Brian Wolfe

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About Brian Wolfe

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    Senior Moderator
  • Birthday 06/08/48

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    Ontario, Canada
  • Interests
    Medals: British and India (post 1947), Special Constabulary and a few others.
    General: Staffordshire and British Police memorabilia
    Plus odds and ends that capture my interest from time to time.

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  1. A collection to rightly be proud to own. Thanks for sharing these photos of your collection. Regards Brian
  2. Have you considered contacting a cabinet maker? I have repaired several damaged stocks in my shop for a friend of mine. It may be worth looking into. Regards Brian
  3. Thank you for your comments Spasm. The bow strings are make of one very long piece of string which is wound onto a jig. The problem was that the posts on the jig were too close on the first attempt. This is, of course, is an error that bites me much more than it would many people as one of my numerous careers, and one that persists to the persent day, is that of a cabinet maker. So, measure twice, cut once, go back to the lumber stacks, select another piece of timber and cut that one correctly. LOL I also noticed that I said the English made use of sharpened "steaks". Perhaps that harkens back to the time when I worked as a butcher. I doubt the French would have been too frightened by a bunch of pointy Porterhouse steaks. It would be great to be able to show a video clip here on the GMIC as the actual shooting of the crossbows was quite interesting. In retrospect it would have been nice if we had even taken some photographs to post. I was more interested in proving my theory regarding the removal of the bow strings. I'm not sure if I will do any more experiments, unless I can get my hands on some weapons grade plutoniun. Regards Brian
  4. Not sure of the age perhaps another member can assist you. Cenrtainly there were cuff made to fit women and children, a very nice specimen. If I can find out more this weekend at a show I am I will post what I find out. Regards Brian
  5. The Battle of Crecy conclusion: As we discussed in my last blog the Battle of Crecy was a disaster for the French and an undeniable victory for the English. For the English it could be said that they had fought a flawless battle. Just how badly did the French suffer in this defeat? It has been said that they were unable to support Calais when the English laid siege to the city following their victory at Crecy. On the face of it this sounds reasonable, just having been crushed by the English. However, when you look at this siege a little closer you find that the English laid siege to Calais for a full year. It really brings home the realization just how badly the French had suffered. It would be wrong to assume that the English longbow was the only factor in the French defeat. On the other hand it would be just as wrong to underestimate its value. All through this engagement English arrows rained down on the hapless French. The English also had the high ground and were in a position where the French could not outflank them. Added to this there were trenches, pits, sharpened steaks and rows of caltrops strewn out in front of the English defences. Caltrops were multi-spiked devices that were thrown out in rows, much like modern day minefields. These were effective in stopping mounted knights and cavalry. If you think of a horse’s hoof being like your fingernail. A horse actually runs on the tip of a modified digit, or finger, with the nail being thick to provide a tough resilient material on which the horse walks and runs. A caltrop is designed to puncture the soft part of the horse’s foot not protected by the hoof. This would be the same as you taking a needle and, if it were possible, pick the end of the finger nail, no real problem. Now move the needle back to the soft fleshy part of the finger and you may very well discover words you would never use in front of Mom. The English also had cannon, which were huge and cumbersome to move, but none the less delivered salvo after salvo of iron balls into the Genoese crossbow men, mounted knights and anyone else unfortunate enough to be in their way. Even if the cannon balls of the day were unable to penetrate full plate armour of that period the blunt force trauma would kill as easily as if the knight had been shot by a modern firearm. To make my point using a modern example, think of the bullet resistant vest worn by police officers. NOT bullet “proof” as is often the term used but merely bullet “resistant”. While the vests will withstand the impact of a .357 handgun projectile a high power rifle bullet will zip right through them, and the wearer. Just to add a little more about bullet resistant vests, they are NOT puncture proof or even resistant for that matter. A demonstration during my training brought this point home (no pun intended). A vest placed over two supports, leaving the section between the supports unsupported was struck with a stick pen, like a Bic brand ball point pen, and it passed straight through. The lesson learned was simple