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Thread: The Protective Qualities of Mail...

  1. #1
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    Lightbulb The Protective Qualities of Mail...

    This post is in response to several statements made about the ineffectiveness of mail. It was okay at stopping a slashing attack, but almost useless at defending against a thrusting type attack such as that made by the point of a sword, an arrow, or a spear/lance. If mail could be so easily compromised by these types of attacks why then was it such a preferred armour for centuries? One reason many believe this is due to the current fascination with modern butted mail. This type of mail shares little other than the weave with its historical counterpart. Unfortunately many people base their assumptions about what authentic mail could or could not do based on tests performed on this type of mail.

    Another thing to consider is that mail is not a stand alone defense. I have reiterated this on countless occassions. It would have been used in conjunction with a textile item of some sort. Without this mail does not work. During a recent conference with members of the museum community in the UK we came to the conclusion that mail used in the European theatre would most likely have been treated in some way to prevent it from oxidising as it would have been attached to a textile lining of some sort. Whether this treatment was by gilding, tinning or galvinising is open to debate. All one has to do is look at period examples of Indian or Turkish armour to see how this type of combination works.

    It seems that people regard either the sword or the bow to be the major driving force behind armour design and advancement. I am in the minority who does not believe this. Though I admire both weapons for their power and beauty, I do not think they were as important as one would think with regards to armour design. This will become clear further down in this article.

    Mail has been around for millennia and has stayed relatively unchanged. The same cannot be said for the sword. changed quite extensively from the Roman period into the Middle Ages when mail was the predominant form of armour. With regards to the bow, arrows tipped with bodkin type points were also common. They were not miraculously invented to counter mail during the Middle Ages as they had been around since the Roman era. To give you an idea of how well mail protected, at least one type, I provide you with the following information.

    I recently was presented with the opportunity to have some of my mail tested by professionals at the Royal Military College at Shrivenham, UK. This military facility does destructive testing on body armour for both civilian police forces and military units worldwide. They are at the leading edge of their profession.

    Now, the piece tested was a 6" x 6" square of mail made in the Viking fashion of alternating rows of both riveted and solid links. I say Viking, but this style of mail was common to many areas of the world for centuries.

    The round section riveted links were made of mild steel wire roughly 1.5mm thick. The hole in the lapped ends was pierced so that the if viewed in the parallel plane the hole would resemble and hour glass. The rivets were mild steel as well and were round. The joints were set with a pair of specially shaped tongs. The size of the links was roughy 6-7mm inside diameter. The links had been softened to ease the piercing operation of the lapped joint. This area received minimal work hardening during the rivet setting procedure.

    The solid or whole links were made of square section pure iron and were punched from a sheet. The thickness was equivalent to the riveted links.

    I know some of you are thinking to yourselves that because I used mild steel it negates the test. Normally I would tend to agree with you as I have stated on numerous occassions. However, in this instance because of recent research by Dr. Alan Williams it has been concluded that mild steel reacts in much the same way as medieval iron. This is due to the slag content in medieval iron. Anyway...

    This piece of mail was placed over a piece of padding made to represent an aketon, which itself was placed over a substance used to mimick the human body. Something like a hard wax. The padding however was not adequate. It was roughly 1/4" thick. It should have been the traditional four fingers thick batting and then quilted. Believe me, I have had beach towels thicker than this.

    All of this was placed under a drop tower. The weapon fastened to this machine was a pointed lance head. Nasty looking bastard. Basically it was made to represent a war lance. Three tests were performed at 40, 50 and 60 joules of energy. The only one that finally compromised the mail was the 60. It did not rupture a link, but rather sheared through it. Not once in all of the tests did the lapped joint fail. Were the padding more substantial and the links smaller I feel the mail would have held out longer, but that may not have been necessary. This is due to the fact that 60 joules of force is the equivalent of a couched lance with a graper and an arret. That is a tremendous amount of force no matter how you look at it. Much more in fact than would have been around during the time of the Crusades or earlier. Even if the mail withstood all of this without failing the person getting hit would still be knocked on his ass. Granted, the mail was earlier and pitted against a more powerful weapon than it would have normally faced which means that it would have withstood the weapons of its day quite well.

