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Bows vs. Muskets

Discussion in 'General Gun Discussions' started by glockten, Jul 6, 2003.

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  1. glockten

    glockten Member

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    Found an interesting exposition at Bernard Cornwell's website.

    Go to this page and scroll down to question #4.
     
  2. Oleg Volk

    Oleg Volk Moderator Emeritus

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  3. CWL

    CWL Member

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    True, but he didn't list economic factors which led to rise of firearms.

    It was simply cheaper for armies to field musketeers (actually arquebusiers) than to field bowmen.

    Shooters could be handed a firearm and trained on the rudimentaries within a day. Matchlock firearms were cheap and easy to make, pound out a barrel from wrought iron, attach to rough wood and add a serpentine matchlock device. Lead bullets were cheap to cast. Bows and arrows required precision to make and archers took forever to train and needed constant drilling to retain effectiveness.

    On campaign, archers would weaken from lack of food, illfed musketeers could still shoot to same effect.

    Oh yeah, if a smelly musketeer ever got killed, you just handed his gun to the next peasant conscript.
     
  4. telomerase

    telomerase Member

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    all true, CWL

    Europeans never did learn to make decent composite bows; making a Mongol bow took over a year. And the English longbows required ITALIAN yew saplings to make. I recall reading that longbows didn't work in the rain (the strings failed); anyone know whether Mongol bows have the same problem?

    Ben Franklin was right that archers would have been better than musketeers with no powder, but I don't think he understood how hard it was to make good bows (or how long it took to train archers). Now crossbows (steel crossbows work in the rain) and naginatas might have worked, combined with guerrilla tactics and night fighting... but Washington wouldn't have allowed that any more than he allowed the frontiersmen to hunt the British around Boston.
     
  5. Cadwallader

    Cadwallader Member

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    With regard to rain and bowstrings - getting wet doesn't exactly cause "failure" in twisted or looped fiber (hemp or linen or whatever, or modern B-50 dacron for that matter) bowstrings (which are just small well-made ropes when it comes down to it) -what it does do is screw accuracy and effective range up in a big way - a heavy hemp or linen bowstring will absorb a significant amount of water, effectively raising arrow mass (the bow has to cast against the mass of the string plus the mass of the arrow), reducing effective range and changing point of impact by lots - as much as 10-20 yards shorter at combat ranges, so your volley of what should be solid hits into the enemy ranks turns into a whole bunch of misses, and good luck correcting instinctive aim accurately for that change in the middle of a battle.
     
  6. Mike Irwin

    Mike Irwin Member

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    In terms of raw money, a firearm was far more expensive than a bow to produce for the simple reason that working metal was a true artisan's job, creating the metal was an artisan's job, etc. etc. etc. It would be easy to say that the village smith could turn out a barrel, but that's actually not so much the case. The bics and mandrels and swaging blocks needed to form a barrel were expensive as hell, and well beyond the capabilities of the village smith. Boring the barrel smooth and straightening it also required the services of a highly skilled artisan.

    That's why firearms were largely the product of government arsenals, because of the amount of specialized equipment required to make them.

    An effective bow, on the other hand, could be roughed out by a great deal of the population. Making an arrow shaft isn't particularly difficult, but it is time consuming, the same with fletching. Making a point required only the services of the village smith. I watched a demonstration at a renaissance fair a few years ago where a blacksmith turned out bodkin points using 8 hammer blows and less than a minute.

    Seasoning the wood did take a long time, but it wasn't uncommon for an archer of the time to have 20 to 100 "blanks" for bows stashed away in various stages of production at any one time.

    That in and of itself is thought also another hint as to why the firearm replaced the bow -- firearms tend to last a LOT longer than a bow.

    As for the wood, Italian Yew was not a requirement. English Yew or even ash were also very acceptable woods, and produced fine bows. The long bows brought up from the Mary Rose were all, I believe, made of English Yew.

    As for the strings, each archer knew that waterproofing the string with tallow was a mandatory step in bow maintenance. The grease also helped the strings last longer (just as string wax does today) by reducing intra-fiber friction as the bow is drawn and released. A string that isn't lubricated regularly on a bow today will wear out fairly quickly.

    As Henry's men proved in their invasion of France, archers could still be extremely effective in periods of protracted wet weather.

