Dr. Brewster, Lunatic Armorer of WWI
A dead-end tactical engineer
Guy Otis Brewster (see photos) was not shy. A boxer and athlete from the tinkering Yankee tradition, the good doctor was apparently quite fond of working metal. Brewster knew about the trench fighting that Americans would soon encounter in France, so he built that Matrix-looking steampunk assemblage that he is wearing.
Instead of the Brodie helmet, Brewster donned a flat, brimless metal kepi-style hat to ward off the downward strikes from rifle butts, etc. that occur in a trench melee. To my eye, Brewster has anticipated the special operators who began wearing bicycle helmets instead of heavy Kevlar during the 1990s, here. A set of French anti-splinter goggles serve as chic protective eyewear. The dagger-gauntlet is suitable for close work against German sentries during a night raid. The overlapping armor plates allow mobility while protecting vital areas from pistol shots and bayonets.
And that is exactly where the whole concept falls apart. Brewster’s trench war outfit is heavy. It is bulky. It will make noise. It will cause the wearer to make noise. It is too damn noisy. No veteran of the Canadian raiders or the German Sturmtruppen of France would ever try to sneak up on an enemy sentry in this cosplay giddup. Brewster engineered it after reading about the problem rather than tactical experience or training.
However, he was not above doing the odd experiment. In 1918, with millions of American men heading for Europe or already there, Brewster and a partner tried to interest the US Army in a suit of armor for men crossing no man’s land under fire. Their demonstration was reported by the New York Times. Footage of this experiment, in which an assistant beat his armor with a sledgehammer and soldiers fired Springfield rifles at him, has survived. I have embedded a video clip below. However, I was unable to find any video of Brewster’s follow-up demonstration: after the Army turned him down, the good doctor further pleaded his case by having a Lewis gun fired at him while he wore this contraption. Call him crazy (I do), but Brewster never lacked courage.
Brewster claimed that his Brewster Body Armor™ did not impede movement, which is true enough if you are a 1950s movie robot walking over flat ground. For actual humans, especially those attempting to navigate craters and bodies and barbed wire along with all the other detritus of the Western Front, this is far too bulky and heavy. If you put 110 lbs of armor on a man, then hand him ten pounds of rifle and ammo, the aforementioned obstacle course becomes infinitely more daunting.
Which raises a second problem. How will this suit of armor reach the front line? Never mind the production challenges — in 1918, American troops already relied on their allies to provide almost everything they needed from manufacturing and supply systems that were already at maximum capacity. Suppose anyway that the manufacturing issues can be solved in the US. Once you get that steel monster across the Atlantic, onto the French docks, then perhaps off of a train somewhere, some poor schmuck will have to wear it, or else carry it, for the last ten miles — and they will be cussing Dr. Brewster for a fool with every step.
Having almost disappeared by 1914, personnel armor did go through a mini-renaissance during the First World War. By 1918, everyone wore helmets, and snipers often wore steel upper-body protection. Yet these were mere tactical niches into which the ancient art of the armorer fit usefully, whereas Brewster tried to shoehorn armor into less practical roles. Dr. Brewster’s Body Armor™ was a logistical nonsense.