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Backstory

During the Northern European Crusades, Christian knights in shining armor attempt to conquer independent pagan tribes. In one such battle 50 knights on horseback approach a relatively large village and see the peasants' militia advancing on foot against them.

The peasants are armed with simple axes, pikes, and farm tools, and have little or no armor. The knights charge straight at them, thinking that they can just trample the pagans in an easy battle.

However, the knights don't know that among the crowd are several mages. Just when the knights approach 20 meters from the advancing militia, the mages form an invisible, impenetrable force field between the militia and the knights. The knights, charging at full speed, slam into the force field.

Question

Would the damage taken by the knights be enough for the villagers to finish them off with ease?

  • The force field is as impenetrable and as rigid as solid rock or a concrete wall.

  • Suppose that the knights were charging tightly in a formation before slamming into this force field.

  • They are organized into several rows of knights, the first row, and then at least two rows before the first row.

  • Assume that there's enough confusion that the knights do not attempt to stop the horses before every knight hits the force field or collides with another rider.

  • The villagers outnumber the knights 4 to 1.

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  • $\begingroup$ The horses will almost certainly stop on their own once their riders are gone. At minimum, the knights are likely to be dazed, but keep in mind, you are talking about something close to being hit by a truck at 30mph...) $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Sep 7, 2020 at 20:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Matthew Both the horses and the riders would feel the slam, if that wasn't clear. It's an impenetrable force field for humans, horses, weapons and all. $\endgroup$
    – Galaxy
    Sep 7, 2020 at 20:24
  • $\begingroup$ You said that the horses "continue galloping forward until they hit something", which appears to imply that the knights stop, the horses don't? Perhaps a clarifying edit would help? OTOH, if the horses stop suddenly, and slightly before the knights, well, we've seen that before. It ended badly for the English. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Sep 7, 2020 at 20:28
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    $\begingroup$ Full speed and tight formation are somewhat contradictory $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Sep 7, 2020 at 23:02
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    $\begingroup$ @Galaxy, I took the liberty to edit your question to put it into a more easily read form. I believe I did not change your intent while editing it to conform with SE's expectations for a well-formed question. If I made an error, I apologize. You can roll back the edit or update it as you see fit. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Sep 7, 2020 at 23:35

2 Answers 2

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I'm modelling this as if they're in tight formation side-to-side. Eg a line or chevron / wedge. They're not going to charge "front-to-back" in tight formation - if the front horse hesitates or stumbles the back one will hit it.

Every single horse will die.

If you have a strong stomach, Google "Horse running into wall". A lot are commented with "that horse died", or "that horse was put down", or the horse never moves again on video. Eg https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCibFi5Vs34

The slowest I saw was at a rodeo, it was bucking, but hit at what must've been walking speed. It died.

Those that don't die will break their legs, and that is basically death in that period.

... Every rider will be thrown into the concrete wall headfirst.

Those not wearing helmets will have massive head injuries. Concussions to broken skulls to snapped necks. Many will die then and there, another large group will slowly die without medical aid, they may be able to do a last effort stab as someone comes to finish them off, or mutter a smart one liner, but that's about it. Some will survive, but they'll be injured, disorientated, and scared.

If they're wearing hard metal helmets, those helmets will be deformed on their heads. It may save their life, but the deformed helmets will cut into their necks, blind them, and be difficult to remove without tools.

... And they could be trivially killed

If the shield is the last action of the battle, the luckiest knights will eventually be able to stumble away, but a ragtag band of green troops just out of training could finish them off with basically zero injuries.

There is a myth that a fallen knight can't get back up due to the weight of their armour. It's false. When that happens, they can't get back up more because "The fall is a long way and things break on the impact".

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    $\begingroup$ 1) Typical knight's helmet wouldn't be much protection against that sort of crash injury. Maybe worse than nothing at all. Compare to e.g. modern motorcycle helmets. 2) Re falling from horses (something I've done more often than I care to admit :-)), if you are prepared (and lucky), you can tuck & roll, and come up on your feet. If you're taken by surprise and off-balance, as would be likely here, you do various degrees of splat. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Sep 8, 2020 at 18:55
  • $\begingroup$ Marked as best answer because more information and text is broken down into logical sections, easier to read. $\endgroup$
    – Galaxy
    Sep 20, 2020 at 17:29
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A massacre, the knights up front are dead, as are their horses, crushed bones, broken necks, trampling. Mechanically this is little different than a a truck moving at 40-50mph hitting them head on. bodies horse or human, are not made to take that kind of impact. There is a reason horses will not willing charge what looks like a solid object without a lot of training, instinctively they know it is among the most destructive things they can do. The middle row is similarly screwed, there is not enough time for reaction.

On the other hand the last row may be mostly fine if they stop in time. They will notice the ones in front, there is no way they can't, all that matters is their reaction time, and that of the horses. They may lose many horses but the humans may only suffer minor injuries. This will depend on how spaced out they are, you could get a lot of injuries or almost nothing, either way the horses will suffer more than the men. You don't charge horses in tight formation front to back, one horse trips or even stumbles and you get a domino effect any cavalryman knows this. Tight formation means tight side to side, not front to back. You are looking at a horse length or more between horses at minimum.

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  • $\begingroup$ Good point about "You don't charge horses in tight formation front to back" $\endgroup$
    – Galaxy
    Sep 8, 2020 at 1:20

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