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Tony Brass





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PostPosted: Fri 24 Aug, 2007 2:56 pm    Post subject: How difficult was it to defeat a man in plate armor?         Reply with quote

I have read that a man in plate armor was like a tank. But was he? Did men actually wear the tournament style of plate armor in battle, and if so, how thick was it? Could it be thrust through with a really rigid sword and a good square hit? If swords were relegated to just looking for gaps in the armour, it seeme to me that I would rather use an axe or mace.

The reason I bring this up is that i just acquired a type XVII hexagonal cross section sword. Tough, rigid, brutal, and despite the profile taper - slow. In order to keep its strong point, it sacrifices the velocity of a nice distal taper blade. Indeed, is this a sword trying to do a job better accomplished by an impact weapon, and ultimately a good rondel dagger? Or could such a robust yet pointy sword pose a real threat to the man behind the plate
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Marton Pap




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PostPosted: Fri 24 Aug, 2007 3:43 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi!
I didn't read too much about armoured combat, but about the gaps of armour Liechtenauer says in the von Danzig manuscript:
Quote:
Mark that where the armoured man is best overcome is through the harness | that is under the face or under the shoulders | Or in the hollow of the hand or on the arms behind the gloves or in the knee hollows or below to the soles of the feet | and in the joints of the arm | and between the legs | and in the knowledge that his harness has joints | you should thus seek the openings so that onward you need not work but stab | when you next have one before you

Here is the link :
http://schielhau.org/von.danzig.html
I don't want to say that the sword is useless directly against the plate, but if looking for the gaps is really the best way to defeat an armoured man, by using a sword, then why should one do anything else? (I don't know if it's true for mounted combat or not)
Best regards!
Marton
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Matthew R.





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PostPosted: Fri 24 Aug, 2007 4:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As far as I know, the ideal weapon for fighting against a heavily armoured opponent would have been the billhook:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_(weapon) (the one shown here is not the best example). Such a weapon was useful in grabbing at the lose parts of a soldier's plate and dragging him to the ground. What's best about it is that it was cheap and was used heavily by the English against their often better armoured French adversaries.
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Justin King
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PostPosted: Fri 24 Aug, 2007 6:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have personally read/seen a number of conflicting things about this subject. It seems that at it's peak of development plate armor (perhaps just the most expensive, highest quality stuff) was hardened and could survive an arrow from an English war bow at reasonably close range. I have seen tests performed on a "traditionally made" breastplate that appeared to confirm that this was at least possible. If true I think this would mean that under most circumstances the same breastplate would be proof against a sword thrust as well. From one account I remember, when the French first faced the English archers in massed formation their armor was found to be insufficient and somewhat later armor began to appear that was considered to be proof against arrows, but that it remained so expensive that only the very wealthy could afford it. Not all armor was created equal. Later armor was proof tested by firing a lightly-loaded pistol at it at close range. The dent was called a proof mark.
Breastplates and other pieces of armor were commonly made thicker where direct or frontal damage would most commonly occur, so hitting a thinner area may make a difference. Quality probably varied a great deal from period to period and region to region, not to mention price factor, so it may depend entirely on who you are attacking.

All in all I would say that penetrating plate with a sword is probably not impossible in all cases, but honestly I think that if one were unarmored, with only a sword, facing an opponent in full plate with a sword, you probably have the wrong weapon. You might, in fact, want to leave...quickly...
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Fri 24 Aug, 2007 7:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Military writers such as Machiavelli and Fourquevaux thought armored men would beat unarmored men rather handily. It's clear armor was a huge advantage in close combat.
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George Hill




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PostPosted: Fri 24 Aug, 2007 8:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The answer is that a man in armor was almost invunerable. You cannot directly compromise the breastplate with anything short of a couched lance at the full gallop.

Although tournament armor was not worn in the field, this was because tournament armor needed to repeatedly withstand massive blunt impacts from blunted lances. In much the same way an SCA helmet is much heavier then an original, because the SCA man may get hit in the head with a stick a few hundred times a year.

A knight in battle would be hit less frequently, as he would not leave the person who did it alive to do it again. There are accounts of helmets being deformed onto men's heads, such that they could not be removed, in tournaments.

But a metal weapon will not penetrate. It is more inclined to glance off. Most of the weapons you have heard called 'armor penetrating' are not referring to plate armor, but to mail or scale or cloth armor, which is much easier to get through then a solid plate. The long bow will penetrate mail. It will not penetrate plate. The "Epic armor failures" are almost uniformly from periods where mail was the predominant armor on the field. A windlass crossbow may penetrate plate, as it can be much more powerful then a longbow. Do a search, we have several threads on the topic.

