"Guns proliferated in spite of themselves..."


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TarDevil
March 23, 2012, 12:50 PM
... or something like that. It was in the Historical notes of Bernard Cornwell's The Archers Tale.

The Battle of Crécy was one of the earliest recorded battles where guns (cannons, to be more precise) were used, but the French with their cumbersome guns were soundly defeated by the salvos of arrows from the English.

In two other of Cornwell's series (Sharpe Series and The Starbuck Chronicles, some of most favorite books), we are treated to some accurate and graphic portrayals of frontloading warfare. Again I wondered how those soldiers would've fared if hundreds of arrows were raining down while they were stuffing powder, wadding and lead down the barrels of their Springfield muskets and Baker rifles.

So what was the biggest motivator in gun development? I submit that concealment drove the advances in firearm technology. Carrying a bow was no more difficult that carrying a long flintlock, powder, lead, etc., but a bow certainly could never be concealed. Those first crude handguns offered the first and best (short of edged weapons) manner of self defense that could be carried under outer garments.

Have you ever thought about this? Advanced societies are all about making new and better wheels, but there had to be an objective in those early years to staying with a weapon so troublesome to employ.

Alas, my work day is slow... hence such meandering thoughts!

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Library Guy
March 23, 2012, 01:41 PM
Guns replaced bows on the battlefield long before guns became concealable.

It’s faster and cheaper to make a musketman than an archer. To bend a war bow takes a prodigious amount of strength and requires uncommon skill to hit a distant target. Archers are specialists and thus are unruly and prone to democratic ideas. (So are riflemen.) Musketmen are cogs.

Cosmoline
March 23, 2012, 02:07 PM
I actually had a little on-line debate with the good Mr. Cornwell about this years ago. I bow to his knowledge of the long bow, but he's not all that knowledgeable about smoke poles. With early modern stuffers the powder was really powder, not grain, and it burned poorly. Velocities were low, impurities were high, projectiles were sometimes stones! Accuracy was abysmal. The early arms were not effectively used on the battlefield, either. And as a consequence in those days a soldier with a stuffer would be easy pickings for the bowmen.

But firearms evolved, black powder got much better, and tactics improved. The development of the Swiss pike and shot formations was very successful, and the advent of better firearms made the pike unnecessary. There's a universe of difference between a Brown Bess of the 18th century and a crude gonne of the 16th, particularly when you consider powder and projectile evolution. The initial appeal of firearms may have been the minimal training need to use them, but technology soon eclipsed bows. And that's not even considering the advances made to artillery in that period, which turned them from semi-fixed siege tools to fast moving instant death to anyone in their way.

Now, here's where Bernard overstates the case for his beloved bowmen. He was claiming that trained longbow archers could lay waste to *ANY* era of smokepole shooters. But as you get into the later 18th and particularly mid-19th centuries, there is no way that would happen. By the time you get to the rifle muskets of the Civil War era, you have firearms that would utterly annihilate any group of archers within visual sight. They're man accurate for hundreds of yards and deliver wounds far more wicked than any bow's iron warhead. They also have a much faster rate of fire than primitive arquebus.

Another big issue--maybe the most significant--is the overall tactical position of the longbow units on the battlefield. Put simply they're darned vulnerable and need constant protection. In close combat they have much less firepower because only the front rank can fire. Their weapons are fragile and cavalry can sweep right through them. Musket units, on the other hand, can stack their ranks, form a block and decimate mounted charges. That's why the musket balls are so big--to stop a charging warhorse. Instead of having to protect fragile bow strings, their arms are also de facto spears in close combat, and darned effective ones at that. So if you charge a unit of infantry armed with 18th century muskets you're asking for a world of hurt at long, medium, short AND contact range.

Artillery was the real queen by that time, and the science had evolved enormously by the 18th century. Artillery engineers could drop cannon ball with great precision and even "skip" them through ranks or bounce them off objects to veer back into targets. The generals loved them for it. They also had a variety of projectiles to choose from. No longbow can outshoot a cannon, which means longbows cannot be used at all in siege warfare of the 18th century. And if they made trouble on the open field they'd be nailed with artillery fire they could not respond to.

