As rioters and terrorists come up with new weapons, soldiers and civilians in "Britain's fastest industry" retaliate with lightning counter-measures.

 

REME
THE LIFESAVERS
"Usually we never see our work when it leaves here. But we watched TV for weeks and eventually spotted our glass-fibre armour on a Land-Rover. It was a great thrill"—Craftsman at Royal Naval Dockyard, Chatham.
for about ten years for the conning towers and casings of submarines; it is also being used to construct a minesweeper.
Early this year the Royal Naval dock­yards at Chatham, Portsmouth and Devon-port began urgent production of the kits. At Chatham, where Nelson's "Victory" was built, they worked from 7.30am to 8pm seven days a week for ten weeks and suspended their submarine programme. The Royal Air Force helped, too, producing the armour at St Athan in Glamorganshire.
Top priority vehicles are now glass-fibre protected and a big programme of several hundred more kits is under way, mainly at REME workshops. This "do-it-yourself" lifesaver weighs only five hundredweights. A similar outfit in steel would place an impossible burden on the willing Land-Rover. Blast-proof and fire-resistant, it has also certain bullet-proof properties.
"We have to be adaptable. For mixing resin we improvised a machine like a housewife's kitchen mixer. Then we found the resin rots footwear so we obtained a supply of part-worn Army boots for the workmen"—Captain Harry Bray, REME, talking about manufacture of glass-fibre armour at Donnington.
Colonel Nuttman admits that many ingenious developments have been "by pure chance." One—and a major one at that—originated in a brewery. Eye injuries caused by flying rocks were causing increasing concern and, in search of a solution, REME at Lisburn bought a dozen pairs of protective goggles from industry. One pair, used in a brewery as a safeguard, against bursting bottles, had lenses described as unbreakable. In addition, the makers said the material, plastic derived from coal tar, was used for the visors of American space helmets.
REME threw hammers at it, fired shots at it and all agreed that it was very, very tough indeed. So good that it was decided to go into the plastic riot shield business in a big way. Says Colonel Reg Tibbie,
 
"With this plastic shield you can allow the crowd in fairly close before opening up and doing a snatch. I've had pieces of paving stone and iron grating thrown at me without effect. The old metal shield used to bend"—Corporal Richard Holdcroft, 1st Battalion, The Para­chute Regiment.


who commands 34 Central Workshop REME at Donnington, Shropshire: "We got the go-ahead on a Sunday morning and one of my officers went round workmen's houses asking them to come to work. We had the first lot made that evening and next day my craftsmen saw them on television in use on the streets."
Since then the shield has figured significantly in many riots. It comes in two sizes, six feet and three feet, and takes it all—lumps of concrete, bricks, chunks of metal, even, in some circumstances, revolver bullets. And it lasts. The Army's previous riot shield, made of aluminium alloy, barely survived three hectic sessions of Belfast "aggro."
The same material is used for helmet visors and cupolas on armoured vehicles. It also protects windscreens.
REME's inventors wage a constant battle of wits with the rioters and terrorists. Gunmen discovered that by ricocheting their fire underneath armoured vehicles they could hit soldiers sheltering behind. Now nearly all "iron maidens" wear a bullet-proof "skirt."
They invented a cup discharger to fire CS smoke from the self-loading rifle, but metal discs used in the modification and fired with the round were seized by rioters and hurled back at the troops. So fibre-board discs were substituted and 44,500 manufactured in an eight-week crash programme at Donnington.
In the early days soldiers were sleeping rough in the streets so REME converted old store-bin lorries into mobile dormitories. From these developed mobile kitchens and then kitchen diners for remote Royal Signals units. Now there are even libraries with special backward sloping book shelves for bumpy journeys—and, perhaps the ultimate in riot gear, armoured fish and chip vans (a treat for tired taste buds at just ten pence a portion!).
Much of this work is carried out at 46 Command Workshop at Kinnegar near Belfast where, during the last financial year, civilians worked nearly 40,000 hours overtime. Full support is given by REME workshops at Donnington, York, Catterick, Old Dalby in Leicestershire, Colchester, Warminster and Bicester.


 

 

 

 

 

"Consumers" test the product—full-length at 46 Command Workshop, Northern Ireland. plastic shields—shortly after their development.

 

 

 


 

 

Left: Fresh batch of plastic shields arrives

Above: Wry comment by cartoonist PC Alan Mounce, RUC. But REME genius has given the British soldier equipment which the Romans never knew. Super plastic shields are saving countless injuries.


 

 

Fitting fibre-glass armour at 64 Command Workshop, Kinnegar, Northern Ireland.
Gunners do it themselves helped by civilian craftsmen.

 

 


 

 

 

Plastic armour fitted to vital wheel arch area.

 

 

 


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