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Old November 20th, 2012, 04:38 AM   #1

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Could the English longbow penetrate plate armour?


Last night I watched the documentary Instruments of Death which examined the different types of weaponry and their effectiveness employed at the battle of Towton (1461). I was particularly interested in an experiment they carried out using a replica of the English longbow and a pig carcass. The upper half of the pig was dressed in a blouson and breastplate while the lower half was dressed in chainmail. They hung it on a hook and shot arrows at it from a distance of no more than thirty metres. The arrows had no difficulty in penetrating the chainmail but bounced off the breastplate leaving serious dents in the metal.

Now given the carnage that we know the longbow caused at the battles of Falkirk (1298) Crecy (1346) and Agincourt (1415) the question is how did they take out fully armoured knights ? My contention has always been that the arrows did not need to penetrate plate armour as the force of the strike was so great it could break the sternum or the ribs thus rendering the victim hors de combat. I have never seen any primary source stating that the plate armour of knights was penetrated by the longbow, which of course does not mean that there are none. What do you think?
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Old November 20th, 2012, 04:58 AM   #2

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The english/welsh longbow has passed into folklore as the most decisive weapon of its era, with victories at Crecy and Agincourt being attributed to its armour piercing capability. At Crecy this was no doubt true, but plate armour had not been developed to its true potential at this time. It is worth remembering that padded bodkins were worn beneath body armour and as armour thickness increased so the effectiveness of the longbow diminished. Even at Potiers arrows were seen to bounce off and only when targeting was switched to the horses was the French charge halted in its tracks.
Certainly mail armour was ineffective at stopping arrows fired from longbows at medium to short ranges, and the rate of fire from longbows was imprerssive. an army of 5000 archers could sustain a firepower of 40000 rounds a minute for some time and thats enough to put the wind up anyone.
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Old November 20th, 2012, 05:10 AM   #3

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Short answer is yes it could at some points in time, but there was a continuing technological race between missile and armour until ultimately gunpowder triumphed. Although having said that, the contest was rekindled with the advent of the tank and it's still ongoing.
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Old November 20th, 2012, 05:12 AM   #4

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Quote:
Originally Posted by funakison View Post
The english/welsh longbow has passed into folklore as the most decisive weapon of its era, with victories at Crecy and Agincourt being attributed to its armour piercing capability. At Crecy this was no doubt true, but plate armour had not been developed to its true potential at this time. It is worth remembering that padded bodkins were worn beneath body armour and as armour thickness increased so the effectiveness of the longbow diminished. Even at Potiers arrows were seen to bounce off and only when targeting was switched to the horses was the French charge halted in its tracks.
Certainly mail armour was ineffective at stopping arrows fired from longbows at medium to short ranges, and the rate of fire from longbows was imprerssive. an army of 5000 archers could sustain a firepower of 40000 rounds a minute for some time and thats enough to put the wind up anyone.
Some good points there. As plate armour was developed partially in response to weapons like the longbow it would seem to have been a futile exercise and a waste of money if it could be penetrated. One could compare it to the British Army developing chobham armour for tank protection in the 1960s only to find it could be penetrated by an 88.

You beat me to it there Belisarius but I would still like you to produce a primary source proving that the longbow could penetrate plate armour.
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Old November 20th, 2012, 05:35 AM   #5

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Originally Posted by Von Ranke View Post
Some good points there. As plate armour was developed partially in response to weapons like the longbow it would seem to have been a futile exercise and a waste of money if it could be penetrated. One could compare it to the British Army developing chobham armour for tank protection in the 1960s only to find it could be penetrated by an 88.

You beat me to it there Belisarius but I would still like you to produce a primary source proving that the longbow could penetrate plate armour.
Primary source? That's one for Comet, it's more his field. I know the Royal Armouries conducted a re-appraisal of their plate armour artifacts after a study which I cited on this forum a few years ago; some holes on breastplates, etc. previously thought to have been made by bullets or late period steel crossbows are now thought to have been made by arrows from longbows. As usual, an academic debate is in progress.
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Old November 20th, 2012, 05:42 AM   #6

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Found what I wrote at the time;

Military Historian Dr David Whetham of King’s College, University of London, Physicist Paul Burke of Cranfield University and Hillary Greenland, Secretary of the Society for the Promotion of Traditional Archery have recently carried out experiments at the MODs UK Defence Academy at Shrivenham, Oxfordshire into the effectiveness of the English War bow [a.k.a. Longbow].

