Longbow vs. armor test

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Longbow vs. armor test

Postby bigdummy » 29 Jul 2012 05:56

This looks like a pretty good test of longbows vs. armor, though some people here might be interested.

http://www.currentmiddleages.org/artsci/docs/Champ_Bane_Archery-Testing.pdf

I think he only had one flaw, he never tested padding over mail which seems to be the method used historically to make mail safe against strong bows.
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Re: Longbow vs. armor test

Postby Ben Floyd » 29 Jul 2012 12:28

Another flaw is none of the plates were curved. It would have made getting a perfect 90 degree hit less likely and therefore less damaging.
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Re: Longbow vs. armor test

Postby Alina » 29 Jul 2012 14:36

Cool test. My only disagreement is that in his conclusion he feels that point-blank shots on men in plate armor would not have reflected battlefield reality, and I think this is bogus. I'm with Matt on the close-range shooting stuff. I think archery has traditionally been something that can be fired at long distances, but which is most effectively employed closer than 100 yards from the opponent.
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Re: Longbow vs. armor test

Postby Joolz » 29 Jul 2012 17:46

There's plenty of contemporary pictorial depictions of point-blank archery, however, you have to temper that with the problem of artistic licence (and canvas size!).

As well as the fact that the plates in this study were all flat, unless I've missed something, they were also unhardened mild steel of even thickness, which is not exactly authentic.

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Re: Longbow vs. armor test

Postby Jonathan Waller » 29 Jul 2012 18:55

I saw this around the end of last year. Unfortunately it is very hard to be able to produce tests now that are going to tell us anything we do not already know. Also for meaningful and new results to be had, the most authentic replicas need to be used, as well as finding better ways of mounting the armour samples, that more properly replicate the properties and responses of the human body.
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Re: Longbow vs. armor test

Postby Alina » 29 Jul 2012 20:21

While the complaints are certainly valid, who else is surprised by the awesome performance of the type 16 broadhead? Based on these tests, I think that's what I would pick against a standard medieval army, unless I knew I was going up against hordes of French men at arms or something.
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Re: Longbow vs. armor test

Postby Alina » 29 Jul 2012 20:32

Joolz wrote:There's plenty of contemporary pictorial depictions of point-blank archery, however, you have to temper that with the problem of artistic licence (and canvas size!).

As well as the fact that the plates in this study were all flat, unless I've missed something, they were also unhardened mild steel of even thickness, which is not exactly authentic.

Joolz


It's true that canvas size is an issue, but I think that beyond pictorial representations, the actual source documents tell us quite a bit about distance, and I think it's much closer than is often believed. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the sources we have for battles like the Battle of the Standard, Dupplin Moor, Halidon Hill, and Falkirk seem to me to indicate the use of the bow at close quarters. I know some people feel this is because the "true" longbow hadn't been invented yet, but I'm of the camp that believes the success of the longbow in the 14th and 15th centuries was the result of a gradual evolution of tactics and social organization rather than a fundamental change in the weapon itself.

Anyway, from the 14th century, I think Froissart's herce formation can be interpreted as a mix of pikemen and archers in a single massed block. This would give the archers protection and enable them to fire on enemies at very close range.
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Re: Longbow vs. armor test

Postby bigdummy » 29 Jul 2012 20:44

yeah, I definitely don't think it's definitive, but it's the kind of test I'd like to see more of.

As for point-blank vs. long range area fire, the latter seems to be by far the most common use of all self-bows in every battle I've read about in Central Europe, from the Rhineland to the Crimea. Even crossbows were used this way a great deal. Of course they were also used at close range as well, generally in the exploitation phase of the battle.

Of the four principle Medieval long-range missile weapons, the longbow, the recurve, the crossbow and the hand-gun, I see the breakdown like this:

The recurve specialized in long range harassing shots, area shots, using very light flight-arrows (in the neighborhood of 30-40 grams) which were sometimes shot using runners, that would cause a steady pressure on enemies and could almost always outrange enemies equipped with other weapons. Eventually the continous rain of dart-like arrows would start to cause panic among men and horses, and if this led to a rout, the horse-archers would come in for close range (often using a different bow) and shoot heavier armor-piercing arrows to pick-off and slay their opponents. But the key to the weapon was it's very long range, longer than any other bow.

