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John H





Joined: 08 May 2006

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PostPosted: Wed 04 Apr, 2007 8:54 pm    Post subject: Pikemen versus archers         Reply with quote

Question:
What was there to prevent a unit of archers from simply sitting back and massacring a pike formation?
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Eric Allen




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PostPosted: Wed 04 Apr, 2007 9:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Limited ammunition...

Terrain...

Other infantry...

Cavalry...
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Steven H




Location: Boston
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PostPosted: Wed 04 Apr, 2007 9:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

All of the above as well as:
Armour
Pike charges

Kunstbruder - Boston area Historical Combat Study
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Wed 04 Apr, 2007 10:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Judging from the assumptions that abound about bows, it would be a miracle that anyone would use another weapon.
However, on the battlefield there are numerous factors that mean that with some notable exceptions, bows have been a secondary weapon at best on the medevial battlefield.

Popular oppinion has it that the longbow is efficient out to 250 meters, which is the maximum distance the arrow will travel.
If you ask a modern bowhunter what's the effective range of his fancy compound bow, he will probably tell you well below 50 meters. This beeing the distance at which you can reliably hit a stationary target with time to aim.
While you can lob arrows at the general area of the target, the chance of actually hitting something is slim.

Another factor is that regardless of efficiency, history has shown missile fire very bad at breaking disciplined troops.
Famously, WWI infantry would litterally walk into artillery and machinegun fire.
In WWI this was a terribly bad idea. But the reason it was attempted was that it had worked up until then.
Short of rapid fire rifles and machineguns, missile weapons just will not manage to kill an approaching infantry formation under normal circumstances.

Thus, the archers have no real possibility to hold their ground; They CAN start shooting at 200 meters, but their fire wont be accurate until 75-50 m, at which point they are to close to the enemy to stand and reload.

The same mechanic applies to early handguns, and are the reason that guns where supported by pikes and helbards until the invention of the flintlock, cartridge reloading and the bayonet.

"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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Taylor Ellis




PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2007 1:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

i was under the impression with the English use of the longbow at least, that it was used more or less like the indirect fire weapons of today?
ie, they were used to saturate an area rather than pick out specific targets.
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2007 2:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

On one side, yes, the English used longbows. On another, yes, they distinguished themselves by using it in massed volleys instead of the dispersed skirmishing favored by most other kinds of archers. But then there are two other things that we must take into account:

1) a massed volley of arrows is valuable not primarily for its destructive physical effect--which is quite slight--but for the effect it makes on the enemy's morale, especially if the enemy's troops are unsteady in the first place. But this didn't always work with confident and/or well-trained troops and in fact we have solid evidence that the French managed to get into hand-to-hand contact with the English men-at-arms in spite of the longbowmen's volleys.

2) what really distinguished English longbowmen from other archers in the period was that they weren't reluctant to join hand-to-hand combat. Most other archers would have yielded ground (i.e. retreated or fled) before a determined advance by heavier troops, but the English longbowmen frequently and consistently joined their men-at-arms in a massive countercharge towards the enemy lines. Look at the article on the Battle of Poitiers in the Features section. They did the same at Agincourt, and even when they lost big time at Patay it was in hand-to-hand fighting--which meant they stayed long enough for Joan of Arc's vanguard to get into hand-to-hand contact with them!

So there. What made the longbowmen unique wasn't just their arrows, but the combination of their massed archery and their willingness to engage in hand-to-hand fighting. First weaken and demoralize the enemy with arrows, and then engage and rout them with shock. The same tactical method was favored by the British infantry in the Napoelonic Wars and the rest of the 19th century.
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2007 4:10 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think it would be hard to gauge this as the battles where this takes place are few but from those that come to mind it vary in the effect of both weapons on each other. I think they also fulfill seperate functions on the field so not sure the comparison works. Look at Charles the Bold's army and he has both in different positions, one to defend the other. Under a good leader either force could be used well in the medieval period.

Something to add to Lafayette's comments. IN the end the huge number of archers in english army compared to other armies missle arm is vastly different for the most part. add they do melee after unloading it is not a bad deal.

RPM
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Mikael Ranelius




Location: Sweden
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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2007 9:06 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Elling Polden wrote:
Judging from the assumptions that abound about bows, it would be a miracle that anyone would use another weapon.
However, on the battlefield there are numerous factors that mean that with some notable exceptions, bows have been a secondary weapon at best on the medevial battlefield.

Popular oppinion has it that the longbow is efficient out to 250 meters, which is the maximum distance the arrow will travel.
If you ask a modern bowhunter what's the effective range of his fancy compound bow, he will probably tell you well below 50 meters. This beeing the distance at which you can reliably hit a stationary target with time to aim.
While you can lob arrows at the general area of the target, the chance of actually hitting something is slim.

Another factor is that regardless of efficiency, history has shown missile fire very bad at breaking disciplined troops.
Famously, WWI infantry would litterally walk into artillery and machinegun fire.
In WWI this was a terribly bad idea. But the reason it was attempted was that it had worked up until then.
Short of rapid fire rifles and machineguns, missile weapons just will not manage to kill an approaching infantry formation under normal circumstances.

