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Thread: New Warbow testing publication

  1. #1
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    New Warbow testing publication

    The latest Arms and Armour Journal from the Royal Armouries has an article regarding some testing of warbows against plate.
    "A report of the findings of the Defence Academy warbow trials Part 1 Summer 2005." By Paul Bourke and David Whetham. pp.53-82.

    Edit: The paper can now be downloaded
    http://www.tforum.info/forum/index.p...=post&id=13822

    It also has some criticisms from Kelly DeVries along with rebuttals from the authors.

    I like some of it and dislike the rest. It seems to me (and to DeVries) that these guys had preconceived ideas and set about designing a test to validate them. DeVries reckons that the bow they used was too heavy but, after reading Strickland and Hardy's book, I can't agree with him. IMO the bow they tested was typical of the time (around 150 lbs). I think that the arrows they tested were reasonable reconstructions too although I would have liked to have seen more aspen shafts and less ash. By the time of Henry V, aspen was by far the most common wood used for arrows, not ash. I also have a problem with the extremely short range they used (10 m). Hopefully the next part of these tests will involve more realistic battlefield distances.

    The arrowheads are flawed. Although they use accurate reconstructions of the typologies, the hardness is far greater than that found in any bodkins to date. The authors state "it is unknown how hard average period arrowheads were or whether they would have been routinely surface/case hardened..." IMO they say this to try and avoid the fact that none of the bodkins so far analysed were anywhere near the hardness of the arrowheads used in this test. The hardest arrowheads so far analysed are broadheads (e.g. type 16), not bodkins. The one bodkin analysis they cite (their own unpublished work) indicate a hardness between 105-158 Hv which was well below the hardness of the arrowheads they used. Their first arrowhead (type 7) had a hardness of 190-200 Hv with the tip being 300 Hv. Their second arrowhead (Type 10) had a hardness of 230-250 Hv. The third (lozenge) 480-500 Hv. No surprises which one performed the best against the plate target.

    Regarding the target, the authors correctly state that the Victorian wrought iron used in the past for these sorts of tests is inferior to what was available for contemporary plate armour. They reckoned that charcoal-rolled iron would be a closer match to what medieval armourers had available and I agree with them (but only for munitions-grade armour). They decide to shoot a flat sheet of this material, rather than a worked breastplate because they reasonably argue that it would produce more consistent results. This makes sense when testing the angle of impact but ignores the fact that armour was fluted and ribbed in key areas to reduce the likelihood of penetration. The thicknesses chosen by the authors seem reasonable. They test three plates: 1.15mm (206Hv), 2mm (180Hv) and 3mm (172Hv). They acknowledge that these hardness readings are in the lower half of extant examples. Williams noted that the best plate in this test is only equal to munitions grade 15th century plate. They ignore the fact that the thinnest sections of plate armour are often overlapped by another plate so that an arrow would have two thicknesses of this material to punch through. They also completely ignore the fact that plate armour was not worn against the skin. I would suggest that an arming doublet worn under armour would greatly reduce injury to the wearer.

    The results. All three arrows easily penetrated the 1.15mm plate. The 2mm plate is penetrated by arrowhead 2 (9mm) and 3 (16mm). The 3mm plate defeats all the arrows. Angle of impact is 90 degrees. They note that adding wax to the arrowhead made no difference in penetration.

    Conclusion. Dispite this test being heavily biased against the armour, the plate seems to have performed well. Even without an arming garment behind the plate, none of the arrows would have killed a soldier wearing 2mm of plate (the deepest penetration was only 16mm). If the padding is added, I think that there would be no injury at all. If the plate was hardened as with 15th C Milanese examples, there would be no penetration. If the 1.15mm plates were overlapped as would have been the case in a suit of plate then these too are likely to have prevented injury. The only injury that might have occurred would be the rare arrow that managed to hit a thin piece of plate that was not covered by another plate and did not have mail underneath it. These arrow strikes might hit an arm or a leg but certainly would not kill the wearer as is implied by some longbow enthusiasts. The authors then try to weasel out of these results by claiming that non-fatal arrowstrikes were likely to prove fatal anyway because of the unsanitary conditions, dispite plenty of evidence to suggest that soldiers regularly survived arrow wounds - even in the face. They also concoct a ridiculous theory that even though the armour resisted the arrow, the blunt trauma from the impact might have killed the victim anyway.

