Oh, fire arrows. I’m going to have to make another video about these soon. lin-dy- uh.. oooh… yea… maybe it is time I made that video. Fire arrows! Fire arrows. They’re just so cool, aren’t they? You’ve seen them in the movies and they look like laser guns! Can you think of any ancient technology that would make it possible to light this many fires all at once, and this quickly? You’d need radios for a start. They must have used them in battles, didn’t they? I mean, they look like laser guns. There’d be people being shot with this fire and pss, burning and aaah! They must have used them, right? Right? Yeah? No. Sorry, but no. And this video is about why they didn’t shoot fire arrows in battles in the ancient and medieval world, and why it’s actually a bit of a silly idea. Uhm, now then. What I’m going to do is I’m going to show you this candle and I’m going to ask you to imagine what might happen if I go: pfffffff on this candle. Uuuuuh, what’d you think is going to happen? Make your prediction now. pffffff Were you surprised? No. Well, nor should you really be surprised that if you stick a bit of a fire on the end of an arrow and then load that into a warbow and draw it right back and let it go then the pffffff that that arrow gets as it’s shot through the air is just going to blow out the flame straight away. I had a look on the web for some copyright free images of fire arrows and was amused to see these pictures of the Purbrook Bowmen shooting a volley from South Sea Castle. To mark the opening of the new Mary Rose museum in 2013. This picture shows that one arrow lost its flaming mass almost immediately. And this arrow seems to be being snuffed out having gone about a cubit. But there are three solutions to this problem. Okay, let me take you through them. Solution number one. Big fire! A really big, blazing fire, like a torch with burning pitch or something on the end of the arrow. So that it’s just such a blaze that you couldn’t blow it out. Even shooting it from a warbow is not going to blow it out. Yep, that’s possible. You could do that. Uh, but there are some problems. One problem for instance is that you stick your blaze on the end of an arrow and then you draw back and… ow! you’re burning your hand and your bow. Oh, but that’s all right. That’s a soluble problem. What you can do is just make the arrow a lot longer. Now this is a reconstruction fire arrow. You can see this, this is the fire cage style, and it’s got a cage there for containing the fire and a spike on the front. And the arrow head is very long. This one is over 6 inches and there are much longer examples than this. So what you can do is you can make the arrow so long that it doesn’t in fact burn your hand and bow when you draw it back. Fine. And you can put so much metalwork on that it doesn’t burn through the arrow either. Okay, that’s two problems solved. Terrific. Now it will work, right? Ah… well… No, because if you shoot it, the shaft will break. Because you put so much extra weight on the end and you’ve made the shaft longer, which makes it bendier and easier to break, that it’ll break. That’s okay, that’s a soluble problem as well, because you can make the shafts thicker and stronger. Okay, so you’ve got an extra long, extra thick arrow with a big weight of burning pitch at one end of it and a load of extra metalwork. This is going to be an extremely heavy arrow. But: it’ll work! You can twang it and it will get to its target still burning. And you can go to your officer and say: “Sir! Sir! Sir! I’ve invented an entirely new form of arrow! It’s going to be revolutionary, sir!” And he’ll probably say something on the lines of: “Really, Atkins, what excellent news! We’re always looking for new military technology. Now then, let me think. Arrows, eh? Well, what we really like about arrows is that they go an awfully long way, terrific range, arrows. And uhm, they’re so penetrating. They, they, they, they penetrate into the Frenchmen and do them in. And that’s what we like about arrows.” “Ah… Can’t but help think, sir, that you’re likely to be disappointed with my new innovation.” Oh dear, Well, it does improve the penetration and range of the arrow, I take it?” “Uh, no, very considerably… the opposite of that, sir, I’m afraid.” “Oh dear. Well, back to the drawing board with you. I want arrows that go a long way and penetrate Frenchmen.” Now. If you’ve got an extremely heavy arrow, it’s not going to go very far. And if you’ve got a big head on it that’s not specifically designed for penetrating armour, then it’s not going to be as good as one that’s for instance a lot smaller and specifically designed for penetrating armour. Uhm, so. It’s very likely NOT to penetrate armour. So an arrow ‘d come along. Shhh-ponk, tonk. Land on the ground and probably won’t bother him all that much. But he could sort of kick it to one side or stamp it out if it, you know, the flame near him really is bothering him. But perhaps it does stick in his armour. Neeeaaaa, shhhhtonk. “Oh, au, uhm… mine’s uhm, mine’s on fire. My… my arrow’s… is yours on fire? Mine’s on fire. You know, even through my armour, I can feel this. It’s really getting quite hot. Ow.. it’s really getting… ow!.. It’s really getting quite hot.. oh.. pull it..? Oh, right, yeah, you can just pull it out and then…. oh uh, that seems all right now.” No one is going to just stand there until they burn to death, are they? Even if an arrow is on fire and it hits someone, it’s not going to penetrate nearly as deeply, and uhm… it’s just not going to burn them to death! It’ll be a little bit like… a little bit of that and you’ll be fine. So, they’re really not very effective in open battle, are they? But there is a second solution to the problem, and that is: You heat the arrow up. Get it