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Lennon R. Clotild





Joined: 06 Mar 2007

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PostPosted: Wed 07 Mar, 2007 5:13 pm    Post subject: Sword against Plate Armour         Reply with quote

Hi, I'm new here, so bare with me.

Anyways, my question is this: taking an steel breastplate of average quality from circa 1400 to 1500, is it possible for a trained soldier to cut into the armour using a sword of contemporary make. I don't mean thrust into the gaps, I mean exactly just that, cut into the armor via slashes or chops. And speaking of thrusts, is it possible to thrust into the armor itself (not any gap). I've done a lot of research for this because I'm writing a novel and have found mixed results. It would seem that most sources state that this is impossible; however, I've also found sources indicating that it is possible with armour of only average quality and/or if the sword's user is strong enough. For example, several sources say that a man-at-arms' breastplate is definitely penetrable with a sword without resorting to vulnerable gap regions. Any input on this question? Also, please do not answer if you are only conjecturing, as I'm really desperate for good, credible sources. So if anyone knows any, that would be great. Or if you've tried yourself, that would be even better.

-Lennon
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Eric Allen




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PostPosted: Wed 07 Mar, 2007 5:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A sword cutting plate armor is very very unlikely. To the point most people will just tell you flat-out 'NO!" A dent, maybe if conditions are just right.

As for penertating with a thrust, it really depends on the sword and the armor, and the armor would have to be rather thin. Considering that even then you'd have to strike so your thrust lands square-on the armor, otherwise you'd run the risk of just skipping off, in a fight it's likely be a better option to go for the gaps, anyway.
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Michael Eging




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PostPosted: Wed 07 Mar, 2007 5:53 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have seen a sword rip apart butted chain mail when test cutting over pork shoulder.

But having sparred against both thick leather jacks and breast plates, I would very much agree. The most efficient way to get through plate if you only have a sword is to seek out the gaps, under the chin (depending on type of helmet), etc. Even then, the type of sword will make a difference. I have a DT5140 that has a stiff diamond shape and narrows considerably to the point (I am careful when sparring even though some of the point is ground off). My Albion Landgraf is another very efficient thruster that would be the type of sword I would select against an armoured opponent (wicked wicked wicked thrusting weapon). But I would not attempt putting it through the plate. I would again focus on placing the point someplace where it would be the most efficient.

Maybe, from your research, reimagine the scene as it might have been done, and go to Meier, Talhoffer, or Ringneck for some additional inspiration. I had to do some of the same type research when writing some scenes for a project that I just finished.

Good luck! Cool

M. Eging
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Last edited by Michael Eging on Thu 08 Mar, 2007 5:15 am; edited 2 times in total
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Olivier L-Beaulieu




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PostPosted: Wed 07 Mar, 2007 8:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I agree with the answers. I tried to pierce a breast plate with an axe (2 1/4 pounds) and a one-handed sword. I did not succeed at all. The breast plate was made of 18 GA mild steel. For me, it is impossible to cut plate armour. For the thrust, for me, it is also impossible. If it is possible, it will not kill the wearer. Maybe it will not hurt him...
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Wed 07 Mar, 2007 8:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

You might be able to cut a breastplate with a sword if you held it place with some device and swung at the edge. I've heard they did something like this in 19th-century shows, cutting perhaps an inch or two. It would take amazing strength to cut someone through a breastplate, though, even a low-quality one.

Swords cutting helmets, on the other, is more open to debate. You see this in the artwork and in some accounts. It seems very unlikely, but perhaps it happened at times. Obata demonstrated that you can at least damage a helmet with a sword blow. A heavy sword blow could certainly stun a man through his helmet. I wouldn't bet on it cleaving his skull.

