Body Armor (Flak Jackets) in WW II

Armor, Vest, M12 for Ground Troops.  Bottom view includes T65 Apron.
Armor, Vest, M12 for Ground Troops
Bottom view includes T65 Apron.

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Body Armor (Flak Jackets) in the U.S. Military During World War II

Development of body armor, including armored vests for US Army ground troops, was conducted during World War II by both the Army Ordnance Corps and the Army Quartermaster Corps.

Quartermaster efforts were directed toward development of non-metallic body armor and at the end of World War II had reached the combat test stage with an experimental vest armored with rigid plates of Doron, laminated plastic fibre-glass. The term Doron is derived from the name of Brigadier General Georges Doriot, World War II chief of the Research and Development Branch, Office of The Quartermaster General of the Army.

Flyers Vest M1, front panel

Body armor developed by the Ordnance Corps during this period included a 12-pound vest of aluminum plates and nylon fabric designated as M-12, which was adopted as a standard Army item by the end of World War II (see top photo on this page).

At the same time, in the US Army Air Corps, bomber crews often returned from missions over Nazi-occupied Europe reporting extremely dense flak, each burst spraying the aircraft with hot shrapnel. Following the experience of the Royal Air Force, the Air Corps began issuing flak jackets to aircrews in 1942. These early flak jackets were heavy, consisting of steel plates sown into multi-layered nylon that would catch low velocity fragments (photo, left: Flyers Vest, M1, front panel). An apron panel was added to increase the protected areas. The vest and apron design was supplemented by a helmet to complete the protection. The heavy protection vest had a pull tab to dump it quickly if the plane ditched in the water or the crew had to bail out.

The World War II Air Corps body armor was used by flexible position gunners in four-engine bombers like B-17s and B-24s and by aicrews in medium bombers like the B-26 and B-25.

Airman jettisons front and rear body armor by use of quick release fastener and ripcord
Airman jettisons front and rear body armor by use of quick release fastener and ripcord.

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