enough; the vest is no substitute for caution. Fact – complacency kills. Back to my point about blunt force trauma; a blast from a .357 pistol round may be stopped by the vest but you will be knocked off your feet, suffer sever bruising, perhaps broken ribs and if the bullet hits just right it could stop your heart. So the point of French knights wearing full plate armour is rather moot when it comes to cannon balls at any velocity. Another factor which made English victory easily was that the French did not co-ordinate their different sections, such as mounted armoured knights, foot soldiers or light cavalry. Instead each group attacked pretty much as the individual commanders saw fit. This allowed the English to move out and deal with each component as it was offered for annihilation rather than each French component being supported by other ranks. I have one more factor to propose; a theory of my own and not one gleaned for the work of others. Medieval battles fall into one of two categories; open field and siege. The open field battles, such as the English fought against the Scots, was a fluid movement style of warfare. Siege warfare was fought with one side behind the walls of fortified cities or castles, while the other side encamped around the fortification and used a combination of probing for weakness in the defences and starvation of the inhabitants. At Crecy the English had created a fortified position albeit without stone and mortar; while the French had arrived with the intention of attacking in a more open field, or fluid, style attack. As we have discussed this was impossible due to the terrain and heavy defences offered by the English. The French certainly had the superior numbers required for a sit and wait siege style campaign yet threw away their forces piecemeal. We were to see a similar tactic used over and over again by the French and later their allies during the First World War. Wave after wave was thrown against heavily fortified positions. This is not to insinuate this is a French trait as all combatants, including the later entry into the war by the United States, followed this strategy. It was not until around 1917 that tactics changed, but that is not a topic for this blog. Had the French realized that they were using the wrong tactics against a position that was, in essence, needing a more static siege style, then tactically withdrew to more favourable terrain things might have been much different. Could have, should have...didn’t. The Experiment Construction: I followed the basic design as closely as possible to examples of original light to medium crossbows of the 1300s. I did substitute professionally made steel prods (bows) in place of composite or wooden prods of the period. This decision was made for several reasons, the least of all not being safety. A broken prod while under draw of 150 pounds can launch the broken end into the side of your head and or face with deadly consequences. Steel prods are safer and besides after several attempts at making wooden prods, all ending in dismal failure I gave in and ordered steel prods. The other factor was that the experiment had little to nothing to do with shooting the crossbow as much as removing the string without the use of special tools as sited in almost all accounts of the Battle of Crecy. I also used modern string, polyester, for the same safety concerns. Again I was not interested in whether the string, when wet, would stretch or not, but rather could I get it off the prod. Another point I doubted was the claim in almost all accounts of the Battle that the bow strings could not be adjusted once they stretched. Construction of the bowstring was identical to the original in everything including the jig I used to build up the ¼ inch thick bow string. My first attempt looked good but was too short. Once I had the correct length I used a secondary colour to give the end connectors and the middle area where the string and bolt (arrow) met a little added style. The stirrup at the front of the stock (or “tiller”) and the tickler (trigger) were both made for me by an armour maker who lives a few miles from my home. This gave the finished product a very authentic look and feel, which is what I was going for. The nut (the revolving catch for the string) was made of mild steel at a local machine shop; again a safety issue. The stock itself is made of white oak and the total weight of the finished crossbow is 11.2 pounds, the draw weight is 150 pounds with a 7 inch draw. This draw is right at the maximum suggested by the prod manufacturer which I felt was within safety parameters. The range we set up for testing our crossbows was at 50 yards, which we found out was far too close especially when we initially over shot the target. To be honest neither Brian nor I had as much faith in our bows as they proved to warrant. A search for our missed bolts showed a range of 80 yards; perhaps the bolts we were unable to locate reached even farther distances. We both found that hand drawing the string was exhausting after an hour. We finally used the system of hooks on a length of leather fastened to our belts to draw the string. This involved bending over; attaching the hooks to the string and then