    These tests were also performed on a modle of a COP and it resisted everything. When it was struck with the lance at 60 joules it only let the lance penetrate to the depth of perhaps 2mm.

    What does this all mean? Basically that armour protected. Quite well I might add. Unfortunately not everyone on the battlefield was equipped with armour.

    Sword design may have been influenced more by personal preference than by its ability to get through armour, which as these and other tests have shown is nigh impossible. Ther are many factors to consider when trying to answer this question. It is not so simple as people want to believe. Most people want to hear a definitive answer. They do not want to hear that we don't know.

    Of course some of you will be saying that I have a vested interest in seeing that the mail performed well. In some ways yes, but the truth is always more important to me. On my recent trip to the UK I was able to see that my version of Roman mail is wrong. There will be an upcoming article explaining why in the next issue of the journal.

    Alright, let me have your questions because I cannot think of anything more to write that would be coherrent anyway.

    E

  2. #2
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    Rivieted Chain mail is fine protective armor, and of course it has to have a 'gamebson' or padded garment to back it up. You are correct if it did not work or was awful, it would not have been around so long. I do not think chainmail is ineffective at all.

    What armor is 'best' discussions are a lot like what sword/knife/gun/car/mortocyle is best discussions

    What ever works best for you is the best, any armor is better than none. And people who have never really used different types of armor in a fight will not ever really know what they are talking about will they?

    My personal theory is that chain was status/rank armor to a large extant. It was expensive and protective, if not really suited to prolonged rapid movment. You made a statement to your enemy when you or your army showed up clad in chainmail, kinda like a M1A1 tank if your opponent is armed with hunting weapons and no armor.

    Maybe I am just a wuss but when I was doing armored combat chain was not my favorite armor to fight in. It is in a word heavy and feels heavy probably the most encumbering armor I have ever fought in, not to mention the hottest.

    Some guys will tell you it is not so bad when it is fitted, an belted ,and tied off, but i never found that to be the case. This was precisley because you had to have the chain, and then had to have the whole protective undergarment for all intents and purposes another suit of armor underneath it. And no matter how well you attach it, the chain will limit or unexpectedly enhance your mobilty in the direction of the ground in a fight.

    It is not bad winter armor, but literally hellish to fight in 90+ degree F. summertime weather in. Probably ok to fight from a horse in too but I have never done that.

    A contributing factor to the Vikings losing at Stamford bridge was that they shucked their chainmail as fast as they could in the warm weather.

    Since I am a medium sized guy 5'11" 190lbs speed is important, chain and I parted ways early on as far a fighting. For bigger guys or those with different styles chain may work better.

    I am also making these comparisons of chain to 3/4 plate (which needs a undergarment of sorts also) and lamellar (both metal and leather) which is just kinda a cross between plate and chain and I have used many times without a real gamebson both of which I have fought in also. I fought in SCA combats (yeah yeah I know but we are talking about armor here) both single and large battles, as well as in shield walls so there was no edge or points involved but the moving, sweating, getting hit hard and weight of your armor is all the same. This is only my personal opinion, your mileage may vary.

    I have taken a 45lb bow and needle nosed 3" bodkins (not field points) buried them to the shaft in a pumpkin covered in an padded arming cap and a riveted stainless steel coif at 40 yards. I never had one of those arrows bounce off the chain mail That might not prove anything historically but I would not want to pull those suckers out of my cranium and would hate to think what arrows tipped with bodkins designed to defeat chain lofted to altitude en masse by 100lbs + bows would do.

    All that being said I still own some chain mail I cannot bring myself to part with even though I have sold most of my other armor. I think chain is great armor if used properly.

