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"Long bodkin - hit or myth?" Topic

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Warspite106 Feb 2020 3:43 a.m. PST

I contribute to the Quora on military subjects and someone put up a photo of a long – needle-type – bodkin point on an English longbow arrow and talked about it as an armour-piercing type. My reply was basically: "Mail-splitting yes, plate-piercing no."

I have seen test film which allegedly 'proved' that the longbow could not pierce plate armour as these long needles just fold up, which they DO. In truth the only arrow type which could pierce plate (a bit) is the stubby bodkins which just so happen to have the same profile as a WW2 armour-piercing shot.

However while the plate may protect against piercing, it cannot protect against the IMPACT of the arrow, which was still immense.

This is my full reply:


Those long bodkins are also not suitable for hitting and piercing plate armour. These would be OK against chain mail as they would penetrate the mesh and split the links wide open. For plate armour you need a short, stubby, bodkins about the same profile as – surprise surprise – a World War Two armour-piercing tank shot. A short stubby bodkin spreads the load of the impact to the shoulders of the head and this inhibits fracture and tip collapse. I have seen slow-motion footage of your pictured long bodkins being used on plate in modern trials and the tips either snap off or fold-up like a bent cheap nail. Short and stubby bodkins are the true A.P. arrow of the 15th century – if such a thing even existed. It should be pointed out that every armoured person KNOWN to have been killed or wounded by an arrow got hit with the face or throat plate open – Prince Hall wounded at Shrewsbury 1403, Lord Clifford killed near Towton 1461 and Lord Dacre killed at Towton the following day. There is also a French knight at Agincourt who stopped for a breath of fresh air. He opened his throat plate and got four arrows through the throat plate and two more through the visor. All this implies that 15th century steel armour may have been almost bow-proof, another reason for its demise in favour of the ‘inferior' and erratic handgun.

One thing that should be noted is that I have seen modern re-enactors in full plate being hit by ‘safe' rubber-tipped arrows with ‘flu-flu' slow-down flights. The impact of those safe arrows made them stagger backwards. So a high-speed war arrow could knock a man down even if it did not pierce the plate. Suddenly the Agincourt action now resembles a crowd control disaster, the front rank of foot knights is knocked over (but not pierced) by the arrows and the ranks coming on behind fall over them and the whole lot turns into a struggling mass of steel-clad men in the mud, stunned and winded by the impact of the arrows and never able to recover their footing. The result is the six-foot high piles of bodies which the chronicles of the battle talk about. Armour does not have to be pierced to be defeated.

x42brown06 Feb 2020 5:05 a.m. PST

I would agree with you this may be of interest in the argument.


Jcfrog Supporting Member of TMP06 Feb 2020 7:02 a.m. PST

That is what that eminently instructive Battlefield Detectives documentary said. Mud and crowd control. Not done in-game rules!!! Guess another of those command and control issues not so well teated.

Yellow Admiral06 Feb 2020 9:13 a.m. PST

In game terms, the battle of Agincourt was won in the deployment phase.

newarch06 Feb 2020 10:18 a.m. PST

Yes it's surprising how many battles the English and later the British won simply by waiting for the oppo to come at them. There was at least one clash between the Scottish and the English in which the Scottish abandoned a very good defensible position in order to get to the grips with the Sassenach, losing the battle in the process.

I'm not sure how much weapons testing actually took place in medieval times.

Warspite106 Feb 2020 10:57 a.m. PST

Thank you all.

Yes, I think I saw that. The French knights on a broad front crowded into the centre to find the small English group of knights so that they could fight their social equals and gain ransoms. In doing so they crushed each other and tripped each other over.
Plus the Agincourt battlefield is a mild saddle-back. The French centre were crowded on to the best ground as the lower-lying flanks were wetter due to water draining down and it had already been churned up by the flanking horses.
Add volleys of arrows which tended to knock them over rather than penetrate and you have the makings of a major crowd control disaster – a pile up of bodies on top of the living and just dying.