    This test could have been very good. By itself it is only moderately useful. It is the best I have seen so far though. Note that the results are only valid for munitions plate, not the finer quality Milanese plate. My only major complaints are the extreme hardness of the arrowheads used and the fact that nothing was used to simulate an arming doublet. Hopefully Part 2 will build upon this data.
    Last edited by Dan Howard; 02-22-2011 at 07:09 PM.

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    Very nice. I've not read the article but it sounds like a pretty sound summation of the highlights.

    I've always been on the fence about the killing power of arrows when it comes to plate armour - but since the vast majority of medieval soldiery wasn't in plate, it's never been that big of a concern for me personally. All in all it makes sense however that plate would be a good defense and when fluting and angles are added, even more-so.

    Now that bit about the blunt trauma of an arrow killing a person in plate is ridiculous. Yes an arrow can have a fair sight of force behind it, but it's not a cannonball. In the modern age people face up to high caliber firearms with bullet-proof vests on and survive. And frankly, those would likely have a far greater impact than an arrow.

    I do agree with a previous thread in which the psychological impact of arrows was discussed - the idea of hearing the buzz and hiss of arrows coming down from above, pinging off of the plate armour all around you (and perhaps even yours) - hoping that an arrow doesn't find it's way between some of the plates - I think THAT is where some of the truest effect of the arrow comes into play.

    All in all, thanks for the great summary of the article - much appreciated!
    -John

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    I had thought that David Starley from the RA had presented a paper on arrowheads at the 37th International Congress of Medieval Studies , 2002 IIRC, so quite a lot of metallurgical information should have been available; in 2005.

    Not to mention this, which I found while double checking the spelling of David's name:
    TUESDAY 9 JULY 2002: 19.30 - 20.30
    University of Leeds;
    International Medieval Congress

    Session: 903
    Title: THE ARROW AND ITS MILITARY CONTEXT - A WORKSHOP
    Sponsor: The Royal Armouries, Leeds
    Organiser: David Starley, The Royal Armouries, Leeds
    Moderator: David Starley
    Purpose: This workshop will examine aspects of the arrow in medieval warfare. A stated aim is to identify gaps in our present knowledge and areas requiring future research. Invited participants will present the findings of different approaches, including experimental metallurgical studies as well as documentary research into the organisation of production and military effectiveness. The discussion will be followed by practical demonstrations and an opportunity for hands-on examination of artefacts. Participants include Kelly De Vries (Loyola College, Baltimore), John Waller (The Royal Armouries, Leeds) and Guy M. Wilson (The Royal Armouries, Leeds).

  4. #4
    Interesting test. How heavy were these arrows? How fast did the bow shoot them?

  5. #5
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    long bodkin: 71g; 46 m/s; 75J
    short bodkin: 70g; 49.68m/s; 86J
    lozenge: 87g; 46m/s; 92J

  6. #6
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    Did they use just that one bow?
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  7. #7
    long bodkin: 71g; 46 m/s; 75J
    short bodkin: 70g; 49.68m/s; 86J
    lozenge: 87g; 46m/s; 92J
    Interesting. Those are some pretty low energy figures for a 150lb bow. In The Great Warbow, they got 111 J with a 53.6-gram arrow. Their 95.9-gram arrow had more energy at 250 meters than most of those arrows have at 10 meters.

    I wonder how that 3mm sheet of metal would done against an arrow with 146 J (the highest energy figure from The Great Warbow.

  8. #8
    was the energy at 250 meter calc'd by model or direct measure?

    one of the things I've always wanted to know, the speed at long range.

    The energy is just a number to me but the arrow weight and speed are something i can more closely relate to real experience. if those ratios are historically accurate it does tend to support Dan's distance rather than penetration theory

    54 grams! what was the string weight?

    I agree Benjamin, those figures are not really very impressive. And then 71 and 87 both at the same speed, 3.6 m/s increase from 1 gram lighter seems unusual. could it be difference of fletch, or an archer needing practice of technique if from the same bow?
    what do you think?

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    A great deal of fuss has been made over the fact that Mark Stretton was the archer who was used in this test. I would not even begin to criticise him when it comes to heavy English warbows. My problem has always been that these guys have no idea about armour and limited knowledge about medieval warfare. IMO this test is the best we have regarding the performanace of a typical English warbow against munitions plate. I would wait until Part 2 before passing a final judgement though.
    Last edited by Dan Howard; 05-08-2007 at 02:43 PM.

