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Body Armor...A Historical Perspective
AUTHOR Major James P. Carothers, USMC
CSC 1988
I.      Purpose:  To  provide  an  abbreviated  historical  review of
individual  body   armor  from  ancient  civilizations  through today
and  to  furnish some  insight  into  the threat and body  armor
protection  required  on  the  future  battlefied.
II.     Data:    As long as man has   developed  weapons,  he has
simultaneously produced armor to protect against its threat.  The
crude and  unsophisticated  armor of the  Romans  to the medieval
knights  of the middle  ages   established a trend  towards armor
modernization.  Gunpowder  ended the  development  of  armor  for
centuries  until  the  famous  Australian  "bushranger" Ned Kelly
introduced effective armor in the 1850's.  Soldiers and criminals
experimented  with varying  degrees of success during World War I
through the  gangster  years of the 1930's.  World War II and the
Korean Conflict were a renaissance for body armor.  Technological
innovation and  combat  experimentation  firmly reestablished the
requirement for effective  body  armor.  Research and development 
through the last  two decades have resulted in "state of the art"
body armor in the hands of the common soldier today.
III.    Conclusions:    Tomorrows   battlefield   will  no  doubt
introduce  a new  and effective projectile threat.  A  historical
perspective  will provide the knowledge   necessary  to meet and
overcome the  threat and enhances our ability to be successful in
our next conflict.
					     Major          USMC
					     Conference Group 10
Thesis Statement: Projectile shielding for the individual soldier
was   pioneered   by  ancient  civilizations  and  has   seen   a
technological rebirth in the 2Oth century.
I.  Ancient armor
     a.   Early to middle ages
     b.   19th  century Ned Kelly
      a.  Germans
      b.  French
      c.  British
       a. USAF
       b. Fragment data
IV.  KOREA and Vietnam
       a. Test Data
       b. Variety and uses
V.  Today
       a. Modern armor types
       b. Current testing of experimental armor for the future.
      Greek  soldiers held shields of wood,  leather and  hammered
metal  plates.  The roman legions had  leather  vestments,    helmets
and  shields  of  light weight  metal.   Although austere,   the  first
body  armor  was  reasonably  effective  considering  the  crude  weapons
of  war  used  in  their  time.
      The   middle  ages  produced  a  wide  ad  diverse  variety  of  body
armor.   Noblemen   bought  armor  for  ceremonial  occations.  It   was
thin,    ornate   and   highly  polished  and  was  designed   to   attract
attention   and   impress the  viewer.   Jousting  armor  was   slightly
thicker,    polished,    and   usually   designed  to  deflect   a    lance,
morning  star  or sword.   Most  of  the  armor  made  for  battle   ranged
from  the    ornate    for  those  who  could  afford it, to  rough leather,
chain mail and metal plates sewn to fabric for the less well to 
     The idea of body armor is by no means new, but the
traditional style was retired from the batlefield upon the
advent of gunpowder.  Even then, the cost of outfitting a army
with armor was staggering and restricted to those who could best
afford it, the nobility.  The foot soldier did what he could, from
using boiled leather to chain mail.
	The iron helment of the private soldier and his coat of
	mail have only rarely been preserved, perhaps because
	chain mail is so useful for scouring copper pots.  Only
	where archaeologists have found a mass grave, such as
	the one from the battle of Visby in 1361 is it possible
	to obtain first-hand evidence of the ordinary man's 
	Projectile shielding for the individual soldier was
pioneered by ancient civilizations and has seen a technilogical 
rebirth in the 20th century.  There was however, a somewhat
colorful character from Australia who developed an effective suit
of body armor and used it for personal profit.
	In 1880, the Australian police found the famous bushranger,
Ned Kelly, a formidable foe.  An "Outback Outlaw", Ned fashoned a
suit of boiler-plate iron armor, with a twin panneled
breastplate.  A metal apron protected the groin and a crude helmet
with eye slits completed the outfit.  Dispite the unrefined
apperance, Ned's armor was extremely efficient and enabled him
to face, and survive the concentrated fires of numerous
Australian police.  Unfortunately for Ned, his armor didn't cover
his legs and after catching a few rounds in his lower extremities
the police captured him. 
	World War I produced a large number of experiments in the
body armor field.  France developed a number of chest, thigh and
leg protectors, but for some reason never issued them to the
field units.  The English were more active and produced 18
different body shield designs for commerical use.  These designs
included some "soft armors" with padded neck defences and vests
with linen, tissue, cotten and silk.  One experimental version
included a uniform jacket with the entire chest area lined with
small metal plates.   From 1917-1918 the British Government
produced a corslet known as the E.O.B.  Evidently very efficient,
it consisted of a metalic breast and back plate with abdomen
protection.  Germany by far, made the most extensive use of body
armor.  Weighing 19-24 pounds, the shields were composed of a
large metalic breast plate with flat hook-like shoulder
harnesses.  Secured to the bottom by two long straps were three
plates for mgroin protection.  Designed for protection, not 
mobility, they were primarily used by machine gun crews.2
	Armor development between the two World Wars was focused on
its use on tanks and armored vehicles.  It was in America  during
the 1920's  and 1930's that the so called  "bullet-proof  vests"
appeared.  Composed  of  overlapping steel plates sewn to  strong
fabric garments,  they  were heavy and expensive.  Produced for and
purchased by the urban gangsters of  that  era,  they  provided good
protection  from  pistol  projectiles  but  reduced   individual
mobility.3    Plates  that  were hit would  buckle  on  impact  and
required  replacement prior to  the next encounter.  Due to  their
weight, expense, and obvious appearance, few  were ever  worn.
	World War II produced  only limited use of body armor.  Pilot
and gunner protection,  mostly metal plates,  sheltered the crews
of the Flying Fortress and Liberator bombers of the United States
Army Air Forces, (USAAF).  An early conflict survey determined that
70% of the causative agents of wounds  suffered  by Air Force crews
were  due  to relatively low velocity fragments.4  Later in  World
War II with "flak jackets" being worn extensively there was a 60%
reduction  in  the  total  number  of  wounds.  Another  estimate
confined    to the area covered  by body armor showed a 74%  reduction
in wounds.5  The fatality rate for the type of wound also was
remarkably reduced, i.e. thoracic wounds had a fatality rate of
8% with armor vice 36% without armor.6  To protect a highly
trained aircrew, always in demand, the expense was   justified.
Furthermore, their lack of physical mobility within the aircraft
negated the weight factor of the heavy metal armor.
	Modern armor was born during World War II and the Korean War
became the testing ground for more  capable and light weight body
armor.  The impetus of his drive for more effective armor for all
soldiers lies in statistical data on casualties from World War
II.  In rough numbers, the U.S. Army incurred a total of 949,000
battle casualties during World War II.  Of these 599,000 were
wounded or injured (including 27,000 who died of wounds), 175,000
were killed in action, and 175,000 were reported as missing in
action.7  Extensive studies show as those by Dr.'s Oughtderson,
8 - Tribby9 and Hopkins10 indicate that in round figures, 70% of
the total injuries received wre due to fine or course missle
fragments and 30% due to bullets and other causes.11,12,13,14
High explosive and mortar shells, aerial bombs, and grenades were
responsible for fragments causing the greatest number of hits
during World War II.  Adequate casualty reporting began in the
Crimean War of 1854-56 and ground combatant data has remained
consistent through World War II.  Among ground troops, about 20
men die in action for every 100 who are hit.  The infantry made up
about 20% of the strength of the Army overseas in World War II,
and incurred about 70% of the total battle casualties.15  The 
above data considered, it is obvious that an effective body armor
could make an exceptional contribution to the combat readiness
and efficiency of any unit exposed to a shrapnel environment.