So if a longbow unit were to have appeared at Waterloo, it could have made some trouble at first but would have been driven off by musket fire, canister shot and lance charges. In a few minutes all those lifetimes of hard training would be gone forever.

In the end, longbows fell out of favor for both economic and technological reasons. Even with the best of training, they would have been of little use for more than hit-and-run skirmishes by the 18th century.

GambJoe
March 23, 2012, 02:57 PM
From what I read it took allot of training learn how to shoot a bow. Also it took a life time practice to maintain your skill. An archer would have to be rather strong (large) to shoot a bow so you need to eat more than the average peasant. Hard to do in medieval times. If he were in a battle he would probably be at a disadvantage when foot soldiers managed to break their position. Hence no one wanted to be an archer.

When the musket came along practically anyone could learn to shoot. Put two armies facing each other at 50 yards and let it rip. Around revolutionary times the govenments were asking builders to design a long gun with interchangeable parts. It took until our pre-civil war to get that technology.

Funny thing, a long time ago there was a NYT's article about revisionist historians who were coming up with some questionable answers about the usefulness of long gun's during the revolutionary war. They went over documents showing how much lead was procured for long gun which came to about 20,000 rounds for every British soldier killed, proving that the long gun was useless.

Vern Humphrey
March 23, 2012, 03:04 PM
It’s faster and cheaper to make a musketman than an archer. To bend a war bow takes a prodigious amount of strength and requires uncommon skill to hit a distant target. Archers are specialists and thus are unruly and prone to democratic ideas. (So are riflemen.) Musketmen are cogs.
That's essentially correct -- the famous English archers (who were mostly Welsh, by the way) were professional soldiers. They trained from childhood, and were difficult to replace when lost in action.

The bow itself was an expensive weapon -- you have only to look at English surnames to see that. People named Boyer, Bowman, Shafter, Fletcher, Arrowsmith, Stringer, and so on are descended from people who specialized in making the parts of the system -- the bowstave, the shaft, the arrowhead, the string and so on.

People who lived at the time of transition explained it very well -- after a month or two in the field, with all the attendant diseases of campaigning, there were few archers "who can make strong shoots." But musketeers, as long as they could stand, could shoot just as hard as ever.

Also tactics changed -- the pikeman emerged, a product of growning towns, where men could earn enough to afford breasplates, helmets and so on, and where they could drill together. The pike itself was a protection against arrows -- the longbow had an arching trajectory, so the arrows came down on their targets and struck or ricocheted off the staffs of the pikes held above the formation before reaching the men holding them.

TarDevil
March 23, 2012, 04:06 PM
Interesting. Much can be learned from the fertile minds in this place! (That was NOT sarcastic)

Tinker
March 24, 2012, 02:47 AM
"Guns replaced bows on the battlefield long before guns became concealable."

I would agree with that as a general rule. Save for one exception, during a certain time frame.

In the Eastern Woodlands, when whites first brought firearms, the local archers (Eastern Indian tribes) dropped the longbow like a bad habit and picked up smoke poles. Those were hunter/warriors who marched on foot (like the English longbow archers)

The exception was later, during the indian wars on the plains. Those horse archers did not give up bows until repeating arms came on the scene. The rate of fire was why they kept the bow so long in that time/place.

Dr.Rob
March 24, 2012, 02:08 PM
Making a lethal archer takes time. ANY conscript with a firearm was potentially lethal from the get-go.

Robert
March 24, 2012, 02:13 PM
I moved this to General from Handguns as it is not really Handgun realted. This is a great topic and may see more traffic here.

medalguy
March 24, 2012, 02:19 PM
"Guns proliferated in spite of themselves..."

That's what I keep telling my wife about the vault.....

Hey, seriously, really interesting post and followups.

