Can Clothing Stop a Bullet?

This is a guest post by Andrew Bettsstop a bullet

There is a rumor that the .30 carbine was so weak that it would literally bounce off the heavy winter coats worn by North Korean soldiers during the Korean War. Yes, it sounds ridiculous that a piece of ordinary clothing could stop a bullet but the rationale was that the light, 110 gr bullet lost velocity quickly and thick, heavy, possibly ice encrusted clothing was enough to stop that little bullet. Like any good rumor, it sounds incredible but there is just enough justification for it that it may raise a little doubt. There is only one way to know for sure whether the rumor holds any merit and that is to test it.

Not having the budget to purchase genuine North Korean clothing to shoot for the test, we constructed a reasonable approximation of thick winter clothing. The outer layer consisted of heavy canvas. Under that was a two layers of polypropylene sweater, then two layers of denim, another two layers of “polypro”, and finally two layers of cotton shirt. An identical arrangement was made that had been soaked in water and left in the freezer overnight. First the dry clothing analog was shot and then the frozen one. Finally, a Level IIA bullet resistant vest was shot. The test was conducted at 75 yards and each clothing analog and the body armor was supported by a block of modeling clay.

It should come as little surprise to anyone that the bullets perforated the clothing with little trouble. It is a little surprising, though that not even the body armor stopped that little carbine bullet. If it was not even stopped by a vest that is specifically designed to offer ballistic protection, then it seems vanishingly unrealistic to expect that any ordinary clothing could stop the .30 carbine.

So what caused this rumor to take hold? For one thing, it is difficult to hit a man sized target with an M1 or M2 carbine at much more than 150 or 200 yards but it is possible for a decent marksman to consistently hit a man sized target with the .30-06 caliber M1 Garand at 500 yards. While the little .30 carbine can be very effective when loaded with modern JHP or JSP expanding ammunition, when it is loaded with FMJ, it is far less damaging than .30-06. It seems likely that some of the troops that were issued carbines had grown used to the .30 caliber rifle in WWII and expected to hit the enemy, hit him more easily, hit him at greater distance, and to see him go down quickly when hit. They may simply have been missing their target more often than they believed and when they did hit their target, the enemy did not drop in his tracks as often as he might when struck by .30-06.

Is there a range at which a .30 carbine bullet can be stopped by a North Korean coat? There very likely is, but that distance is almost certainly greater than the distance at which a person can reliably hit a North Korean with a .30 carbine. The myth that North Korean soldiers’ coats would stop a bullet is a fun one, but it seems to be absolutely untrue.


Andrew Betts served with the Arizona National Guard for over 12 years, including a tour to Afghanistan.  Visit his YouTube Channel for more great shooting information.

Photo credit – Curiosandrelics

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