The English type longbow, also used in many other places, could also shoot flight-arrows but more often was used with heavier war-arrows (in the neighborhood of 60 grams) which could reach quite far and attack areas. These hit harder and could cause casualties fast. This was it's specialty, a combination of long range, fairly rapid rate of shots, and hard hitting projectiles. But they were also used at close range especially when a prepared position (whether a wall of stakes or a fortification) was rushed by an enemy force.

The heavier military grade crossbows could also be used with flight-quarrels, often whistling bolts possibly in imitation of the Mongols, which scared horses. (these were also used for signalling). But their specialty seemed to be for short-medium range direct-shots, with very heavy bolts (from 80 grams to possible as much as 125 grams, based on some recent testing I've seen) which could kill men and (especially, I think) horses. These seem to have had by far the longest direct-shot range for any of these four weapons, I've seen estimates of up to 80 meters for the medium grade stirrup crossbows, I don't know yet what it would be for the really heavy ones but more than that, maybe as much as 120 meters.

The firearms were usually inaccurate beyond the same range as a bow for individual targets, and could not be used for plunging area-fire, but were by far the most dangerous at point blank range, both due to noise, and armor-piercing qualities, especially for the larger guns. Typical 15th Century guns shot a 15mm, 30 gram bullet, but these would be used alongside larger hook-guns, trestle guns and even fast-firing pintle mounted breach-loaders of up to 50mm caliber or more. Combined with good over-head cover, the firearm was the ultimate for siege defense, and though generally inaccurate at long range, it remained lethal pretty far out, and there were always individual weapons and individual marksmen, who used better powder, tighter tolerances, and more sophisticated designs to extend the range considerably. The Ottomans took an early lead on this with their long barreled arquebus. But they still continued making large scale use of archers with recurve bows apparently until they lost a critical mass of them during the Battle of Lepanto.

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Re: Longbow vs. armor test

Postby Alina » 29 Jul 2012 21:27

I haven't seen any real evidence for flight arrows used in a warfare context in either the mid-east or with the English Longbow. I also think the distances used have been exaggerated because we're accustomed to longer range projectile weapons ourselves. If you look at uses of the ELB I think you'll see much evidence for close quarters action predominating. Falkirk had stationary Scottish schiltroms. Crecy had the French funneled into a small area and hemmed in, and Agincourt did too. I think there is the possibility to interpret the actions of the archers at Poitiers as a dragoon-type action, and even if you leave that aside, they maneuvered during the course of the battle to the flanks of the French in order to increase the effectiveness of their arrows. It seems unlikely to me that they would take the trouble to maneuver and stay 200-300 yards away when they could get up close to much more devastating effect.

Also, just to add for Poitiers the following from Froissart:
Then the battle began on all parts, and the battles of the marshals of France approached, and they set forth that were appointed to break the array of the archers. They entered on horseback into the way where the hedges on both sides were set full of archers. As soon as the men of arms entered, the archers began to shoot on both sides and did slay and hurt horses and knights, so that the horses when they felt the sharp arrows they would in no wise go forward, but drew back and flang and took on so fiercely, that many of them fell on their masters, so that for press they could not rise again...

...Certain knights and squires that were well-horsed passed through the archers...


This seems to indicate to me extremely close combat between the archers and the mounted men-at-arms. My take on this would be that the archers were actually in amongst hedges, firing point-blank at knights who were trying to ride down the road to reach the Prince's battle lines.

For the middle eastern context, I think the same pretty much holds true. In my mind, the horse archers probably got close to the enemy before firing - something like 100 yards or even closer. When fighting infantry, or even heavy cavalry, this gives you plenty of room to escape when you're on a fast and maneuverable horse, but it's also close enough for aimed fire. Arsuf is a good example of this, as we know the crossbows were able to hit the mounted archers during the long skirmish leading up to the major action of the battle. Given the range of 12th century crossbows, I find the idea of "flight shooting" on the part of Saladin's forces to be highly unlikely.

I also think that the current view of mounted archery is somewhat mistaken. I think the idea that mounted archers rode while shooting is a somewhat less common occurrence than shooting while stationary atop the horse. This would give better accuracy, and in effect it makes the horse like a pair of very fast running legs, so when you need to move you can, but for the most part, you wouldn't need to move. It would also keep the horses from getting tired. There is a bit of evidence for this if you look at Arsuf, where the forces of Saladin actually dismounted in order to skirmish more effectively with the enemy. It seems very likely to me that there was a lot more of this sort of thing going unreported, with horse archers acting like the later dragoons, using the horses for mobility on the battlefield, and either stopping or dismounting to do the actual shooting.

