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 Post subject: Musket vs. Crossbow
PostPosted: Fri Oct 15, 2010 3:00 pm 
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Hi all!

There's this issue I can't get out of my head.

Why on earth were crossbows replaced by muskets on the battlefield?

As far as I get it, crossbows have better range, better accuracy. In case of matchlocks, you needed to actually keep the match alight!

Rate of fire seems fairly similar and also the loading position (can't reload prone nor on horseback).

The main plus sides I see for musket is that their lethality against unarmoured targets was probably greater (many amputations), and then there's the psychological factor of noise (for both men and horses alike).

Dampness would be an issue for both, but far more so for the musket.

Bayonet is not an argument, as "shots" were always supported by pikemen before bayonet was introduced and it became the primary weapon only after 1700.

In the production terms... I simply don't know which weapon could be more easily produced.

On the ammo, yes, pouring lead balls would be easier than crafting bolts, but the gunpowder is an issue as well. As I get it, the British powder was much more superior compared to the French who didn't have the quality of Indian saltpetre to lean on. Ammo seems like a tie to me.

While armour penetration might have been a bonus in the terms of early firearms, later on the armour was basically dropped.

I read that the Duke of Wellington even considered forming longbow regiments that would beat the musket in range, accuracy and rate of fire, but there simply weren't enough proficient archers, and as we all know, they couldn't be trained quickly.

So, the training issue is valid for the musket vs. bow question, but not for the musket vs. crossbow, as the ease of use was the main selling point for both weapons. Why not go for the crossbow regiments?

The question just baffles me. :)

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 Post subject: Re: Musket vs. Crossbow
PostPosted: Fri Oct 15, 2010 9:00 pm 
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Muskets were cheaper and easier to use than crossbows. The early ones were just metal tubes. Crossbows, especially the high powered ones, had a lot of moving parts and were harder to maintain.

Penetrating power was important as well. Longbows just required too much training. Also by the 1500s, longbows couldn't really penetrate armor. At Flodden Field, contemporary reports note that English longbows had little effect on the Scottish front ranks, who where mostly armored noblemen.


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 Post subject: Re: Musket vs. Crossbow
PostPosted: Fri Oct 22, 2010 6:37 pm 
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From what I have read it also took considerably less time to train somebody to be a decent shot with the musket than with the crossbow - which actually seems to have required almost as much training as the longbow to be reasonably proficient with.

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 Post subject: Re: Musket vs. Crossbow
PostPosted: Sat Oct 23, 2010 9:23 am 
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Well, as I gather it, the problem with the training of the archers is not the aiming part, it's the drawing that requires certain muscle groups to be trained for them to handle a high poundage bow. So, one of the main advantages of the crossbow was that due the loading mechanisms, anyone could use a high poundage crossbow. No?

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 Post subject: Re: Musket vs. Crossbow
PostPosted: Sat Oct 23, 2010 10:45 am 
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higgins wrote:
Well, as I gather it, the problem with the training of the archers is not the aiming part, it's the drawing that requires certain muscle groups to be trained for them to handle a high poundage bow. So, one of the main advantages of the crossbow was that due the loading mechanisms, anyone could use a high poundage crossbow. No?


Military institutions are notoriously slow to adopt new technologies, new techniques, new ideas. I think you could say that for the adoption of gunpowder weapons to have been as comprehensive and rapid as it was the advantages must have been very obvious and quite overwhelming.

I think we also have to look at the complete "system". What does it take to get that English archer to fire that bow at Agincourt? That Italian crossbowman to fire that crossbow at Crecy?

I think you could say that the weapon that requires the least strength to use is the musket. A stirruped crossbow requires a reasonable amount of strength to use. Once the crossbow is mechanically drawn you have a complicated mechanism that must be expertly manufactured and maintained by the operator. At this point the musket is the simpler weapon to produce and to maintain.

