Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 30 of 47

Thread: Plate Armor: How effective?

  1. #1

    Default

    In the Great Epic Cavalry Debates many people expressed belief that heavy cavalry would never have been used to charge straight-on into a unit wielding spears. But then, apparently there are accounts of cavalry doing just this. Also, most artists of the time seem to depict cavalry in this configuration. And finally, if spears were not somewhat vulnerable to this, why would pikes have come about?

    It has been pointed out that "journalists" of that day weren't necessarilly concerned all that much with integrity of truth. And, of course, artists may have just been plain clueless. But there may well be much truth in both of these sources of information.

    Anyway, I thought about the situation a bit and at first it does seem quite a prickly prospect to charge into a bunch of men with spears anchored on the ground. Who in their right mind would choose to be among the first rank of cavalry?

    But then I got to thinking about the armor. With all that plate backed by some kind of padding (or chain) there is a good chance that a spear impact will simply be deflected to the side.

    Perhaps heavy cavalry would make the charge head-on, trusting in their armor to deflect the spear impacts most of the time?

    If one survived the initial impact, he could draw his sword and at that point the spear guys to the sides would be meat. The only way the infantry could defend themselves after initial impact would be to spread out and start jabbing their spears into the sides of the horses. And at this point the spear formation would be in total disarray.

    It seems to me that the knights themselves would be very difficult to bring down with only spears... It would take a lucky hit into a crack between segments I would think. And spears should be very easy to parry with a longsword.

    So anyway, I wonder how effective plate armor would be at defending vs spears at heavy horse speeds? Plate armor works against piercing weapons in two ways: energy absorption and deflection. Clearly the energy involved in a one-ton horse/man impaling itself on a spear will not be absorbed effectively by any wearable armor. It would all come down to deflection... side-force overcoming point-on-plate friction before the plate impinges too deeply on the point. When you think of it, a spear braced on the ground is very resistant to lengthwise motion, but is like a cottonball in terms of it's inertial resistance to lateral motion.

    Now, I have a background in physics (one year to go on BA) but have no material science coursework. But it seems to me that most spear impacts would be non-normal and quite prone to deflection. The angle of incidence it seems to me would have to be pretty much straight on (say within 10-20 degrees) to avoid having the spear scrape off to the side. And since barding and plate are all full of curves, it should be reasonably hard to get a near-normal impact angle on a charging target.

    Velocity (not just momentum) is perhaps a significant determinant in whether a pointed weapon penetrates plate. It seems to me that perhaps there is some critical velocity beyond which penetration probability is much less sensitive to impact angle. Maybe longbow arrows exceed this critical velocity but that heavy horse come nowhere near that value? But I'm just speculating here about velocity thing and I don't have the materials science background to know. It just seems to me that there must be some rate at which the material is not going to be able to disipate energy by flexing/bending and instead will shatter? (Perhaps this sort of critical velocity is much much higher than any man-powered weapon could achieve though.)

    Anyway, it seems plausible to me that a huge warhorse and knight in full plate armor may well survive a head-on charge into spears. Even if there is say a 50% loss on initial impact, the spear formation at that point will be severely disrupted several rows deep and the second rank of cavalry will likely have a much higher survival rate. At that point it comes down to morale and melee capabilities.

    Pikes being much more massive than spears are probably less prone to deflection. Furthermore, pikes would tend to impact at a more straight-on angle with less upward incidence than a shorter spear would have to make.

    Just some thoughts. From longjohn's posting yesterday, I don't think the details of cavalry interactions with other units are gonna change. But it's still interesting to discuss.

    bif

    bif

    -- There are 10 kinds of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who don't. --

  2. #2
    Humanist Senior Member A.Saturnus's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Aachen
    Posts
    5,181

    Default

    But the question is why it should be necessary to charge at all (besides the schock-effect)? I agree that spears and - to a smaller extend - pikes could only penetrate a full armor if they`re backed to the ground and the knight charges into it. If the knights ride slowly to the spears they could simply cut off the points or even grap the spear out of their hands! The spearmen could do nothing against it cause they never could thrust the spears through an armor themselfs!