So to consider a combat in armor, you must first consider the plates almost impenetrable. But there are gaps in the plates, which are covered in excellent mail for the most part.

This means you are going to have a devil of a time doing the fellow in. You can hit him with huge blunt impacts, and hope to shift the armor enough to break his bones, you can go for the gaps in the armor (which got smaller every year as the armor improved over time) and hope to penetrate the mail with a VERY acute point, or you can wrestle him to the ground and sit on him long enough to shove a dagger through his eyeslot.

And that's what the fightbooks tell us to do. Aim for the gaps, or remove part of the armor and stick him there.

Of course, doing any of that is going to be almost impossibly difficult, if he's well trained, and chances are he will be.

The last way you can get to a man in plate armor is to get a gun and shoot him. This in the end proved the easiest way. Armor responded, but guns got better and eventually most of the armor was dropped as it had to be so heavy to withstand the low-end firearms, and could not withstand the high-end firearms.

To abandon your shield is the basest of crimes. - --Tacitus on Germania
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Fri 24 Aug, 2007 9:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I can't back this up with specific evidence (so don't ask, and take it as hearsay) but as I understand, in all probability men fighting in harness with swords would have ended up on the ground, with one man finally triumphing with his dagger over the other by stabbing him in an articulated area.
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Fri 24 Aug, 2007 9:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would add exhaustion as well as being seriously outnumbered could eventually bring down a single fully armoured knight but a group of knights would be very much more difficult to defeat if they could take turns fighting on a narrow front and go back to the rear to recover.

Heat would also be a problem and being able to keep hydrated in warm climates.

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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Fri 24 Aug, 2007 9:50 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

George Hill wrote:
There are accounts of helmets being deformed onto men's heads, such that they could not be removed, in tournaments.


I enjoy these types of legends / feats of arms, and would genuinely appreciate it if you could enumerate some examples.

The only similar account I currently know of was really before the age of plate; William Marshal's biography asserted that he had to have a blacksmith remove his helm after a tournament. In addition an independent/ unbiased account of one of his last battles, age of late 60's, claimed he withstood severe battering and utter destruction of his helm as well as severe trauma type blows that others would typically not have withstood, in mail, while fighting in real battle with the English throne at stake. Reference - David Crouch's text "William Marshal."

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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Hugh Knight




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PostPosted: Fri 24 Aug, 2007 10:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Craig Peters wrote:
I can't back this up with specific evidence (so don't ask, and take it as hearsay) but as I understand, in all probability men fighting in harness with swords would have ended up on the ground, with one man finally triumphing with his dagger over the other by stabbing him in an articulated area.


You're right, Craig. Peter von Danzig said: "Now you should know that almost all combat fencing in harness comes at last to dagger fencing and to wrestling" (fol. 71v).

The Fechtbücher are clear on this: You aim for the gaps in the armor with thrusts, or you hit the places likely to be effected most easily by strikes of the pollaxe (e.g., the helmet--which although covered by thick plate was lined with very thin padding--or the hands), but in the end armor really, really worked (arrows, for example, almost never penetrated plate, contrary to what revisionist historians will tell you). Even stabbing into the gaps in the armor wasn't all that effective because most of the most "delicate" areas are covered with mail under the plate, and while it's possible to thrust through mail by using special techniques (e.g., the Fourth Guard of the Halfsword), the mail still prevents the wedge-slicing effect you get with unimpeded sword or dagger thrusts (which is why thrusting weapons are narrow at the point and wider further up). And the places that aren't covered in mail, e.g., the palms of the hands, aren't lethal targets--except for the face (which, counterintuitively, was usually exposed for lethal encounters and covered for friendlier ones). So the best way to kill someone was to knock him to the ground, pin him using an Unterhalten technique, and then use your dagger (or his dagger, as von Danzig recommends) to thrust into vital targets.

Regards,
Hugh
www.schlachtschule.org
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Fri 24 Aug, 2007 10:18 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I generally agree with George, but it depends on the quality of the armor. Even Fourquevaux, a huge fan of armor, wrote that lower-quality stuff could be defeated by an extended barrage of bolts or arrows. Tests suggest spears could pierce inferior breastplates.

And then there's Cesare d'Evoli's text on the matter. According to Sydney Anglo, d'Evoli thought almost anything other than swords could pierce both plate and mail. I'd really like to read d'Evoli for myself, but I don't know if there's a translation available. His work is extremely obscure. I don't know what to make of it, because nothing else so much as hints that armor was that easy to penetrate.

