jueves, 15 de marzo de 2018

The crossbow

1. Jaffa, 5 August 1192

Having relieved the town of Jaffa after a spectacular amphibious landing, the crusader forces under Richard Coeur de Lion were faced with a major land battle against Saladin’s larger army. Saladin’s forces consisted of an estimated 7,000 light cavalry, many of whom were horse-archers. Richard’s forces numbered just 50–60 knights and around 2,000 infantry. A large proportion of these were Genoese and Pisan crossbowmen; the remainder were spearmen.

2. Crossbowmen manning the hoarding
Crossbowmen in action during the siege of a castle, c.1200. Castle ramparts and towers – as well as some town walls – were augmented by a wooden gallery, called a hoarding. This provided a platform overhanging the walls. Apertures in the floor could be used to drop stones onto the heads of attackers trying to work at the base of the walls with picks or to ascend with ladders. The low ceiling and confined conditions made the hoarding especially suitable for use by crossbowmen, who could move quickly around the walls to any troublespot that required manning. Here the crossbowmen work in teams of two, so that while one is shooting, the other is spanning his weapon. Both wooden-lathed and composite-lathed crossbows are in use and both are spanned by the belt-and-claw method.

3. Castle siege, c.1300
Defence of the castle is being directed by the wife of the castellan because he is away fighting elsewhere. The besieging army has fielded a screen of crossbowmen behind various types of mantlet, some wicker, some wooden. An incendiary bolt has been placed onto a great-crossbow. It is targeting a large L-shaped wooden mantlet behind which are crossbowmen, ready to give cover to a unit who are running in to attempt an escalade of the lower ramparts. A vice-style spanning bench is being reset, ready to span the greatcrossbow again after it has been shot. A soldier lifts a box behind the great-crossbow, containing a variety of bolt heads for it; another man is taking shafts for these from the barrel. It was more common, however – especially for standard crossbows – for bolts to be already fitted with their heads and packed in barrels. Re-supply of these could be winched up to the tower by the treadwheel crane. A wooden chest in front of the great-crossbow contains incendiary bolts for the great-crossbow. Standard crossbowmen are in support of the great-crossbow on the tower. Some still use wooden-lathed crossbows, while others have more powerful, and more expensive, composite-lathed crossbows. Both use the speedier belt-and-claw spanning method when preparing to repel an attack. From the high point of the tower, they have the advantage of range. The besiegers, behind their mantlets, span their powerful bows with a simple windlass mechanism. It is slower, but they need the extra range, have the protection of their barricades and do not need to respond as quickly as the castle’s defenders may have to once the enemy has ladders at their walls.

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