Sunday, May 01, 2005

This week in History - 31 April

The importing of the crossbow from China into the European culture of the 8th century had severe repercusions on the state of war as the Europeans knew it.

In 921 AD, Baron Willim Stutfiels a minor Holder on the East side of the British Isles commissioned a local craftsman to install two siege crossbows upon the bow and stern of each of this three merchant ships. This desperate act was a result of the increased pirate activity in the area.

Baron Stutfiel's idea was a marvelous success. Soon most ships sailing the English Channel were equipped with such weapons. Unfortunately for every development of war comes a counter measure.

In 922 AD the pirate Juan Diego Calvertes discovered, quite by accident, that one well placed shot of a crossbow into the supply of crossbow quarrels, usually stored near an enemies crossbows, would cause the supply of quarrels to sympathetically fire madly about the enemey vessel. The resulting chaos and destruction provided an easy victory for the pirate.

As the occurrence of sympathetic firings of stores of quarrels increased the Captains took to placing the quarrels in re-enforced oaken boxes. But still the sympathetic firings continued. Soon the quarrels were moved into a storage area below decks, and a winch system rigged to deliver them to the bowmen manning the crossbows.

This led to the tactic of trying to determine where the enemy had stored his quarrels and firing not at the sailors or riggings but trying to pierce the sides of the ship in hopes of striking the store of quarrels.

Shortly after that the quarrels were moved to an area of the ship below the waterline so to be protected from missile fire. This led to the tactic of ramming the enemy ship near the quarrel magazine.

Eventually the amount of protection needed to defend ones quarrel supply from attack by the enemy was so substantial that many ships became overloaded and rode too deep in the water. In the high seas, and unpredictable winds of the Channel this condition caused many vessels to capsize and sink. Finally crossbows were abandoned as a viable naval weapon. Not because they were ineffective but because of the dangerous storage problems of the ammunition.

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