    Jon
    Neca eos omnes. Deus suos agnoscet

  3. #3
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    Jon,

    First I just want to say that my post was not a "what armour is best" type. It was just meant to explain certain aspects of mail that most people are unaware of based on comparisons with modern inaccurate reproductions.

    Your theory that mail was mainly a status symbol is not held up by the facts. Mail was quite common in many areas. It saw widespread usage during the Roman era. Perhaps it was a status symbol beofre then, but not much afterwards. This is based on medieval records showing a large amount of mail being produced.

    By any chance would your expreiences with mail be confined to modern butted or Indian made replicas? If so then you do not have an educated view of accurate mail. As far as I know there is no company anywhere producing good quality accurate mail. Because of this people have a distorted view of how well mail worked. I mentioned this in my previous post. I have worn accurate mail and find it does not limit or hinder my movements in any way.

    You say that it would be alright in the winter, but not in the summer. I ask you does plate breath better than mail? From all the accounts I have heard the answer is always no.

    I usually get flak for this, but SCA combat is not real combat. You are not trying to kill or maim your opponent. In most medieval battles your targets are the parts of the person that were not armoured such as the legs. If I am not mistaken the legs are off limits. Yes, the weight of the armour is important, however you have to have an accurate replica of the armour for any decent conclusion to be drawn.

    You were wondering what enmasse arrows would do? Not much. If they did, why was mail still in widespread use after the advent of the longbow?

    E

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    Thumbs up

    Interesting test, thanks for posting it.

    One thing I'm wondering about is the 60 J figure for a lance thrust - it seems a little low. That KE is about what you'd expect from a war arrow at close range. One experiment (I cannot track down the ref ) found impact energies well in excess of this figure for ordinary hand weapons such as maces. But I am probably missing something...

    Edited to add: 60 J would represent a horse + rider at a not-very-fast trot with an effective impact mass of only 1 kg!
    Last edited by Jon Pellett; 11-26-2003 at 09:39 PM.
    Warning: I probably have no idea what I am talking about

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    Erik, I have never fought in a serious confrontation with sword, spear, or bow and arrow, let alone in any armor, but I have seen any number of reports of the wounds received by men in armors and I have read of wounds received by men in mail. How do these reports correspond to the tests that you report above? The greatest number of wounds to mailclad troops seem to be from piercing types of weapons as opposed to cutting types, IIRC.
    Trying to walk in the Light, Hugh
    See 1 John 1:5

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    Hi Erik,
    I'm really pleased to see someone doing some real, prefessional tests. It's great to have actual numbers to play with.

    One question. You state ".....60 joules of force is the equivalent of a couched lance with a graper and an arret"
    Can you point us to a test showing this to be the case. I would love to see numbers for the impact energy of various weapons used in various ways. (spear, lance, arrow...)

    If the good people at the Royal Military College are up for it, and you are willing to make more mail for testing, I would love to see the same test performed with an accurate replica bodkin tipped shaft.

    Are we to expect an article in the next issue of the MRSJ? I was very happy with the first issue by the way. I only just read it after getting back a week and a half ago.

    As for the comments by Jon W, I hope you are not giving your opinion of how mail is to wear if you are wearing SCA strength butted mail. That goes for speed of movement too, SCA is not a style of fighting which can be used to judge any armour.

    Erik

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    Some very interesting information, and the use of the drop tower helps provide consistent hits and eliminate human error such as glancing blows.

    Do the tests performed at 40 and 50 joules of energy represent different weapons? How many joules of energy would a sword, swung by a soldier standing, produce?

    So many variables can be thrown in to see the interesting results. Iron links, one inch padding, even the traditional four fingers thick batting you mentioned.

    Indeed, why not do a test of riveted versus butted just to see the results ......... oops, sorry, now I'm rambling.

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    Re: The Protective Qualities of Mail...

