Related to this question but I feel it is a separate question.

It seems very tactically unsound to have the orcs that are raised with the ladders to have no breastplates. In addition (see image) the torch bearing orc is also not wearing much armor.

This seems in contradiction to Gimli's quote earlier:

These are fighting Uruk-hai. Their armor is thick, and their shields broad.

So is this just another Peter Jackson problem, or was the armor ever described in the books?

Torch Bearing Orc

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    Their armor was red shirts Commented Dec 4, 2015 at 17:50
  • @DVK You missed a very, very important letter Commented Dec 4, 2015 at 17:51
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    @DVK Well I mean; if you take enough arrows to the torso, you're probably going to have the other thing too Commented Dec 4, 2015 at 17:53
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    That guy has armor. He's wearing a helmet.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Dec 4, 2015 at 18:20
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    Maybe I should have specified "chest armor" ? I thought it was obvious but I should've known this was the internet :) Commented Dec 4, 2015 at 20:47

2 Answers 2


Those are a special type of Orcish soldier, called berserkers

According to Weta Workshop, who made the props for the films and used to sell a Berserker statue, the Berserkers were primarily a psychological weapon (emphasis mine):

Of all the divisions of Saruman's vast Uruk-hai army to lay siege to Helm's Deep, the Berserkers were perhaps the most terrifying. Painted with the emblem of their lord, shaved bald and blood-smeared, these crazed warriors, largest of the Uruk-hai, wore no armour of any sort. Not expected to live, their sole purpose was to break and strike terror into the enemy lines, buying time for their armoured comrades to gain the walls of the fortress.

enter image description here

Although sending your warrior in without armour is a very good way of getting them killed, the idea is that the experience of a screaming, naked Uruk charging at you with a two-handed scimitar is going to leave some nasty mental scars. Their enemy thus thoroughly shaken, the (better-armoured) orcs will have an easier time of it.

Although these guys are inventions of the films, they aren't unreasonable additions; shock tactics have a storied history in warfare, and the Orcish berserkers are almost certainly modeled off the Old Norse berserkers, who (allegedly) went crazed and unclad into battle:

[Odin's] men rushed forwards without armour, were as mad as dogs or wolves, bit their shields, and were strong as bears or wild oxen, and killed people at a blow, but neither fire nor iron told upon them. This was called Berserkergang

Ynglinga Saga translated by Samuel Laing

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    I've read that the Romans visited Ireland, but were dissuaded from hanging around when hordes of naked men covered in mud ran down to attack their landing parties, slicing themselves open and drenching themselves in blood along the way. The historians (mostly Irish) who write about this suggest that the Romans decided the land didn't appear to be worth dealing with that kind of mentality among the natives. There's probably some truth to it - Celtic/Gaelic warriors may well have behaved this way - but I imagine the Romans' decisions had less to do with that than the lack of potential profit.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Dec 5, 2015 at 23:21
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    @WadCheber it's hard to make a profit subjugating the insane.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 8:57

In addition to the superb answer from Jason Baker.

From a tactical and logistical point of view, it would be foolish to waste armour on Orcs that are pretty much guaranteed to die due to the role they have been given.

First up the ladder will die in pretty short order, but will occupy those on the wall long enough for the better armoured behind to get up and start getting a foothold.

The same with the torch bearing Orc, the size of the fuse on the bomb is not going to give him time to light it and retreat to a safe distance, he is going to blow up and take any armour he is wearing with him.

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    You could argue that wearing no heavy armor would increase the mobility of the berserker Uruk-hai, allowing them to swing their great swords more proficiently. Or that once the berserkers were in their blood rage they were likely to attack both friend and foe - therefore better for them to die fighting the enemy before the regulars ascended the ladders. It's also quite possible the berserkers belonged to a more ferocious breed of Uruk-hai. I recall seeing deleted footage of "mutant" Uruk-hai that couldn't be controlled.
    – RobertF
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 14:30

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