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Joshua Connolly




Location: Massachusetts, USA
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PostPosted: Mon 18 Aug, 2008 8:42 pm    Post subject: Questions regarding Longbows, Crossbows, Swords and Armor.         Reply with quote

Earlier I had a discussion with a friend of mine about the effectiveness of plate armor, especially in comparison to how longbows and crossbows effect it. In particular, how effective was plate armour Now, the problem here is that I'm really unequipped to handle the specifics of this quandary, and so I proposed we go to see the "experts" as it were to help us sort out our position.

His position in a nutshell;

That plate armor, while protective also has severe weaknesses, particularly against direct thrusts from swords, and Longbows. On swords, he cites seeing numerous techniques whereby the swordsman pierces the plate either on a direct thrust standing up, or thrusts through the breastplate after getting the opponent on his back.. As for longbows, his argument is that a decent hit from a longbow will essentially punch straight through plate armor unless it's essentially the "very, very best" that's available. To support this, he cites having used 60lb draw longbows to penetrate through both sides of a steel can, and through an inch of pinch with training tips. As well, specific citations from the siege of Abergavenny whereby the welsh longbow penetrates the four inch thick oak doors of the castle.

When it comes to longbows and crossbows, his argument is that a longbow is 'generally' a better weapon than a crossbow. These superior traits lay in superior force, firing rate, and range. As for force, while he admits the crossbow has a superior draw weight, he also states that the longbow is more efficient at transferring force from into the arrow by virtue of the longbow having a longer draw. Due to this, a longbow with a draw strength of 60 pounds will be more powerful than a crossbow with a draw strength of 200 pounds. short; a longbow is a better weapon for fighting armored opponents than a crossbow is, and the primary advantage, which why it was much more popular in Continental armies than a longbow, lays in the fact that you can easily train a person to use the crossbow, despite it being an inferior weapon. The length of time it takes to become a proficient archer is also what he cites as the trait that prevented it from creating something of a proto "Gunpowder revolution".

My position in a nutshell;

That plate armor is incredibly protective, and 'nigh invulnerable' to certain things. For instance, no sword is going to adequately pierce straight through adequately made plate armor, so you have to strike "where he is not proof". As in, at the visor, joints, or in particular the armpit. For sword techniques, I cite numerous techniques from the Fechtbuchen, and modern interpretations of those techniques. In short, the crossbow is a better anti-armor weapon, with the Longbow being sufficient to semi-reliably penetrate earlier plate forms with direct fire, and perhaps Maille based armor defense. Likewise, most of the great victories of the English can be attributed to periods when the primary form of defense was either a plate supplemented suit of maille, or early plated armor which was not as 'sophisticated' as later styles of plate armor (As in, hardening and tempering), and despite this the majority of the arrows would not have penetrated these defenses. Later on, I maintain that the Longbow actually became obsolete, with armor technology surpassing it'd ability to achieve sufficient penetration by the 1420s-1430s. This is also near the time when the tide of the Hundred Years War started to turn against the English.

Frankly, what we're looking for in particular is a verification of certain points above, and a general assessment of the values of the longbow and the crossbow, as well as their combat efficacy (In particular, armor penetration). As well, a verification on the ability to reliably penetrate plate armor on a thrust from a sword(Either one or two handed, any contemporary sword form will do).

A further explanation of his points in his words;

Quote:
From the articles and historical accounts I have read, plate armour seems to have had a broad range of effectiveness. I have read accounts of men being killed, either in battles, or in single combat, when someone put a sword or an arrow through their chest. I have also seen references to plate armour capable of soaking a hit from an early firearm, though most such references deride said armour as impractically heavy, and the entire idea seems to have been scrapped relatively quickly.

According to the battle accounts I have read from the hundred years war, English archers could stop a cavalry charge with about six volleys by killing the horses at long range, and the men if they were dumb enough to keep coming closer.

