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Author Topic: armor penetrating capability of crossbows  (Read 7882 times)
jeffd
Member

Posts: 58


« on: April 07, 2004, 02:34:04 PM »

I remember a while back (month or two) there was a thread here about the longbow's mythical ability to penetrate full harness armor - basically someone did research and that's a myth.  Is the same thing true of the crossbow?

JD
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Tash
Member

Posts: 284


« Reply #1 on: April 07, 2004, 03:43:15 PM »

A good friend of mine did his thesis (his field of study is medieval history) on the relative penetration power of the Longbow and Crossbow, and the effect each had on the millitaries which used them.

As part of his thesis he did extensive research into the physics involved with each weapon, the amount of energy required to peirce various kinds of armor under varied circumstances, etc.  His conclusions were that a heavy crossbow was more than capable of penetrating even the heaviest plate, with devestating result to the wearer.  The reason they were outlawed by the church was that they were so astoundingly lethal.  After the crossbow saw widespread use in medieval warfare the number of deaths among the nobility (who were the ones wearing plate) skyrocketted.  The Longbow could actually penetrate lighter varieties of plate as well, but its projectile was so much larger that it lost velocity extremely quickly, reducing its lethal range substantially compared to the crossbow.  I belive the figures were around 150 yards and 400+ yards respectively (these being for a lethal shot, not the maximum range of the weapon).  

I've actually seen a rather astounding figure based on tests of a medieval   crossbow (a late period one with a heavy metal prod, cocked with a windlass and firing a steel bolt) and modern day ballistics testing gel.  Those tests determined that a crossbow bolt carried about the same kinetic energy as a 7.62mm NATO round when tested at ranges closer than 100 yards.  The crossbow bolt lost energy rapidly after this point, but still would have been lethal to an enemy in full plate (by way of comparison a 7.62 round still retains over 90% of its energy at over 1000 yards).  I'm not completely convinced of the validity of this report, but I'm not shcoked either.  I've personally seen crossbows fired through archery targets at ranges over 200 yards, these were light, lever cocked bows, not representative of the tremendous power the heaviest of crossbows could produce.

In any event I'd have to say "Yeah, all evidence points to the crossbow being able to drop a man in full harness."
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"And even triumph is bitter, when only the battle is counted..."  - Samael "Rebellion"
Crusader
Member

Posts: 27


« Reply #2 on: April 08, 2004, 01:03:46 AM »

Details of some crossbow vs. mail and plate armour tests at the shop of none other than Robert MacPherson himself:

http://forums.armourarchive.org/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=29220

Note that the 300-pound draw-weight of the weapon used is on the light end for period crossbows, but significantly heavier than even the highest weight estimates for longbows.  I'd trust a longbow to kill a horse, but not to penetrate good armour...
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Salamander
Member

Posts: 450


« Reply #3 on: April 08, 2004, 06:20:29 AM »

Quote from: Crusader
Details of some crossbow vs. mail and plate armour tests at the shop of none other than Robert MacPherson himself:

http://forums.armourarchive.org/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=29220

Note that the 300-pound draw-weight of the weapon used is on the light end for period crossbows, but significantly heavier than even the highest weight estimates for longbows.  I'd trust a longbow to kill a horse, but not to penetrate good armour...


Looks like it backs our arguement from that last harness penetration thread too.
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"Don't fight your opponent's sword, fight your opponent. For as you fight my sword, I shall fight you. My sword shall be nicked, your body shall be peirced through and I shall have a new sword".
Dain
Member

Posts: 125


« Reply #4 on: April 08, 2004, 08:18:18 AM »

Can't speak for the accuracy of the following, but a friend of mine who's been whacko on the re-enactment stuff for years and years claims that the Crossbow actually was the cause of the demise of armor and was responsible for the creation of the Rapier. He said most people mistakenly believed that the invent of firearms was the cause of people ceasing to wear armor, but in actuallity it was the crossbow that caused it, and it was long before the invention of firearms. The connection with the Rapier, he said, was that once people stopped wearing armor (because all it did was slow them down and make them better targets for crossbowmen), there no longer was a need for massive slow moving swords capable of battering armor to pieces or penetrating it. In fact, the massive swords became a detriment to the wielder if the opponent was unarmored because mobility pretty much allowed him to avoid the blows and get inside the guard when inertia screwed you over. With opponents being unarmored and mobile, a lighter, quicker weapon was needed to compensate...and the Rapier was born. It underwent a TON of variations in design and length in the MANY years to follow, but basically it remained a light and quick weapon designed to use against unarmored opponents. Thus, the crossbow obsoleted armor and caused the need for the invention of the Rapier.

