Are longbows better than crossbows?

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Are longbows better than crossbows?

Postby Vino » 03 Nov 2014 15:17

I've heard that crossbows were only used because they require much less training than a longbow, but then there were well-trained mercenaries like the Genoese who preferred crossbows, so I'm not sure what to believe, are longbows better than crossbows or do they both have advantages and disadvantages?
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Re: Are longbows better than crossbows?

Postby Martin Greywolf » 28 Nov 2014 13:25

Long story short, they are equally useful, and have their (dis)advantages. As for what they are, it really depends on a number of factor, ranging from what kind of crossbow, what kind of arrow, arrowheads, what is the level of training (raw recruits, militia, veteran, elite?), weather, tactical situation on the battlefield... the list goes on and on.

As a fast rule, when someone tries to demonstrate the superiority of one or the other via physics and doesn't use three-dimensional matrices (they are called tensors, and are very basic things to use when calculating deformations), stop listening. A simple act of arrow impact is a lot more complex than you'd think, you can't just take kinetic energy at impact, like you do with bullets (and you can't really do that with them either, it just gives you a better idea).
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Postby Ty N. » 28 Nov 2014 14:47

Length isn't everything.
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Re: Are longbows better than crossbows?

Postby tea » 28 Nov 2014 16:30

Crossbows require a very different kind of training to a longbow.

Certainly, the basic operation is simpler - someone untrained can be taught to span and use a simple crossbow with a spanning belt or goats-foot lever in a matter of minutes, and get acceptably accurate in an afternoon. With a longbow, it takes years of practice to comfortably draw heavy fighting bows, although that practice can be carried out alongside another job.

On the other hand, it's much easier to maintain a longbow. You might be able to teach someone to shoot one in a few hours, but teaching them to keep it functioning for a campaign is a much more involved task. It has small parts, which can rust or jam or get filled with grit. However, if you have trained troops who can keep it running, crossbows can be devastatingly accurate and extremely powerful.

In short, there's not a decisive answer. Simple crossbows are good weapons (if they can be produced in sufficient bulk) for relatively untrained troops. The longbow requires continuous practice, but of a type that can be used part-time. With experts, the crossbow can reach great levels of power and be an effective campaign weapon.
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Re: Are longbows better than crossbows?

Postby Vino » 29 Nov 2014 15:37

Martin Greywolf wrote:Long story short, they are equally useful, and have their (dis)advantages. As for what they are, it really depends on a number of factor, ranging from what kind of crossbow, what kind of arrow, arrowheads, what is the level of training (raw recruits, militia, veteran, elite?), weather, tactical situation on the battlefield... the list goes on and on.

As a fast rule, when someone tries to demonstrate the superiority of one or the other via physics and doesn't use three-dimensional matrices (they are called tensors, and are very basic things to use when calculating deformations), stop listening. A simple act of arrow impact is a lot more complex than you'd think, you can't just take kinetic energy at impact, like you do with bullets (and you can't really do that with them either, it just gives you a better idea).


Makes sense, I guess the English longbowmen have become quite romanticized and that's why so many people seem to think the longbow is inherently better.
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Re: Are longbows better than crossbows?

Postby MEversbergII » 30 Nov 2014 10:52

I've always wondered what makes a longbow so much better that it makes up with the long training times typically attributed to it. Just the ability to loose further? If projectiles are what you want, why not crossbow?

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Postby Ty N. » 30 Nov 2014 15:25

The medieval English long bow was not radically different from the medieval Japanese long bow. They were both designed to deliver a lot of kinetic force to achieve good distance and penetrating capability. I tend to think the speculation surrounding Agincourt led to over-hyping, though more modern analysis suggests the English may have done more damage with their bladed weapons after the French cavalry piled up in the mud.
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Re: Are longbows better than crossbows?

