Why didn't large shields make a comeback in the early gunpowder era?

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,059
#11
That shields we're not used with muskets for several reasons:

1. Shield could still not be made cannon proof, it would be impractically heavy. For a shield heavy enough to.stop a musket ball would send flying splinters that could cause more and wider damage when a cannon ball hit.

2. You can't hold your musket and the shield at the same time, plus shields would get in the way of counter marching , and firing the muskets.

3. Your own shields would get in the way when you charge at your enemy with bayonets

3. A shield heavy enough to be any use would be too heavy to lug around on a long march. Soldiers would end up jettisoning them on long marches. It also.ehy armor was abandoned, the soldiers could carry more ammo and supplies if they didn't have to also.lug around the armor.as well, and on a long march, every pound adds up.
 
Apr 2018
267
USA
#12
So where are all the firearms in that illustration? It is pretty simple; a shield can't stop a gun so they stopped using them. They switched to mantlets, earthworks, and new tactics.
iirc that illustration was from the weisskunig but overall yeah, for the most part during the 15th guns were still being used alongside bows and crossbows, they were less numerous, and were much more experimental. So it may have been a bit easier to stop bullets at a distance or ricochets.

Placing ranged soldiers behind a wall of troops with shields certainly wasn't a new tactic during the middle ages going back, for example, to the crusader army at the battle of Arsuf. What I'm saying though is that during the 1400s when handguns first start becoming a common feature there does seem to have been a period where the response was to start using thicker, heavier, more specialized shields until eventually gunpowder technology reached the point that it started making this tactic nonfeasible.
 
Jul 2018
427
Hong Kong
#13
The Japanese Sengoku army was universally equipped with bamboo shield (as well as other protection apparatus) in siege warfare and fortified position, it seemed highly workable in combination with digging trenches during the siege of a castle for pushing the frontier inch by inch to exert greater pressure upon the enemy garrison on the wall.

On the contrary, the contemporary Western military seems did not favor similar sort of shield or other defense equipment in siege battle (in the early gunpowder era). Why ?
 
Aug 2014
3,701
Australia
#14
The Japanese Sengoku army was universally equipped with bamboo shield (as well as other protection apparatus) in siege warfare and fortified position, it seemed highly workable in combination with digging trenches during the siege of a castle for pushing the frontier inch by inch to exert greater pressure upon the enemy garrison on the wall.

On the contrary, the contemporary Western military seems did not favor similar sort of shield or other defense equipment in siege battle (in the early gunpowder era). Why ?
Shields never stopped being used on Western battlefields. They evolved into mantlets.
 
#15
I know that when gunpowder weapons started becoming common in Europe full plate armor started being replaced with thicker breastplates and helmets. I'm curious why larger and thicker shields also didn't make a comeback. It seems like, even if they were fairly heavy, they could be discarded when in melee and would provide an easier way for infantry to close with musketeers.
There are a multiple of practical reasons.

1) Weight as you said.

2) Canon fire, slow plodding columns of infantry hiding behind thick shields would be nice targets

3) Expense, making thick enough metal shields to withstand musket fire would be expensive in mass and you would need to give it to your whole front line.

4) Dragoons mean't that it was possible to be fired on from multiple angles not just front facing as did mounted gunners.

Also warfare in Europe was just coming out of the Pike era, Pike and Polearm had already put shield wielding melee troops down the pecking order as did Heavy cavalry, what your advocating would mean a reversal of warfare evolution.

Its very easy and cheap to make pikes, essentially long pieces of wood with a tip, your ultra heavy shield men would just get run over by charging pike lines or heavy cavalry.

You'd be lucky if the shield tactic worked in one engagement let alone repeatedly.
 
Sep 2012
930
Spring, Texas
#17
Armies of this period were a mix of different weapons. Some armies would mix Polearms with firearms. There were also Bows and Crossbowmen in some of these Infantry formations. In Mexico, Cortez' men often used local shields. In Europe there was also a need for men using large two handed Swords, who would get under the Polearms and close with the wielders and take them out. Pavises were often set up for Crossbows as they were usually stationary.

Pruitt
 
Jan 2015
2,787
MD, USA
#18
The Japanese Sengoku army was universally equipped with bamboo shield (as well as other protection apparatus) in siege warfare and fortified position, it seemed highly workable in combination with digging trenches during the siege of a castle for pushing the frontier inch by inch to exert greater pressure upon the enemy garrison on the wall.

On the contrary, the contemporary Western military seems did not favor similar sort of shield or other defense equipment in siege battle (in the early gunpowder era). Why ?
The digging of siege lines and trenches commonly included fascines and gabions. Fascines were simply bundles of branches or brushwood, and could be stacked in rows as protection, used to fill ditches, piled to get up onto walls, etc. Gabions were large baskets which were set in place and then filled with earth from the trenches being dug. This allowed the attackers to keep advancing their cover as they worked and extended their trenches.

So I'm guessing those Japanese bamboo shields were something along those lines, though they could also have served simply as a mantlet, a large shield generally set in place to shelter one or more men behind it.

Matthew
 

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