  10. #10
    I was only looking at the numbers not the names, pointing out what I saw as relevant, for your consideration.

  11. #11
    was the energy at 250 meter calc'd by model or direct measure?
    A little bit of both, I think. They had Simon Stanley shoot five different arrows three times each. They used a Doppler radar to measure the velocity and then modeled it.

    one of the things I've always wanted to know, the speed at long range.
    Between 43 and 48.9 m/s, depending on the weight of the arrow.

  12. #12
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    I am curious why this isn't in the "Modern-era Swords and Collecting Community: Knives, Axes, Polearms and Bows" forum. That would seem to be the more appropriate place for it.
    Trying to walk in the Light, Hugh
    See 1 John 1:5

  13. #13
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    It is a continuation of the old "arrows vs plate" debate. IMO this is a valid place for it since all the other related threads are here.

  14. #14
    Dan et al,

    I read this myself yesterday evening and agree with essentially all you say, both the points you make in favour and in criticism of it. There seems to me a clear (though perhaps unintentional) bias against the armour, especially in the post hoc rationalisations made. This is most notable in the blunt trauma claims:

    Additionally, the energy carried by the arrows tested is so significant that even a non-penetrating impact in the right place might be sufficient to cause death by blunt trauma due to internal injuries...The Health and Safety Executive lists an impact of 80J as a level of energy sufficient to cause death by blunt trauma (i.e. a non penetrating impact) (Health and Safety Executive 2002). Whilst a breastplate is likely to dissipate this somewhat there is still a good chance of a serious injury from a non-penetrating impact. Against the 2 mm charcoal rolled iron plates there is very little deformation around the impact site indicating that there is relatively little energy absorbed by the impact, rather it is transferred to the breastplate and therefore on to the wearer. This energy is obviously spread over a fair area and the type of padding or undergarment worn may also have a significant effect, however it evidently could potentially still be dangerous.
    Though they do hedge their bets here, the authors are clearly trying to tell us that blunt trauma resulting from an arrow impact is still capable of incapacitating a man in harness. This is nonsense. They would do well to read up on the firearms wound ballistics literature for an appreciation of what's required to cause incapacitating injury with a projectile to even an unarmoured target, let alone a man with padded arming doublet (or similar) and plate. That is, a) penetration rather than incidental blunt trauma, and b) depth of penetration (see below). They use the 80 joules threshold for potentially fatal injury without clarifying the context in which that is offered by HSE. The reference appears to be a publication by the Health and Safety Executive that deals with explosive injury in industrial contexts. I would be interested to see how this figure was derived, and to what parts of the body, with what protection (presumably minimal given the context), it applies. 80j to the bare head? Certainly. To the liver, kidneys and other vital organs of an unarmoured torso? Possibly, via the mechanism of internal bleeding. However, armour, clothing, skin, muscle, fat, and bone would all intervene to some extent, reducing damage to the vital organ itself. The distinction they make between "absorb" and "dissipate" with reference to the example of a breastplate is disingenuous - why should absorption via deformation be inherently better than dissipation via plate design and padding underneath? They all but concede this point themselves, but cling on to "it evidently could potentially still be dangerous". So could a deforming breastplate! Even assuming serious or perhaps eventually fatal blunt trauma (or indeed any penetrating wounds achieved to the depth demonstrated), the victim could still represent a threat for many minutes or even hours afterward.

    This is compounded by the claim you also refer to, that:

    a heavily armoured solider [sic] brought to the ground by a nonlethal arrow impact in a muddy, chaotic battlefield would find his chances of survival severely impaired.
    This assumes firstly that he would be floored by the impact. This is quite possible but by no means certain - a 100g arrow at 48m/s has rather more momentum than a rifle bullet and would result in a rearward motion of 0.42m/s assuming a knight in 60lb harness - a hefty thump without doubt, but I think I'm right in saying would amount to only a step or stumble backward, especially at an oblique angle (where a good deal of this momentum would be transferred via the rest of the body into the ground rather than straight backward). It further assumes and implies that said knight will inevitably either succumb to follow-up strikes, trampling, or infection of his wound. None of that is by any means certain, and amounts to speculation, perhaps even wishful thinking/special pleading.

