new information on the use of crossbow

Discussion in 'Military History' started by vesicles, Nov 21, 2012.

  1. vesicles
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    vesicles Senior Member

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    I watched a new show on the History channel, Mankind, last night, and got a new piece of info on the use of crossbow by the Qin army. I remember that we argued back and forth a lot about the advantage and disadvantage of crossbow a while back. And it seems to me the biggest disadvantage of crossbow is its slow rate of fire and potential damage to the equipment when the bow had to be pre-drawn to save time before going into a battle.

    Well, on this new show, the weapons experts explained that the Qin army actually used a 3-men team to operate crossbows. So each team had a stringer whose job was to pull the string back, a loader who loaded the arrow onto the bow and a shooter who only pulled the trigger. And instead of one bow, the team operated 3 bows at the same time. So the stringer always had a bow to pull the string, the loader always had a bow in his hands to load the arrow and the shooter always had a bow in his hands to shoot. So there was no slowing down whatsoever. In fact, the shooting was much faster than a typical archer who has to load the arrow onto the bow, pull the string and shoot all by himself. The 3-men team also rotates since shooting a crossbow was no longer a specialized skill and anyone can do it with minimal training. So the stringer would become the shooter and the loader becomes the stringer and so on. This way, they tired much slower than typical archers who, again, had to do all the things by himself.

    Another thing is the formation. Instead of standing still, the 3-men team constantly march forward. The stringer moved forward immediately after he handed the drawn bow to the loader and the loader moved forward once he loaded the bow and gave the bow to the shooter. Then the shooter stepped up and shot the bow. So the whole formation constantly moved forward and advanced while shooting nonstop.

    One more thing that made the use of crossbow so effective in Qin was the mass-production of exchangeable parts, which made maintenance so easy.
     
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    Last edited: Nov 21, 2012
  2. solarz
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    solarz Senior Member

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    Cool! Did that show also mention the power and range of those crossbows? I wonder if the existence of crossbows is why heavy armor never became the mainstay of warfare in China.
     
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  3. vesicles
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    vesicles Senior Member

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    Actually yes. They said the typical crossbow used by Qin could be drawn about 5 times farther than a typical bow used in the West, thus 5 times the distance and 5 times the punching power. I was kinda pleasantly surprised by that #. Yet, 2 experts used that same #, including a former Navy SEAL.
     
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  4. solarz
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    solarz Senior Member

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  5. vesicles
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    vesicles Senior Member

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    Another thing the show is claiming is that the Qin was using all metal arrows, instead of only metal tips and wood shaft. The footage in the show shows Chinese blacksmith taking a complete arrow (tip and shaft) out of a mold box, which has a groove shaped into a complete arrow with both tip and shaft. The experts mentioned something about the all-metal design, but I was on the phone and didn't get what they said...:eek: I would imagine the all-metal arrows also gave the Chinese much more penetrating power against armor.
     
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  6. ahho
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    ahho Junior Member

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    I think all metal design is to counter to initial wobble when the arrow is released so that all force of the string can be directed forward. This is just my theory
     
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  7. Kurt
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    Kurt Junior Member

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    A pull length of 3 meters(10feet) because bow draws were 60cm(~2feet)?
    In the "West" you did not use bows, but javelins in warfare that were in most places replaced by their own idea of a crossbow. That's how the contemporaries established the difference betwen Europe and Asia. The use of bows was in the middle between China and Europe. These bows had a short draw length and compact size for higher rate of shot and during the whole history of China the archers in between the West and China did remain trouble 8and the people in between did not adopt the crossbow from either side). Chinese crossbows had a different development than Western crossbows with much longer draw length and arrows instead of bolts. 5 times is overstating this difference as the norm was a draw length of crossbows was half to one third of a bow in the West. But the difference in concept is clear, the Western crossbow was a tool for shooting bolts, while the Chinese crossbow was a better tool for shooting arrows. As a consequence you lack the whole development of cranequin and windlass crossbows in China for anything but artillery pieces. This Chinese construction enabled to use more pulling force than the neighbouring Central Asian bowmen and over a longer distance than customary among European crossbowmen for a powerful bow that was easy to handle.