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 Post subject: Re: Musket vs. Crossbow
PostPosted: Sat Oct 23, 2010 12:25 pm 
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Ian.Plumb wrote:
I think you could say that for the adoption of gunpowder weapons to have been as comprehensive and rapid as it was the advantages must have been very obvious and quite overwhelming.
My point exactly. I just don't see that overwhelming advantage before the invention of flintlock, which was the first truely robust firing mechanism.

Ian.Plumb wrote:
I think you could say that the weapon that requires the least strength to use is the musket. A stirruped crossbow requires a reasonable amount of strength to use.
True, but soldiers can't be weak in any case, they have all their supplies to carry.

Ian.Plumb wrote:
Once the crossbow is mechanically drawn you have a complicated mechanism that must be expertly manufactured and maintained by the operator. At this point the musket is the simpler weapon to produce and to maintain.
Two points:
a) Loading a crossbow has less steps in it and I think it's less complicated. You align the nut, pull the trigger back, operate whatever the winding mechanism you have (varies, but unlike with muskets, there is no chance of a rookie soldier shooting their loading mechanism into enemy lines and thus being unable to reload his weapon), rotate weapon, put bolt on the rack, aim. With the musket, you have to (pull off the matchcord in case of matchlock), open cartridge, prime, close frizzen, (in case of matchlock, blow on the frizzen to remove any loose powder as you have a smouldering slowmatch around), rotate weapon, pour powder down the barrel, (if paper cartridges are not used, inserting the bullet as well as wadding are extra motions in addition to pouring the powder), pull out ramrod, ram it all down, replace ramrod, (in case of matchlocks, blow on match to make sure it's smouldering, then insert the matchcord between the hammer jaws making sure the end will be hitting the pan, then open the frizzen), present, fire.
b) While I agree that a flintlock is more robust than the more complex winding mechanisms, I can't say the same about wheellocks and especially matchlocks.

As for the difficulties of production, I simply have no idea.

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 Post subject: Re: Musket vs. Crossbow
PostPosted: Sat Oct 23, 2010 1:42 pm 
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higgins wrote:
Well, as I gather it, the problem with the training of the archers is not the aiming part, it's the drawing that requires certain muscle groups to be trained for them to handle a high poundage bow. So, one of the main advantages of the crossbow was that due the loading mechanisms, anyone could use a high poundage crossbow. No?

Common sense would suggest it. Now I have never even held a crossbow, but I know the historical record.

I’m sure you know that Italy produced the most famous crossbowmen of medieval Europe. Historical accounts show that an incredible amount of training went into the citizen-crossbowmen of the Italian citystates, and that the various governments did their utmost to prescribe and encourage training with the crossbow. In Venice, the entire male population of the city was practically pressed into various societies of crossbowmen, who had to frequently train together and who fiercely competed with each other. The government encouraged this by holding frequent contests with quite lavish prices and by fueling the rivalries, too, so that each club would be most anxious to excel over the other clubs.
(Of course, the downside of this was that members of different clubs would at times clash in very violent “gang-wars” in the streets and canals of Venice.)

Now we can safely suppose that these thousands and thousands of crossbowmen were not trained as snipers and marksmen – on the battlefield, its area fire that counts. Once you can confidently drop your bolt into a designated area, it is of little battlefield-use to be able to hit ever smaller and smaller targets. This seems to suggest to me that the incredible amount of training invested into their crossbow-troops by the Italian citystates can, beyond a certain point, not have been about accuracy.

The evidence of this training makes me inclined to believe that the success of the musket was really due to less training involved in getting reasonable proficient with it, even though I have no idea just exactly why it was so hard to become a crack battlefield-crossbowmen – I simply accept that it obviously was.

On a side note I have indeed also read that the fully-evolved crossbow ith its spanning devices was difficult and time-consuming to construct, and high-maintainance in the field as well. The early flintlock certainly was none of that.

