MEDIEVAL MYTH BUSTING - Arrows vs Armour

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
5,002
Australia
The longbow hasn't changed since the Mesolithic period. There was nothing special about the English weapon. The special part was the tactics they developed for the battlefield and how they socially engineered their entire culture to provide enough archers to make those tactics work.
 
Oct 2011
510
Croatia
The longbow hasn't changed since the Mesolithic period. There was nothing special about the English weapon. The special part was the tactics they developed for the battlefield and how they socially engineered their entire culture to provide enough archers to make those tactics work.
I have not read this from end-to-end yet, but it appears that Mary Rose longbows would have been in fact significantly more powerful than prehistoric longbows:

Of course, this just means that up until then there was no need for so powerful bows.
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
5,002
Australia
All over the world for thousands of years there have always been people shooting with those powerful bows (Odysseus' bow is the earliest in western tradition). The English created a system to generate more of them. The Mary Rose might have had a higher ratio of powerful bows than earlier periods, but those bows always existed. Remember, too, that the Mary Rose was the King's flagship. His archers were the best of the best.
 
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Interesting reply to the storm of protests that the original video caused...mainly from those involved in the heavy bow fraternity. There are some interesting posts on the Longbow and Warbows Facebook page that highlight some of the accusations leveled at the original film.
1. That although Will Sherman makes lovely arrows, his method of case carburising the arrow heads was not correct. Notable arrow-smiths Mark Stretton and Steve Stratton have been critical of the process Will used. Some might say it's just professional jealousy, but I think when these two gents express an opinion, it deserves careful consideration.
2. The armour used in the test was allegedly modern slag free AISI 1050 steel with 0.6-0.9% manganese ( not known in the period under consideration) and a fracture toughness of 320kj/m2. Not particularly medieval, or so it's said. It may resemble Milanese plate (I've no idea, I'm no expert), but not every Frenchman would be able to afford it.
3. The distance shot in the test (25 yards/metres) was too close. An arrow doesn't stabilize until well past this distance, so the head would still be oscillating, meaning the pile wouldn't be able to deliver it's ultimate 'punch'.
It must be said there seems to be quite a bit of antipathy between archers and 'clankies' (the derogatory term used by bowmen for armoured re-enactors) all centering around the issues of armour penetration. I don't think either video will do anything to settle the matter, but notwithstanding the above, it's a laudable attempt at clarification.
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
5,002
Australia
1. His method of case carburising is irrelevant because there is zero evidence of those arrowheads ever being case hardened. The hardest arrowheads in the archaeological record are compact broadheads. If they want to cry about case hardening disappearing after a while in the ground then they need to explain why the hardened steel is still evident in the Type 16s. Apparently the English must have had magical steel that disappeared when made into a bodkin but didn't when made into a broadhead. The only real complaint I had with Tod's test is that they should be shooting Type 16 compact broadheads at the armour because these were the armour-piercers, not the bodkins. Bodkins were put on "byker" arrows that were used to harass the enemy at long range.

2. The armour used in the test was slag free because the original item was largely slag free. Only the later munitions armour had significant levels of slag. The breastplate used in that test was a very good replica of armour from that time period.

3. The oscillation statement is nonsense. Yes the arrows oscillate but we have texts from all over the world, including England, stating that armour-piercing arrows are only effective when shot at short range. There is a Japanese text that gives us a specific range: "For shooting an enemy on the battlefield, one needs, moreover, to practice shooting at a distance of seven or eight ken [approximately 15m] to be able to penetrate his armour." Arrows are doing plenty of oscillation at this range.
 
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Jan 2019
21
Northumberland-England
In reply to Dan Howard's post above...

1. Medieval requisitions state the requirement for 'well steeled' arrowheads, indeed there was a 1405 statute that required arrowheads (not just type 16's) to have steel points and not only that, but the heads had to bear the mark of the smith that made them. So obviously any inferior heads could be traced back and the person responsible held to account.
I think Dan, you are confusing type 10 heads with type 16's. The latter is a barbed head that was used as a general pile for both warfare and probably hunting. Having barbs made it difficult to remove and effective against mail and horses (as well as game). In no way could this be described as a 'plate cutter'...that was the type 10. The heads used in the test were correct...the claim is that they weren't correctly hardened.

2. Well, at best the armour used was a 'very good replica' of the finest armour available at the time. I think we'd all agree that if you walked into an arrowstorm encased in Milanese plate, the chances of you walking out the other side unscathed were pretty good. Maybe a bit shaken with your expensive plate scored and dented (with resale value much reduced), but otherwise alive.

3. I don't think it's nonsense. It's a fact. I'm sure you've seen a slow motion of the way an arrow leaves the bow, it's all over the place and takes a while to straighten visually. It's still oscillating for a considerable distance, but maybe we'll have to agree to disagree on that one. By the way, not too sure what relevance the Japanese reference has to do with the price of bread.

Any way, it's all good fun hypothesising. Until someone can persuade 30-40 heavy bowmen to shoot heavy arrows at heavily armoured mannequins at sensible distances, then this topic will rumble on. Even better, if you could put a bunch of willing volunteers into the armours being shot at (with blunted piles obviously) and record exactly what their experiences were...then you'd really be making progress into understanding the effects of being at the pointy end of medieval warfare.
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
5,002
Australia
There is no such thing as a "plate cutter". The term does not exist in any contemporary document. It was fabricated by longbow enthusiasts on the false assumption that this typology was used to penetrate plate amour. No arrowhead of this typology shows any evidence of being hardened.

The breastplate was not representative of Milanese plate. Milanese plate was hardened. The plate used in the test was heated to annealing temperature and allowed to air cool. So not only was it not quench-hardened, but it was not work-hardened either. The breastplate used in that test represents something that was average quality at best. Milanese plate could be a mm thinner and still stop the arrows.

I already acknowledged that arrows oscillate. The nonsense part is the claim that the oscillation prevents armour penetration.
 
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Correct, 'Plate cutter' is not a term used in the period under discussion...that's why I used inverted commas. The head itself however was very appropriate for use against plate in either the 3 or 4 cutting faced versions and would have been hardened as were all military arrowheads at the time (see previous post. Or if they weren't then I suspect some chicanery was present in the procurement process). Unfortunately for my side of the argument, the hardened portion has through time degraded to virtually nothing. It was only a surface treatment, allowing the pile to get some initial purchase on the plate, thus aiding the chance of penetration.

I didn't say that oscillation 'prevented' penetration, only that it wouldn't be able deliver it's ultimate 'punch'. Something wobbling, even a small amount wouldn't help...not prevent.

The plate quality is a moot point. Shoot a non/poorly hardened pile point blank at any 2.5mm thick plate and the results would probably be disappointing, or maybe encouraging depending on which side of the plate you happened to be.
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
5,002
Australia
So you also believe in this fantastical magical disappearing steel that the English had. None of you people can explain why the hardened steel has disappeared from all of your "plate cutters" but can be easily found on extant compact broadheads. Try shooting plate with a hardened Type 16. It is just as good at punching through armour as the Type 10. The Type 10 was used on "byker" arrows. They were designed to harass and gall the enemy at range, which is why they were not "steeled". The Type 16 was used on heavier arrows at short range.

If the plate quality was a "moot point" then why bother to bring it up? Apparently it only becomes a moot point after an ill-considered argument is dismantled with proper evidence.

Go back and read post #34 in this thread.
 
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Nov 2019
6
NewYork
Arrows can get thru armor but it depends how good the armor is, if you look back and look at armor in general some were made horribly.