cent of all fragments were defeated. 24.4 per cent of all small arms missiles were defeated. . . The Armor, Vest, Nylon, T-52-1, worn by soldiers in combat during the test period, reduced the incidence of chest and upper abdominal wounds by 60 to 70 per cent. It is estimated that 25 to 35 per cent of the chest and upper abdominal wounds sustained by combat soldiers wearing the armor during this test period were reduced in severity.'

The team also considered the psychological effects of the use of body armour and noted from interviews that, in actual combat, soldiers rarely noticed the weight and bulkiness of the vests. On the other hand, soldiers returning from uneventful patrols were more critical of its weight and limitation of mobility. However, over 85 per cent of troops stated that they felt safer and more confident when wearing body armour, a factor which led to higher morale and greater aggressiveness in combat.

On a few occasions its effect on morale was unfavourable, as when, for instance, soldiers who had previously used body armour expressed a reluctance to go on patrol without it. Indeed, the demand for the vest became so acute during one period of extremely heavy fighting that the test team members lost control of the study: soldiers who were wounded while wearing the vests were frequently relieved of their armour on the battlefield by their unprotected comrades. It is of interest to note that prior to Operation 'Boar' there were almost 10,000 of the earlier M12 type body armour held in depots in Korea but infrequently used. Following the operation and its attendant publicity, body armour was at such a premium that the supply of the M12 was rapidly exhausted.

During the test, recommendations based on combat experience for various modifications of the 'f-52-1 were forwarded to the United States, where they were incorporated into a new model, the Armor, Vest, Nylon, T-52-2. A total of 276 of the new vests were received in Korea on 9 July 1952 and were issued the following day. In the same month the body armour team returned to the United States. The T-52-3 prototype nylon armoured vest based on its recommendations was standardised in October 1952 as the Armor, Vest, M-ig$2. In a belated effort to provide its frontline troops with protection, the US Army ordered 13,020 Marine M-1951 vests 011 11 August 1952. By ^September 19,705 had been supplied, and this number steadily

Clad in M-K955 armoured vests, typically worn open exposing chest and belly, a Marine mortar crew stand by their weapon on Hill 10 south of Da Nang. The M-1955 features a 3 4-collar and a rope ridge on the right shoulder to prevent a slung rifle from slipping; note the suspension webbing around the bottom of the vest. (Tim Page)

Adorned in 'tiger stripe cammies', two Special Forces officers confer in a rice paddy near Nui Coto. Below his KKK scarf the helicopter pilot wears a ceramic GRP 'chest protector'—Body Armor, Fragmentation—Small Arms Protective, Aircrew-man. Designed to cover the front only for pilots and co-pilots, the 3713 series vest has a Nomex fire-retardant raschel-knit open back. The pocket on the front accommodates maps, pens, cigarettes, etc. Note the Nomex flying gloves, and the XM-177 Colt CAR-15 assault rifle. (Tim Page)

increased to approximately 63,000 by the time the Army vest was in production. The first shipment of the M-1952 was released in early December 1952, and by the end of hostilities approximately 26,161 vests of this type had been sent to Korea.

During the Korean War progress in combat medicine and surgery was so dramatic that the mortality rate among casualties wounded in action fell to 23 per 1,000 as compared to 45 per 1,000 in the Second World War. This reduction was due to several tactical innovations, of which the widespread use of body armour, coupled with helicopter evacuation of casualties to mobile army surgical hospitals and extensive use of whole blood were the most significant. One of the lucky survivors was a young subaltern of 1st Royal Tank Regiment, 1st Commonwealth Division, Lt. (later Lt.Col.) George Forty. On 28 May 1953, while Chinese artillery pounded the embattled 'Hook' position, he

7th Royal Tank Regiment Korea

Adorned in 'tiger stripe cammies', two Special Forces officers confer in a rice paddy near Nui Coto. Below his KKK scarf the helicopter pilot wears a ceramic GRP 'chest protector'—Body Armor, Fragmentation—Small Arms Protective, Aircrew-man. Designed to cover the front only for pilots and co-pilots, the 3713 series vest has a Nomex fire-retardant raschel-knit open back. The pocket on the front accommodates maps, pens, cigarettes, etc. Note the Nomex flying gloves, and the XM-177 Colt CAR-15 assault rifle. (Tim Page)

Car Heavy Assault RifleGuntruck Vietnam

The crew of a 'quad-fifty gun truck' prepare to move out on a convoy escort mission to Ban Me Thuot, September 1970. They are equipped with Variable Body Armor or, in its full designation, Variable Armor, Small Arms—Fragmentation Protective for Ground Troops. (US Army)

had to climb on to the hill in order to direct the fire of his Centurion tank against a hidden Chinese observation post. He recalls:

'As the shell fire was continuing I decided not only to wear a steel helmet, something which one didn't do very often, but also to put on the flak vest [M-1951 ] which was issued on the scale of one per tank. It was fortunately a fairly large one and so, because of my small stature, it covered rather more of me than on most people. However, it was bloody heavy.

'I started up the side of the 'Hook', but clearly I was being observed by the Chinese, and not long after they began to mortar me. Several rounds were fired, but the one that did the damage landed in the drainage ditch at the side of the track as 1 passed by. Fortunately I did not hear it coming, as I am quite sure I would have leapt into the ditch to take cover, so it would have landed on top of me. As it was, the blast was slightly contained and all I

remember is being hit by something like a sledgehammer on my legs which knocked me over.

'I tried to get to my feet, but found I could not do so; looking down at my legs I saw that they were covered in blood and that part of my left boot appeared to be missing. I was given morphine and, when a lull in the firing allowed, was taken by jeep to the Regimental Aid Post. Thereafter I went by helicopter pod to an American MASH.

'As far as the flak vest was concerned it undoubtedly saved my life, because I had fragments in both my arms and both my legs up to the tops of my thighs but nothing penetrated my stomach or chest areas. The number of wounds to my arms and legs was considerable—indeed, I recall some 150 in all but fortunately most of them were small fragments. By coincidence, there was also in the same ward a chap who had been on patrol and got sprayed by a Chinese burp gun; he had one bullet in his left arm, one in his right arm and a row of bruises across his chest, so clearly in his case the flak vest worked even better than for me!'

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