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 Post subject: Re: Musket vs. Crossbow
PostPosted: Sat Oct 23, 2010 3:32 pm 
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Grettir wrote:
Now I have never even held a crossbow, but I know the historical record.
I've shot a reconstruction of a hand spanned crossbow. I'm not sure of the poundage, but it couldn't be very high. If you put your foot in the stirrup, the stock is in line with your leg, so, the trickiest part is not pulling the trigger with your knee as you bend down. If you bend your knee ever so slightly, it pushes the trigger and the nut starts rolling freely, so, nothing holds the cord. :lol: Obviously you don't have that particular problem with other winding mechanisms. I regret not trying to span the crossbow with the trigger being on the outside to see how that would be like.

Never held a black powder firearm though.

Grettir wrote:
On a side note I have indeed also read that the fully-evolved crossbow ith its spanning devices was difficult and time-consuming to construct, and high-maintainance in the field as well. The early flintlock certainly was none of that.
Well, that's my point. If there would have been a jump from complex windings to the flintlock, I'd totally get why the change took place, but matchlock came into play from 1440s while flintlock entered about 1630. That's nearly two centuries of complicated mechanisms.

Actually I might have come upon a reasonable explanation. The armour, especially breastplates, were still prevalent in the early musket era. Given the choice between complicated winding mechanisms (necessary for piercing the armour) and complicated black powder operation, the firearm had more punching power.

Now, the only remaining question is, the crossbow having better range and accuracy than the smoothbore musket, why didn't the lighter versions of crossbow rise from the ashes when the armour was rendered obsolete by firearms? I think it could have filled the long range weapon role until the invention of the rifle just fine.

Edit:
Duh!
I knew it!
Could it have been more obvious?
With the rise of the literacy, there just was so large demand for quills that nobody could spare a feather for the arrows or bolts! :mrgreen:

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 Post subject: Re: Musket vs. Crossbow
PostPosted: Sat Oct 23, 2010 11:00 pm 
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Even with black powder a musket's effective range is greater than that of a crossbow. I've taken deer with a musket that would prove quite difficult if not impossible with a modern crossbow using carbon bolts. At range a lead ball carries immediate oomph or knockdown power while a bolt does not.


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 Post subject: Re: Musket vs. Crossbow
PostPosted: Sun Oct 24, 2010 7:11 am 
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I remember you mentioning that deer before, but you guesstimated the range as I recall, below 80 yards (which as I read would be considered maximum accurate range for a smoothbore) and you had a tight-fitting ball, as opposed to the standard infantry loose-fitting ball for faster reloads.

Have you hunted with a crossbow though? I googled around a bit and the effective crossbow range is considered to be 40 yards, but it's hard to link that to a specific draw weight. Also, I think the 40 yards is meant "effective" in the terms of "humane kill of the game" which is not what most battles are about.

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 Post subject: Re: Musket vs. Crossbow
PostPosted: Sun Oct 24, 2010 8:15 am 
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Grettir wrote:
On a side note I have indeed also read that the fully-evolved crossbow ith its spanning devices was difficult and time-consuming to construct, and high-maintainance in the field as well. The early flintlock certainly was none of that.
higgins wrote:
Well, that's my point. If there would have been a jump from complex windings to the flintlock, I'd totally get why the change took place, but matchlock came into play from 1440s while flintlock entered about 1630. That's nearly two centuries of complicated mechanisms.

Damn – I meant to write matchlocks, not flintlocks. Sorry. :oops:

The matchlock certainly was not a complicated mechanism. Prone to excessive moisture, yes (but so was the crossbow string), but certainly not difficult to manufacture or to maintain in the field.

higgins wrote:
Actually I might have come upon a reasonable explanation. The armour, especially breastplates, were still prevalent in the early musket era. Given the choice between complicated winding mechanisms (necessary for piercing the armour) and complicated black powder operation, the firearm had more punching power.

Possible. I simply don't know the reason for switching to muskets for sure - I just don't doubt that it was done for a very real reason.

higgins wrote:
Now, the only remaining question is, the crossbow having better range and accuracy than the smoothbore musket, why didn't the lighter versions of crossbow rise from the ashes when the armour was rendered obsolete by firearms? I think it could have filled the long range weapon role until the invention of the rifle just fine.