To my mind then the question is how thick did armour have to be to be impervious to non-mechanically augmented weapons (swords, bows, and simple crossbows) and just how common was this kind of armour on the battlefield. Most everything I have heard has indicated "thick" and "not below the upper crust of the nobility." It has been several years, however, since I have had time for intensive reading on the subject, so I am definitely interested in any new information which may have surfaced.
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D. Austin
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Location: Melbourne, Australia
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PostPosted: Mon 18 Aug, 2008 9:35 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Joshua,

There seem to be quite a few questions raised in your post so I'll attempt to answer some of them.

On the effectiveness of plate armour vs. longbow or crossbow: As I understand it, both longbow and crossbow were quite capable of piercing the armour of the time given a direct hit and an appropriate arrow head. This is to say that a glancing surface can go a long way to denying the arrow a chance to penetrate, thus the central keels found on breastplates of the 16th century. Thicker armour was developed to protect against firearms and sometimes sold with a mark of proof to show it's toughness but as you mentioned, it was soon discarded in favour of mobility.

On the effectiveness of swords: Although I have seen tests where people have thrust swords through reasonably thick steel plate, I would not want to attempt this were my life on the line.

On a longbow of 60 pounds being more powerful than a crossbow of 200 pounds: Absolutely not. The longbow would certainly have the advantage of a much greater rate of fire but the crossbow would undoubtedly be more powerful and, as you mentioned, easier for a novice to use effectively.

I look forward to hearing more on these issues from others perhaps more learned than I.
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Bartek Strojek




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PostPosted: Tue 19 Aug, 2008 4:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

My 2 cents :

- Steel can have absolutely nothing to do with steel plate. It's most certainly from softer steel, and most importantly, designed to hold some stuff inside, not to protect against arrows.
On all forums I've seen, people seem to agree that good arrow from good bow, well loosed, have some chance to punch trough the breastplate on low distance. But "very best" plate armours were usually immune to any arrow.

- 60 pound bow actually can indeed be more powerful than 200 pound crossbow, due to much bigger draw lenght, as he is saying. Crosbow can have 3 times greater draw weight, but if it's adequately shorter than bow, it won't be able to give the bolt good part of magazined energy.
Here your friend is right, but in other things he is not, as far as I know.
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Glennan Carnie




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PostPosted: Tue 19 Aug, 2008 4:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The power of a bow is a function of the draw-weight and draw-length. A crossbow with 200lb draw-weight but an effective draw-length of 12" will have more power than a 60lb bow drawn to 30"; but only about 30% more power.

The higher the draw-weight of the crossbow the more mechanical assistance is needed to draw it; and therefore slower rate of shooting; compared to a bow.

For a crossbow to have equivalent power to a typical late medieval war bow (say 140lb at 32" draw) the crossbow must have a draw-weight of at least 370lb.
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Tue 19 Aug, 2008 6:40 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The poundage is measured at full draw, what ever that might be for the bow in question.
The difference in draw weight to power ratio comes down to efficiency of energy transfer.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Richard Hare




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PostPosted: Tue 19 Aug, 2008 7:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Glennan,
You seem to be right on the mark, here.

In Matthew Strickland Paul Hardy's excellent book, "The Great Warbow" There is A very good explanation of the difference in power between a longbow and crossbow.
I can't remember the datails, but it has a lot to do with the inches of thrust given the arrow.
The information gave me a Much greater apperciation for the war-bow.
(Mind you, they were testing longbows up to 190 lb pull! .....makes my 78 lb pull look sick!...something a 9 year-old would have probably beem drawing "back then"!
Simon Stanley can drew 190 lbs at 33" but doesn't like it. He regularly drws 170 lbs though.)

Re. effectiveness of war-bow against plate; It appaers that by the later period of 100 yrs war, the plate was so good that arrows didn't do much harm.
Seemes quite a few knights wee shot in the face, after opening a visor for some fresh air.
I should inagine that some of the heavy crossbows would tear a terrible hole through most plate, At Close Range.