Thus, the archers have no real possibility to hold their ground; They CAN start shooting at 200 meters, but their fire wont be accurate until 75-50 m, at which point they are to close to the enemy to stand and reload.

The same mechanic applies to early handguns, and are the reason that guns where supported by pikes and helbards until the invention of the flintlock, cartridge reloading and the bayonet.


English archers during the reign of Henry VIII were required by law to hit a target at 240 yds or 220 m. That is with a heavy war arrow. With lighter battle shafts, the range would have been considerably longer, around 300 m or even more.

At numerous occasions, english archers broke up and defeated disciplined formations of scottish spearmen. At Humbleton Hill in 1402, the bowmen defeated the scottish spearmen and men-at-arms alone, without the help of the heavy cavalry of their own.


Last edited by Mikael Ranelius on Thu 05 Apr, 2007 9:08 am; edited 1 time in total
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Gordon Frye




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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2007 9:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Cavalry.

Cheers!

Gordon

"After God, we owe our victory to our Horses"
Gonsalo Jimenez de Quesada
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William Knight




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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2007 10:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Didn't longbowmen have a large role in the defeat of the schiltrons (which granted use shorter spears) at Falkirk?

Speaking as a WotR Longbowmen reenactor who's just beginning and thus hardly an authority, from everyone I've talked to and everything (recent) I've read about, the longbow was more of an indirect fire weapon that would aim at areas (ie units) not men, so hitting the pikemen wouldn't be a problem. However pikemen -won't- stand still if they're a well-drilled late medieval pike formation--they'll attack, forcing longbowmen to withdraw (and probably leave significant amounts of ammunition behind) or forcing the bowmen to fight in a rather disadvantaged position. If I remember right Charles the Bold used a significant number of longbowmen in his army, but the Swiss wouldn't keep still--they closed quickly and forced the archers to engage them in hand-to-hand.

Further, longbows aren't that great against well-armoured troops on foot--a jack and maille shirt will resist an arrow far more often then not, particuarly when it's fired from an appreciable range (longbowmen would take up their bills and bucklers before an enemy got point-blank)--that's why English archers wore them so much in the WotR. I remember hearing in every account of the battle of Flodden field I've ever heard that the scottish pikemen were largely unaffected by the English archers because had become so heavily armoured by the early renaisance that they just weren't that vulnerabe to arrows.

There's a bunch of other guys around here that could probably elaborate on what I've said.
-Wilhelm
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Mikael Ranelius




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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2007 10:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Charles the Bold's failure against the Swiss is not an indication of the supposed inferiority of archers. Charles had a comprataivley small numbers of archers, whose presence didn't affect the outcome of the battles. A 1000 archers against 500 men would be devastating - 1000 archers against 10 000 men would not be very effective at all.
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Michael Edelson




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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2007 10:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think the greatest myth surrounding the bow is its accuracy.

I own a "stickbow" longbow and a fully modern compound bow. The compound bow is accurate out to about 60 yards (some archers can get good groups much further), but that is because it has a rear peep sight and a front post sight, much like a rifle. The longbow is not accurate. Not at 20 yards, not at 50. The best longbow archers at the range, the kind that always give the new guys pointers, cannot group less than 24" at the 20 yard target. With a compound bow, I can group 4" or less at 20 yards. Some rare archers can take a sightless recurve and group under 6" at 20 yards, so I'll assume that English longbowmen could do the same, but that changes rapidly at 40+ yards, and these are stationary targets under relaxed conditions.

Considering that English longbows did not have sights of any kind, it would betoo much to expect that they could reliably hit a moving target at 50 yards.

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Max von Bargen




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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2007 11:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

William Knight wrote:
Didn't longbowmen have a large role in the defeat of the schiltrons (which granted use shorter spears) at Falkirk?


Yes, but the Scots were pinned down by the English heavy cavalry, so they couldn't concentrate on attacking the archers. So that was more a triumph (as most of these battles under discussion were) of combined arms rather than the longbow by itself.

Max
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Daniel Staberg




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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2007 12:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mikael Ranelius wrote:
Charles the Bold's failure against the Swiss is not an indication of the supposed inferiority of archers. Charles had a comprataivley small numbers of archers, whose presence didn't affect the outcome of the battles. A 1000 archers against 500 men would be devastating - 1000 archers against 10 000 men would not be very effective at all.

4000+ mounted archers plus the foot archers of the ordonace companies as well as archers of the Burgundian feudal troops is hardly a small number of archers.

Besides result of the Burgundian battles are confired by the battl eof Guinegate 1479 were Maximilians lowland pikemen took to the offensive and slaugthered the French archers.
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Mikael Ranelius




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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2007 12:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Michael Edelson wrote:
I think the greatest myth surrounding the bow is its accuracy.

[- - -]

Considering that English longbows did not have sights of any kind, it would betoo much to expect that they could reliably hit a moving target at 50 yards.


Those guys regularly practised with the bow since the age of 6 - few, if any, archers of today have done that. Medieval archers didn't use sights, they shot instinctivley. Today we shoot the bow and arrow for fun, back then it was a matter of life or death
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Grayson C.




