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Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > Effectiveness of leather armour? Reply to topic
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Jean Thibodeau




PostPosted: Wed 28 Apr, 2004 9:47 pm    Post subject: Effectiveness of leather armour?         Reply with quote

How effective was (is) leather armour?

Leather seems to be very resistant to cutting if one is using anything less than a "Razor Sharp" cutting edge.
(A fresh exacto blade will sail through as if it was melted butter, a used and dull blade will need a great deal of effort to make any impression!)

The specific type and thickness of leather is also a major factor: What are the comparative qualities of Buff Leather, Boilled Leather, or Lackered leather.
Also the absence or presence of metal reinforcements would also have an impact on the protective qualities of leather armour from more or less dense Studs, Rivets, Rings or Small Plates.
(At the extreme Jacks or Brigantines which might be considered as much more than being merely Leather armour.)

Even a low density of Rivets would (Should?) enhance protection from draw cuts as the cutting edge goes from cutting the leather to sliding of a rivet.
The resistance to a trust would depend exclusively on the penetration resistance of the leather unless the pattern of metal reinforcement was very dense. (Brigantine again as an example.)

I wonder if the use of leather armour was more extensive than what we imagine: If the protective qualities were reasonnably good I would expect that any warrior who couldn't afford a mail shirt would at least equipt himself with the best protection he could find, buy, steal or make rather than fight unprotected?

I would also assume that leather armour would have being extensively used even before the Bronze Age!
I wonder if there is any archaeological evidence for this?

I don't have a rigid point of view on this subject but hope to stimulate discussion.(Archaeological, Materials, Tactical,Cuttung ETC...)

(There is another related thread on Gambeson & Mail that overlaps this subject that I find very interesting. These type of discussions are what I find the most stymulating on this Forum.)

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Steve Fabert




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PostPosted: Wed 28 Apr, 2004 10:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Leather breastplates and cuirasses were pretty popular even up until modern times in European armies. Leather vests were still being issued in WWII in the British Army. From what little I have seen in published descriptions, it would seem that boiled leather was quite hard and perhaps as good as any other form of brigandine against sword cuts. Unfortunately the likelihood that any ancient leather armor would be found outside of a peat bog is extremely small. If it was not a poular burial item in a climate that would either freeze or dessicate it, it's probably all gone. Leather would biodegrade to nothing in a couple of centuries at most if it was not preserved in a controlled climate.
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Jean Thibodeau




PostPosted: Wed 28 Apr, 2004 11:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Steve,

I agree that finding any evidence of very early use of leather armour is probably futile .

Here is a short quote from one of my reference books:
"Another very early type of armor was made of rods, or slats, of wood or bone lashed together with cord or sinew. It was largely used by american Indians and in Eastern Siberia." page 22

"Figure 71. Chukchi Armor. The body is of wooden hoops, and the neck guard of flat boards, both covered with hide.
U.S. National museum. " Page 54


The above from: A GLOSSORY of the CONSTRUCTION, DECORATION and USE of ARMS and ARMOR
in all countries and in all times
Together with Some Closely Related Subjects

By GEORGE CAMERON STONE
Originally printed, copyright, 1934, by The southworth Press
copyright 1961 by Jack Brussel, Publisher NEW YORK, N. Y.

So I assume that there was very early use of armor using natural materials that have unfortunately not survived.
But we can still try to understand how effective it might have been at this very early time or later during the Dark Ages or Medieval period.
From a practicle point of view would a Leather armored warrior be up to the challenge of combat with a Mail or plate clad opponent: Would he be completely outclassed? Like you said Boilled Leather seemed to be very difficult to cut!

Thank again for your reply.

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Jean Thibodeau




PostPosted: Wed 28 Apr, 2004 11:46 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Oh, I just remembered reading about .32 cal bullets, not penetrating heavy leather coat worn by Cosaks soldiers during WW1 or WW2, shot by German soldiers.
I think that this made the use of .30 Mauser Broomhandle pistols popular with the Germans.(I don't remember the source of this info.)

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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Thu 29 Apr, 2004 4:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Thibodeau wrote:
Oh, I just remembered reading about .32 cal bullets, not penetrating heavy leather coat worn by Cosaks soldiers during WW1 or WW2, shot by German soldiers.
I think that this made the use of .30 Mauser Broomhandle pistols popular with the Germans.(I don't remember the source of this info.)



