Body Armor (Flak Jackets) Post WW II

Body armor made little progress in the U.S. military after WW II until the development of laminated nylon body armor in 1948. The Army Quartermaster Corps and the Department of the Navy both developed new, lightweight vests that are the forerunners of all modern flax vests and body armor.

US Army T-52-2 Armored Vest, 29 October 1952
Army T-52-2 Armored Vest
29 October 1952.

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Body Armor Development After World War II

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.

M-1951 USMC Armored Vest

Pfc. David W. Jackson, Company L, 5th RCT, 8th U.S. Army wearing USMC M1951 Doron-nylon vest, 27 September 1952.
Pfc. David W. Jackson, Company L, 5th RCT, 8th U.S. Army wearing USMC M1951 Doron-nylon vest, 27 September 1952.

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. This allowed equipment which had the M-1910 hook fasteners to be attached to it, instead of a pistol belt.

Body Armor (Flak Vests) in the Korean War

Body Armor in Use in Korea
Body Armor in Use in Korea.

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.

Frank Thomas, who was a private first class with the 279th Infantry Regiment, reported:

We had just gotten bullet-proof vests about a week before the cease-fire, but it was so hot at that time of year, we didn’t wear them very long. They weighed about 10 pounds and were about an inch thick and terribly uncomfortable.

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