    There is also the issue of penetration depth with respect to incapacitation. Again, the field of wound ballistics (specifically in a law enforcement context) demands some 12 inches (305mm) of penetration to account for the various angles the target might present to the projectile, for outer clothing of different composition and thickness, and for any intervening limb. The 80mm depth achieved by the tested arrows on c1mm plate is far shy of that and seems to me to represent the "best case" result.

    I cannot fathom why padded clothing is so readily dismissed as both protection against blunt trauma and as a sound backing for plate that might well reduce the chance of penetration taking place. Yet the authors carefully chose their clay flesh-simulant ostensibly to better approximate the human body behind the armour. Why leave out the "filling"? This smacks of a primary intent to improve the chances of plate penetration above all.

    A big problem would appear to me to be probability of a) impact and b) penetration approximating that possible on a flat plate. As well as the underclothes issue, how many arrows will actually strike below 60 degrees impact angle, and on what armoured surface? What is the curve of the plate, and what fluting or other modification is present? What other plates might be overlapping (as you point out)? Is the armour in motion? In firearms terms, shot placement is critical, and the same applies here, but with no way of improving hit percentage for a given location. A vambrace for example, might only be 1mm thick, but is shaped (curved, not angled) such that penetration is surely very unlikely. If the arrow strikes a tasset, say, of the same thickness, it might well gain purchase enough to penetrate more along the lines of the tested plates, but you then have further armour and clothing beneath that which must surely reduce the chance of penetration. The authors do at least point out that further testing is needed.

    I agree that DeVries is too hard on the choice of a heavier bow. The evidence we have suggests bows of that weight were known and usable, and the individual nature of archer's equipment choice backs up the idea that they would have selected the heavier bows. I just don't follow his reasoning there. In addition to use such bows gives us a "best case" situation allowing scaling down or re-testing in future should more evidence come to light that for some reason lighter bows predominated.

    I'm sure you're right about the material of the arrow shafts and the hardness of the heads - I had not considered those aspects and the latter in particular would seem pretty crucial. What did jump out at me as well as you (and no doubt many other readers) was that extremely short range you highlight of 10m. This again is a crucial variable, because they are currently testing at "muzzle velocity". A rifle bullet loses an appreciable amount of its velocity within hundreds of yards, and is both lighter and more aerodynamica, so it seems likely that a 100g short bodkin arrow, fired in an arc especially, would lose a good deal of velocity by the time it reached a typical target (with concomitant steep angles of attack that reduce penetration chance as mentioned).

    I'm not seeing where 40 and 60 degree angles increase the penetration of 1.15mm plate - the table seems to suggest 82-94mm for 40,60, and 90 degree impacts. Again, it doesn't seem to affect the 2mm penetration much either (it's only 6-13mm, or a non-penetration, regardless of angle).

    The results. All three arrows easily penetrated the 1.15mm plate. The 2mm plate is penetrated by arrowhead 2 (9mm) and 3 (16mm). The 3mm plate defeats all the arrows. Angle of impact is 90 degrees. They note that adding wax to the arrowhead made no difference in penetration. They have some strange results against the 1.15mm plate when at high angles. 40 and 60 degrees seems to have increased penetration. Penetration is predictably reduced against the 2mm plate when the angle of incidence is less than 90 degrees. Again, a compound curve is a different proposition than an angled flat plate - look at steel tank armour in WW2 vs AP rounds - the more curved, the better (a crude analogy, I realise) the chance of energy dissipation through friction and of deflection taking place.

    Finally I agree that stripped of superfluous interpretation, the data yet shows a positive result for plate, and achieves its main objective of updating the 1992 plate tests. The authors just go too far with their inferences and speculation relative to the limitations of the test methodology and equipment. Your assessment appears fair and accurate:

    Quote Originally Posted by Dan Howard
    Conclusion. Dispite this test being heavily biased against the armour, the plate seems to have performed well. Even without an arming garment behind the plate, none of the arrows would have killed a soldier wearing 2mm of plate (the deepest penetration was only 16mm). If the padding is added, I think that there would be no injury at all. If the plate was hardened as with 15th C Milanese examples, there would be no penetration. If the 1.15mm plates were overlapped as would have been the case in a suit of plate then these too are likely to have prevented injury.
    Last edited by Jonathan S Ferguson; 08-09-2007 at 06:29 AM. Reason: Corrections and expansion.

  15. #15
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    Historical context

    I seen several of these sorts of tests performed and they all seem to prove that men in plate armor were immune to arrows shot from longbows, and yet the historical record stands.

