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Forum Index > Off-topic Talk > Crossbow, cavalry bow, and Mongol invasion Reply to topic
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Gene Green





Joined: 13 Mar 2007

Posts: 62

PostPosted: Fri 18 Oct, 2013 7:30 pm    Post subject: Crossbow, cavalry bow, and Mongol invasion         Reply with quote

I have always been fascinated by what would've happen had the Mongols invaded Western Europe. It seems that they went through Russia like a hot knife through butter (there was fierce resistance in some places, but generally futile), and then did a number on the overly arrogant and poorly led army of King Bela.

Of course there were many reasons for Mongols victories, number one (imho) being the excellent training, unit cohesion, and battlefield signal system. But their ability to wear down their enemy without getting into hand to hand fighting, via use of horse archers, was very important, too.

Then I read somewhere that the Crusaders in the Middle East faced exactly the same threat from horse archers, but were able to keep them at bay because they had large number of crossbowmen and their crossbows had greater range than the cavalry bows used by the Muslims.

Is it true ? If so, dies it mean that neither the Russian princes, nor the Hungarian army used the crossbows in significant enough quantity to make a difference ? Or did the Mongol cavalry simply have better bows ?
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Philip Renne




Location: New Jersey
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PostPosted: Fri 18 Oct, 2013 7:47 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm sure many are better versed in this subject than I but it is entirely possible that the crossbows were not deployed effectively. And even if they were, during the battle with the Hungarians I believe the Mongols were able to ford the river the Hungarians were defending at a different location and fall on their flank. So even with a superior weapon (assuming it was so) that sort of thing could cause the line to collapse. Not only that but didn't the king's nobles abandon him at the critical moment when they were forced back to the wagon lager? I don't think muskets could have saved them in that situation.
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Henrik Zoltan Toth




Location: Hungary
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PostPosted: Sat 19 Oct, 2013 3:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

They simply had the better army. I think it's not the shame of the hungarians to had been defeated by the best organized regular army with the best results of the time with 60 years of practice. One of their tactics were the demoralization of the enemy, so we don't have to wonder about the hungarian reactions.

But we have to wonder about the fact, that despite of the sieges, massacres and lost battles (three main armies, the one of the king, the transylwanian and the one of the hmmm.... lord major were beaten) during the invasion a large part of the hungarian army could had been saved. Mostly in the hungarian Highland and Transdanubia the hungarians could protect their castles against the mongols (indeed, the austrian prince invaded some west-hungarian counties, but the hungarians won them back few years later).

By the way, one of the kings castles, Esztergom was defended successfully by it's hispanian military leader and his crossbowmans.
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Sat 19 Oct, 2013 6:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

And at Mohi evidence even in Mongol sources of high casualties seem to indicate the fight in Hungary was no picnic either. The Yuan History (Mongol China) indicates Batu lost a good number of his own personal guard which means the rest of the army likely had significant losses as well. I have seen estimates of well over 50% losses for both groups which considering the Hungarians were likely outnumbered by such a force is pretty impressive, even with king Bela in charge. And the fact they never take all of Hungary or most of the fortified places also hint at limitations. I suspect much of Europe would have looked something like this if the Mongols had continued. Many like to state Ogedai's death was the reason and perhaps so to a degree but I suspect that Batu was pretty thrilled with the prospect of not having to stay in Hungary... and not go back,

RPM
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Gene Green





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PostPosted: Sat 19 Oct, 2013 6:38 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I didn't mean to hurt anyone's national pride, thus was not a question about Hungary.

Let me rephrase the original question - did the typical crossbow of 1240s have the longer range than the Mongol cavalry bow, and if so, could an army with a large number of crossbowmen and supporting infantry and cavalry defeat the Mongols by shooting their horses from under them while denying them the opportunity to come close enough to use their bows effectively ? IIRC this setup we used extensively at later times, not sure about mid XIII century.
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Simon G. Bourdin




Location: Brest, France
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PostPosted: Sat 19 Oct, 2013 7:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sorry to butt in. I do believe that crossbows were an issue. At the Battle of Mohi, crossbowmen defended the river on the Hungarian side and effectively made it impossible for the Mongols to cross. Well, for a while, that is: in the end, the Mongols used catapults to clear the riverside of crossbowmen, if I recall correctly. I think the Mongols had much success mainly because they had an outstandingly well trained, disciplined and led army, not due to a significant technological advantage.

