Military hardware and conflict has been a worry for civilizations the world over, from the earliest days of ancient empires from Greece to Rome, from Persia to Napoleonic France and Colonial England. No conquering army would have been successful without the aid of superior firepower. In this article, we will take a closer look at some of the advancements in military technology, which created a paradigm shift in the in which wars were fought, won and ultimately lost.
Man has been using weapons for as far back as that moment in time when the first human picked up a rock or piece of bone to kill an animal or even a rival human. And it wasn’t long before weapons were being made specifically for a purpose
The Bronze Age Sword
The first swords to be made from bronze appeared somewhere around the 17th century BC, and they evolved from the much shorter dagger. Bronze swords replaced the flint and stone cutting implements, which were very fragile and would often, break or shatter, rendering them useless. Improvements in metalworking led to much bigger and better swords being made from alloys of arsenic, tin and copper, and it was not uncommon to find swords over 100 centimeters in length. The bronze sword would eventually be replaced by the advent of the iron age, and much tougher metal altogether, however, at the time, the bronze sword certainly gave its user a decisive edge in battle.
This weapon was probably one of the first mass produced weapons in the world, and the Gladius, was just one part of the standard equipment that all Roma Legionnaires were provided with, along with a dagger and a shield and a short spear. This standardized equipment, meant that the Roman Legionary could use various weapons in certain situations, and this led to the success of the Roman Empire which stretched from England to North Africa and the Middle East.
The English Longbow
The longbow’s first recorded use was as far back as AD63 in Wales; however, it would be more than 500 years before the longbow would become the weapon of choice, and a decisive one at that. The longbow’s greatest success was in the Hundred Years War, a conflict involving England and France, and it was at battlefields such as Crecy in 1346, right up to Agincourt in 1415, where the longbow would prove to be the deciding factor. A proficient archer could fire 8 arrows per minute, and at the battle of Agincourt, England had 5,000 professional archers, that’s, 40,000 arrows per minute being launched into the air, or 700 per second! It is no wonder then, that the English army led by King Henry V, defeated the French army despite being outnumbered in some estimates by as much as 6 to 1.
Guns and Artillery
As good as the longbow was, and its use was the first occasion where firing from distance replaced the need for hand to hand fighting to win a war, it was usurped by the invention of gunpowder, which led to the first muskets and guns being produced. Despite early firearms being crude, and just as likely to blow up in the users face, as kill an opponent, they had much better range, and they could be used at close quarters as well at distance, what they lacked however, was accuracy, but that was about to change.
The Rifled Barrel
It was the Chinese who are credited with inventing gunpowder, and the British who perfected the musket, however, early firearms were terribly inaccurate. That was until the rifled barrel was invented, as well as bullets that were made especially to fit into the barrel. Rifling, involves making helical groves in the barrel of the gun, which has the effect of spinning the bullet as it passes down the length of the shaft, this allows the bullet to be more stable, improve its aerodynamic efficiency, and making it much more accurate.
The Colt Revolver
The Colt revolver was invented by Samuel Colt in 1836 and it’s revolutionized the firearms business, as before its invention, almost all infantry guns had only a one shot capability, and this meant having to reload after every shot. With Colt’s revolver, you had a cylindrical chamber, which could take 6 bullets, and the term “six-shooter” was born, and so was the world’s first rapid fire, hand-held weapons.
The Machine Gun
Although the first rapid fire machine gun was Richard Gatling’s “Gatling Gun” , it was not until the early part of the 20th century that the machine gun was perfected into the deadly killing machine we think of today. Used to great effect, it has the power to wipeout entire squadrons of enemy soldiers in seconds, and no more was this illustrated than during several bloody battles in the trenches of World War One. It was the longbow of its day, such was its impact on warfare at the time, and it put an end to armies marching into battle in formation, across open ground.
