The Ow Cuirass Syndicate


(Two minutes ffotn Oxford Circus).

Typical of the many commercial models of body armour available during the Great War is the Pullman A.i. Shield. It featured in an advertisement in 'The War Dragon1, the Buffs' regimental magazine, of October 1916. (W. Y. Carman Collection)

penetration was arrested by the strength of the garment as a whole. It was concluded that silk was the most resistant fibre and was superior to manganese steel, weight for weight, against shrapnel balls up to a velocity of 900-1,000 feet/second. It did not give nearly the same protection against high-velocity pointed projectiles such as rifle bullets or bayonet thrusts, but neither did it deform a bullet when perforated. A bullet which pierces steel plate is invariably deformed, and often causes more serious wounds than one which passes through the body cleanly. Thus it was evident that against low-velocity blunt projectiles up to a certain velocity, such as shrapnel, shell splinters and grenade fragments (the causes of the majority of wounds) silk was an effective body defence and superior to steel at the same weight.

The first application of silk as armour was a 'necklet' covering the shoulders and neck with a high Queen Anne 'Ulster' collar, nearly 2in. thick and weighing 3^1bs. In 1915 it was issued at a scale of400 to a division, but proved less satisfactory than had been supposed. On the sodden battlefields of Flanders silk deteriorated rapidly; it was expensive, and more difficult to procure than steel. Alternative materials were sought, culminating in the 'Chemico Body Shield' (see Plate Ai) manufactured by the County Chemical Company of Birmingham for the British Army. This heavily padded waistcoat weighed about 61bs and was composed of multiple layers of tissue, linen scraps, cotton and silk, bonded together by a resinous substance. It was cheap, comfortable to wear, and capable of resisting a ,45cal. pistol bullet at 300 feet/second. Of all the body defences devised during the Great War, the 'Chemico' was in many ways the most interesting. It featured materials and technology known to the Assyrians 3,000 years ago; yet in application and configuration it was remarkably similar to most of today's body armours.

To sum up, body armour was not extensively used during the Great War except in particular circumstances where it often proved to be effective. Although, throughout the war, fragmentation weapons caused the greatest number of casualties, it was the machine gun that was most feared. This weapon had aborted all the earlier offensives, causing approximately 35 per cent ofcasualties, and soldiers needed a defence against it. Body armour that only resisted low- and medium-velocity projectiles could scarcely satisfy them; and body armour capable of thwarting a rifle bullet was too heavy and cumbersome in the assault.

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