really, really hot so it’s glowing orange and then shoot that. It would still have to be a little bit heavier, because you’ll need a bit more metalwork at the front, but it won’t have to be anything like as heavy as the first design. Okay! So… Let’s shoot one of those and will it be as penetrating? No, because the head won’t be anything like as hard, will it? Because you’ve just heated it up. Will it actually be all that hot? Well, it’ll be cooled quite a lot by being shot through the air. That’s an awful lot of pfffffffffff taking the heat out of the arrow, but it still might be hot enough at the other end to set fire to something. What about rate of fire? Well, rate of fire is really going to be dismal, isn’t it. Because, There are all the archers, they’re just waiting around with the arrows in a forge. Some of these guys working the bellows and uhm.. “Is it ready yet? No…” And eventually: “Okay, that’s ready for shooting.” And… Twang! and then we do another one. Now of course, you can have relays of guys. You can have archers at the front just shooting, and relays of guys running backwards and forwards with bellows and with hot arrows and so forth, but why not just have all of those guys shooting arrows? Wouldn’t that be better? Your rate of fire is going to drop through the floor. Now, they did have mobile forges that could be set up in the field, but are you going to set them all up in the right places? And how many of them are you going to need to supply your whole army during a battle? And just how many arrows can you heat up all at once? Your rate of fire is going to be very, very inefficient. And uhm, at the other end, it’s not going to be so penetrating and of course, You’re also going to uhm, sterilize and cauterize every wound that you cause to the enemy. Which is rather nice of you. No, it’s not really terribly practical. All right, uhm, solution number 3. Chemistry. Yes, what you can use is some sort of chemistry to come up with a mixture which, once you’ve set it off, you may have to ignite it, has its own internal chemical way of generating heat and perhaps carries oxygen within it, and so forth. and so that can, that can burn very rapidly and hotly and will actually not blow out and will land at the other end and perhaps set fire to something. And yes, we have reason to believe that that’s what they did. Now, in the late medieval period, of course, they had gunpowder. [Roger] Bacon was writing down his recipes for gunpowder in the twelve hundreds. And uhm, we know that in the late medieval period they had cannons. They definitely had gunpowder, so they could use a gunpowder-like mix to create something chemical that could actually do the job. But there are still problems. One problem is that, if you make it so that it burns really, really hot, so that it stands a really good chance of setting fire to something, it’ll ssshhh, burn far too fast. So you, “It’s off, it’s going, it’s going, it’s going! shhh oh, it… oooh…. no, I wasn’t quick enough. Sorry.” So what you want is something that’s going to burn quite hot for a while, and then in contact with whatever it is, it might set fire to something. Now, if it lands and hits a wooden building, say. Tsomp, and goes shhh, in a quick flare, it’s very unlikely to set fire to anything. You want it to stay hot next to that building for a reasonable while. And reconstruction fire arrows have been made that burn for about a minute and a half. Which is about right. But it’s still not a blaze. It’s just sort of a smouldering, embering, smoking, quite hot thing. Which is still pretty unlikely to set fire to anything. How unlikely? Well, that experiment has been done. People have made lots of fire arrows and have shot them into flammable things and have found that about 2% of them set fire to something. Yep, there’s a 98% failure rate. And don’t forget of course all the arrows that miss. But of those that hit, about 2% success rate. So that’s pretty dismal, isn’t it? In open battle, fire arrows are a stupid idea. But, in sieges and naval warfare, it’s not the same. You see, immediately before an attack, you could shoot loads of arrows into a town or castle, and some of them, if you shoot an awful lot in, some of them might actually set fire to something. And of course, the people inside the castle or city or whatever it is, they don’t know which 2% is going to set fire to anything, so they’re going to be rushing around, making sure that fires don’t get a grip. ‘Cause once a fire of course is, you know, blazing away, then it’s a big problem for the defenders. But it’s extremely easy for them to put individual arrows out. Most of the time you could just pick one up and just put it where it’s not going to do any harm, in the middle of the road or something. It can just smoulder quite happily there and do no one any harm. But, you are using up manpower, so you’ve got loads of guys running around, putting out fires instead of defending the walls. So, that’s one use for a fire arrow. To denude the walls of defenders slightly. And of course in naval warfare, there’s a chance that you might set fire to some rigging and do a ship a decent amount of harm, but again, they’re probably just going to put everything out. But as long as they are forced to go to the effort of putting everything out, you’re still sort of using up their military resources, so what you’re doing is not completely a waste of time. And of course, if you’re shooting burning things through gunports onto a ship that has gunpowder weapons on it, Yeah, that could be really inconvenient for the enemy. So. Fire arrows. No, they didn’t use them in open battle, that’s a stupid idea. There are a few different designs of them, and uhm… Oh, I think I’ve said my bit, really. Closed Captions: ErianDragonborn.