Electromagnetic Weapons, Biochemical Effects

Electromagnetic weapons-also known as E-bombs-are designed to release a high-power flash of radio waves or microwaves. Depending on the energy of the electromagnetic pulse, effects can range from the disabling of electronic circuitry to physiological effects in those exposed to the electromagnetic pulse.

The pulse released by an electromagnetic weapon lasts for an extremely short time, around 100 picoseconds (one ten-billionth of a second). The absorption of this blast of high energy by anything capable of conducting electricity, including nerves and neurons, overwhelms the recipient.

Research and development into the effects of electromagnetic weapons on human beings and animals was underway in the 1940s. The Japanese spent considerable sums of money on the development of a “Death Ray” between 1940 and 1945. A review of these studies by the United States military concluded that it was possible to develop a weapon that would produce an electromagnetic ray capable of killing humans five to 10 miles away from the source.

Animal studies have demonstrated the lethal nature of electromagnetic radiation. In the studies, wavelengths ranging from 60 centimeters destroyed the lung cells of mice and ground hogs. Wavelengths less than two meters also destroyed brain cells.

Electronic stimulation can have other, nonlethal effects on humans. Secret research conducted in the United States following World War II demonstrated that electronic stimulation of different regions of the brain of test subjects could produce extreme emotions of rage, lust, and fatigue. Another research program, dubbed “Operation Knockout,” operated at the Allan Memorial Institute in Montreal, Canada, with funding from the Central Intelligence Agency. The study’s director, Dr. Ewen Cameron, discovered that electroshock treatments caused amnesia. Memories could be erased, and the subjects reprogrammed. Once these “psychic driving” experiments became public, Cameron-then a pre-eminent psychiatrist, endured harsh public and professional criticism.

In the 1960s, the U. S. Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency (DARPA) studied the health and psychological effects of low energy microwaves for weapons applications. The ability of microwaves to damage the heart, create leaks in blood vessels in the brain, and to produce hallucinations were demonstrated.

Many scientists assume that research into the debilitating effects of electromagnetic radiation has continued up to the present day. However, increasing restrictions on the information obtainable through the U. S. Freedom of Information Act have made verification difficult. A 1993 U. S. Air Command and Staff College paper entitled “Non-Lethal Technology and Air Power” documented low frequency, “acoustic” and high power microwave weapons that could deter or debilitate humans.

Low frequency electromagnetic waves, also known as acoustic waves, have been commonly used for decades in functions such as ultrasound machines. However, acoustic waves can also cause internal organs of humans to vibrate. The result can be nausea, diarrhea, earache, and mental confusion. The discomfort increases as one gets closer to the source.

Shorter wavelength electromagnetic radiation produces different effects. A common example is microwave radiation, which in a microwave oven can be used to heat up foods and liquids. When directed at humans, a microwave weapon causes atoms to vibrate, which in turn generates heat. At 200 yards away, body temperature increases from the normal 98.6° F to 107° F. At closer range, the temperature increase can be even higher, and is lethal.

Microwave electromagnetic weapons can also stun a victim. This is the result of the stimulation of peripheral nerves. The simultaneous activity of many nerves overwhelms the capacity of the brain to process the incoming information, and can induce unconsciousness.

The biochemical effect of microwave exposure is dependent on the distance from the source, as electromagnetic fields become much weaker as the distance from the source increases.

Experiments with very low frequency electromagnetic radiation have demonstrated that the radiation can induce the brain to release chemicals that induce slumber, or to release a chemical called histamine. In human volunteers, the histamine release produces flu-like symptoms, which dissipate when the radiation stops.

Not all electromagnetic weapons are cloaked in military secrecy. A device called the Pulse Wave Myotron is commercially available. The Myotron emits rapid pulses of electromagnetic radiation. The pulses incapacitate the movement of voluntary muscles by overriding the electrical pulse that normally flows from nerve to nerve within the muscles. Involuntary muscles, such as the heart and muscles that operate the lungs, are unaffected. Thus, a victim is rendered incapable of movement or speech. The effect lasts until the muscles can repolarize; approximately 30 minutes.

FURTHER READING : BOOKS: Alexander, John B. Future War: Non-Lethal Weapons in Twenty-First Century Warfare. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. PERIODICALS: Pasternak, D. “Wonder Weapons.” U. S. News & World Report. July 7 (1997): 38-46.