I must look up the equasion for draws, and effectiveness.

R.
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Glennan Carnie




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PostPosted: Tue 19 Aug, 2008 8:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
The poundage is measured at full draw, what ever that might be for the bow in question.


Actually, the draw-weight of a bow is measured at a set, standard, distance. For modern sporting bows this distance is 28". The British Long-Bow Society also use this distance for the measurement of longbow draw-weights. The English War Bow Society measures the draw-weight of a warbow at 32". This is because of the longer draw-length required to draw 'to the ear'.

Quote:
The difference in draw weight to power ratio comes down to efficiency of energy transfer.


The power transferred by a bow to its arrow is essentially the the area under the force-draw curve for the bow. Thus for two bow designs, one drawing 100lb at 12" (i.e. a crossbow) and one drawing 100lb at 32" (a warbow) the warbow will impart force for a longer time - that is, do more work on the arrow - and hence will propel the arrow faster/further (for a similar arrow)

This is one of the reasons why the English archer was so feared: It wasn't because he could draw a heavier bow, but because he could shoot a longer arrow. European archers practised 'shooting to the pap' or to the chin. The English archer drew 'to the ear' utilising the full length of the arrow and getting more power into the shot. Thus, bow for bow, the English could outshoot their continental rivals.
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Glennan Carnie




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PostPosted: Tue 19 Aug, 2008 8:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Simon Stanley can drew 190 lbs at 33" but doesn't like it. He regularly drws 170 lbs though.


I've no doubt Simon can draw 170lb; most of the time, for roving etc., he shoots in the 130lb- range. Because 170lb HURTS.



Quote:
Re. effectiveness of war-bow against plate; It appaers that by the later period of 100 yrs war, the plate was so good that arrows didn't do much harm.


The results of the Hundred Year's War had far more to do with improved French tactics, and poor English tactics, than the lack of effectiveness of the warbow against plate. After all, it remained a frontline service weapon for at least another 120 years. Warbows were found on Mary Rose, Henry VIII's flagship - and Henry was a King very fond of state-of-the-art weapons.

It's also a fallacy to believe that quality of armour equates to distribution of said armour. That is, just because the state-of-the-art was becoming 'arrow-proof' doesn't mean everyone had access to it. In reality probably less than 5% men on the field had the highest quality armour - which still gives your archers a huge number of targets!

Quote:
I should inagine that some of the heavy crossbows would tear a terrible hole through most plate, At Close Range.

Armour penetration is a factor of missile speed (kinetic energy and momentum) and arrowhead design. Any bow, crossbow or warbow, that can generate enough speed in an arrow, and IF the arrow has the correct head, it will stand a good chance of penetration.
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Joshua Connolly




Location: Massachusetts, USA
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PostPosted: Tue 19 Aug, 2008 11:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Glennan Carnie wrote:
It's also a fallacy to believe that quality of armour equates to distribution of said armour. That is, just because the state-of-the-art was becoming 'arrow-proof' doesn't mean everyone had access to it. In reality probably less than 5% men on the field had the highest quality armour - which still gives your archers a huge number of targets!

Quote:
I should inagine that some of the heavy crossbows would tear a terrible hole through most plate, At Close Range.

Armour penetration is a factor of missile speed (kinetic energy and momentum) and arrowhead design. Any bow, crossbow or warbow, that can generate enough speed in an arrow, and IF the arrow has the correct head, it will stand a good chance of penetration.


Well, is it also a fallacy to believe that as time goes on, the mean quality of armor stays the same from year to year? For instance, a suit of armor from 1400 will have the same resistance to arrows as one made one hundred years later(considering that arrow deflection was its primary goal)? What I mean, is that "state of the art" techniques filter down to lower levels of armor manufacture. Perhaps I should have elaborated a bit, but the discussion wasn't just about armor from the hundred years war, but plate armor throughout its history, from the earliest models in the 1300s to the last ones in the 1600s.
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Glennan Carnie




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PostPosted: Tue 19 Aug, 2008 11:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Your argument is the widespread distribution of high-quality plate armour in the early 15th century rendered bows useless.

