Mr Jas van Driel, Helsinki 22.5.


Weapons and warfare: A history of interaction
One can wonder what came first: Weapon or war? I believe that the weapon came first, as a personal “tool” for hunting and self protection. War is a communal effort, waged by groups of people that are more or les organized. The first war ever was fought with the weapons at hand. Hunting weapons, farm implements etc. During following wars someone must have changed one of those items in order to make it better suitable for fighting the mass battles between tribes. At a later point in time a tribe might have invented a weapon that gave them the idea they could win a war and decided to start one. At that moment the interaction between weapons and warfare had begun. Weapons were being adapted for the use in war, wars were being fought with specialized weapons. That to-and-fro, that interaction has now been going on for almost as long as man has lived in tribes. There is a number of reasons why changes are made in weaponry and warfare. The most important one is probably that one wants to win. After all: There is only one thing worse than starting a war and that is loosing one. It does not take a war to initiate changes, though. The thought of war or the prospect of war, combined with social or technical developments can initiate changes. Think of the introduction of metals. First bronze, later steel. Think of the introduction of gunpowder and later smokeless powder. Think of the atom bomb. Let us examine some examples of how this interaction has taken place through the years. Slide clubs The first weapons were probably sticks and club. These suffer from a lack of range. If you want to hit your opponent you will have to be very close to him, running the risk of being hit yourself. A corollary to Murphy’s law says “If your enemy is within range, so are you” and that is VERY true. So people started throwing and slinging thing. Slide sling

Stones, pellets and later sticks. These sticks evolved into javelins and spears, thus creating the first distance-weapons. Throwing a javelin takes force. Slide Javelin A lot of force. So some bright guy decided that it would be easier to propel a (smaller) stick by means of an instrument that used the energy stored in a wooden bow, stretched by hand. The bow was born. Slide bow For years wars were fought by groups of men clashing into each other in a melee of death and destruction. It is only when the battlefield started to get organized that people could start thinking about specific war-weapons. Think, in this context, about the Gladius’s and Pilums of the Romans. Think also about the Hittites and their spoke wheeled Chariots, about 1800 BC. Battlefield The bow and arrow had by then already established itself as a formidable war-weapon but was relatively stationary. The chariots that were invented by the Hittites changed that by placing an archer in a little cart drawn by one or more horses (remember that stirrups had not yet been invented so riding a horse while shooting was next to impossible). Slide Hittite chariot Suddenly archers, with their effective range of about 100m, could be sent to any place on the field within minutes without ending up panting because of the long run. That changed the dynamics of battle thoroughly. It actually made the battle much more dynamic indeed. It is a very typical case of weapons, or weapon systems as the chariot with archer should be called, changing warfare. Of course part of those changes involved the countermeasures against this weapon system, which in turn caused counter-counter weapons. The interaction between warfare and weapons. Slide Gladius and legion

The Roman Gladius (300BC) had an interesting effect on the maneuvers on the battlefield. In order to properly use his Gladius sword, the soldier had to have a free space on the right and in front of him. This meant that the soldiers in a battle formation were fighting (and marching) neatly, evenly spaced at about 1.8 meter: The distance dictated by the length of the sword. New weapon design does not always lead to an immediate change in warfare. Let us fast forward about 2000 years to the year 1240. I do not know whether you have ever heard the text “sed tamen sal petrae luru vopu vir can utriet sulphuris”. It is not an ancient curse but the recipe of gunpowder, as written down by the English frier called Roger Bacon. I will not go into a discussion on who invented gunpowder but it is certain that its recipe was put onto paper for the first time in 1240. Slide Gunpowder We now know, in hindsight, that gunpowder changed the course of history (not only warfare). The moment it was introduced, however, nobody could predict that. At that point in time metal working was not yet sophisticated enough to make full use of the properties of gunpowder. First another weapon got a chance to show its merits: The warbow. Slide English Warbow The English warbow was magnificent in its simplicity. When well made it could propel a 70 gram arrow over a distance of 250m. It could be fired rather quickly in either volleys or aimed shots. It could easily take out a man, even a knight on horseback. The devastation that the warbow, when used properly, could inflict showed in the fact that at the battle of Crecy in 1349 more than 1500 knights lost their lives. It caused the French to adapt their tactics to this weapon. The warbow, however, was not a weapon for novices. Proper use required extensive training, something that was strongly stimulated by the English leadership. The wellknown two-fingers gesture stems from the showing of the two fingers that pull the string to indicate that one is superior to the enemy because of the ability to use the warbow. Slide Crossbow

