This week’s postcard is a fine group shot from the Great War of soldiers posing outside a barrack hut:I suspect that this photograph was taken as part of a training course as the soldiers display a wide variety of cap badges. Three officers are seated in the centre:Regiments represented include the Royal Berkshires:Royal Army Medical Corps:Northumberland Fusiliers:Machine Gun Corps:And The Royal West Kent Regiment:The men display an interesting assortment of belts including leather 1914 pattern examples:And 2” wide webbing belts:I particularly like the jack russell dog being held by the chap on the front row:Other features to note are the duckboards the men at the front are sitting on:And the corrugated iron used in producing the hut behind them:Note also the palm frond and large sack leaned up against the hut. The essential role hutted accommodation played in the Great War is often overlooked, but it was the only way to quickly house recruits and men and hutted encampments sprang up all over Britain and France. These huts are largely all gone now, but many have survived as WI Halls, Scout Huts and Community Centres. A dedicated team of volunteers down south has been saving these buildings as they become earmarked for demolition and restoring them to their original splendour. Take a look here for more information on this fantastic project.
Traditionally British body armour protects the core of the body from shrapnel and projectiles by having a ballistic panel front and back over the chest, with the addition of ceramic plates to cover the heart and protect against enemy rounds. The idea is that most fatal injuries occur to the thoracic region and most projectiles will hit it horizontally. Experience in Afghanistan though revealed a real danger from IEDs that forced shrapnel into the chest cavity vertically from the ground upwards. To combat the increasing numbers of injuries and fatalities the Ministry of Defence introduced a new set of pelvic armour that covered the groin region and reduced the risk of vertically propelled shrapnel. This armour consisted of two soft plates that went between the wearer’s legs giving rise to the soldier’s nickname ‘the combat nappy’:This armour was introduced in 2010 and the government at the time noted:
A second layer of detachable pelvic body armour, designed to meet the greater threats faced by soldiers on the ground has already been successfully trialled by the MOD. It can be rolled up and clipped to a belt and then pulled through the legs to form a protective pouch – meaning troops’ mobility is not impeded. It will be issued to all troops operating outside the wire from Spring 2011.
The £4m contract for 25,000 sets of the second-tier body armour has been signed with Northern Ireland-based Hawk Protection Ltd. Loops are provided at the top of the armour to attach it to a waist belt:The sides are secured with Fastex clips:A tab on the back was frequently used to record the soldier’s ‘zap’ number:The inside of the armour is designed to be as comfortable as possible with no protrusions to chafe the wearer:A label is sewn into the back giving the user instructions on its wear:The BBC reported at the time of their introduction:
The “combat codpiece” comes in camouflage colours, and looks like a bulky pair of underpants which tie on at both sides, which is worn over the trousers.
It can be rolled up and clipped to a belt at the back of a pair of trousers with two velcro straps, and then – when needed on patrol – be pulled through the legs to clip together at the sides to form a protective pouch. The padding inside the front and back segments offers an extra layer of protection. These will be issued to troops in the early spring, with the contract for 25,000 sets worth £4m.
Col Peter Rafferty, personal combat equipment team leader at defence equipment and support, says that those researching and developing the equipment faced many challenges, not least in creating protection which still allows the soldiers and others in the field to do their jobs without impeding their mobility.
“We are constantly reviewing what we can do on protection for our forces – we never stop, and we’ll continue to examine what more we can do,” he said.
When out on patrol or outside the main bases in Afghanistan, British forces and others already wear body armour which shields the key areas of the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys, as well as a relatively heavy helmet to protect the head, and blast-proof goggles to shield the eyes from any blast.
However, key arteries flow through the groin area as well, which is an area prone to sweating, so both the blast-proof underwear and pouch had to be made of materials which allow sweat to pass through, rather than adding to the heat experienced by those patrolling in the Afghan summer heat.
My thanks go to Michael Fletcher for hooking me up with this very interesting piece of modern body armour.
