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Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > Warbow effectiveness Reply to topic
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sun 11 Mar, 2012 2:51 pm    Post subject: Warbow effectiveness         Reply with quote

Here is a list of different factors leading to the success of the English warbow in battle. IMO the main point of using heavy warbows was to cast a heavy war arrow as far as possible - to shoot as many arrows as possible as far as possible as quickly as possible. This enabled a host of tactical possibilities to be available to the English commander. Note that being able to kill people though their plate armour is not in the list. Most of the accounts that people dredge up to support their armour-piercing claims fall into either point 2 or 3 and are not evidence of arrows killing through plate at all.

1. One reason for the widespread deployment of the warbow was to counter the English deficiency in cavalry. The warbow forced English opponents to dismount and advance on foot. Many English victories with this weapon were caused by their opponent attempting to charge their horses through a hail of arrows. It was the horse that was vulnerable to the arrow, not the well-armoured rider.

2. The whole point of any battle is to take out enemy soldiers. This does not mean that they have to be killed. An arrow through the foot will incapacitate a soldier just as surely as an arrow through the heart. The vast majority of arrow casualties were caused by non-fatal injuries as it has always been since the bow was first used in battle thousands of years ago.

3. There are plenty of soldiers in any army who are not covered head to foot in solid plate, but even the best armour has gaps that can be exploited. If you are hit with enough arrows then eventually one is going to find a place where the body is not so well protected.

4. The natural tendancy of fighters to flinch and move away from arrows on both flanks will cause them to bunch up in the middle, rendering them unable to fight effectively.

5. By using volleyed arrows to create a "beaten ground" a commander could use archers to direct an advancing enemy into a prearranged position. As noted above, the impact of heavy arrows even on solid plate will cause the wearer to flnch away from the attack.

6. Arrows have a demoralising effect on the enemy. Most battles are won by causing the enemy to rout, not through attrition

7. English archers were experienced fighters and hard men, serving multiple roles in an English army. They did not drop out of the battle when they ran out of arrows. They drew hand weapons and waded into the melee with the rest of the infantry. Their versatility was a key aspect of their effectiveness.

8. Ever since the bow was first used in battle, its principal role was to disrupt an enemy formation so that other units such as cavalry and infantry could exploit gaps in the line. Combined arms and disciplined troops were the key to English success, not a magical superweapon.


Last edited by Dan Howard on Tue 13 Mar, 2012 2:27 pm; edited 7 times in total
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Sun 11 Mar, 2012 2:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Did you mean this to be a reply to the active arrows vs. armour thread?
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sun 11 Mar, 2012 2:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I mean it to be a neat summary so that whenever this subject comes up people don't have to endlessly repeat the same things. Yes it is a reply to the claim that the English won battles because their arrows could punch through armour. I'll edit the above to make that point clearer.
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Kel Rekuta




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PostPosted: Sun 11 Mar, 2012 3:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well done Dan! This thread should be a sticky.
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William P




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PostPosted: Sun 11 Mar, 2012 5:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

and if there are even ore lightly aroured troops, ones having only maile padded jacks or simply not havng ful faced helmets..
then they will be felled very easily by the heavier arrows just faling out of the sky.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sun 11 Mar, 2012 5:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Even mail offers excellent protection against arrows. Not as much as plate obviously but a lot more than many assume. I thought I addressed that in the Mail Unchained article. Some types of mail provide better protection than others but it is perfectly possible to make arrow-proof mail. However, it would be a lot heavier than an equivalent item made from plate, which is one of the reasons why mail was superseded by plate. I agree that lighter armour is more easily compromised by a heavy war arrow, but usually only at shorter ranges. Steeled arrowheads would help a lot in those situations.
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Robert Rytel




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PostPosted: Sun 11 Mar, 2012 5:42 pm    Post subject: Re: Warbow effectiveness         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:

7. Ever since the bow was first used in battle, its principal role was to disrupt an enemy formation so that other units such as cavalry and infantry could exploit gaps in the line


Exactally.
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Sun 11 Mar, 2012 5:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In addition to the points above:

The major change in english tactics that allowed them to postpone defeat for a century was not the use of longbows, which had been around for hundreds of years allread, but the use of dismounted elite warriors.

This in turn enabled the defence of a single location, a strong defensive line for the longbowmen to deploy behind, and might even in.
Thus, the english archers, floating behind/ between men at arms, could support these with point blank fire.

A medieval army is not a formation of regiments consisting of a single troop type standing in neat, enligtenment style squares. Rather, they are organic battlegroups with a hodgepodge of differnet weapons.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Sun 11 Mar, 2012 6:15 pm    Post subject: Re: Warbow effectiveness         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
IMO the main point of using heavy warbows was to cast a heavy war arrow further than had ever been possible before.


I'm skeptical of the last part of this line. What evidence do we have that the English in the fourteenth and fifteenth were doing anything unprecedented? While earlier accounts of mighty bows in the West might be a little vague, source from China record 150-160lb bows centuries before the English archers rise to prominence. I suspect strong archers using heavy arrows existed here and there in Europe since prehistoric times. English success came from intentional cultivation of skilled and strong archers.