Electronic Harassment

WWII US Army Trucks

WWII for the US was the first completely mechanized war.  There were tanks, jeeps, tanks, armored cars, tank destroyers, halftracks, and trucks that were used by the US military.  They came in all sizes from the 1/4 ton 4×4 Jeep to the 10 ton wreckers.  But there is one truck that comes to a person’s mind when thinking or thinking of a trucks from WWII, and it is the GMC 2-1/2 ton 6X6.  It is the definitive truck of WWII!

When one thinks of US military medium trucks, the GMC 2 1/2-ton 6×6 immediately springs to mind.

The trucks used in this convoy system were CCKW, built by GMC, and known by the troops as either the `Deuce-and-a-half’ or the `Jimmy’. They were capable of carrying payloads of up to 2.5 tons but in reality many were greatly overloaded due to the emergencies during battle. All could tow trailers and some were also developed for specialist roles such as the 750-gallon capacity fuel tanker and 700-gallon capacity water tanker, while others were converted to be used in bomb disposal, as medical support vehicles and fire trucks; the famous DUKW (`Duck’) amphibious truck was also developed from the CCKW design. There were two basic types of these 6×6 trucks, the Short Wheel Base 352 and the Long Wheel Base 353 and either the closed cab or open cab versions. The CCKW lettering designated the year 1941 (C), conventional cab (C), all-wheel drive (K) and tandem rear axles (K). The basic version weighed 5.3 tons and measured 21.36ft long, 7.35ft wide and 9.19ft high. Between 1941 and 1945 General Motors produced over 562,000 of these trucks and other manufacturers took the production figure to more than 812,000 vehicles. The Jimmy was fitted with a GMC six-cylinder 269 cid 91.5hp engine, which gave road speeds of up to 45mph. It was thirsty on fuel and a 40-gallon fuel capacity would allow an operational range of 300 miles (7.5 miles to the gallon). Some Jimmys had provision for a .50in-calibre machine gun to be mounted above the cab roof for use in self-defence in case of attack.

Semi-trailer tractors come into this category with designations from 2 1/2ton to 5-ton. These special-purpose vehicles were used to haul large trailers of all descriptions. The general service bodies were used in great numbers during the advance across Europe, proving extremely useful in such organized deployments as the ‘Red Ball Express’ route. Starting with some of the less publicized vehicles, the AutocarModelU4144T 4×4 tractor was basically used in the USA, very few crossing the Atlantic and the US Army Air Force being a major user for the fuel bowser-towing role. Another early model, the GMC AFKX-502-8E COE tractor, was used to tow early horse box trailers for the cavalry. The GMC was powered by a 6-cylmder 91-kW (122-bhp) engine. Perhaps the two most popular and publicized tractors were the Autocar Model U7144T and the Federal 94×93, which were used in quite large numbers for haulage. The Autocar was used by artillery units to tow van bodies, fitted out with radio equipment mostly for use by antiaircraft units. These trailers were designed to use a front dolly wheel for use as full towing trailer, though when the trailer was coupled to the tractor the dolly could be towed behind the whole assembly. Early vehicles had fixed steel cabs, these later being changed to soft tops in line with most other American-produced military transport vehicles. Many soft-top vehicles were fitted with a ring mount for a 12.7-mm (0.5-in) machine-gun. The Studebaker produced almost 200,000 2 1/2-ton trucks, similar to the GMC 6×6, but more than half of that production went to the Soviet Union under Lend-lease. Many were produced with the Studebaker commercial-type closed cab. 100 Federal model was used in the same basic way, the power unit for this type being the Hercules 6-cylinder RXC engine.

In the 4-ton cargo range the FWD HARI saw extensive service with American, British and Canadian forces. It was powered by a Waukesha GB2 6-cylinder engine. Many of the trucks were instrumental in hauling supplies along the Allied supply line from Persia to the USSR. One interesting deployment of the FWD in British service was its use to tow mobile smoke generators. The RAF used the truck as mobile power supply vehicles and as snow ploughs, the latter being fitted with a Bros rotary plough, for which the rear body was replaced by a large Climax R6 petrol engine unit. Transmission of power to the plough was twofold, first by V-belts to the rotary parts then through transmission shafts to the rotor assembly with a chain drive for final power to the rake.