As for thrust through a breastplate, it might be possible if you're using a rigid sword against low-quality armor. A test of a halberd against a 16th-century harness managed penetration of the breastplate with the halberd's top spike.
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Edward Hitchens




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PostPosted: Wed 07 Mar, 2007 8:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

If my opponent was wearing plate armor and all I had was a sharpened sword, I would airm for the armor's joints or gaps. I'd utilize the tip to pierce through the weak areas and the maille. As far as using the edge to cut or slice into the armor, bonne chance! You'd likely cause more damage to the sword, mainly because this is just what plate armor is designed to withstand. Swords are designed to cut through flesh and bone, not quarter-inch-thick metal.

The optimal choice would be a weapon that is hardest and heaviest at its end -- in this case, a mace would do. Other logical choices would be a flail, warhammer, or a heavy axe. Those of later periods, say the Renaissance, would probably employ a firearm.

If the use of a sword is a must, you could always use one of the aforementioned pole weapons to breach the armor, then finish the poor guy off with a sword thrust. Wink -Ted

"The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest." Thomas Jefferson
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Hugh Knight




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PostPosted: Wed 07 Mar, 2007 8:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Benjamin H. Abbott wrote:
Swords cutting helmets, on the other, is more open to debate. You see this in the artwork and in some accounts. It seems very unlikely, but perhaps it happened at times. Obata demonstrated that you can at least damage a helmet with a sword blow. A heavy sword blow could certainly stun a man through his helmet. I wouldn't bet on it cleaving his skull.


I have a theory about that. We know, as people have said, from experiments that cutting deeply into helmets is extremely unlikely, and yet we see it frequently in the iconography. Why would that be? My theory is this: If you only show a sword's edge against the helmet the people looking at the picture (many of whom would be unable to read the text) would not know whether the blow was "telling" or not. It could just as easily be a shot of someone heroically resisting the effects of the blow--something we read about in the chronicles all the time. Now medieval people knew that cutting helmets wasn't likely to happen, but they saw it as an artistic device to let them know the blow had effect. I've passed that idea to a couple of historians who thought that it might have merit--not that we can ever know, of course.

Regards,
Hugh
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Lennon R. Clotild





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PostPosted: Wed 07 Mar, 2007 9:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I see that the general consensus is that a sword won't be able to cut through a breatplate. In that case, on 15th-17th century battlefields, what would be the predominant or the most effective weapon against plate armour? I know that pikes were the standard infantry arm, and later firearms, so would armies at this time resort mainly to push-of-pikes after discharging their ranged weapons and closing their lines?
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Wed 07 Mar, 2007 10:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
In that case, on 15th-17th century battlefields, what would be the predominant or the most effective weapon against plate armour?


The gun, eventually, though it wouldn't have been very effective at the start of the 15th century. If mounted, you'd use a heavy lance, which could pierce some breastplates. On foot, the pollaxe, halberd, or some similar weapon would probably be your best bet. A solid polearm blow can kill through even the best helmet. A polearm thrust could pierce a lower-quality breastplate, but against high-quality armor you'd be better off trying to push through the plates of the fauld or the various gaps protected by mail (such as the armpit).

Thrusting with a pike would be much the same. It might penetrate munitions-grade armor, but not a noble's harness. Machiavelli thought armor a good defense against pikes, though he said a few well-armored men might be killed or thrown to the ground.

In a melee, as Smythe wrote, many men eventually lose their primary weapons and have to resort to their swords and daggers. Don't discount these weapons against armor. Even the most heavily armored knight could be killed by a sword or dagger thrust through his visor.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Thu 08 Mar, 2007 3:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Michael Eging wrote:
I have seen a sword rip apart chain when test cutting over pork shoulder.

You haven't seen anything that even remotely resembles historical mail. There are very few people in the world who can reproduce a decent replica of riveted historical mail. Please don't call it "chain".
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Thu 08 Mar, 2007 4:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

One of the issues in this is the same as all armour verse arms discussions. I would do a search on armour verse for example. I cannot imagine the power needed to actually cut through a piece of armour but I think it as near to impossible.