    Numerically superior, heavily armed and armored French armies utterly destroyed three times by English longbowmen. At least on one occasion the French knights dismounted and charged on foot, so the argument that the arrows brought down the horses and not the knights won't hold water.

    Granted that the English leaders chose good ground to fight on and thoroughly understood the concept of combined arms -horse, foot and archers. It is, never the less, irrefutable that the English longbowmen broke the back of the French knights.

    Of course I'm somewhat biased as I am a bowyer who makes and shoots longbows, but these tests are not any where near conclusive as they all conclude that one arrow could not penetrate the armor plate, shot full on, deep enough to kill a man therefore the bowmen couldn't have overcome the knights. This is taking the bow out of context and it proves nothing.

    Shooting full on at the breastplate is not how the bows were used. They were shot in repeated massed volleys. Each archer could have several arrows in the air before the first one reached their target. Arrows were brought up tp the lines by the basket load. The bows were drawn to the chest, which imparts a lot more energy to the arrow, and were not aimed at individuals, but were area fire.

    The longbow was the medieval equivalent of the machine gun, massive, high volume fire. I think your knights looked like pin cushions at the end of the charge with arrows sticking out of every crevice in their armor.

    A knight with an arrow or arrows embedded in his elbow - knee - shoulder etc. is going to be easily mopped up by an English knight or footman who is fresh and unwounded.

    Respectfully,

    Curt Cummins

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by Curt Cummins View Post
    I seen several of these sorts of tests performed and they all seem to prove that men in plate armor were immune to arrows shot from longbows
    Bit of a straw man there Curt - try reading this article. It says nothing of the sort (in fact in my opinion goes too far the other way). The data taken in isolation suggests that 1mm plate might be penetrated non-fatally, and 2-3mm plate was very tough to beat. Even if you did penetrate, it would most likely not be to the depth required to reliably incapacitate.

    and yet the historical record stands.

    Numerically superior, heavily armed and armored French armies utterly destroyed three times by English longbowmen. At least on one occasion the French knights dismounted and charged on foot, so the argument that the arrows brought down the horses and not the knights won't hold water.
    Primarily English longbowmen? And what about the occasions where this didn't hold true? I would suggest that tactics, leadership, battle site/situation, numbers, training and circumstances are all more influential on the outcome of a battle than any one weapon or type of soldier. As you seem to recognise;

    Granted that the English leaders chose good ground to fight on and thoroughly understood the concept of combined arms -horse, foot and archers.
    It is, never the less, irrefutable that the English longbowmen broke the back of the French knights.
    Whether it's refutable or not remains to be seen (by me at least - I leave that to more knowledgeable posters than I). Assuming you're correct, did the arrows actually incapacitate a significant proportion of French knights? Or did the volleys simply break up their organisation, harry them, demoralise them? The effect on a tactical level, you could argue, is the same, but it's not the same as reliable penetration of plate and the ability to incapacitate and/or kill the man behind it.

    Of course I'm somewhat biased as I am a bowyer who makes and shoots longbows, but these tests are not any where near conclusive as they all conclude that one arrow could not penetrate the armor plate, shot full on, deep enough to kill a man therefore the bowmen couldn't have overcome the knights. This is taking the bow out of context and it proves nothing.
    As I say above - it's two different propositions as I see it. You're right to say that it takes it out of context, but it nevertheless suggests that if the bow had a "battle-winning" attribute, it wasn't its penetrative power. Which is what is being tested.

    Shooting full on at the breastplate is not how the bows were used. They were shot in repeated massed volleys. Each archer could have several arrows in the air before the first one reached their target. Arrows were brought up tp the lines by the basket load. The bows were drawn to the chest, which imparts a lot more energy to the arrow, and were not aimed at individuals, but were area fire.
    Area fire or not, makes no difference to the arrow's penetrative power and wounding potential. Which is what is being tested.

    The longbow was the medieval equivalent of the machine gun, massive, high volume fire.
    I don't think it has an equivalent, maybe on a tactical or strategic level. But that is beyond the scope of tests like this. Whatever the tactical effect of massed indirect fire, individually the bow was nothing like as deadly as a machine-gun where armoured men are concerned. We have to remember that knights and fully armoured men-at-arms made up only a portion of a given army.