standing straight this pulled the string back to engage the nut. This method was used in the 1300s so met the criteria for authenticity. Even with this mechanical advantage we were exhausted well before we had enough fun with our new weapons so we have met several times since to play William Tell; anyone for an apple? The Results: I was not concerned with distance or accuracy for the purpose of the experiment however, I was impressed with both. Getting the correct range was our biggest problem but as far as the right/left issues we mastered that very quickly. To my way of thinking this upholds the theory that even village idiots can be taught to fire a crossbow with a reasonable degree of accuracy in a fairly short length of time. We found that the length of the tickler (trigger) gave a great deal of mechanical advantage and allowed the bow to fire with very little pressure. Considering the power of these bows and the shocking ease of launching the bolt (arrow) one needs to be as respectful toward them as a modern firearm. Think of a high powered rifle with a “hair trigger” and no trigger guard; deadly. One of the things we discovered, which I have never encountered in research material, was concerning the length of the tickler. Once the bolt is fired the nut spins and if you let go of the tickler right away the weight of this lever will engage the hut so as to be ready for the next loading procedure. In essence the long ticklers serve two purposes, one to allow ease of launching the bolt and secondly reengage the nut to allow fast reloading. Removing and Adjusting the String: Here is what we discovered. First of all we decided that with the assistance of Brian’s son, Mike we would see if three grown men (two of us retired old guys) could take the string off and put is back on easily. Remember at the Battle of Crecy there were 2,000 Genoese, all of whom were proficient with the use and care of their crossbows. By placing the butt of the crossbow on the ground and Brian and I standing with the side of our foot against the tiller and grasping the prod end on our side then pushing down, Mike could take the sting off and replace it with no problem what-so-ever. We tried this with two people and while a bit more difficult it was by no means impossible. So what about a one man effort? Let’s say that the Genoese were self-serving jerks and refused to help one another; perhaps they were all jerks or just had a death with, I don’t know but let’s look at a one man effort. To string a longbow, and I have done this, you place the outside of the bow against the outside of your left foot with the bow behind your right leg. With the string attached to the lower tip of the bow bend the top of the bow toward you and attach the string. So what about a crossbow? Palace the crossbow with one tip on the ground in a position much like you would find if you were using a pick axe to dig a hole. With one foot against the back of the lower arm of the prod push toward the ground. With the right hand on the back of the upper arm pull upward and at the same time use the stock like a pick axe handle and push down with your left hand. This takes the weight off the right hand a bit allowing you to slip the string off the prod. To replace the string simply repeat the exercise but replace rather than remove the string. What if the string had gotten wet in the first place, how would you adjust (shorten) a stretched string? We now know you could remove the string so simply twist the string one of two turns and, Robert’s your father’s brother, you have a proper length string. After nearly a thousand dollars of investment, hundreds of hours of research construction and testing over the course of two years I can confidently say that the history books and documentaries have it wrong on this point. Proof positive and you read it first right here on the Gentleman’s Military Interest Club. Regards Brian
  6. Thank you for your kind comment Percy. Regards Brian
  7. HI Bernhard, I was so tempted to say "boulder dash" but even I would stoop to a pun as low as that. Oh, I guess I just did. Thank you for your comment and I am reminded of something I read where the South Africian troops would often fire their FN rifles just in front of a prone enemy thereby sending shards of rock into their faces. Regards Brian
  8. Very nice Chris. It's really great when one can help out an organization and educate the public all at the same time. I salute you. Regards Brian
  9. I knew that sooner or later my blogs would drive some of the members to drink. If this offended you wait until my Easter blog where I take a shot at the Easter Bunny. My theory is that he or she is pure myth. So be vewy vewy quite; I'm hunting the Easter Wabbit. Regards Brian