One final interesting piece of information is that when the Dutch and English first showed up in New England in the late 16th century, the natives there fought at quite close range with bows and arrows, and would actually stand and try to shoot it out with the Dutch and the English. However, the firepower of the arquebus forced them to change strategies and they took to "shooting at the compass" as the English described it. So, they would lob their shots the way we often conceive of longbowmen shooting. An English observer watching an allied native tribe fire at an enemy native tribe in this fashion said something to the effect of, "Two armies could shoot at one another for seven years and never kill anybody." Granted, things were a bit more tightly packed on the medieval battlefield (we have lots of references to the close press of men), but I'm inclined to agree that this style of shooting is inherently less lethal than shooting at closer distances.

From a personal standpoint, I've been working very hard on my primitive archery, especially against man-shaped targets, and recently I've found that against a man-sized target, I have a very good chance of hitting a specific guy with a direct shot at 50 yards using a bow that has 51 pounds of draw @28 inches. I think with a heavier bow, even firing heavier arrows, I'd have a flat enough trajectory to get out to about 75 yards without having to arc the shot very much. The heavier war arrows would also have the added benefit of being much less affected by the wind, so you wouldn't have to correct nearly as much for that as you would for lighter arrows. So, if you can do that, why would you want to stay 200-300 yards back from the action?
Last edited by Alina on 29 Jul 2012 22:01, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Longbow vs. armor test

Postby Jonathan Waller » 29 Jul 2012 21:36

I'm not knocking the tester, and it certainly better than a lot of stuff out there, it's just as a thesis it does the job of showing their approach to process of setting up the testing, rather than use those tests to properly investigate the subject.

The effects of the type 16 are supported that derivatives of this type of head seem to be the most common in the later middle ages...
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Re: Longbow vs. armor test

Postby bigdummy » 29 Jul 2012 22:51

I totally disagree Alina. I do think they sometimes rush very close to shoot volleys and sweep away again, and also used 'parthian shots' at very close range against pursuers. But I've got all kinds of evidence that both the Turks and the Mongols (the various Asian steppe nomads who fell under the rubrick of 'Tartars') used flight arrows more than any other type, I think I even have lists of arrows brought for certain campaigns. How many of each type. I have this for crossbow bolts too for Latin armies.

This tactic couldn't be used all the time for various reasons, and it was not decisive. To break a formation or attack a fortification they would sometimes come very close to shoot, not much further away than the reach of a pike. But that was not the common or preferred tactic.

Also, I'm absolutely certain that they normally shot from horseback on the move. This is what every period source that I have states.

I'll post some sources on this when I have time to look them up.

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Re: Longbow vs. armor test

Postby Alina » 29 Jul 2012 23:08

bigdummy wrote:I totally disagree Alina. I do think they sometimes rush very close to shoot volleys and sweep away again, and also used 'parthian shots' at very close range against pursuers. But I've got all kinds of evidence that both the Turks and the Mongols (the various Asian steppe nomads who fell under the rubrick of 'Tartars') used flight arrows more than any other type, I think I even have lists of arrows brought for certain campaigns. How many of each type. I have this for crossbow bolts too for Latin armies.

This tactic couldn't be used all the time for various reasons, and it was not decisive. To break a formation or attack a fortification they would sometimes come very close to shoot, not much further away than the reach of a pike. But that was not the common or preferred tactic.

Also, I'm absolutely certain that they normally shot from horseback on the move. This is what every period source that I have states.

I'll post some sources on this when I have time to look them up.

BD


Hey BD,

Please do quote some sources. The sources that I have seen from the crusader side of things and from the Muslim side of things for the Crusades don't indicate to me one way or the other whether they shot on the move. Similarly, if we want to go way back, the sources for Carrhae don't indicate whether the archers were moving or not, only that they were out of range of the Romans and that they would retreat if anyone tried to get close to them. In my mind, it's an absolute waste of energy on the part of rider and horse to ride around and shoot when you can just sit still and do it. That doesn't mean that it wasn't done, but it certainly makes a great deal less sense, and in the absence of evidence I think the only reason that image has held sway is because it's more exciting and romantic.

I'd be particularly interested in seeing sources for flight arrows. I know the middle easterners used lighter arrows than the western folks in the middle ages, but flight arrows are a much more specific thing than arrows which are merely lighter than English war arrows.

