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Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > Chainmail vs Plate Armor Reply to topic
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Vincent F.




Location: Kansas City
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PostPosted: Sun 20 Sep, 2015 1:40 am    Post subject: Chainmail vs Plate Armor         Reply with quote

Hi everybody, reading some article about medieval warfare i found out that in a battle the military technology used by the armies involved in it was far less important than the tactical ability of the commander.

Is it true?

I'm intersted especially in differences between different kind of armor used in war, is it possible that an army of soldiers equipped with only chainmail (like european soldiers during XI and XII century) against an army equipped with plate armor could win a battle with a proportional number of soldier on each side (i assume that chainmail itself is a worse armor than the plate one)?
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sun 20 Sep, 2015 3:32 am    Post subject: Re: Chainmail vs Plate Armor         Reply with quote

Vincent F. wrote:
Hi everybody, reading some article about medieval warfare i found out that in a battle the military technology used by the armies involved in it was far less important than the tactical ability of the commander.

Is it true?

I think it is true.

Quote:
I'm intersted especially in differences between different kind of armor used in war, is it possible that an army of soldiers equipped with only chainmail (like european soldiers during XI and XII century) against an army equipped with plate armor could win a battle with a proportional number of soldier on each side (i assume that chainmail itself is a worse armor than the plate one)?

Mail provdes a lot more protection than you seem to think. This might help.
http://www.myArmoury.com/feature_mail.html

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Vincent F.




Location: Kansas City
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PostPosted: Sun 20 Sep, 2015 3:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

thanks, but probably i wasn't clear enough.

i meant in a battle between two armies, let's say two huge group of knights where one group wears chainmail (like the soldiers of william the conqueror during hastings) and the other one wears a plate armor like the ones from the XV-XVI century the one with chainmail would stand a chance? is a soldier equipped with chainmail so disadvantaged against the one in plate armor?
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sun 20 Sep, 2015 4:31 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

You really should read the above-linked article. Mail is an extraordinarily effective and versatile type of armour. The outcome of a battle will not be determined by whether each side is wearing mail or plate.

Battles are determined by logistics, weather, deployment, terrain, experience, morale, intelligence, equipment, and so on, and the commander's ability to make the best use of all of this.

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David Cooper




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PostPosted: Sun 20 Sep, 2015 5:11 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Remember plate and mail are both defensive measures. What offensive weapons are you equipping the troops with? Plate wearing knights often used weapons such as small battle axes, war hammers and the like to defeat the other plate armour wearers. Mail clad knights would probably be using large shields and spears keeping the shorter ranged hammers at bay. Armour evolves to protect against certain weapons, weapons evolve to defeat certain armours. The whole weapons system needs to be considered not just the type of armour... and then it would still probably depend on other factors as Dan has said. Happy
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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Sun 20 Sep, 2015 6:26 am    Post subject: Re: Chainmail vs Plate Armor         Reply with quote

Vincent F. wrote:
Hi everybody, reading some article about medieval warfare i found out that in a battle the military technology used by the armies involved in it was far less important than the tactical ability of the commander.



If you want some examples of (vastly) technological inferior armies beating regular ones there are plenty. Numbers play a role too though.

In modern context the Korean war springs to mind but there are many older battles too like the First Battle of Acentejo or the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Sun 20 Sep, 2015 6:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Battles might not be determined but arms, armour and other equipment compared to tactics but they are are vital parts of good preparations for battle. The last couple hundred years there is a massive push by rulers of states to increase and improve the armour in use.

Plate is superior to mail in many ways. In protective quality in blunt force and weight typically but consider that mail is still in major use and it is clear there are many factors that keep it in use. It is flexible, it is able to cover places plate is not easily made to protect.

RPM
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Sun 20 Sep, 2015 5:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lots experienced commanders in the 16th century emphasized the importance of armor even in the context of effective firearms and gunpowder artillery. I don't think we should dismiss it as one of the many factors that influenced the outcome of battles. Sir John Smythe explicitly didn't want pikers - who in his ideal formation were in the front five ranks - to have sleeves of mail instead of plate arm defenses, though he considered sleeves of mail acceptable for halberdiers.

It's speculative, but I can only imagine that quality men-at-arms from the period 1450-1550 would have overwhelmed any group of mail-armored heavy cavalry in a direct confrontation. Dan will probably disagree, but I don't think any wearable mail stops the heavy lance. Humphrey Barwick notably considered anything other than plate armor a joke on the late sixteeth-century battlefield. He gave a specific account of a lance completely piercing a coat of plates.

Read my historically inspired fantasy fiction in here. I walk along a winding path set by Ludovico Ariosto, William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ursula Le Guin.

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To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Sun 20 Sep, 2015 6:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'd have to say (and I think most folks agree) that full plate armor has a number of advantages over full mail, or it would not have developed. Granted, some of those advantages involve production rather than protection. But overall, a plate-armored force would have an edge over a mail-armored force, *all other factors being equal*.