Diamond T supplied a 6×6 medium truck, the Diamond T 968, this being one of the US Army’s cargo trucks until the end of the war. Variants included tipper, map reproduction, wrecker and bitumen tank vehicles. A total of 10,551 was built, and a further 2,197 were supplied as long- and short-wheelbase vehicles (cab and chassis) for fitment of special engineering bodies. These were supplied to many other countries during and after World War II.

GMC World War Two Production Statistics:

There were 528,829 2-1/2 ton 6×6 trucks produced with the GMC nameplate on it.  GMC built 377,254, or 70% of these at its Pontiac, MI plant.  Chevrolet built the other 151,575 at two of its assembly plants.

There were 21,147 2-1/2 ton 6×6 amphibious trucks produced with the GMC nameplate on it.  GMC built 14,399, or 68% of these at its Pontiac, MI plant.  Chevrolet built the other 6,748 at its St. Louis assembly plant.

GMC built 24,910  2-1/2 ton 6×4 trucks at its Pontiac, MI plant.

Total GMC Division WWII production at Pontiac was 416,563 2-1/2 ton trucks of different types.

377,254  2-1/2 ton 6×6 trucks (CCKW, AFKWX)

14,399  2-1/2 ton 6×6 amphibious trucks (DUKW)

24,910  2-1/2 ton 6×4 trucks (CCW)

30 Boarhound armored cars (T18E2)

Medieval Armor And Weapons




Cold Steel Arms: Axe heads, maces, morningstars

The armor worn in France throughout the medieval period was directly derived from that worn in the Migrations Period by the leaders of Germanic war bands, and its basic structure, which included a shield, helmet, and coat, changed little between ca. A. D. 100 and 1150. In the early period, the shield (Lat. scutum, OFr. escu) was normally constructed of wood covered with leather and reinforced with strips of bronze or iron centered on a hemispherical metal boss that covered the grip. Down to ca. 1000, the shield was usually ovoid or round and about three feet in diameter. A round shield of similar construction continued to be used by infantry into the 15th century, but a longer and narrower shield of Byzantine origin, shaped like an elongated almond, was introduced in the 11th century for use by heavy cavalry and predominated from ca. 1050 to 1150. The normal type of helmet (MHG helm, OFr. helme, MidFr. heaume) in the period before 1150 took the form of a more or less convex cone, most commonly constructed from four or more triangular sections of metal or some other hard material bound by iron bands. It was usually supplied with a nasal bar and until ca. 750 with hinged cheek plates as well.

The coat was almost always made of mail (OFr. maille), a mesh of interlocking iron rings of uniform size. The names most commonly given to the mail coat in the period before ca. 1300 were derived from the Old Germanic word *brunaz ‘bright’: Lat. brunia, OFr. brunie or bro(i)gne. Down to ca. 800, no protection for the neck was generally worn, but in the 9th century it became customary to wear a mail hood with attached shoulder cape over or partially under the mail coat and under the helm. This caped hood was apparently known as the halsbergen ‘neck guard’ in Frankish and by a derivative word variously spelled halberc, halbert, (h)auberc, etc. in Old French. This word (in English in the form “hauberk”) has been applied since at least the 17th century to the mail coat or brogne itself, but this was an error of the antiquarians, and historically it had designated only the caped hood as long as the latter was still in use—that is, until the 14th century. The hood proper, which was often attached directly to the brogne, was called the coiffe, and from the 12th century onward the brogne with attached coiffe was called an haubergonne.

Helmets and mail coats were expensive, and before ca. 800 they were worn only by kings, nobles, and their most distinguished companions-in-arms. In the 9th century, however, they came to be distributed to the ordinary members of royal and noble military retinues, newly named vassals, and from ca. 950 they were to be characteristic of knights, who were always expected to appear for battle in the most complete and up-to-date armor.