    Originally posted by Erik D. Schmid
    .. It should have been the traditional four fingers thick batting and then quilted...
    E
    Erik, How cumbersome is '4 finger's thick' batting? That's about 2.5 or 3 inches isn't it? Is it heavy? Is it worn like an undergarment (like a shirt that covers the arms as well as the torso?)? Does the batting help diffuse the focal point of the impact (like modern body armor does with a bullet)? Sorry if the questions are not very sophisticated, I really know next to nothing about antique armor but I am very interested

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    Jon P.,

    60 joules is the figure they arrived at. This was measured using a horse and rider. The impact made into the target material was measured and this is the figure they arrived at. I am not an expret in this field by any means, so I trust those that are.

    Hugh,

    The problem with reading these accounts is that we do not know all of the variables that were involved. Of course it is possible to be injured while wearing armour. However, were these injuries fatal or at the very least incapacitating? Piercing attacks from needle point arrows will have an effect, but it would seem to be more of an irritating type and not a life threatening one.

    Erik,

    The test I am referring to is described above. I will be doing more mail for tests in the future, so we can have more numbers to play with.

    Eventually there will be an article on this sort of thing, but not for a while. I have at least three others ahead of it.

    Stephen,

    The tests were simply done at a lower force to see how much the mail would hold up to before failing. I was not invloved with any other tests involving different weapons so I cannot comment on the energy they produce.

    A test pitting butted against riveted would be pointless. Butted was not used in combat. There have been countless non-scientific tests showing that butted is worse than useless.

    DHolland,

    When batting that is four fingers thick is quilted, the thickness is decreased by a good degree. It then becomes slightly more rigid. Not enough that you would become hindered though. In a sense you are correct in that it would help to diffuse the impact of an object. I have a padded undergarment that is quite heavily padded and it does not hinder my movements at all.

    Glad to have you aboard.

    Cheers,
    E

  10. #10
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    . On my recent trip to the UK I was able to see that my version of Roman mail is wrong. There will be an upcoming article explaining why in the next issue of the journal.
    Thanks alot for posting that article. It is good to see some professional tests being done. I also look forward to see you Roman chainmail armor.

    Phil

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    A test pitting butted against riveted would be pointless. Butted was not used in combat. There have been countless non-scientific tests showing that butted is worse than useless.
    Yes, I realize that butted mail is pretty worthless, I was just curious at how few joules of energy it would take before it fails in comparison to quality protection. Since there seems to be a good scientific method of actually measuring here ....... I just thought it might be interesting to see the results.

    By the way, thank you for your many posts about the protective quality of good, reliable mail. Thanks to you I have avoided wasting good money on some of the poor quality mail produced these days.

    One more question. Is a 6" x 6" square of mail sufficient for these kind of tests? Would a larger peice of mail disperse more of the energy, making the impact of the weapon even less effective?

    Thanks, again for all of this great information.

    Oh, has this kind of test been performed on plate armour? That would be some results worth seeing.
    Last edited by Stephen B.; 11-28-2003 at 05:49 PM.

  12. #12
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    Originally posted by Erik D. Schmid

    When batting that is four fingers thick is quilted, the thickness is decreased by a good degree. It then becomes slightly more rigid. Not enough that you would become hindered though. In a sense you are correct in that it would help to diffuse the impact of an object. I have a padded undergarment that is quite heavily padded and it does not hinder my movements at all.
    Thanks Erik Does this batting also cover arms and legs? (like the thighs?) I have been reading other posts on the large numbers of leg wounds in Armored battles.
    D

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    Oops, never mind, I just saw another link discussing this.

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    Great information, Erik.

    I was wondering if you had ever thought much about split-ring maille. I realize that it is not historically accurate in any way, but I wonder how strong it is relative to equivalently-sized butted and/or riveted maille.

    I wonder if the "springiness" of each link has any effect...

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    Please guys, this forum is aimed at period armour and the discussion thereof. There are other forums where discussion of no-period methods is more appropriate.