The .30 (or 7.62mm) broomhandle is even more puny than the .32 (9mm parambellum), so probably not. I have heard the same about 7.6mm Krag rounds, used by norwegian troops during WWII. But this is probably more due to long lange/ ricoshetting and the like.
Any modern firearm larger than .22 LR will shoot through most historical armour, under normal circumstances. (Leather wests and the like would give some protection against shrapnell, however.


I can't remember seeing any pictures of medevial leather armour. I tend to belive that the multiple cloth layers of a gambeson would be more effective.
We use some waxed leather for our gloves and so on, wich get quite hard. It protects OK against blunt trauma, but I doubt if it would stand up to a sharp sword.

Yours
Elling
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Mike Ekelmann




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PostPosted: Thu 29 Apr, 2004 4:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

[quote="Elling Polden

The .30 (or 7.62mm) broomhandle is even more puny than the .32 (9mm parambellum), so probably not. I have heard the same about 7.6mm Krag rounds, used by norwegian troops during WWII. But this is probably more due to long lange/ ricoshetting and the like.
Any modern firearm larger than .22 LR will shoot through most historical armour, under normal circumstances. (Leather wests and the like would give some protection against shrapnell, however.


[/quote]
Actually, the .32 Mauser is a 7.65mm round, not 9mm. I have a WWII era .32, it's a pretty puny gun, suitable for a desparation defense, not any knockdown power at all.
Cheers,
Michael

"When real men fight, they do so with swords, so they may look each other in the eye." Sean Connery in The Wind and the Lion.
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Allan Senefelder




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PostPosted: Thu 29 Apr, 2004 5:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have thrown this out in other threads regarding leather 's value a armour and will again . Theres a reason we use leather
aprons in metal shoppes . Very,very cut resistant ! I've had the same apron for 5 years and the two guys who work with me are going on 3.

Historically becuase of its lower cost it was used like the gamboison , as the only protection by the poorer folks and
as part of a more complete kit by those with status/money . While by virtue of its organic nature it like cloth armours
does not wheather the ages well it also was destroyed by "using " it . Rips/cuts could be patched or sewn but eventually
with heavy use they would just fall apart . Adding plates of rings to the surface would increase the cut resistance
(the greater the desity the greater the cut resistance ) and therfore the lifespan somewhat .
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Steve Fabert




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PostPosted: Thu 29 Apr, 2004 6:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Elling Polden wrote:

The .30 (or 7.62mm) broomhandle is even more puny than the .32 (9mm parambellum), so probably not. I have heard the same about 7.6mm Krag rounds, used by norwegian troops during WWII. But this is probably more due to long lange/ ricoshetting and the like.


Stories about ineffective firearms are often misleading. The rare occasions when a bullet fails to do its work are the ones we tend to hear about. When a firearm works as intended, the target is down and out, and has no story to tell. The shooter often sees nothing worth writing home about when a well aimed bullet kills outright. When a firearm does not work as intended, then both the shooter and the target may have an interesting story to tell.

Every firearm has limitations, and occasionally any shot can be turned aside by comparatively flimsy barriers if it strikes at the wrong angle. Bullets with military full metal jackets sometimes deflect from a smooth surface rather than penetrating, if they strike at the wrong angle. It would not be too surprising to read of well documentd cases where military pistol bullets occasionally failed to penetrate leather clothing at a shallow angle of impact.

In comparison to swords, you can think of most any bullet that travels slower than the speed of sound as roughly the equal of a thrusting blade of similar diameter in its capacity to inflict wounds. Much faster bullets produce wounds that are not comparable to blade punctures.

The original ammunition for the Mauser broomhandle pistol used a bullet with a diameter of 7.62 millimeter = .30 inch, propelled at a speed which would allow it to penetrate effectively if it hit the target at right angles. It was later modified to become the 9mm Parabellum cartridge for the German army, which used an enlarged bullet of .355 inch diameter. This bullet also was fired at speeds that allowed it to penetrate reasonably well if it hit at right angles to the target's surface. Both of these cartridges went through many modifications over the years to propel bullets of various shapes at substantially increased speeds. Neither of them was of such limited usefulness as the many .32 Auto / 7.65mm pistols frequently carried as officers' sidearms during WWII.
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Allan Senefelder




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PostPosted: Thu 29 Apr, 2004 7:06 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The broom handle was made it two calibers 9mm denoted by a large 9 often red in the handle and 7.65 a hard to find round . I couldn't find any that were'nt thirty years old and a missfire every fourth round gets tiering after a bit so I sold mine .
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Steve Fabert




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PostPosted: Thu 29 Apr, 2004 7:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Allan Senefelder wrote:
The broom handle was made it two calibers 9mm denoted by a large 9 often red in the handle and 7.65 a hard to find round . I couldn't find any that were'nt thirty years old and a missfire every fourth round gets tiering after a bit so I sold mine .


