Sep 292014
 

For the last few centuries, combat in pre-firearms plate armor has been somewhat disparaged. Recent beliefs about what it actually might have looked like are derived from a combination of romantic notions of chivalry, tainted with the moves found in highly stylized fencing, coupled with the nonsense produced by gibberish produced by fiction writers from the Victorians to Hollywood. Plate armor took centuries to develop but fell out of favor remarkably fast once guns came on the scene; the last few decades were a race to develop armor that could withstand bullets, and in the end *that* armor was ridiculously heavy, immobile, inexpensive and impractical. Armor essentially vanished until WWI with the return of the helmet.

Combat in plate armor would not have been a slower form of fencing. It would have been a display of a couple guys trying. to murder each other, aided and hampered by top-of-the-line armor. But popular culture is loaded with notions about it that are silly and wrong, not least being that a knight in armor would have been as helpless as a turtle on its back if he fell down. In recent years a new understanding of the techniques, capabilities and limitations of plate armor combat has been produced due to a combination of actually reading the medieval manuscripts on combat, and actually trying it. Use the techniques described, ignore the pop culture, and see what actually works. With the rise in popularity of fantasy works like “Lord of the Rings” and “Game of Thrones,” inter4est has been increased to the point that western plate armor combat seems to be rising as a valid sport, and not just by some chuckleheads at the ren fest. Behold:

[youtube 5hlIUrd7d1Q]

Well, there’s no sneaking up on the enemy, anyway…

 Posted by at 8:51 pm
  • mzungu

    Not quite true, it’s possible that the other person is making so much noise himself, that he can’t hear you coming.

    It’s pretty darn interesting, u know how much these armor weight?

    • Anonymous

      According to Wiki, up to about 55 pounds (though they got a lot heavier when footsoldiers from the peasantry started taking potshots at the nobility with firearms).

      55 pounds sounds like a lot. But it’s less than modern soldiers tend to pack around. And the armored fighters would have had the armor distributed all over their bodies rather than in a lump on their backs and in their hands.

      • mzungu

        After watching it, I would imagine it would be much easier to maneuver and wedge a smaller knife in hand-to-hand combat through between all the plates than with a long sword.

        • Anonymous

          I’m as ignert as it gets on the topic, but I kinda gather than in one-on-one combat between armored-up experts the swords are used more as battering rams with the plan to knock the other feller down and hope to *maybe* poke the guy in a weak spot or just maybe straight through the armor. But knocking him down and then getting stabby with a dagger seems like the general approach.

          If this particular Utah Yankee wound up in King Arthurs Court, I’d get on to developing Silly String just as fast as possible.Blind ’em, and the job gets a whole lot easier.

          • mzungu

            Haaha.. Silly string sounded like a good one. I think there is still a little over romanticizing of knights….

            Knight-to-knight fight is prob pretty rare, The armor is prob more for protecting the well-offs from the unarmored or leather-armored peasants that came along to fight with their knights and kings, which prob constitute 95% of the fighting force.

            It does protects them when they need to put up a good show at the tourneys without hurting each-other much. 😀

    • Liberius

      It is indeed very possible to sneak up on somebody while wearing armor. It can be done in a normal room, if your armor is particularly well fitted (or your target particularly drunk or oblivious), but on a battlefield when there’s a lot of shouting and clanging, it’s very easy as long as the other fighter isn’t looking at you. This is why battle lines are an important thing, and you need people watching the flanks.

  • Dan Sharp

    WWI – helmets yes, but also body armour. By the end of the war most of the combatants on all sides were wearing it.

    • John Simpson

      Nonsense. There was no shortage of prototypes but no practical armor existed that was issued in any widespread way on all sides.

      http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/73-weapons-equipment-uniforms/879-body-armour.html

      • Dan Sharp

        Nonsense? Did you read that article? It says that while there were no official body armours issued, there were 18 different commercially available types in Britain alone – advertised in national newspapers, available for relatives to buy and send to the front. These were not prototypes. You could easily pick up a Wilkinson Sword bullet-proof jacket, a Dayfield body shield, a Tyler & Tyler Crossman body shield, a Chemico body shield, a Pullman A1 shield etc. etc.
        No-one has any figures for how many were sold but if you were sitting at home and heard about the casualties – all those telegrams arriving – would you ignore those adverts and not buy one? Also, most of those 18 companies produced their armour throughout the war – from 1914 to 1918. You’re telling me they didn’t sell any then? Why keep making them?
        Show me some sales figures and some stats from the front which show no-one was wearing armour. Remember how ineffective most of it was? That means you still get the casualty stats whether the victim was wearing ‘armour’ or not.
        I suggest you read a contemporary account, like Major Bashfield Dean’s 1920 Helmets and Body Armor in Modern Warfare and come up with some hard evidence before you start ‘nonsensing’.

