The Use of Armour

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

The Use of Armour is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle published in The Times on 27 july 1915. Reprinted the same day in The New-York Times as Conan Doyle Wants Troops To Wear Armor.


The Use of Armour

The Times (27 july 1915)



Sir, — As an advocate of armour in modern warfare far the last 25 years, I am interested to see a column of The Times devoted to the subject. When Ned Kelly, the bushranger, walked unhurt before the rifles of the police clad in his own hand-made armour he was an object-lesson to the world. If the outlaw could do it, why not the soldier? Such actions as that of May 9, where several brigades lost nearly half their numbers in endeavouring to rush over the 300 yards which separated us from the German trenches, must make it clear that it is absolutely impossible for unprotected troops to pass over a zone which is swept by machine guns. Therefore you must either for ever abandon such attacks or you must find artificial protection for the men. It has always seemed to me extraordinary that the innumerable cases where a Bible, a cigarette case, a watch, or some other chance article has saved a man's life have not set us scheming so as to do systematically what has so often been the result of a happy chance. Your correspondents have mentioned the objection that any protection may itself be broken, and that the splinters of it may aggravate the wound. One answer to that would be to arm only those points where the wound would in any case be mortal. These points are really very few and no great weight of metal would be needed to protect them. As a man faces a hostile rifle his forehead and his heart are the only points presented which are certainly vital. The former would be protected by such a helmet as the French have now evolved. The second should be covered by a curved plate of highly-tempered steel which need not be more than a foot in diameter. With this simple and light equipment the two centres of life are safe. The remaining dangers to life are the severance of a large artery or a wound of the abdomen. The former is not common from a rifle bullet and cannot be guarded against without complete armour, which is out of the question. The latter is no longer a certain death wound, thanks to the advances of surgery, but a third curve of steel strapped across from the border of the ribs to the crest of the hip bones would afford protection.

With these three precautions the death-rate should be greatly reduced from rifle and machine-gun fire, as also from shrapnel. Nothing, of course, will avail against a direct shell burst. But granting that the individual life would be saved this does not bear on the capture of a position since so many would fall wounded that the weight of the attack would be spent before the stormers reached the trenches. For this armour which will give complete protection is needed, and since, as your correspondents have shown, the weight of this is more than a man can readily carry, it must be pushed in front upon wheels. I picture a great number of plates together like the shields of a Roman tortoise, and pushed by the men who crouch behind them. When one is disabled it can be readily dropped and the gap closed. Others are fixed sideways upon their wheels and are used upon the flank of the advance to prevent an enfilading fire. There is not one tortoise, which would attract a concentrated fire of artillery, but each company or platoon forms its own. These numerous armour-plated bodies rush with small loss over the space which has already been cleared as far as possible of obstacles, and so have some chance of reaching the enemy's line, not as an exhausted fragment but as a vigorous storming party with numbers intact. Such apparatus would not necessitate a great addition to the impedimenta of an army. It would be a separate item, like the pontoons or the siege train, only to be brought up on special occasions to the point where it is needed for an assault. The vital body-plates, however, should be used in the every-day equipment of a fighting soldier.

Yours faithfully,
Windlesham, Crowborough, Sussex, July 26