WI: WW2 Britain and America allow private soldiers to purchase body armor

Working on the theory that soldiers are less likely to ditch or ignore body armor that they choose to purchase themselves, the WW2 British and Americans allow private soldiers to purchase body armor like they did in WW1. (When quite a few British officers purchased, used, and attested to the success of various armor types....although results varied enormously.) Like most armor from that period, these will probably be limited in effectiveness to stopping shrapnel.

Any restrictions on war profiteering that would ordinarily prohibit private manufacturers from making and selling body armor are relaxed for that particular type of equipment.

However, all privately manufactured body armor models are subject to extremely stringent government regulation to ensure acceptable quality.

Two questions:

1) Does this lead to any reduction in casualties from shrapnel and similar injuries?

2) To what degree does the potential consumption of necessary war materials (presumably steel, nickel, and any other metals used to make body armor) make this policy a liability rather than an asset at a strategic level?
 
Last edited:
The body armor would be made by companies using excess material. No one is gonna nick armor plates reserved for battleships to make some body armor.
It would be good overall and reduce deaths.
 
Wasn't heavy weight more likely to kill men then save them?
Well, that's part of the question. But not all WW1 / WW2 body armor was massively heavy sappenpanzer style 20+ pound gear. Some of it was just a few pounds.
from https://olive-drab.com/od_soldiers_gear_body_armor_korea.php
On 25 June 1947, the Army Quartermaster Corps was assigned primary responsibility within the War Department, for the development of helmets, body armor, and other armored clothing. At that time the only specific requirements for body armor was for over-all armor for engineer troops engaged in mine clearance work. A study was made by the Operations Research Office, Department of the Army, to determine the value of armor for the use by ground troops engaged in active combat. The report of this study, issued in 1949, was not favorable to the use of armor for active ground troops, partly because of the excessive weight of the standard models then available.

The Quartermaster Corps began development on a new type of vest utilizing flexible laminated nylon duck, recommended by the Ordnance Corps as the best of all lightweight flexible ballistic materials. The fibres of nylon trap jagged fragments of low-velocity missiles, which cause the majority of combat wounds. Ordnance Corps ballistic tests revealed that nylon, weight for weight, was superior even to steel in stopping fragments from exploding missiles.

The Army’s first laminated nylon body armor, developed in 1948 by the Quartermaster Corps, was a fully laminated two-piece vest (front armor and back armor) with a groin apron. It was similar to the World War II vest-and-apron armor of the Air Corps.

In 1950 the Army nylon armor was redesigned as a one-piece vest. That model was the design behind all modern flak vests, from Korea to Vietnam to today.

In parallel to the Army work, the Department of the Navy also had been engaged in extensive body armor development, concentrating principally on the use of Doron. In 1950 experts of the Army Quartermaster Corps and the Marine Corps began joint experiments on various models utilizing both Doron and nylon. In 1951, 100 test models were shipped to Korea for test under supervision of a joint Army-Marine Corps team. This vest used over-lapping, curved Doron plates around the upper torso and nylon duck over the shoulders. At the conclusion of the test in Korea, the Marine Corps continued development of the new-type Doron vest, which was subsequently standardized for issue to Marines as the M-1951.

The M-1951 weighed 7.75 lbs. and was a zippered sleeveless jacket constructed of water-resistant nylon containing two types of armour. The first was a nylon basket-weave flexible pad, which covered the upper chest and shoulders. The other consisted of overlapping curved Doron plates which covered the wearers lower chest, back and abdomen.The M-1951 vest also featured an exterior breast pocket and a reinforced eyletted waist band.


The Army Quartermaster Corps continued development of its all-nylon vest, since Ordnance Corps tests continued to affirm that the flexible nylon was superior ballistically to Doron. Modifications suggested by a representative of the office of the Army Surgeon General, a member of the joint Army-Marine Corps body armor mission, were incorporated in the Army nylon vest. From February to July, 1952, a total of 1400 of this new model of the Army vest (T 52-1) were shipped to Korea for tests by an Army body armor test team under direction of the office of The Quartermaster General. Minor modifications were made between shipments, based on recommendations of the test team.