The period 1150–1220 saw the first major changes in the form of armor used in France since the Frankish conquest. Most of these changes were in the direction of increased protection for the body, already begun with the adoption of the long shield. In the late 12th century, the sleeves of the brogne were extended from the elbows to the wrists and finally acquired attached mittens. Mail leggings, or chausses, though occasionally worn earlier, similarly came into general use among knights ca. 1150 and were worn to ca. 1350. Also ca. 1150 began the custom of wearing a surcoat (OFr. surcote, cote a armer)—a loose, generally sleeveless cloth coat probably borrowed from the Muslims— over the coat of mail. The surcoat was universally adopted by ca. 1210 and worn thereafter until ca. 1410. Throughout this period, it was commonly emblazoned with its wearer’s heraldic “arms,” but these new ensigns were primarily displayed on the shield— which between 1150 and 1200 also lost its traditional boss, between 1150 and 1220 was made progressively shorter and wider, and between 1200 and 1250 was given an increasingly triangular shape through the leveling of its upper edge.

Although the traditional conical helm continued in use until ca. 1280, several new forms emerged in this period that were destined to supersede it. The most important were the flat-topped “great” helm, which between 1180 and 1220 evolved to enclose the whole head in a cylinder of steel pierced only by slits for seeing and holes for breathing, and the close-fitting hemispherical bascinet, which emerged ca. 1220. The great helm survived with little further structural change from 1220 to 1400, and from ca. 1300 its apex was often provided with a distinctive heraldic “crest” (cimier) of wood or boiled leather, worn primarily in the tournaments to which, by 1380, the helm was restricted. The bascinet was at first worn under the helm and over the coif of the mail hood, but from ca. 1260 the hood was increasingly replaced with a mail curtain (the camail or aventail) suspended from the outside of the bascinet, and the bascinet thus augmented gradually replaced the clumsy great helm as the principal defense for the head in real warfare. In consequence, the bascinet became steadily larger and more pointed, and acquired in the last decade of the 13th century a movable “visor” (vissere) to protect the face.

The eight decades between ca. 1250 and ca. 1330 witnessed a major change in the history of European armor, stimulated in large part by the development of weapons capable of piercing mail: the gradual introduction of pieces of plate (at first of whalebone, horn, and boiled leather, as well as of the iron and steel that ultimately prevailed) to cover an ever larger part of the mail. By 1330, every part of the body of a knight was normally protected by one or several plates, including a poncholike “coat of plates” concealed by the surcoat. By 1410, the various pieces of plate, including a breastplate and backplate instead of the earlier coat of plates, were all connected by straps and rivets in an articulated suit, or “harness,” of polished steel. After ca. 1425, this “white” armor was usually worn without a surcoat or any other covering.

The adoption of elements of plate to protect the body steadily reduced the importance of the shield, which between 1250 and 1350 diminished steadily in size until it was only about 16 inches in height. Even this diminished shield was finally abandoned between 1380 and 1400. A new form of shield called the targe, of similar size and structure but roughly rectangular in outline, concave rather than convex, often deeply fluted and cusped, and provided with a notch, or bouche, for the lance, was introduced in the same two decades, but it was used primarily in tournaments, and knights of the 15th century seem to have done without any shield in battle.

The only offensive weapons commonly borne by the Frankish warriors who seized power in Gaul in the 5th century were the lance, or framea, of sharpened ash; the barbed javelin, or ango; and the throwing ax, or frankisca. The lance or spear, whose more expansive form, equipped with an iron head, was destined to displace the sharpened form and survived with little basic change until the end of the Middle Ages and beyond—for many centuries the only weapon generally available to ignoble as well as noble warriors.

Kings and the leaders of war bands also carried swords, usually of the long, straight, double-edged type called in Latin spatha, first developed by the Celts of Gaul ca. 400 B. C. and later borrowed by Germans and Romans. As the Old French use of espee for “sword” suggests, the spatha (whose blade was ca. 30 inches long) was ancestral to most of the later forms of sword developed in western Europe, of which some thirty-three types and subtypes have been recognized by scholars, four of them antedating A. D. 600. Around 600, the Frankish king and nobles temporarily abandoned both spatha and frankisca in favor of a machete-like single-edged sword called a saxo, whose 18inch blade permitted it to be used for stabbing and even throwing as well as slashing; but under Viking influence the spatha, which the Scandinavians had continued to use and develop, was reintroduced into Frankish lands and quickly became the principal weapon not only of the rulers and nobles but of the rank-and-file members of the new heavy-cavalry units ancestral to the knights of the 10th and later centuries.