	Prior to the Korean War, the materials used as armor
protection were relatively simple in form and basic in
composition.  Technical advances in our ability to composite
materials for ballisic protection have changed rapidly  in  the
last 30 years.   Modern armor can be divided into two catagories,
opague  and transparent,  and they provide protection  by  three
different methods.    The armor can totally reject the  projectile
and  bounce  it off;  it can absorb it,  dissipating the  kinetic
energy along the impacted material and its backing surface or  by
combining the capabilities of both methods.
     The  opaque  armors  are composed  of  metallic,  reinforced
plastic, ceramic or textile materials.
     Historically  metal has  been the  preferred  material  for
armor.    Its   best  feature is the ability to  withstand  repeated
impacts    in  the same area,  a characteristic riot shared  by  the
other  armor materials.  Examples of this type of armor  are  the
standard  steel  helmet (MIL -H-1988) used by  U.S.  forces  from
World  War II to the early 1980's and the M-69 fragmentation vest
composed  of  titanium  plates.  Some of  the  super-hard  steels
produced  today using special tempering and  quenching  processes
successfully   stop   steel-cored  bullets   and   armor-piercing
projectiles.  Unfortunately  as  the  armies of the  middle  ages
discarded their armor because it was bulky,  heavy and  inhibited
their   movement,   metal  armors  of  today  still  display  this
characteristic.  The exception seems to be aircrews not requiring
excessive movement to accomplish their mission.
     Reinforced  plastic  armor,  also  called  glass-reinforced-
plastic   (GRP)  is  a combination of a glass weave  fiber  and  a
chemical resin.  It requires additional backing for support  when
used on garments in small overlapping plates.  It is good for low
velocity  bullets,  blast and grenade/mortar fragments.  Although
lightweight,  it  is  very expensive.  It protects  by  partially
rejecting the  projectile  and partly  absorbing  it.  The  best
exampIe  of  this type of armor is the air  crew  helmet  (MIL-H-
43059).  It was composed of nine piles of phenolformaldehyde resin
coated   ballistic nylon cloth with a textured olive green   finish
and was equipped with  integrally mounted communication equipment.
It was a standard  item used by the Army and Marine Corps.
     In   the   early 1960's,   ceramic armors   provided   the   first
technical    breakthrough   by   reducing   weight  while    improving
ballistic   protection.   A   composite material  was developed   that
could stop high energy projectiles.  It was a  ceramic,  aluminum
oxide  with a fiberglass laminate.  Body armor was developed  for
small  arms  protection  utilizing ceramic/GRP  plates  within  a
ballistic nylon carrier and used by all the U.S.  Armed Services.
An  example of this armor is the Aircrewman Small Arms Protective
Vest,  Series 8470-935-3183.  These armors are used primarily  by
aircrewmen  and  can  provide protection  against  small  caliber
projectiles  and low velocity shrapnel.  Four classes of ceramics
are used.  These materials are aluminum oxide,  silicon  carbide,
modifed  boron  carbide  and boron carbide.  The  boron  carbide
provided a 20% weight reduction with the same relative protection
of the cheaper but heavier aluminum oxide. Vests containing boron
carbide   were  not  purchased  in  large numbers  or  used   as
     Textile  armors are by far the newest and most revolutionary
materials  in  the body armor field.  Ballistic  nylon  was  ori-
ginally  developed  and given combat field testing from  1  March
1952 to 15 July 1952 in Korea. EventualIy over 1400 Armored Nylon
Vests  (T-52-.1) and  (T-52-2) were tested by air crews and  ground
organizations  from six different countries.
