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J. Lee





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PostPosted: Thu 07 Aug, 2008 7:27 am    Post subject: How effective was a 16~17 century musket against armour?         Reply with quote

Of course, I do know that any armoured man would be afraid of getting
hit by a musket ball, but there are varying sources on its penetrative power against period armour.

Several English military officials claimed that a musket could dispatch armoured man at 200 yards,
or more(Some claim 600 yards! See http://www.alderneywreck.com/node/49 for detail).

However, according to one paper citing Peter Krenn's period firearms test(http://www.drizzle.com/~celyn/jherek/16thMilSci.pdf), various muskets and arquebuses
could pierce 2mm iron sheet at 100 meters, but 2.7mm at 30 meters.

Considering that many 'bullet-proof' armours of period had thickness of more than
3mm, (See http://gladius.revistas.csic.es/index.php/gla.../view/8/8)
it seems that the aforementioned English officials' claim are less trustworthy.

Can anyone give me some advice on this matter?
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Thu 07 Aug, 2008 9:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well when armour was still common muskets where often of .85 calibre or said in another way, 8 gauge which means 2 oz.
of lead at a decent velocity.

As far as I know most firearm proof breast plates wood be proof against pistols or the less powerful " calivers " , but truly musket proof plate would have been very heavy and reserved only for the breast plate and helmet.

To give the power of a period musket in perspective it would be about twice that of a modern 12 gauge shotgun using slugs.

Oh, and not all the armour would be proof ( arms and legs ) and not all body parts would be armoured at all: To keep the total weight of armour manageable there was a trend to strengthen the breast plate and discard other pieces.

If armour had been retained longer than historically by making it even thicker and heavier then the muskets would have been made even heavier.

After, armour became much less common the muskets reduced in weight and calibre to make them easier to carry.

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Gordon Frye




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PostPosted: Thu 07 Aug, 2008 11:19 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Pretty much what Jean said. A big (as in BIG!) musket, with a bore of .85", will pack some serious punch at close ranges. But the issue is more "At what range" than "Will it Penetrate?"

The reason for this is that the round ball is an extremely poor ballistic design, and although they start from the muzzle at some tremendous velocities (upwards of 2,000 feet per second), they also tend to loose that velocity rapidly. Sir Roger Williams to the contrary (and I believe he was exaggerating to make a point), a man in decent armour is pretty well protected past 100 yards from most of the small-arms projectiles of the 16th and 17th Centuries. Thus heavy cavalry could sit out of effective range from the Foote, yet cross that distance in a very short period of time when the appropriate phase of battle came about, and they were unleashed to accomplish their charge.

As Jean suggests, much of the "proof" armour was pretty thick and heavy about the vitals. On the other hand, other armour, such as for the arms and legs, was less so, thus at closer ranges, even if the breastplate was musket proof, there were plenty of other places to be hit which would cause fatal injury to the wearer. In fact, Pistoliers were advised to aim for the visor and the thigh-armour, as it was much less likely to be of proof, either pistol or musket, than the breastplate or skull of the helmet. Williams suggests that the breastplate and upper cuisses be "of proofe", while all of the rest of the armour should be made as light as possible.

In 1988 the curators of the Zeughause Museum in Graz, Austria performed some experiments with the arms and armour in their collection. Among the various experiments was to fire original weapons at an original breastplate. The results were quite interesting. At "normal" combat ranges (15 feet/5 meters for pistol, and as I recall 100 feet/30 meters for musket) the breastplate was well pierced by all. However, certainly with the pistol (an original wheellock pistol with a muzzle velocity of over 1500 fps), while the bullet pierced the breastplate, it did NOT pierce the two layers of heavy linen behind it. Thus one could argue that both the pistol and the breastplate did their jobs. The pistol ball certainly would have incapacitated the wearer, but the breastplate may well have protected the wearer from death. Interesting.

At least during the mid-to late 16th Century, and the first half of the 17th Century, I believe that there was a lot of give-and-take going on between firearms and armour. Both did their jobs some of the time, but failed some of the time, too. Thus both were seen as worthwhile things to have and use, but not a panacea of any sort. Only with the changes in tactics in the middle years of the 17th Century, and the greater reliance on lighter forms of Horse do we really see much change in the types of armament use by Cavalry. And with the general disuse of armour for that reason, muskets can be made lighter, and pistols can be kept in their holsters and swords used to greater effect, as there isn't any armour to have to punch through anymore.

I hope that this addresses at least some of your questions!

Cheers!

