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Old 03-21-2020, 07:50 PM
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Which pre-1930 pistol round is best against late-medieval plate armor?


Specialized time travel munition question time. Ultra-specialized, in fact: which pre-1930 pistol round would be the best for penetrating late-medieval plate armor?

To be specific, a late-medieval cuirass—a fair enough target, I think—which were, from the numbers I'm seeing, typically 2-3mm thick steel.

I must leave it into the hands of the experts here on how that compares to flat plates of modern steel, as would be used for modern bullet penetration tests, and what cartridge would be best for rapidly putting life-removal ports into one.

And "best," I guess, could by further defined by "penetrates most reliably" followed by "reliably penetrates as the furthest distance," if you want to get ultra picky.

So...can anyone help me out? (I, luckily, don't "Need Answer Fast." Not that that means much when time travel is involved.)
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Old 03-21-2020, 08:08 PM
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I don't know enough about specific guns to be an expert but my first guess would be the M1911 45 caliber
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M1911_pistol

Last edited by Sigene; 03-21-2020 at 08:10 PM.
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Old 03-21-2020, 08:20 PM
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The .38 Super could penetrate car bodies of the late 1920s when it was introduced.
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Old 03-21-2020, 08:25 PM
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.50 BMG entered service in 1921. Puts holes in engine blocks.
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Old 03-21-2020, 08:34 PM
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I would expect nearly any full metal jacket (FMJ) pistol round will penetrate through a mild steel or bronze cuirass. I think the highest sectional density non-Magnum (or equivalent) round which would be available before 1930 is the 7.62x25mm Tokarev, which will actually penetrate Class IIIA rated soft (Kevlar) body armor:
Forgotten Weapons: ”PSM Shooting: 5.45x18mm vs 7.62x25mm on Soft Armor” (cued up on the Tokarev).

I would expect a 9mm Parabellum or frankly any other 7.6x or 9mm round would penetrate as well, albeit with variable terminal ballistics depending on the power of the cartridge. Cuirass was really intended to protect against the kind of smashing blows you might get from a broadswoard, mace, or war hammer, or for some protection while jousting with blunted tips, but its protection against spear, poleaxe, or bodkin-tipped arrow was not very good even when worn with an aketon or buff coat (although these could produce enough friction to stop the arrow from penetrating very far past the armor).

If this is a question of injury in eras before modern surgery and sanitation, pretty much any torso bullet wound is going to drag foreign matter into the wound channel and cause the wound to fester, very likely leading to eventual death, as would an attempt to remove it without being able to sterilize instruments.

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Old 03-21-2020, 08:40 PM
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Ha, oops. I missed the "pistol" requirement. Scratch my answer.
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Old 03-21-2020, 09:51 PM
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.357 Magnum would be my guess. It was designed in 1934, so I guess it doesn't fit your criteria.
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Old 03-21-2020, 11:55 PM
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Even if it did not penetrate, would one of these projectiles have been enough to stop Ye Black Knighte in his tracks, like knocking him off his steed, or saying 'Zounds, yon fucker hurts!'
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Old 03-22-2020, 12:02 AM
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If you count the year of 1930, almost certainly 7.62x25mm Tokarev. It's basically a souped up 7.63×25mm Mauser, which dates to 1896. One of the highest velocity production pistol rounds, it's the FN 5.7 before it's time.

Last edited by thelurkinghorror; 03-22-2020 at 12:03 AM.
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Old 03-22-2020, 01:01 AM
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Even if it did not penetrate, would one of these projectiles have been enough to stop Ye Black Knighte in his tracks, like knocking him off his steed, or saying 'Zounds, yon fucker hurts!'
Newton's third law still applies. There is less energy at impact, thanks to drag on the bullet in flight, than there is transferred to the hand during firing.

Cavalry troopers, when that still meant horses, used to fire pistols from horseback without regularly falling off.

The hand involves more surface area than flesh at the point of impact to spread the force out. The armor and padding, assuming shots that don't penetrate, is pretty good at spreading out forceful impacts. It is what it was designed to do after all. Ye Black Knighte probably has a fair amount of experience with similarly forceful blows.

Now firing the pistol at normal pistol range may well have an effect on a horse. Horses generally had to be trained to not freak out around gunfire. Just firing a blank as they charge might well make the noble steed decide to stop in their tracks...or turn and run.
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Old 03-22-2020, 09:22 AM
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.50 BMG entered service in 1921. Puts holes in engine blocks.
This brings up an interesting point: What exactly does the OP mean by 'pistol round'? Does he mean 'a round developed before 1930 that can be fired from a pistol that existed before 1930', 'a round that was designed for pistols and existed before 1930', or 'a round developed before 1930 that can be fired from a pistol'? The distinction between 'pistol rounds' and 'rifle rounds' can get pretty fuzzy.