        • Anonymous

          I know nothing of these newspaper-advertised body armors except: if there’s something I *wouldn’t* trust my life to, it was just about anything advertised in newspapers in 1918. Knowing what quack medicines and whatnot were available, it wouldn’t surprise me if at least one of these body shields was made out of thin tin coated on the inside with radium.

          • Dan Sharp

            Indeed you wouldn’t, but mum and dad back home might’ve been a tad unsettled by the thousands and thousand of, well, deaths being reported every week. Wouldn’t surprise me about the radium, wonderful healthful stuff well known for its bullet-repelling properties (among other things).
            The great thing about WW1 is how little we really know about it. There are numerous reports on ammunition expenditure and detailed reports of major assaults etc. etc. but then there are museums (at least here there are) stuffed with ‘trench weapons’. Maces with nail-studded heads, butcher knives, wire garottes etc. Those guys in the trenches weren’t all sensitive war-weary poets. It was kill or be killed. Body armour might not stop a bullet in scientific tests but any lump of metal has a chance of stopping a little razor sharp fragment of shrapnel that might otherwise give you a nasty cut followed by infection, gangrene and then death. If I was sitting around in a trench for days on end with shells bursting not too far away I might give it a go! The most popular brand by all accounts, the Dayfield, fitted discreetly under your uniform too. As discreet as 18 pounds of steel gets away.

        • Guest

          The Wilkinson

          • John Simpson

            Still more nonsense. Or rubbish, if you prefer.

            First of all I don’t have to disprove anything.
            You’re the one who made a positive statement and you’re the one who has to provide evidence that it was so. And don’t even pretend that you knew about those 18 commercially available types before I posted the link.

            Asking me to prove a negative….now that’s nonsense! What do you want, pictures of soldiers NOT wearing body armor?

            Looking up the sales records of 18 mostly unnamed English companies from the early 1900’s? Yeah, I’m gonna let you handle that one.

            I’m not going to research all 18, but let’s look at the Wilkinson Sword
            bullet proof jacket. Here is an online example from a collector who actually has one http://www.warrelics.eu/forum/ww1-allies-great-britain-france-usa-etc-1914-1918/wilkinson-sword-bullet-proof-jacket-22746/

            It consisted of square metal plates sewn into the lining and it’s arguable if it would stop anything. I like how the collector says that they “lied about the weight”.

            To answer your question, yes I did read the article before I posted a
            link. That’s where I read
            “After various trails were completed, the British decided that the cost
            considerations, and the other operational problems, outweighed the
            advantages and body armour was never officially introduced on a wide
            scale by the British.”

            as well as

            “French trials with body armour were more extensive and a large number of ‘abdominal armour’ and ‘shoulder and leg pieces sets’, designed by the ubiquitous, General Adrian (see below) were supplied to the Front Line in 1916. Mainly because of mobility problems, none proved to be really practical in combat, and production of most of them was discontinued by 1917.”

            So just by those two quotes alone your claim of “By the end of the war most of the combatants on all sides were wearing it.” doesn’t stand.

            Now of course, if your claim was factual you should have no trouble finding a number of photos of body armor clad soldiers from both sides in trenches and in the field.

            Look up the available US Army body armor. The Brewster Body Shield. It would stop a bullet from a Lewis machine gun but weighed 40 pounds. A prototype that was never adopted.

            Or, you could just look on page 67 of the book you referenced from 1920.
            “Body armor was used on all fronts from 1915 onward but it’s use was
            experimental rather than general.”

            Like I said

        • John

          Still more nonsense. Or rubbish, if you prefer.