Quote:
The main reason for widespread deployment of the warbow was to counter the English deficiency in cavalry.


Against the French, sure. Against the Scots, however, the warbow often operated in conjunction with cavalry charges against infantry.

Quote:
The vast majority of arrow casualties were caused by non-fatal injuries as it has always been since the bow was first used in battle thousands of years ago.


Maybe, but arrows seem to have directly killed hundreds if not thousands at various battles in Scotland and the War of the Roses. Towton in particular comes to mind.

Read my historically inspired fantasy fiction in here. I walk along a winding path set by Ludovico Ariosto, William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ursula Le Guin.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sun 11 Mar, 2012 6:23 pm    Post subject: Re: Warbow effectiveness         Reply with quote

Benjamin H. Abbott wrote:
I'm skeptical of the last part of this line. What evidence do we have that the English in the fourteenth and fifteenth were doing anything unprecedented?

IMO the number of archers doing this is unprecedented. There were always a few who could shoot heavy bows but at this point in time the English were using more of these men than previously and specifically designed tactics that centered around it.

[I've edited the above to clarify this].

Quote:
Maybe, but arrows seem to have directly killed hundreds if not thousands at various battles in Scotland and the War of the Roses. Towton in particular comes to mind.

Arrows incapacitated hundreds if not thousands at various battles ever since the dawn of warfare. See #2 - you don't need to kill your opponent; you need to take him out of the fight. Whether he actually dies is irrelevant to the outcome of the battle.


Last edited by Dan Howard on Sun 11 Mar, 2012 8:51 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Sun 11 Mar, 2012 6:50 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In a sense, the english do exactly the same to the french that the scots did to them a few years earlier:
Focus on infantry to compensate for lower numbers of heavy cavalry.

Where the scots boosted their ranks with pikemen, the english did so with longbowmen. This makes sense if your base asuption is that professional heavy toops will beat light troops hands down: Bring light troops that will not be part of the melee.

However, archers can not hold ground on their own. Thus, they need either to be protected amongst the heavy infantry or deployed against a passive foe.

When fighting the scots, the english longbowmen present at Banocburn had little impact, as the english cavalry was fighting on their own way ahead of the rest of the army.
At Falkirk, the scottish infantry where pinned in place, and the archers chewed them up at close range, protected by their own knights and spearmen.

The french, for their part, rode or walked into english defensive positions, effectively pining themselves down against the men at arms.

In the earlyer middle ages, where shieldwalls where the norm for infantry warfare, archers do not seem to have been very important. But against the shieldless scots or dismounted gendarmes, they could have greater effect.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Sun 11 Mar, 2012 7:20 pm    Post subject: Re: Warbow effectiveness         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
IMO the number of archers doing this is unprecedented. There were always a few who could shoot heavy bows but at this point in time the English were using more of these men than previously and specifically designed tactics that centered around it.


Yes, I agree with this - speaking, again, of the European context. The innovation came in training large bodies of skilled archers and producing a sufficient number of quality bows. Contrary to the popular narrative of a new wonder weapon, it was a matter of quantity more than quality.

As far as casualties go, I just don't want readers to get the idea that bows didn't kill people. Obviously they weren't the machine guns they're often claimed to be, and basic defensive gear like a sturdy jack would prevent serious torso injuries at range, but some poorer troops lacked even good jacks and the sheer volume of shot meant many got hit in the face, throat, or whatnot.

Read my historically inspired fantasy fiction in here. I walk along a winding path set by Ludovico Ariosto, William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ursula Le Guin.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
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Ken Speed




PostPosted: Sun 11 Mar, 2012 9:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Elling Polden wrote, “The major change in english tactics that allowed them to postpone defeat for a century was not the use of longbows, which had been around for hundreds of years allread, but the use of dismounted elite warriors.

This in turn enabled the defence of a single location, a strong defensive line for the longbowmen to deploy behind, and might even in. Thus, the english archers, floating behind/ between men at arms, could support these with point blank fire.

A medieval army is not a formation of regiments consisting of a single troop type standing in neat, enligtenment style squares. Rather, they are organic battlegroups with a hodgepodge of differnet weapons.”


OK, everybody please excuse me for quoting Elling’s whole post but I think its necessary.

Elling, please don’t think I’m assailing your comments but it’s hard to just read your assertions and say, “OK, if he says so it must be right.” You may very well BE right but please give us some examples to buttress your assertions.

Specifically:

What elite dismounted warriors? When? Where?


Floating English archers with point blank supporting fire? What? I’m really not trying to be sarcastic, I know you don’t literally mean “floating” although the image does come to mind. Probably others more informed than am I know exactly what you mean but I confess I don’t and I’d really like to know.

Sort of the same thing with the “organic battlegroups with a hodge podge of different weapons” It isn’t that I don’t believe that you know what you’re talking about but I don’t know what you’re talking about and would really appreciate some examples and clarification.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sun 11 Mar, 2012 9:08 pm    Post subject: Re: Warbow effectiveness         Reply with quote

Benjamin H. Abbott wrote:
As far as casualties go, I just don't want readers to get the idea that bows didn't kill people. Obviously they weren't the machine guns they're often claimed to be, and basic defensive gear like a sturdy jack would prevent serious torso injuries at range, but some poorer troops lacked even good jacks and the sheer volume of shot meant many got hit in the face, throat, or whatnot.