As to the English longbow side of things, you didn't address that, but I absolutely think close range was the order of the day (that being defined as about 100 yards or less).
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Re: Longbow vs. armor test

Postby bigdummy » 30 Jul 2012 00:09

My sources are for Central Europe and the Crimea, 1100 AD - 1550 roughly, I also have some stuff from the 17th Century during the 'deluge' period.

I didn't address the English stuff because I figure there are others here on the forum who are much more familiar with that subject than I am, and they can chime in on that if they want to. And all I have on English longbowmen are from relatively small groups of them in the Burgundian wars and on Crusade in the Baltic.

The mongols categorized their arrows and listed multiple different varieties of them, (over a dozen in some cases I think)I think Timur had some orders listing different types that had to be carried by each individual rider and different formations up to a tumen. Unfortunately my best Mongol book doesn't have an index so it will take me a while to find that again.

The Teutonic Order and various medieval towns were also specific about the amount and type of arrows (or crossbow bolts) issued for various campaigns, for example fire-bolts, whistling bolts, and armor-piercing bolts.

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Re: Longbow vs. armor test

Postby Alina » 30 Jul 2012 01:16

That's an interesting region, and not really my area of expertise. I've done a lot of Ottoman stuff, and certainly flight archery is a huge part of the Turkish archery tradition. However, the older Turkish archery texts like Taybugha certainly don't mention the use of flight archery (though I may have to go back and read the sections on distance), and I would suspect offhand that it is a sport that developed in the 17th century there, after tufeks had already become the order of the day.

The central asian context is always a tough one, owing to the paucity of written sources. I think, as far as horseback traditions go, delving into Japanese and Chinese sources would be pretty fruitful. I just had a look on Atarn and the Chinese sources from the 17th century all talk about shooting at the gallop, but they're all also geared towards passing a specific exam which required shooting on a "track" which is a sort of training/sport, not necessarily reflective of actual battlefield conditions.

In Japan, Yabusame is performed in a very similar fashion, but again it's a ceremony/ritualistic practice, and the distances are absurdly close. Even then, it's considered a feat to hit all three targets in succession. So, I really think that actual mounted archery in combat probably didn't resemble these more elaborate and dramatic demonstrations.
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Re: Longbow vs. armor test

Postby Alina » 30 Jul 2012 01:34

Just more food for thought, check out this stuff from Plutarch's Life of Crassus on the battle of Carrhae:

Crassus commanded his light-armed soldiers to charge, but they had not gone far before they were received with such a shower of arrows that they were glad to retire amongst the heavy-armed, with whom this was the first occasion of disorder and terror, when they perceived the strength and force of their darts, which pierced their arms, and passed through every kind of covering, hard and soft alike. The Parthians now placing themselves at distances began to shoot from all sides, not aiming at any particular mark (for, indeed, the order of the Romans was so close, that they could not miss if they would), but simply sent their arrows with great force out of strong bent bows, the strokes from which came with extreme violence. The position of the Romans was a very bad one from the first; for if they kept their ranks, they were wounded, and if they tried to charge, they hurt the enemy none the more, and themselves suffered none the less. For the Parthians threw their darts as they fled, an art in which none but the Scythians excel them, and it is, indeed, a cunning practice, for while they thus fight to make their escape, they avoid the dishonour of a flight.

However, the Romans had some comfort to think that when they had spent all their arrows, they would either give over or come to blows but when they presently understood that there were numerous camels loaded with arrows, and that when the first ranks had discharged those they had, they wheeled off and took more,


So, there's probably a billion ways to read this, but to me it sounds like the Parthians shoot from a reasonable distance whilst their horses are still, but if charged they ride away and shoot behind them until the enemy grows tired of pursuit. I'm getting this from the idea that they "placed themselves" at distance and the fact that the front rank wheeled off after discharging all of its arrows to get more. In my mind, I see a stationary formation with the front rank peeling back to reload, like a volley fire situation. I'm sure you could read it as a cantabrian circle if you wanted, but that's not the impression I get.
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Re: Longbow vs. armor test

Postby admin » 30 Jul 2012 11:44

Joolz wrote:As well as the fact that the plates in this study were all flat, unless I've missed something, they were also unhardened mild steel of even thickness, which is not exactly authentic.


I don't have a huge problem with the use of flat plates because it just simulates the best possible effect an arrow could have on a piece of armour plate - a 90 degree impact.

