Could body armour have saved millions in WW1?

The answer would probably have been yes, but there simply werent the industrial resources available to mass produce body armour (they were some issued) the priority was given to producing weapons and particularly cordite and shells as the consumption far far outstripped the available production capability

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From stuff I've read and watched...

With the comparison between the stahlhelm and the tin hat, it wasn't so much the shape of the helmet that gave the Germans the edge on protection, but the process of producing it. The tin hat was simply pressed, resulting in a thin head covering that didn't stop determined fragments. The stahlhelm was produced with a multi-stage pressing process that retained the thickness.

Then there's the thought of shape. If the troops are in their trenches, the main hazard would be shells bursting above, not shrapnel from ground bursts ploughing into your neck. So, arguably, the shape of the helmet shouldn't cause a great deal of difference. Once out of the trench, the benefit of the helmet is considerably reduced as there are so many more places for shrapnel to hit.

Then there's the tactics. Germans didn't just have the stahlhelm for head protection, they dug their dug-outs deeper because their bosses didn't have the notion that protecting their soldiers was bad for morale.


Book Reviewer
He's talking rubbish - troops wear body armour because they are forced to do so by higher command - as soon as they get a choice - SF for example - unless involved in a direct assault they drop it - one example - he's also hysterically ranting about something he's never experienced trotting out figures as "proof" - 5,000 of our boys might be alive if we had Hun helmets!!!!!!!

People like him are the reason why discussions that are meaningless masturbation are called 'academic' and why Ivory Towers are ridiculed.
Re the body armour...

There is a documentary fronted by Sandhurst historians which showed that a major cause of casualties in troops moving across the battlefield was excessive loads slowing the troops down, leaving them in the kill zone for longer. Add armour and troops are slowed even further. Add in the troops that would be lost as they slid into water-filled shell craters.

Besides, evidence has shown that reversing the bullet in a cartridge case resulted in penetration and scabbing of steel plate used as protection by snipers.


Surely it's like saying "A GPMG would have saved thousands of lives at the battle of Agincourt"
I imagine it would be hard to determine the possible numbers that could be saved by better body armour after trying to work out loss from - Malnutrition, Hypothermia, Dysentery, Suicide and the equivalent of today's blue on blue
It's all subjective. Not only is it about wearing body armour, but actually how effective it is. WW1 saw the advent of the tank, which was susceptible to SAA, so the tech for personal armour just wasn't adequate.

As already mentioned, there's the manoeuvre / protection conundrum. It's not merely because the hierarchy dictate regular troops wear it, it's because of the method by which we usually operate.

People only really appreciate body armour when it's had to do its job, otherwise it's just an unnatural burden that feels as if it causes more problems than it solves.

As a person who has had to were the ultimate in personal body armour, I would say that we don't train enough in the kit we eventually us when facing the biggest threat.

Osprey saved my life, it's just a shame that the blast pants and additional protection didn't arrive in theatre until a few weeks after I was hit.


Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
Given the doctrine of the time, I doubt body armour would have had much approval as it would have removed the offensive nature and emphasised the defensive.

Think about the use of parachutes, for example, although well known about, they were only on issue to static balloon observers. They was no thought to issue them to pilots as it was felt it would not encourage them to keep fighting but to bale too early
Didn't Sir Arthur Conan Doyle come up with the suit of armour idea at the time and in the end the only practical part was the helmet?
What is interesting that whilst head injuries went down body injuries went up in what's now known as the seatbelt syndrome i.e. the safer you feel the faster you drive!
Highly unlikely that it would have made much difference to casualty rates

I remember reading somewhere that over well over a third of the war dead was caused by shell fire . Look at the battle of Verdun and you'll find that whole regiments were literally blown to bits by shells

I had a great Uncle who was killed at the Somme . According to my long deceased relatives who knew him he had his legs blown off by a shell . Even today's body armour would have made to difference to saving his life

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