Can Crossbows Pierce Plate Armor?

In these modern times, plate armors are nothing but the artifacts exhibited in museums. Although they were being used way before the crossbows even came into existence, crossbows played an important part in ending their use. Just like war vehicles replaced horses, flak jackets replaced plate armors. And despite weapons being invented every day, crossbows still thrive, being considered as a great weapon for hunting. 

Many historians still argue whether the crossbows/longbows were able to pierce plate armors or not. And if you’re here reading this, you too must have been arguing over your own thoughts about this dilemma. Can crossbows really pierce plate armors? Well, here’s the answer: yes, crossbows can pierce plate armors, but there are certain ways which make it possible. 

What is Plate Armor? 

Plate Armor is basically a body armor which acts as a shield against weapons and protects its wearer. It can be made of different materials such as iron, bronze, or steel, and can have a specific thickness. It was first invented during the Bronze Age, and continued to evolve until the beginning of World War 2. During this time, many changes were made to the plate armors to increase their reflective power against the modern weapons. However, it proved to be unsuccessful against firearms that shot bullets with the speed of over 300 m/s. 

Which Factors Affect the Piercing of Plate Armor by a Crossbow? 

Let’s assume that we’re in a life-death situation where our 2 mm thick plate armor is the only thing that can save us. We have a medieval crossbow shooting at us, which is around 100 metres away and releases 60 Joules of kinetic energy. So what are the chances that the crossbow will pierce our plate armor? To find out, let’s go through these factors first that affect the piercing power of a crossbow: 

1. Thickness of the Plate Armor:

Every plate armor came along with a different thickness. Usually, plate armor having a thickness of more than 2 mm will not get pierced by a crossbow. The breast plates would often have an extra thickness of 1.2 mm to provide extra protection. A heavy-duty crossbow can even pierce through the thickness of 3.2 mm. Hence, if your plate armor has a thickness of more than 2 mm, there’s a high chance that the crossbow bolt won’t pierce it. 

2. Distance Between the Plate Armor and the Crossbow: 

This is the most important factor that determines whether a crossbow can pierce the plate armor or not. It has been noted that a crossbow works the best when the distance between the plate armor and crossbow is as less as 20 metres. According to many resources, a crossbow bolt would bounce off or just put a dent on the plate armor if they have a distance of 50 metres. And in the past, the archers would often shoot from a very long distance and pass through the gaps of plate armor. Therefore, a short distance between both will definitely result in the piercing. 

3. Quality of the Plate Armor: 

During wars, not only did the knights wear plate armor, but also the local men who wanted to support their military. However, there was a significant difference in the quality of plate armors that the knights and local men wore. The high-quality armors were made out of pure materials, such as iron, steel, or bronze, having the same density and thickness at each point. The low quality armors, on the other hand, contained more than one type of material and could easily be penetrated by a crossbow bolt. Hence, if the plate armor is made of low-quality material, it is very likely that the crossbow bolt will pierce it. 

4. Type of Crossbow Used: 

The medieval crossbows were used to shoot arrows and bolts, which often resulted in piercing plate armor where it was thinnest ( less than 2 mm thick). Although they could shoot from very long distances, the energy was not sufficient enough to provide a piercing force. The bolts and arrows would mainly hit the unexposed areas which often proved to be fatal. But the modern crossbows are different: they are capable of providing more energy. Modern crossbows providing more than 100 Joules of energy can easily pierce a 2 mm thick armor. 

So, what do you think? Will our plate armor get pierced by the crossbow or will it just get a dent? Let me know what you think in the comments!

Modern Crossbows that can Pierce Plate Armors 

Although there were many crossbows in the past that could pierce plate armors, still none of them could stand against the plate armors that were getting thick and less-penetrable. Plate armors were stopped being used only because of the firearms that released bullets with more than 1000 Joules of energy, enough to pierce a 5 mm thick plate armor! But if these modern crossbows existed in the past, they would have definitely proved themselves worthy enough to pierce plate armors. 

Here are some of the modern crossbows that can pierce plate armors:

1. Carbon Express Covert CX2 

2. Barnette Ghost 400 

3. Excalibur Matrix Mega 405 

4. Barnett Predator 

5. Ravin R20 

6. TenPoint Nitro X 

But again, it is important to note that these crossbows can only pierce the plate armor from a short distance. Only bullets can pierce it from long distances.

How do Plate Armors Differ from Flak Jackets? 

Although flak jackets are far from what body armor is used now, they provided a good protection against crossbow bolts. Unlike plate armors, flak jackets could even protect against shotgun pellets and grenades. While the plate armor is made up of 1 layer, a flak jacket is made up of 2 layers and covered in ballistic nylon. This drastically caused the downfall of plate armors that could be pierced by crossbows and bullets. 

What do you think? 

Check out this amazing experiment by the Skallagrim which determines the piercing power of crossbows:

Crossbow Vs Knight Armor 5.2 mm Steel