So why is there so much evidence of them being used as a primary battlefield weapon throughout the Wars of The Roses and across Europe until the mid 16th Century?

The bow is primarily a tactical weapon. It is used to prevent the opposing force from maneuvring to gain advantage. Better still, it constrains the opposing force to your advantage. To that end, penetration of armour is a beneficial side effect, not a primary objective.
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Joshua Connolly




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PostPosted: Tue 19 Aug, 2008 12:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, actually my argument, and perhaps I didn't elaborate on it properly, was that armor technology started to make it obsolete by the early 15th century. Perhaps I should say obsolete as an "anti armor" weapon. The argument presented was "in a nutshell". And like you said, not everyone on the battlefield was wearing plate armor. My argument isn't that the Longbow is 'useless', so much as it isn't the anti-armor weapon people make it out to be. I mean, if a guy with a longbow can essentially kill me like if he had a gun, why would I spend any money on plate armor at all? The question I was proposing to my friend here is, if armor was rendered useless, or became obsolete by the longbow, why didn't we see a miniature Gunpowder Revolution with Longbows instead of cannons and guns? I mean, it's absolutely true that the moment a new technique is developed, it doesn't spread all over the world within moments. But as time goes on, the technique increases in frequency and quality, with this process starting sometime in the early 15th century (Perhaps late 14th, as I've read in some areas?).

Personally, I think there's a serious, glaring flaw in saying that only the highest quality plate could resist longbows, because even in earlier 14th century battles I've heard of armored people getting nailed over and over again by arrows, but still not going down until one lucky shot nails him in a weak point. As well, among the questions proposed above it wasn't whether or not the longbow was an effective weapon, but whether you could use it to reliably penetrate armor.
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Joel Minturn





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PostPosted: Tue 19 Aug, 2008 12:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Your friends example of punching threw a tin can with a arrow is interesting but incomplete. Armour is a system, not just a metal shell that is worn and one important component that is over looked is the cloth and padding that is worn as well. That padding can provide more protection against arrows than the metal, especially if the arrows are pointed with bodkin points. People wore padded jacks for many reasons and one of the main ones was they worked well even against arrows. So to give an answer - the metal thickness is only one of several parts that determines if something is arrow proof.

Anouther thing to think about. Sure the armour can stop one arrow but what about a volley of arrows?

But if you want examples there are some on both sides. I'm sure there are stories of a heavly armoured knight being killed by one arrow and then there is story of the three knights who defended a bridge all day and looked like procupines with all the arrows sticking out of their armour. They couldn't fight the next day - too bruised and cut up from all the little cuts from the arrows.
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Joshua Connolly




Location: Massachusetts, USA
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PostPosted: Tue 19 Aug, 2008 12:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Joel Minturn wrote:
Your friends example of punching threw a tin can with a arrow is interesting but incomplete. Armour is a system, not just a metal shell that is worn and one important component that is over looked is the cloth and padding that is worn as well. That padding can provide more protection against arrows than the metal, especially if the arrows are pointed with bodkin points. People wore padded jacks for many reasons and one of the main ones was they worked well even against arrows. So to give an answer - the metal thickness is only one of several parts that determines if something is arrow proof.

Anouther thing to think about. Sure the armour can stop one arrow but what about a volley of arrows?

But if you want examples there are some on both sides. I'm sure there are stories of a heavly armoured knight being killed by one arrow and then there is story of the three knights who defended a bridge all day and looked like procupines with all the arrows sticking out of their armour. They couldn't fight the next day - too bruised and cut up from all the little cuts from the arrows.