There are modern pistols that fire what are usually regarded as rifle rounds. I don't think there's one in production that fires .50 BMG (someone made some prototypes of one in the early 2000s but it never went to market AFAIK), but there are examples of others that fire high powered rifle rounds. They're also generally much larger than what you typically think of as a pistol, they'd be more like a carbine. Something generally considered a rifle round fired from a pistol would be the best for the OP (probably not .50 BMG, as it's really impractical in that caliber), but I'm guessing that they are not looking for a gun built with modern metallurgy that can fire a pistol round availible in the 1930s.
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Old 03-22-2020, 12:35 PM
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This brings up an interesting point: What exactly does the OP mean by 'pistol round'? Does he mean 'a round developed before 1930 that can be fired from a pistol that existed before 1930', 'a round that was designed for pistols and existed before 1930',
"A round that was designed for pistols and existed before 1930"—and, preferably, that can be fired from a pistol from the same era, I suppose. (The thought of designing a pistol round that can't actually be fired from any contemporary pistol, though...almost Zen.)

So, alas, no .50 BMG single-shot pistols.
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Old 03-22-2020, 12:49 PM
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The Boss used a Colt Dragoon against Sir Sagramore in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court but upon re-reading I see Sir Sagramore was wearing chain mail.
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Old 03-22-2020, 02:30 PM
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Originally Posted by Ranchoth View Post
To be specific, a late-medieval cuirass—a fair enough target, I think—which were, from the numbers I'm seeing, typically 2-3mm thick steel.

I must leave it into the hands of the experts here on how That compares to flat plates of modern steel, as would be used for modern bullet penetration tests
The answer to this part depends to a great degree on the source of the armor. If the targeted armor is in or from a museum, almost anything is likely to penetrate it. I’m an engineer, not a historian, but it’s my understanding that nearly all of the plate armor in museums is ceremonial, and ceremonial armor is almost always unhardened. It has all those fancy details and flourishes, and those would be very hard to make so well if the steel were hardened. The stuff used in battle was usually beat to hell (as you’d expect) and not preserved in any special way. How many people do you know who are hanging onto bullet-hole-ridden ballistic vests from the mid-1990s?

You could easily harden ceremonial armor after the fact by heating it and then quenching it in oil, but that would discolor and distort it. This stuff was obviously bespoke, and distorted armor would no longer fit the intended wearer. It would be like throwing a suit jacket in the dryer and expecting it to fit properly afterwards.

Steel is most workable when annealed (completely unhardened). Annealed steel can be much weaker than high-grade aluminum—like, 25% of the strength of the aluminum rims on your bicycle.

2 mm of annealed steel would be pretty unlikely to stop most pistol rounds available in 1930. I’d be surprised if a .32 ACP round didn’t penetrate that barrier. (.32 ACP is considered fairly weak these days, and it was enormously popular in the US during the first half of the 20th century).

Is this hypothetical armor ceremonial?
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Old 03-22-2020, 02:38 PM
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Missed the edit window (please, please can we extend it? I asked in ATMB, but as far as I can tell, this is considered settled, so my request and many others have been ignored).

I’d bet that ceremonial armor is usually a lot thinner than battle armor. I hear plate armor is so heavy it’s very difficult to move in. No monarch or other member of the ceremonial-armor target demographic would want to deal with that while knighting people or using giant scissors to open another strip mall.
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Old 03-22-2020, 03:35 PM
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... I’d bet that ceremonial armor is usually a lot thinner than battle armor. I hear plate armor is so heavy it’s very difficult to move in. No monarch or other member of the ceremonial-armor target demographic would want to deal with that while knighting people or using giant scissors to open another strip mall.
And right there you conjure up the image of knights of old going at each other with giant tin-openers.
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Old 03-22-2020, 04:05 PM
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Is this hypothetical armor ceremonial?
Non-ceremonial, intended for actual combat (albeit presumably not for combat involving smokeless powder).
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Old 03-22-2020, 04:33 PM
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Side note: When I was living in California, I knew a guy in the SCA who was an armorer. He had made himself a suit of Maximilian plate. He was also an avid black power pistol enthusiast. He found himself wondering one day how the breastplate would do against a black powder round so he went out back, put the cuirass up on a fence post and blew a hole straight through it, just about where you'd give yourself the worlds most painful appendectomy. "Cool," he thought, and hammered the edges smooth on the inside and left the hole there as a lesson for people as to why they stopped wearing the stuff.

So, my guess is that pretty much any 1930's era pistol round is going to go straight through, but the question was which is the BEST one.
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Old 03-22-2020, 04:44 PM
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Not sure what the OP is after, and I doubt he has a time machine...