But I think "overwhelmed" is overstating it. We're still talking about men with basically identical training, with very similar weapons *and shields*. It's going to be a tough fight--it won't be like machine-gunning a playground full of kids. As Dan says, it's not good to underestimate the protection of mail. But neither should we exaggerate it.

Matthew
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Sun 20 Sep, 2015 8:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Western European men-at-arms in the age of plate - I'm particularly thinking of roughly 1450-1550 - notably used lance rests while their earlier mail-covered counterparts did not. Men-at-arms from this later period were also more likely to have acutely pointed swords that could pierce at least some forms a mail, while knights from the iconic age of mail - say, the twelfth century. And the later men-at-arms were more likely to have impact weapons such as maces and hammers. I do have hard time imagining a direct confrontation between circa-1500 French men-at-arms and circa-1150 Frankish knights ending in anything but a resounding victory for the former. By a direct confrontation I mean each formation running head on at the other as men-at-arms often did in the sixteenth century. Certainly alternate formations and tactics could greatly improve the odds for the Franks in this scenario.

Based on sixteenth-century manuals, plate armor was important for certain troop types but mail was fine or even preferred for others. For example, Raymond de Fourquevaux wanted three-quarters harness plus mail hose for his regular pikers but just a mail shirt, mail sleeves, mail gloves, and a helmet for arquebusiers, crossbowers, and archers.

Now, as far as infantry goes, I'm not sure the difference between kit from the age of mail and the age of plate matters as much as with cavalry. Plate surely gave an advantage for heavy infantry, but for heavy infantry equipped with shields this difference would perhaps be small.

Read my historically inspired fantasy fiction in here. I walk along a winding path set by Ludovico Ariosto, William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ursula Le Guin.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sun 20 Sep, 2015 8:53 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Benjamin H. Abbott wrote:
Dan will probably disagree, but I don't think any wearable mail stops the heavy lance.

Some mail certainly seems to have been lance proof.

"Afterwards the king, when having put the Goths to flight he had killed king Alaric, two from the enemy army suddenly coming upon him, with their lances they strike him on both sides; but with the help of his mail and of the speed of his horse, he did not perish but was preserved." Gregory of Tours, "History of the Franks" [2.27]

The memoirs of Usamah ibn Munquidh (1095-1188) recount an anecdote in which he jumped his horse over a hedge and solidly struck a Frankish knight with his lance such that…
"...he bent sideways so much that his head reached his stirrup, his shield and lance fell off his hand, and his helmet off his head... he then resumed his position, erect in the saddle. Having had linked mail under his tunic, my lance did not wound him.

Over the page, Usamah describes how he charged at what he perceived to be an enemy and hit the man in the armpit with his lance, knocking him off his horse. It was fortunate that the man’s mail saved him from injury because he turned out to be a friend.

In another battle, Usamah’s cousin named Khitam was attacked by Frankish lancers and unhorsed. They then reversed their lances and began to thrust into him while he lay on the ground. However, Khitam was wearing “a coat of mail the links of which were so strong that their lances could have no effect on it.”

William the Breton wrote that, During the Battle of Bouvines (1214), the Count of Saint-Pol survived twelve lances hitting him during one hard-pressed encounter:
"As those who witnessed the following have since recounted, at this point he came into great mortal danger as he was hit by twelve lances at the same time, and yet, with the help of his outstanding virtue, no one could bring either him or his horse down."

In another incident at Bouvines, King Philip himself was brought down by lances and hooks but was saved by his armour:
"While they were fighting Otto and the Germans, the Teuton foot soldiers who had gone on ahead suddenly reached the King and, with lances and iron hooks, brought him to the ground. If the outstanding virtue of the special mail with which his body was enclosed had not protected him, they would have killed him on the spot."

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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Mon 21 Sep, 2015 12:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would put a question to those speaking on behalf of mail armour:

Suppose you were informed that you had to fight a judicial duel using medieval arms and armour- no modern technology. The duel is to the death. You have a choice of picking plate armour or mail armour. You don't know what kind of mail armour it will be other than the fact that it will be a full suit. The same goes for the plate armour; you have know way of knowing what the harness will look like, aside from the fact that it's a complete suit of plate. Both the mail armour and plate armour are designed for the field, and not for tournaments or parades.

Which would you choose?
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Mon 21 Sep, 2015 1:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would choose the plate. How is this relevant to how a battle would play out? There are so many factors that influence the outcome that are more important than what armour is worn. Armour might be more important if one side wore armour and the other wore no armour at all but the difference between mail and plate is small enough to have a negligible effect on a battle. Most battles are decided long before either side suffers 10% casualties. You don't win a battle by attrition, you win by causing a rout.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Mon 21 Sep, 2015 1:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I agree that there are a lot of factors Dan. My point, however, is that most of us would choose plate-myself included-because we know it offers better protection than mail. I think that counts for something. Yes, tactical considerations could make a huge difference. With good tactical planning, the army wearing mail could force the army wearing plate to fight in circumstances that would create an immense disadvantage, enabling the mail-clad army to win. However, armour versus armour, plate wins as the protection of choice, and I think it would be far more difficult for an army in mail armour to triumph over one in plate assuming similar sized armies.
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Mon 21 Sep, 2015 2:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The mail might be the better choice for a duel. A "full suit" of mail can have many fewer and smaller gaps than a "full suit" of plate. In an armoured duel where it's likely to come down to wrestling and trying to find those gaps with a dagger, fewer gaps can be a Good Thing.