Gordon

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J. Lee





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PostPosted: Thu 07 Aug, 2008 4:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you all for answering, gentlemen.
I wonder how much common was "proof-armour" of the period might have been.
Though plate(especially munition grades) became cheaper than mail,
metal armour must have been still expensive to most of the troops, especially those on foot.
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Doug Lester




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PostPosted: Thu 07 Aug, 2008 6:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Another thing to consider is the quality of the period firearms. They were not up to the standards of later arms or modern reproductions of the period pieces and the gas seal was not always the best. Also blackpowder was of variable quality then. A lead ball that was deflected by armour from a contemporary firearm might not be deflected from a modern reproduction with modern black powder. A ball from a later blackpowder arm with powder equivalent to what the weapon would have been loaded with would be even more likely to penetrate. Also, as stated above, range is a big factor on whether or not the ball would penetrate the plate.
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Thu 07 Aug, 2008 9:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Doug Lester wrote:
Another thing to consider is the quality of the period firearms. They were not up to the standards of later arms or modern reproductions of the period pieces and the gas seal was not always the best. Also blackpowder was of variable quality then. A lead ball that was deflected by armour from a contemporary firearm might not be deflected from a modern reproduction with modern black powder. A ball from a later blackpowder arm with powder equivalent to what the weapon would have been loaded with would be even more likely to penetrate. Also, as stated above, range is a big factor on whether or not the ball would penetrate the plate.


Variable quality might affect accuracy in that a few hundred ft/sec variance from shot to shot, but this would only matter with a rifle and sniper work.

Variable quality over the centuries rather than at a specific time and place maybe: Early 14th century serpentine powder would have been much more variable than 18th century powder and the impression that modern black powders are stronger or better is something I'm not sure about ! ? ( Consistent quality yes, power ? Not sure, but the best in period would probably be very good in the period where muskets where in use ).

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Jason Daub




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PostPosted: Fri 08 Aug, 2008 4:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I don't know about how exactly modern black would compare to 16/17th century black, but it is considered by many to be inferior to 19th century black. The Curtis & Harvey powder used in late 19th century sporting arms seems to have had a substantial performance edge over even the best modern black powders. Perhaps we shouldn't make the assumption that modern black is going to be that much more powerful. The tests from Graz show a muzzle velocity that one should expect from a heavy loaded round ball. The four century old arm was obviously still in proof and stood to several loads. Perhaps we could grant these tests some value?
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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Fri 08 Aug, 2008 7:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here is another contemporary opinion, from the early 17th century:

"That defensive arms ought to be strong, may be showed by the end of arms; which is to save harmless against arrows, darts, and other offensive arms of the enemy. If they fail at this end, they are of no use; it being better to be unarmed, than to carry arms, that will not defend."
Cpt. John Bingham, tr. and commenary on The Tactiks of Aelian, or Art of Embattling an Army p. 13

"All men know that the temper of an iron armour may be such, as will resist the violence of a musket shot, and that at a near distance."
Cpt. John Bingham, tr. and commenary on The Tactiks of Aelian, or Art of Embattling an Army p. 14

Of course, some people at the time disagreed. Its my understanding that armour fell out of use because (if bulletproof) it was too heavy and expensive, not because firearms could consistently pierce it at medium or long range.
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Tue 18 Mar, 2014 7:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

While sixteenth-century military writers like Sir Roger Williams and Humphrey Barwick may well have exaggerated the power of the musket, it's worth noting that period muskets apparently took much heavier powder charges than in any modern experiments I know of. Williams wrote that muskets got eight to twelve shots from a pound of gunpowder, which makes a charge of over 30 grams likely. Writing earlier in the sixteenth century, Niccolo Tartaglia recommended a charge of about 50 grams. Only the heaviest gun the Graz tests used 20 grams of powder, and that one managed nearly 7,000 joules at the muzzle. A shot from this gun so charged penetrated 4 millimeters into a steel target at 100 meters. We don't know exactly how period gunpowder compares with the modern stuff used in the test, but it's possible well-charged sixteenth-century muskets achieved muzzle energies of 8,000 joules or more, which would have been required to approximate the performance described by Williams and Barwick.
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William P




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PostPosted: Wed 19 Mar, 2014 9:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

so, basically the forked rest 'muskets' (to distinguish from the smaller, handier calvier and arquebus)
Would have been the period equevelent of a current generation anti armour rounds like the .50bmg (im not saying the muskey has the same firepower as a .50 bmg, just that it had a similar role on the battlefield and was similarly frightening to be up against
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Daniel Wallace




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Mar, 2014 9:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

some of you may have seen it, I can't recall if it was a nova documentary, but I saw a show where armor from the English civil war was tested against musketry. the armor was x-rayed and the breast plate was found to have been crimped together - between the 2 layers of softer steel, there was found another section of what presenters said may have been leg armor, (shanks) of harder steel.

if I remember correctly, a replica was made of the breast plate shot at around 20 yards by a replica musket, with no penetration.

