A War hammer was a weapon used in the late medieval period and it had two major variations. The Long war hammer was a pole weapon and was primarily used to target mounted fighters. The Short war hammer, on the other hand, was used for combat at close quarters. Longer war hammers were called mauls.
War hammer refers to a medieval weapon which was shaped like a hammer. One side of the weapon was blunt and heavy, like a hammerhead, and was meant to strike with maximum impact. The other side of the weapon was spiked and this was used to inflict sharper damage on the enemy’s body. The head of the hammer was mounted on shafts varying in length from 1 foot to 5 feet.
Until the late medieval period, sharper weapons such as swords proved quite effective in wars and combat. However, the use of armour evolved over the centuries so that by the late medieval period, armours were made of very thick metal plate with great curvature. This meant that weapons such as swords or axes couldn’t pierce through such armour and often ricocheted upon strike, leaving the armoured enemy unharmed. The War hammer was created as an effective counter to this development. The war hammer was able to carry the maximum impact of a blunt strike to the armour without the need to penetrate it. With an effective blow from a war hammer, for instance, a horseman could be dismounted relatively easily. The spike at the back of the hammerhead was then used to incise the exposed parts of the armour and finish off the enemy. Longer war hammers called maul were in use as far back as the 14th century and their usage continued well into the 16th century.
The material used in the making of war hammer varied greatly from one group of soldiers to another. Typically, the hammer and the spike was made from solid metals such as iron, steel or bronze. This was done so that the strike from the blunt hammer head could deliver maximum impact on an armour. The handle was made of wood and varied in length.
War hammers were made by blacksmiths who wrought the metal to be used into the shape of a hammer and a pike. This “head” was then mounted on a wooden shaft. The shaft had a socketed head in which the head of the hammer fitted closely, unlike early medieval hammers where the heads were simply lashed into the shafts.
The war hammer was used for two purposes. Its hammer-end was used to strike the enemy with full force. Even if the enemy wore plate armour, the sheer force of the impact was meant to harm him significantly. The pike-head of the war hammer was equally effective because of its sharp blade. It could be used to pierce into the enemy’s body. Even if the enemy was protected with intricate plate armour, the wielder of the war hammer could find an opening in the armour and this is where he struck with the pike head.
There are differing theories as to whether the war hammer was used by mounted men or by the foot soldiers. According to most historical scholarship, The long war hammer, the maul, was a weapon preferred by the foot soldiers. It was particularly effective against mounted foes because in a battle, the war hammer could be directed at the legs of the horses in order to trip them and bring a mounted foe to ground. Since mounted warriors often wore armour, the hammer was effective in striking against the armour and causing concussions even without piercing it. The foot soldiers then used spikes to attack the felled horsemen and fight them at closer quarters. In contrast, the shorter war hammer was used by mounted soldiers. These soldiers, once on the ground, switched to mauls just as regular foot soldiers.
War hammers had obvious advantages in view of the contemporary arms and defensive mechanisms such as armours. Swords were increasingly ineffective against quality armour in late medieval period. So were simple spikes which could get stuck in the chainmail under the armour without causing significant damage. Hammers had a major advantage in that they could deliver stunning blows even on the best of armours and harm the enemy without the need to pierce the armour. The spiked head of the hammers allowed the wielder to further harm the enemy by piercing through any small openings through the armour. So compared to swords, axes and spikes, war hammers had obvious advantages in the late medieval warfare.
The disadvantageous aspect of a war hammer came from the pick. While the hammer-head could be used to inflict blows, it could never piece through the armour. Soldiers with war hammers would then use the pick to try and pierce through the armour of the foe. However, in many instances, the pick would momentarily get stuck in the armour or the chainmail below it. This was when the enemy had a chance of striking the wielder who stood weaponless for a few moments.
The War hammer was a popular weapon in the late medieval period. It became somewhat of a necessity in combat when armour became so strong that swords and axes were no longer able to pierce through them and ricocheted upon impact. So the war hammers became popular because they could inflict significant damage on the enemy through their heavy impact, without the need to pierce the armour. Two types of war hammers were used in the battlefield during this period. One of them was the maul, a pole axe weapon wielded by foot soldiers to attack mounted enemy soldiers. The short war hammer was used for close combat. Both types had a solid hammerhead at one side and a pike-head at the other side. The hammer was used to strike the enemy through the armour while the pike was used in the attempts to pierce the armour.