The Assault Rifle
The problem with machine guns is that they can be hefty and awkward to move about in a battlefield situation, and they work best when they are in a fixed position. In order to give soldiers more rapid fire power on the move, the assault rifle was invented, and it was perfected by Mikhail Kalashinkov, whose AK-47 was seen as being one of the best assault rifles ever made. Here is what the people at mesxp.com have to say about the AK-47, “Familiar to us all, the Avtomat Kalashnikova is easy to fabricate and use. Designed by Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov in the 1940s, this weapon is arguably the most popular weapon in history. Apparently, you can bury a crate of AK-47s deep in the ground (properly protected, of course), dig them up decades later and they still will fire perfectly and jam rarely, if ever. That’s what makes this weapon the favored tool of terrorists, insurgents, and desert fighters worldwide. Apparently the inventor was so horrified by the devastation and death caused by his brainchild that he regrets it ever being conceived.” You can read more here.
Sometimes men with guns was not enough to win a war, so in an attempt to get victory more easily, machines were invented, which it would hope would give an army a decisive edge in battle.
If the invention of the machine gun was seen as the 20th century equivalent of the longbow, then the tank appeared to be the modern day equivalent of the armored knight on horseback. This armored, metal box on treads, brought terror to the battlefields of the First World War, with its capability to go anywhere, and to be resistant to gunfire, it gave the allied forces the edge during the battle of the Somme in 1916. The success of the tank during the First World War, saw many other countries come up with their own designs, and it was to be the Second World War where the first major tank battles would take place, such as the battle of Kursk which is still the biggest tank battle in history.
The Supermarine Spitfire
The Spitfire is a British built single seat fighter aircraft, which is synonymous with the Battle of Britain, in the early stages of World War 2. Designed by R. J. Mitchell, the plane was famous for having an elliptical wing shape, something that had never been seen before on a fighter aircraft. Throughout the Battle of Britain (July–October 1940), the Spitfire was perceived by the British public as the most iconic RAF fighter, despite the fact that the more plentiful Hawker Hurricane bared a greater amount of the burden against the Luftwaffe. However, it is the Spitfire that garners all of the plaudits, and it is enshrined in the psyche of the British public to this day.
The Bell UH-1 Iroquois (Huey) Helicopter
This helicopter became synonymous with the Vietnam War, due to its prevalence as a multi purpose machine that could perform a number of roles. From general support, air attack, cargo transport, medical evacuation, search and rescue, electronic warfare, and later, ground assault, over 7,000 Huey helicopters saw action in Vietnam, with over 3,300 being destroyed. Yet it was undoubtedly one of the most important pieces of equipment that the U.S. army and marine force could rely on in the heat of the battle of the Vietnam Theater of war.
The Biggest Game Changer of All
The Atomic Bomb
Despite being the least used weapon on this list, the atomic bomb has been without doubt, the biggest game changer in military history, and its use changed and shaped the politics of the post World War 2 era. Even before it was used in 1945, it had been evident that war was now not just something that involved military personnel, but also innocent civilians. Now it was possible to wipeout entire cities in seconds, by merely dropping a cylindrical piece of metal and components from thousands of feet up in the sky, and that destructive power is not something that any of us will wish to see in our lifetimes.
As technology improves, so does the ability to make ever more efficient killing machines, and with pilotless drones now becoming a bigger part of warfare, it seems as though even foot soldiers are in danger of being made obsolete. The future of warfare on this planet is not something that most level headed people really want to give serious thought to, nevertheless, the arms trade is a global business, and a big one at that, and humans will always find ways in which to build ever more improved ways of killing other humans. The problem we face is if artificial intelligence comes about, and the weapons we make are given free reign to choose their targets in a battlefield situation. Then we could very well find ourselves in a situation not unlike the one depicted in the Terminator series of movies, where computers and androids have decided to fight a war against humans. Thankfully, that is just science-fiction at the moment, however, with the speed of technological advances, it could become very real very soon.