I'd agree. Personally I think the issue is too complex to boil it down to either "one arrow defeats armor" or "armor defeats arrows". The value I see in the longbow is akin to one of the reasons why modern militaries enjoy rapid fire guns. The ability to kill a lot of people at once is a great advantage, but also the ability to "suppress" the enemy, as in break down a charge or prevent the opponent from 'acting', is also great. Like Glennan said, the ability to penetrate armor would be a beneficial side effect. But this also means, to me, that it can't be used to "reliably" penetrate armor on an arrow by arrow basis.

However, if it were true that a longbow could reliably penetrate armor on an arrow by arrow basis, I think that it's odd that there weren't certain events that would follow. For instance, like I proposed earlier, something a lot like the Gunpowder Revolution, whereby Kings would use their wealth to centralize control over costly and maintenance intensive weapons(Gunpowder, in real life). However, it would be "less" than the actual gunpowder revolution as it lacked the ability to break down fortifications readily through use of cannons. Would the training time really be that much of a problem?
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Bill Sahigan





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PostPosted: Tue 19 Aug, 2008 8:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think training time and cost was the deciding factor that prevented a 'longbow revolution'.. a life time of training for a longbowmen(that you had to keep as professional retinue even during peace time) was expensive... gunpowder changed things because guns are relatively easy to fire.. didn't require all that much training.. and was comparatively easier to make than longbows(because their quality wasn't exclusively based upon the raw material and parts can be more or less mass-produced...)...
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Pierre T.




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PostPosted: Tue 19 Aug, 2008 9:18 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

D. Austin wrote:
Hi Joshua,
On the effectiveness of swords: Although I have seen tests where people have thrust swords through reasonably thick steel plate, I would not want to attempt this were my life on the line.



I'm not an archer so I won't comment on that part of the debate, but I had to comment on this comment.

I've been taking a "chivalrous sword handling" class, which involves sparing (with padded swords) for almost a year now. When doing a drill, it's easy to make a "perfect parry" - but it's a lot more difficult when sparing or in a tournament. It's not as difficult to do a hasty and sloppy block - sometimes, that's all what you have time to do. Having fought both with and without armor, I can tell you that the armor often allows those mediocre blocks to become "good enough". Of course, you want to have perfect parries (and counterattacks ha!) all the time, but if you are wearing armor, partially deflecting the blow or reducing its strength will be enough to save you from being bruised - or with a real sword, being killed.

I get hit a lot more often by weak, "cheap", poorly aimed/executed or partially deflected blows than by "true and strong" ones. If armor manages to protect me from those weak hits - hits that would seriously wound me when delivered with a sharp sword - it's a huge help. I know my experience is but a pale shadow of real combat, but I think it's a reasonably sound argument.

Pierre
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Wed 20 Aug, 2008 7:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There's little evidence for arrows piercing plate armor, particularly after the 14th century. Perhaps the thinner bits, such as a vambrace, but even that seems to have been rare. I've read a fair number of the 16th-century bow vs. gun sources, and the bow's defenders don't claim it can penetrate plate. Mail, yes. Smythe gave an account of an arrow killing through a gusset of mail.

On the other hand, Fourquevaux, proponent of armor though he was, suggested that a close-range barrage from bows or crossbow might defeat inferior armors:

Quote:
And although the Harquebufier may fhoote further, notwithftanding the Archer and Croffebow man will kill a C, or CC, pafes off, afwell as the Harquebufier: and fometime the harneffe, except it be the better, can not hold out...


There's also Cesare d'Evoli, a 16th-century Italian military writer who supposedly dismissed armor almost completely. He claimed basically anything beyond a sword could rend both plate and mail. I'm remain baffled by this, as it contradicts everything else I've read from the time period. I'd love to see full translation of d'Evoli's work.
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Thu 21 Aug, 2008 9:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Even if a bow or crossbow might defeat armour with a good hit at close range, this does not mean that it is a superior weapon.
Even modern firearms, which are accurate down to a couple of centimeters on 200m range, do not automatically hit what they are aiming for.
Especially under combat conditions.

