What could have been, AEF deploys with Body Armor 1918

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Honorius
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What could have been, AEF deploys with Body Armor 1918

Postby Honorius » 2015-08-30 10:06am

An interesting article I found while researching inspiration for a Magitek Intergalactic Society I'm building for a story.

A snippet of the relevant part.

Enter Bashford Dean and his team. Met armorers crafted a battle harness with complete torso protection, front and back, for about 8.5 pounds With pauldrons (shoulder guards), couters (elbow) and vambraces (forearm), add another 4 pounds With helmet -- and Dean offered the two finest battle helmets of modern times -- it all came to just over 15 pounds Quite wearable, you would think, given that U.S. soldiers' full panoply today can reach 40pounds, close to 15th century full-body plate armor.

Moreover, Dean's panoply was fully cushioned with "vulcanized sponge-rubber," and with the latest alloys, could stop a .45 ACP at 1000 ft. per second (and a rifle ball at 1250 ft. per second). In terms of coverage, ease and comfort, and raw protection, this was as close as anyone in the war came to the Holy Grail of personal body armor. Deployed in the big American Expeditionary Force (AEF) offensive at the Meuse-Argonne, it could have cut 26,000 battle deaths by one third or more.


Given the overwhelming majority of deaths were caused by artillery fragments, I can see this saving many lives. Of course as noted in the article the arm protection likely would have gone away do to the need to smoothly operate the bolt of the current rifles of the era but machine gunners would likely have kept them.

So for arguments sake, lets say this armor was ordered adopted by the US Congress with Wilson signing off and crammed down the US Military establishment's throats with objectors sacked and thrown out the door, and enough sets are available for every Infantryman taking part in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

I would say AEF causalities would go down far more substantially than a third, because soldiers whose armor stops an incapacitating shell splinter and still has working limbs can continue providing suppressing fire and moving forward to grenade range. In fact, some the objectives not met in the first phase OTL might actually be taken, though its an open question on the 35th Division which had recently had its commanders relieved.

But the real changes come post war with soldiers and officers (many who would be Generals in WW2) seeing that this armor works and wanting to keep it and improve upon it while fighting off ignorant arguments that it can't stop rifle rounds which while true is not the main killer on the battlefield.

What do you guys think.

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Re: What could have been, AEF deploys with Body Armor 1918

Postby Jub » 2015-08-30 10:52am

Have you factored in the cost of such armor on the scale needed to equip a significant fraction, let alone all, of the American forces in WWI? Even if you could get the bill passed could it be manufactured swiftly enough by the American factories of the time? You must also factor in either the cost of new factories to make this armor or what isn't being produced to enable the production of this armor.

You also need to factor in that most of the soldiers sent to the front weren't trained like modern soldiers. They were put through boot, taught to shoot and march and sent on their merry way. Unless trained in and made to believe that the extra weight was worth the effort you'll have a hard time making the men wear and carry it. This happens today with gear and armor plates. The fact is that soldiers don't carry all that weight into the field unless forced to.

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Re: What could have been, AEF deploys with Body Armor 1918

Postby Honorius » 2015-08-30 12:17pm

Jub wrote:Have you factored in the cost of such armor on the scale needed to equip a significant fraction, let alone all, of the American forces in WWI? Even if you could get the bill passed could it be manufactured swiftly enough by the American factories of the time? You must also factor in either the cost of new factories to make this armor or what isn't being produced to enable the production of this armor.

You also need to factor in that most of the soldiers sent to the front weren't trained like modern soldiers. They were put through boot, taught to shoot and march and sent on their merry way. Unless trained in and made to believe that the extra weight was worth the effort you'll have a hard time making the men wear and carry it. This happens today with gear and armor plates. The fact is that soldiers don't carry all that weight into the field unless forced to.


Uh, the other belligerents did indeed produce and field large numbers of body armor types, granted they were going for full protection against rifle bullets which was folly, causing delays, upping the costs, and limiting what could be produced. This armor offered splinter protection only and costs could be saved dropping the arm protection.

As for material resources, America was the largest steel producer, 28,000 tons of steel was used in making corsets alone and said corset makers could retool to make this armor instead with no doubt some amusement.

But lets put the costs this way:

What is the hidden cost for each soldier killed without body armor? Might said soldier go on to college and make a name for himself, get married and pass his genes along, etc?

180,000 Americans were killed in WW1, cutting that by just a third means 60,000 lives saved who might make a big difference later.

There is also the morale factor, if soldiers are trained and correctly informed that this armor increases their chances of surviving artillery splinters which is what will most likely kill them, and see its effectiveness while German troops see a horde of American Troops advancing through artillery barrages that would scythe down unprotected troops and and returning fire, the exhausted German Forces may break rather than defend their trenches allowing AEF Forces to gain trench lines with little resistance driving down the need to expend ordinance.