    I think your knights looked like pin cushions at the end of the charge with arrows sticking out of every crevice in their armor.
    I agree that many would have resembled such. But were those fatal, incapacitating, or even particularly serious wounds?

    A knight with an arrow or arrows embedded in his elbow - knee - shoulder etc. is going to be easily mopped up by an English knight or footman who is fresh and unwounded.
    It certainly won't help his movement or fighting ability any if any arrows have penetrated his armour. Perhaps that was a contributing factor. But again, I'm not sure tests like this can hope to meaningfully investigate such a situation.

    Higher level effects aside, the circumstances of the tests are best case scenarios for a war bow - at launch velocity, 90 degree impact, over-hardened arrow-heads, no padded undergarments. And still they fail. There just isn't wiggle room to suggest that they were armour-defeating wonder-weapons. The tactical/strategic effects may be a different story.

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    Practical results

    Sorry if I get a little heated on this subject. I guess what I am questioning is not the validity of the test but its practical value. What do they really prove?

    Whatever the results of modern testing are, they don't change the historical record. Whether or not a bow could could pierce plate armor deep enough to kill a man is moot.

    The French lost, the English won and they certainly attributed their win in large part to the bowmen - they made archery practice mandatory. The ultimate test that you are speaking of has already been made -the battles themselves. The men who were there to witness this ultimate test of the longbow made it a part of their arsenal until it was replaced by the firearm over two hundred years later.

    However they did it -the longbow and the archers -working in combination with the English foot and horse changed the face of medieval warfare. It was the beginning of end the of the dominance of feudal cavalry in western Europe.

    The longbow ranks with the Swiss pike and cannon as weapons that helped to end the feudal era.

    Respectfully,

    Curt Cummins

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    I don't think anyone disputes the effectiveness of the warbow on the battlefield. Our contention is that the warbow's effectiveness had nothing to do with its ability to penetrate armour. It seems that nothing short of a time travel machine will convince most longbow enthusiasts of that.
    Last edited by Dan Howard; 08-09-2007 at 06:17 PM.

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    Curt, modern tests like these are important inasmuch as they give us a much better perspective of what a particular weapon was and was not capable of and how exactly it contributed to the outcome of a specific battle.

    If you look at most of the older English literature the longbow was turned into something of a superweapon. The "machine gun" of the middle ages easily mowing down ranks upon ranks of enemy troops regardless of armor. Such claims simply do not hold water and are supported neither by the primary sources nor sane reason. So good practical evaluations are absolutely necessary in order to find out the actual capabilities of the longbow and understand just what happened at the famous battles of the Hundred Years War.

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    I think I have posted this before. It is a letter from Dr Starley, crossposted from the Armour Archive.
    http://forums.armourarchive.org/phpB...r=asc&start=35
    (Emphasis mine)

    "As a metallurgist this is a question which interests me greatly. Some early studies were done by Peter Pratt and Peter Jones, involving a current member of RA staff but before he joined us. Some of these experiments are recorded in an appendix to Robert Hardy's book. However I have been concerned that the published version of these experiments used heat-treated steel bodkin points, for which we have no evidence. By contrast it would appear that other types of arrowheads: the compact tanged and barbed (London Museums Type 16), did indeed have steel edges/points welded to them and these were quenched and tempered. The metallurgical work is in progress but some of the information is due to be published by Ashgate in a collection of papers from the International Medieval congress, Kalamazoo (The volume will be titled de re Metallica). Unfortunately I haven't seen any results on the testing of such weapons.
    Hope this helps,

    David Starley PhD
    Science Officer

    Royal Armouries Museum
    Conservation Department"
    Last edited by Dan Howard; 08-10-2007 at 02:02 AM.

  21. #21
    "Re Metallica" eh?

    Curt - as Dan says, sceptics of the armour-piercing/through-armour-wounding capabilities of war bows don't dispute the tactical effectiveness of archery units in battle - just its ability to penetrate a given individual's plate (and possibly mail) armour. Check out the article in Arms and Armour if you can - it at least (as have others done in the past) does argue for such a capability, despite apparently not having the evidence. A critical assessment of claims and evidence shows that plate armour penetration was the exception and by no means the norm, and also that the incapacitating potential of an arrow even if it makes it through the plate and doublet, is insufficient to take a man out of the fight (even if he dies later on). 8cm is nowhere near enough depth of penetration, even taking into account shot placement (obviously if an artery happens to be cut or nicked, the victim probably has very little time to live).