There seems to be a tendency to asume that none of the factors that make gunfire unaccurate during a firefight apply to bows, and the fact that the arrow can fly over 200 meters makes this the efficient range of the weapon.
Modern bowhunters set the maximum range for reliably taking down a stationary deer to about 30 meters, even with modern compond bows.

Volley fire is by nature spray and pray, and in a battle, the just-pull-and-release factor goes through the roof, just like with modern automatics. This is often put foward as an argument against the effectiveness of firearms, but omited when talking about bows.
And, even with modern firearms, the shots fired to causualty rate at 200 meters is quite low.

As for the hundred years war, remember that while the english longbow fire might have weakened the french charges, what actually STOPPED them was heavy infantry and bad terrain.
The french tactics of attacking head on against prepared english positions favoured longsbows, since they could hide behind their own infantry, and pepper the aproaching french. In a more open or fluid situation, without the cover of terrain or formed up infantry, they would have been overrun. (as would later musket infantry if caught in the open)

Because, no matter what a longbow arrow does to a knight it is nothing compared to what the knight does to the archer if he misses. Wink
(lest the kniggit is outnumbered ten to one and knee deep in mud)

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Doug Lester




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PostPosted: Thu 21 Aug, 2008 1:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There is more than opposing armour that contributed to the decline of the longbow. With an increasing population, it became harder and harder to find ranges available to practice on. With fielding larger armies, good bow wood was also getting rarer. I have also read where some authors claimed that the population of England became more reluctant to spend several hours a week maintaining their skills with bows. Also don't overlook the advantages of fire arms. Probably the main one was that it took less time to teach and maintain adequate skill with them. There is also one advantage that is often overlooked. After mustering the troops and practicing with the firearms, one could have the troops clean them up and then march down to the armoury and hand the weapons in to the master-at-arms and keep them locked up. Archers had to keep their weapons so that they could practice with them frequently and could more easily form an armed mob in time of unrest.
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Thu 21 Aug, 2008 3:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
And, even with modern firearms, the shots fired to causualty rate at 200 meters is quite low.


That's because people don't fight in packed formations much these days. Shooting at individuals is much more difficult than hitting a whole line of folks. I doubt arrow volleys missed terribly often. Based on my understanding of the historical record, unprotected warriors in close order perished horribly against shot unless they closed they gap very swiftly.

Without armor, the bow becomes supreme and close order vanishes. That was the state of military affairs the Spanish found in what's now Florida. Moving in loose formation, Amerindian archers nimbly dodged arrows and other missiles. One Spanish account claimed guns and crossbow were next to useless against them in the open because of their speed and agility.
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Joshua Connolly




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PostPosted: Thu 21 Aug, 2008 4:03 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Benjamin H. Abbott wrote:
Quote:
And, even with modern firearms, the shots fired to causualty rate at 200 meters is quite low.


That's because people don't fight in packed formations much these days. Shooting at individuals is much more difficult than hitting a whole line of folks. I doubt arrow volleys missed terribly often. Based on my understanding of the historical record, unprotected warriors in close order perished horribly against shot unless they closed they gap very swiftly.

Without armor, the bow becomes supreme and close order vanishes. That was the state of military affairs the Spanish found in what's now Florida. Moving in loose formation, Amerindian archers nimbly dodged arrows and other missiles. One Spanish account claimed guns and crossbow were next to useless against them in the open because of their speed and agility.


I think the point he was making was that today, and back then, they seemed to rely more upon "volume" than accurate shots. "Accurate shots" meaning the difference between an MG42 and a Kar 98, or a Longbowman's method of firing than that of a Samurai during the Gempei war.

You bring up an interesting point. Could the very fact that the Europeans fought in tight formations, especially later on, be evidence that there was at least reasonably arrow resistant(Perhaps "Resistant" is a better word than "proof"?) armor available to the professional soldier?
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