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Thread: Mail and blunt trauma

  1. #1

    Mail and blunt trauma

    SCA members that I have spoken to believe that two mailed knights would have fought by bludgeoning each other with their swords until bones were broken or other injuries were sustained under the mail.

    Having performed my mail/jack tests, I am very skeptical of this, as even a thin gambeson under or over mail should provide sufficient force dispersal and cushioning to prevent anything more than bruises, unless some very lucky 1 in a 1000 blow should land.

    My question is...are there any tests, or even personal experiences from the more knowledgeable folks here that could shed some light on this?

    Additionally, for your scientist types, is there much difference between being hit with a padded metal sword such as Lance Chan's RSWs and being hit with a metal sword while wearing that padding (and something that prevents cuts...mail) on your body?

  2. #2
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    First off, how much blunt trauma does it take to stop a determined man? Many of us have seen men with broken ribs continue on their mission, but a broken clavicle (I have seen) drops anyone like a sack of potatoes.
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  3. #3
    The academics seem to still see mail as inferior with regard to blunt force trauma;

    http://www.armourresearchsociety.org...gfirstpage.pdf

    It will certainly give more than plate, allowing deflection of the tissue behind and causing bruising.

    Modern body armour designed to defeat blunt force does so with hard plates (whilst sharp force is done using soft composite textiles). It's rated to around 100 joules. A full swing with a baseball bat (a rough analogue for a sword in this context) delivers around 118j.

    http://www.actapress.com/PaperInfo.a...481&reason=500

    Chest deflection is the real worry there^

    Could properly backed mail absorb enough of that 100 or so joules to avoid serious injury? I suspect it could, but no scientific testing has been done to provide evidence either way. "The Knight and the Blast Furnace" cites Blyth (1977) in saying that a sword might deliver between 60 and 130 joules, and this test gives 140 joules;

    http://www.thearma.org/spotlight/GTA...d_impacts2.htm

    That energy has to go somewhere, and in this scenario, it's not going into cutting. Some will be dispersed by the armour and by other factors - but "how much?" is the critical question here. It needs a realistic or at least comparative scientific test.

    As dead flesh isn't too representative, the best test we could imagine might draw from modern armour testing - calibrated clay in a backface deformation test - put your mail and gambeson on a torso-sized lump of clay, and have at it - the results ought to compare to acceptable backface deformation figures for ballistic vests (I may be wrong).

    Finally, the major major problem is that the incapacitation mechanism the guys are talking about here isn't really a critical injury through mail. It's pain compliance - the cumulative effect of blows on the body despite the armour taking the worst out of it. This is very unreliable and hugely subjective. A strong, fit, well-trained man in the flush of combat might collapse of exhaustion before he succumbs to pain.

    The obvious solution is for these two chaps to don armour, grasp their swords, and start collecting data to prove their hypothesis...
    Last edited by Jonathan S Ferguson; 09-30-2008 at 06:19 AM.

  4. #4
    Tantalising info here (before I finish my lunch break!)...

    http://www.thearma.org/spotlight/Expo2001/Expo2001.htm

    ...but no real specifics about what blunt force trauma there was to the meat when "wearing" both gambeson AND mail. The implication of the comments about how resistant the gambeson was though, is that though it aids against the cut, there WAS significant damage to the flesh;

    It proved resistant to all the blades, sharp and blunt. While the cloth showed no tearing the meat below it was slit open or the bone below visibly shattered. Seeing how much damage it surprisingly prevented was very informative as was the deep and brutal trauma it didn't prevent.
    Are there any historical accounts that can be interpreted as BFT? I can't think of any. Nor have I seen any military surgical commentary from the 19th century about BFT resulting from sword (sabre) wounds.

    ETA - This is very interesting with regard to the dynamics of slashing versus stabbing (my bolding) but still does not address the issue of BFT. I think it's probably because modern threats consist of one or a few attacks, with the officer not expected to remain in the fight, but to live to fight another day.

    Stab attacks generate high loads, and to defeat them, armour needs to be of a certain thickness and stiffness. Slash attacks produce much lower loads and armour designed to defeat them can be far lighter and more flexible.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15275000
    Last edited by Jonathan S Ferguson; 09-30-2008 at 06:50 AM.

