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Gildwiller1918

WW1 French Daigre Armor

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In WW1, several armies used portable armor to protect troops, such as body armor, portable shields and set shields. Some of these were crude and medieval in appearance to well thought out and creatively constructed. One of the earliest types of the portable shields was developed by Monsieur Daigre of France, which is now known as Daigre Armor. There is not a lot of information on this, so I will provide what I can. The shield was roughly rectangular in shape, in the upper right hand corner there was a cut out to allow for rifles to use used against the shoulder (see image below of the steel shape). 

The shield was about 23 inches high, and 14 inches wide, it weighed 21 pounds complete, the steel was 19 pounds and .275 inches thick. The metal shield was covered in woodite, which was a gelatinous material used as packing as it was fibrous in nature. The woodite was layed a half inch thick on both sides with a good amount overlapping the edge for extra protection. Over this was a blue tent cloth material which tightly held the shield in place. On the wearers side, the sheath had belt loops, hand carrying straps, neck loops and waist attachments depending on how the wearer intended to use the shield. 

Ballistics testing showed that at close range the standard German service round failed to penetrate the shield, although the wearer would still feel the impact of the round. However for armor piercing rounds, it could only stop these at long range, when the bullet had lost most of its energy. It is estimated that 65,000 of these shields were made, at a rate of 2,000 a day, which costed the French Government the equivalent of $22 per shield. 

The shield itself was a very good idea in terms of providing the individual soldier with a protective system, as these were introduced before the steel helmet was available. The idea of using layers of composite materials sandwiched over s steel plate to stop a projectile is not unlike the kevlar vests of today. The shield could be worn by the soldier on his torso, or held on the arm, or used as a positional set shield. Several other countries used shields similar to this design. 

I am currently in the process of restoring one of these shields, and will post pictures of the process soon. 

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Here is a image from the internet that shows a group of well armed French soldiers, with the middle and right side soldier wearing the Daigre armor.  They are also wearing an early type of protective helmet, basically a steel skull cap, which could be worn under the kepi. 

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Here is an image of the Daigre sheath from the excellent reference book: Helmets and Body Armor in Modern Warfare, by Yale University Press, 1920.

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I am in the progress of making the canvas sheath, so below is the steel insert and since woodite is not a readily available material today, I am using 1/4 inch layers of felt. I had to lay the felt onto the shield as it is curved to cut for a proper fit. the 2 outer layers were slightly larger to accommodate the curved surface and give an even appearance. The last two pictures show the 4 layers in place and shaped to be put into the sheath. 

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Very good handworkmanship!  Have you seen actual examples you could copy these from?  Many years ago the Imperial War Museum in London had a wide display of body armour of various types, including also the M.16 helmet with browplate, needless to say, these were all perfect examples, that needed no completing or restoring in any way. Perhaps an enquiry at the Imperial War Museum might be helpfull to you.

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I have not seen any actual samples in person. I have measurements and some good pictures to work from, these are very rare. I have contacted several well known militaria collectors, who have extensive and large collections, and no one has this. A few had the steel inserts and that was it.  So I am working on the sheath now, probably about 60% done. I am using a light blue cotton duct material, and purposely making it look a little crude, to match the reference pictures I have. I will check the IWM see what they can offer. The first run on this sheath is a learning experience for me as well. 

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Ok, here is where I am at now. First picture shows the straps and handle placement. I used a light blue cotton duct canvas material, which was the closest thing I could find to the original, which is not easy to find, had to special order it. The straps have been sewed to one side, and secured with stitching and rivets, as per the original. Second picture shows where the stitching has been applied to he left side, I plan on slipping the armor into the right side then stitching it up. Last picture shows the armor inside. I will apply a generous layer of glue to the sides of the felt so it will adhere to the canvas once inside. Then I will sew it shut. After this has been done, I will add the metal staple reinforcement that was in three spots to stabilize the armor inside. A few more days and it will be completed. It will closely resemble the original shown earlier in this thread. Remember I am purposely making this look crude as well (which is not as easy as it sounds), as the picture previously listed shows the same level of crudeness, and I doubt the French were really worried about making these look nice and neat as they were going to be used to stop bullets. 

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Here is where I am st now. I have the carrier sewed up, I just have to add the reinforcing staples. I will also add a neck strap, just waiting for the material to arrive. 

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You have been busy again, looks very professional.

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Thank you Fritz, I will post more pictures once the neck strap and waist straps are done. I hope to have it completed by next week. I am considering making a khaki colored version as well, this type had 2 plates, one like I have plus a small rounded half circle to cover the groin.

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Here is the finished product, I decided to dye the cloth a little closer to the horizon blue color. I first dyed the fabric blue, then a grey color, turned out very close to the original horizon blue fabric. I added the reinforcing staples as well. These went through the inside materials to help stabilize the load and take stress off the exterior stitching. Very interesting project to say the least, but it display well. 

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