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Old January 12th, 2018, 07:13 AM   #1
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Are bows and crossbows used mainly for harassment?


I've heard that archers/crossbowmen are more for harassment instead of an actual important military force, and this is surprising since I have heard of the English Longbowmen and the Mongols who use mainly bows. Also, there's always that volley of arrows that I see rows of archers shoot before battle, in movies and games like "Total War" or "Narnia".
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Old January 12th, 2018, 07:51 AM   #2

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Look into the importance of archery to Edward I (Longshanks), and the Battle of Agincourt where the flower of French chivalry died in a hail of arrows.
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Old January 12th, 2018, 07:51 AM   #3

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Bows/crossbows were often used to wear down the enemy and force them to engage on your terms. It was good for "softening up" the enemy before committing to a melee engagement or cavalry charge. If the enemy did not have the means to retaliate against ranged attacks they were at a significant disadvantage. Examples include the English severely weakening the French before they could reach them. When the French Knight finally got within melee range they were beset by numerous men at arms. A prime example is the Mongols, who would harass their foes greatly with mounted archers. When they appeared sufficiently weakened the Mongols would charge to test them. IF they broke they would ride them down. Another notable example is the Scotts, they formed powerful Pike formations that could defend from any angle. However they couldn't counter ranged attacks and frequently found themselves being bombarded by English archery.
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Old January 12th, 2018, 08:07 AM   #4

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Originally Posted by Asherman View Post
Look into the importance of archery to Edward I (Longshanks), and the Battle of Agincourt where the flower of French chivalry died in a hail of arrows.
You mean the Battle of Agincourt where the French chivalry advanced nearly intact through the hail of arrows, and was only stopped by English armored infantry in a prepared defensive position?

Just sayin'...

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Old January 12th, 2018, 08:27 AM   #5

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While I wouldn't consider Total War, and especially Narnia, to be accurate sources, archers and crossbowmen are far more than harassers.

It would be a lot easier to argue that javelin-throwing/slinger/other skirmishers were harassers, but archers and crossbowmen were decisive battlefield tools.
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Old January 12th, 2018, 08:27 AM   #6
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You mean the Battle of Agincourt where the French chivalry advanced nearly intact through the hail of arrows, and was only stopped by English armored infantry in a prepared defensive position?

Just sayin'...

Matthew
My understanding was only the richest knights would have really been able to afford warbow proof plate armor and even then it was primarily the cuirass and helm that were thick enough, the armor covering the limbs was often not. And even then visors could not be lifted or else they would get face shot, and arrows would still find their way into joints.
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Old January 12th, 2018, 09:19 AM   #7

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My understanding was only the richest knights would have really been able to afford warbow proof plate armor and even then it was primarily the cuirass and helm that were thick enough, the armor covering the limbs was often not. And even then visors could not be lifted or else they would get face shot, and arrows would still find their way into joints.
Obviously the "arrows versus armor" debate has raged unchecked across many dimensions of space/time! From what I've been seeing, there are any number of historic accounts of armor of most any sort stopping arrows, while there are *very few* accounts of arrows *penetrating armor*. Yes, arrows will certainly wound you where there is no armor! Men and horses that were not protected could look forward to pain.

But by the 14th and early 15th centuries, the amount of armor in general use was growing rapidly, and any man-at-arms who was expected to fight up close and personal was probably going to have adequate protection overall. Very generally! Even archers were wearing padded jacks, shirts of mail, brigandines, pieces of plate, etc.

For marching through an arrow storm, yeah, keep your visor down! I don't think any of those guys *liked* marching through arrows, probably they were all expecting that un-lucky hit any second. By and large, they made it through. I would never claim that armor was perfect protection! Bad things happened in battles, and it only takes one arrow to ruin your day.

This actually all means that arrows WERE still very effective! They forced an enemy force to dismount, and to commit only their most heavily armored men to assault any position protected by archers. Remember the French crossbowmen at Crecy got driven off (and then ridden down by their "friends"!). So archery was an area denial tactic that required a specialized response.

Whether you call it "harrassment" or not probably depends on how much steel you're wearing!

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Old January 12th, 2018, 10:21 AM   #8

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I'm out of my league here. My knowledge is limited to Barbara Tuchman's Distant Mirror. She goes into great detail how the longbow was a major technological breakthrough. At it's maximum operating distance, arrows would bounce off the leather padding of most of the targets, but it was devastating psychologically. A "storm" of arrows, although harmless, was an effective means of advancing troops for siege. They did have a killing range ... double the previous bows? This of course meant an archer, trying to kill someone, could be calm and take aim while the enemies arrows fell short in front of him (until THEY got longbows).

She also touched on how there were "Geneva convention" type meetings when the Middle Ages revived the Roman crossbow with a vengeance. They tried to internationally ban this world ending weapon (with zero effect, of course). Crossbow bolts pierce metal armor ... I presume at close range. I believe some museums have armor with crossbow-bolt-holes.
Click the image to open in full size.
That guy had a very bad day, and should've stopped when he got hit by the first bolt. <Tight pattern there, Mr. Archer>

I know nothing about revival of the polybolos in the Middle Ages, but if just "softening up" were the goal, wouldn't it be an ideal weapon?

I'll finish with my favorite scene from "Hero". Yes, I know. It's a movie ... a MOVIE. 90% CG? Don't care. Did this kind of thing actually happen? Probably not. I've read Romance of the Three Kingdoms and it wasn't mentioned specifically. They certainly had the manpower to carry it off.

Enjoy the "Storm! Storm! Storm!" scene. I really like the guys on the ground. I guess I'd file it under "maximum harassment." It's breathtaking on a big screen.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0a9Ks3P9hk

Last edited by Dios; January 12th, 2018 at 10:56 AM.
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Old January 12th, 2018, 11:01 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Matthew Amt View Post
Obviously the "arrows versus armor" debate has raged unchecked across many dimensions of space/time! From what I've been seeing, there are any number of historic accounts of armor of most any sort stopping arrows, while there are *very few* accounts of arrows *penetrating armor*. Yes, arrows will certainly wound you where there is no armor! Men and horses that were not protected could look forward to pain.

But by the 14th and early 15th centuries, the amount of armor in general use was growing rapidly, and any man-at-arms who was expected to fight up close and personal was probably going to have adequate protection overall. Very generally! Even archers were wearing padded jacks, shirts of mail, brigandines, pieces of plate, etc.

For marching through an arrow storm, yeah, keep your visor down! I don't think any of those guys *liked* marching through arrows, probably they were all expecting that un-lucky hit any second. By and large, they made it through. I would never claim that armor was perfect protection! Bad things happened in battles, and it only takes one arrow to ruin your day.

This actually all means that arrows WERE still very effective! They forced an enemy force to dismount, and to commit only their most heavily armored men to assault any position protected by archers. Remember the French crossbowmen at Crecy got driven off (and then ridden down by their "friends"!). So archery was an area denial tactic that required a specialized response.

Whether you call it "harrassment" or not probably depends on how much steel you're wearing!

Matthew
Late Middle Ages the English had an archer to man-at-arm ratio in their armies of something like 3-4:1, sometimes more. It was more than a denial or harassment weapon, it was the backbone of their military structure for hundreds of years.
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Old January 12th, 2018, 11:23 AM   #10

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Harassment can win you the battle if you combine bows with rapid mobility. Thanks to their fast horses the Mongols could swirl around an enemy army like hornets zapping them from all sides almost simultaneously until they panicked and broke formation, opening them up to lancer charges.
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