    As others have mentioned, though, the amount of training required was what truly killed the bow.
     
  7. telomerase

    telomerase Member

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    Thanks for clearing up my vague misconceptions about wet bowstrings. (Although I still don't know why the colonists didn't use any crossbows). Oh, and I just remembered the colonists had "spontoons", which are polearms.
     
  8. Orthonym

    Orthonym Member

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    I seem to recall reading that it wasn't wet weather but hot weather which degraded the elastic properties of the yew bow, anything above about 80 degrees F.
     
  9. Cadwallader

    Cadwallader Member

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    Cold weather is even harder on yew than warm weather - more than a few traditional bowhunters have found out the hard way when they broke their expensive yew selfbow by drawing it fast and hard to take a shot at a nice buck in the December woods.
     
  10. glockten

    glockten Member

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    This is one of the great things about THR: all I did was post a link and it sparked an enlightening discussion.

    The TFL tradition is alive and well! :)
     
  11. 4v50 Gary

    4v50 Gary Moderator Staff Member

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    Last time archers were used on any scale in Europe was when Napoleon's troops invaded Russia. Sharpe meets Kutuzov. ;)
     
  12. Harold Mayo

    Harold Mayo Member

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    Didn't read the links as of yet and I might regret it since I'm posting on this thread...

    Anyway, did you guys know that one of the "big deals" about firearms in battle is the noise that they make?

    I can't cite authors or web sites...this is all from watching the History Channel or the Discovery Channel or from reading...but one of the biggest pros of firearms is the effect of the noise on morale.

    One of the best-known examples is in WWII with the German machine guns (MG42, I think?). Their high rate of fire would frighten the Allied troops so much that captured MG42's (?) would be used in training to get the G.I.'s acclimated to it so that they wouldn't freeze up when hearing it in battle.

    There are others that I can vaguely recall but that example gets the general point across.
     
  13. Mike Irwin

    Mike Irwin Member

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    "Although I still don't know why the colonists didn't use any crossbows."

    By the time the Americas were colonized in any great numbers, crossbows were pretty much a thing of the past, just as bows were. Crossbow making was also a highly specialized art, and those makers could likely easily move sideways into the manufacture of firearms, or at least parts of firearms such as the stock and lockwork. In many ways, the early match locks were derivitives of the locks found on crossbows.

    I wouldn't at all be surprised to find that the colonists would be a little shocked in finding out that bows were still in use by the native populations.

    As for the noise effect, in some ways I think it's overrated, in some ways perhaps underrated.

    The noise factor can be quite unnerving when troops are facing a weapon for the first time, but once familiarity sets in, it's not such a factor.

    For example, contemporary accounts of battles where large numbers of archers were employed describe the moaning shriek that a thousand or more arrows, loosed at the same time, make.

    You get some idea of the effect of this noise if you watch Henry V with either Lawrence Olivier or Kenneth Brannagh (sp?). They show the scenes of the battle of Agincourt where the English archers fire on the French knights, complete with sound tracks that are, from what I've heard of smaller numbers of archers, rather authentic.

    Yet, in the face of that noise, which was likely deafening as the arrows descended, the French knights not only stood their ground, but made repeated charges across the field.
     
  14. CWL

    CWL Member

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    Early firearms didn't use bored-out barrels made from forgings. A pounded-out flat of metal was wrapped around a dowel of appropriate bore and then welded together. This was cheap, easy and safe enough since it allowed enough gas-leakage to prevent explosions from the powder used during the early eras (1300-1600s). There certainly were rifled bores, but these were reserved for the weapons of the nobility or rich -primarily wheelocks or snaphaunces.

    to drift a little, the last confirmed longbow kill was made in France during the retreat from Dunkirk in WWII. An English Captain (name escapes me) who was an ardent longbowman, shot an advancing German while manning one of the delaying forces. -he was obviously a nut, but he must have surprised the heck outta the Germans.
     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2003
  15. Keith

    Keith Member

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    There are bows and bows, and firearms and firearms...

