Category Archives: Body Armour

Desert DPM Combat Body Armour

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:imageA 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:imageThe same straps are positioned around the waist to adjust the fit, with Velcro used to secure them:imageNote also that the strap on the back to attach the armour to a belt is still attached on this set of CBA:imageThese 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.imageI 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:imageThis is a post-2000 example of the cover as can be seen from the plate pocket:imageNot only is there a CS-95 style rank slide:imageBut the bottom corners of the pocket have been reinforced to reduce wear:imageThis 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+’:imageThe rear of the body armour has a second pocket, reinforced like the front:imageInside a label provides sizing and care instructions and has the original owner’s name and number written on:imageECBA 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’.ecba

Combat Body Armour

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:imageOn the chest of the body armour are two pockets, a large one on the left hand breast of the wearer:imageAnd a smaller one on the right:imageThese both have Velcro flaps and an elasticated top edge:imageThe front of the armour is secured by two overlapping flaps and Velcro:imageWhilst more Velcro is used on the sides to allow the armour to be adjusted to better fit the wearer:imageThese straps pass round to the back and through plastic loops:imageNote 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:imageJust 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:imageThis 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.

Desert DPM UBACS Shirt

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):imageThe 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:imageThe 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:imageThese 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:imageThe label inside indicates this shirt is in a large size, and provides the Nato stores number (8415-99-219-7231):imageThis 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.

SLR Cleaning Kit

The standard rifle used by the British Army during the Cold War was the ‘Self Loading Rifle’ or SLR, a variation of the FN FAL rifle used by many NATO countries of the period. Like all weapons systems it needed to be kept clean to work correctly. The move to automatic and semi-automatic weapons made this even more crucial as deposits of carbon and unburnt propellant soon clogged up gas parts that re-cocked the weapon. To help keep their weapons clean sodliers were issued with a small cleaning kit in a litle plastic box:imageThe plastic box has a hinged lid, in this case it has been painted yellow and someone has written ‘SLR’ on the top:imageThe inside of the lid has the NATO stores number and the date of manufacture, 1975:imageInside the box are the individual elements that make up the cleaning kit:Publication11. Nylon Brush- for cleaning loose particles off the action of the rifle

2. Chamber Brush- for cleaning stubborn dirt in the chamber of the rifle. This can be screwed onto the combi-tool for ease of use.

3. Combi-Tool- This too is designed to allow the rifle to be serviced, taken apart and cleaned and is used to set the sights on an SLR.

4. Oil Bottle- this little bottle would have held gun oil to help lubricate the weapon.

5. 4”x2” cleaning cloth

6. Mk 7 Pullthrough with scraper type metal weight.

This set makes a nice addition to my 58 pattern webbing- I just need an SLR to go with it now…

1979 Pattern Body Armour

British Body Armour

The British Army was, arguably, rather slow to adopt the widespread use of body armour for troops. One of the earliest theatres where body armour was used on a regular basis was the streets of Northern Ireland during the troubles. The earliest body armour was made in America, however the British Army soon adopted its own covers, adapted for use on the streets of Belfast.imageMy example is typical of that used in the 1980s, being a ‘1979 Pattern Vest Fragmentation’. This was a revised cover for the US M1952A armour that covered the same ballistic core of the earlier body armour. It features rubber pads on each shoulder to prevent a rifle from slipping when brought up into the aim position and pockets on the lower abdomen for easy access to a personal radio system. The addition of pads on both soldiers is not to accommodate left handed firers (left hand firing not being officially permitted in the British Army) but rather to allow a soldier to fire from the cover of a wall to his left or rightimageThe sides of the armour are secured with cords (or in this case a shoelace) which allow the armour to be adjusted; they also allow the armour to be removed quickly if a soldier was injured by cutting the cords with a knife.imageThe use of so many practical design features- the cords, rubber pads and radio pockets indicates the ongoing evolution of armour throughout the period based on operational experience. These changes suggest an input in the design process from those who had to use body armour on a daily basis. Inside is a label detailing the care instructions for the cover:imageThese particular vests are still fairly easy to find and range between £25 and £50 depending on the condition and dealer, however they do seem to be creeping up in price and are becoming increasingly collectible as militaria collectors start looking beyond the two world wars to more recent conflicts.