          First of all I don’t have to disprove anything.
          You’re the one who made a positive statement and you’re the one who has to
          provide evidence that it was so. And don’t even pretend that you knew about
          those 18 commercially available types before I posted the link.

          Asking me to prove a negative….now that’s nonsense! What do you want,
          pictures of soldiers NOT wearing body armor?

          I’m not going to research all 18, but let’s look at the Wilkinson Sword
          bullet proof jacket. Here is an online example from a collector who actually
          has one http://www.warrelics.eu/forum/ww1-allies-great-britain-france-usa-etc-1914-1918/wilkinson-sword-bullet-proof-jacket-22746/

          It consisted of square metal plates sewn into the lining and it’s arguable
          if it would stop anything. I like how the collector says that they “lied about
          the weight”.

          To answer your question, yes I did read the article before I posted a
          link. That’s where I read:

          “After various trails were completed, the British decided that the cost

          considerations, and the other operational problems, outweighed the

          advantages and body armour was never officially introduced on a wide

          scale by the British.”

          as well as

          “French trials with body armour were more extensive and a large number
          of
          ‘abdominal armour’ and ‘shoulder and leg pieces sets’, designed by the

          ubiquitous, General Adrian (see below) were supplied to the Front Line

          in 1916. Mainly because of mobility problems, none proved to be really

          practical in combat, and production of most of them was discontinued by

          1917.”

          So just by those two quotes alone your claim of “By the end of the war most
          of the combatants on all sides were wearing it.” doesn’t stand.

          Now of course, if your claim was factual you should have no trouble finding
          a number of photos of body armor clad soldiers from both sides in trenches and
          in the field.

          Look up the available US Army body armor. The Brewster Body Shield. It
          would stop a bullet from a Lewis machine gun but weighed 40 pounds. A prototype
          that was never adopted.

          Or, you could just look on page 67 of the book you referenced from 1920.
          “Body armor was used on all fronts from 1915 onward but it’s use was
          experimental rather than general.”

          Like I said

  • allen

    another myth is that with all that armor, you’d sink like a stone in water.

    while not a pleasant experience, the armor traps air pockets and you float if you don’t thrash around too much.

    • Brianna

      Even if that’s true, then what? Doesn’t attempting to swim to shore count as thrashing? Just wait in the river for someone to fish you out?

      • allen

        slow paddling or, yes, have someone with a polearm give you a reach. if you panic, you sink.

  • Rick

    there’s the Armored Combat League. Guys dress up in armor and padding similar to what was used “back in the day” (except better steel) and beat the f**k outta each other with blunted steel weapons.

    Fights are often over in a minute, at ren faires in the summer, the last person not passing out due to heatstroke often wins. The best tactic is anything that knocks the other guy on his arse. So polearms with a trip ability or axes, etc are almost always guaranteed winners. The armor and padding is heavy and with visors down, simply breathing becomes a goal.

    Watched a few “demonstrations” of this and they hit pretty hard. About as close to “real” as it gets, and it’s brutal, short and ponderous as opponents pretty get one big attack sequence before being “done”.

    http://armoredcombatleague.us/acl/

  • Anonymous

    Is this any analog to a VacSuit combat on a planetary surface ?
    I imagine some Mars types might get a little unruly

    I’ve looked for underwater hand to hand combat as an analog to ZeroG fighting,
    but never found anything …. any links ?
    -G.

    • Anonymous

      Conventional space suits are likely not going to long survive. I imagine they will be replaced with “space activity suits,” which are body-hugging skinsuits that simply keep you from bloating and provide an attachment point for the helmet. But armor much like Old Skool plate will very likely be added on to protect against micrometeoroids, radiation and ray guns.

      Underwater drag probably makes unarmed combat wholly different from what it’d be in microgravity.

  • Anonymous

    The thing that gets me the most in movie and television depictions of medieval-style armored combat is how almost none of the armor seems to work. The number of one-shots from a slashing blow by a sword makes me wonder why the characters even bother with armor.

  • Dan Sharp

    Wow – I was so wrong you had to ‘nonsense’ me again – twice! I stand corrected.

    • John Simpson

      Technical problems with Disqus.
      I really do appreciate you referencing that 1920 book. I didn’t have that one in my library until I downloaded it from Google.