But .38 special or .45 acp should do the job fine. Or very much ruin the knights day. And it fits with both available in 1930. I would prefer the .357 but it wasn't around quite yet.
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Old 03-22-2020, 05:12 PM
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So, my guess is that pretty much any 1930's era pistol round is going to go straight through, but the question was which is the BEST one.
For non-expanding (full metal jacket or roundnose) ammunition, the larger diameter is better because it creates a larger wound channel provided it can penetrate to an adequate depth (FBI protocol is at least 18 inches in ballistic gelatin). So, I'd pick a M1911 pistol with 230 grain bullet. But even the relatively weak-powered SAAMI spec 9mm Parabellum would penetrate the cuirass and reach the penetration threshold.

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Old 03-22-2020, 07:19 PM
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IIRC, some 16th and 17th-Century cuirasses were designed to withstand the firearms of the time - in fact, some armorers would "proof" their breastplates by firing a shot into them as a test, leaving the resulting dent as a mark of quality (hence, "bulletproof"). I don't know how a musket or pistol round of the period compares to a 1930's pistol in terms of penetrating ability, though.
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Old 03-22-2020, 09:03 PM
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Not sure what the OP is after, and I doubt he has a time machine...
He doesn’t yet but he will have one earlier.
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Old 03-22-2020, 09:07 PM
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Not sure what the OP is after, and I doubt he has a time machine...
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He doesn’t yet but he will have one earlier.
It didn't work.
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Old 03-22-2020, 09:40 PM
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I don't know enough about specific guns to be an expert but my first guess would be the M1911 45 caliber
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M1911_pistol
No, the old .45 was deadly but didnt penetrate well. I'd say the Mauser Broomhandle C96 in 7.63×25mm Mauser, known for going thru BPV.
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Old 03-22-2020, 09:41 PM
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If you count the year of 1930, almost certainly 7.62x25mm Tokarev. It's basically a souped up 7.63×25mm Mauser, which dates to 1896. One of the highest velocity production pistol rounds, it's the FN 5.7 before it's time.
Yeah, I voted for the original, since it is earlier, but that's a little faster.
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Old 03-22-2020, 09:46 PM
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IIRC, some 16th and 17th-Century cuirasses were designed to withstand the firearms of the time - in fact, some armorers would "proof" their breastplates by firing a shot into them as a test, leaving the resulting dent as a mark of quality (hence, "bulletproof"). I don't know how a musket or pistol round of the period compares to a 1930's pistol in terms of penetrating ability, though.
Yeah, about the time they were going for "half' or "3/4" plate, they made the BP somewhat proof, and with angles.
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Old 03-22-2020, 10:36 PM
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No, the old .45 was deadly but didnt penetrate well. I'd say the Mauser Broomhandle C96 in 7.63×25mm Mauser, known for going thru BPV.
2-3 mm (~0.1 inch) of mild steel isn't going to do much to slow the progress of a .45 ACP.

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Old 03-22-2020, 11:26 PM
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2-3 mm (~0.1 inch) of mild steel isn't going to do much to slow the progress of a .45 ACP.
Yes, but later BP were 1/4 inch thick and hardened steel. and with slanting a .45 could easily glance off.
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Old 03-23-2020, 12:15 AM
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No, the old .45 was deadly but didnt penetrate well.
What about a 45 Long Colt? that's been around since the early 1870's.
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Old 03-23-2020, 11:41 AM
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What about a 45 Long Colt? that's been around since the early 1870's.
About the same. Will penetrate medieval armor, may glance off some of the later armor after early guns.

Last edited by DrDeth; 03-23-2020 at 11:43 AM.
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Old 03-23-2020, 02:00 PM
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7.62 x 25 is the answer I'd have given. Though I don't think they had the steel core bullets for it at the time in 1930. Those really help the Tok zip through things. The Long Colt is interesting, not so much for the round balls that I think a lot of the early cartridges were loaded with, but more for the really long and heavy bullets you can find in that cartridge. 1930 is before Elmer Keith's time though, isn't it?

Per Stranger bringing up sectional density, here's a brief chart of SDs for typical handgun bullets: https://www.chuckhawks.com/sd_handgun.htm

Welcome Back, Stranger On A Train! It's been too long, and we've missed you.

Finally, I thought the following steel target selection guide might be of interest, since I've been finding it difficult to find a 'handgun bullet vs RHA' kind of chart: https://shootingtargets7.com/pages/target-selection Note their warning to keep the velocity below 2850 FPS. Speed kills when it comes to penetration, provided the projectile maintains its integrity. E.g., the penetration of fast, firmly constructed 22-250 bullets at around 4000 FPS plus, is absolutely amazing.
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