    ------------------
    In the name of electricity: CHARGE!!!

  3. #3
    Member Member Michael the Great's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Location
    Wallachia
    Posts
    533

    Default

    Quote Originally posted by AgentBif:
    In the Great Epic Cavalry Debates many people expressed belief that heavy cavalry would never have been used to charge straight-on into a unit wielding spears. But then, apparently there are accounts of cavalry doing just this. Also, most artists of the time seem to depict cavalry in this configuration. And finally, if spears were not somewhat vulnerable to this, why would pikes have come about?

    It has been pointed out that "journalists" of that day weren't necessarilly concerned all that much with integrity of truth. And, of course, artists may have just been plain clueless. But there may well be much truth in both of these sources of information.

    Anyway, I thought about the situation a bit and at first it does seem quite a prickly prospect to charge into a bunch of men with spears anchored on the ground. Who in their right mind would choose to be among the first rank of cavalry?

    But then I got to thinking about the armor. With all that plate backed by some kind of padding (or chain) there is a good chance that a spear impact will simply be deflected to the side.

    Perhaps heavy cavalry would make the charge head-on, trusting in their armor to deflect the spear impacts most of the time?

    If one survived the initial impact, he could draw his sword and at that point the spear guys to the sides would be meat. The only way the infantry could defend themselves after initial impact would be to spread out and start jabbing their spears into the sides of the horses. And at this point the spear formation would be in total disarray.

    It seems to me that the knights themselves would be very difficult to bring down with only spears... It would take a lucky hit into a crack between segments I would think. And spears should be very easy to parry with a longsword.

    So anyway, I wonder how effective plate armor would be at defending vs spears at heavy horse speeds? Plate armor works against piercing weapons in two ways: energy absorption and deflection. Clearly the energy involved in a one-ton horse/man impaling itself on a spear will not be absorbed effectively by any wearable armor. It would all come down to deflection... side-force overcoming point-on-plate friction before the plate impinges too deeply on the point. When you think of it, a spear braced on the ground is very resistant to lengthwise motion, but is like a cottonball in terms of it's inertial resistance to lateral motion.

    Now, I have a background in physics (one year to go on BA) but have no material science coursework. But it seems to me that most spear impacts would be non-normal and quite prone to deflection. The angle of incidence it seems to me would have to be pretty much straight on (say within 10-20 degrees) to avoid having the spear scrape off to the side. And since barding and plate are all full of curves, it should be reasonably hard to get a near-normal impact angle on a charging target.

    Velocity (not just momentum) is perhaps a significant determinant in whether a pointed weapon penetrates plate. It seems to me that perhaps there is some critical velocity beyond which penetration probability is much less sensitive to impact angle. Maybe longbow arrows exceed this critical velocity but that heavy horse come nowhere near that value? But I'm just speculating here about velocity thing and I don't have the materials science background to know. It just seems to me that there must be some rate at which the material is not going to be able to disipate energy by flexing/bending and instead will shatter? (Perhaps this sort of critical velocity is much much higher than any man-powered weapon could achieve though.)

    Anyway, it seems plausible to me that a huge warhorse and knight in full plate armor may well survive a head-on charge into spears. Even if there is say a 50% loss on initial impact, the spear formation at that point will be severely disrupted several rows deep and the second rank of cavalry will likely have a much higher survival rate. At that point it comes down to morale and melee capabilities.

    Pikes being much more massive than spears are probably less prone to deflection. Furthermore, pikes would tend to impact at a more straight-on angle with less upward incidence than a shorter spear would have to make.

    Just some thoughts. From longjohn's posting yesterday, I don't think the details of cavalry interactions with other units are gonna change. But it's still interesting to discuss.

    bif
    [/QUOTE]

    Nice post,but you are missing something here.
    No horse will charge in to a wall of spears,it doesn't matter how much armor they have...
    Just like camel warriors beat cavalry by fear effect,the horses are scared.
    So,it's about horses,not armor....

