Body armour

Sergeant Brian Cooper

With an armistice soon to be signed, the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army made a last-ditch effort to capture more favourable territory on the Korean peninsula. Just after 9pm on 24 July 1953, Chinese artillery opened fire on Australian and American positions on a feature known as “the Hook”. Following the artillery bombardment, a massed infantry assault took place.

Sergeant Brian Cooper commanded 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment’s medium machine-gun platoon, which was stationed on Hill 111 with US Marines. Over a seven-hour period, Cooper and his men held their position against repeated Chinese attacks. The Chinese got so close that Cooper called for supporting New Zealand artillery to fire on his own position. For his leadership and bravery, Cooper was awarded the Military Medal.

The first night’s attack was a failure for the Chinese, but they renewed the assault the following night. The results of the second night’s attack were the same; at 3am on 26 July, the Chinese commander called off the offensive. Five Australians were killed in the battle, another two died of their wounds, and a further 22 were wounded. It is believed that the Chinese forces lost 2,000 to 3,000 men in the attack. The following day, an armistice was signed at Panmunjom, requiring both sides to withdraw two kilometres.

Cooper wore this M1951 armoured vest for personal protection during the battle. The Korean War saw the first large scale use of personal body armour in modern conflict. The United States Marine Corps developed the M1951 armoured vest, which was issued in significant quantities from late 1952. The vest contains doron plates, made from bonded fibreglass, to protect the chest and back, as well as laminated nylon to protect the shoulders. Australia issued limited numbers of armour to men in the Korean War, mostly for use in raiding parties and patrols.