For a realistic battle scenario, there's the question of bows, crossbows, guns, gunpowder and mechanical artillery. It isn't just a matter of what the armoured soldiers can do to each other, but what each sides missiles can do to them.

"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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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Mon 21 Sep, 2015 4:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

But if that's so, Timo, why do we virtually never see duels where contestants chose plate over mail? I am aware of no images of an armoured duel in the age of plate where mail is shown, and I doubt anyone would choose mail over plate.

It's not especially difficult to pierce mail with a narrow diamond XV or XVa blade with a well-controlled thrust. And it appears that one could cause blunt force trauma to mail with greater ease than plate.

Plate makes you impervious to many injuries. Many strikes and stabs will simply be turned aside. To my knowledge, you literally have to bludgeon a man in plate; aim the point of a weapon at an area of articulation; or else pin, immobilize and stab your opponent to kill him. Outside of these strategies, and of course gunpowder, there's not all that much you can do to effectively harm a man in plate (aside fron some ringen/abrazare techniques).
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Harri Kyllönen




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PostPosted: Mon 21 Sep, 2015 5:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In napoleonic wars armored cavalry (cuirassiers) sometimes faced unarmored (hussars and uhlans) cavalry in melee. Apparently the chest plate and helmet wasn't that decisive in those engagements since hussars did win against heavier cuirassiers.
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Mon 21 Sep, 2015 5:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Even thought there are incidents of men surviving lances in mail we know they did not always. There are a number fo accounts of mail failing and I suspect this is one of the key reasons plate armour develops. In the same William the Breton account we have some clear instances of mail failure to lances, only saved by secondary armour.... plate.

As well mail is not going to have near the stopping power of Blunt force trauma that plate will. Having been struck by a lance several times the rigidness of plate is of great importance in this and I suspect if the groups were equal this would indeed be a useful benefit. Machine gun or the likes perhaps not but I suspect the mail clad knights would be taking more damage and casualties than the plate ones in a straight across equation.

But as mentioned before there are other things that play a role as well.

RPM
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Mart Shearer




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PostPosted: Mon 21 Sep, 2015 7:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Any technological or numerical advantage can be worthless if the commander is asleep at the wheel. Even with competent commanders, superior equipment, and a good plan things don't always go your way - look at the Japanese defeat at Midway. The U.S. had a vastly superior technological advantage in Vietnam, winning most battles, yet still lost the war.

Two evenly equipped forces of similar size with similar levels of training in a meeting engagement can realize drastically different outcomes. This is why naval commanders desired to be in a position to "cap the T", where all of their gunfire could be brought to bear on the leading ship of an enemy column.

Armor type or better technology is almost meaningless compared to factors like tactics, intelligence, espirit-de-corps, training, etc..

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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Mon 21 Sep, 2015 8:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
Some mail certainly seems to have been lance proof.


None of those examples involved the heavy lance as used in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in conjunction with a lance rest. Additionally, it's not clear that any of the examples you quoted involved a couched lance at all.

Here's what Humphrey Barwick thought of Sir John Smythe's plan of armoring mounted archers with jacks of mail, light and easy brigandines, or at the least eyelet-holed doublets:

Humphrey Barwick, 1592 wrote:
[A]s for the armours, the best is the Brigandine, the which is but equall with a coate of plate of the best making, which M. Euers or Ewry was armed with, when as the Lord of Grange called Kirkaudie a Scot, and the saide M. Ewry did runne the one at the other, in a challenge by them made with sharpe Speares: but how fell out the same? euen like to haue beene the death of that good and valiant Gentleman M. Ewrye, for Kirkaudy ranne him cleane through the armour, as in at the brest and forth at the back, through both: the~ to what purpose is that arming in that ma~ner? [omitted lines regarding gunpowder weapons against such armors] Why then should such meane armors be allowed, with men of vnderstanding and knowledge? it were most fit that our enemies were so armed: for if it would defend against any thing, it wold serue best against archers, whose force is like vnto that maner of arming.


As far preferring mail in a judicial duel, that strikes me as unlikely. I don't think full mail has fewer gaps than a well-fitted white harness with mail covering the gaps. The elements of a white harness are I guess easier to remove, but that's outweighed by how plate offers significantly more protection at any given weight, especially against blunt trauma and the acute points of polearm spikes and swords.

On the other hand, as I wrote previously, mail possibly served better than plate for lighter troops such as archers. If this is the case, I assume it's because of mail's greater flexibility and comfort (especially as compared with mass-produced infantry plate armor).

Read my historically inspired fantasy fiction in here. I walk along a winding path set by Ludovico Ariosto, William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ursula Le Guin.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website


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