    Erik, I have a couple of questions about the test.
    How was the mail fixed? This would have a significant bearing on the results I assume. A tightly fixed sample would not react the same as a real shirt, given the shirt has some freedom to move, and thus "give" to the weapon. This "give" would decrease the likelyhood of penetration and increase the blunt damage to the wearer, if my logic is correct. A tightly fixed sample would allow the weapon to penetrate more easily but show less blunt injury.
    Secondly, did the test give some indication of the injury suffered by the wearer?

    Erik

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    speaking of thrusts

    Hi all

    ok, here are my 2 cents :

    Erik makes very good points. It always seemed to me a bit weird to see the "incoming vs defending" debate as simply a "Sword vs armour" thing.

    that is why I will not repeat the good thing that have already been said, and move onto 2 general questions (to further the research) :

    - impact :

    I don't really think energy is all you need to infilct damage to something, especialy something as both hard and soft as human flesh and bones (not to mention if you add protection over this) - my past as a physics student is 10 years behind me now, but my general opinion is that you also need "momentum". When someone thrusts wit a spear, it is not just a mere jab, but a forceful, energic blow. With momentum - and conservation of the quantity of displacement. You still put strength into the weapon after contact has been made (not only your own mass, but the extra amount of power you put into it). It may change a few things.
    and even if armour is not 'penetrated' - don't you think the soft tissues (copared to steel, that is) behind gets damaged anyway ?

    - deflection :

    most of the armour tests I have heard of were made by delivering a blow at a right angle on a set piece of armour. Don't you think a very important role of body protection is to prevent incoming blows from penetrating (seems obvious) - but that several of the blows that could have penetrated without the armour (or even with the armour if they arrive with a near 90° angle) just glanced off the target ?
    let's imagine a blow so forceful it could penetrate without too much difficulty, provided it arrives at a roughly 90° angle on the target, and just glances off if the angle is different ; the 'protected' target is now 'vulnerable' only on, say, 15% of its exposed surface (considering the direction of the incoming blow), and therefore far less vulnerable on the remaining 85 %...see what I mean ? I think tests should also be made with different possble angles..

    does it make sense?

    Fab
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    Erik

    Plate is actually quite bit cooler in my exp for the simple fact it does not require the same type of gamebson that chain does. And nice shiny plate reflects the heat on a summer day. Ask around a bit more.

    I will submit to your wisdom on 'properly' made chain being a joy to wear. I have worn more than one style and fought in it prior to the Indian armor even being generally available ( at least here in the USA. My old steel hauberk was handmade here in the states in the early 80s and was rivited.

    SCA combat may not be real combat in many respects but in others it comes a lot closer than some martial sports (to my knowledge NONE of the current martial swords arts are practiced in a way to actually intentionally wound or kill ones opponent). At least I have never seen or heard of anyone losing a head or leg in any lately . However any armored martial endeavour for the sake of knoweldge is a worthy endeavour.

    Chain is great stuff in a historical sense (we have beat this donkey to death I think) and I am thrilled to see a serious interest in chain. I cannot wait to see how it preforms in any of the mock combat that we particapate in today. And what "secrets" we may yet learn from such asudious study of it.

    Jon
    Neca eos omnes. Deus suos agnoscet

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    Hi Jon, my reference to SCA combat was mainly in regard to the speed at which it is fought. When trying to move so quickly, due to the light weight of the weapon, it seems to me that it does not mimick the combat with metal weapons, which would be slower and have more follow through.
    In turn, the mail will feel "heavy" as it will tend to slow the movements. Also, the very heavy gauge wire used to make butted mail for SCA combat removes the feel of the mail even further from what it was in period.

    But it's great to hear you have been using riveted.

    Erik

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    Question Hi Guys.

    Now I have a question in regards to maille. What was the armour made to do, exactly? Was it made to protect you from getting hurt so that you could continue to fight and carry out the tasks of battle after being hit? Or was it there to simply keep you from getting killed?