    ------------------
    Io,Mihai-Voda,din mila lui Dumnezeu,domn al Tarii Romanesti,Tarii Ardealului si a toata tara Moldovei.
    Io,Mihai-Voda,din mila lui Dumnezeu,domn al Tarii Romanesti,Tarii Ardealului si a toata tara Moldovei.

  4. #4
    karoshi Senior Member solypsist's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Location
    New York New York
    Posts
    9,020

    Default

    moving this to History since the initial post has nothing to do with MTW the game but is instead a theoretical question.

  5. #5

    Default

    I think weither or not a horse would impale itself on something is open to debate.

    Regardless, even if the front line horses didn't want to go any farther the arguement is that the back lines would push them forward and give them no choice.

    The only reason I could think of besides that would the knights not wanting to lose a trained war horse...

    But think about it, the intial shock would be so great that probably only the front line horses would take casualties. After that the spears will be broken, the lines will be disrupted, and you will have heavily armored knights fighting amongst the spearmen...

    Remember the age we are dealing with here.
    So if you could sacrifice a couple of lines worth of horses to win the battle that is more than an acceptable loss, it is downright favorable.
    Horses, even good ones, are easily replaceable. Horses were tools to be used, and if the occasion called, broken in duty.

    The generals were out for victory and the knights were out for personal glory. They didn't give a damn about their horse compared to those things.


    [This message has been edited by Protoman (edited 10-11-2002).]

  6. #6

    Default

    Remember the lines you are talking about are lords, counts, generals, princes, and maybe even kings.

    Bif.. I think you got the point about deflection. I do, however, not have any physic background to draw upon, but I reasoned to the exactly point, the question is whether the spear will be deflected or not. And my guess are, that only 15-30 % of the men in first/second row will die/fall of the horse, because spearmen where commonly poorly trained (low morale) or peasants (no morale).
    Common Unreflected Drinking Only Smartens

  7. #7

    Default

    Quote Originally posted by A.Saturnus:
    If the knights ride slowly to the spears they could simply cut off the points or even grap the spear out of their hands! The spearmen could do nothing against it cause they never could thrust the spears through an armor themselfs!
    [/QUOTE]

    Interesting point.

    What would the spears do then? I suppose they'd be forced to try to swarm the cavalry and would get easy shots at the horse's sides. The knights would have to start whirling about in melee. A horse falling is liable to pin the knight, and at that point he's meat.

    bif


    bif

    -- There are 10 kinds of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who don't. --

  8. #8

    Default

    Actually, Bif, there are accounts of plate armor being so heavy that a knight couldn't get himself up from a prone position (lying down) while armored. The horse wouldn't have to do the pinning. The knights own armor would do it for him. All one had to do was simply (yeah, right) knock the knight out of his saddle. At this point, he would be out of the battle.


  9. #9
    Southpaw Samurai Member Ii Naomasa's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Location
    Twin Cities, MN, USA
    Posts
    329

    Default

    There are very easily suits of plate jousting armor that are nearly impossible to do any kind of real movement in (and lack the articulation to get yourself up from a prone position in), but these were suits specially designed for jousting (less articulation meant less places for lances to sneak in under the armor) and were often quite differently designed that battlefield plate.

    While I wouldn't be surprised to find battlefield plate suits that were too heavy (after all, some designs were probably tested on the battlefield), most were designed to be light or at least articulated enough to allow the wearer to be surprisingly nimble (considering his bulk).

    That's not to say a knight could fall off his horse and spring back up like some kind of martial arts action star. Anyone who has ever fallen off a horse or awkwardly fallen off anything of similar height can tell you how you can have the breath knocked out of you...and that's wearing just clothes. The added weight and bulk of the armor would make that worse...and possibly throw in some pain if you landed awkwardly on a piece of it. Of course, one could be lucky and land rolling and be able to get up fairly quickly, but landing flat would definitely make you vunerable for a few moments...which is all the time it would take for someone to find an opening in your armor.