Lesser weapons were also employed by knights after 1050. Special forms of ax, hammer (bec), mace, club, and flail were introduced in the 12th and 13th centuries to supplement the sword, but it was only after 1300 that these were both fully developed and commonly used. Most knights and squires also carried a stiff dagger on their sword belt after ca. 1350. All of the knightly weapons were used by the nonknightly combatants who could acquire them, but among the base-born infantrymen a number of weapons scorned by the knightly class were also employed. The simple bow, despised by most Germanic tribes outside of Scandinavia, was little used in France outside of Normandy before the 14th century, when six mounted archers were included in the “lance,” or standard tactical unit of the royal army. The crossbow, or arbaleste, was reintroduced into France ca. 950 and was commonly used thereafter to ca. 1550, primarily by special infantry units placed from ca. 1200 to 1534 under the overall authority of a grand master of the crossbowmen (arbalest[r]iers). After ca. 1350, the bow and crossbow were supplemented on occasion by a primitive handgun. In addition to these projectile weapons, the infantryman of the 14th and 15th centuries had at his disposal new forms of polearm, which were in essence lances with special forms of head.



Playing a major role in medieval warfare, artillery evolved parallel to the art of fortification. Although Roger Bacon introduced gunpowder to the West ca. 1260 and the English used cannon at Crécy in 1346, it took a further century of experimentation before cannon supplanted trébuchet (i. e., tension) artillery. Improvement of explosives, projectiles, and guns was impeded by the difficulties in obtaining adequate amounts of matériel and equipment. But by 1400 cannon had come into regular use, and the final campaigns of the Hundred Years’ War made their superiority unmistakable. Either protecting sappers or breaching walls themselves, they became an indispensable tool in sieges. In response, defense tactics and military architecture changed rapidly after 1450. Governments were compelled to modernize fortifications, and every town was driven to acquire artillery for its own defense.

Following French use of artillery at Formigny (1450) and Castillon (1453), where cannon were shown to be useful on the field as well as in siege warfare, the Valois monarchy led the way in the perfection of technology, in the development of an institutional infrastructure, and in the exploitation of the full potential of the new arms. Gaspard Bureau, maître de l’artillerie for Charles VII, formed a permanent force of cannoniers that grew steadily thereafter. Limited range, inadequate rates of fire, and immobility limited reliance on artillery for the remainder of the 15th century, and cannon remained auxiliary to cavalry and infantry in the army of Louis XI. Only the triumphs of Charles VIII, who made dramatic use of artillery in Brittany and in the Italian campaign of 1494, removed all doubt that only armies with adequate artillery could hope to prevail in modern warfare.


Flodden Field – 1513 – Twilight of the English Longbow


Scottish soldiers at the Battle of Flodden Field (9 Sep 1513)




The Lancashire Bowman.

The longbow was to go out of military fashion in a blaze of glory, to achieve a victory in the old classical style so that it left a glow in the hearts of the yeoman of England, but no pangs of regret in the hearts of his enemies.

The events which led to the Scottish invasion of England in 1513 need not be recapitulated; suffice to say that King James IV of Scotland had crossed the border in mid-August of that year with, for that time, an enormous army of 40,000 men. They were well furnished with the latest artillery of the day. His leaders were all those of the highest rank in the Scottish kingdom; it may be fairly said that no grown-up member of any family of position was absent from the expedition. After some initial skirmishing, the Scots had Northumberland at their mercy; but after taking the castle of Ford, stronghold of the Heron family, James loitered in the neighbourhood whilst his army daily grew less in numbers. Said to have been infatuated by the captured Lady Heron, King James appeared to be regardless of the increasing desertions of those gorged with plunder in addition to those starved through the land being foraged-out. Finally, his army numbered less than 30,000, but those that were left represented the cream of the whole and were claimed to have been one of the noblest bodies of fighting men ever gathered together. To back them, James had a most efficient train of thirty pieces of artillery which had been cast for him at Edinburgh by the master gunner, Robert Borthwick.

Against the Scots was sent the veteran Earl of Surrey, over seventy years of age, and forced, on account of his rheumatism, to travel mostly by coach. Chiefly from the northern counties, he hastily gathered together an army of between 20,000 and 26,000 men. Whilst encamped at Alnwick, Surrey sent a formal challenge to King James, naming Friday, 9th September, as the day of battle; the challenge was duly accepted in the most formal manner. At the time of acceptance, James was encamped in the low ground and, according to the old rules of chivalry, his acceptance from this spot implied that he would give battle on that site. But before long James had moved his camp from there to Flodden Hill, an eminence lying due south of Ford Castle, running east and west in a low ridge. Here, on the steep brow of Flodden Edge, in the angle between the Till and its small tributary, the Glen, James’s defensive position was so strong that no sane foe would dare to attack it.