    I have little experience with maille, or harness for that matter, but I have extensive experience wearing ballisitic armour, where the idea is to keep you alive, but not to keep you from getting hurt.

    I have heard of instances wherein the maille and gambezon were intact, but the meat underneath was quite severely damaged during testing performed by The ARMA. Is this a consideration in this discussion?

    Please forgive me if I seem a bit forward on this, but I can't help but feel these questions need to be addressed in order for the discussion to move forward.
    "Its not what you have, but what you have done".

  20. #20
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    That's easy to answer and should be obvious. Mail cannot stop you getting hurt, whether in modern reenactment or in a period battle. It will significantly decrease your chances of getting cut and will, in combination with the padded cloth underlayer, decrease the force which is delivered through to your flesh and bones. The mail cannot stop your bones being broken in some cases, especially in a real battle where weapons are swung with lethal intent.

    Erik

  21. #21
    Hmm... I'm not an expert at physics by any means, but 40, 50 and 60 joules sounds really low to me, if I'm getting my conversion factors right. A 72 pound composite bow can produce 100 joules at point black! A longbow arrow from a 100lb bow would easily come in at around 50-60 foot pounds - 68 to 81 joules. I've heard that a one handed stone mace can produce over 100 foot pounds of energy, over 135 joules.

    There's no way I can accept that a couched lance generates only 60 joules.

  22. #22
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    Question

    So what your saying is that you know more than the people at the RMCS who do ballistic testing on a wide range of body armour for both military and law enforcement organizations worldwide?

    Apparently we went to the wrong people for our tests then correct?

  23. #23

    Angry

    So what your saying is that you know more than the people at the RMCS who do ballistic testing on a wide range of body armour for both military and law enforcement organizations worldwide?

    Apparently we went to the wrong people for our tests then correct?
    This is a classic logical flaw, close to ad hominem. I know what I know - and that is that if they're using the same joules the rest of the world is using, and the 60 joules figure is correct, then either something is wrong with that test or a 100lb bow hits as hard as a lance. The test that was done on the mail may have been done right correctly, for 60 joules. I just don't buy that 60 joules was all a mounted man could muster. 60 joules sounds more like a one handed thrust from a lance.

    Now perhaps the numbers in question are wrong or they are using different joules (?) but other than that, I must conclude that the test they did to produce the 60 joules figure was not correct.

    Can you explain to me how a couched lance from a man on an 800lb horse can have less energy behind it than a hundred pound draw longbow?

    I assume there's something more to the test but so far I haven't heard it.
    Last edited by Benjamin H. Abbott; 12-12-2003 at 11:50 AM.

  24. #24
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    Unfortunately I have nothing more to add to this discussion. It would seem that I do not know as much as I thought I did. You are of course correct in that they must have screwed something up. Also, my time spent posting things on these forums is apparently being wasted, so I will bother with it no further. My information is obviously flawed.

    I also apologize if my previous response came across with an attacking sort of tone.

    Sincerely,
    Erik

  25. #25
    Hi All,

    I believe the tests conducted first tested what a 104 lb draw longbow and reproduction arrow produced when fired at a combat range -30+ yards as I recall.

    I would hope you go and examine the results of the tests conducted Benjamin - it seems you are dismissing them out of hand on assumptions you are making without enough input to arrive at the deductions you are arriving at.

    Given the frequency of these topics, and the general reaction of most readers who find cherished beliefs possibly unfounded when put to the test, I can hardly blame Erik for his reaction.
    Bob Reed

    These Emperourers these prynces and these kings

    Whan they ben armed in bryght plate and mayle

    Without horse what were theyr mustrynges

    Theyr brode baners or theyr ryche apparayle

    Tofore ther enemyes to shewe hem in batayle

    Without horse/spere/swerde/ne shelde

    Might lytell avayle for to holde a felde.........

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