Original 7.63 Mauser pistol ammo is hard to find, as you say. On the rare occasions when I fire my Bolo Mauser I use modern Israeli ammo, or load my own using Winchester brass.

Any of the bottleneck .30 inch cartridges will go right through obstacles as solid as the sheet metal of automobiles, at near 90 degrees. The smaller straight-sided .32 ACP cartridge acts more like an ice pick, and you would have to open the door first if you wanted it to make its way inside a car.

At sufficiently shallow angles a bullet from any of these cartridges might sometimes be deflected by a heavy leather surface. But I would not rely on anything less robust than Kevlar to protect myself from any of them.

A good thrust from the point of a Type XVIII blade will penetrate a man's skull, as shown by the remains from the Towton archaeological dig. So leather armor would need to be tougher than your skull to be truly reliable in a swordfight.
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Allan Senefelder




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PostPosted: Thu 29 Apr, 2004 9:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bone is ridged . Leather is grainy . Theres a big difference . Leathers grainy quality makes it a good defense against
CUTTING weapons or sword edges much like maille but is not as effective against acutely POINTED weapons like maille . When attacking some one with something held in the hand the natural motion is to swat or slash at it not poke it .
Thrusting is a learned method of attack . If given the choice of wearing nothing at all becuase of limited funds or wearing
something that would offer me protection against a good pecentage of the blows that will be landed i'll take the protection.
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Steve Fabert




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PostPosted: Thu 29 Apr, 2004 9:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Allan Senefelder wrote:
If given the choice of wearing nothing at all becuase of limited funds or wearing
something that would offer me protection against a good pecentage of the blows that will be landed i'll take the protection.


The same principle applies to modern body armor, which is not very good at resisting punctures from sharp handheld objects. If it works against bullets, it's worth wearing anyway.
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Thu 29 Apr, 2004 9:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

ups...Seem to have squinted on the .32 Worried
More used to the metric names, and all that.
But, never the less, the point was that 9mm weapons like the Luger P4 where allready in use during WWI, and would be even more powerfull than the 7.62 mauser pistol.

But back to leather armour.
If it was common, why are there so few depictions/descriptions of them?
Gambesons are depicted a large number of places, even if they where mostly used by low level troops.
Also, leather is not that cheap, either. A continetal pesant would be lucky to own a cow, let alone have the luxury to use the leather to make armour instead of more day to day items.
Arguably, cloth is just as, or more, expensive...

I would figure cloth armour is more stabb resistant than leather, since there are more layers to penetrate.


Yours
Elling
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James Nordstrom




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PostPosted: Thu 29 Apr, 2004 10:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think too many people out there training at slow speeds or cutting and thrusting on fixed targets do not realize just how hard it is to land THAT perfect blow. Leather armor was very effective for it's intended purpose, protecting a person from incidental cuts and the less than perfect blows that are most of the blows happening in a melee. No armor will protect a person from that right-on, 90-degree perfect blow, if that happens your life will immediately begin to suck.

An un-split hide, say shoulder area, might be 5/8"+ thick. Properly treated it can be fairly supple. If you want to see how tough it is to cut, wrap a hunk of hide around a cardboard tube or a rolled mat and hang it from a tree limb, then set it to swinging and try cutting it.

Bob Charon has a quote (I cannot open his site right now for some reason) that describes the perfect gambeson as being 24-30 layers of linen covered over with an elk hide 1/2" thick.

The buff coats used during the English Civil War were reputed to be very effective armor during melees on horseback. If they were not effective I doubt the many thousands made would have been made, with several beautiful examples surviving to this day.
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Steve Fabert




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PostPosted: Thu 29 Apr, 2004 10:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here's a link to a surviving example of medieval leather armor: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/ufarm/hd_ufarm.htm
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Allan Senefelder