I seem to recall that the King's brother, the Duke of York was pulled out dead from a pile of bodies without a mark on him. Some speculation that he either had a heart attack or was asphyxiated by chest compression – crushed to death. Human body weight alone can crush people to death but if you add the weight of their armour as well the people at the bottom of the pile don't stand a chance.

Weapons testing is nothing new and – while not recorded – I would lay good money that some went on.


BillyNM06 Feb 2020 11:04 a.m. PST

What the following suggest to me is that archers fell back as the enemy approached and stood just behind the men at arms as they traded blows and sought opportunities for a point blank shot. At range the number of hits in quote below is barely credible.

"There is also a French knight at Agincourt who stopped for a breath of fresh air. He opened his throat plate and got four arrows through the throat plate and two more through the visor. All this implies that 15th century steel armour may have been almost bow-proof, another reason for its demise in favour of the ‘inferior' and erratic handgun."

Warspite106 Feb 2020 11:08 a.m. PST

The incident also suggests that a group of archers had been 'tracking' the French knight and waited from him to stop for a breather.


dapeters06 Feb 2020 11:10 a.m. PST

I thought that anti missile hand been a significant reason for the development of plate?

"Yes it's surprising how many battles the English and later the British won simply by waiting for the oppo to come at them. There was at least one clash between the Scottish and the English in which the Scottish abandoned a very good defensible position in order to get to the grips with the Sassenach, losing the battle in the process."

look at the whole of the European middle ages sieges were at heart one side literally taking defense position. It the Hussites and Swiss that turn it into an offence.

Patrick R06 Feb 2020 4:55 p.m. PST

Mail over a gambeson was a pretty solid protection for most knights for quite a while until they ran into increasingly more powerful weapons like the couched lance, the polearm, the heavier crossbows and longbows of great draw weight.

You can tell how much thought was put into the protection against arrows just by looking at the bascinet helmet that has a shape designed to deflect arrows and raised eyeslits to prevent arrows from hitting the eyes. The issue is that at some point arrows are up against hardened steel plate and unless they hit a weak spot they are unlikely to kill somebody keeping their visor down.

The impact of arrows is not to be underestimated and would be similar to tank crews being hit by enemy fire. You know there is armour plate protecting you, but you never know if it will get you somehow, so knights would at least be distracted by a large number of impacts, which is why they tried to get close as quickly as possible to engage.

The limit is that arrows simply disintegrate on impact as the energies involved simply exceed that of the strength of wood. The lead ball had superior mass and velocity in a more concentrated package and armour was phased out over time.

Warspite107 Feb 2020 4:19 a.m. PST

@ Patrick R:
There is certainly a psychological impact to being under fire behind armour. Re-enactors who have been shot-at in full plate by rubber-tipped flu-flu arrows tell me it is tiring – and they KNOW the arrows cannot get through.

My favourite re-enactor story comes from the 1990s. A group of English longbowmen went over to France to take part in an event. The script called for them to fire rubber-tipped arrows with flu-flu 'slow down flights' into a group of oncoming French billmen who (being as it was being held in France) would eventually over-run the English and win. It never happened. What actually happened was that the French, under intense fire from these 'safe' arrows, effectively said "s*d this for a game of soldiers", broke and ran.

There are just a few times when I am proud to be English (evil grin) :)


ROUWetPatchBehindTheSofa07 Feb 2020 11:41 a.m. PST

Mike Loades floats the idea that blunt force trauma was a significant component in the effectiveness of the longbow in his Osprey book on the longbow. Apparently he and some colleagues conducted an experiment recording impact forces of between 60 and 300 lb from longbow shots, but more typically 160 to 250 lb. The test armour was mail and fabric, the mail sometimes being penetrated, but the fabric always stopped the arrow. The book is 2013, but I don't know if anyone has advanced the research done.

Warspite109 Feb 2020 1:01 p.m. PST

@ROU etc:

Looking at the film footage supplied (see above) by x42Brown you can clearly see the rippling in the ballistic gel behind the armour.