Either way, head blows from heavy staff weapons could clearly incapacitate or kill through the best helmet. If a man in full armor left his head undefended, any lusty fellow with a halberd, pollaxe, bill, or maul might well ruin his day. That's rather far from invulnerability in my opinion.
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Chuck Russell




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PostPosted: Sat 25 Aug, 2007 6:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

numbers is the best thing to beat a guy in full plate. due to: if he's got full plate he knows how to wear it, knows how to fight, has been training so he can probably outlast most unarmoured guys on teh field. i know when we (Lord Greys) do mock battles etc its really hard to get in close etc as an unarmoured guy. you know your gonna get hit and hit bad while all of your swings bounce off metal.

but that being said, in the paston letters, the son got hit all day with arrows on teh field but 1 arrow cracked his forarm and scratched him. i believe and he frekked out, stripped down, ran into town and wrote mommy that he had lost everything.
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Sat 25 Aug, 2007 8:08 am    Post subject: Re: How difficult was it to defeat a man in plate armor?         Reply with quote

Tony Brass wrote:
I have read that a man in plate armor was like a tank. But was he? Did men actually wear the tournament style of plate armor in battle, and if so, how thick was it? Could it be thrust through with a really rigid sword and a good square hit? If swords were relegated to just looking for gaps in the armour, it seeme to me that I would rather use an axe or mace.

The reason I bring this up is that i just acquired a type XVII hexagonal cross section sword. Tough, rigid, brutal, and despite the profile taper - slow. In order to keep its strong point, it sacrifices the velocity of a nice distal taper blade. Indeed, is this a sword trying to do a job better accomplished by an impact weapon, and ultimately a good rondel dagger? Or could such a robust yet pointy sword pose a real threat to the man behind the plate


People are covering the armoured aspects fairly well, so I'll address the weapons aspect. Happy Impact weapons seem to rise in popularity with plate armour. That's no secret and almost certainly no coincidence. Impact weapons could crush armour and either render it unusable or, better yet, hurt the person inside. I think there were situations where they were more desirable and certainly more useful than a sword. But the knight was not about to abandon his prestigious weapon, full of so much symbolism. And not everyone was clad in plate on the battlefield. So swords evolved to be more effective in a wider variety of circumstances. But I believe that impact weapons were more effective against plate than a sword would be. A sword had to be thrust very precisely into small places. An impact weapon could do damage wherever it landed.

Type XVII swords are almost certainly a response to increasing use of plates, necessitating a stiffer blade for heavy-duty thrusting into gaps and through non-solid armour. Remember that the Type XVII was most popular between 1355 and 1425; full plate was probably not in its most widespread use until a little later in the 15th century.

Type XVII, as with all types, will vary in handling. Oakeshott noted some that were poorly balanced and others that weren't. I have Albion's Sempach and it's not slow; it can actually be pretty nimble. Against light targets, it cuts better than I expected. Against tougher targets, the cross-section keeps it from being the most effective cutter, which is not surprising given its truer purpose (thrusting).

Can I ask what kind of Type XVII you have and who made it?

Some sword types saw more limited lifespans than others (XVII, XIV among others). Other types seem to be more effective and versatile than these which no doubt led to their obsolescence. But good, useful, wieldable examples of these types can be found.

Happy

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Andreas Auer




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PostPosted: Sat 25 Aug, 2007 8:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

my 2 cent.. when i fight in my harnisch i don't like following things...

...a hot day (after 20 to 30 minutes a fight must be won, otherwise exhaustion...)
...quick moving enemys (bad sight because of helmet and enemy getting behind me..)
...unmounting my horse (ok i have no horse but...giving up a horses mobility would be like giving up my biggest advantage)
...uneven ground (making me stumble or even falling in combat is sure death)


...my next 2 cents i also see fully plate armoured Knights a Tanks...you have to choose the right tactics for a tank, a Plate armour is not fool proof and need a good infrastructure on the battlefield (safe places to rest for drinking water changing weapons etc...) a Knight is a very expensive weapon that needs to be used very clever... sending Knights in a close encounter with cheap troop with lances, halberts or even clubs is a bad decision by my military leader.
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Steven H




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PostPosted: Sat 25 Aug, 2007 9:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

To follow on Chad about the weapons: weapons like couched lances, braced spears/pikes, polearms (like the bill or halberd) or pollaxes are all better at killing a plate armoured foe.