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PostPosted: Thu 29 Apr, 2004 11:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Elling, for the same reason there are so few examples of fabric armour s . They rotted away . We know that over the course of history literally hundereds of thousands of maille garments have been made . Where are they ? Same thing ,
most of it is gone . Same for plate armour , before 1500 hard to find , before 1400 almost none , before 1350 good luck .
Where'd it all go ? You make the assumption that what you are looking at in medieval manuscripts is quilted cloth and not
of leather or fabric and leather together . Whats under those surcoats anyway ? The grave pits of Visby yielded a rich find of mid 14th century armours which wear worn over cloth or leather garments or affixed to these materials but all that left are plates . Does this mean that there was no leather or cloth . Of course not it rotted . Fabric armours AND leather armours were effective and both used but because of thier organic nature they don't last the years . Examples of both are to be found in use in more remote parts of the world into the late 19th century ( the quilted armour of the Sudanese tribesman, the studded leather and studded fabric coats of light armour used in China ) becuase both worked .
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Jean Thibodeau




PostPosted: Thu 29 Apr, 2004 1:50 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks to everyone for the replies so far: I think in part, one reason why we underestimate the use of leather armor is that as student of ancient martial arts, historians and collectors the metal armor seem much more advanced or "sexy" !
We tend to consider leather as a second choice or last choice instead of possibly the best choice for some applications.
(As mentionned by Allen "Leather aprons in metal shops")

As to .32 cal bullets bouncing off heavy leather coats: At medium to long range, at the right angle, I am sure that it probably occured, but I would not risk my life on it.

As to .30 broomhandle round, this is a high velocity bullet, much more penetrating!
Also 7.62mm Tokarev can be used in the broomhandle as it uses an almost identical shell casing.(This could be dangerous as theTokarev load can be much HOTTER than the .30 Broomhandle load!) (Sorry for going a little off topic with ballistics.)

Note: there was also some use of silk as musket "proof" (Resistant) armor.

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Allan Senefelder




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PostPosted: Thu 29 Apr, 2004 2:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The silk thing as I understand it works like this . Silk has a very dense weave and is very hard to tear . It was worn as the under garment in most areas where horse archery was the primary method of fighting as when an arrow hit and penetrated the silk would'nt be cut by the arrows passage but rather travel into the wound with it ,stopping the spin of the
arrow ( what makes removing a barbed head so troublesome and lethal is that the arrow is cokscrewing into the wound
so a straight pull removale is impossible and the attemp would cause massive damage . Pushing it the rest of the way through was "prefferable" ) and slowing its travel . Removing the arrow would require pulling the fabric taught and as the fabric came out of the wound the arrow would be removed with it with far less trauma . Never heard the musket proof
thing before but with a really sub sonic piece of lead ...
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Jean Thibodeau




PostPosted: Thu 29 Apr, 2004 2:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Allen,

Just found the source for Silk armor: EUROPEAN WEAPONS AND ARMOUR, Ewart Oakeshott page 194 Silk Armour

"There was another sort of fabric armour which came brieftly to life, probably only in England, late in the seventeenth century. This was silk armour. Some pieces are preserved in the Pitt-Rivers Museum, Oxford. It there consists of wadding secured upon a backing of stiff stuff, leather or canvas, and held in place by quilting under a cover of salmon coloured silk. It was supposed to be pistol-proof, and was made in the form current in everyday armour of its period: pot helmet, cuirass and long bridle-gautlet for the left hand. Roger North wrote in EXAMEN (posthumously published, 1740) that anyone wearing it "was as safe as in a House, for it was impossible anyone could strke him for laughing".

Same principle as with modern kevlar but using a less effective material. (Pistol proof but probably not Musket Proof !?)

Also a short quote from page 193
" One is tempted to regard these defenses, brigantines, jacks, eyelet doublets, pennyplate coats, and so on, as only fit for military riff-raff or poor men.
In fact, they were so comfortable, and in their limited way so effective. that they were much worn by tha noblest of Europe's Knighthood. In the forthteenth and fifteeth centuries, a brigandine or a jack might be worn with full vambraces, pauldrons and legharness, instead of a steel cuirass."

As for arrows I think it was used by the Huns &/or the Mongols as you wrote.

Great book!

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James Nordstrom




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PostPosted: Thu 29 Apr, 2004 4:21 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Thibodeau wrote:
Allen,

As for arrows I think it was used by the Huns &/or the Mongols as you wrote.

Great book!


I do believe the book is "The Devil's Horsemen". It has a part about the wearing of silk under garments. The reason was two fold; 1) It did help with the extraction of the arrow as explained above, 2) it also helped in extracting the other nasties out of the wound as you pulled the silk out. The Chines doctor's with the Khan recommended it, but wear very disappointed when they realized that the men never washed their shirts and would wear the shirts till they rotted off.
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