Lightweight Body Armor
By Ludlow King
Quartermaster Review March-April 1953
Reprinted from the January-February Ordnance
PFC J. ARTHUR WICK of Port Jervis. N. Y., a member of K Company, 17th Infantry, U. S. Army, smothered a hand grenade with his body. The explosion threw him into the air, but he suffered nothing more serious than a bruised chest.”
Marine Pfc. Lee Ward, Maplewood, Mo., says the body armor is ‘indispensable.’ He said, “On a patrol about a week ago, I had an enemy mortar shell land about ten feet away from me. I picked five pieces of shell fragments out of my vest. Didn’t bother me. Another guy on the same patrol stopped six burp-gun slugs with his jacket. All he got out of it was a couple of bruises.”
Since last March, newspapers, magazines, radio, and television networks have brought us many amazing reports similar to those quoted above. The most important point of all the reports is that lives of our soldiers in Korea are being saved by a lightweight, modern body armor. However, within these stories lies another story that should be told at this time.
In the past there has been exaggerated criticism of the lack of cooperation between our departments of national defense. This story is a living example of the splendid cooperation, interchange of information, and integration of efforts on the part of the U.S. Army, Navy, and Marine Corps in the development of superior instruments of warfare. It is one in which we can all take a great deal of pride; members of the Defense Department, members of industry, and taxpayers alike.
It pertains to the development and use of a new nonmetallic armor-a highly engineered and designed combination of Fiberglas cloth and plastics. Several communiqués have erroneously referred to other types of armor plate being used in Korea. The only “standardized” body armor being used in Korea in combat today is made ninety per cent of the Fiberglas-plastic combination, best known as ”Doron,” which is used to protect the body, and ten per cent of nylon which is used over the shoulders.
In 1942 a shortage of metallic armor established an urgent requirement for the development and production of a new nonmetallic armor. Research and development people throughout our military departments accepted this challenge with zeal and determination.
In June of that year, Brig. Gen. Georges F. Doriot, for whom the combination Fiberglas-plastic armor was later named, was serving as chief of the Military Planning Division, OQMG. He directed his division to investigate the possibilities of combining a comparatively new fibrous glass material with plastics in an effort to produce a new lightweight nonmetallic armor.
The Quartermaster General invited the Naval Research Laboratory, which had been working on a light armor program for aircraft applications, to coordinate their work with the Quartermaster Corps. Naval Research Laboratory’s objective, at that time was to develop a light armor plate to use in place of manganese steel which was considered too heavy.
Edwin Hobson, chief of the Plastics Section in General Doriot’s division, immediately called in members of industry to get full particulars of the new technologies developed in the field of reinforcing plastics with high-tensile-strength fibrous glass. Army Ordnance had already developed the theory that high ballistic properties could best be obtained from materials possessing high strength and ductility. Mr. Hobson won the complete support of industry and encouraged them to carry on further experiments.
In May 1943, the Dow Chemical Company laminated a fibrous glass fabric and plastic in a special manner which provided encouraging ballistic values. This was the birth of Doron. Meeting this initial success, the Army Quartermaster Corps was authorized to intensify its research program. It established projects with industry to investigate thoroughly the bonding properties of all resins, the production of high-strength glass filaments, the best types of fabric weaves to provide greater strengths and the lamination and fabrication processes to provide optimum results.
“Some of the companies participating in the early phases of this development work were General Electric, Dow Chemical, Hercules Powder, American Cyanamid, Bakelite, Monsanto, Firestone, Westinghouse, Formica, Continental Diamond, and United States Rubber. The willingness of all these companies to pool their efforts in one single military program is indicative of the genuine spirit of cooperation developed between the military and industry during World War II.
It was during this period that industry as a whole started thinking of the military as “our Navy,” ”our Army,” ”our Marines.” ”our Air Force.” Industry learned for the first time they actually are a part of our military and that the military is a part of industry. In this shrinking world of ours, they are completely dependent one upon the other and inseparable as far as the defense of our country is concerned.
Later a joint committee on nonmetallic armor was created by the Defense Department. This was composed of members from the Office of The Quartermaster General, Naval Research Laboratory, Bureau of Ships, Army Ordnance, the Bureau of Medicine & Surgeon, and the Bureau of Aeronautics. The control of this committee was vested in the Office of The Quartermaster General of the Army.
Dr. G. R. Irwin of the Naval Research Laboratory and Mr. Hobson designed and developed a complete body-armor jacket utilizing Doron armor plate. Two officers of the Bureau of Medicine & Surgery staged demonstrations at Camp Lejeune, Quantico, and the FBI Barracks. The demonstrations were made by Lt. Comdr. Andrew Paul Webster, U.S.N.R., who fired a caliber .45 automatic pistol at his friend, Lt. Comdr. Lyman Corey, U.S.N.R., who was wearing an armor jacket. This was perhaps the first protection given to humans by Doron.
As a result of these demonstrations and complete data and statistics furnished by The Quartermaster General, the Marine Corps obtained appropriations to equip a full battalion with this body armor for landing operations. Doron panels were sewn into standard utility jackets and first used in the last stages of Okinawa in 1944. At the same time, recommendations were made by the Navy to procure 300,000 life jackets with added panels of Doron for use in landing operations. At the close of World War II, the importance of body armor jackets greatly declined.
In 1948 the Marine Corps established a Body Armor Section under the Medical Research Laboratory at Camp Lejeune. This was directed by Lt. Comdr. Fred L. Lewis, Jr. His principal objective was to coordinate with the Office of The Quartermaster General and the Naval Research Laboratory in determining which nonmetallic body-armor materials were most suitable. Upon the selection of Doron, he then designed a vest using curved plates instead of the flat plates formerly used. These curved plates enabled the vests to conform with the contours of the body.
In the spring of 1951, forty vests were made of curved Doron panels, procured by The Quartermaster General and assembled into vests by the Marine Corps in Philadelphia. These vests were combat-tested in Korea under the auspices of the Marine Corps, the Army Quartermaster Corps, the Navy Bureau of Medicine & Surgery, and Army Ordnance. By November 16, 1951, the Marine Corps had established requirements for body-armor vests due to the stabilization of warfare in Korea and placed an order for 2,000 of the protective garments.
The first 500 were air-shipped to Korea on January 30, 1952. These were used in combat on February 21, 1952. A Marine Corps team observed the tremendously successful performance of these vests and recommended additional procurement to outfit the entire 1st Marine Division. The Army established requirements for body-armor jackets, and the Marine Corps assisted in the procurement of jackets for the Army.
The joint efforts of the military and participating companies of industry have been more than rewarded by the knowledge that these body-armor jackets will return many of our soldiers to their families who otherwise would have been listed “lost in combat.” As of this writing approximately 80,000 to 90,000 Doron jackets have been procured for use in Korea. It is interesting to note that this is the second application of glass in fibrous form which is saving the lives of our men in the military. The Navy’s ”standard” life jackets are now filled with fine fibrous glass in wool form, treated with water-repellent silicone. This has been found superior to cork and kapoc for long-life buoyancy properties.