I know for the best argument, we should rely on period testimonies, and evidence, but I wonder if anyone else had seen this or had heard about such a constricted breast plate.
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Mar, 2014 12:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

William P wrote:
so, basically the forked rest 'muskets' (to distinguish from the smaller, handier calvier and arquebus)
Would have been the period equevelent of a current generation anti armour rounds like the .50bmg (im not saying the muskey has the same firepower as a .50 bmg, just that it had a similar role on the battlefield and was similarly frightening to be up against


Yes, the heavy musket was a specialized weapon designed to defeat thick armor. Smythe wrote about the number of muskets being increased during wars in the Low Countries in order to defeat the arquebus-proof armor worn by many reiters and some infantry officers. Alan Williams's The Knight and the Blast Furnace shows how thick breastplates could get to resist firearms: up to nearly eight millimeters, with many cavalry breastplates from the 1580s and 1590s over four millimeters. As such armor became less and less common, the heavy musket's power became unnecessary and muskets gradually decreased in size.

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Ralph Grinly





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PostPosted: Thu 20 Mar, 2014 9:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Armour vs firepower - it's always been a juggling act. In the end, it's usually boiled down to a compromise. Would the AVERAGE armour of the day protect it's wearer against the AVERAGE sort of assault the wearer is likely to encounter in an AVERAGE battle ? It's not a case of " Armour was useless because it could be penetrated at "x range by y muskets - tests today have proved it". There are just far too many variables - is the powder correct ? is the ball close fitting..or a 'rolling fit' in the barrel?..is the barrel clean or fouled? is it a quick "battlefield shot" .. or carefully aimed ? etc, etc. Modern test just prove that it is POSSIBLE to penetrate armour with firearms - not that it regularly was during the battles of the day. Also - if the armour vs musket fire was so clear cut - why was it felt necessary for some time to protect bodies of musketeers with pikemen when opposed by cavalry ?..armoured, or otherwise ?
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Fri 21 Mar, 2014 5:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ralph Grinly wrote:
Modern test just prove that it is POSSIBLE to penetrate armour with firearms - not that it regularly was during the battles of the day.


Modern test aren't clear on the matter. It's the period sources - Smythe, Barwick, Williams, etc. - that unambiguously say that muskets could pierce any wearable armor.

Quote:
Also - if the armour vs musket fire was so clear cut - why was it felt necessary for some time to protect bodies of musketeers with pikemen when opposed by cavalry ?..armoured, or otherwise ?


This could simply be because muskets were slow to load. Late 16th-century military writers generally thought unsupported gunners of any sort would lose to cavalry, pikers, halberdiers, etc. in a set battle (not necessarily in a skirmish). According to Florange, 400 Swiss halberdiers routed 800 Landsknecht gunners - armed with arquebuses - at Novara 1513, though that was during an engagement after the gunner had already fired some number of shots so their pieces weren't fresh.

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Bartek Strojek




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PostPosted: Fri 21 Mar, 2014 11:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ralph Grinly wrote:
. Also - if the armour vs musket fire was so clear cut - why was it felt necessary for some time to protect bodies of musketeers with pikemen when opposed by cavalry ?..armoured, or otherwise ?


Eh, one still had to make musket ball hit the target in the first place.

Sources are full of descriptions that, unsurprisingly, mention that it was usually extremely hard to calmly aim and fire at horses galloping towards you.

People panicking and firing too early, too high, too low etc. were common.
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PostPosted: Fri 21 Mar, 2014 11:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As a bit of an aside, none of the guns labeled as muskets in the Graz tests was a musket in the late-sixteenth-century sense. The big doppelhaken come to closest but are probably too heavy. The rest approximate the English calivers and arquebuses of the 1590s. Alan Williams gives 3,000 joules as likely musket-shot energy based in part on the Graz tests, but that's about how much the roughly caliver-sized guns manage at the muzzle. And some of these guns pierced 3 or 4 millimeters of mild steel at 30 meters. And that's still with lighter powder charges than Sir Roger Williams recorded (though also with modern powder). He wrote calivers shot 20 or 30 to the pound, which suggests a 15-gram or so charge. Calivers might have delivered 3,000 to 4,500 joules at the muzzle based on these numbers. And Williams - Sir Roger - didn't consider calivers powerful enough, preferring the musket.
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Mon 31 Mar, 2014 4:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ralph Grinly wrote:
Also - if the armour vs musket fire was so clear cut - why was it felt necessary for some time to protect bodies of musketeers with pikemen when opposed by cavalry ?..armoured, or otherwise ?


