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The News

Armored outlaw Ned Kelly

This weekend seems to be body armor weekend, and Ned Kelly's armor comes to mind.  Ned Kelly was declared an outlaw after a confrontation at his home with the Australian Victoria Police, and having dispatched 3 of them was off into the bush.  The police caught up to him and his buddies at Glenrowan in 1880 and shot it out, not knowing Kelly and his gang were armored up.

Picture of Ned Kelly's armor

Ned Kelly's father was from Ireland and after getting tangled up in some legal trouble got sent to prison in Tanzania.  Ned was born around Melbourne and was in trouble continuously.  The police didn't have much patience for his antics either, and he was in and out of jail often.  In 1878, he was suspected of an attack on a constable, and the police went in search of him, and found him in the hills outside Melbourne.  In a confrontation, three of the police went to their reward.  Ned and his buddies were declared outlaws, and in Australia that meant anyone can shoot to kill them, and a trial wasn't necessary.

With that declaration, Ned and his gang really did become outlaws and started robbing banks. While taking hostages during the heists, Ned and his gang usually entertained them and let them go, and also burned any mortgage documents he found, such that he became a folk hero.   The final confrontation was at the Glenrowan inn, where police surrounded the gang.

All four gang members were suited up in homemade armor that easily deflected the low velocity black powder rounds fired at them.  There were lots of speculation on who made the armor, but now it appears it was made by the gang members themselves in a makeshift bush forge using plough mouldboards.  Tests on the plates show heating of the metal was uneven and of a low temperature.  They probably beat the plates flat over a log and sewed the pieces together.  In the end it didn't help, as the armor didn't cover their legs and other areas, and 3 of the gang were shot and killed in the hotel, while Kelly was shot in the legs and brought down, and later hanged.

Ned Kelly's armor in Library


Body armor from the Vietnam War

Every soldier on the news in the Afghanistan theater of operations is wearing body armor.  It is now policy, and modern body armor is effective but heavy and restrictive.  During the Vietnam War, body armor consisted mainly of M-1951 fragmentation vests, which were also heavy and not so effective.

The M-1951 flak jacket was developed during the Korean War and was made of 12 plies of ballistic nylon.  It was recognized early on as incapable of stopping bullets, or anything else other than low velocity shrapnel,  It  was upgraded after 1968 to the version shown here, by adding collars and rearranging the pockets, but was still the same old stuff.  It was heavy at 10 pounds, and the heat of Vietnam discouraged it's use.  The Marines had to wear theirs as a matter of policy, but in the Army it was usually up to the unit commanders.  The helicopter guys got a version with the first ceramic plates, but rarely wore them.   

Kevlar was developed just as the war ran down, and it is used in modern body armor with ceramic plates that is effective but heavy at 25 pounds.  Getting shot usually entails some injury from the bullets impact, sometimes broken ribs and/or internal organ damage.   BAE's work on liquid armor is trying to bring the weight down while upping the protection against rifle bullets and spreading out the impact.

picture of m-68 flak vest

Liquid body armor from BAE

Body armor technology just took another step forward with the marriage of shear thickening fluid and Kevlar.  BAE's new liquid body armor has a multi layered approach that consists of layers of Kevlar with their new fluid mix in between.  The fluid starts to harden immediately upon impact, dispersing the bullet's impact.  Body armor now consists of Kevlar vests with ceramic plate inserts which are pretty bulky and weigh a ton.  This new armor promises to stop bullets, with a 45% reduction in cross sectional area, and less weight while providing greater mobility.  

Shear thickening fluid technology isn't new, it's been used in AWD cars for years.  In that application, plates are intertwined from the front and rear axles and rotate together, and when one starts to slip, or slow down in relation to the other axle, the fluid gets thick quickly and locks the plates together, producing a hydraulic four wheel drive.

The armor is proven to handle 9mm handgun rounds, but the scientists are developing for the holy grail.. stopping rifle bullets.

The following video is from Small World News Service on You Tube

Tommy guns, the Blish Lock and the RSAF

The Blish lock was an invention of John Blish, who worked arouond big US Naval guns at the turn of the 20th Century.  He noticed that when breech loading cannon were fired with light charges, the breech would tend to unscrew, and that if the breech parts were made of dissimiliar metals, they would adhere or stick to each other.  He eventually modified this principle into a delayed blowback wedge soon to be adapted to the Thompson submachine gun.

General John Thompson, a US Army officer, thought there was a better way to clear trenches during WWI and formed Auto Ordnance to develop a rifle that would be capable of full automatic fire. Thompson didn't think a blowback design would work as the breech block would be too heavy and a gas operated design would be too complicated. He then came upon the Blish Lock as the answer. When the gun was fired, the Blish wedge would jam solid till the pressures dropped, allowing the breech block to move and extract the shell.  The design wouldn't work with a high powered rifle cartridge as Thompson intended, but did work with the .45 pistol cartridge so what came to be known as the "Tommy Gun" was to be a pistol cartridge submachine gun.  The Royal Small Arms Factory in England inspected the arm after WWI, but didn't particularly care for the Blish Lock.  They thought it would work just fine as a blowback weapon, and even removed the lock and fired the gun to prove the point. This was also realized by the builders of the Thompson, and they modified the gun during WW2 to simplify production.  Between the wars Britain wasn't in any mood to spend money and no procurement of the weapon followed.

Blish Lock from Thompson

Blish Lock from Winchester Way

However, after WW2 began, the Brits wanted all the Tommy Guns they could get.  It may have been heavy, and there are the problems of using a pistol cartridge that wasn't solved till the assault rifle and the intermediate power rifle cartridge were developed, but in the early days of WW2, a Tommy Gun was just the right weapon at the right time.

Auto Ordnance Thompsons for sale

Winston Churchill and the Tommy Gun

Big gun sale in Cyprus

The Cyprus Defense Ministry has sold off most of it's collection of old Enfields, Sten machine guns  and Bren guns.  The sale brought in €613,000, a bit less than the €2 million expected as not all the guns were sold.  Another sale date is expected.  The Stens were the most desired guns, as over 700 applied to buy one of a hundred guns available.  1200 Mk4 Enfields were sold along with 905 Bren guns, leaving plenty of those 2 models left.  The weapons were cheap, with the Stens going for €427, the Enfields for €214 and the Brens for €342.  The downside is they were decommissioned.

Bren Gun