  10. I thought I would add photos of the bolts (arrows) I made for the crossbow trials now. There is a photo of an original from Prauge of around the same time period as the Battle of Crecy as an example for compairson with the ones I made. Mine are shorter and a little lighter but since I was not trying to use them to test penetration I was staisfied that they would do the job. The fletching (arrow feathers) of the original, now mostly lost, were made of thin wood. I could have copied this as well but it seemed to me a lot of bother when plastic sheet would do just as well. The originals were set on a partial spiral to give the bolt a spin and therefore more accuracy. Mine are straight. The ends of the bolts, I have read, were prone to damage when fired due to the action of the string. I have never seen such damage but to avoid the possibility I used a small strip of plastic glued to the end where the string would contact the bolt. Note that the original bolt was shaped to fit into the arrow slot of the crossbow. I copied this to a point but again exact copies were not necessary. In total I made two dozen bolts of the same weight and proportion so that Brian and I would not have to do as much walking to and from the target. I also experimented with much lighter bolts and some with a third feather on the top. These were much more accurate than the copies of the original and a lot of fun to play with. I think there were two or three that we either didn't loose or destroy. If I can locate the one I have around here I'll post it later. I will be taking a trip to the local armourer/blacksmith to have some experimental tools made for the shop, and possibly to market, soon and intend to have him make a reproduction bodkin tip as in the photo. I will then make a reproduction of the bolt I have in the collection to display with my crossbow, but that is a story for later. Regards Brian It might be interesting to add a couple of photos of a chain mail hood or "coif" I have here in the Home Office. Where it came from and how I got it I have no memory of but it's here. It is a modern reproduction but gives some idea of the construction, which in this case is quite nice. As noted in earlier posts either by Steve or me, the bodkin arrow point was designed to penetrate chain mail. Again, my sincere thanks to you, Steve, for your assistance in making this an interesting blog. Regards Brian
  11. Hi Steve You make some very good points. The French did indeed change their tactics concerning mounted knights wearing heavy armour to what we would see as cavalry in modern thinking. At the battle of Crecy I have read that King Philip had mounted infantry but decided to use them as ground troops. Why didn't the armoured knights just wade through the arrow storm is another good point. One suggestion (from past thinking) was that the heavy amour would not allow fluid movement and rendered the knight to moving like a slow robot. This is simply not true as tests with full armour has shown that getting up after a fall such as tripping or side-stepping an opponet is quite possible. I would think that it was a matter of vision. Vision through the visor slot was quite obstructed. I have had the opportunity to wear a reproduction helment and it is like wearing a box over your head with only a very narrow slot to look through. Any larger slot would allow arrows to pass through. Taking the helmet off to allow clear vision would allow the head to be unprotected with an easy target for the longbow or even a crossbow at distances where the knight's weapons would still not be able to be put to use. As you have pointed out the attacking forces needed to cross over a field strewn with dead and dying soldiers and horses. The point you make about the French soldiers being very worthy to bear arms for Philip could not be more accurate. Overall I don't think either side saw much cowardness in either their own troops or those of the enemy. Regards Brian
  12. Hi Steve, Thank you once again for the additional information on the battle and history. I didn't really want to spend a lot of time on the material you have added, even though I had intended to do so, in the next installment. So, again thank you, you've saved me a lot of time and now I can spend my efforts on my findings. Considering the short draw of a crossbow neither Brian nor I had a lot of faith in the two bows I had constructed. Brian held his opinions until after I admitted my own doubts, however, I found it good to realize I was not alone in those misgivings. Not to give a lot away (i.e. spoiler alert) we were both quite surprised, specially in our first vollies which were far too high to hit the target. The surprise came when we needed to retrieve the bolts (arrrows) and couldn't find them at all, initially. After some frustration we moved our search farther back and eventually located the spent bolts, also called quarrels. After this we moved the target farther away. Naturally my crossbows are not as good as the originals especially when considering their range However considering Brian and I have both hunted with standard bows which were rated at 80 and 100 pound draws I consider our findings as a fair representation. Honestly I'd say our findings are as good as many of the experiments found on so-called History and Discovery Channels. Please feel free to add as much as you please to this blog. Who knows we may have the beginnings of a book here. Regards Brian