    While the English longbow (in well-trained hands) is certainly capable of everything Mr. Cornwell attributes to it, other bows in use around the world had nothing like that range and accuracy.
    Certainly, the bows used by Native Americans were far inferior to that, having an effective range of only fifty yards or so.
    Of course, the North American bow was a hunting weapon adapted for war, rather than a war weapon in and of itself. Its primary use was to stalk up to an animal and shoot it at close range. A hunter has no use for seven foot long, a 100 pound pull bow used for long range volley fire.
    And early on (in North America), the European populace began adopting and developing the rifle, a weapon which far surpassed the range and accuracy of the native bow - something recognized early by all the tribes, who threw their bows away as soon as they could acquire a firearm.
    You can certainly shoot faster with a bow, but that's not very useful if you your opponent can begin shooting you at 250 yards, while you have to get within 50 to shoot back...

    Keith
     
  16. telewinz

    telewinz Member

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    The bow and arrow developed by native Americans ranks among the worst in the World and hardly brings credit to their culture. In Europe archers and crossbowman were very much looked down upon and often were left unprotected on the battlefield. The first firearms were very much inferior to the bow or crossbow but it did take much less training to master. The most effective crossbows had a much slower reload rate compared to the musket and had greater accuracy and power. I disagree that muskets were cheap and easy to make, the forging and machining required to make a musket (just the barrel alone) exceeeds the vast majority of the crossbows fielded. The crossbow was considered the "ultimate infantry weapon" even after the matchlock made its apperance on the battlefield. The need for large armies, simplified training, and massed firepower gave the nod to the musket, the military firearm has not looked back since. The crossbow was the ultimate developement of the bow and arrow, their was nowhere else to go.
     
  17. Mike Irwin

    Mike Irwin Member

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    "Early firearms didn't use bored-out barrels made from forgings. A pounded-out flat of metal was wrapped around a dowel of appropriate bore and then welded together."

    That's partially correct, partially incorrect.

    By boring out, I meant that the interior of the barrel was "chased" with reamers to what it was smooth. You're correct, barrels were formed from flat stock, hammer welded around a mandrel. It could be either one piece of flat stock, or just as commonly, a damascus-type barrel where multiple strips of iron were spiral wound around a mandrel.

    BUT, the interior of such a bore is quite frankly a mess, with many high and low spots. It's not an effective, or even usable, firearm.

    The bore has to be chased smooth, using a succession of larger reamers. In the early days this was often done by apprentices with a bow drill, while later it was done on progressive feed horizontal boring machines (which are a LOT older than most people think). These could be powered either by hand, by water, or other means.

    Boring solid blanks for small arms didn't start until the 18th century, and began mainly as a method of manufacturing cannons.

    Rifling, I believe, is first noted to have started in the 1500s.


    "The bow and arrow developed by native Americans ranks among the worst in the World and hardly brings credit to their culture."

    Hum... I'd have to take a "linear" exception to that, Telewinz. Think, developmentally, where the native Americans were in relation to the Europeans. Roughly a 2,500 to 5,000 year difference. Native Americans were still in the stone age -- no wheel, no screw, none of the complex machines that Europeans had been developing for many centuries. It's very likely that the bows and arrows developed by NAs were comparable to those of Europeans of a similar developemntal era.
     
  18. Cosmoline

    Cosmoline Member

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    I agree that longbows have an advantage over primitive muskets. I disagree with the author's claim that the bow would have an advantage until the advent of breach-loaded weapons. Comparing primal muskets and with Civil War era muzzle-loaded rifles is like comparing Drake's Golden Hynde with a Napoleonic frigate. Yes, they're both using muzzle loaded weapons. But that's about the only thing they have in common.

    The muskets throw roundball out to 100 yards or so, and at that range it might or might not hit something. The rifle muskets shoot Minnie Balls out to 400 yards and are quite accurate even at that range. Certainly minute-of-reb or minute-of-yankee.

    Can you imagine a bunch of archers trying to take on a division from Lee's army, or Grant's for that matter!? Absurd.
     
  19. Mike Irwin

    Mike Irwin Member

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    "Can you imagine a bunch of archers trying to take on a division from Lee's army, or Grant's for that matter!? Absurd."

    Yes, I can. Wouldn't be a pretty sight.

    Feudal Japan provides an excellent classroom into the clash between bows and muskets around the time of the establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
     
  20. agricola

    agricola Member

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    "The bow and arrow developed by native Americans ranks among the worst in the World and hardly brings credit to their culture."