This necessity for training was the main problem of the warbow. A common soldier or the inexperienced farm boy who was called up in a levee en masse did not have the ability to properly use this kind weapon. This necessitated a technical solution and that resulted in the crossbow. That is a weapon that can be handled by just about anyone, without the extensive training of a true archer. Experiences in war dictated the design of a new weapon. One can compare this to the misconception that appeared much later that fullautomatic fire could compensate for lack of marksmanship. Back to the cannons. A that same battle at Crecy the English used cannons for the first time. Nothing big or spectacular, but they were used. In the following years cannons were used more and more but generally in a secondary role, sometimes more as a morale booster than a real weapon. Slide Constantinople That all changed in 1453. In that year the turks lay siege to the city of Constantinople. After a siege of 47 days Mehmet II took the city on may 29 of that year. The fact that this city was taken after such a relatively short time was caused by the use of cannons. The Turks had employed a Hungarian cannon maker called Urban (actually he may have been Polish). He produced for them a number of cannons that were big and strong enough to use against the formidable walls that surrounded the city. The gunners made sure that each ball they fired hit the walls in more or less the same place. After repeated hits the walls collapsed. Do not think this happened quickly. Cannons in those days could generally not manage more than about five shots per day. Small caliber guns that could do 30 shots per day were considered quickfire weapons. The siege of Constatinople had a profound effect on warfare. Up to that time castles were very difficult to take, often resulting in long drawn out sieges that ended in the use of huge siege machines. The siege of Constantinople took only 47 days and therefore qualified for the equivalent of the Guinness book of records. It was a big improvement over the siege of Calais in 1356 that took 11 months. The destruction of the walls of Constantinople meant the end of the castle as a stronghold. The castles disappeared into the ground, making them less vulnerable but also much less grand.

Slide Crac Compare what this castle looks like with a Dutch fort from the 16th century Slide Bourtange or even with the ultimate artillery proof (well, that is what they thought) casemates and bunkers of the Maginot lines and Atlantik wall. Slide Bunker As said, one type of weapon changed the concept of warfare, particularly defensive warfare. The race between cannons and armor had begun. In this context it is appropriate to remember the saying that mechanical engineers build weapons but civil engineers build targets. Let us move forward again to a much later age. Slide Boer met Martini What happened in South Africa, at the end of the 19th century? There the proper use of a new weapon caused great losses to the English troops. The weapon was the breech loading rifle. Of course the advantage of the breechloader is that it can easily be loaded with cartridges, making for quicker firing and less susceptibility to fouling (one does, after all, not have to ram the ball down the barrel). An extremely important advantage was, however, that the weapon could be loaded in the prone position. This was one of the “unintended consequences” of the design. The Boer soldiers made good use of this by fighting in small groups called commandos. They engaged the enemy at long range while staying behind cover. This was a practice that every Boer boy learned while hunting. Because he was used to getting only one cartridge to fill the pot for his parents, he quickly developed the ability to kill with the first shot, thus saving ammunition. The Boer soldiers really made good use of the properties of the “new” weapons like the Martini Henry and the Remington Rolling block. The English soldiers were stuck, however, in the old muzzleloaderdoctrine of loading while standing up. This cost them many lives. At long distance the standing soldiers were sitting ducks for the accurate fire from the Boer commandos.

Slide Minie Experience of similar kind was gathered during the civil war in the USA. There soldiers were issued Minie bullets for their rifled muskets. That bullet was much more accurate than the then standard ball. However, tactics had not been changed yet so the first battles took place in long drawn out lines, as custom in the flintlock-with-round-ball era. The minie bullets made them fall like flies. New weapons, old tactics. In itself that is not unusual. Armies tend to fight the previous wars. When we say “machinegun” everybody knows what we are talking about, or so we think. We immediately say “flanking fire” “the queen of no-mans’ land” but that is not how it started. Slide Gatling Many people remember the Gatling for being the first machinegun. But that is not the gun that changed history. A problem with new weapons or weapon systems is that nobody knows how to use them or, for that matter, what purpose they serve. That means they often are used incorrectly. Take the case of that Gatling. Many people think it served during the Civil war but very few actually did. None were bought by the Union government and only a few were purchased privately and used in the battle of Petersburg. Those actually were percussion guns. The most well-known of the Gatlings is the model 1873. Obviously a model introduced too late to ever have been in the civil war. The model before that was the 1865, which also came too late for action. When the Gatling was finally put into action it made relatively little impact. The reason was that it was used as a kind of artillery. Apparently the military leaders of the time thought that anything on wheels was just that: artillery. The gun was used in several campaigns in Egypt, the Sudan and in South Africa against the Zulus. It is known that General Gordon had a Gatling, combined with two Nordenfelts. Both performed well on the relatively lightly armed forces of the Mahdi. As I said, there were two Nordenfelts there and that means that the Gatling never really made the difference. Slide Enfield Maxim