  5. #5
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    Look at the areas that were first covered with plate: skull, elbows, shoulders, knees, shins, etc. The exposed extremities (where the bone is just under the skin) receive minimal protection from flexible armour. Even a relatively light blow against any of these areas is enough to take someone out of the fight. When fighting someone clad in mail you aim for these places since they are most susceptible. Against more "fleshy" parts of the body, mail and padding are more effective.
    Last edited by Dan Howard; 10-26-2008 at 09:08 PM.

  6. #6
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    I am a SCA stick jock and fight in mail, Ill post a photo of my kit some time. I am a bit of an anomaly in the sca though because I do fight in a full kit, and in real armour (that is one of the things about the SCA that drives me nuts, people trying to recreat combat conditions and then fighting in uber light armour made from plastics or other weirdness like just having the bare minimal armour on)

    So, speaking from personal experience, and working in the frame of the SCA safety rules found here http://www.sca.org/officers/marshal/...l_handbook.pdf

    I would say some one is selling pig pies. (telling big lies)

    I would like to know what weapons the two were supposedly using, and where the breaks where. I would also like to know who these to supposidly are. Rattan is light, and gives about the same feel as a sword and other weapons types have to meet our safety standards.

    We hit hard, and some hit harder than others so the chance for getting injured is always there but fighting until both people have broken bones sounds a bit off to me. I have seen broken bones, mostly for arm breaks and those through vambraces. forarms and shins are hard to armour, and even hard plates transfer force to small bones close to the skin.

    its also 430 AM so this is not making sense, ill get back to this this eveing after work when I am awake. Bottem line Mike, your mail tests are spot on, and done with enough scintific controles and added tests that your assecement is spont on. The other thing is the common sence thing, two people that are friends are not going to break each other on purpose

  7. #7
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    I am apart of a Medieval re-enactment group that are from 1100 to 1500 and most of us where proper steel maille and none of our fighters have sustained more than a bruise, when taking hits to the body. And we tend to fight almost full speed, but are able to pull our blows, but when the enevitable happens and some one takes a hard hit its been nothing more than a bruise
    Hope Dies Last

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  8. #8
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    The mail would also dissipate some of the energy through its mass. If the mail is not penetrated, injury would involve acceleration of the mail into the body. This would be most effective in areas where the mail would have some drape to it, which, coincidentally, are also areas that weren't initially reinforced with plates.
    Jim Mearkle

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  9. #9
    After reading the first three posts, I found the logical fallacy of the original SCA member's opinions. Why the **** would you attempt to bludgeon someone with a sword if the opponent is in mail? Stabbing is much more effective. Besides, combatants can always wear padding and leather underneath the mail to absorb even more of the impact. So, logical fallacy = bludgeon when stabbing is much more effective. Although I hear viking mail was pretty stab resistant. Either case, I would stab, bludgeoning would be a waste of my energy. Unless I used the quillions to smash someone's face in. That would be effective as well. But again, stabbing is probably more effective.
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  10. #10
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    A. Plenty of unarmored targets on such a battlefield.
    B. Plenty of unarmored areas on the individual warrior, at least in early period. Why would you aim for the strongest part?
    <><><> <><><> <><><>
    Do what thy manhood bids thee do,
    from none but self expect applause;
    He noblest lives and noblest dies
    who makes and keeps his self-made laws.

    -Sir Richard Francis Burton

  11. #11
    A full swing with a baseball bat (a rough analogue for a sword in this context) delivers around 118j.
    I guess that depends on the batter. Power hitters can send a ball pitched at 90+ mph back at 110-120 mph. In this case, the batted ball alone has around 180 J. The swing had to counter the ball's initial kinetic energy as well, so the total could easily be 300 J or more.

    Stabbing is much more effective.
    Not if your sword isn't made for it. Many blades from the period in question don't look as if they'd be able to get through mail with a thrust. They have wide, rounded points. (Some of the artwork, however, shows such swords thrust through mailed men. So who knows.)

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