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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2007 1:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

agreeing HEAVILY with Mikael here.

Who is to question how accurate and/or effective the longbow is without having trained your whole life with it?
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Mikael Ranelius




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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2007 1:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Daniel Staberg wrote:
Mikael Ranelius wrote:
Charles the Bold's failure against the Swiss is not an indication of the supposed inferiority of archers. Charles had a comprataivley small numbers of archers, whose presence didn't affect the outcome of the battles. A 1000 archers against 500 men would be devastating - 1000 archers against 10 000 men would not be very effective at all.

4000+ mounted archers plus the foot archers of the ordonace companies as well as archers of the Burgundian feudal troops is hardly a small number of archers.

Besides result of the Burgundian battles are confired by the battl eof Guinegate 1479 were Maximilians lowland pikemen took to the offensive and slaugthered the French archers.


At Morat only a fraction of Charles' archers were effectively deployed, i.e. those 1000 or so who were stationed at the Grunhag. At Nancy even smaller numbers of archer would have been available. Nevertheless, the total number of archers was in any case too small to effectivley confront the 20 000+ pikemen of the confederacy. It doesn't prove that archers were obsolete, as little as it proves artillery or handgonnes was ineffective. More than a 1000 british soldiers with breech-loaders were hacked to death by 20 000+ zulu spearmen at Isandlwana. Of course it doesn't prove that rifles were useless!

The Francs-archers who performed so miserably at Guinegate is a more relevant example I guess, but I must point out that they were somewhat of an experiment and that their skill and tactical deployment can't be compared to the english archers.

So we have instances where archers were overrun by pikemen and other troops, but we also do have examples of archers shooting spear- and pikeformations to pieces. It's down to tactics, and we can't judge from a single or few examples to get a clear picture.
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C.L. Miller




PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2007 1:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mikael Ranelius wrote:
English archers during the reign of Henry VIII were required by law to hit a target at 240 yds or 220 m. That is with a heavy war arrow. With lighter battle shafts, the range would have been considerably longer, around 300 m or even more.


Would you be willing to share the text of this law with us, or point out where we might be able to find it? I'd be curious to read it. Could you tell us anything about the context in which it was enacted, or to which archers it applied?
Thanks!
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Michael Edelson




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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2007 2:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

C.L. Miller wrote:
Mikael Ranelius wrote:
English archers during the reign of Henry VIII were required by law to hit a target at 240 yds or 220 m. That is with a heavy war arrow. With lighter battle shafts, the range would have been considerably longer, around 300 m or even more.


Would you be willing to share the text of this law with us, or point out where we might be able to find it? I'd be curious to read it. Could you tell us anything about the context in which it was enacted, or to which archers it applied?
Thanks!


But how big was the target? How many attempts did they get?

I might be able to hit a target the size of a truck at 240 yards with a longbow...if I either practice specifically for this feat or have a few shots to calibrate my aim. It would also be easier with a heavy arrow, as it would be more stable and consistent in flight.

There is nothing in the universe (besides seeing someone do it) that can convince me that anyone can hit a man sized target at 240 yards with a sightless bow except by blind luck. Instinctive shooting can only get you so far.

There is no reason to ascribe semi-mythical skills to medieval archers just because they practiced every day. People drive every day, but a couple of days at a racing school will teach you things you never thought were possible. There is also the fact that most people have a ceiling on their competence that happens to be quite low, and no amount of repetition will change that. Not everyone can be a Howard Hill, even if they train 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Most people are mediocre and will always be mediocre.

If English longbowmen could hit man sized targets consistently at 240 yards, or even 120 yards, medieval armies would have consisted of nothing but archers. How long does it take an infantry formation to close 240 yards? Several minutes? How many accurate arrows could 4000 archers launch in that time?

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Mikael Ranelius




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PostPosted: Thu 05 Apr, 2007 3:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

C.L. Miller wrote:
Mikael Ranelius wrote:
English archers during the reign of Henry VIII were required by law to hit a target at 240 yds or 220 m. That is with a heavy war arrow. With lighter battle shafts, the range would have been considerably longer, around 300 m or even more.


Would you be willing to share the text of this law with us, or point out where we might be able to find it? I'd be curious to read it. Could you tell us anything about the context in which it was enacted, or to which archers it applied?
Thanks!


In an act from 1542 the king states that "no man who had reached the age of 24 years might
shoot at any mark at less than 11 score", i.e. 220 yards. According to Hugh Soar, a full bow shot at the time was estimated to 12 score yards or 240 yards. (Hugh Soar: Secrets of the English War Bow p-22). This act was added to a stature of 1512 that required every able-bodied man from the ages of 7-60 to practise shooting the bow.

Michael: I don't know what size the archery butts were, but since they practised for warfare I guess there would have been no point in hitting targets much bigger than a man. Medieval archers were no supermen with mythological skills and no one who is seriously interested in the topic would claim so - they were just soldiers who had trained in the use of their weapon from childhood. Men-at-arms were experts in the use sword and lance, pikemen were experts in using their long pikes in disciplined formations etc - I wonder why some people find it hard to accept that archers hired for military service were experts in the use of their ownweapons.
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