Testing Reproduction WWI German Trench Armor

You may recall that a week or two back I posted a video on some German trench armor at RIA. Reading up on that set of armor led me to International Military Antiques, who sells reproduction sets of the armor. I contacted them about getting a set to try some ballistic testing with Karl, and they generously sent one over. Thanks, guys!

The first thing we did was to send the bottom-most plate to an metallurgical lab in Phoenix to be analyzed. We know the properties of the original German armor thanks to a report published by the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1920, and testing modern reproduction armor would be a bit pointless without knowing how it would actually compare to the original material. Our report from the lab suggested that the reproduction armor was mild low-carbon steel, with a Brinell hardness of 114. Here is the complete report:

Metallurgical report on reproduction WWI trench armor
The full testing report from METL (click to enlarge)

In contrast, the original armor appears to have had significantly more carbon content, and been surface hardened. It was a silicon-nickle steel, although those elements don’t really have anything to do with giving it hardness or other properties associated with armor – more likely that was simply what was available and would work. Here is the specific data from the Met’s 1920 book:

Metallurgical report on original WWI Germant trench armor, published 1920
Metallurgical report on original WWI Germant trench armor, published 1920 (click to enlarge)

With this in mind, it became immediately apparent that our reproduction armor would not be up to the performance of the original. However, we felt it would still be interesting to test it with a variety of cartridges, including pistol ammunition at close range. Because of the hardness differential, we could definitely conclude that any shot successfully deflected by the reproduction armor would also have been deflected by the original. So, we proceeded to use a .32ACP (a Browning 1900) and a .45ACP (a GI 1911) at about 12 yards. We also tried a .45 Colt (a reproduction Richard-Mason conversion) with an plain lead bullet, because there were some instances of Old West gunfighters using scrap steel or iron as improvised body armor, which would have been soft like this reproduction armor.

After the pistols, we tried a .30-06 (from a Springfield 1903A4) at 300 yards, since we couldn’t quite duplicate the 400-yard shot used in the original testing referenced above. I also tried an 8mm Lebel (an M16 Berthier carbine) at 50 yards, just for kicks. And then the coup de grace, a round of Soviet WWII PZ explosive observation ammunition at 50 yards. You can see our full results on video: