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Body Armour Ideas.

        .“...plainly apparent from the end of 1914 onwards, the next steps in thought will be equally simple. Something must be discovered which....{will} make it unnecessary for Soldiers to bare their breasts to the machinegun hail.....The remedy when stated appeared to be so simple that it was for months or even years scouted and disregarded by many of the leading men in the great fighting professions.
Reduced to its elements, it consisted in interposing a thin plate of steel between the...body of a man and the approaching bullet”.

Sir Winston Churchill, The World Crisis quoted in the book, Taming the Landmine by Peter Stiff, pages 11-12

        “Some of the medical officers investigating the casualties of British forces through the year 1916 indicated that more than three-quarters of the wounded men could have been saved if some form of armor had been worn. This assumption was based upon a study of the type of wounds (penetrating rather than perforating) and the preponderance of causative missiles being derived from fragmentation-type weapons (either shrapnel or shell fragment). Similar statistics were derived from studies of French casualties where it was believed that 60 to 80 percent of all wounds were produced by missiles of low to medium velocity.”

Armour Glossary.
        The terminology left to us by our ancestors allows armour to be described in great detail but many of these terms are not familar to modern fighting men. Below is a quick guide to some of the terms used in this article. A nice resource on terminology can be found here.

Pictorial Glossary of Armour
Knighthood, Chivalry & Tournaments Resource Library Arms and Armour Glossary of Terms

Bevor. Plate armour protecting the lower face and chin. Some medieval helms such as the Close Helm had both a visor and bevor. The Buffe and Falling Buffe are variants of bevor.
Gauntlet. Protective glove of cloth, leather or armour, usually with a long cuff that covers part or all of the forearm.
Lame. (pr La-may) Strip of plate, usually joined to other lames to form articulated sections of armour. Armour entirely of Lames is called Laminated ľnot to be confused with Laminar armour, a variant of scale armour.
Manica. Roman term for a protection that covers the entire length of the arm. Most familiar as being part of the armour worn by certain types of Gladiators. The Sandia "Gauntlet" should be more accurately termed a Manica.
Pauldron. Plate armour to protect the shoulder. Might be one piece or may have several lames to protect part of the upper arm.
Rerebrace. Plate armour defence for the upper arm. Essentially a tube enclosing the arm from elbow to armpit.
Spaulder. Alternate name for plate armour protecting the shoulder. In modern usage at least a spaulder is often smaller than a pauldron and more likely to be composed of more than one piece. Alternate names include "Espallieres" and "Epaulet".
Vambrace. Plate defence for the lower arm. In previous centuries this term was sometimes used for the plate defence for the whole arm except the gauntlet and Pauldron.

        Many manufactures describe their body armour as offering certain levels of protection (Level I, II-A etc) but many websites don't detail what this means. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) standards usually used are:-

        Many makers claim that their body armour is capable of withstanding multiple hits from AKs at less than 5 metres range. Such armour is often claimed to be lighter than that current;y issued to combat troops. Obviously such armour should be tested and issued if it proves to be superior.

        This page started with Ralph Zumbro commenting on my article on camouflaged smocks. Soon the topic changed to the body armour worn beneath the smock. Ralph is better known for being an expert on the sort of armour that weighs a couple of dozen tons and has an engine, but he is a man of many insights.

        “For DECADES, I have been trying to promote the idea that if a trooper is carried to battle, he can afford the weight of some level of body armor, and that the armor in question needs to be better than a flak vest. The “boiler room” or vital organs need to be AK proof. That is the bottom line. The same level of skull armor should be tried for.
        A soldier in intense combat cannot afford to be weighed down though, so I'd opt for a heavy duty back and breast with the front only AK proof, and the back at least proof from SMG fired 9x19mm rounds”

        Modern body armour is usually a vest of soft armour with pockets for inserting ceramic plates. This is a pretty good description of the more primitive types of protection used by medieval footsoldiers. For better quality infantry armour we need to look back to Roman times. The most distinctive and most efficient form of Roman armour was the Lorica Segmentata. A quick websearch on this term will turn up all the diagrams and patterns you would need to build your own.
        You'll see that the Roman armour is very simple. The area from waist to chest is covered by 6 to 8 paired horizontal strips joined by interior straps. Sets of similar vertical strips pass over the upper arm and shoulders, with the innermost being shaped to accommodate the neck.
        The complete armour could be packed into a small bag. It was also designed to be worn all the time. Legionaries both fought and marched in their armour.
        This page gives some re-enactor's impressions of wearing Roman armour

        A modern version of Lorica Segmentata would be made of rigid kevlar as is used in the PAGST helmet, with ceramic plates bonded to the frontal aspects for increased protection.
         The outer layer of armour would be soft to reduce the risk of secondary injuries from bullet fragments. This top layer should be coloured neutral grey or khaki to maintain camouflage should the armour be visible through tears in the smock.
        The armour will also include a groin defence.