Having said this, the effect on the plate directly after impact may be different (experiment required) - the force will act differently on a flat plate than a curved one during any penetration (anybody with a hammer and two bits of the same metal, one flat, one curved, can experience this - they do not deform in the same way at all). However, due to rigidity in a curved or domed plate it is entirely possible that penetration on a curved plate with a 90 degree strike might be greater than on a flat plate – the flat plate bending more and taking away energy that would otherwise be used in penetration.

In regards to the material, using mild steel is not massively inaccurate. Lots of period armour is iron (AKA 'mild steel'), though with slag inclusions (that make it weaker than the modern metal). For a complete test they should have various thicknesses and types of iron and steel though, with various degrees of slag inclusion. There seems to be a modern myth drifting around the internet these days that most late-medieval armour was hardened high carbon steel – it wasn’t. In some areas this top quality armour was more common, but there was always plenty of unhardened steel and iron armour around. Also add to this the fact that in most cases the hardened carbon steel armour is made thinner than the iron armour (the main value of having hardened steel armour seemingly partly being so that you could make a much lighter harness).

When they tried to make bullet proof siege harnesses in the 17thC they often used iron and just made it really thick, sometimes with layered plates like modern tank armour. They did not generally make a thick hardened steel plate (which would have cost a fortune).
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Re: Longbow vs. armor test

Postby Chiron » 30 Jul 2012 13:50

I'm with Alina on the Parthians in this case they most likely stood and fired Horsemen are notoriously lazy (that's why we have horses duh :roll: ) and galloping your horses around like a mad man while shooting into someone who couldn't catch you with his ass on fire sounds like a good way to dehydrate and tire your horse in a desert as well as win the dumbass of the year trophy for your tent.

The Tartars and mongols however most likely did use flight arrows it's what I'd do and the sources back it up. The advantage of shooting while moving are 1. Your harder to hit 2. it's easier to get away 3. when done in an open skirmish it allows you to get a really close shot with minimal risk in a sort of strafing kind of way. Point two is not as great a factor when stopping and shooting especially while en masse because coordinating a formation to move out all at once at high speed is not easy, imagine getting a line of traffic with everything from sports-cars to SUVs (not all horses are fast or accelerate evenly) to go 0 to 60 in under a minute, with the added caveat of OMG OMGOMG we're going to die. When a group is in motion it just takes the lead horse to turn and the herd follows. Most people I think underestimate european cavalry it doesn't take much time to close or at least give distinct speed advantage and a couple seconds of disorganization is plenty of time for a horse in peak condition to close 100m and god forbid a tartar force gets caught in the ass by a lance charge.

Longbows why is it either or? A sensible person (admitted that's not always what's giving the orders) responds to the situation. There are definite times at which the archers arced their shots for "suppressing fire" usually to clear walls or cause confusion and keep heads down. There are also places where they probably were cheeky bastards and got as close as they could and then shot, Agincourt and Alina's other examples sound like they did just that. During a cavalry charge I'd to arc early and wound horses, get a few horses kicking and flailing, the line gets disorganized and suffers a moral drop, which sounds similar to what BD says about Tartars.
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Re: Longbow vs. armor test

Postby admin » 30 Jul 2012 14:46

Yes, there is plenty of evidence in the sources for English longbowmen harrying the enemy at long range (they did this to provoke the enemy at Agincourt and we know the standard practice distance was 240 yards) and also pounding the enemy at very close range (eg. Poitiers and various small skirmishes that are well described from the Crecy campaign).
My assertion has always been that this close range pounding is more important than the modern authors have generally attributed. Not to say that longbows were not employed at long range, they were, but rather to emphasise that they were ALSO employed at very close range.
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Re: Longbow vs. armor test

Postby bigdummy » 30 Jul 2012 15:19

Yes I think that is fair. As I've learned here longbows were even used from horseback.

What I have seen in the data is that it looks like of the four weapons, the longbow is probably the most effective at causing real damage, killing and maiming, at long range. Mongol flight arrows by contrast are going to be wounding at their maximum range, but they can do so beyond the range that their opponents can reach them.

But both weapons were also used up close in the critical stage of battles, there is no doubt about that.

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Re: Longbow vs. armor test

Postby Alina » 30 Jul 2012 22:16

I'd still like to know the flight arrow source, just for my own personal edification.

I agree with everybody else. Obviously longbows did shoot long distance some of the time, but I'm definitely in Matt's camp in believing that the real slaughter took place at ranges much closer than modern authors suggest.
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