AlexanderA
March 24, 2012, 04:05 PM
In the Eastern Woodlands, when whites first brought firearms, the local archers (Eastern Indian tribes) dropped the longbow like a bad habit and picked up smoke poles. Those were hunter/warriors who marched on foot (like the English longbow archers)

The bows of the Native Americans, at the time of the first contact, were in no way comparable to the English longbows. In fact the Jamestown settlers were deathly afraid of the natives obtaining English longbows. When the Virginia Company sent out a shipment of longbows to the settlers, the settlers intercepted the ship carrying the longbows and had them offloaded in Bermuda. (The settlers weren't as afraid of the Indians obtaining firearms, because they knew the Indians had no easy way of getting powder and lead. Arrows were a different story.)

throdgrain
March 24, 2012, 04:18 PM
Bernard Cornwell writes some great books dont he? :)

My favourite are the Warlord Chronicles, and the 5th century legendary King Arthur period, and the take-over of Christianity. Please read 'em, I'm sure you'll love em!

I recently read one called The Fort, about the war of Independance, worth a look too.

gunnutery
March 24, 2012, 04:29 PM
To go along with what others have said, it not only takes time to train a bowman but it takes plenty of time to make arrows VS. pouring hot lead into a mold.

I'll have to check out the books.

JRH6856
March 24, 2012, 04:30 PM
When the Virginia Company sent out a shipment of longbows to the settlers, the settlers intercepted the ship carrying the longbows and had them offloaded in Bermuda.

Early assault weapons ban with import restrictions? Was there a checklist?

exavid
March 24, 2012, 08:43 PM
I believe the crossbow was developed more for its ease of training crossbowmen than its effectiveness which was for the most part less than the long bow.
One advantage for the Indians of the new world was that the bow was nearly silent and didn't give away the shooter's position which was a valuable attribute since woods dwelling Indians didn't fight on open ground in mass formations as Europeans did.

Patriotme
March 24, 2012, 09:56 PM
Bernard Cornwell is a one of my favourite authors. His books are like an addiction once you discover them.

gunsandreligion
March 24, 2012, 10:56 PM
I believe that the English longbow had no sporting purpose under 922r.:p This discussion has really sparked my interest in the weaponry of that time, now I have a lot of reading to do.

medalguy
March 24, 2012, 11:13 PM
Amazon.com for printed or e versions.:D

TarDevil
March 25, 2012, 12:32 AM
Bernard Cornwell is a one of my favourite authors. His books are like an addiction once you discover them.
Indeed!

twofifty
March 25, 2012, 02:09 AM
Glad I stumbled onto this great thread.

I recall accounts of muskets and later on rifles being used at sea by embarked Marines of various European navies. The marines would fire from vantage points high up the rigging, sometimes called fighting tops.

That is exactly how British Admiral Lord Nelson met his fate -a French musket ball to the chest- at Trafalgar in 1805. The British devastated the French-Spanish armada, but Nelson came back home in a pickling barrel.

Pfletch83
March 25, 2012, 04:14 AM
This thread has got me thinking.

How well would a rifle squad of WW2 era U.S. G.I.'s (or their later Vietnam era counterparts) do against a dark age army (Granted those G.I.'s would have twice the ammo loadout as usual)?

throdgrain
March 25, 2012, 05:11 AM
That is exactly how British Admiral Lord Nelson met his fate -a French musket ball to the chest- at Trafalgar in 1805. The British devastated the French-Spanish armada, but Nelson came back home in a pickling barrel.

One of our greatest heroes of all time I reckon, the victory at Trafalgar ensured our domination of the seas for another hundred years, saved our country from possible invasion by the Frenchies and defeated a fleet twice as big as our own :)

Nelson could have hidden out the way during the battle, but stood there like a great big shiny target for everyone to see. He developed a new strategy too -

Never mind tactics, just go straight at 'em

Or something like that :)

545days
March 25, 2012, 04:58 PM
Don't forget that humans tend to be frightened off by the display of power. The gun with it's loud report, muzzle flash and smoke production made a far more impressive display of power than a bow.