    The power of the war bow seems to be in its tactical employment as a way of breaking up enemy formations, incapacitating and wounding those in minimal or no armour, wounding and killing mounts, and no doubt seriously affecting morale. As a byproduct and because of the sheer number of arrows fired and the number of battles fought, some men in full harness would inevitably have been incapacitated by basically sheer bad luck - in the joint, through an eye slit or breath, or (as the tests suggest was possible) penetration of c1mm plate or certain configurations of mail/sub-standard mail.

    I'd like to be able to calculate how much velocity a 100g arrow would lose over typical battlefield distances. Because if it's just possible to penetrate flat plate with no padding and with hardened arrows at 20m, it's pretty unlikely to occur when lofted at range, using unhardened heads and hitting variously curved, ridged, fluted and overlapped plate.

    Also Curt, when you refer to the French knights on foot, do you mean Agincourt? I understood that said knights were killed by archers who overwhelmed them, brought them down and used edged or other hand weapons.

    Again, no-one (here) is saying that archers were not an important part of English medieval warfare and couldn't contribute in a significant way to victories, nor even that the war bow they used was in not by-and-large an effective anti-personnel weapon. They could, and it was. What we're saying is that many of the claims made about the reliability of its armour-piercing or otherwise knight-killing capabilities are way off base and seem to be being perpetuated in this latest report even though the data itself seems to suggest otherwise.

    Dan's post on this thread covers this.

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    Clarification

    It's a pleasure to have gentlemen of wit and knowledge to discuss such issues with. Thanks for having this forum.

    1. My machine gun simile was a reference to how the bow was used in battle - high volume area fire. Froissart, in his Chronicles, says about Crecy that the arrows were falling like snow and piercing the men at arms - barons, knights and squires. These men were wounded - not dead, because the archers were despatching them with knives.

    The tests seem to show that the arrows wouldn't penetrate the breast plate or helm, and I certainly wouldn't disagree with that, but the accounts of the day talk about visors being pierced - and the joints of the armor being penetrated.

    You gentlemen are much more knowledgeable about the usage and construction of armor than I am, but it seems to me that 14th century armor was a mix of plate and mail was it not.

    Mail will not stop a bodkin.

    A single archer - shooting across a field at a single charging knight - would have a poor chance of actually targeting a weak spot in the armor, but massed volleys with thousands of arrows falling on the battle line is a different story altogether.

    My point is that you are correct in saying that the longbow could not defeat the armor head on.
    The arrows striking the plate "directly" could not penetrate deeply enough to cause death or incapacitating wounds.

    I also totally agree about death from infection after the battle - such wounds wouldn't have affected the outcome of a fight and shouldn't be considered.

    Blunt trauma - I can see a man being seriously inconvienced by multiple arrow strikes as they would interfere with his balance and strikes to the helm probably made his ears ring, but I doubt that they broke bones or seriously injured anyone.

    Of course they killed a lot horses and broke up the heavy cavalry charges. Lots of the wounded probably got that way from being thrown and or trampled. Again the bow defeated the knight, not the armor.

    One final note - the test shots were made on stationary targets, were they not, and the speed, impact and penetration noted.

    In some cases the arrows actually breached the plate, but achieved no significant penetration at their terminal velocity. They used up all the energy imparted by the bow in punching the tip of the arrow through the plate. True?

    What is the speed of a man on horseback charging towards the falling arrow?

    Respectfully,

    Curt Cummins

  23. #23
    Join Date
    Mar 2002
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    St. Cloud, MN USA
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    Quote Originally Posted by Curt Cummins View Post
    The tests seem to show that the arrows wouldn't penetrate the breast plate or helm, and I certainly wouldn't disagree with that, but the accounts of the day talk about visors being pierced - and the joints of the armor being penetrated.
    Visors have both slits and holes in them, so it is not a wonder that arrows could and did penetrate them. The same can be said for the joints as not everyone would have had mail covering the areas where the plate did not. Regardless, this does not prove that solid plate was being penetrated.

    And yes, 14th century armour was a mix of mail and plate, but you have to qualify the statement by describing exactly what part fo the century and what geographical area you are referring to when discussing it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Curt Cummins View Post
    Mail will not stop a bodkin.
    Really? What kind of arrow? What kind of bodkin? What was the poundage of the bow? The distance to the target? What kind of mail was used?