        On the left is an image of personal armour from “Appleseed Vol 3” by Masamune Shirow. Shirow puts a lot of thought into his designs. In this image you can see that the large Paudrons help provide further protection to the chest area when the wearer holds his SMG in a ready or firing position.

        The proposed Neo-Roman armour has several advantages over conventional modern designs.
        Some changes will need to be made to the basic design other than using more modern materials. The shoulder defences of Roman armour had the upper strips overlapping those below, which was sound design if the threat was a downward slashing sword blade.
         A modern Soldier is more likely to be laying prone and firing, and a moments reflection will reveal that such a design of shoulder defence will funnel bullets between the strips since the arms are held forwards to aim his weapon. For this reason the shoulder defences will be constructed so that the lower strips overlap those above. This design feature can be seen in this 15th Century Paudron (right). A modern version would have several more Lames so protection of the outer upper arm extends down to the elbow.
        The outer part of the lower arm would need to be protected by some form of bracer or vambrace. The use of a gunshield would also help defend the hands and forearms.

Helmets and Boots.
        Two of the body areas most prone to injury in modern combat are the feet and the face. The feet are vulnerable to anti-personnel mines and booby traps. Facial injuries usually occur when looking around cover.
        The protection of the feet has been addressed by Carlton Meyer in his article on assault boots. See also here.

        "While soldiers in foot reconnaissance units may walk dozens of miles each day, soldiers in mechanized infantry units do not walk much in combat zones, nor do engineers or artillerymen.........Therefore, most combat soldiers and marines should wear “assault boots”, which could also be called cavalry boots or combat boots. The entire foot would be encased in a kevlar shell with flexible Kevlar lining along the ankle and legs, and may extend in front of the knee for added protection, allowing soldiers to quickly drop to their knees on a hard surface...........Soldiers fighting in urban areas, static “trench” warfare, or peacekeeping duties need these boots. A small mine would throw a soldier into the air, and maybe break a foot or ankle bone, but he would not lose a foot. Soldiers could stomp over barbed wire and kick down doors with these heavy boots. In many cases, these boots would stop small shell fragments and sharp objects from injuring soldiers. The would also prevent injuries from glass, nails, punji sticks, snakes, and common accidents where heavy objects are dropped. Since deployed US Marines come ashore in helicopters or ride in vehicles to intervene in urban areas, assault boots are ideal for them. Engineers truly need these boots for mine clearing and for safety at construction sites".

        Carlton has also considered the topic of head protection. The sort of helmet he proposes resembles some of the designs used by Greek Hopites, such as the Corinthian and Chalcidian. The latter design offered better visibility and hearing, but any helmet would need to be compatible with devices such as night vision goggles and respirators.

        “When Soldiers complained that they needed a better helmet, the U.S. Army's answer was to spend billions of dollars to attached electronic gizmos. What Soldiers need is a helmet that fits over the head, not one that is strapped to the top of the head. Helmets must come down over the ears (with ear holes) to protect the sides of the head, like a football helmet.

        The Army should study combat casualties so it can recognize how many serious injuries or deaths could have been prevented if helmets covered more the side of the head. A 4-inch wide kevlar strap on each side of the helmet should taper down to the chin to protect much of the face from shrapnel, debris, and rifle butts. If this makes the helmet too heavy, thin out the rear portion of the helmet.

        These helmets should also fit better. The one-size fits all looks good in parades, but doesn't allow a snug fit. The Army has dozens of boot sizes and several uniforms sizes, so it has several different helmet sizes. With a snugger fit and/or retention system the helmet will not flop around when a Soldier runs or dives for cover”.

        An alternate is to fit the current helmet with a bevor (left). A bevor resembles a visor but covers the lower part of the face rather than the eyes. The design I propose would be shaped rather like a snow plough to deflect bullets.
        Mounted under the bevor would be a gorget, since the throat is one of the two primary targets in bayonet fighting.
        Injuries could also be reduced by issuing troops with tactical mirrors that can be attached to the end of weapons to peek around corners or over trench tops. Such mirrors could also be used for signaling, applying camouflage cream, inspecting vehicles and shaving.

        Ralph also believes there is merit in Soldiers once again carrying shields. Many armies have full length shields for riot duties, but what Ralph is proposing is a smaller shield with better ballistic protection. This would be about the size of a Scottish targe, and used mainly to protect the torso and face. If the soldier is kneeling or prone this would provide even more cover. The bottom of the shield would be squared off and provided with a stand so that it can support itself. A spyhole, firing port and carrying sling are also good features. The spyhole and firing port might be combined in the form of a sliding shutter. Such a shield could be clipped behind a riot shield for increased protection.