     The  two  most commonly used body armors  in  existance  use
ballistic nylon.  The M69 (MIL-B-12370) Body Armor, Fragmentation
Protective,  Vest  with  3/4  Collar and the  (MIL-A-43366)  Body
Armor,   Fragmentation-Protective,  for the Groin were extensively
used in Viet Nam by the common soldier.    Transparent, or see-
through  armors,  are most commonly referred to  as  bullet-proof
glass.   Military  users  include Explosive Ordnance Disposal  and
Security Unit installations.  Armored glass is composed of one of
three materials;  Glass,  polycarbonate or acrylic plastic and  a
laminated  layer  of  polyvinyl  butyryl.   This  interlaying  is
necessary  to prevent shattering and to break up the shock waves.
Bullet-proof  glass protects by absorbing the projectile  in  its
laminated  layers.  It  is  the only transparent armor  that  can
withstand rifle projectiles.  Its inhererit weight severly  limits
its use as body armor.
     Plastic  armor  is  composed  of  sheets  of  polycarbonate.
Laminated  to  sufficient thickness,  it offers  good  protection
against  low velocity projectiles,  but not  rifle  calibres.   An
example   of  this  type  of  armor  is  the  Marine  corps  M-55
Fragmentation   Protective  Vest  (MIL-A-17367).   It   was   the
sleeveless,  zipper front vest also used in the Viet Nam era.  As
were most of the armored vests produced in the 1960's and 1970's,
it  was composed of layers of ballistic nylon.  The twenty-three,
1/8"  Doron  inserts  were  molded  to  the  correct  shape   and
integrated  into the vest and provided the best protection of its
      It  should be noted that all the body armor vests identified
so  far  were  never  advertised as  being  capable  of  stopping
standard rifle projectiles at any velocity. This problem seems to
have  been  solved by a Dupont polymer research  group  in  early
1965.  It  took eight years of research before the final  product
called  KEVLAR16   reached the marketplace.  This new aramid  fibre
proved  to be five times the tinsel strength of steel by  weight.
it  is  flame resistant and does not melt.  When a  KEVLAR  fibre
receives impact from a high energy projectile,  it stretches  and
transmits the energy  along its length. The greater the length of
the  fibres  involved  in the impact,  the better  the  ballistic
resistance.  Classified as a textile armor,  it is produced in  a
heavy-weave fabric and sewn in layers.  A blunting or mushrooming
effect  on  the  bullet prevents penetration through  the  strong
fibres.  Sixteen  layers  of  heavy-weave  cloth  will  stop  all
standard  handgun rounds,  while  24 layers will stop magnum  size
loads.17   The support necesary to sustain its ballistic  repulsing
capabilities   is   the   body   structure   behind   the   vest.
Unfortunately,  blunt  trauma  effects such as internal  injuries
will  result  and depend on the projectile velocity  and  weight.
Lightweight  and  flexible,  it can be tailored to  a  reasonably
comfortable  and  well  fitting  garment.   Textile  armors  have
significantly reduced performance when saturated with water. This
characteristic is reverssable to 100% strength by drying and  the
effect  can be reduced by use of water repellant treatments  such
as "Zepel" or "Scotchguard".
     The  body armor used  today by the U.S.  Army and the  Marine
Corps  was  introduced  in  1982 to combat units.  It  is  a  25%
inprovement  in  weight  reduction,  flexibility  and  ballistic
protection over the previously used vest.  Many  elements  effect
the use of body armor by the basic soldier or Marine.  Weight, fit
and comfort, body heat retained by the vest,  and confidence in
the ability of the body armor to prevent or reduce the  severity
of injury are a  few of the major factors.  The interaction of all
these elements in a combat environment can influence  a  tactical
situation both positively and negatively.
       Given  the advanced technological  environment   of   tomorrows
battefield, what type of threat on the common soldier expect to
face?  What   material will   defeat the predicted threat?  What  is
being done now?    Answers to these questions require premonition,
clairvoyance   or   prophetic   capabilities,    none   of   which   are
possessed by the author.   However,  some  information now available
can provide at  least some partial  insight to the solutions.
     Tomorrows    threat   seems   to   fall   in   the   catagory    of
"improved"   fragmentation munitions,   specifically   "flechettes".