I don't have much experience with crossbows (nor with bows ...), but I think it would be extremely difficult to deal light cavalry significant damage at a Mongol bow's range using crossbows. They may be powerful and have the greater range (probably), but they were slow to reload, and by all accounts hitting a fast-moving horseman at 400 meters is extremely difficult.
On the other hand, recent experiments have demonstrated that Mongol-type (short, recurve, composite) bows can shoot up to 11 arrows in 4.9 seconds at short range and 3 arrows in about a second and a half at 69 meters, with superb accuracy at that (though without great strength); they can also shoot 11 arrows in a ballistic shot so fast that the last one is in the air before the first one hits the ground. Such speed gives a new meaning to the expression "hail of arrows": on the battlefield, with that many arrows in the air, you don't need to worry about accuracy, since you're statistically bound to hit something, whereas a crossbowman, with his relatively slow-reloading weapon, would need to make each shot count.

But, since we're more or less on the topic, does anyone know how a short, recurve, composite bow like the Mongol's compares to an English longbow as for strength, range, accuracy and speed? I'm sure it's been discussed before, but I'm rather new here.
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Gene Green





Joined: 13 Mar 2007

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PostPosted: Sat 19 Oct, 2013 8:27 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

And yet the Crusader crossbowmen were able to keep the similarly armed Arab cavalry archers at bay some 100 years earlier ?

What was the difference there ?

(Sounds like the crossbowmen at Mohi needed a heavy cavalry unit attached to them).
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Daniel Wallace




Location: Pennsylvania USA
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PostPosted: Sat 19 Oct, 2013 8:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Simon G. Bourdin wrote:


But, since we're more or less on the topic, does anyone know how a short, re curve, composite bow like the Mongol's compares to an English longbow as for strength, range, accuracy and speed? I'm sure it's been discussed before, but I'm rather new here.


I'm not exactly well versed in the subject, but between period long bow and re curve bow they were probably built within the same draw weights.

when you bring up the Crusades, and the earlier encounter with mounted archers, during the first Crusade, there not too much mention of their effectiveness. there is also very little information on the Crusaders archery during the first crusade, so to say that the cross bow was an effective weapon against the horse archer can't be proven. what there is clear mention of, is tactics to counter the Turk's. battle lines were held to the point that the shock charge was maximized against the Arab horseman. also take note that during the first Crusade, the horse archer was not the primary unit for the Arab's they were a skirmish unit used to wear down the enemy or cause them to break rank and chase the light cavalry, once the broken unit was separated from the main body, their own heavy cavalry was the primary unit for engagements. Bohemond's experiences fighting in the Byzantium seems to conclude that he had great experience fighting these tactics as the empire adopted horse archer tactics. in some ways the horse archer units were used to harass an army into a certain situation. that's illustrated in the march to Constantinople as the Emperor attempted to keep the Crusades away from key cities and on a certain path.

the other source for the bow being a game changer in a battle is from the third Crusade. during the march down the coast to Jaffa the battle of Arsuf, Richard III deploys his crossbow men in such a way that to defend his infantry, and strict discipline keeps them in line.

i think in the end it just about tactics. the Mongols seemed to be a military structure that nothing in Europe could compare to at the time.
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Simon G. Bourdin




Location: Brest, France
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PostPosted: Sat 19 Oct, 2013 9:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thank you for the answer on the bows, Daniel.

Quote:
i think in the end it just about tactics. the Mongols seemed to be a military structure that nothing in Europe could compare to at the time.


I'll back you up on that. The Mongol army was quite probably the best in the world at the time, be it in training, discipline, versatility, leadership or tactics. Not to mention that the general who led (not nominally but functionally) the Eastern Europe campaign was Subutai, a genius by all accounts.

I'm not really versed about the Crusades, but it seems to me that back then light mounted archery was used primarily as a harassment and support force, with lesser numbers, discipline, training and overall efficiency than Mongol light horse.
Besides, were the Arab bows really the same? They were similarly shaped, but I seem to recall that they weren't composite, only wood, and I think their efficient range was about 150-200 meters, whereas a Mongol bow could easily reach 400 meters.
You can't expect crossbows to work as well against a small force 200 m away as against a huge army raining arrows on them from 400 m at the rythm of a machinegun.
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Henrik Zoltan Toth




Location: Hungary
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PostPosted: Sat 19 Oct, 2013 10:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sorry Gene Green, I just wanted to show the mongol invasion from an other point of view, that I didn't recognise until last year, either.