  13. Steal my thunder? Not at all, please do. When I started my blog section I was intending it to be a base to build on by the membership. When I am not being a knob and actually posting something serious I really want input, new ideas and ways of looking at things. It's probably a selfish thing in a manner as I want to learn as much from others, perhaps more, than educate. Regarding arrow storms I would think it would be even more terrifying than being fired apon today as you can see "them" coming. Of course never having been a target of either arrows or under machine gun fire I am just speculating. Thanks for adding to the blog and please feel free to keep doing so. Regards Brian
  14. Hi Steve Thanks for your additional information. I will now have to take a bit from my next blog as you have already covered some of the information. A bit shorter blog next time is welcomed. Mercenaries were welcome before and after a battle but like the military of old of little use to the winners. Often they were more problems than they we were useful. Actually Edward III failed to pay back loans to finance the war to three Florintene banks causing them to declare bankruptcy. This allowed the bank of the Medici to rise. Makes one wonder if a King would not pay his bills would he be as honest in paying other bebts? It is a thought. Regards Brian
  15. Often when I start to write what is supposed to be a serious article and I get into the research I find that suddenly I start to doubt my original viewpoint. I was researching into the Battle of Crecy, 26 August 1346 with the intention of writing a piece on the event when I found a good deal of contradictory opinions and sketchy so-called facts. It is not my intention to hammer on and on about these opinions but as an example I found one source as stating the number of Genoese Crossbowmen mercenaries being at 5,000 and another at 15,000. I can over look a few hundred or even a couple of thousand but not a difference that equals three times greater or lesser. Interestingly enough King Edward III set sail from Portsmouth with a fleet of 750 ships and 15,000 men on 11July 1346. Perhaps this is where the confusion came from in one of my sources. Another source doubts the capability of the city of Genoa to be able to provide even 5, 000 mercenaries, though we’ll accept that number for now. As you can see right away I started to doubt my sources. My viewpoint has always been that the British longbow was far superior to the crossbow of the same era, as in the case of this battle in 1346. Spoiler alert! I still hold to my original hypothesis that the longbow was superior but not as it was based on the information I have always held as accurate. A quick overview of the Battle of Crecy as it pertains to the difference in bows is as follows. The British had the longbow the French the crossbow; to be more accurate the Genoese mercenaries had the crossbow in the employment of the French. The English held the high ground, a classic tactical move, on a south slopping hillside at Crecy-en-Ponthieu. This put the French mounted knights at a disadvantage from the start. Out flanking the English was impossible for the French as the English left flank was anchored at Wadicourt and the right flank protected by Crecy and the Maye River just beyond the city. In essence this constricted the French into what could be termed a confined killing zone. Since the English had arrived well before the French they were well rested and fed, in contrast to the French who were weary from the long march and had not had time to take sustenance. King Philip VI of France was advised to encamp for the night so the troops could be fed and well rested prior to the battle. Unfortunately for the French, King Philip listened to his to his senior nobles and elected to fight on that very day. Around 16:00 hrs (4:00 PM for you non-military/police types) a heavy rain started. The British took their bow strings off their bows and stored them under their waterproof hats. The Genoese could not remove their bowstrings as this required special tools to install and remove the strings. The wet crossbow strings, which could not have been removed or even adjusted to” take up the slack”, greatly reduced the range of the crossbow while the dry longbow strings, once the British bows were re-equipped maintained their range. As the Genoese advanced the setting sun shone directly in their eyes blinding them. At the same time the British arrows started to rain down on them well before they could reach the range to use their crossbows. The Genoese commander ordered a tactical withdrawal (another and more honorable term for retreat) which enraged the French knights, which was comprised of their nobility. History states that the French mounted knights slaughtered the 5,000 (or was it 15,000) Genoese crossbowmen for showing cowardice in the face of the enemy. As we have all probably read the French knights then fell before the British arrows throwing the French battle strategy into complete disarray and defeat. This defeat sapped the fighting strength of the French to such a degree that defence of Calais at a later date was impossible, allowing the British to control that area for several hundred years afterward. My issue was with the long held theory that the Genoese crossbowmen could not remove their bow strings in the rain and therefore the range was lessened. It seems to me that professional mercenary crossbowmen, if the bow string could not be