Then there is the virtual reinforcement effect. Every soldier not killed or wounded by a torso hit thanks to the armor and still able to advance and use his weapon is one less soldier that has to be replaced and one more soldier in the fight, which in turn means fewer replacements need to be drafted and trained and thus can stay in the factories supporting the fighting troops, dropping costs due to less disruptions and retraining of new personnel.

Whatever the material costs of making the armor, I assert will be more than made up in the increased combat effectiveness of the AEF by wearing this armor.

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Re: What could have been, AEF deploys with Body Armor 1918

Postby Elheru Aran » 2015-08-30 12:49pm

The great majority of American casualties in WWI were from disease, IIRC. That's not something armour will protect you from.
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Re: What could have been, AEF deploys with Body Armor 1918

Postby Honorius » 2015-08-30 05:02pm

Elheru Aran wrote:The great majority of American casualties in WWI were from disease, IIRC. That's not something armour will protect you from.


Even excepting that, though ~14,000 died from wounds sustained from combat not included in the ~53,000 KIAs. There also ~200,000 WIAs.

Cutting those numbers down is still worthwhile. Meuse-Argonne saw 26,277 Americans killed and 95,786 wounded. Cutting the deaths by a third means ~8,700 men survive to go home and ~31,600 dudes are not incapacitated with torso wounds. That is roughly two square divisions of troops.

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Re: What could have been, AEF deploys with Body Armor 1918

Postby Sea Skimmer » 2015-08-30 09:33pm

Armor would have been useful. It also would have been less then feasible to really mass produce in the timescale involved, the much less then optimal British helmet was adapted for no other reason then it could actually be had quickly, first from supplies the British had built up surplus, and then simply by being very easy to make. The US was planning on a 5 million man army, 3 million men actually got to France and over 1 million saw combat. That was the kind of basis planners had to work on; as it was body armor was produced but only about 10,000 suits of several models were actually made. I don't believe it would be feasible to have gotten a really large number into service earlier, and certainly not without choosing to delay some kind of weapons project. The US was starting with nothing, and while it had a vast industry the demands made on the system for machine tools and skilled labor were enormous.

As well a lot of combat seen by American troops, in Meuse-Argonne offensive above all but also in reducing the German pockets, was highly mobile with a high percentage of deaths from rifles and machine guns and artillery being less important. So the armor would be less useful it would have been at a Somme like battle or WW1 averages, and the hinderance on personal mobility of using armor made of large rigid plates would have been noticeable and led to increased losses since zero point zero infantry carrier vehicles exist. This is why heavy body armor was experimented with an issued on limited scales by many powers, but didn't become commonplace until after WW2 when cost effective fabric could be used (silk armor actually could stop fragments and .45cal bullets too!) This guy didn't make a bad article but I think he is a bit generic and unrealistic in how useful such armor would really be. Much less excuse existed for the failure to widely field ground armor in WW2; though some did get used in Italy and in Normandy.

https://books.google.com/books?id=8SvEB ... &q&f=false
Multiple books were written on the subject in detail at the time, such as this one. Helmets and Body Armor In Modern Warfare: 1919. Google used to have a fully downloadable version up but I don't see it at the moment.

Among the many things you will find in it, armor made of segmented armor scales. Remember that one the next time you see one of those dragonskin foaming at the mouth propaganda pieces raving about how it was the most innovative idea ever suppressed only by the evil US Army. :roll:

Covers all powers, but the US in the most detail. I know of another google book with additional details of the armor models actually adapted for US service but not topic specific, I'll put up a link when I can find the title in my archives.
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Re: What could have been, AEF deploys with Body Armor 1918

Postby Honorius » 2015-08-31 04:58pm

Sea Skimmer wrote:
Among the many things you will find in it, armor made of segmented armor scales. Remember that one the next time you see one of those dragonskin foaming at the mouth propaganda pieces raving about how it was the most innovative idea ever suppressed only by the evil US Army. :roll:


Yeah I see that a lot. A lot people don't realize everything we have today has a developmental history going back thousands of years. Take Kerosene for example.

Thanks for the link though. I'm going to definitely look through it.

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Re: What could have been, AEF deploys with Body Armor 1918

Postby Elheru Aran » 2015-08-31 05:25pm

Bashford Dean wrote the book Skimmer mentions, IIRC (could be wrong though).