    It is blanket statements like these that tend to drive memebers of this board crazy and send them into a feeding frenzy.

    Quote Originally Posted by Curt Cummins View Post
    Blunt trauma - I can see a man being seriously inconvienced by multiple arrow strikes as they would interfere with his balance and strikes to the helm probably made his ears ring, but I doubt that they broke bones or seriously injured anyone.
    This is one I would not bet on. I have seen people dropped to their knees in fencing competitions due to their being struck in the crotch of their elbow. It all depends on where the arrow hits the body.

    Quote Originally Posted by Curt Cummins View Post
    One final note - the test shots were made on stationary targets, were they not, and the speed, impact and penetration noted.

    In some cases the arrows actually breached the plate, but achieved no significant penetration at their terminal velocity. They used up all the energy imparted by the bow in punching the tip of the arrow through the plate. True?

    What is the speed of a man on horseback charging towards the falling arrow?
    Yes, the tests were conducted using stationary targets. It is the only way to get consistent results. A moving target brings far to many variables into the equation for an adequate test to be conducted. A mounted soldier is not going to be going fast enough to really make much of a difference as to the penetrative qualities of the arrow. The best he could do is give the arrow a few extra feet per second, but I think the amount would be statistically insignificant.

  24. #24
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    Jul 2007
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    Post scriptum

    Jonathan,

    I should learn to read all the posts before writing my replies - we all seem to be in perfect agreement about how the bows were used and what they would actually do against plate armor.

    If some people are claiming that the arrows were effective in piercing the breastplates and strewing the field with dead and transfixed knights, they are in error and the accounts of the day do not back them up.

    Agincourt- the French knights and squires attacked on foot - they finally learned about horses and longbows - the field was muddy - the battle line compressed due to Henry's choice of ground to fight on - the English were much better generals.

    The archers were behind palisades and stopped the foot charge at the barrier. The compressed front line of the French charge bogged down in the face of the arrow fire and the deep mud. The English foot attacked the numerically superior French from the flanks - the issue was in doubt.

    The archers left the palisades and attacked the French with their mauls and knives. The influx of fresh troops carried the day for the English.

    The bow won the day obliquely by forcing the French to abandon their heavy cavalry charge and advance on foot on ground that worked against them.

    One point - the fact that visors and joints were penetrated was not incredibly bad luck on the part of the knight. the real strength of the long bow, was it's ability to put large numbers of heavy arrows on the target - thereby greatly increasing the chances of such a hit. These strikes were by design, not happenstance.

    I would also guess that with so many arrows being fired at so many suits of armor occasionally a well made arrow would strike a poorly constructed or previously damaged breastplate and punch right through it. This probably gave rise to some of these extravagant claims.

    At Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt the English deliberately chose ground to fight on that forced the French to bunch up - thus giving the archers a smaller area to cover and concentrating their fire.

    Ah well, I've gotta run. It's been a pleasure

    Curt

  25. #25
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Location
    Portland Oregon
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    Post post scriptum

    Erik,

    My references were specific to specific historical events - Crecy, Poitiers, and Agincourt, not general as in "any old arrow fired from any old sort of bow will pierce any old sort of mail. The armor would have been the armor of the day, the bows and arrows the typical bow and arrow of the day for the English longbowmen - 250 grain -1/2 inch diameter clothyard shafts tipped with forged bodkins shot from 6ft + long yew selfbows with pull strengths between 100 and 200 pounds.

    Now I don't claim to be any sort of expert on armor or its construction but didn't plate become popular, at least in part due to the effectiveness of the effectiveness of the longbow, Arab and Turkish composite bows and the crossbow against mail.

    The written records of the day are filled with accounts mail pierced by arrows.

    Indeed the bodkin was developed specifically to penetrate mail - the long slender head punching through the links. It was added to the bowman's arsenal to complement the broadhead once a bow powerful enough to drive it through mail was developed.

    I think that I'm on pretty firm ground here historically and I don't think your rebuttal addresses my point.

    Are you saying flatly that no bodkin shot from any historical longbow bows could pierce any mail? If so, why was plate developed?

    Are you saying that no arrow from any longbow ever seriously wounded or killed any man protected by armor whether it was mail or plate?

    If so, how did the English win the battles in question, and why did they and the French credit the victories in large part to the bow? Was everybody who wrote accounts of these fights and the effectiveness of the bow lying?

    Curt

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