In the summer of 1952, the Far East Command requested immediate supply of the latest Army type vest for issue to combat troops. Although field testing of this model had been completed, the vest had never been mass-produced. For this reason, vest of this type could not be furnished immediately and the Far East Command indicated that, although the Army armored vest was preferred, the Marine Corps’ Doron vest was acceptable to fill immediate requirements. Therefore, 31,017 of the M-1951 Marine Corps vests were procured and shipped to the Far East Command. Five thousand Army-type vests also were ordered at this time for shipment to the Far East Command.

Delivery to the Far East Command of an additional 20,000 of the Army vests was scheduled for the period of January through May, 1953. Cost of these 20,000 of the Army vests, including price of materials furnished the contractor by the Quartermaster Corps, was $39.04 each.

The Army armored vest, now called the M-1952, provided to troops in Korea, weighed approximately 8 pounds, and was made of 12 layers of flexible, spot-laminated Nylon-duck, enclosed in a heat-sealed water-repellent vinyl envelope. The T-52-2 Model (the 5,000 shipped to Korea late in 1952) was designed to be worn as an outside garment with an outer cover of 6 ounce, nylon fabric. It had adjustable side straps to assure a snug fit.

The M-1952A or T-52-3 Model (the 20,000 ordered for shipment to Korea early in 1953, now called M-1952A) was designed to be worn over the shirt but under a field jacket and is covered with light-weight 6 ounce nylon. Elastic side-laces insured a snug fit. Both models were fastened in the front with a zipper, plus a fly closure utilizing snaps. Both models were made in three sizes—small, medium, and large. The Army vest (T-52-3) had an area of approximately six square feet; the earlier model (T-52-2), 5.5 square feet.

Reports received by the Office of the Surgeon General of the Army on the combat testing of the new Army nylon vest showed that the armor deflected approximately 65 per cent of all types of missiles, 75 per cent of all fragments, and 25 per cent of all small-arms fire. The reports also stated that the armor reduced torso wounds by 60 to 70 per cent, while those inflicted in spite of the armor’s protection were reduced in severity by 25 to 35 per cent
.

Nylon armor could have been done earlier.
It's not meant to stop bullets, but fragments, what caused the most non-mortal wounding
This was determined at the end of WWI, but discarded
 
Last edited:
The British Army, contrary to popular belief developed an armoured set which covered the chest front, chest back and groin after Tunisia. Tunisia had shown how valuable such armour was, because of the rocky terrain and the effectiveness of German mortars. The armour was issued for Normandy but discarded by many troops as being bulky and uncomfortable to wear.
 
Working on the theory that soldiers are less likely to ditch or ignore body armor that they choose to purchase themselves, the WW2 British and Americans allow private soldiers to purchase body armor like they did in WW1. (When quite a few British officers purchased, used, and attested to the success of various armor types....although results varied enormously.) Like most armor from that period, these will probably be limited in effectiveness to stopping shrapnel.

Any restrictions on war profiteering that would ordinarily prohibit private manufacturers from making and selling body armor are relaxed for that particular type of equipment.

However, all privately manufactured body armor models are subject to extremely stringent government regulation to ensure acceptable quality.

Two questions:

1) Does this lead to any reduction in casualties from shrapnel and similar injuries?

2) To what degree does the potential consumption of necessary war materials (presumably steel, nickel, and any other metals used to make body armor) make this policy a liability rather than an asset at a strategic level?

As well as the reasons already given, personally purchased kit as part of load outs is something that has to be integrated into larger supply chains, and when you have armies of millions you want uniformity. Don't get me wrong soldiers being soldiers I'm sure some adjusted and added to their kit, but if it's seen as getting in the way or limiting some other necessary function it's going to be gone.

Also if you are going to have the Government quality assure it that's a complicated time consuming process* outside of the standardized systems put in place at the time and when government resource efficiency is the name of the game, so you might as well just have it part of the regular supply process and get economies of scale.

Also it will likely be individually expansive if it's worth having

Will it have a positive effect in theory, yes, but how much overall will depend on how many take it up. And WW2 body armour is not as good as later stuff so any positive benefits it has are inherently limited. Body armour is always a trade off between expense, comfort and weight vs. chance it will make a difference when you need it to when facing a range of threats. And that balance in WW2 isn't where it will be later on**.


*actually the more I think about the more this is a real barrier to the idea.