They used bows with 110, 140, and 150 pounds draw weights and a range of different late medieval arrowheads. To make the tests as authentic as possible they examined the skeletal structure of the bodies of medieval bowmen excavated from the battle of Towton and from those drowned on the Mary Rose. They then searched for a modern individual whose bone/muscle structure most closely matched. They found one, Mark Stretton from Leicestershire who was a blacksmith and by pure chance, an avid archer since the age of six.

The full report will be published in 2007, but the initial published findings are quite interesting. Some of you will be aware of similar experiments carried out over the last 30 years, which have concluded that “Bodkin” arrowheads were not able to pierce plate armour, and so the hail of arrows was used more to break up enemy formations. Some of these “tests” have been televised, showing such arrowheads buckling or bouncing off late medieval plate armour.

It appears these tests were carried out using bows with only 50-70 pounds draw weight, and the wrong arrowheads were used for the armour being tested. The latest tests using correct period arrowheads have shown that the energy released at impact was 100-120 joules, the equivalent of being hit with a sledgehammer. Such arrows were found to be able to penetrate plate armour at ranges up to 200 meters, enough to kill, or seriously wound the wearer.

You can get a DVD of the tests here
http://www.sylvanarchery.co.uk/SUNDRIES/warbowdvd.html
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Old November 20th, 2012, 05:51 AM   #7

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Belisarius View Post
Found what I wrote at the time;

Military Historian Dr David Whetham of King’s College, University of London, Physicist Paul Burke of Cranfield University and Hillary Greenland, Secretary of the Society for the Promotion of Traditional Archery have recently carried out experiments at the MODs UK Defence Academy at Shrivenham, Oxfordshire into the effectiveness of the English War bow [a.k.a. Longbow].

They used bows with 110, 140, and 150 pounds draw weights and a range of different late medieval arrowheads. To make the tests as authentic as possible they examined the skeletal structure of the bodies of medieval bowmen excavated from the battle of Towton and from those drowned on the Mary Rose. They then searched for a modern individual whose bone/muscle structure most closely matched. They found one, Mark Stretton from Leicestershire who was a blacksmith and by pure chance, an avid archer since the age of six.

The full report will be published in 2007, but the initial published findings are quite interesting. Some of you will be aware of similar experiments carried out over the last 30 years, which have concluded that “Bodkin” arrowheads were not able to pierce plate armour, and so the hail of arrows was used more to break up enemy formations. Some of these “tests” have been televised, showing such arrowheads buckling or bouncing off late medieval plate armour.

It appears these tests were carried out using bows with only 50-70 pounds draw weight, and the wrong arrowheads were used for the armour being tested. The latest tests using correct period arrowheads have shown that the energy released at impact was 100-120 joules, the equivalent of being hit with a sledgehammer. Such arrows were found to be able to penetrate plate armour at ranges up to 200 meters, enough to kill, or seriously wound the wearer.
Thanks for that and it does seem to prove that the longbow could penetrate plate armour but it does not tie in with the evidence of the ducumentary. Admittedly they only used bodkinheads and barbed arrows and I have no idea of the draw force used. What type of arrowhead was used in the experiment you quote and are they found at the battlefields mentioned in the OP?
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Old November 20th, 2012, 06:06 AM   #8

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Originally Posted by Belisarius View Post

You can get a DVD of the tests here
warbow dvd
Sorry I just saw your link. Could you loan me 18 quid for the DVD as times are pretty tough up here? Seriously though what we can say is that using specialised arrowheads the longbow was capable of penetrating plate armour but in fact it did not need to as the force of impact was enough to disable the armoured knight.

Last edited by Von Ranke; November 20th, 2012 at 06:22 AM.
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Old November 20th, 2012, 03:18 PM   #9

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Are you talking about barbed spears on the tip of an arrow, being able to penetrate plate armour. I am not sure it does but the impact from the arrow would wind the heavily armoured knight depending on the direction of the wind. Battles could be won from the direction of the wind and how strong it was.
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Old November 20th, 2012, 05:17 PM   #10
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really powerful shots might be able to defeat poor plate armour at close enough range, but generally if a guy in plate were hurt by arrow it would be because the arrow found a hole in the armour (like visors).

A lot of the fallen French Knights in Agincourt were simply dismounted by the arrows and then finished off in melee as they were already dazed or even knocked out from the fall and the mud on the ground. no matter what armour you got if your out cold on the ground anyone can kill you even with their bare hands.
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