Military History - Weapons

Early weapons, such as a spear or lance, required close personal combat; thus, the outcome of a battle depended on a warrior's skill. Historical images show that swords are another hand-held weapon used in hand-to-hand combat. Historical pictures of bows and arrows show the widespread use of archery both for hunting and in battle.

Advances in weapons technology often made the difference in warfare outcomes. Historical siege warfare pictures include catapults and towers to overcome high walls, an improvement over the tactic of tossing cats into a walled city used by Cambyses II in the 6th century BC!

Black powder, invented by the Chinese, led to the development of artillery such as late medieval bombards and early cannons, as well as the arquebus and other muskets pictured in many variations. The advantage of guns was to create remote damage, avoiding hand-to-hand combat. As seen in vintage images, there are two broad types of cannon: field artillery can be moved into position on a battlefield, while fixed artillery may be seen in historical pictures mounted in a defensive position, either on land on or on a ship.

Smooth-bore cannons were improved by rifling the barrel to sharpen the aim, as shown in photographs of rifled cannons. The improved aim of rifles increased effectiveness of sharpshooters. Another gun development was the short-barrel rifle favored by cavalry was the carbine, which was more easily drawn from a saddle holster than a gun with a long barrel, but was more accurate than a pistol. For close combat, a bayonet was mounted on the end of the gun-barrel for use like a spear. An improvement in weapon effectiveness was the machine-gun, such as shown in historical pictures of the Gatling gun, with rapid continuous firing. The first fully automatic machine gun was invented by Hiram Maxim.

Personal defense historically relied on shields of varied materials, shapes, and sizes, which are shown in historical pictures in many cultures. Body armor and helmets have also protected soldiers since ancient times, as seen in vintage images of samurai warriors wearing leather protective clothing, and medieval chain mail or plate armor worn by knights and their war-horses. Historical pictures show military uniforms were styled for carrying and using weapons then in use, such as a sword.

Defensive fortifications include historical images of medieval castles and colonial palisaded perimeters to wall out hostile natives, illustrating how Wall Street got its name. Pioneer forts often served as trading posts as well as military bases, as seen in historical pictures.

Naval warfare created its own special weapons, pictured in historical images. Early warships tried to frighten enemies with dragon prows. Improved weapons led to the modification of ship architecture, as seen in historical illustrations. For example, the towers and turrets of medieval ships were useful as a platform for archers, but the introduction of naval artillery led to new ship designs, such as the man o'war and the frigate, which increased speed and maneuverability as a defense against cannonfire. As seen in historical pictures, an important later design was the ironclad hull to cope with improved artillery and tactics of sea warfare in the 1800s, including water-borne mines and torpedoes.

In 19th century pictures, steamships gradually replaced sailing-ships as it became evident that steam power reduced the uncertainty of wind as a power source. Two famous cases of wind deciding a naval battle were, first, the Spanish Armada, blown off course in 1588 contributing to the failure of an invasion of England; and, second, the USS Constitution saved by its crew manning rowboats to tow the ship safely away from the British fleet when the wind died, stranding sailing-ships in the War of 1812.


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