    My experience with European armor is very limited, so I can't make a truly educated comment on its effectiveness (as has been mentioned, records of the period will under- or over-rate armor based on the situation). I will say that from watching reenactors working in authentically designed and built armor, if I was going into a situation where I might be in the midst of armed people who wouldn't make taking an odd stab at you, I'd most likely want the armor...especially if I spent the time training to properly wear it.
    Naomasa Ii
    Vices & Virtues:
    Verbal Diarrhea: This general can't ever say or write anything in less than three paragraphs. Can't even yell 'Charge' without a soliloquy. -3 to command.

  10. #10
    kortharig werkschuw tuig Member the Count of Flanders's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2002
    Location
    Vlaanderen
    Posts
    595

    Default

    If I were the commander of a spear unit I would order to put the spear points at height of the horse's "chest", chances of penetration are a lot bigger then. Problem is that the horse and/or the rider will be catapulted forward crushing the spearman anyways (and disrupting the spear formation as such). I think the problem before 1300 was that pike formations were so weakly organised that the knights didn't need plate armour: they could just charge in the gaps of the formation.
    And I don't think the first line of cavalry suffered large casualties that were worth it because:
    1) these were lords and every knight that died was considered a big loss
    2) being able to lead the charge (= being on the first row) was an honor so the knights actually wanted to be on the first row (at Poitiers there were reportedly arguements because every French knight felt like he had the right to lead the charge from the first row). I doubt they would have liked to be there if every time 70% of the first row died in a charge.

    ------------------
    ------------------

    Proud member of the OOOO

  11. #11

    Default

    Quote Originally posted by the Count of Flanders:
    If I were the commander of a spear unit I would order to put the spear points at height of the horse's "chest", chances of penetration are a lot bigger then.[/QUOTE]

    Note though that heavy cavalry horse would have plate barding across the front of their chests. But as you say, I would think that's the best place to aim. If you aim higher, your angle of incidence increases dramatically.

    bif

    bif

    -- There are 10 kinds of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who don't. --

  12. #12
    Senior Member Senior Member Hakonarson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2002
    Location
    Wellington, New Zealand
    Posts
    1,442

    Default

    And of course not all horses had plate armour either - for horses it only became "common" in the 1400's. Before then chain, coat of plates or, more likely, felt/padded coton horse armour would have been used.

  13. #13
    Member Member Ginger's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Location
    Glasgow, Scotland
    Posts
    75

    Default

    From reading Harlequin by Bernard Cornwell (he seems to be pretty dilligent with his research) It seems that at Crecy the Mass of French knights were so closely packed that, as Protoman suggests, there is nowhere for a horse to go but forward.

    At crecy, apparently the first line attacked on the spur of the moment, were partially shot up by longbows, and not properly formend up by the time they hit the English, and so did not manage to penetrate their lines. The second wave, however, is described as walking up the the hill, then trotting, cantering and only charging the last 50 yards so that the knighhts were riding knee to knee ten or tewnty deep and ranks of a couple hundred knoghts. I presume that seeing such a slow build up to a charge would terrify the average soldier and that fear would be the nmost potent weapon.
    Apparently the attack nearly broke through as, even when speared, a charging and collapsing 1 ton horse + armoured rider, with mates packed close either side of him, knocks a large hole in the foot soldiers lines. However, once the knietic impact of the knights charge faltered the English footmen and knights overwhelmed the French and won. Apparently itwas quite a close run battle though.

    I know this is all said by other people, but I thought it is quite an interesting illustration of KNight warfare.
    It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.
    -Voltaire-

    Cry Havoc and let slip the FERRETS OF WAR!

