Warfare & Military Technologies Throughout The Ages: Part 4 – The Early-Modern Era.
The late 19th and early 20th centuries witnessed a trend toward military mechanization, with the advent of repeating rifles, long-range artillery, machine guns, and mechanized transport. Not only that, but naval warfare was also transformed by many innovations during the Early-Modern Era, including the coal-based steam engine, highly accurate long-range naval guns, heavy steel armor for battleships, mines, and the introduction of the torpedo, followed by the torpedo boat and the destroyer. Warfare would never be the same…
- The French were the first to adopt the “bayonet” for military use in 1671—and the weapon became standard issue for infantry throughout Europe by the turn of the 17th century.
- 1750 to 1800s: Rockets become a permanent fixture on the battlefield.
- 1750 to 1800s: Indian Sultan Fateh Ali Tippu successfully deploys rocket artillery against the British, leading inventor Sir William Congreve to develop his own version, the Congreve rocket.
- 1775: The first submarine used in battle, Turtle, is created by American David Bushnell. The technology remains crude and unsafe for many decades, though several subs are used in the American Civil War (1861 to 1865).
- 1803: The British army begins using shrapnel shells, named for their inventor Henry Shrapnel.
- By 1836, a German gunsmith Johann Nicolaus von Dreyse invented the Dreyse needle rifle, the first bolt-action rifle, which the Prussian Army adopted for service in 1848.
- 1836: American inventor Samuel Colt patents a “revolving gun”, which improves on several previous designs. Soon renamed the revolver, it is faster to reload than any other firearm, and remains popular today.
- Rapid development in military technology had a dramatic impact on armies and navies in the industrialized world from 1840-1914.
- Steamship: “The employment of steam as a motive power in the warlike navies of all maritime nations is a vast and sudden change in the means of engaging in action on the seas, which must produce an entire revolution in naval warfare,” wrote British Gen. Sir Howard Douglas in an 1858 military treatise.
- 1851 to 1861: The first machine guns appear. The Belgian army’s multiple-barrelled mitrailleuse is soon followed by the Gatling gun – the first gun that can be continuously fired.
- New high explosives (based on nitroglycerin) arrived after 1860.
- In 1862, the reduction by rifled Union artillery of Fort Pulaski, a supposedly impregnable Confederate fortification defending Savannah, Ga., marked the beginning of a new chapter in the design of permanent fortifications.
- The American Civil War saw the first extensive use of heavy rifled cannon made of high-quality cast iron. They did to the early modern fortress what cast-bronze cannon had done to the medieval curtain wall.
- The first iron-clad warship, the USS Monitor, was built in 1862. It was built during the American Civil War and used by the Union Navy
- The Civil War (1861-1865) was the first conflict where the locomotive demonstrated its pivotal role in rapidly deploying troops and material. Civil War historians David and Jeanne Heidler write that, “Had the war broken out ten years before it did, the South’s chances of winning would have been markedly better because the inequality between its region’s railroads and those of the North would not have been as great.”
- The Telegraph: The Civil War was the first conflict in which the telegraph played a major role. The most revolutionary aspect of the device was how it transformed the relationship between the executive branch and the military. Prior to the telegraph, important battlefield decisions were left to the discretion of field generals… The innovation of the telegraph gave the president the ability to fully exercise his prerogative as Commander In Chief.
- 1884: Hiram Stevens Maxim produces the first fully automatic machine gun: the Maxim gun.
- Barbed Wire: Invented in the late 19th century as a means to contain cattle in the American West, barbed wire soon found military applications—notably during the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) in what is now South Africa.
- The French navy, an extensive user of torpedo boats, built its first torpedo boat destroyer in 1899, with the Durandal-class ‘torpilleur d’escadre’.
- Many 19th century innovations were largely invented and promoted by lone individuals with small teams of assistants, such as David Bushnell and the submarine, John Ericsson and the battleship, Hiram Maxim and the machine gun, Ernest Swinton and the tank, and Alfred Nobel and high explosives.
Thanks for reading!
Look forward to the next issues in this series: Warfare & Military Technologies Throughout The Ages: Part 5 – The Modern Era.