Armoured fighting vehicles present equipment designers with a set of distinct challenges. They are narrow spaces, with plenty of protruding objects to catch on uniforms and equipment and regular uniform, body armour and webbing is not appropriate for these men. Whilst it might seem counter intuitive to issue men sitting in an armoured box body armour, there is always the possibility that a vehicle will be hit and its crew will need to bail out and fight their way back to safety. In this case they will need body armour for protection and webbing to hold ammunition for their weapons. To solve this problem the British Army introduced a specialist cover for a set of body armour designed for personnel serving in armoured vehicles:This cover uses the standard filler as issued with the Combat Body Armour or Enhanced Combat Body Armour. At first glance it is just a plain olive green body armour cover, although on the back can be seen two loops at the top of the cover that allow an injured crewman to be hauled through the hatch of an AFV:A single rank slide loop is fitted to the front of the cover:The first indication that this is not a normal body armour cover are the two large zippered pockets on either side of the main opening, the one on the right for maps and documents and the other for a 2l water bladder. These are secured with zips:The main feature of the body armour is revealed however when the front is un-zippered to reveal a set of pouches:These take the place of a full set of webbing and contain on the left two utility pouches. On the right there is a small Leatherman pouch and a first field dressing pouch above a removable panel. The removable panel has either a holster or, as in this case, two single pockets for SA80 magazines:This panel is secured with a combination of Velcro and press studs:This panel has its own separate stores label and NSN number:The loose fabric covers, once unzipped, are rolled back and secured with Velcro ties:This particular cover was issued and has the name and number of a soldier called ‘Merriman’ who was in the Queen’s Dragoon Guards:The cover has a stores code on the inside, which gives some basic care instructions to the user:A later version of this cover offers the ability to upgrade the armour with ceramic plates in the style of the ECBA. My thanks go to Michael Fletcher for helping me add this very interesting piece of modern armoured equipment to my collection.
Tonight we are following up the post on the Combat Body Armour from earlier in the year here. When the Gulf War broke out this body armour was just becoming standard issue to infantry troops and at that time was only issued in a temperate green DPM cover. The Times reported at the start of the war on 14th February 1991:
Britain’s troops in the Gulf are being issued with ultra-light body armour which is claimed to be the finest in the world(Nick Nuttall writes). Front line units are being clothed in layers of ballistic nylon and Kevlar fibres, a material five times stronger than steel. Commanders hope that all British troops will have the armour before the land offensive begins. The Royal Scots, Royal Fusiliers and Staffords have been kitted out, but some combat engineers, artillerymen and members of tank regiments are still waiting. Although the basic armour is only designed to stop shrapnel, the full protective kit can stop a ricocheting bullet…
New covers in Desert DPM fabric were rapidly produced for this body armour and it is one of these we are considering tonight:A comparison with the woodland pattern shows the design of the covers is virtually identical, save for the different camouflage pattern. The front of the CBA has the same pair of pockets, one large and one small:The same straps are positioned around the waist to adjust the fit, with Velcro used to secure them:Note also that the strap on the back to attach the armour to a belt is still attached on this set of CBA:These were commonly cut off so it’s a nice feature to still have. Sadly this CBA cover does not have proper armour in, just a piece of foam cut to the right shape, but I do have a couple of set of ballistic filler if I did ever want to swap it over . The CBA cover has a standard label, with the owner’s name and number written on in pen.I find it interesting that despite there being space for a name and number on the label, troops seem to universally just write over the whole label in large black writing!
Earlier this year we looked at the Combat Body Armour (CBA) here, the first body armour to see general service amongst British troops. It quickly became apparent that improvements needed to be made to protect the heart and a revised cover was produced from 1991 onwards that had two pockets, one front and one on the rear, to fit ceramic plates. This design became known as the ‘Enhanced Combat Body Armour’ or ECBA, the name referring to the combination of filler, cover and plates. There are a number of different marks of this body armour cover and today we are looking at one of these in desert DPM:This is a post-2000 example of the cover as can be seen from the plate pocket:Not only is there a CS-95 style rank slide:But the bottom corners of the pocket have been reinforced to reduce wear:This cover has clearly been used as the original owner has written on in marker his service number, rank (lance corporal), UK and his blood group ‘O+’:The rear of the body armour has a second pocket, reinforced like the front:Inside a label provides sizing and care instructions and has the original owner’s name and number written on:ECBA used on Operation Telic cost the British Government £167.70 a set, and over £2 million pounds was spent on body armour for this conflict. Ironically these sets now sell for a few pounds, albeit without the plates like this set. The value of body armour can be seen in this (American) report for their equivalent armour:
Enhanced Combat Body Armour provided personnel with significant levels of protection. Initial analysis of data from the operation by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) has indicated that body armour reduced the number of US forces killed in action from torso wounds by at least 50% (possibly up to 90%), and those killed in action overall by over 20% (possibly up to 32%).