  14. #14
    karoshi Senior Member solypsist's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2000
    Location
    New York New York
    Posts
    9,020

    Default

    yep. stab the horse and you've got a big beastie falling straight down on your head (and your neighbors, too) not to mention kicking around a bit before expiring. Bad idea, going for the horse.

  15. #15

    Default

    Actually, stab the horse and the horse stops where it is. The rider will be catapaulted forward onto the deeper ranks of the formation, which could cause some injuries, but it's not YOUR problem now, is it?

    Del

  16. #16
    Senior Member Senior Member Hakonarson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2002
    Location
    Wellington, New Zealand
    Posts
    1,442

    Default

    ACTUALLY - stab a horse and it's reaction depends upon what it is doing, who is riding it, how much armour it has, how many stabs it has had in it's life so far, etc., etc.

    Dead horses have been known to keep moving or several yards before they fall to the gound - a few times they have done this (falling to the ground) on top of infantry - at that point the horse no longer cares about long pointy things - since it is dead - and crashes straight through them.

    Dead horses are a well known way to break up solid infantry formations.

    Fortunately for infantry throughout history horses have generally tended to try to stay alive!!

  17. #17
    Member Member deejayvee's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    Location
    Sydney, NSW, Australia
    Posts
    339

    Default

    My thoughts:

    If the length of the knight's lance is greater than the length of the spear, the spear would be a lot less relevant. That's why pikes are so good.

    In regards to deflection, additions to armour such as fluting increase the deflection rate.

    Also, I have had some involvement in armour reproduction (mostly reading at this stage, but I'll get there) and the typical set of armour seems to have weighed about 55lbs which is less than the modern infantryman will sometimes carry.
    There are 10 types of people in the world... those who understand binary and those who don't.

  18. #18

    Default

    The point is totally moot. There is not one single recorded instance of cavalry, of ANY type, charging pikes frontally and getting anything but a good thrashing. You could make an argument as far as shorter spears, but even then.

    Del

  19. #19
    Isn't she pretty in pink? Member Rosacrux's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2002
    Location
    RTW sucks big time!
    Posts
    1,348

    Default

    Del's right. Not one. Period.
    CHIEF HISTORIAN

  20. #20
    Member Member Mori Gabriel Syme's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2001
    Location
    Athens, Georgia USA
    Posts
    212

    Default

    The argument is not really moot. The effectiveness of heavy cavalry charges against spear formations was the reason for the development of the pike. If it had not been effective, why invent an unwieldy version?

    ------------------
    Others enslave by victory,
    Their subjects, as their foes, oppress;
    Anna conquers but to free,
    And governs but to bless. -- Edmund Smith (Anna stands for England)

  21. #21
    Member Member Mori Gabriel Syme's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2001
    Location
    Athens, Georgia USA
    Posts
    212

    Default

    Quote Originally posted by AgentBif:
    But then I got to thinking about the armor. With all that plate backed by some kind of padding (or chain) there is a good chance that a spear impact will simply be deflected to the side.

    [snip]

    It would all come down to deflection... side-force overcoming point-on-plate friction before the plate impinges too deeply on the point.
    [/QUOTE]

    I believe you are quite correct. Chain mail was effective against edged weapons, possibly better than plate. For a thrusting weapon however, it is nothing but a mass of chinks to be exploited. As spears became more common in defending against cavalry, plate replaced chain for knights.


    ------------------
    Others enslave by victory,
    Their subjects, as their foes, oppress;
    Anna conquers but to free,
    And governs but to bless. -- Edmund Smith (Anna stands for England)

  22. #22

    Default

    Lances WERE longer than spears. So the first rank of infantry was dead and knocked backwards into the second rank before the knights hit and whammo, instant rout.

    Thus the Pike :P

    Now we just need to get MTW to model this.

  23. #23

    Default

    You still have to account for the fact that (a) the only length of the lance that counts is the portion that actually sticks out past the horses nose, but even more importantly

    (b) that spearmen would have been using some hefty sort of shield and perhaps had some decent armor besides. So if they presented an unbroken front it would indeed be difficult for cavalry to make headway.