In a limited sense the sword can be seen like a modern sidearm. A versatile weapon and good in close in fighting. But not what you start a fight using, it's what you finish a fight with.

Kunstbruder - Boston area Historical Combat Study
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Sat 25 Aug, 2007 11:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
A versatile weapon and good in close in fighting. But not what you start a fight using, it's what you finish a fight with.


Yes, exactly. John Smythe wrote this explicitly. Swords and daggers are what you often finish the battle with, once your primary weapon has failed you (broken, lost, etc). But he made it quite clear larger weapons had the advantage. He thought armored men with swords and daggers would be completely unable to resist armored men with halberds.
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Peter Lyon
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PostPosted: Sat 25 Aug, 2007 1:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

And don't forget shields, and how they were dispensed with once the plate armour could be trusted to withstand most impacts. This is coincidental with the increased use of large weapons in the 15th century in particular (though was likely occuring with higher-end harnesses in the 14th century as well), and some changes in the role of the knight/man at arms from a principally mounted warrior, to one where combat could be either mounted or dismounted, with the need to change quickly (and shields,especially larger ones, are quite awkward when mounting and dismounting). This does not mean shields were used a lot less overall, but their role was changing, to one where they were used more by foot soldiers or the less heavily armoured, and as pavises to hide behind and fire crossbows and handguns from. But for the heavily armoured warrior, shields pretty much disappear except in tournaments, and then they are used as targets to aim at, more than for protection.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sat 25 Aug, 2007 2:21 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Chuck Russell wrote:
but that being said, in the paston letters, the son got hit all day with arrows on teh field but 1 arrow cracked his forarm and scratched him. i believe and he frekked out, stripped down, ran into town and wrote mommy that he had lost everything.

This is one of only two eyewitness examples in all of the accounts I have ever encountered that involves an arrow actually penetrating plate armour. Longbow enthusiasts reckon that this is proof of the armour penetrating power of the weapon even though the arrow barely injured Paston. He managed to remove the vambrace without first extracting the arrow and he was well enough to write to mommy with the injured arm the same night. One should also note that vambraces are among the thinnest pieces of plate in a harness.

The second account involves a gorget being penetrated (though another translation says the armour was an aventail, not a gorget). There is a third account mentioning the temples of helmets being penetrated but I don't think it was written by an eyewitness.
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Greg Coffman




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PostPosted: Sat 25 Aug, 2007 3:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Halfswording. I found the word in this thread yet so I'd thought I'd mention it. Halfswording seems to be THE way to use a sword to defeat plate. One on one, I think the armoured fighter with a longsword might have some advantage to the fighter with a rondel. At least the one with the sword is not at any disadvantage.

Armour is great because it takes away the vunerability of being cut at. However the armoured fighter is not invunerable and expecially not when facing off against another armoured fighter. On the battle field when formations of armoured fighters would clash together, the armour provides excellent protection from so many things such as missle weapons. The idea was that groups of unarmoured soldiers were poor match for heavily armoured formations. But there were still plenty of ways to defeat an armoured fighter both on and off the battlefield. You don't have to kill the guy, just take him out of the fight. For example, while wearing an 80 pound harness if you kick somebodies knee, that knee will break and the sombody will go down. Anytime you can put somebody on the ground in the middle of a battle, they are pretty much a gonner.

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
-Hebrews 4:12
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Chuck Russell




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PostPosted: Sat 25 Aug, 2007 7:47 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
Chuck Russell wrote:
but that being said, in the paston letters, the son got hit all day with arrows on teh field but 1 arrow cracked his forarm and scratched him. i believe and he frekked out, stripped down, ran into town and wrote mommy that he had lost everything.

This is one of only two eyewitness examples in all of the accounts I have ever encountered that involves an arrow actually penetrating plate armour. Longbow enthusiasts reckon that this is proof of the armour penetrating power of the weapon even though the arrow barely injured Paston. He managed to remove the vambrace without first extracting the arrow and he was well enough to write to mommy with the injured arm the same night. One should also note that vambraces are among the thinnest pieces of plate in a harness.

The second account involves a gorget being penetrated (though another translation says the armour was an aventail, not a gorget). There is a third account mentioning the temples of helmets being penetrated but I don't think it was written by an eyewitness.


ya, i wonder how many arrows the lad had gotten hit with all day that did nothing until after the days abuse, 1 arrow cracks the plate and he screems for mommy. i'm not for the longbow vs armour threads. i've shot enough to know well were my thoughts are Happy hehehe lots of broken arrow heads and arrows Wink
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