Biggest flaw-- logistics: the US simply couldn't produce the amount of armour you propose in the time they had. Thanks to strict isolationism (interfering in Latin America aside) for about a decade or so, they'd ganked their own military to a fair degree, and the same thing almost repeated in the late 1930s-early 40s until Pearl Harbor.
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Re: What could have been, AEF deploys with Body Armor 1918

Postby Sea Skimmer » 2015-08-31 06:45pm

I think its telling that the US actually spent more on munitions in 1919 closing out contracts, then it did in 1918. Physically the plants to build the weapons on the scale the US was capable with simply were not finished in the first two years of the US War, and rather then simply pay enormous cancellation fees the US funded partial completion of many projects. That kept up a fair bit in 1920 too (also some concern existed about continuing war with Russia, and peace with Germany was only in mid 1919) before evaporating. Then ironically the US congress balked at the cost of building permenant facilities to store most of the stuff, and only full armament and ammo for 21 (of those huge square divisions) was formally stored, though various bases and garrisons stashed away as much as they possibly could, and a few simple items like rifles were allowed to be stored in much greater amounts.

This is a big factor in why come 1940 the US had men training with broomsticks again, though a large number of rifles, machine guns and 75mm guns, as well as almost all US ammo reserves were sent to the British home guard. Still wasn't nearly what it could have been though. Had the US stored everything it made in 1919 it would have thought more in terms of 'arm everyone in the UK' then arm the Home Guard.

The big advantage in WW2 was the US mobilization began upon the fall of France in 1940, rather then when it began shooting (ignoring the undeclared war U-boat incidents), and so while the situation was still bleak in December 1941, over a year had passed of building and converting factories enmass and so the weapons tap opened up wide by mid 1942, and was going full bore by mid 1943.



I looked up the specific rubber padded armor the guy in this article mentions, and what actually became of it. 5,000 sets made, shipped and issued in France. So clumsy commanders could not convince troops to use it and not recommended for adoption. One of several suits so field trialed. The Army was still interested in new armor designs until the 1920 reorganization of the military, which saw almost all R&D terminated. That armor might have been useful, but a lot of stuff might have been useful, such as the British invading Norway in 1916 instead of launching the Somme offensive. That doesn't make it very realistic. Armies tend to be conservative, but they tend to have lots of good reasons to be that way. The Dragonskin example (the head of the company was a marketing executive, not an engineer, great sign!) is proof of that.
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Re: What could have been, AEF deploys with Body Armor 1918

Postby Simon_Jester » 2015-08-31 08:15pm

The main problem I remember hearing about Dragonskin was poor temperature tolerance compared to Interceptor. Was there anything else?

Sea Skimmer wrote:This is a big factor in why come 1940 the US had men training with broomsticks again, though a large number of rifles, machine guns and 75mm guns, as well as almost all US ammo reserves were sent to the British home guard. Still wasn't nearly what it could have been though. Had the US stored everything it made in 1919 it would have thought more in terms of 'arm everyone in the UK' then arm the Home Guard.
On reflection this might help explain why there were ridiculous piles of what was then high-end military equipment (Tommy guns, BARs, souped-up vehicle engines) available for use by Prohibition-era gangsters.

[I could be wrong about this]

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Re: What could have been, AEF deploys with Body Armor 1918

Postby Sea Skimmer » 2015-08-31 08:57pm

Simon_Jester wrote:The main problem I remember hearing about Dragonskin was poor temperature tolerance compared to Interceptor. Was there anything else?


Yes, oh god yes. The person who designed the armor, then left the company, doesn't endorse it and after his non compete clause expired helped explain why it was never that good, rapidly became obsolete, was always heavy and expensive and failed legitimate US Army tests (conducted by an independent lab at behalf of congress and the company claiming the army was rigging its own tests)

Basically everything that wasn't clean drinking water destroyed the glue holding the scales together, and the scales were individually not strong enough to survive the more severe end of the (rated) threat spectrum. The company rigged many of its own tests by placing the armor against flat backplates, which increased the overlap of the scales, and was unrealistic compared to the fact that a human torso is curved. Meanwhile the natural overlap of the scales vastly increased the weight and cost of the armor, making it fundmentally inferior to traditional hard plates. We aren't talking about ounces but as much as 19.5lb (47.5 vs 28lb) differences for the larger armor sizes vs US Army interceptor. Meanwhile against hard cored AP rounds each scale simply wasn't large enough to absorb the energy, leading to common massive failure for the Levei IV vest. And the company always had horrible quality control leading to some samples never subject to temperature or chemical (motor oil, not some exotic Russian nerve gas) tests failing out of the box. The USAF actually adapted the armor and over 25% of the vests supplied had to be recalled for poor quality control. Then it turned out Pinnacle armor lied about the Level III vest's NIJ certification and all remaining vests were recalled and the company sued by the DoD for fraud. its excuse for that? That's the NIJ had given it 'verbal' permission to label the product. Anyone believe that level of BS? It lost that legal case. That was actually before but the cause of Dragonskin's failed but highly reported propaganda blitz when the company's marketing head figured out they were out shit creek, and so ran to the most liberal of the mainstream US media (MSNBC) to rave that the army was murdering men to save a dime. That propaganda managed to get the independent tests ordered by the US congress... which proved the US military was not only correct in rejecting the armor but that nobody should have ever bought the level IV version, and that the level III version was strongly open to question. The guy MSNBC hired to do tests was hauled before congress and admitted that actually, the armor had problems. And that they had conducted the tests in grossly flawed ways....suggested by the armor manufacture.