Postby Monzambano » 30 Nov 2014 18:59

Switzerland generally abandoned longbows in the 13th C and went for cross-bows. Cross-bows are more expensive than long-bows, but as was stated, training is much easier.
The authorities purchased cross-bows for the local arsenals, and cross-bow competitions became very popular. Citizens could draw a cross-bow from the arsenal for training, which helped spread the skill among those who could not afford one.
There were also laws obliging a person who wanted to become citizen to buy a cross-bow for the arsenal, and the nobility were obliged to do the same in lieu of scutage. Cross-bows were also the ranged weapon of choice of the mounted levy. By the late 15th C (when powder weapons began replacing cross-bows), arsenal records show impressive tallies of cross-bow and ammunition stock-piles.
Switzerland never had massed archers; cross-bowmen protected the flanks of the infantry squares in the field. And especially in the cities, cross-bows were ideal to shoot from behind the walls - the wall protected you while you reloaded at leisure, and you did not have to expose yourself when firing.
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Re:

Postby tea » 30 Nov 2014 20:03

Ty N. wrote:The medieval English long bow was not radically different from the medieval Japanese long bow. They were both designed to deliver a lot of kinetic force to achieve good distance and penetrating capability. I tend to think the speculation surrounding Agincourt led to over-hyping, though more modern analysis suggests the English may have done more damage with their bladed weapons after the French cavalry piled up in the mud.


One of the amazing things about the English longbowmen is that they were missile troops who had armour and were willing to get properly stuck into the melee as well.

So there's certainly an analysis of Agincourt where the longbow breaks the ability of cavalry to charge, forcing the French to advance on foot with visors down through mud - a massively tiring and difficult task. When the French then made it through that, they were engaged both by the main foot troops, and by the longbowmen in melee, and beaten into the mud.

MEversbergII wrote:I've always wondered what makes a longbow so much better that it makes up with the long training times typically attributed to it. Just the ability to loose further? If projectiles are what you want, why not crossbow?

M.


It's a different kind of training - I think one key advantage is that you can make and issue them cheaper, and you can make training in longbow use a personal problem for your troops in a way that you can't so much with a crossbow. Long-term training in crossbow use for campaigns is basically an apprenticeship, and can't really be done by mandating a few hours of practice every Sunday in the same way.
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Postby Ty N. » 30 Nov 2014 21:20

Wearing possibly up to sixty pounds of armor, it would take some time for a person to pull himself out of the mud (assuming he's not stuck under his horse, or someone else's horse, and was not injured in a fall - dismounting properly on a muddy slope while under a hail of arrows seems unlikely), and that may be just enough time for an opponent on foot to cut him down. The French were charging downhill; if there was already a pile-up of horses and men on the other side, it would have been difficult for them to stop and turn around in time, especially with more cavalry charging behind them.
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Re: Re:

Postby Monzambano » 30 Nov 2014 23:04

tea wrote:I think one key advantage is that you can make and issue [longbows] cheaper, and you can make training in longbow use a personal problem for your troops in a way that you can't so much with a crossbow. Long-term training in crossbow use for campaigns is basically an apprenticeship, and can't really be done by mandating a few hours of practice every Sunday in the same way.


I disagree - it is longbow that takes lifelong apprenticeship, building up the strength to draw the heavy bows, whereas cross-bow - at least the ones spanned with cranequins and goat's-foot - takes moderate strength and skill. And the incentive to train was provided by raucous competitions with generous, authority-sponsored prizes.
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Re: Are longbows better than crossbows?

Postby Martin Greywolf » 05 Dec 2014 13:57

I was always amused at this training debate.

You need to specify to what level of what are you training. Basic competence? Crossbow has an edge (a pretty big one). Ambushes? Crossbow wins out. Volume of fire? Longbow has an edge. Versatility? Longbow wins.

If you want to be an elite soldier, like Geonese crossbow mercenaries, or Mary Rose longbowmen, then you have to make it your daily job - several hours' worth of training per day.

Yes, longbow has been overhyped in the past, and still is. However, going the other way and underestimating it (as i tended to do in the past - for shame, me) isn't the way to brighter future.
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Re: Are longbows better than crossbows?

Postby janner » 17 Dec 2014 11:25

As has been pointed out, the missing part of the question is 'better at what'.

Moreover, you can actually teach someone to use a longbow in minutes and they can usually become good enough to join a massed shoot within hours. Of course, it takes much longer to learn how to shoot though/over different types cover, develop the strength to draw a higher poundage bow etc, but bow archery is no more complicated than crossbow archery.
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