Medieval Long-Range Warfare

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Medieval Long-Range Warfare

Medieval Long-Range Warfare Technology

Topic Overview: Although the handgun of the fifteenth century was slow to load, frequently misfired and was extremely inaccurate if fired singly, the gun was easy to use, had penetrative power equal to that of the longbow at close range, and could carry far more ammunition than an archer.Specifics: The first handguns (late fourteenth century) were just small cannons attached to a wooden shaft by a socket. The shaft was tucked under the arm with the butt resting on the ground to take the recoil. They were therefore very slow to load and inaccurate in firing. In the early fifteen century the handgun became less cumbersome and more accurate but was still not very effective, even at short range, unless fired in volleys. At the time, the handgun was designed primarily for the defense of fortifications, and could carry far more shots than an archer could carry arrows. During the middle part of the century, technological developments prevented the gun from firing accidentally as well as improved the recoil. These enhanced weapons became more widely used than the earlier firearms, although the effective range was about 200 yards with an accurate range of considerably less. By the late fifteenth century, anyone could be trained in a few weeks to be a hangunner, as they did not need the great strength and constant practice of a longbowman. The handgun was both penetrative and accurate when fired at close range in volleys, although misfires were frequent, with a maximum of perhaps eight shots an hour.

Ranged vs MeleeA ranged weapon is any weapon used to harm targets at distances greater than hand-to-hand distance (i.e. the bow). In contrast, a weapon intended to be used in hand-to-hand combat is called a melee weapon (i.e. the sword). Use & EffectivenessRanged weapons were extremely effective in medieval combat in comparison to melee weapons, as they gave the wielder the opportunity to launch multiple projectiles before an enemy armed with melee weapons even posed a threat. They also provided a much safer combat option, as the chaos and blitz of hand-to-hand combat meant each soldier faced a high probability of dying.Mordern TimesAfter the invention of gunpowder and the development of firearms, ranged weapons became the weapon of choice. In modern warfare, ranged weapons (i.e. missiles, guns) are predominantly used, with devastating effects.


Topic Overview: Fourteenth century cannons had little impact on medieval warfare, due to their slow rate of fire, unreliability, and problems of transportation. However as technological advancements gradually improved the cannon, their popular use and effectiveness in battle grew. Specifics: The gunpowder used for cannons during the fourteenth century was inconsistent, occasionally exploding during transportation. Loading the powder was a delicate matter, with potential for disaster if not done properly. However in the 1450’s, gunpowder was granulated to make it more stable, finally allowing the cannon to outrange the longbow at a maximum range of 500 yards, effective at 200 yards. Nevertheless, the cannon was not yet established as an important weapon because of the lack of an effective gun carriage. At this date, they were usually strapped to wooden sledges and dragged across the ground. Furthermore, the rate of fire would not have exceeded about four rounds an hour, unless using extra chambers. However in 1470 trunnions (balanced cylindrical blocks) were developed, enabling the gun to be placed on an open framework carriage, acting as pivots to allow the gun to be elevated or depressed. The carriage was furnished with an axle and two spoked wheels, pulled by horse or oxen. Hence, the cannon could be effectively transported, as demonstrated by Charles VIII during his invasion of Italy in 1494. Lastly, as iron balls were too expensive and heavy to continually use, stone balls were used for cannons. Although lighter and required less gunpowder, they often shattered on impact with fortifications. As such, a number of cannons were designed to launch projectiles over defenses rather than batter them down. In this case, the splinters from a shattering stone ball were very effective as anti-personnel weapons.

Topic Overview: While complicated, heavy, and tedious to reload, the crossbow’s exceptional power, range, and accuracy was a formidable force against all units in battle, often used to shake the enemy’s main battle line.Specifics: The greatest asset of the crossbow was its stunning impact, though it could severely maim when it found a chink in plate armour or pierced through mail at close range. Sheaf arrows, on the other hand, were much more effective in piercing through plate armour, as well as mail. Maximum range for the crossbow (or arbalest) was somewhere between 380 and 400 yards, with its effective range within 200 yards and accurate range around 60 yards. Although the longbow was accurate within 80 to 100 yards, its maximum range was only 300 yards. Large numbers of crossbowmen were used in the 1300-1500’s to shield the approach of light troops (i.e. columns of pikemen), while their main role was to harry and shake the main battle line. However by the second half of the fifteenth century, the crossbow was so complicated and expensive that it was predominantly used in siege work, and not in the field. The arbalest crossbow weighed about 9 pounds and was used by the younger sons of knights, who were attended by a retainer carrying a pavise.


Entrepreneurial Platform:Study Guide GlogsterThe following Glogster is a study guide focusing on long-range warfare technology during medieval times, specifically from 1450 – 1650. By utilizing a number of learning materials (i.e. visuals, text, videos, audio clips), the Glogster will be an effective learning tool for all and any learning styles. Enjoy!




Topic Overview: Although the sling was an effective skirmisher weapon in battle and sieges, its importance declined in about 1325 due to the high degree of skill required and advancement of the longbow, eventually falling from use by mid-century. Specifics: Slingers could hurl a lead bullet with considerable accuracy and in rapid volleys, creating a hail of missiles that made them extremely useful as skirmishers before the main battle commenced. However slingers played no part in the actual main battle, lacking the weapons and training for such vicious fighting. That being said, slingers were of great value at sieges, where scores of thousands of missiles might be fired, for stones or lead bullets were plentiful and cheap compared to crossbow bolts, which cost as much as 5 pence each. A high degree of skill was required for slingers to be effective and regular practice was therefore vital, usually beginning in boyhood. As such, with a range more than 65 yards greater than the sling, the longbow was increasingly favored over the sling.


By Haydn Wain-Lowe


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