Piercing is a whole different can of worms that if you do a search you will find vast quantities of debate on as well. Needless to say, the majority of men in tha time would have looked for weak spots like joints, gaps or visors or soft spots that were left uncovered as it had less disadvantages to overcome. I feel under the right circumstances it is possible but much more likely to slip as getting purchase on the complex shape would force it to glance off. That said, if it were to penetrate it would be much more likely on a thinner, unheat treated one.

As Dan mentioned many tests in mail are using either butted, which in no form could be usefull in a real battle nor give conclusive results. I do think more rivetted mail is out that is of decent quality now and have seen some examples of them cut but most of the time a well made coat will defeat cutting through it. More often the links will deform and become oval leaving larger gaps. There is also info (it was online at one point but I cannot find it now) by Erik D. Schmid on rivetted mail that would be useful. I could not find the link but I know he has done testing on this before and has some articles out on it.

RPM
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Michael Eging




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PostPosted: Thu 08 Mar, 2007 5:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Agreed. It was butted chain mail. The rings readily spread open to cuts and thrusts. Would be interesting to try popping riveted mail. But even riveted, with a gambison under it, I imagine there could be some major trama from well placed sword cuts. Note edited my previous comment... Cool
M. Eging
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Thu 08 Mar, 2007 11:19 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
I cannot imagine the power needed to actually cut through a piece of armour but I think it as near to impossible.


I don't know. Look at what Obata did with a sword. If he'd had a halberd in his hands, he probably would have split the helmet in two. Of course, landing a swing like that would be very unlikely in combat.
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Thu 08 Mar, 2007 11:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lennon R. Clotild wrote:
I see that the general consensus is that a sword won't be able to cut through a breatplate. In that case, on 15th-17th century battlefields, what would be the predominant or the most effective weapon against plate armour? I know that pikes were the standard infantry arm, and later firearms, so would armies at this time resort mainly to push-of-pikes after discharging their ranged weapons and closing their lines?


The predominant weapon?

Honestly, the two predominant weapon against armor weren't physical weapons at all. One was morale--frightening teh enemy into running away, at which point the winner would be at leisure to figure out how to stab them in the back--and the second was combined arms. I find it hard to imagine what could be more effective against heavily-armored troops than the single cannonball that took out more than thirty French gendarmes (heavily armored cavalrymen, that is, not the modern police units) at the battle of Ravenna(?), but the feat was only possible because of the combination of military engineering and battlefield maneuvers by the Imperial forces that put the French just in the right place to receive that shot and suffer from it.

The most effective physical weapon against armor, then, was artillery. Long firearms (muskets, arquebuses, and the like) came second, followed by a pistol wielded at point-blank range. Failing that, hand-to-hand weapons could be employed against armor with the right techniques. One reason why we don't see swords designed to punch through plate armor was because the users saw no need for such. They already had effective techniques (like half-swording and wrestling) that they could use to defeat the enemy either by forcing open the gaps in his plate armor or by subduing him without attempting to get past his armor as all. Throw a gendarme down head-first into the ground and he'll get stunned all the same in spite of all that armor.

However, I can't emphasize enough that when we're talking about massed battlefields, killing the enemy wasn't the issue. Defeating them was. You could have a decisive but nearly bloodless battle if you could manage to rout the enemy before contact, like what the Swiss did to Charles the Rash (yes, that Duke of Burgundy) at the "battle" of Granson. Which was hardly a battle at all, since the Burgundian force mistook the retirement of Charles's vanguard for a rout and ran away before there was any engagement between the main bodies of the two forces.

"Push of pike" was clearly a common method, but we have to keep in mind that it wasn't really continuous fighting. Like in any form of hand-to-hand fighting, the two lines would probably draw back from each other after a few minutes or two and pause to catch their breaths, effectively creating a lull where the firearms could come back into action--and where champions or officers might get the time to engage in single combat between the lines. Your character might get the chance to apply his/her(?) personal combat skills here. Except if one side broke and ran, that is--then there would have been a pursuit rather than a lull.

