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USAAF Wilkinson flak vest


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This is my Wilkinson flak vest. The 8th USAAF tested the British flak vest and decided they were a good idea. While the US was tooling up for production of the M-1 flak vest and M-3 apron  the 8th put an order in with Wilkinson to supply them until US production arrived. This ink stamp is a Broad Arrow stamp for a British proof mark.

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Radio Operator

Cool piece of kit and thank you for sharing I think this is the first time I've seen one of these in a persons collection! I've heard the British didn't really like these, though I think that was in reference for fighter pilot use.  

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Very nice and my first time seeing one that wasn't in a book and black & white.

Thanks

 

Semper Fi

Phil

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The original British flak vest tested by the 8th USAAF was larger than the vest they made for us.

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These are the numbers from another site. They give Wilkinson production at 600 and they started delivery in March 1943....

Second World War period USAAF-issue protective body-armour. Due to the effectiveness of German defensive fire, crews of USAAF bombers sustained high casualty rates. Seventy per cent of those killed or wounded were as a result of being hit by low velocity fragments; therefore the ability to provide protection was encouraged. 8th Air Force surgeon, Colonel Malcolm Grow developed, alongside the British Wilkinson Sword Company, a solution in the form of an armoured vest. Made of two pieces, the vest comprised a front and back and featured several 2inch-square manganese steel plates encased in pockets and covered in heavy duck material. Trialled in 1942, the first sets were delivered for operational use in March 1943. The first 600 sets were produced in England and samples were sent to the USA so that production could as a priority begin there. (US manufactured pieces were covered with dark green material). Issued to gunners, navigators, bombardiers and radio operators (ball turret gunners and those working in upper turrets had no such protection) the Flyer's Vest, M1 was undeniably heavy and cumbersome, however it successfully saved lives. The casualty rates of men not wearing flak protection were 36% killed and 69% wounded. With armoured vest protection casualties were dramatically reduced: only 18% were killed, 13% wounded. An impressive 69% vests that were struck resulted in their wearers being unscathed. Men soon overcame their reluctance to wear the heavy (7kg) vests and quickly learned to don them only when under fire to avoid unnecessary exhaustion knowing they could jettison the entire system by a quick release action in case of an emergency. In addition to the vest, an abdomen plate was produced of similar construction, the first being the Flyer's Apron M3. Other models for both vest and abdomen protection were put into production, but 338,780 M1 vests were made with a further 142,814 M3 aprons.

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The initial impetus to the development of body armour for the combat crewmcn of the US Army Air Forces was due to the research and field trials of the British MRC Body Armour. In early October 1942 an analysis of wounds incurred by US 8th Air Force combat personnel revealed that approximately 70 per cent were due to missiles of relatively low velocity—in one survey involving 303 casualties it was found that 38 per cent of wounds were due to 'flak' fragments; 39 per cent to 20mm cannon shell fragments; 15 per cent to machine gun bullets; and 8 per cent to secondary missiles

USAAF bomber crewmen display ihe early experimental flyer's body armour—on the left, the Type B half-vest and Type C tapered apron for pilots and co-pilots, and on the right, the Type A full vest and Type D full apron for gunners, navigators, bombardiers and radio operators. (USAF)

USAAF bomber crewmen display ihe early experimental flyer's body armour—on the left, the Type B half-vest and Type C tapered apron for pilots and co-pilots, and on the right, the Type A full vest and Type D full apron for gunners, navigators, bombardiers and radio operators. (USAF)

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