        A logical extension of this idea has been proposed by Mike Sparks, which is to fit weapons with gunshields. Realistically, I can't see all of a squad having gunshields. Most likely candidates are the unit's machine guns. These would have shields located just ahead of the barrel change handle, and a horizontal cut-out provided in the shield to allow barrel removal. When in action this opening would be covered by a smaller shield clipped to the barrel. A handle on the back of the shield can help the gunner support the weapon, and feet on the bottom of the shield may remove the need for a bipod. Graticles etched on the surface of the transparent shield material can assist in range estimation. Such machine guns should also have Blast suppressors. The unit may also have some shielded M4 rifles or shotguns to be used by the soldier who pulls point duty. “Rifle” shields would have a hinged port underneath the barrel to allow the use of M203s, Ripleys or Disposable Grenade Launchers

        Mike has suggested that the dimensions of the gunshield be 11” by 14” and attached to the rifle by means of the bayonet lug. Personally I think this position is too far forward and will lead to problems with balance and user fatigue and that the shield should be mounted no more than 12” ahead of the magazine well.
         The dimensions of the shield will also need experimentation. A modern Soldier is most likely to be firing from a prone or crouched position. A smaller shield may be more practical and offer a greater level of protection for the same weight.
         Angling the shield is another idea that deserves consideration. Gunshields on German half-tracks were angled both from top to bottom and from the centre to the edges. Sloping the shield in one or more planes will increase protection by deflecting rounds rather than trying to stop them. Two thin layers of material with a space between them may prove more effective than one thicker layer.
        Adding a 2.5-3lb shield to a weapon will increase the weight. On a M16 type weapon this will increase the weight to a similar level to a Garand or FAL. On a M249 you are in M60 weight class. All of these weapons are of a weight manageable by Soldiers in the past, and the increase is functional weight that increases the Soldier's survivability. A more valid consideration is that of balance which can be addressed by experimentation. Some current weapons handle better if the stock weight is increased.

Larger Shields.
        Larger bullet resistant shields may have applications too. A rectangular shield for unarmed medics would be useful, and will no doubt see applications as a sled to move wounded men.
        SWAT teams already make use of larger Pavaisse type shields. These can be seen in the movie “Leon”. In the book Blackhawk Down the rangers are FAST roped down onto street corners to isolate the block for a D-team. It is pretty obvious that the streets had little cover and such units may have benefited from Pavaisses.
        Another striking feature of the Battle of Mogadishu, as reported in the book was the number of soldiers who received bullet hits in the hand. A bullet proof glove would not be very practical, but maybe such injuries could be reduced by mounting deflector plates over the weapon's grips to protect the hands, rather like the devices fitted to the handlebars of cross country motorcycles. The use of correctly designed gunshields will also reduce hand injuries.

Bill Clarke writes:- As far as the helmet, it would be very easy to develop a soft-Kevlar helmet cover and liner. This would also add the benefit of armor spacing, for little extra weight or bulk.

PW: It would also be a good way to upgrade “Old” steel helmets. I wonder if the front of such a cover might have a pocket for a ceramic re-enforcing plate over the forehead.

Sven Ortman writes:-
“Helmets should include flexible or semi-flexible ballistic protection for the neck! Do you remember the routine when artillery comes in? Down and hands over the neck - I always thought about a substitute for my hands when I did so. Proximity-fuzed artillery/mortar munitions accelerate many of their fragments downwards - some decades ago contact-fuzed shells spread their fragments horizontally and close to earth. This changed, but the current helmet design is still close to the German one of 1915.”

PW: Such a defence might be constructed like the neck defence of the “Lobster-tailed Burgonets” made famous by Cromwell's Roundheads. A modern version would most likely be covered by a layer of soft armour. Another advantage of such a defence is it covers the most likely aiming point for a marksman who has positioned himself behind a Soldier.