This display had as much to do with initial success of guns (especially when facing cultures that had never faced guns or cannon in warfare) as their lethality did. It is far easier to win a battle when significant portions of the enemy have broken ranks and run away.

parsimonious_instead
March 25, 2012, 05:12 PM
I was less than happy about the mean things Cornwell said about 1911s in his book Wildtrack... :(

Cosmoline
March 25, 2012, 07:52 PM
Another problem with bows was the lack of technological improvements possible at the time. While firearms and black powder got better and better all the time, bows didn't really see that kind of improvement. Had mass produced compound bows with razor-tipped arrows been technologically possible in the 18th century bows might have had more of a following.

How well would a rifle squad of WW2 era U.S. G.I.'s (or their later Vietnam era counterparts) do against a dark age army (Granted those G.I.'s would have twice the ammo loadout as usual)?

Which dark ages army? If you're talking formal Carolingian Frankish army mustered in the field, pretty darn good. If you're talking about getting bushwhacked at point blank range by angry Vikings, maybe not so good. It's hard to aim a rifle when some huge guy in full berserkergang is hacking your arm off.

parsimonious_instead
March 25, 2012, 08:47 PM
Pfletch, Cosmoline:

Read this month's Wired magazine article about a fellow who began writing a story called RomeSweeRome about a battalion of Marines finding themselves suddenly in Ancient Rome. Apparently this writer is no slouch, for as he posted serialized bits of his tale on Reddit, his readership grew exponentially and attracted the attention of some production companies, resulting in advance payment for a full length screenplay and eventually a movie version.

Millwright
March 25, 2012, 09:02 PM
There are several crucial factors in your supposition, TD !

First, it take a long time - and a lot of money - to train longbowmen. Likewise, there's considerable expense in crafting the bows and arrows. Skilled bowmen can put 3-5 volley fire arrows in the air at one time. That means a logistics train that can supply tens of thousand of arrows to the battlefield to keep a 1000 archers in ammo.

The more parsimonious governments soon adopted the crossbow because it was far easier to train troops to shoot them effectively and the much shorter bolts weren't as hard to craft in quantity. (You've got to think in terms of "cottage industry" not mass production by machines.)

Second, even the "cloth yard" english arrow with a bodkin point - essentially a small spear with a needle point - wasn't all that effective against armored knights or horses . And knights were the "tanks" of the medieval era battle field !

Third, even the crude "hande gonnes" -which were more akin to a shoulder arm - of the era could penetrate a knight's armor ! This led to an early "arms race" as armor makers and gunmakers strove to defeat the opposition !

But it was not until the advent of the "snaphaunce" style of ignition that personal arms became even mildly popular among the rich. >MW

BaltimoreBoy
March 25, 2012, 09:08 PM
Another thought on this interesting topic.

The "Queen of Battle" of European military power during the middle ages was heavy cavalry.

Heavy cavalry is VERY expensive. The Musket and Pike formations can defeat them far more cost effectively. Archery is more expensive than musket and pike and only so-so on effectiveness.

Vern Humphrey
March 25, 2012, 09:29 PM
But it was not until the advent of the "snaphaunce" style of ignition that personal arms became even mildly popular among the rich.
Actually, the wheellock, which preceeded the snaphaunce ("snapping hen") lock was very popular among the rich.

The wars of that era were really between the middle class and the hereditary aristocracy. The middle class, who lived in cities, drilled with the pike. Well-trained infantrymen, armed with pikes and protected with helmets and breast plates could defeat armored cavalry.

The cavalry response was the wheellock pistol -- they would gallop up and fire in the faces of the pike-armed infantry, then gallop away to reload (this tactic was called the "Caracol.") So wheellock pistols were eagerly sought by the aristocratic armored cavalrymen.

The infantry response was to station men with matchlock muskets in their ranks.