Again, can't speak for the veracity of this, but it sounded logical to me, and this guy's really into this stuff so it might be right.
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Caz
Member

Posts: 272


« Reply #5 on: April 08, 2004, 09:29:38 AM »

Rapiers were a primarily civilian weapon that appeared when the days of the superiority of knights had already passed, they would never have had anything to do with armour anyway.
    The church outlawed crossbows not because of their lethality, but because they could let any old guy kill with little training from far away, levelling the field.  They were not as effective as firearms, armour still protects more against them than bullets.  It still has the possibility of stopping a bolt, and a better chance of deflecting one that doesn't hit 90 deg., where a bullet will just penetrate due to its velocity, with far less chance of stopping or deflecting.
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Tash
Member

Posts: 284


« Reply #6 on: April 08, 2004, 11:41:18 AM »

Dain - your friend's claims are somewhat consistent with what I've heard and read, except for the rapier part.  As Caz points out rapiers were not a replacement to large swords on the battlefield.  The developed as personal weapons for self defense in cities.
However as crossbows became more widespread there was a reduction in the amount of armor being worn, as well as a drastic shift in the tactics used by the armies of the day.  This also saw a corresponding change in the way swords were constructed, resulting not in the rapier but in the cut and thrust style swords from which the rapier eventually descended.  
That was the main point of my friends thesis: how did the crossbow and longbow change the tactical options of a battlefield commander, and what effect did this have on the outcome of key battles during the middle ages.  At one point I had a copy of it on my computer, but I can't find it right now.  I'll see if I can get another one sent to me and post some of the key points.  Probably the most interesting is his analysis of a particular battle during the crusades where crossbowmen were employed as flankers to keep the Muslim light calvary from executing the type of successful charges they had used in the past against the crusader's foot soldiers.  The crossbow had superior range to their shorbows, and each time they attempted to bring their forces into range they met a hail of crossbow bolts.  This delayed their assults long enough for the crusader's heavy calvary to mount a devestating charge and winning a key victory in the campaign.  

Caz: Letting any old guy kill from far away is pretty much a testament to the lethality of the weapon.  It let the commoners kill the nobility.  Not wound, capture and ransom (as was most common previously) but KILL.  That's pretty much the definition of lethality in my book.  
So the church banned its use, against Christians anyway.  They didn't care if it was used to kill other religons (mainly the Muslims), so special dispensation was give for the use of the crossbow in the Crusades.
As for the difference between firearms and the crossbow, yes, obviously firearms were superior (or we'd probably see the US Army in Bagdahd wielding crossbows).  But there was a LONG delay between their introduction and the extinction of bows.  I'm not precisely sure when early firearms began showing up in Europe, but I know they were in existence for over 50 years by the time of Agincourt, and they were not used in that battle.  Nor was the crossbow extinct for quite some time afterwards.  Firearms simply weren't reliable, accurate, or cheap enough to be used on a large scale by the military.  It wasn't until the development of the flintlock and wheel lock (which interestingly provoked simillar reactions to the crossbow: i.e. the church banned its use) that they became the dominant weapon of warfare.  No commander wants to arm the majority of his force with a weapon that blows up in their hands 2/3 of the time its fired, takes 10 minutes to reload, and can't be used if it gets damp.
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"And even triumph is bitter, when only the battle is counted..."  - Samael "Rebellion"
Caz
Member

Posts: 272


« Reply #7 on: April 08, 2004, 12:24:17 PM »