Conventional   shells detonate forming chunks that greatly  exceed
the   requirement   ti  incapacitate an   adversary.   Shell   fragment
trajectories   can   rarely be predicted or   directed   and   usually
produce   "overkill "  casualties.  Flechettes are aerodynamic  and
stable  at velocity.  Effective at ranges up to several  thousand
meters,they don't go "ballistic and undirected". Soviet munitions
using  flechettes are already in use around the world.  The  bad
news is  that  flechettes penetrate  todays  aramid  fiber  body
     The U.S.  Army,  with support from the other services, tests
and  evaluates the state-of-the-art materials produced today  for
their  value as ballistic protection at the Natick  Research  and
Development Command, Natick, Massachuesetts. Major chemical firms
such  as Dow,  Du Pont,  and Allied-Signal continually experiment
and  develop high-order polymers such as KEVLAR for a variety. of
commercial uses.  A polyethalyne base fiber called "Spectra"  has
exceeded  some of the fragmentation resistant capabilities of the
KEVLAR fabrics used today.  Research personel are enthused  about
its  possibilities.  The  marriage of metals and ballistic  fiber
fabrics  holds  the possibility of flechette  protection  and  is
being tested by Natick Research Laboratories.
     The  evolutionary  cycle  of threat vs armor  protection  is
progressing at an accelerated pace.  When and if another American
steps  onto  a modern battlefield can be argued,  however  it  is
unlikely that he will ever do so again without some type of "high
technology" body armor.
1.       Neils  M.  Saxtorph,  Warriors  and  Weapons  of  Early
Times (MacMillan Co., NY, NY, 1972) p. 11
2.      Frederick Wilkinson,  Battle Dress (Doubleday & Co.,  Inc.,
Garden city, NY, 1969) p. 64
3.      Janes Infantry Weapons, (1981-1982) p. 691
4.      J.B.Coates and J.C.Beyer,  Wound Ballistics (Dept.  of  the
Army, Washington, D.C., 1962)
5.      J.B.Coates and J.C.Beyer,  Wound Ballistics,  (Dept. of the
Army, Washington, D.C., 1962)
6.      J .B.Coates and J .C.Beyer ,  Wound Ballistics,  (Dept. of the
Army, Washington, D.C., 1962)
7.      John  H.  Gardner,  Norman A.  Hitchman and Robert J.  Best
Report: Protection of the Soldier in Warfare, Operations Research
Office, The Johns Hopkins University, Chevy Chase, Maryland (U.S.
Army Report 21 April 1953 {SECRET} {DECLASSIFIED} P. 21
8.        Wound  Ballistics  Report,   Bougainiville  Campaign,  1944
9.        Tribby,  William   W.   Examination of One Thousand American
Casualties Killed  in  Action  in  Italy, Vol. I, (RESTRICTED)
10.        Casuality  Analysis,  New  Georgia  and  Burma,  (Undated-
11.   Report M.P.R.C. 54 (Wa-33-19a) NRC (RESTRICTED).
12.    ASF Montly Progress Report, Section 7,Health, 31 July 1941
13.    A.O.R.G.  Report  No.  271 (R.C.  444),  Ministry  of Home
Security, 1945 (SECRET)
14.     Satistical  Report  on  the Health of the  Army  (British),
1943 - 1945. The War Office,  20 August 1948
15.      John  H.  Gardner,  Norman A.  Hitchman and Robert J.  Best
Report: Protection of the Soldier in Warfare, Operations Research
Office, The Johns Hopkins University, Chevy Chase, Maryland U.S.
Army Report 21 April 1953 {SECRET} {DECLASSIFIED} P. 21
16.      KEVLAR Special Products, Textile Fibers Dept., E.I. Du Pont
de Nemours & Co. Inc., Wilmington, Delaware
17.      Janes  Infantry Weapons,  (1981-1982) p.  691

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