Realising this, Surrey sent James a letter of reproach in which he pointed out that the arrangement had been made for a pitched battle, and instead James had installed himself in a fortified camp. He concluded by challenging him to come down on the appointed day and fight on Millfield Plain, a level tract south of Flodden Hill. King James refused even to see the herald who brought the message.

Surrey then marched his army up the river Till; put his vanguard with the artillery and heavy baggage across at the Twizel bridge, whilst the remainder of his force crossed at Sandyford, half a mile higher up. Now was presented to James an excellent opportunity of attacking the English whilst they were split into two parts. By failing to grasp it, James now found his foes placed between himself and Scotland; he was left with little alternative but to reverse his order of battle. Setting fire to the rude huts that his men had constructed on the summit of the hill, he moved his force on to Branxton Hill, immediately behind Flodden Edge; the movement was partially obscured from the English by the clouds of smoke that trailed over the brow of the hill. As they formed up on the ridge above Branxton, the Scottish army that had faced south were now drawn up facing north.

The two armies faced each other, both formed into four divisions and both with a reserve. Beginning on the English right, the first division was commanded by Sir Edmund Howard, the younger son of the Earl of Surrey; opposed to him were the Gordons under the Earl of Huntley and the men of the border under the Earl of Home. The second English division was led by Admiral Howard, who was faced by the Earls of Crawford and Montrose. The Earl of Surrey, with the third division, was opposed by King James himself; while Sir Edward Stanley, with the fourth division, had to try conclusions with the Earls of Lennox and Argyle, whose troops were mainly highlanders. The English reserve, mainly cavalry, was commanded by Lord Dacre; that of the Scottish under Bothwell.

It was not until four o’clock that the battle commenced. Then, as an old chronicler says: ‘Out burst the ordnance with fire, flame and a hideous noise… .’ The Scottish artillery was far superior in construction to the English, which was constructed of hoops and bars, whilst the Scots master gunner had cast his weapons; there were, however, more English guns. It seems as though the English gunners were superior to those serving the Scottish cannon, the latter committing the error of firing at too great an elevation so that their shots passed over the heads of the English and buried themselves in the marshy ground beyond. The old writer goes on to say: ‘… and the master gunner of the English slew the master gunner of the Scots, and beat all his men from their guns.’ The early death of Borthwick, brought down by a ball, set up a panic in his men, who ran from their guns – but it was not by artillery fire that Flodden was to be won or lost. James realised this fact and ordered an attack; the border troops of the Lords Huntley and Home appear to have been the first to come to close quarters with the English.

In an unusual silence the Scots rushed forward, their twelve-foot-long pikes levelled in front of them; the initial impetus of their onslaught carried them far into the English lines, so that at first they achieved absolute success. The English right, under Sir Edmund Howard, was thrust back, their leader thrice beaten down and his banner overturned. The English fighting line was in disorder on this flank. Some Cheshire archers, who had been separated from their corps and sent out to strengthen the right wing, fled in all directions and chaos came to Howard’s wing. John Heron, usually known as the Bastard Heron, at the head of a group of Northumbrians, checked the rout long enough for Dacre to charge down with his reserve. This committing of the reserve at such an early stage did not succeed in restoring the English line, but it did put Huntley to flight, whilst the undisciplined borderers of Home had no further idea of fighting. In a border foray, no more was expected after routing one’s opponents; Home’s men did not grasp that Flodden was no ordinary foray – ’We have fought and won, let the rest do their part as well as we!’ was their answer to those trying to rally them.

Whilst this was going on, Crawford and Montrose were furiously attacking the division of Admiral Howard; so much so that the Admiral sent to his father, the Earl of Surrey, for assistance. But Surrey was fully occupied in holding his own against the division commanded by King James, strengthened by Bothwell, who had brought up the reserve and flung them into the struggle. The battle was now at its height and was being hardly contested all along the line; it seemed, here and there, as though the English halberds were proving more deadly weapons at close quarters than the long Scottish pikes.