Not always. On some occasions, commanders with good infantry could rely on their Shot to provide the bulk of the deterrent against enemy horse. Take this passage from Montluc:

Quote:
I then presently turned about to recover Savillan, and to carry the news to Monsieur de Termes, but as I was on this side [of] Cairas, and upon the skirts of the plain near unto some houses there called les Rodies, looking behind me I saw a Troop of Horse, that came fromwards Fossan, along by the meadow leading towards Albe which they then held: which made me to halt at those houses, to see what they would do; in which posture, they drawing nearer, discover'd me; and attempted to come up to me by a little ascent there was, enclosed with hedges on either side; but when I saw them advanced half up the Ascent, I sent out four or five Harquebusiers, who, firing upon them, shot one of their horses, whereupon they very fairly faced about. Which I seeing, and concluding it was for fear, advanced boldly into the plain, where I had not march'd five hundred paces, but I discovered them again in the said plain (for they had passed a little lower out of sight) being fourteen Launcers, and eight Harquebusiers on horseback, with another who came after leading the wounded horse, I had in all but five and twenty Soldiers, of which seven were Pikes, and Captain Favas and my self each of us a Halbert on our necks; Their Harquebusiers came up at a good round trot to charge us, firing all the way as they came, as some of ours also did at them, and their Launcers made a shew as if they would charge in amongst us; but it was very faintly; for upon the firing of our Harquebusiers they made a halt, and gave way, at which we took heart, and march'd boldly up to them with good smart claps of Harquebuze shot, upon which one of their men falling dead to the ground, they very fairly left him behind them, and descending once more into the plain retreated directly towards Albe. And thus I retir'd to Savillan, it being two hours within night before I got thither, which I thought fit to commit to writing, to the end, that other Captains may take example whenever Horse comes to charge the Foot, never to spend more than half of their shot, and reserve the other half for the last extream, which being observ'd, they can very hardly be defeated without killing a great number of the Enemy, who will never venture to break in whilst they see the Harquebusiers ready presented to fire upon them; who being resolute men, by the favour of any little bush, or brake, will hold the Cavary long in play, the one still firing while the other is charging again. For our parts we were all resolved never to yield; but rather to fight it out with the sword, fearing they would revenge what we had done in the morning, for the four horse that escap'd to Fossan had brought news of their defeat.


There are so many factors at play that we simply can't use a rock-paper-scissors model to figure out the interactions between the various arms in 16th-century warfare.
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William P




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PostPosted: Mon 31 Mar, 2014 6:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ralph Grinly wrote:
Armour vs firepower - it's always been a juggling act. In the end, it's usually boiled down to a compromise. Would the AVERAGE armour of the day protect it's wearer against the AVERAGE sort of assault the wearer is likely to encounter in an AVERAGE battle ? It's not a case of " Armour was useless because it could be penetrated at "x range by y muskets - tests today have proved it". There are just far too many variables - is the powder correct ? is the ball close fitting..or a 'rolling fit' in the barrel?..is the barrel clean or fouled? is it a quick "battlefield shot" .. or carefully aimed ? etc, etc. Modern test just prove that it is POSSIBLE to penetrate armour with firearms - not that it regularly was during the battles of the day. Also - if the armour vs musket fire was so clear cut - why was it felt necessary for some time to protect bodies of musketeers with pikemen when opposed by cavalry ?..armoured, or otherwise ?


not only that, but just because your breastplate cant stop the heaviest of the muskets still didnt make it useless, because it stopped everything ELSE from getting through.. short of cannonballs...

armour becomes useless if most things you face can pierce it.
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Mark Griffin




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PostPosted: Mon 31 Mar, 2014 12:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
There are so many factors at play that we simply can't use a rock-paper-scissors model to figure out the interactions between the various arms in 16th-century warfare.


couldn't sum it up any better.

Even now there are not always full guarantees and I always point out to people that during Oliver Cromwell's first engagement he placed a pistol against an opposing soldiers helmet and fired. Only result was a ringing in both people ears. Who knows what might have happened had it been the person next to him, or if he had used a different load etc etc.

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William P




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PostPosted: Tue 03 Apr, 2018 9:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

so going back a few centuries https://web.archive.org/web/20170809211211/http://www.musketeer.ch:80/blackpowder/handgonne.html

this guy is listing the tannenberg handgonne as doing around 1500joules of muzzle energy with handmade black pwder based on period recipes

...is that reasonable? by comparison longbows and crossbows achieved between 150-200J 1500 seems a massive step up in power,
if you shot an arrow out of said handgonne it sounds like no contemporary 15th century armour could stop it.
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