Ultimately two developments -- the bayonet and the flintlock (a simplified Snaphaunce) shifted the tactical advantage permanently to the infantry.

throdgrain
March 26, 2012, 08:37 AM
Heavy cavalry is VERY expensive. The Musket and Pike formations can defeat them far more cost effectively. Archery is more expensive than musket and pike and only so-so on effectiveness


Quite right, but the archers ruined the French cavalrys day at Agincourt :)

JRH6856
March 26, 2012, 01:11 PM
Quite right, but the archers ruined the French cavalrys day at Agincourt

At Agincourt, the cavalry was crowded into a narrow defile and the pressure from the rear ranks prevented the front ranks from retreating. Kind of like Wal-Mart shoppers on black friday. It was a perfect situation for the archers and not truly representative. Crecy was perhaps a better example.

Vern Humphrey
March 26, 2012, 05:04 PM
That's the English story. The French say it was raining and their horses slipped in the mud.:p

JRH6856
March 26, 2012, 05:22 PM
The French say it was raining and their horses slipped in the mud.

Then they should have been riding ducks....or frogs. :p

throdgrain
March 26, 2012, 06:00 PM
heheheh :D

JRH6856
March 26, 2012, 06:29 PM
Of note is that at Crecy (1346) and Poitiers (1356) the English archers fought from prepared positions protected from cavalry charge by pits. At Agincourt (1415), the archers were protected by sharpened stakes facing outward and the archers could not be reached by cavalry charge. At Patay (1429), the French cavalry attacked before the English archers could place the stakes, the English cavalry fled and the English infantry and archers were overwhelmed and massacred.

TxState101
March 26, 2012, 07:19 PM
One of our greatest heroes of all time I reckon, the victory at Trafalgar ensured our domination of the seas for another hundred years, saved our country from possible invasion by the Frenchies and defeated a fleet twice as big as our own :)

Nelson could have hidden out the way during the battle, but stood there like a great big shiny target for everyone to see. He developed a new strategy too -



Or something like that :)

Sharpe's Trafalgar is a pretty entertaining read, too.

Nelson was one bad dude. As a one eyed man myself, this is one of my favorite quotes of his

"To leave off action"? Well, damn me if I do! You know, Foley, I have only one eye,— I have a right to be blind sometimes . . . I really do not see the signal!

Life of Nelson (Ch. 7): At the battle of Copenhagen, Ignoring Admiral Parker's signal to retreat, holding his telescope up to his blind eye, and proceeding to victory against the Danish fleet. (2 April 1801)

Cosmoline
March 26, 2012, 08:40 PM
I've also read that the lethality of the longbow's projectile has been overstated. Absent special conditions it was not a field-sweeping weapon, just a means of indirect fire to soften up the target. Unlike soldiers with flintlocks the archers couldn't actually take or hold ground.

RomeSweeRome about a battalion of Marines finding themselves suddenly in Ancient Rome.

Looks interesting but a lot of Marine officers have a pretty good knowledge of the classics and Roman military history. I doubt they'd be dumb enough to just slug it out until they ran out of ammo and fuel.

JRH6856
March 26, 2012, 08:45 PM
I doubt they'd be dumb enough to just slug it out until they ran out of ammo and fuel.

In real estate it is Location, Location, Location. In war it is Logistics, Logistics, Logistics.

Vern Humphrey
March 26, 2012, 09:03 PM
I've also read that the lethality of the longbow's projectile has been overstated. Absent special conditions it was not a field-sweeping weapon, just a means of indirect fire to soften up the target.
For some strange reason, people who know little or nothing about tactics assume the longbow was a flat-trajectory weapon, like a machinegun. You hear people talking about "firing" an arrow (how do you do that?) or about "cross fire" from arrows.

In fact, it was a high-trajectory weapon that came down from above -- in fact, the "salad bowl" helmit with it's broad brim was designed to deal with arrows. The brim gave extra protection, since the arrow with its downward trajectory would hit the brim before hitting other parts of the armor, where there might be a crevice or opening.

JRH6856
March 26, 2012, 09:18 PM
In fact, it was a high-trajectory weapon that came down from above

The French were correct. It was raining at Agincourt.

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