And then, remember the rule of combined arms. Push of pike was the norm in an interaction between two pike formations, but let's not forget that one or both sides would have had artillery they could use to tear apart the enemy's pikes or cavalry ready to charge into the flanks. As in any other period, battles in the 16th and 17th centuries were usually won by the side that best managed to combine the various arms into a coherent and effective system.
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Thu 08 Mar, 2007 12:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
"Push of pike" was clearly a common method, but we have to keep in mind that it wasn't really continuous fighting. Like in any form of hand-to-hand fighting, the two lines would probably draw back from each other after a few minutes or two and pause to catch their breaths, effectively creating a lull where the firearms could come back into action--and where champions or officers might get the time to engage in single combat between the lines.


I think that depends on the period. Fourquevaux and Smythe wrote that pikemen basically hurtled into each other, dropped their pikes, and drew their swords and/or daggers to continue the fight at close range. Halberdiers, a rank or two behind the pikemen, waded in to help them out. Later on, though, pikemen seemed less inclined to close, letting the guns do their work.
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Eric Myers




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PostPosted: Thu 08 Mar, 2007 12:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Regarding thrusting through plate armor, I believe I have seen period illustrations of this being done while halfswording, which doesn't seem far fetched at all. It's certainly easy enough to halfsword through the steel body of the 196X Cougar in the back field.

Regarding cutting helmets, there are more recent descriptions of this happening. IIRC, there are several such reports of mounted cavalrymen cutting through helmet and head with the 1796 light cavalry sabre.

Eric

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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Thu 08 Mar, 2007 1:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Eric Myers wrote:
Regarding thrusting through plate armor, I believe I have seen period illustrations of this being done while halfswording, which doesn't seem far fetched at all. It's certainly easy enough to halfsword through the steel body of the 196X Cougar in the back field.

Regarding cutting helmets, there are more recent descriptions of this happening. IIRC, there are several such reports of mounted cavalrymen cutting through helmet and head with the 1796 light cavalry sabre.

Eric

It is a good thing that armour wasn't made of car doors. If you have illustrations of fencing manuals demonstrating a sword thrust through a piece of plate then you will have been the first peron to find one. I for one would be very interested in it.
The helmets used in the Napoleonic wars were extremely thin and have little in common with medieval examples.
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Eric Myers




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PostPosted: Thu 08 Mar, 2007 2:15 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Agreed about car door armour Big Grin I don't think the images were from fencing manuals, they may have have been manuscript illustrations. Longsword isn't really my main area of interest, so I didn't keep any of them for future reference. I'll have to see if I can remember more details, or possibly find them again.

Eric

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Lennon R. Clotild





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PostPosted: Thu 08 Mar, 2007 2:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Below is a 15th century depiction of a melee, showing a breastplate being penetrated by a sword. [/quote]

Any thoughts on this?



 Attachment: 40.73 KB
Cod2823_fol150r.jpg

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Greg Coffman




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PostPosted: Thu 08 Mar, 2007 2:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

What would be the prominent weapon...?

...why, all of the weapons we see in use. If you hit someone in plate hard enough to knock them down then they're down. It doesn't matter whether the weapon came through the plate and injured them or not. If they don't get up quick enough then they risk being trampled. And then there is the question of how much blunt trauma the person might receive even if the blow didn't come through the armour.

With plate, the idea never was to try to pierce the plate but defeat the plate, or even better, defeat the person. Now, if the spike or hammer on a pole weapon could pierce plate armour or helmets then by all means use that, but just a plain staff could be quite effective if properly used. Daggers, especially rondels, swords, and longswords all work very well against plate if properly employed. It seems like the poleaxe might have been the preferred weapon against plate in the 15 century whereas the halberd seemed to become very prominent afterwards. The spear is another weapon that still has a lot of potential even against plate.

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