I would again - tentatively - suggest the training issue. And point out that plate armour, by that time cheap to mass-produce, fell only out of favour by the mid-1600s. Until that time, well-equipped soldiers wore heavy helmets and plate protection for torso, groin und part of the arms and legs. I guess that, as the discontinuation of the heavy armour coincided with the emergence of the mass-armies, training the by that time often press-ganged and demoralized conscripts in the allegedly demanding skill of crossbow-archery might have been out of the question.

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 Post subject: Re: Musket vs. Crossbow
PostPosted: Sun Oct 24, 2010 10:00 am 
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Hi all,

You have raised some interesting points, on why the Musket replaced the Longbow and Crossbow.

The true answer, that you have been working upto and around, is Logistics.

When England retired the longbow, in approx 1580, it took roughly 300 years to devlop a rifle with an equal or better rate of fire and range.

Also the longbow started bouncing off plate armour at point blank ranges by 1230 AD.

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 Post subject: Re: Musket vs. Crossbow
PostPosted: Sun Oct 24, 2010 11:23 am 
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Grettir wrote:
The matchlock certainly was not a complicated mechanism. Prone to excessive moisture, yes (but so was the crossbow string), but certainly not difficult to manufacture or to maintain in the field.
Maintenance is a good point. I guess I was too consumed in the actual firing process to see the other parts of the equation.

Grettir wrote:
I simply don't know the reason for switching to muskets for sure - I just don't doubt that it was done for a very real reason.
By that, you mean that there was no single reason for the switch? Or something else?

Grettir wrote:
I guess that, as the discontinuation of the heavy armour coincided with the emergence of the mass-armies [...]
That's an excellent observation. With larger armies, cutting the armour must have had a huge budgetary benefit and the ease of training process also became more essential.

simon burling wrote:
The true answer, that you have been working upto and around, is Logistics.
Can you elaborate?

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 Post subject: Re: Musket vs. Crossbow
PostPosted: Sun Oct 24, 2010 12:01 pm 
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Grettir wrote:
I simply don't know the reason for switching to muskets for sure - I just don't doubt that it was done for a very real reason.
higgins wrote:
By that, you mean that there was no single reason for the switch? Or something else?

I just mean that I don’t know the reason, or most probably rather the reasons for certain, but that I don’t doubt that there were one or more very good reasons. I think that it was most probably something about the – obviously – smaller amount of training required to achieve battlefield-proficiency with the musket (again, we’re not talking about actual sharpshooting) and the greater ease of manufacture and maintainance in the field, but I don’t actually know for certain.

simon burling wrote:
The true answer, that you have been working upto and around, is Logistics.
higgins wrote:
Can you elaborate?

Yes indeed, please. I understand that the age of gunpowder, before the standardisation of bore-sizes, increased logistical problems manifold – though this did of course mainly concern cannonballs and the need to stock (and supply front-line troops with) a lot of different calibres; musketeers would more often than not cast their own ammo in the field themselves.

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 Post subject: Re: Musket vs. Crossbow
PostPosted: Tue Oct 26, 2010 8:21 am 
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Hi guys, it's nice to be back I've been unavailiable for some time now.

I am no expert in this area. I own a black powder weapon but I've never fired it and Ive shot a crossbow and a bow but apart from that I have no expertise.

But it occurs to me that the difference might be muzzle velocity. The musket lacks accuracy at range because of the instability of the ball a fact that rifling overcomes. (Making the ball spin). Arrows/bolts have a lower velocity and therefore are more susceptible to drop so need to be aimed well above the target. This takes considerable training. Muskets best shot profile is point and shoot, although the nature of the round makes this less accurate its not hard to master. Elevation may be necessary but no where near as much. Fired en masse into a body of troops the muskets inaccuracy is largely negated whereas the bow/crossbow has a tendency to go too long or short.

Just my 2c.

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