      • Dan Sharp

        I made the mistake of buying it from an Amazon trader. When it arrived it was obviously a print on demand job. Now it reposes in a 50 litre box in my garage with most of my other books.
        Did you see that Hansard reference I posted? The Mr Macpherson who responds to Leslie Scott MP’s question is Ian Macpherson, Deputy Secretary of State for War and Vice-President of the Army Council. You’d think he would know what he was talking about. He does not, however, confirm which forms of body armour have been issued, only that they weren’t Chemico body-shields.
        While I accept that not everyone was wearing body armour, or even most people, I do still believe that body armour was a little more widely used than is generally believed to be the case – particularly by the end of the war.
        Dr David Payne does say, without stating numbers, “Another design consisted of a fabric corselet with metallic back and front plates plus a groin protector. This was issued in some numbers on the Western Front in 1917/18.”

        ‘Some numbers’ is a little ambiguous but clearly does not support the idea that most of the combatants on all sides were wearing it.
        The issue of photos is problematic since there are very few photos of troops actually going into action on the Western Front and soldiers were unlikely to wear the cumbersome armour when they weren’t under directly under fire.
        Whatever the case, I was incorrect in my original statement, as you say. More research, though, is needed I think!

        • John Simpson

          I saw the Hansard reference. I had to look up that “Hansard” is the minutes of Parliament. I learned something new. Seems I spent too much time becoming familiar with the likes of Baldrick and Alan B’Stard and neglected more practical knowledge of English culture.

          I kind of wish that they had been more specific as to what replaced the Chemoco. Two things though. Although you would think he knew what he was talking about I take contemporary accounts of officials at Starfleet level with a grain of salt. By analogy look at all the positive pronouncements at the time by Defense Secretary McNamara about the situation in Vietnam. Second, I did find a reference in the 1920 book on page 110 that may clear this up:

          [P]rovided it only in sufficient quantity for manning about two men in each hundred. It was then kept at such points that it could conveniently be placed at the service of scouting parties, sentinels and bombers. Hence it was apt to be seen along the front as part of the regular materiel.”

          Don’t feel bad about the Amazon thing, after I downloaded a copy from Google then went through and removed that stupid watermark so I could run an OCR scan I find another source for a pristine scan of the Helmet and Body Armor Book. I’ll post a link separately to try and avoid spam filter problems again.

          • John Simpson
          • Dan Sharp

            Ahhh beautiful! Much better than my version. I think the intro to the p110 bit is what I was thinking of when I made the too-bold assertion that most combatants were wearing body armour by the end of the war. This is presumably where the Western Front Association guy got his ’18 types of body armour commercially available’ from.
            After a separate search, I must conclude that some of these have been lost to history because I couldn’t find any references to more than 10.
            The ‘provided it only… regular materiel’ refers to the stuff that the government provided (and Dean can’t have toured the whole front and scrutinised every unit to see who had what). Dean notes: ‘There has, moreover, been no little expenditure in this direction on the part of British soldiers themselves. In shops in England, armor could be bought everywhere. Even the poorer types of it seem occasionally to have had good results, for all manufacturers received unsolicited letters from the front which tell of saving life and limb.’
            P116 shows how the Dayfield simple model fitted underneath a soldier’s uniform – you wouldn’t see it in photographs of soldiers at the front!
            Bearing in mind that Dean was writing only a couple of years after the war and maybe didn’t have access to all the facts, it still serves to demonstrate how little is generally known about the use of body armor during WW1. And you’ve renewed my conviction about it being more widely used than is generally recognised!

  • Dan Sharp

    Bearing in mind that I’ve already stood corrected, this from Hansard:

    BODY ARMOUR.

    HC Deb 28 May 1918 vol 106 cc649-50650

    Mr. LESLIE SCOTT

    asked the Undersecretary of State for War whether he is aware that the Chemico body-shield when worn by soldiers has successfully resisted both bullets and shrapnel and already saved many lives which otherwise would certainly have been lost; whether, if it were included in the Regulation outfit of officers and men, a very large number of casualties would be avoided; and whether the Government will therefore take steps to have it put into universal and immediate use?

    Mr. MACPHERSON

    Other forms of body armour have been found more satisfactory, and have consequently been issued in preference to the Chemico body-shield.