On the English left, the archers of Cheshire and Lancashire, under Sir William Molyneaux and Sir Henry Kickley, were pouring volleys of arrows into the tightly packed ranks of the Scottish right, highlanders under the Earls of Lennox and Argyle. Galled by the hail of shafts which spitted their unarmoured bodies, the wild clansmen finally found it to be more than they could bear. Casting aside their targets and uttering wild, fierce yells, they flung themselves forward in a headlong rush, claymore and pole-axe waving furiously in a frenzy of anxiety to bury themselves into English flesh and bone. The bowmen and pikemen were shaken, so tremendous was the initial shock, their bills and swords, which had replaced the bows, reeling and wavering under the onslaught; but discipline prevailed and their formation remained unbroken. The archers on the flanks of the mêlée stood back and poured in volley after volley at close quarters, while the inner line of pikemen and men-at-arms held off the wild highlanders. Their arrows gone, the archers threw down their bows, drew their swords and axes to fling themselves into the fray, both in front and on the flanks. It was a deadly struggle whilst it lasted, but gradually the clansmen gave way, fighting at first, but then, suddenly, in complete rout – both earls died trying to stem the tide.

Stanley pressed forward, won his way up and crowned the ridge. He did not make the error of pursuing from the field the thoroughly broken Scots whom his men had just beaten. Facing about, he charged obliquely downhill to take the Scots divisions of King James and Bothwell in flank. This struggle in the centre, between Surrey and King James, had been proceeding fiercely; the King was fighting on foot like the rest of his division, conspicuous by the richness of his arms and armour. Stanley’s flank attack, coinciding with a similar attack on the other flank by Dacre and Edmund Howard, proved disastrous to the Scots. Hemmed in on all sides, they began to fall by hundreds in the close and deadly mêlée; no quarter was asked by either side and none was given. The blood flowing from the dreadful gashes inflicted by axes, bills and two-handed swords made the ground so slippery that many of the combatants were said to have taken off their boots to gain a surer footing.

As a battle, all was over by now and nothing remained but the slaughter. Surrounded by a solid ring of his knights, James refused to yield until he finally fell, dying with the knights who had formed a human shield around him. He was said to have been mortally wounded by a ball fired by an unknown hand; he had several arrows in his body, a gash in his neck and his left hand was almost severed from his arm. Ten thousand men fell on the Scottish side; to list the slain is almost to catalogue the ancient Scottish nobility. With the exception of the heads of families who were too old or too young to fight, there was hardly a family of top rank that did not grievously suffer. The English lost about 5,000 men.

On the Scots side, the archers of Ettrick, known in Scotland as the ‘Flowers of the Forest’, perished almost to a man. To this day the sweet, sad, wailing air known by that name is invariably the Dead March used by Scottish regiments.

Russia’s Counterspace Weapons

Kinetic Physical Evidence suggests that Russia has invested in a sweeping range of kinetic physical counterspace capabilities over the past decade, including ground- and air-launched direct-ascent ASAT missiles capable of targeting satellites in LEO and co-orbital ASAT weapons that could operate in any orbital regime. Russia’s kinetic physical counterspace activities often closely resemble previously operational Soviet-era ASAT programs, suggesting that the country has benefited from decades of ASAT weapons research conducted by the Soviet Ministry of Defense.

On October 20, 1968, the Soviet Union became the second country in the world to successfully demonstrate a counterspace weapon when it destroyed a domestic satellite in LEO using a co-orbital ASAT. Called Istrebitel Sputnikov (IS), meaning “satellite destroyer” in Russian, the first Soviet co-orbital ASAT was tested 20 times between 1963 to 1982, destroying several targets launched as part of the program. A follow-on version of the IS system, known as IS-MU, was operational from 1991 to 1993.

Prior to the fall of the Soviet Union, the country began developing a much more capable co-orbital ASAT known as the Naryad. Reportedly designed to reach altitudes as high as 40,000 km and contain multiple warheads in a single launch, the Naryad would likely have posed a serious threat to satellites in GEO. The system saw limited testing-with just one launch in 1994-and no confirmed intercepts.

