The Arms Race that Killed the Shield – LECTURE

Date / time: 10 January, 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm

The Arms Race that Killed the Shield - LECTURE


Speaker: Patrick Senft, Research Coordinator, Armament Research Services (ARES)

This lecture explores the shield, possibly the most straightforward protective equipment imaginable. It traces the fortunes of the ballistic shield, from its early use with the advent of the firearm in the 1400s, its disregard until the 1900s, and its widespread use in modern war and police work.

A protected soldier is both less likely to be wounded and braver in combat, and therefore a more effective soldier. A particularly intuitive piece of protective gear is the shield, used throughout human history and across the world.

This lecture examines the technical evolution of ballistic shields – those intended to protect against projectiles – vis-à-vis the development of firearms from their advent until the modern day. Following early combinations of shields and guns in the 1400s, improvements in gun-making made shields increasingly less useful until they had virtually disappeared from the battlefield in the 1600s. However, roughly 300 years later, ballistic shields made a re-appearance on the battlefield of the Russo-Japanese War and have established their niche role ever since.

The lecture focuses on the technology of arms and shields, as well as their use to explain why ballistic shields were virtually abandoned for 300 years, yet they were commonly used in conflict before and are in use today. The audience will understand how the interplay between advances in arms technology and tactical considerations produced favourable and unfavourable circumstances to the use of ballistic shields. Lastly, the lecture gives an overview of how ballistic shields are used today.

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Image credit: © The National Diet Library Digital Collections