Agreed completely. Some would have died immediately and more would have died later on. But once they can't fight any more, the outcome of the battle is unaffected by whether they die or not. There have been plenty of studies suggesting that the percentage of men killed outright by arrows in a specific battle from the Bronze Age onwards is very low.


Last edited by Dan Howard on Sun 11 Mar, 2012 9:15 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Sun 11 Mar, 2012 9:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dismounted men-at-arms made up the core of the English army during the Hundred Years' War. They fought in full armor, armed with spears, axes, swords, and daggers. As far as floating archers go, maybe levitation was the real English superweapon of the period! Surprised
Read my historically inspired fantasy fiction in here. I walk along a winding path set by Ludovico Ariosto, William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ursula Le Guin.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sun 11 Mar, 2012 9:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think Elling means that the archers would have moved amongst and around the core of elite infantry supporting them however they could. They wouldn't have remained in a fixed formation once the melee had started.
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William P




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PostPosted: Sun 11 Mar, 2012 10:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
Even mail offers excellent protection against arrows. Not as much as plate obviously but a lot more than many assume. I thought I addressed that in the Mail Unchained article. Some types of mail provide better protection than others but it is perfectly possible to make arrow-proof mail. However, it would be a lot heavier than an equivalent item made from plate, which is one of the reasons why mail was superseded by plate. I agree that lighter armour is more easily compromised by a heavy war arrow, but usually only at shorter ranges. Steeled arrowheads would help a lot in those situations.


i have no idea how a heavy war bodkin would do against maile at close range..
IF, what is asserted about the effects of those acts of parliment are true, if ideally, the english had hardened heads.
a needle bodkin would be useful against maile at tclose range, and it would be annoying at longer ranges, the max range for vollew fire from a longbow i think is around 300 yards or so, those shots wouldnt be lethal except if we were hitting people in the face or armpits as the approached.

and another fact about such long range shooting, as i mentioned in the other thread, doing a high angle volley shot, as an arrow reached the top of the arc. it starts to fall and gathers a decent percentage of momentum BACK as it does so, not so that its moving faster than it was first shot, so you lose alot less energy between shooting, and hitting the target, compared to shooting the arrow close to horizontal.

but since these commoners with just jacks or maile would likely have, helmets that wouldnt protect the face nearly as well as those used by the men at arms.

and also, against more armoured opponents with better helmets like pig snout bascinets, and grand bascinets, even if the arrow, doesnt go all the way into a eyeslot, having something suddely lodge itself in your eyeslot would be enough to startle anyone.


also, the fact the english had so many long range shooters shooting such distances at such potential speeds. means they would outperform the missile units of other contemporary european nations and potentially have a lot more control over the battlefield, as i understand it, the warbow can hit a man with a crossbow before the crossbowman can get within range of the longbowman.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Sun 11 Mar, 2012 10:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

On p.18 of The Great Warbow Hardy reckons that warbows of 143-165 lbs shooting arrows weighing 3.5-4.0 oz. can fly up to 240 yards and lose 15-30% of their initial velocity at the point of impact.
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Mon 12 Mar, 2012 6:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ken Speed wrote:

What elite dismounted warriors? When? Where?


I am talking about the 100 years war between England and France, which is the period and place where the longbow was most prominent on the battlefield.
As Ben points out, the English made extensive use of dismouted knights in the 100-years war.
This was a new development, as fighting on horseback had been seen as the pinacle of military efficiency in the previous periods.
Most likely this was a result of doing some heavy thinking after their previous wars with the Scots, which I talked about in the post after the one you are quoting.

In all the great battles of the 100 years war, such as Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt, the english deployed in defensive positions, with heavy infantry in front.

Quote:
Floating English archers with point blank supporting fire?


Sorry for the uhm, floating terminology. "Floating" is a term that we use in reenactment combat to describe polearm fighters that begin behind the line, and look for openings and opportunities to enter the line, make a kill or two, and then withdraw.
Dan correctly sums up what I try to say.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Kel Rekuta




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PostPosted: Mon 12 Mar, 2012 6:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Elling Polden wrote:
Ken Speed wrote:

What elite dismounted warriors? When? Where?


I am talking about the 100 years war between England and France, which is the period and place where the longbow was most prominent on the battlefield.
As Ben points out, the English made extensive use of dismouted knights in the 100-years war.
This was a new development, as fighting on horseback had been seen as the pinacle of military efficiency in the previous periods.
Most likely this was a result of doing some heavy thinking after their previous wars with the Scots, which I talked about in the post after the one you are quoting.


Absolutely! Edward III "got schooled" as it were when his forces engaged a Scottish invasion in 1327. The teenaged king soon applied the combined arms solution that was to become English practice for the next century or more. Very important military strategy that brought England from a relatively backward source of decent wool to a major military power in the fourteenth century.
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