Defensive Armament

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Defensive Armament


a means of protection of warriors in combat. Before the wide use of firearms, defensive armament served mainly as protection against throwing weapons and in hand-to-hand combat.

In the armies of the ancient East, China, and India, defensive armament was made of metal, leather, or wood. The various types of defensive armament included wooden shields covered with leather and reinforced with metal bands, leather breast covers, metal plates covering the head and clothing, and various types of mail. In ancient Greece and Rome the heavily armed warriors had bronze armor and, later, iron armor, greaves, helmets, and shields; the light infantry had light helmets, small round shields, tunics made of several layers of linen, and leather bands for their legs and thighs.

In Western Europe, early medieval defensive armament consisted of leather garments protecting the head, shoulders, and neck. In the 11th century the warriors wore militia mail and hauberks. Shoulder and knee pieces and other small complements to the hauberks and armor gradually came into use from the 13th century on. From the 14th century the desire to protect the warriors reliably against firearms led to heavier defensive armament, which reached its full development in the middle of the 15th century. The knights of the feudal armies wore heavy armor, and a large part of the body of the horse was also covered with armor. These knights could fight only on horseback.

In Rus’ the defensive armament was lighter than in Western Europe. The Russian warriors wore hauberks, plate armor (“plank armor”), and helmets with a mail net, and they carried shields. The defensive armament in the militia of the 16th and 17th centuries consisted of a breastplate, a sectional gorget having pallettes of leather or heavy felt and covered with metal plates, a padded tunic, and a helmet with a mail net in the back and over the shoulders. There were several varieties of the hauberk: the baidana, a knee-long tunic covering, with or without sleeves; the bakhterets, a tunic of copper plates joined by rings; and the kolontar, a tunic reinforced by plates in the front and back. The introduction of firearms in Rus’ led to the development of heavy mail (iushman), of large metal plates. The hauberks and armors that were worn until the late 17th century were rein-forced by heavy plates over the chest and in the back. The horses were protected by metal plates. The Mongols wore a distinctive leather armor, including tunics of buffalo leather.

As guns became more powerful and became able to pierce any defensive armament, this armament began disappearing in all armies in the first half of the 18th century. In World War I several armies used steel helmets and also collective defensive armament, such as armor shields on guns and armor on tanks and later also on armored personnel carriers. In the Great Patriotic War (1941–45) the soldiers of the Soviet engineering and assault brigades wore special breastplates. In the middle of the 20th century the American army used steel breastplates and nylon and fiberglass jackets in their wars in Korea and Vietnam.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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