    And cavalry was not in any way the main reason for the development of the pike. Massed pike formations are simply the most versatile and effective formation you can get with a weapon that is simple and cheap to produce and not terribly difficult to train an ignoramus to use properly.

    Del

  24. #24

    Default

    I had no idea we were discussing shield walls, I thought we were talking about massed spear. Of course knights will lose when opposed by an unbroken shield wall, but that's not the issue. The issue is that even considering only the parts sticking ahead of the horse, lances were still likely to be longer than spears (I'm not 100% certain, I'll try and dig up some statistics, but I'm fairly sure), and even more importantly against cavalry, the length of the pike allowed MORE of them to be aimed at a charging knight.

    Cavalry was the ONLY reason for the development of the pike, as it is LESS useful against infantry with anti-pike weapons (such as those two-handed flamberges used by german mercenaries to slice the heads off pike), required greater discipline to use, and weighed them down more than a spear, presenting an even easier target for opposing archers. There was NO reason to develop pike except for Cavalry.

  25. #25

    Default

    Further, shields don't matter if they're using blunted lance heads, 2200+ lbs of knight is still going to break lines of plain spear.

  26. #26
    Isn't she pretty in pink? Member Rosacrux's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2002
    Location
    RTW sucks big time!
    Posts
    1,348

    Default

    Quote Originally posted by Thane Talain MacDonald:
    such as those two-handed flamberges used by german mercenaries to slice the heads off pike.[/QUOTE]

    Actually, the landsknechts 9 out of 10 lost to the Swiss pikemen. I think that says something, doesn't it? Check their battles in Italy, they are quite revealing.
    CHIEF HISTORIAN

  27. #27

    Default

    Interesting. Pike being effective against infantry just doesn't seem to make any logical sense, considering how unwieldy the damn things were, but I'm willing to concede that pike may have been partially inspired by infantry threats. I am very much not willing to concede that it was merely because of that, and still hold that knights could defeat standard spearmen and would require pike.

  28. #28

    Default

    Well, considering that the first recorded Western use of pikes was in the Macedonian Phalanxes, and that at the time of there development there was absolutely no Heavy Cavalry which Philip of Macedon had to face off against, I would say that you should read some more history, MacDonald.

    The majority of the defensive qualities of a pike formation come from its pikes-- held out in serried ranks to form a wall against the enemy, or held upright farther back to help deflect incoming missles.

    However with spearmen the issue is different. They are usually not going to form quite the same sort of wall as pikes, so they will be carrying larger shields and sporting more armor (or at least one would hope so, and usually they were). So you cannot evaluate the overall defensive characteristics of the formation by just looking at the spear itself.

    The one medieval instance of HC vs. shield wall that I can think of is the Battle of Hastings, and the Norman Cav most definitely did not succeed against the unbroken shield wall.

    Also it is important to note that while the theoretical maximum striking power of a cavalry-borne lance is very high, if all of that power were actually utilized the trooper would only serve to either break his arm, catapault himself from his mount, or likely both.

    ..

    However I would be somewhat inclined to agree that giving spears as large an anti-cav bonus as pikes is perhaps a bit silly.

    Del

  29. #29

    Default

    Quote Originally posted by Del:
    Well, considering that the first recorded Western use of pikes was in the Macedonian Phalanxes
    [/QUOTE]

    Well, the relevant issue here is when did Europeans start using pikes? If the game is to be believed, they did not show up until well after heavy cavalry had been the dominant mode of warefare for many centuries.

    bif
    bif

    -- There are 10 kinds of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who don't. --

  30. #30

    Default

    Alright, I'll put it this way-- regardless of why they were developed in this particular instance, anti-cavalry is not the defining feature of pikes. In the 17th century after the death of cataphracts, pikes were even more prevalent than before, being practically the only infantry weapon other than the musket.

    Del

Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •  
Single Sign On provided by vBSSO