removed, would have planned for such an event, based on their past experiences and training. Crossbowmen had large shields, called pavises, where they could take shelter from enemy arrows while reloading. So why not use these to cover the crossbows while the weather was wet? There are two stories to this question (stories are not necessarily facts). One story was that while on route to Crecy in the August heat the crossbows plus the heavy shields were too much to carry so they discarded them. This seems unlikely for two reasons; first you would not discard your pavis in the face of an enemy who could launch almost twice as many arrows as you. Second the crossbowmen did not carry their own pavises as they had pages, or squires, to do so. Another theory was that the pavises were on the baggage trains and they simply had not arrived in time for the battle. The battle did not actually need to start that day but at the insistence of the French nobles it did and the crossbowmen were pressed unto the attack, therefore this might lend credence to the theory that the pavises were indeed absent. Had the pavises arrived in time would this had made a great difference in the outcome of the battle? I tend to doubt that it would. The French were too confined and with the greater range of the longbow and the higher number of shots per minute the Genoese would have suffered greatly. The impatience of the mounted armoured knights would undoubtedly lead them to attempt an attack which would have been through the front line (the Genoese). One of the facts of using mercenaries is that you don’t need to pay a dead mercenary and often they would take causalities from “friendly fire” in order to thin their ranks once the battle had turned in the favour of their employer. The distain for mercenaries by the nobility and the need to reduce the number of survivors needing to be paid may have meant that charging through their ranks was a positive move on several levels. If we can accept this scenario then the outcome of the battle would have been much the same. It is my opinion that the English were simply superior archers with a far longer ranging bow, the long bow. The arrows being much longer and with more weight tipped with a four sided tip called a bodkin tip had greater kinetic energy at impact. This not only brought down the Genoese but the flower of the French mounted knights. There has been doubt that a longbow arrow could penetrate plate armour; perhaps this is true as it is supported by contemporary observation. However, the armor on a horse is relatively light and certainly not even close to full covering. Bring down a knight’s horse and you have finished off the man. I say this as a man in a couple of hundred pounds of steel armour hitting the ground at speed (full charge) would cause multiple debilitating and mortal internal injuries. Add to this a 2,000 pound horse and its armour rolling over him and you have what could best be described as “puree of knight in a can”. I am suggesting that the wet bow strings and perhaps even the missing pavises (if that is even true) combined with the French knights slaughtering the Genoese as cowards as they were retreating is something that was made up by the Genoese survivors themselves. A mercenary is only as good as the last victory in which he was engaged. To admit that the enemy (English in this case) were simply using superior bows and were the better archers would not bode well for potential future employment. To tell the tale that they were exhausted prior to the battle and upon moving back out of range of the English archers, as a tactical move to regroup, then be cut down by the French (a betrayal) would be acceptable to potential employers who may not be friendly toward the French. Add to this possibility that the French used the Genoese as a reason for their defeat. Always be quick to take credit for your victories and be quicker to deflect blame in the case defeat. It would be folly to suggest the reason for English victory was due only to their superior bowmen as there were other factors such as the tactically wise choice of terrain by the English and King Philip’s decision to give in to his nobles poor advice. This, of course, is pure speculation on my part. So how can I sit here in the Home Office and make such profound statements? On what am I basing my opinions and assumptions? Well, I’m glad you asked. Almost two years ago this question, in my mind, of wet bow strings drove me to produce two exact as possible copies of a crossbow based on the weapons of the 1300s. Research alone took almost a year then testing both bows over the course of several months, when time allowed, saw two years pass by. I built the two crossbows, one for me and one for my friend Brian, in order to see if they would perform in the same manner in the hands of two people who never fired a crossbow before. The cost of these two bows, considering some parts were made by professional armourers, was just under $1,000.00 Canadian. I’ll take you through some of the processes of making the bows and the materials used as well as our findings in the next blog. Please stay tuned for a little applied archeology and discussion as to what we discovered. Regards Brian