**I think regular solder's general tolerance (in terms of not ditching it, rather than the theoretical ability to include it in a load out) increases once body armour can could stop the bullet being forced out of their opposition's general issue gun. Even with the point about fragmentation being a more likely source of injury etc.


Well, that's part of the question. But not all WW1 / WW2 body armor was massively heavy sappenpanzer style 20+ pound gear. Some of it was just a few pounds.

Thing is the lighter and smaller it is the less likely it's going to do the thing you want it to do when it matters.
 
Last edited:

Garrison

Donor
The British Army, contrary to popular belief developed an armoured set which covered the chest front, chest back and groin after Tunisia. Tunisia had shown how valuable such armour was, because of the rocky terrain and the effectiveness of German mortars. The armour was issued for Normandy but discarded by many troops as being bulky and uncomfortable to wear.
Not to mention if you are a soldier on a landing craft heading for a beach you probably want a life preserver rather than dead weight that will drag you down if it gets sunk.
 
Not to mention if you are a soldier on a landing craft heading for a beach you probably want a life preserver rather than dead weight that will drag you down if it gets sunk.

Depending on the training the soldier receives that's either absolutely true or pretty much absolutely true.

Royal Marines (I speak from experience) are trained to be able to swim 100 yards in full battle kit (around 100 lbs) (and be able to hit a man-sized target 8 times out of 10 within two minutes immediately after. If your gun doesn't work, that's just too bad.) If you can't do that, you don't get your green beret and you don't become a Royal Marine. The reason is precisely because landing craft can get snagged up some distance offshore, and it helps to be able to get to land.

I can attest that adding extra weight isn't a great idea.
 
Not to mention if you are a soldier on a landing craft heading for a beach you probably want a life preserver rather than dead weight that will drag you down if it gets sunk.
The Flak Vest would be only the partial problem, but the near 70 pounds of other gear, with Engineers humping even more
 
The problem with privately purchased armour or other kit is that the troops are still expected to carry all their issued gear. Which is generally as much as a soldier can reasonably be expected to carry & still be combat effective.
Sometimes it is more e.g. when carrying extra ammunition for support weapons.
 
The problem with privately purchased armour or other kit is that the troops are still expected to carry all their issued gear. Which is generally as much as a soldier can reasonably be expected to carry & still be combat effective.
Sometimes it is more e.g. when carrying extra ammunition for support weapons.
Until it's demonstrated that Armor is a benefit, it wouldn't be worn.
Helmets were quickly adopted, and it's possible had WWI lasted to 1919, the prototype US Armor designs would have seen combat
1637860971994.png
1637861044400.png

where several thousand were made before November
It didn't take long for 8thAF Bomber Crews to want to wear the heavy, uncomfortable flak armor that wasn't as advanced as the WWI sets, that had been all but forgotten about.
The New armor worked, and development was ton to improve them, that led the the Korean War gear
 
As well as the reasons already given, personally purchased kit as part of load outs is something that has to be integrated into larger supply chains, and when you have armies of millions you want uniformity. Don't get me wrong soldiers being soldiers I'm sure some adjusted and added to their kit, but if it's seen as getting in the way or limiting some other necessary function it's going to be gone.

Also if you are going to have the Government quality assure it that's a complicated time consuming process* outside of the standardized systems put in place at the time and when government resource efficiency is the name of the game, so you might as well just have it part of the regular supply process and get economies of scale.

Also it will likely be individually expansive if it's worth having

Will it have a positive effect in theory, yes, but how much overall will depend on how many take it up. And WW2 body armour is not as good as later stuff so any positive benefits it has are inherently limited. Body armour is always a trade off between expense, comfort and weight vs. chance it will make a difference when you need it to when facing a range of threats. And that balance in WW2 isn't where it will be later on**.


*actually the more I think about the more this is a real barrier to the idea.

**I think regular solder's general tolerance (in terms of not ditching it, rather than the theoretical ability to include it in a load out) increases once body armour can could stop the bullet being forced out of their opposition's general issue gun. Even with the point about fragmentation being a more likely source of injury etc.




Thing is the lighter and smaller it is the less likely it's going to do the thing you want it to do when it matters.

Regarding your first footnoted observation: that's interesting. Do you think the problems inherent in allowing soldiers to privately purchase armor would be exacerbated by regulation -- or, in other words, that such a scheme might actually be easier to pull off if the British and Americans follow the WW1 British example and just leave the entire thing to (mostly unregulated) private industry?