I think, it didn't matter, wich weapons their enemy had, the mongols solved the problem.(except the mameluks) They turned rivers if they want so they got an answer for everything Big Grin

Here is a bow wich was used according some miniatures by them:

http://atarn.net/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=2241
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R. Kolick





Joined: 04 Feb 2012

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PostPosted: Sat 19 Oct, 2013 3:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

to comment on the bows power. bows from this time period would have a rough draw weight from anywhere between 110 lbs to 150+ from what we can tell the idea that these where light bows has no real basis among the evidence that has been found and the recreations using the same materials to the exact same dimensions as the originals. also though the design of this time period is mostly the same in the different areas the bows used are not the turk bows of the Ottoman empire (i understand that some may know this but i thought i would clarify) the bows used at this time would be symmetrical bows with long siyahs and a casan at the top of the limbs with slight contact at the top of the siyah. (saluki yuan bow is similar to these bows in shape and design) are extremely fast due to their design and could shoot extremely long ranges. when compared to the english long bow these bows are much faster and had a longer range the accuracy would depend on the archer. and since an 110 lbs longbow has the same force as a 300lbs crossbow the only thing that is missing the the weight of a 12-14th century crossbow to see how the two weapons compare to each other. and when accompanied with the fact that the rate of fire for a trained archer is extremely fast a group of crossbowmen could be overwhelmed fairly effectively.
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Simon G. Bourdin




Location: Brest, France
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PostPosted: Sat 19 Oct, 2013 3:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Oh, interesting. Thanks for the info, R. Kolick.
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Jonathon Hanson




Location: Pittsburgh, PA
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PostPosted: Sun 20 Oct, 2013 3:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

We also have to take into account the possibility of pavises being used by the crossbow men. Against these, the Mongols would be forced to either try to flank or send in heavy lancers, perhaps exposing the horses to the bolts more or to counterattack by European heavy cavalry or infantry. Also, I have a hard time believing the composite bow has three times the force pound for pound. How would you define the term force?

Also, let's discuss how the Mongols did against the Song Chinese who would have used crossbows. I know the Song were eventually conquered, but did the crossbow make a difference in any battles if that theater?
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Sun 20 Oct, 2013 9:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jonathon Hanson wrote:
Also, I have a hard time believing the composite bow has three times the force pound for pound. How would you define the term force?


The most useful thing to compare, if considering armour penetration, is energy. Three times the length of the power stroke gives the same energy for the same draw weight. (Power stroke = draw length - brace height.)

Jonathon Hanson wrote:
Also, let's discuss how the Mongols did against the Song Chinese who would have used crossbows. I know the Song were eventually conquered, but did the crossbow make a difference in any battles if that theater?


The Han used lots of crossbows - their crossbows outranged the bows of the mounted archers they fought against (and their own mounted archers, too). Having the longer ranged missile weapon didn't mean that they won all the battles, let alone all the wars. But it makes a difference - having a less mobile force with shorter-ranged weapons than the enemy makes it much easier for them to stay just out of your range and shoot at you all day.

Song crossbows were better. But the overall picture of crossbows versus bows would be about the same. The Song also used regular bows as well as crossbows, and both the Song and their enemies used firearms. In the Mongol conquest of the Song, the most important weapons were gunpowder artillery and ships/boats. Sieges and naval battles, and sieges involving naval forces were the key encounters.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Ben Coomer




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PostPosted: Mon 21 Oct, 2013 3:51 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Equipment wise, I don't think there was anything that would prevent Europe from defeating the Mongols. Crossbows, armor, horses and the like were pretty advanced, and in someways better than Mongol equipment. Likewise, I don't think anything tactically would prevent it either, as various generals such as Richard III demonstrated how to use various parts of medieval armies quite effectively and the Crusaders in general were pretty effective against a similar army with the Muslims.

The problem I think Europe would have had is socially. Getting all the various kings, dukes, and the like moving in the same direction was historically a problem. As well, class issues might have easily prevent the coordination necessary for the various units to work together.

Still, I don't think that the Mongols would have had quite an easy a time as they moved west. Much denser populations, more advanced populations, and better defenses would have slowed them down significantly.

Here's a question. I wonder if Western knights would have been more effective against light cavalry than in the Levant given much more temperate climes and more water. A lot of their problems while crusading seem to be related to overheating.
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Mikael Ranelius




Location: Sweden
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PostPosted: Mon 21 Oct, 2013 10:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Randall Moffett wrote:
And at Mohi evidence even in Mongol sources of high casualties seem to indicate the fight in Hungary was no picnic either. The Yuan History (Mongol China) indicates Batu lost a good number of his own personal guard which means the rest of the army likely had significant losses as well. I have seen estimates of well over 50% losses for both groups which considering the Hungarians were likely outnumbered by such a force is pretty impressive, even with king Bela in charge. And the fact they never take all of Hungary or most of the fortified places also hint at limitations. I suspect much of Europe would have looked something like this if the Mongols had continued. Many like to state Ogedai's death was the reason and perhaps so to a degree but I suspect that Batu was pretty thrilled with the prospect of not having to stay in Hungary... and not go back,

RPM


It seems highly unlikely that the Mongols suffered 12,000-20,000 (!) casualties. Such losses (comparable in numbers but not by far in proportions with Union and Confederate losses at Gettysburg) are more or less unheard of in the records, especially for a victorious army.