    The comparison with Alexanders armies is slightly ill informed. The Macedonians considered two weapons for their military system, the gastraphetes and the sarissa. They settled with the sarissa, a medium length pike then (that grew in size during the later pike block combats of the Hellenistic kings). The gastraphetes is a crossbow, a very powerful crossbow, with a very long draw length. It is above the contemporary Chinese versions in energy released per shot and in rate of shot below. The Macedonian miliatry reformers considered the gastraphetes not powerful enough for succesful application in massed crossbow field formations in the heavily armoured Ancient Greek warfare environment. It remained a niche weapon in the Macedonian combined arms system. Contact with China might have convinced the Macedonians that this was not the right choice.
    The invention of the gastraphetes can be traced to the Syracusean siege of the Carthaginian stronghold of Motya. Together with the similar constructed, but bigger and more powerful, oxybeles it served in siege and naval warfare and as few field artillery pieces.
    Out of these weapons, already during the days of Alexander, the ballista had been scientifically developed. It was a very powerful weapon with an astonishing kill range that existed in size from small handheld versions, manuballista, to siege artillery, not unlike the available crossbow sizes in East Asia. The later Muslim improved the ballista further by creating the sprignald that has even more range and energy efficiency of a high powered weapon.

    In a hypothetical battle of Alexander deciding to venture to the Pacific coast of Eurasia through China, you have the following situation:
    With artillery, the Chinese would be quite surprised, because they have no system(including mutiple bow arcuballistas) with the range of ballistae. These are able to pepper them with a long distance barrage, the mainstay tactic with this weapon system against ranged combat opponents without similar weapon range - everyone at that time. Approaching to mid distance, the Chinese are capable to shoot their arrows that surprise the Greeks and Macedonians because these are not the harmless low energy projectiles they know from their former foes and that have a hard time against Greek armour. Now the Macedonian phalanx closes the distance for close combat. The Macedonians have long spears, the Chinese have pole arms. The setting has been tried time and again between England and Scotland with both sides winning on occasion.

    Instead of Alexander, there was a real armed contest between the powerful Han dynasty and the Early Muslims, who had adopted all kinds of armament from the Mediterranean, South Asia and Persia. Ever since, China lost their foothold in Central Asia and paper, one of the great Chinese inventions, became accessable to the rest of the world. But the Early Muslims were simply not able to overrun China, like they had been with Persia and the Byzantine Empire (that then still held the most important parts of the whole Eastern and former Western Roman Empire and became a small rump state afterwards).

    All metal missiles have been tried in various shapes. The most simple version is the lead sling bullet that often had an iron spike for penetration. The problem with these missiles was always the high cost and the benefit the good armour penetration. A compromise of having a longer metal warhead was usually the cost efficient solution.
    The initial wobble has zero to do with metal and can not be cured by it. Each and every bow accelerates the arrow along a central axis, but due to the bow having a central part, the projectile is forced on an excentric trajectory. This wobble is the reason for archer's paradox - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia on bows and crossbows (not on the ballista).
    350px-Archers-paradox.svg.png
     
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    Last edited: Nov 25, 2012
  8. vesicles
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    vesicles Senior Member

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    Ok, I didn't want to open a can of worms again. I simply wanted to share some new info with everyone. Enough of the imaginary Macedonian vs. Qin. It never happened and never could possibly happen in any universe since they lived hundreds of years apart.
     
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  9. Kurt
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    Kurt Junior Member

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    Sorry, that was a big piece of misinformation in parts. The three men loading team should be remembered because muskets were operated similar in East Asia. In Europe people invented similar crossbow teams, but you'll find hardly any English source on this because of the English longbow myths.

    If someone claims on television that he is a former Navy SEAL, he's a liar and never was a SEAL. It's part of the special forces codex not to do claim that. They know they are good and feel no necessity to bragg about it. Admiting to having spent time in the special forces is everything a real SEAL will admit.

    There are armed encounters between the Hellenistic kingdom of Bactria and Han China with the objective of obtaining access to good horses for China. It deeply influenced China on a cultural level via Hellenized Buddhism, with traits still visible in Chinese sculpture and philosophy. But neither side seems to have adopted each others advances in ranged combat systems - you lack torque spring ballistae in East Asia or massed crossbow formations in Hellenistic armies. The spread of Buddhism was not as successful in the Western Hellenistic regions, so many Europeans do not know how much common ground based on Greek philosophy does exist between Christianity and Buddhism. If it were, there would have been a much higher level of mutual exchange throughout history.
     
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    Last edited: Nov 26, 2012
  10. vesicles
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    vesicles Senior Member

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    About Mack : Future Weapons : Discovery Channel

    Richard Machowicz - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Judge it for yourself. I have seen people claiming to be Spec Ops on TV all the time, including prominent politicians. Various National TV programs invited ex-Navy SEALs as advisers all the time, like Top Shot on History channel. And this guy, Machowicz, has been around for years and been on national TV all the time. He has always claimed to be a sniper wigh the Navy SEALs. He would have been called out long ago if he's a fake.
     
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