Throughout the history of combined arms, artillery has played a key role in supporting the infantry. Commanders laying siege to fortified cities would call upon their engineers to identify weak points in defensive walls. Resources and manpower were then allocated to construct trebuchets, the medieval great-grandfathers of modern artillery.
There were two classes of trebuchets to choose from: the traction trebuchet and the more commonly known counterweight trebuchet. Both were made-to-order siege engines of battlefield superiority.
And they kicked copious amounts of ass.
Siege Weapons – Perriere
The design for the traction trebuchet was born in Asia and spread throughout Europe and the middle east. It saw service from 1,000 AD to 1,300 AD, mostly during the crusades, used to liberate cities in the Holy Land.
The trebuchet had three 4 parts: a static frame, a dynamic beam on an axle, a sling to hold the payload, and ropes on the opposite side to pull down the beam to ‘fire.’ It was manned by a team of 20 to 140 troops, depending on its size.
Projectile were between 2lbs and 130lbs. The firing range changed from shot to shot, based on the strength of those pulling the ropes. This model was faster to build, transport, and cheaper to make with a high rate of fire. Unfortunately, to use it, you had to pull exorbitant numbers of troops away from the battlefield.Trebuchet Siege Artillery – Battle Castle with Dan Snow
The counterweight trebuchet was invented in the Mediterranean region in the late twelfth century and it was adopted in northern Europe and deep into Islamic-controlled areas. To this day, historians cannot reach a consensus on whether it was invented in Europe or the Middle East.
The new counterweight mechanism pulled the beam down to launch the projectile instead of relying on men to pull it down with ropes. The sling that held the payload was extended to improve range and the beam was made thicker than its predecessor — all because more power didn’t necessarily mean more manpower.
Battles in the 14th century saw payloads as massive as 510 to 560lbs, but something between 100-200lbs was most common. These massive payloads could reach ranges of as far as 900ft. Some sources say that trebuchets were also used to fling diseased corpses over city walls — an early form of chemical warfare.
The counterweight trebuchet could consistently deliver heavier munitions at longer distances than its predecessor. It was, however, a very complex machine to build properly and specialists were few and far between.
Both the traction trebuchet and the counterweight trebuchet could be modified to include wheels, but the former could only be fired from a locked position due to its size. Regardless, once constructed and fortified, there were few disadvantages to the trebuchet.
Traction trebuchet were most often used to fire at buildings outside of city walls, while the counterweight trebuchet had the range and destructive capabilities to assault walls directly.
The trebuchet could provide whatever a given battle required. They were versatile machines, capable of different ranges, fire rates, and power, depending the situation. The trebuchet was such a successful piece of engineering that it solidified its place as the superior siege engine — far more powerful and reliable than the inferior catapult.