If you’ve watched our military shows, you’ll know something about war weapons. You might know that the USA has spent a mind-boggling amount of money on the F-35 program. But did the program justify all that money?
That surely depends on America’s future military actions and the effectiveness of its super (and super-expensive) multirole fighter. We can, however, look back through history and see that some war weapons were more effective than others.
We won’t point out of the obvious, such as spear, sword, bow and arrow, gun, or the atomic bomb, but we’re going to look at other more specific or unusual war weapons that were particularly useful in times of war and perhaps a surprise for enemies.
A military website wrote a piece in 2018 with the title, “How the bayonet changed the world.” Ok, it’s just a dagger or sword fastened to the end of a gun, but back in the past this was a battle game-changer. The name is thought to come from the French city of Bayonne, so the first bayonets may have been French.
They are still used now, and could be used to stab someone at close range or even to be taken off and used as a survival knife. But it’s the past when they were the most useful. Guns were not quite so automatic back then, and when soldiers were reloading, or we should say preparing their musket, they had an excellent defensive weapon. If the other side didn’t have bayonets this gave them a big advantage.
The bayonet may not have been more important than at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, when the Scottish Jacobites were outnumbered by British red coats. As a historian said, “In addition to practicing volley firing, the troops were taught a form of bayonet fighting; the first time in the British army that the use of the bayonet was the subject of tuition.”
Even though these days it’s more of a multi-purpose tool, in the past, if you had bayonets (plus training) and the other side didn’t, you certainly had an ace in the hole when it came to fighting time.
6. Hand grenade
Types of grenades go all the way back to the 15th century. But those were the types of things you might have seen Looney Tunes characters use, like a round shell with a fuse on it – something that never quite seemed to work for poor Wile E. Coyote.
It seems again it was the French that used these things first, and they had people that threw them called grenadiers. Fast-forward to the First World War, and armies were filling cans with stones or bits of metal and then packing them with gunpowder. These were far from effective, sometimes killing those that made them.
The race was on to create a safe grenade that could easily be thrown. In 1915, the British had what you might call a modern-looking grenade – the egg-shaped thing with a pin and lever. This was called the “Mills Bomb.” But by that time, the Germans had the stick bomb. Apparently, the stick bomb could be thrown further, but packed less of a punch. One thing is for sure; these little bombs were soon indispensable.
The Chinese invented many things in their glory days that some historians say they haven’t been credited for. But they have been credited for the invention of the cannon in either the 12th or 13th century.
Firing objects long distances by using gunpowder again was a game-changer. It was, of course, much faster and more devastating than hurling massive stones from giant catapults. Historians are not quite sure when the first European cannons came about, but there is a picture of a cannon dating back to 1326 and not long after the English were using them in the Hundred Years War.
One Florentine historian writes about the Battle of Crecy between 1345 and 1346, when the English and Welsh easily defeated their opponents. “The whole plain was covered by men struck down by arrows and cannon balls,” said the writer. It’s written that English peasants destroyed French knights during that battle. Why?
They had this new weapon. But it wasn’t just the English. Armies from what we now call The Middle East were using these things, as well as in other places in Asia other than China.
While we are on the subject of bombs being thrown through the air, we should mention the invention of the Rocket Propelled Grenade. Gizmodo tells us that these things were created first by The Soviets to attack tanks.
There were such things as anti-tank guns, but something better was needed. It had to be very powerful and also be something that could be moved around easily on the back or in the hands of a soldier.
The Soviets came up with the RPG-40 in 1940, which was a very basic version of what we see today. The Americans then introduced their version, calling it the Bazooka. The Germans had the Panzerfaust. But it seems for years to come it was the Soviets that mastered the RPG.
Talking about blowing up tanks, we should discuss the first tanks. These were also a game-changer, but who came up with this idea? The Imperial War Museum tells us that it was the British that invented this seemingly indestructible machine, and it was first used on September 12, 1916, at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette.
We are also told that the Brits used the word ‘tank’ as they wanted no one to find out what they were developing, and so by using that word enemies would think they were creating giant water tanks that would replenish soldiers in the trenches during WW1.
The tanks were called Mark Is, and they were slow and unreliable. It’s said that in that particular battle only 25 of the 49 tanks actually moved forward. Still, this fearsome machine made an impact. The French soon had their Renault FT light tanks and the Germans would soon create their own beasts on caterpillar tracks.
2. Gatling gun
You’ve probably all seen those Wild West movies where someone pulls off a sheet on the back of a cart and on it sits a Gatling gun. In those days it was like pulling out a light saber. In the movies everyone is quickly shot to pieces.
It was invented by American inventor Richard Gatling and first used in 1862. This gun is said to be the first kind of machine gun and it was used in the American civil war and also to easily take down tribes of Native Americans.
In true American fashion, it was widely exported. It was used by the British to shoot down spear-wielding Zulus in Africa, by Imperial Russia to cut up Turkmen and by the Peruvians to surprise and kill the Chileans in 1880 at the Battle of Tacna.
Unmanned military aircraft are used to attack or spy, and these things were also a huge game-changer. While some people think shooting people from the sky in a foreign country from a control room is unethical, others say they save lives.
The ethics of course are related to whether the taking of lives should be done in what seems like a video game-playing environment. Recently Google employees voiced their concerns over Project Maven, something the company was helping the Pentagon with related to using artificial intelligence to go through thousands of hours of drone footage.
When did modern war weapons like drones started being used?
The Nation writes in a story called “A Brief History of Drones’: “With the invention of drones, we crossed into a new frontier: killing that’s risk-free, remote, and detached from human cues.”
That story tells us that the CIA first used a modern killer drone, called a “Predator Drone” to find and kill someone on February 4, 2002. A Hellfire missile was fired from the skies at the target: Osama bin Laden.
But we are told that the US navy had unmanned “air torpedoes,” as early as WWI, although not even remotely – excuse the pun – as sophisticated as drones are now. From the 50 to the 70s drones were still being used and tested, but mostly for flyover missions. They couldn’t really be controlled like modern drones. It was computer technology that change everything.
It’s said the Pentagon these days has around 7,000 aerial drones. Soon these drones may be piloted in a virtual reality environment rather than on a 2-D screen. No doubt coming will be more advanced machines that move and shoot using machine learning technology and recognition AI. And perhaps those machines may one day be able to move like humans, or animals, as was depicted in the dystopian tech-based TV show, “Black Mirror.”
Featured image: MQ-9 Reaper drone at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, photo by Senior Airman Haley Stevens – 432nd Wing Public Affairs