The later battles, like the one near Omdurman, were fought with Maxims. I believe Kitchener had six of them. Guns of a totally different concept. The Gatling therefore can not be considered the start of the machinegun age, simply because the military did not know how to use them. That honor falls to the Maxim. The Maxim is a typical example of a weapon that changed the course of a war. In july 1916 the line attacks made by the British near the Somme were stopped in their track by a small number of Maxim guns. The British used the old line-attack and it cost them dearly. Because of the Maxim the noman’s land between the frontlines became just that: a no-mans land. It would take until near the end of the war before a solution was found: The tank. That weapon system in itself triggered a search for counterweapons resulting in big guns like the Mauser T rifle and later in the shaped charge. Guns can influence warfare and tactics, certainly. Think of the establishment of the 3 mile territorial waters, as mentioned in the 1893 Bering Straits arbitrage between the USA, Britain and Russia. 3 mile was the range of the cannons of that day. Slide Paris Gun But do you think this cannon really changed warfare? No, not really. The Paris gun was not much more than a weapon of terror, designed only for the specific goal of hitting Paris. As far as I know it was never used for anything else so one can hardly speak of a weapon that changed warfare, other than representing a technological development. The same goes for other terror weapons like the V1 and the V3, the famous “high pressure pump cannon”. Slide Hochdruckpumpe Those were terror weapons and did not directly influence the way the wars were fought. Let me say something about the weapons themselves. In the beginning people made their weapons themselves. Each piece was individually crafted and adapted to the particular person and the way he fought his wars.

Slide Katana Think of the difference in blade thickness between early Katanas and later ones. When armies became bigger mass production had to become the norm, resulting in a far going standardization. All Gladio swords are, more or less, the same. Slide Eli Whitney At the end of the eighteenth century Eli Whitney had perfected the system of interchangeability of parts, thus making it possible to mass produce weapons. This ended the concept of the individual weapon. Each soldier was issued a standard weapon. Considering the lack of knowledge among the soldiers any modification had to be made but qualified gunsmiths, which rarely happened. Most weapons therefore remained the same during their whole career and only approved modifications (mainly corrections of design mistakes or improvements) were made. This remained so for a very long time, up to about the 1960’s. In just about every picture from that period you will see soldiers carrying the same weapon, be it a Spencer carbine, Slide Spencer a Mauser 98 or an AK 47. Slide AKM If any adaptations were made it would be only in details. That has changed with the advent of “gadgets” that appeared about the period of the Vietnam war. Look at present day soldiers in wars like Afghanistan and Iraq. Look at their rifles. Slide Rifle gadget lady They are full of bells, whistles, gadgets, whatshammacallits and thingamajigs.

Slide Rifle gadget jeep All these items can be bolted onto the rifle without any knowledge of gunsmithing. Whether all the gadgets are useful is a different story, but it does give the soldier the opportunity to adapt his weapon to the existing (or perceived) situation. Interestingly this sometimes goes against better judgment or even reason. Remember that one of the main reasons for caliber reduction was that the soldier could carry more ammunition. That gain is completely negated by the weight of al those thingamajigs that are bolted onto the guns. Guns that remain (in the case of the M16) lightweight guns but have heavy things bolted onto them. Also we see the appearance of highly specialized weapon. Think of the successor to the Mauser T-rifle: The Barrett M82. Slide Barrett Think of the Ontos Slide Ontos or of the M 203, the underslung grenade launcher that replaced the separately carried M 79. Slide M79 While carrying the M79 a soldier had to carry an extra weapon for personal protection. The underslung M203 solved that problem. Slide M203 It is all adaptation to the battlefield circumstances. Warfare influencing weapons design. An extreme case of warfare dictating weapon design is in the improvised weapons. Those were not only used in the Warsaw rising of 1944 but look at this. Do you know what this is? Slide IED

It is a IED with SEFOP: an Improvised Explosive Device with Self Forging Penetrator. Slide EFOP working The concept of this type of improvised weapon was already used by the Rote Armee Fraction, in 1989 in their attack on banker Alfred Herrhausen. It is now extensively being used in Iraq and can defeat even the M1 Abrams tank. It is easy to make and can be considered an ultimate case of adaptation to a particular battlefield. That brings me to the conclusion of this lecture. All considered, what is the weapon that adapts best to conditions of warfare and, at the same time, can best adapt that warfare to the conditions? It is a weapon of about 165mm long. It weighs about 1300 gram and uses 1400 calories per day when active. Slide Brain It is the human brain. The human brain is probably the best weapon that humans have. I would only wish that humans would put their brain to a bit better use to make sure that it does not have to be used as such.