Articles

These high-speed German cops still wear armor from the Middle Ages

It's been years since knights were last sent into battle wearing insanely heavy and uncomfortable metal suits for protection against swords and arrows.


Centuries, actually.

But as it turns out, while knights are now a thing of the past, their armor is still in use today with at least one special operations police unit in Germany. That's right... Germany's elite "SEK" Spezialeinsatzkommandos (Special Deployment Commandos in English) are sometimes sent into sticky situations wearing chain mail suits of armor.

Though they've traded in long swords and sabers years ago for Heckler & Koch submachine guns and Sig pistols, these German cops still utilize chain mail armor to protect themselves in close quarters missions against terrorists, hostage takers, or even just your run-of-the-mill deranged knife-wielder.

An SEK operative fast-ropes from a police helicopter during a demonstration (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

While chain mail armor isn't enough to stop bullets or anything that can penetrate at high velocities, it's still pretty effective against close-in attacks using blades or sharp objects. Mail consists of small metal ringlets woven together to form a mesh-like sheet. These sheets are then fashioned into wearable coats and pants which still allow the wearer a fair degree of movement.

Last year, SEK operatives were spotted wearing chain mail while responding to a mentally-disturbed 21 year-old threatening to kill randomly with a pruning saw. Later on, images began surfacing of commandos donning mail shirts and hoods in urban settings, wearing a weird blend of modern tactical gear and the ancient mesh armor.

An SEK wearing chain mail under his assault vest while responding to a threat (Photo from Snopes.com)

These German commandos have been known to wear their mail suits above or beneath their gear, depending on the scenario they face and their role in resolving it. Hostage or suicide negotiations would generally prompt the wearing of the armor above a Kevlar bulletproof vest and radio, for example.

According to Stefan Schubert in his book, "Inside Police: The Unknown Side of Everyday Police," the SEK are easily some of the most high-speed special operations police units in the world, having been formed in the 1970s in West Germany to tackle hostage situations, provide protection for dignitaries, and rapid armed response to terrorist threats.

Around the same time, a similar East German police force known as Service Unit 9 was also established. Both were merged under the SEK name and mission after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany at the end of the Cold War.

SEK teams are more like highly-developed SWAT teams in the US, attached to German state police agencies across the country. Their federal counterpart is the legendary GSG 9 of the Bundespolizei, home to some of the best counterterrorist operatives today.

An SEK commando covering an assault during a demonstration in Dortmund, circa 2013 (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

The recruitment process to join an SEK team is extremely strenuous, and the ensuing selection phase has a high attrition rate. Candidates typically face between 6 to 8 months of physical, tactical and environment-specific training before being declared operational. Additional training includes skiing, snowmobiling and scuba diving.

When placed on active status, an SEK commando can choose virtually any tactical loadout that fits their preferences and mission. Operatives are also given a lot of leeway in uniforms, often choosing to be in plainclothes in order to blend into crowds and work unnoticed.

However, when on mission, you can generally tell an SEK commando apart from a regular police officer by the fact that they always cover their faces with balaclavas to protect their identities — standard procedure for all SEK teams throughout Germany.

But if ever the balaclava isn't enough to give away their presence, just look for the guy toting a tricked-out carbine wearing Medieval armor and tennis shoes.

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