I meant that they're no more lethal than bows and swords, you just need a lot less training and strength to use them, hence any old guy, like with firearms.  You didn't see the pope outlawing longbows and swords, but even the longbow could match the range of most crossbows.  But a guy could do in 2 weeks with a crossbow what would take years to learn with a bow, much less a sword.
    Not that many payed attention to the ban.
    BTW old fashioned personal firearms didn't blow up in peoples hands.  They weren't the strongest, but neither was their powder.  Until the flintlock, the crossbow was still more used than even the wheellock or the matchlock.  Such as with the conquistadores in S america, thei crossbowmen far outnumbered their gunpowder weapons.
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Tash
Member

Posts: 284


« Reply #8 on: April 08, 2004, 01:14:14 PM »

That's the entire point, the WERE more lethal than either a longbow or a sword.  Partial because, as you point out, they were much easier to use.  But secondly they actually had a huge advantage in physicis over either weapon.  You can't really compare them to a sword because they aren't the same kind of weapon, but compared to the longbow they had both more penetration, and a greater effective rage.  The reason for both was due to the length of the projectile.  A longbow, because of its huge length of draw, had to fire a very long arrow.  While in flight the length of that arrow was subject to a large amount of atmospheric drag, which sapped it of velocity and caused it to become unstable.  That meant it was both shorter ranged and less accurate than a shorter projectile.

A crossbow bolt is much shorter, so it has less surface area moving through the air, hence less drag and greater range and accuracy.  That is before you take into account the fact that crossbows could generate much, much higher velocities than a longbow could because of the mechanical nature of their cocking system.

As for my statement about firearms, the 2/3 figure was hyperbole, but they did blow up when used, with enough frequency that anyone sane would be a tad worried about using them.  I've seen enough cracked and shattered barrels in museums to know that is a fact.  Many of these were from much latter generation firearms (I grew up in upstate NY and went to a lot of Seven Years War sites when I was a kid).  The combination of inconsistent maintinence and less than perfect powder quality was the reason for this.  Two hundred odd years earlier things were even worse: the guns were of lesser quality, troops less well trained in their use (most colonial era solidiers had grown up shooting), and powder mixed with even more dangerous variations in purity and granual size.
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"And even triumph is bitter, when only the battle is counted..."  - Samael "Rebellion"
Caz
Member

Posts: 272


« Reply #9 on: April 08, 2004, 03:10:22 PM »

I see.  I was thinking lethality in that they'll all put the same hole in you.  I'd wager later firearms were more dangerous than earlier ones.  The less consistent the powder, the less refined the grains, the less explosive the powder.  Earlier, looser fitting projectiles in shorter, thicker barrels, made them less powerful but less apt to explode.  Once they started up with treated and finer ground powder, in longer, thinner barrels, of still inconsistent quality, I could understand those exploding on occassion.  If they exploded remotely as often as they didn't, and in a dangerous fashion, enough to mke people worry about it every time they shot, they wouldn't have shot so much, and they wouldn't have remained ignorant about it either.
    The more time that passed, the better barrels were made, but powder kept getting better too.  I stand by it being a rare occurrence though.  Most exploded barrels in museums are likely naturally ones people left to be found, but that doesn't mean it happened much.
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Salamander
Member

Posts: 450


« Reply #10 on: April 08, 2004, 07:50:56 PM »

I have heard many different theories as to why harness and maille fell by the wayside. There is one I personally subscribe to over the others that deals with the ascent of towns and republican thinking.

It seems that during the end of the midieval era the towns began to gain prominence and many subscribed to a republican ideal, or at least the concept that nobles were not so required anymore. These towns formed standing militias wherein the entire able bodied male population (and possibly a few females as well, but that is another debate) was required to train on one day each week in the use of arms and drill. This led to a well trained force able to benefit from the specialist industrial base of the town.

Now, as everybody knows nobles most often fought and when when they saw they were about to be captured they would commonly (but not as often as you think) yield to their fellow noble. After the war, they would simply be ransomed back along with thier armour and mount. As far as I know, only nobles could ransom and be ransomed.

Since the townsfolk were quite clearly NOT of a patentable status (for the most part, but you would be amazed at what 10,000 Florins would buy from the Emperor or Pope) they could not ransom any nobles. You know, those wealthy warrior princes what buy themselves the best proofness money can buy?