I think there is a convincing argument that most non-gunpowder weapons – if non-penetrating – would have caused some degree of bruising, internal injuries or even radical trauma behind the armour. Remember that in the early Middle Ages slingers were especially feared as their sling projectiles were capable of breaking the bones of those wearing chainmail and padded fabric. Broken bone injuries were difficult to mend and frequently led to amputations.

Perhaps we are now coming to understand that you do not have to penetrate armour to affect the person wearing it. Enough hits, even if not penetrating, could achieve what the US military would call a 'mission kill'.


Thomas Thomas10 Feb 2020 11:47 a.m. PST

To muddy the waters a bit:

Most "modern" tests assume heat treated steel plate which was at the edge of medieval tech. Such armor was used at Verneuil by Milense mercs but they were specially recruited for the purposes of contending with longbows.

Its not at all certain that such armor was in common use at Agincourt. But heat treated arrow heads certainly were giving the English a (temporary) tech advantage (at first only the archer guard had hardened arrow heads but Henry IV decreed that hence forth all arrow heads accepted for military services must be hardened).

Also most tests are arrow v. shaped breast plate at its thickest point. Many other areas had much thinner armor (arms legs etc.)

This is not to dispute that the shorter arrow heads had become predominate as mentioned above and were better at piecing armor only to point out that many other factors explain the defectiveness of the arrow storms at Agincourt.

What did not play much of a role was the imaginary "crowd disaster" partially because we know the battlefield has been traditionally located in the wrong place and its dimensions are much bigger than those of the goofy documentary (I think it was historian Matthew Bennet who renamed it "History's Defectives").

There is no evidence the French crowded into to fight their "equals". Quite the contrary forces were specifically charged with attacking the archers. But in the event this was much easier said than done as both French wings collapsed under bow shooting as they struggled through the muddy ground. Only those facing the pockets of men-at-arms managed to make contact and as the wings collapsed the yeoman turned their attention to these three still advancing columns (or so they appeared as many French from the wings had essential taken cover behind their own men-at-arms something also seen in Napoleonic battles).

This is in no way meant to discount the effect of blunt force trauma from non-penetrating hits as this figures prominently in defeating the French wings both from real injuries and simple punch drunk exhaustion from having been repeatedly "arrow hammered".


Simo Hayha15 Feb 2020 8:31 p.m. PST

Check out these

I personally believe this is weak plate armor
YouTube link


Warspite116 Feb 2020 2:23 p.m. PST

@Simo etc
An interesting YouTube video. Although punctured, the arrows did not pass through the plate but rather caught on the 'shoulders' of the arrowhead, with just the tip through the plate.
The effect on the other side would have been a painful wound but no kill. The wound would have been further reduced by any arming doublet or padded material worn under the plate to absorb impact.
However, note (above) my earlier comments about having seen re-enactors hit by 'safe' arrows and still staggered backwards. A knock-over by a full war arrow and a nasty pierce like this would be debilitating but not a kill.

Re-reading Andrew Boardman's book on Towton I note that the Earl of Warwick was allegedly wounded at the Ferrybridge skirmish (perhaps by just such a barely piercing arrow?) and apparently took no part in Towton the following day.

Meanwhile Lord Clifford was killed in the Ferrybridge skirmish and the retreat back to Towton – it is said after opening his throat plate to drink but with the added comment by the chronicler that the arrow may have had no head. The link put up by x42Brown (also above) shows arrows with their tips snapping off on impact and flying wild, so one might speculate that Clifford was hit by just such an arrow – either bouncing off of another knight's armour or bouncing off of the ground. If it struck the ground (short) and came off the ground it would have been a rising impact on Clifford and easily slid up from throat to somewhere very vulnerable.

I repeat the bouncing arrows link here:

YouTube link


dapeters17 Feb 2020 9:56 a.m. PST

Yes I will now agree with Gunfreak that this kind of "re-enactment" is less than scientific (that is the Simo's youtube.)

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