    Hum... I'd have to take a "linear" exception to that, Telewinz. Think, developmentally, where the native Americans were in relation to the Europeans. Roughly a 2,500 to 5,000 year difference. Native Americans were still in the stone age -- no wheel, no screw, none of the complex machines that Europeans had been developing for many centuries. It's very likely that the bows and arrows developed by NAs were comparable to those of Europeans of a similar developemntal era.


    thats true enough. Even a "developed" preconquest state like the Mexica were, from an Old World point of view, at an average level of development somewhere in the Bronze Age - probably earlier than that in terms of weaponry. Prior to Cortes, the might of the Aztec empire was humbled by the Tarascans who had developed the novel and unsporting use of copper weapons (and rejection of the "flowery war").

    That said, there was probably no impetus for any of the American native peoples to develop further in terms of military technology. One imagines pretty much anyone from Cyrus the Great onwards (had they been able to reach the Americas) could have walked in and took what they wanted.

    [edit: also, the best longbowmen in the service of the English crown were Welshmen :D :D :D :D :D cymru am byth]
     
  21. Cosmoline

    Cosmoline Member

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    Not all the natives were alike. The Tlingit and other tribes on the NW coast of North America had body armor, thick helms, and fought with copper and iron weapons. I remember seeing a really nasty war hammer one famous chief used to bash in a number of Russian heads down in one of the SE museums. They held their own against the first Russian forces, and while pushed out of Sitka in 1804, they were never conquered in the way so many lower 48 tribes were.
     
  22. braindead0

    braindead0 Member

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    I don't think that's always the case. The interior of the firearm is as good (when done properly) as the mandrel used to forge it. A good quality mandrel could leave you with a servicable barrel right off the bat (assuming the smith does his job properly). If not, you could follow up with a long slug drift which would leave a servicable bore (good enough).

    I've made 2 useable matchlock barrels without boring of any kind, certainly not 'match grade' stuff but servicable.
     
  23. telewinz

    telewinz Member

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    agricola

    You do an excellent job of explaning why the American Indian had a stone-age culture, thousands of years after most of Europe, Asia, the near, middle and far East came out of there stone age. Why they didn't develope advanced weapons of warfare escapes me, they had as much motivation as any other culture. They fought between themselves long before Western culture arrived on these shores and they took plunder and slaves and sometimes they did it for "sport".

    True, their certainly are "noble indians" but some tribes richly earned the title "savage" and the low opinion held by many settlers in the past. How much would you sell your wife or children for? Hopefully you wouldn't and certainly not for a bottle of whiskey!

    How many 1000's of years would you have to go back to find an equal to the American Indian culture of 1800 AD? Ancient Persia or Athens were superior by almost any measure. They were tree huggers too just like the American Indian because there technology was still too primitive to give them a choice. There are more than a few cultures that were real "stinkers", maybe some American tribes should be part of that list. Do you think they would have invented the wheel yet on their own? They were nomads to a certain extent.
     
  24. Sunray

    Sunray Member

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    "...English longbows required ITALIAN yew saplings to make. I recall reading that longbows didn't work in the rain (the strings failed)..." Nope it was Spanish yew that made the best bows but not all were made of yew. Other woods elm, ash and a few others were used as well. And no English archer would be daft enough to not have a spare string under his hat or otherwise safe and dry. It is rumoured that the Genoese crossbowmen had wet troubles at Crecy but even that can't be true as they were professionals and would know how to deal with rain.
    "...high rate of fire would frighten the Allied troops..." Nonsense. Green troops, like your lot at Kasserine Pass, are virtually useless. Your Generals refused to listen to the Brits, who had been fighting for two years at that point, and thus made the same stupid mistakes the Brits had. Pershing did exactly the same thing in WW I. Too arrogant and stupid to listen to the Brits and French who had been fighting for 4 years by the time your lot showed up.
    Archers would clean the clocks of any musket armed army. It was the training and constant practice required to have these archers that caused the demise of archers. They'd have so until the advent of the rifled musket. Cannon and grapeshot notwithstanding.
     
  25. telewinz

    telewinz Member

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    Well said Sunray!

    But you must remember that Americans reserve the right to die under American commanders due to American mistakes.:uhoh:

    Rain played hell with blackpowder also.
     
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