Now in times of war, the men were all either on the road, preparing to go on the road or defending the road, so very little time was left for them to do their part in the harves, which led to shortfalls, often times these shortfalls would kill more folk through starvation than the actual fighting would. So needless to say, food could be pretty damn scarce during a war. So why would you waste food on a fellow you can't make any profit from?

The answer is to simply kill the noble. That way he won't eat food your family could use.

Well, this did not sit well with the nobles. They decided it was now well and truly even more dangerous to enter into battle. So they stopped buying flash quality suits of fighting armour for themselves (no longer needed) and spent the coin on hiring a larger professional army to fight (and die) for them. As they did not require these cool suits anymore the armour industry began to decline. After a century or two the armour industry had declined to the point where the idea of proofness was a boiled leather jack. Factor in the fact that weapons technology was changing and we see firearms improve and armour decline due to the decrease in clientelle for good harness.

So I believe it was the change in society, not the advent of any "superior" weaponry that caused the decline of armour. I say this as I have seen suits of harness that were proofed with a musket, arbelests and long bows. If you defrauded your customer, you ran the risk of dying on the point of a dis-satisfied customer's sword, or his father's, or his brother's, or his son's etc...
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"Don't fight your opponent's sword, fight your opponent. For as you fight my sword, I shall fight you. My sword shall be nicked, your body shall be peirced through and I shall have a new sword".
bergh
Member

Posts: 266


« Reply #11 on: April 09, 2004, 04:41:14 AM »

For TRoS

I think that giving a Crossbow a +1 or +2 damage against armours, seem fairly ok, but then again, if your characters all are wearing full plate, then give crossbows some armour piercing.

personaly i give crossbows +1 or 2, damage vs armour, and if works fine by me. and my players have no problems is that firearms are lethal.
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Kind regards....

-Brian Bergh
brianbbj@hotmail.com
TRoS .pdf files: http://fflr.dk/tabletop/TROS/
Eamon
Member

Posts: 32


« Reply #12 on: April 09, 2004, 10:06:47 AM »

Quote from: Caz
Until the flintlock, the crossbow was still more used than even the wheellock or the matchlock.


The crossbow was certainly used more than the wheellock, but not the matchlock, once the matchlock became popular.  Can you prove otherwise?

Quote
Such as with the conquistadores in S america, thei crossbowmen far outnumbered their gunpowder weapons.


This is indeed true and is well documented.  Still, can you prove in other cases that the crossbow was used more frequently than the matchlock?
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Eamon
Member

Posts: 32


« Reply #13 on: April 09, 2004, 10:13:05 AM »

One of the things I think a lot of you are forgetting is that firearms are more than just an issue of accuracy, range, penetration and/or ease of use.  A real factor involved was the morale issue.  A row of firearms going off in a half-decent volley is as much about the smoke and thunder as it is the effect of the actual weapons.

Remember, in old-fashioned stand-up style battles people tended to die more while running away from the fight then while standing.  For some odd reason, we as humans find it easier to hit people on the field when they are running away, then when they are standing still and shooting or fighting back.  This is a well documented feature of the human condition.

So, while the crossbow may have had more accuracy, range and penetration, the bow a greater speed of fire ad improved accuracy, the firearm is a morale-busting weapon in the early years (and no slouch when it comes to wounding people either).  Break the morale of the other side with volleys of matchlock fure, then send in the cavalry or swordsmen to clean up the fleeing foe.  This is backed up by history both modern and old.
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Tash
Member

Posts: 284


« Reply #14 on: April 09, 2004, 10:55:18 AM »

Eamon I think the simple fact that the matchlock came into usage sometime in the middle 14th century and the crossbow didn't die out until the late 15th speaks to the fact that matchlocks weren't a perfect replacement to the crossbow.  They needed some refining, but that refining ended up in a completely new weapon: the flintlock (wheellocks were too expensive and complex for regular millitary use).
You do bring up a very good point with the morale issue.  That is probably the reason why the first firearms were used by "elite" squads of troops and deployed very aggressively.  Even if the weapons weren't that effective, as you point out, they could shake the morale of the opposing side and allow for other units to sweep in and mop up.
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"And even triumph is bitter, when only the battle is counted..."  - Samael "Rebellion"
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