The guy who actually designed Dragonskin originally (as a first effort he openly says, one not meant to be viable or good for years and years ), and then left the company soon after, Allan D. Bain, now works for another company making a different non overlapping scale armor called Hexar III, but they simply aren't even offering a Level IV version on the market. It just won't work. The US Army and DARPA put out open competitions for Level IV scale armors that would work and nobody could offer one. Probably it will be viable in the future, but right now, not happening. If it did everyone would jump on it. Dragonskin wasn't even all that flexible in the first place, it took months to be broken in.

On reflection this might help explain why there were ridiculous piles of what was then high-end military equipment (Tommy guns, BARs, souped-up vehicle engines) available for use by Prohibition-era gangsters.

[I could be wrong about this]


Pretty much wrong on it. Little of this stuff was sold, it was scrapped. BARs were absurdly rare though you could buy them for a very high price. The Tommy gun was not a WW1 production product and only entered production in 1921. It was also very expensive, something like six weeks ages for the average worker, about 100$. Before 1940 only 10,000 were produced, total. under 1,000 went to all government departments, and most of those to federal police forces rather then the military, while many were exported. US Army adaption was only in 1938. The Liberty engine was massively produced for several years after WW1 but nobody was using those in cars. High performance smuggling cars, and boats, were the product of the 1920s automobile revolution, not WW1 production.

In fact the US army had all its top secret Pedersen devices, which turned Springfield rifles into semi automatic pistols, destroyed even though over 50,000 were produced, specifically to keep them out of criminal and anarchist/communist hands. Today under a hundred, I've heard actually under 50 that work, are known to exist.

The real fact is most stuff about the Prohibition Ganster era is the same as modern media reporting is, exaggerated. Think about how many times you've seen reports of modern day US shootings involving automatic weapons, when it then turns out (looking at Boston) the shooters actually had one handgun for two people. The 1930s were the same, or even worse because the very idea of such powerful weapons even existing was still fairly new. The prohibition gangsters were powerful because they had a huge amount of money to pay bribes with, not because they had unusual firepower. The St. Valentines Day Massacre killed 7 men, against a wall, which could have just as well been done with a seven shot pistol. The gang riots and race riots of earlier decades were probably worse in terms of people actually hurt day to day. Gangs of New York is a highly fictional movie... but those riots really happened and killed 120 people in a couple days, and the US army really did volley fire into armed mobs, and cases existed of privately owned Galting guns and artillery being deployed to defend property. Lots of people died, but the methods did not matter nearly as much as the money that was the reason.
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Re: What could have been, AEF deploys with Body Armor 1918

Postby Simon_Jester » 2015-09-01 11:40am

Sea Skimmer wrote:[snip Dragonskin stuff]
...Wow. That is... entertainingly appalling.

On reflection this might help explain why there were ridiculous piles of what was then high-end military equipment (Tommy guns, BARs, souped-up vehicle engines) available for use by Prohibition-era gangsters.

[I could be wrong about this]
Pretty much wrong on it. Little of this stuff was sold, it was scrapped. BARs were absurdly rare though you could buy them for a very high price. The Tommy gun was not a WW1 production product and only entered production in 1921. It was also very expensive, something like six weeks ages for the average worker, about 100$. Before 1940 only 10,000 were produced, total. under 1,000 went to all government departments, and most of those to federal police forces rather then the military, while many were exported. US Army adaption was only in 1938. The Liberty engine was massively produced for several years after WW1 but nobody was using those in cars. High performance smuggling cars, and boats, were the product of the 1920s automobile revolution, not WW1 production.
When I included "vehicle engines" I was also referring to boats, not just cars. That said, you have a fair point and I got my timing off by a few years.

The real fact is most stuff about the Prohibition Ganster era is the same as modern media reporting is, exaggerated. Think about how many times you've seen reports of modern day US shootings involving automatic weapons, when it then turns out (looking at Boston) the shooters actually had one handgun for two people. The 1930s were the same, or even worse because the very idea of such powerful weapons even existing was still fairly new.
Hm, good point- a lot of the reporters (and private citizens) were probably still mentally in the era before any self-loading firearms including automatic pistols. So they hear eight shots in rapid succession or whatever, and assume it must have been forty gangsters dumping eleven tons of Tommy gun ammunition. :D


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