I wondered if you could clarify for me what you mean by integration into supply chains, since I am largely ignorant of logistical issues. To my knowledge, privately purchased armor wouldn't need much in the way of replacement parts, fuel, cleaning supplies, or the like. Are you saying that the added weight and bulk of some portion of your force carrying, say, Medical Research Council style (3.5 pound) or "steel bib" style (7.7 pound) armor would need to be accounted for when calculating transportation costs, projected marching speeds, how much other weight to put on soldiers for an operation, etc.?
 
Last edited:
Depending on the training the soldier receives that's either absolutely true or pretty much absolutely true.

Royal Marines (I speak from experience) are trained to be able to swim 100 yards in full battle kit (around 100 lbs) (and be able to hit a man-sized target 8 times out of 10 within two minutes immediately after. If your gun doesn't work, that's just too bad.) If you can't do that, you don't get your green beret and you don't become a Royal Marine. The reason is precisely because landing craft can get snagged up some distance offshore, and it helps to be able to get to land.

I can attest that adding extra weight isn't a great idea.

True but for an amphibious op the size of overlord (Which is pretty much what you need minimum in terms of size considering the potential opponent forces, fortifications, and the like, and a large portion of any division is going to be killed or rendered combat incapable (When their landing craft breaks down, or because confusion means they never get on the landing craft, or because of their landing crafts swamping or colliding, thats not even going into actual enemy action like mines, those poles that were supposed to rip landing craft apart, enemy artillery/mortar/MG/small arms fire, and everything else) you realistically probably can't train anywhere near the majority needed to that level of standard. Unless you have resources, industry, and manpower beyond even the US and the political/social willingness to go full scale in arming up for like at least half a decade pre war.
 
Perfectly true. I merely mention it as an indication that adding more weight to what one is carrying isn't optimal when there's a good chance you'll be swimming in a moment.
 
Even in Korea troops didn't use the armored vests that were available. I had an uncle that they would use the vests hung on the doors of trucks and in seats of jeeps but they wouldn't wear them when on patrols because of the weight. The soldiers didn't see much advantage in the protection verses the mobility they lost.
 
The Australian Army traditionally has a dislike for armour vests. The first encountered them in Korea and generally didn't like them because of their noise and weight. In Vietnam they next encountered them and issued them in defensive positions but again their weight and noise told against them. In Afghanistan and Iraq they were general issue and worn.
 
Regarding your first footnoted observation: that's interesting. Do you think the problems inherent in allowing soldiers to privately purchase armor would be exacerbated by regulation -- or, in other words, that such a scheme might actually be easier to pull off if the British and Americans follow the WW1 British example and just leave the entire thing to (mostly unregulated) private industry?


I was thinking more the complexity of the US/UK government having to regulate a market that what would by definition spring up quickly and on an ad-hoc basis.


I wondered if you could clarify for me what you mean by integration into supply chains, since I am largely ignorant of logistical issues. To my knowledge, privately purchased armor wouldn't need much in the way of replacement parts, fuel, cleaning supplies, or the like. Are you saying that the added weight and bulk of some portion of your force carrying, say, Medical Research Council style (3.5 pound) or "steel bib" style (7.7 pound) armor would need to be accounted for when calculating transportation costs, projected marching speeds, how much other weight to put on soldiers for an operation, etc.?
A bit of that but also integrating them into established combat loads etc. Say for example a solider turns up in some body armor that doesn't allow him to use the standard webbing.
 
Last edited:

Garrison

Donor
I was thinking more the complexity of the US/UK government having to regulate what would by definition would spring up quickly and on an ad-hoc basis.



A bit of that but also integrating them into established combat loads etc. Say for example a solider tunrs up in some body armor that doesn't allow him to use the standard webbing.
Yeah if some soldier has his privately purchased body armour and his comrade doesn't I could see that breeding resentment as well, not to mention creating a grim possibility that enemy soldiers will pick out those soldiers without armour.
 
Okay. That just reminded me of HMS Ulysses' Kapok Kid. For those who haven't read it the Kid had a privately purchased kapok coat.

Obviously the book is a work of fiction, but he is one of those characters that have to have been inspired by reality.
 
Top