        Since I first drafted this page I've been received some information from re-enactors that have worn Lorica Segmentata.
        Like many forms of armour, most of the weight of the Lorica Segmentata is carried on the shoulders. It is possible that on a more modern design some of the load could be transfered onto the hips, as is done with a good modern rucksac.
        One correspondent said that very little air got through his armour and that it was quite sweaty in hot weather. Another said that the airspace between his body and the armour did allow air to circulate like he had his own air conditioning unit. A modern version of Lorica Segmentata would probably be worn with garments such as Coolmax RVUs.
        Re-enactors have worn Lorica Segmentata for more than 12 hours while filming without becoming unduly fatigued and have marched up to 15 miles in the armour. Another wearer tells me he can walk 20km cross country in his armour in all weathers from 40░C to the British winter. Bear in mind that this performance is by civilian hobbists. Even better performance can be expected by trained soldiers. The Roman soldier would wear his armour like a second skin -he would train in it, march in it, dig in it and fight in it. Probably slept in it sometimes too.
        What I really need is the impressions of someone who has experience wearing both Lorica Segmentata and modern military armour.

         The body armour system that I've proposed involves the use of a Smock and webbing worn over the body armour. An alternate idea is to attach the ammo pouches etc directly to the body armour. Although this idea appears to be attractive it will not offer the camouflage capabilities of a smock, nor will it allow equipment to be rapidly removed, which is something that separate webbing offers. I'd therefore not recommend this option for main combat units.
        Armour with pouches directly attached may have applications for police and certain other types of military units. For military applications such vests should be created with a base colour of khaki, and this can be
customised using dyes to suit the local conditions.

        “AK-proof” Lorica armour as described above is mainly envisioned as being for troops that fight dismounted but are moved by vehicles. For Soldiers that operate on foot for most of the time such armour may not be so practical. Examples of such units include LRSU and infantry operating in mountainous or jungle terrain. “Soft armour” similar to that now in use may be more useful for such troops.
        A useful feature for such armour would be detachable sleeves, eliminating the need to wear a separate tunic beneath and therefore increasing wearer comfort. A variation of this idea is the Crye Precision Combat Shirt. Not having to wear a tunic would be especially welcome since travel in jungle and/or mountainous terrain can be physically very demanding. Such Soft armour can be worn under a combat smock.
        Soft body armour vests should be provided with underarm zips to increase ventilation when on the march.

        Armour can reduce a Soldier's speed and mobility. However, if he is manning a vehicle machine-gun, standing at a checkpoint or driving an inadequately armoured vehicle he doesn't have the option of moving around to avoid fire. Therefore Soldiers performing such duties need a higher level of protection and need to wear higher levels of body armour. Some of this has been addressed on this page.
         Some vehicle machine-gunners serving in Iraq have improvised shoulder defences and a production version is planned to be issued soon. A machine-gunner that must fire from an exposed position will need even more extensive armour coverage. As well as breast, back and shoulder defences his arms will need rerebraces, spaulders and vambraces. His helmet should include a bevor and visor. Such equipment might also be useful to Tank and Track commanders. Effectively we are talking about a modern version of renaissance plate “half-armour”. Such defences should be used in conjunction with weapon mounted gunshields such as were used with ACAVs.

        “.........A better idea is a 40 lb. armored Kevlar long overcoat.  It would be similar to the Army's Ballistic Protective Blanket, but with long sleeves a large hood that can fit over a helmet. The Army has developed armored shorts which weigh 8 lbs. These are helpful, but provide limited protection and are hot and difficult to remove.  If a rocket or bomb sets fire to a truck, or a truck is under attack, soldiers need to escape quickly and this may prove difficult while wearing bulky armored vests and shorts.  In contrast, a loose fitting overcoat will be cooler and easily shed by a soldier if necessary.
         Kevlar overcoats are also good for troops riding in armored personnel carriers involved in an assault. If their vehicle is hit, the overcoats will protect them from shrapnel and burns. When they dismount to attack on foot, they leave behind these coats.  In defensive positions, they can use their coats as protection from artillery and mortar fragments.  Infantrymen hunkered down in a fighting hole and wearing Kevlar overcoats will be difficult to dislodge since most casualties are caused by fragments from grenades, mortars, artillery, and bombs.  The hood over their helmet also protects the head and neck from concussions and noise.  As enemy artillery and mortar fire lift and enemy infantrymen draw near, defenders may drop their hood or the entire overcoat to better employ their weapons.
         Soldiers may wear them at checkpoints where suicide bombers lurk, or when riding in thin-skin helicopters.  Kevlar overcoats will prove valuable on many occasions, like protecting soldiers from bombs and RPGs in Iraq”.
Carlton Meyer's Kevlar Overcoat idea

        These garments are likely to resemble the long robes of Brigantine armour used in ancient China.

        Drivers of light vehicles should have an armoured seat that also provides mineblast protection, and extra chest armour, like the “Chicken Plate” issued to Vietnam-era helicopter pilots. For added comfort such armour can be connected the the vehicle's heating or air-conditioning system.
        Soldiers who man checkpoints must remain stationary for long periods of time and are vulnerable to snipers. Such personnel also need higher levels of protection.

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