Cross-Post: Armour vs. Bullet Tests
The Before Times were good for tests of bows or guns against low-tech armour. I just learned that Sylvia Leever’s tests against two 17th century breastplates is available on YouTube:
Sylvia Leever, For Show or Safety? (2005, posted 3 August 2013)
You can find more information about her project in:
- Leever, Sylvia (2005) “For Show or Safety?: A Study on Structure, Ballistic Performance and Authenticity of Seventeenth Century Breastplates” MSc thesis, TU Delft http://resolver.tudelft.nl/uuid:f2638444-04be-4795-8e96-d0da5a91da21
- Leever, Sylvia (2006) “For Show or Safety?” Arms & Armour, Vol. 3 No. 2 pp. 117-125
You can see more videos like this:
- Tod’s Workshop: Arrows vs. Armour- Medieval Myth Busting (29 August 2019)
- PBS Nova Secrets of the Shining Knight (2017)
Enjoy, and when planning your post-apocalyptic raids please avoid Oxford, Long Island, and Delft!
Edit 2021-09-27: converted to block editor after migrating to self-hosted WordPress
In her discussion, and most discussion of the period, the inaccuracies of the weapons are noted.
But when you look at discussions of the use of these same weapons at sea, their effectiveness seems to be much greater. One book discussing piracy/privateers even notes one group (the French?) actually relying more on the firepower of their small arms than their cannon.
If I had to take a guess, I would say that at sea, with the smaller numbers of small arms used compared to overall costs, meant that it paid to make sure that everyone shooting actually had an accurate functional weapon, and (probably more importantly) there was incentive to be well trained at marksmanship.
These same weapons came to dominate New World hunting (and skirmishing), so it is doubtful they were that awful or they wouldn’t have replaced the alternatives so thoroughly.
The buccanneers were hunters so they could pay for their target practice that way. Paying for enough powder and lead to get good seems to have been a sticking point between soldiers and governments. The Bow vs. Musket blog has some nice sources.
If I remember Bert S. Hall’s book, Geoffrey Parker’s book, and the Graz tests correctly, military smallarms tended to be more accurate and the users better trained in 16th century Europe than 18th century Europe. When a quarter of your army has an arquebus and they are mostly skirmishing, it was easier to provide them with enough powder to get good than when everyone has a full-bore musket and they are unloading from the middle of one cloud of smoke at the middle of another cloud. And if shooting fast is not so important, you can use a smaller windage and give them a proper sight.
The other thing I remember from Esquemeling’s Sea-Robbers of America is that in the late 17th century all the pirates had a fusil, a brace of pistols, and a hanger. They were going up against Spanish troops who just had matchlocks and whose bosses would not pay them for many rounds of live fire a year. Fighting people who can shoot faster and shoot better than you can is bad business.
I think in TV documentary (Ancient Discoveries, but can’t remember the exact episode), there was test of Cromwell’s era armour against musket. Cuirass of riders was from two layers, so the bullet just peeled away first layer, but man lived and carry on fighting…
Sounds like it was based on some research which came out in 2005:
de Reuck, Anthony / Starley, David / Richardson, Thom / Edge, David (2005) “Duplex Armour: An Unrecognized Mode of Construction.” Arms & Armour, Vol. 2, No. 1 pp. 5-26