Although rapidly superseded on operations by better equipment, ECBA continues to be used in training and for non-front-line troops and is a common sight in pictures from the early days of the ‘War on Terror’.
On the 18th November 1985 The Times Newspaper ran a story entitled ‘Troops to use Flak Jackets’:
The British army is for the first time planning to make widespread use of body armour or “flak jackets”, to protect soldiers against injury on active service.
Research shows that about 75 per cent of injuries in battle are caused by flying fragments rather than direct hits, and that modern body armour can stop up to three-quarters of these fragments.
It has been estimated that today’s body armour, using the material “Kevlar”, could have reduced American deaths in the Vietnam War by nearly a third.
The Army is evaluating various types of “flak jackets”, and Mr Norman Lamont, Minister of State for Defence, said in a written answer to Parliament on Friday it was hoped that the selected jacket would enter service from 1989.
The design finally agreed upon was a light weight set of body armour in a DPM cover known as ‘Combat Body Armour’ or CBA:On the chest of the body armour are two pockets, a large one on the left hand breast of the wearer:And a smaller one on the right:These both have Velcro flaps and an elasticated top edge:The front of the armour is secured by two overlapping flaps and Velcro:Whilst more Velcro is used on the sides to allow the armour to be adjusted to better fit the wearer:These straps pass round to the back and through plastic loops:Note the cut off strap on the top webbing band in the photograph above, this was for a further strap that could be passed through a belt on the soldiers waist to stop the armour riding up. This feature seems to have been rarely used as it made it much harder to get the armour on and off quickly. Inside the CBA is a faded label indicating the cover is made of DPM fabric and washing instructions:Just below this is a Velcro opening that allows the ballistic filler to be removed when the cover is laundered. The filler has its own label, visible through this opening:This armour first began to be issued to troops in the run up to the First Gulf War, with front line troops having priority. Whilst it is effective against fragmentation and secondary impacts, it offers no protection against bullets and a redesigned cover was developed with pockets for ceramic plate armour over the hear- known as the Enhanced Combat Body Armour (ECBA)- the CBA either being modified or replaced. These sets of body armour are thus some of the easiest to find at the moment and can be easily bought for under twenty pounds (the ECBA is more expensive due to the plates), this set cost me £10 from eBay.
The British Army introduced a new item of clothing in 2005 to accompany their Osprey Body Armour- the Under Body Armour Combat Shirt (UBACS). British soldiers in Afghanistan had been having problems with overheating when on patrols and wearing body armour- many indeed had taken to wearing t-shirts under their armour which offered no protection to the sleeves at all. Having been to the relatively cool climes of Cyprus and fired on a range in 40 degree heat wearing uniform, helmet and body armour I can attest to the exhausting effects of the heat. To overcome this problem the UBACS has a design that incorporates an open weave body, to reduce heat fatigue under the torso armour, with padded arms that protects the soldier’s arms in urban environments or if he has to fire from the prone position. The shirt was trialled by special forces in 2006 and became standard issue in 2007. This first batch of shirts was made in Desert Disruptive Pattern Material (DDPM):The main body of the shirt is made of a self-wicking fabric called Coolmax, that draws sweat away from the skin and is more breathable than traditional fabrics. A zip secures the neck, which is edged in the DDPM fabric:The arms are made of infra-red resistant (IRR) fabric, heavily padded with neoprene inserts to offer protection- this in turn is broken down into a number of separate pads to give the arms some flexibility:These also help reduce rubbing at the edges of the armour, such as around the shoulders. On the upper arm is a small pocket, with a Union flag sewn onto the flap and three strips of Velcro to allow the attachment of removable insignia:The label inside indicates this shirt is in a large size, and provides the Nato stores number (8415-99-219-7231):This shirt seems to have been unissued, perhaps due to the changeover to MTP camouflage in 2009 which suddenly rendered this fairly new piece of equipment obsolete. The design however lives on in the new fabric with the MTP UBACS remaining a popular piece of equipment. The shirt was not without its problems, the temperatures in Afghanistan could fluctuate wildly and whilst it was fine in hot weather, when it became cooler in the evening it was not warm enough and due to the bulk of hte sleeves extra layers could not be worn under or over the shirt. Other examples of the shirt were produced in temperate DPM and black fabrics for use in alternative environments, but naturally the DDPM is the most common shirt available due to its widespread use and issue on operations.