There were no signs that the Mongols were withdrawing from Europe prior to the death of Ögedei. Quite the opposite they were making raids into Austria and northern Italy, after having chased Béla throughout his kingdom.
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Tue 22 Oct, 2013 5:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Yes but I think we can see huge losses as part of this. Phyrris won in Italy as well... Now can the numbers be inflated. For sure but I am simply using numbers I have read in the past. The lowest I have seen is something like 10-11k. Mongol losses. Which is the force was 25-30k to start or thereabout would have been pretty high but not impossible I do not think. That said I did not give the numbers you are looking at so not sure I can help you on that.

Why would you assume losses of the ACW would be higher than any other period of time? In the Yuan account it includes several statements that indicate the Mongols were in major problems. The bodyguard, stuck beside the river with limited means to get away, all these things add to the increase in casualties as they cannot out maneuver the Hungarians. It is really likely to me the flanking Mongol forces arriving later in the battle Save Batu.

That is true but they were not making any major conquests either. I think his death was an excuse largely by Batu. They never come back in any meaningful way either. If things were going well why would they not return? The time there was more or less a wash for them with limited success in just about anything but Mohi, which to me does indeed seem to have had high casualties on both sides.

There is a huge difference between raiding a place and conquest. If this idea was solid England would be ruled by the Scots, who raided all the time from the 13th onwards to the merger. They fail in several major sieges and have a difficult time taking fortifications. in medieval warfare raids are only useful if they serve a purpose and holding land deals with taking forts.... something they were not doing well enough to take Europe let along Hungary.

RPM
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Henrik Zoltan Toth




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PostPosted: Tue 22 Oct, 2013 6:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Not to mention that the mongols had their conquered allies (in the hungarian war mainly qumans, russians, Volga-bulgars) in the first lines, to minimalize the risk for their own peoples.
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Mikael Ranelius




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PostPosted: Tue 22 Oct, 2013 8:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Randall,

A stunning 50% casualty rate (or even a 20% casualty rate for that matter) at Mohi would not only have halted the Mongols' ability to continue their advance in Central Europe, but would surely have compromised and reverted all their conquests west of the Volga. With Batus army more or less destroyed, the conquered Russians, Volga Bulgars and Kipchaqs would have tried (and succeeded) in throwing off the Mongol yoke by 1242. In fact, such losses would have been even bigger than those sustained at the devastating defeat at Ayn Jalut, IMHO that seems highly unlikely to say the least.
(If compared to Pyrrhus, he lost an estimated 13-15% oh his army at Heraklea and 8-9% at Asculum).

I have yet to see a passage in the Yuanshi that suggests heavy Mongol casualties. There is a mentioning of Batu losing 30 men and one of his officers, but it doesn't say more than that. We can deduce that there was some hard fighting, but there's little to suggest casualties of that magnitude (one should note that the Yuanshi speaks of the Hungarian army as larger than the Mongol host)

Also, I have a hard time figuring how the Hungarians were able to inflict such crippling losses to the Mongols without superiour weaponry or numbers. Killing off 50% of the Mongol army would not only have been impressive, but virtually unparallelled in the history of war. Compare this to the battle of Kambula in 1879, where 2000 British infantry armed with cannons and breech-loading rifles inflicted some 1,500-2,000 casualties on the Zulu impi (about 10% of their army). The notion that the Hungarian feudal levy (of maybe 15,000 men) would have been able to inflict the same proportion of casualties (about one Mongol killed or wounded by each Hungarian present on the field) seems unlikely.
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Tue 22 Oct, 2013 8:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Casualty rates in battle vary widely from period to period, and battle to battle. Those seen in the ACW are for instance quite low compared to the Napoleonic wars, which are in turn lower than those seen in the seven years war.
At Kunersdorf the (defeated) Prussians suffered 25 633 casualties out of 50 900 men (50,3%), while the victorius russian and Austrian force suffered 23 512 casualties out of 59 500 men. (39,5%)

It is also quite common that the winning side suffers greater losses on the battlefied itself than the loosers, since pushing forward against determined resistance is inherently dangerous.

In more chaotic battles it is also quite common that a initial advance is followed by the disorganization and separation of the attackers as they push forward. In turn causing them to lose momentum, and be crushed by a counterattack.
This is especially true when fighting a mobile cavalry force such as the mongols, turks or arabs. In such a scenario the retreat can very well be genuine, and the advance stop more due to the separation of the attackers than a deliberate plan prior to the rally. Thus, you can loose the first phase of the battle with great loss, AND win the second with similar gain on the opposing side.

"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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