Unlike the Soviet Union, Russia’s kinetic physical counterspace arsenal includes ground-launched direct-ascent ASAT missiles. In December 2018, Russia conducted its seventh test of the PL-19/Nudol direct-ascent ASAT system. The PL-19/ Nudol completed its first successful flight test in November 2015, after two unsuccessful attempts. Unclassified U. S. reports suggest that both this launch, and a previous test in March 2018, used a mobile transporter erector-launcher (TEL) within the Plesetsk Cosmodrome complex instead of a static launch pad. Although at least six of the seven launches are verified to have originated from Plesetsk, a mobile launch system would theoretically allow the ASAT to be launched outside of the Cosmodrome facility, ensuring greater flexibility to target LEO satellites in inclinations above 40 degrees as they transit over Russian territory.

Although not specifically designed as direct-ascent ASAT weapons, Russian mobile-launched S-400 surface-to-air missiles-capable of reaching a maximum altitude of 200 km-could potentially reach a satellite in LEO. The follow-on surface-to-air missile system, the S-500, is expected to reach altitudes up to 300 km if launched directly upward. Oleg Ostapenko, Russia’s former deputy minister of defense, once stated that the S-500 will be able to intercept “low-orbital satellites and space weapons.” First tested in 2018, the new missile’s production timeline has since slipped, and “there has been no indication of when an actual S-500 will be made available.” Like the PL-19/Nudol system, using the S-400 or eventually the S-500 as a direct-ascent ASAT would require a high-precision targeting capability that has yet to be demonstrated via a destructive test.

MiG-31BM “Foxhound” Aircraft on September 14, 2018. Photographed at the Zhukovsky airfield outside of Moscow, the aircraft is carrying what has since been identified as a potential anti-satellite weapon.

A modified Russian MiG-31 fighter jet was photographed in September 2018 carrying an unidentified missile that some reports suggest could be a “mock-up” of an air-launched ASAT weapon. Although this development follows a 2013 statement from the Russian Duma expressing the Russian government’s intent to build an air-to-space system designed to “intercept absolutely everything that flies from space,” the system depicted in the September 2018 photo would almost certainly be limited to targeting objects in LEO, due to its size. In 2017, a Russian Aerospace Forces squadron commander confirmed that an ASAT missile had been designed for use with the MiG- 31BM aircraft-the same variant spotted with the mysterious missile. Citing several sources familiar with a U. S. report on the new weapons system, CNBC reported that the missile may become operational as soon as 2022.

Orbital Trajectories for Cosmos 2542 and USA 245 on January 23, 2020. Since orbital parameters for classified satellites do not appear in the U. S. Space Command’s public catalog of space objects, analysts use observations from amateur astronomers to calculate USA 245’s orbital trajectory.

Russia has not publicly announced the development of a new co-orbital ASAT program since the fall of the Soviet Union. In the past few years, however, the Russian Aerospace Forces has launched a series of small “inspector” satellites in LEO that have demonstrated some of the technologies required to operate such a system. In 2017 and 2018, three small Russian satellites-Cosmos 2519, 2521, and 2523-engaged in RPO in LEO, prompting a statement of concern from the U. S. State Department. Although a June 2017 Russian Soyuz launch appeared to place just one satellite in LEO-Cosmos 2519-a second satellite was detected two months later, likely deployed from the first as a subsatellite. The Russian Ministry of Defense made a statement saying that the second satellite was designed to “inspect the state of a Russian satellite.” In October 2017, a third satellite was deployed from either Cosmos 2519 or its subsatellite, resulting in three independent satellites in orbit. Over the course of several months, the satellites engaged in a series of maneuvers and RPO exercises, including slow flybys, close approaches, and rendezvous. In February 2020, Chief of Space Operations of the U. S. Space Force General John Raymond appeared to refer to one of these three satellites when he said that Russian inspector satellites have “exhibited characteristics of a weapon.”

Analysis published in Jane’s Intelligence Review used Russian procurement documentation and contractor reports to connect Cosmos 2519, 2521, and 2523 with the program name Nivelir. Contracts signed in 2016 between the Nivelir program and a Russian company known for developing radiation-absorbing materials suggest that future Nivelir satellites-such as Cosmos 2535, 2536, 2537, or 2538, all launched in July 2019-may be coated with a protective film to avoid being tracked by optical or infrared sensors from the ground or in space.

Russia’s newest co-orbital system may be designed to target satellites in GEO. Designated Burevestnik, this program will likely employ low-thrust but highly-efficient electric propulsion to maneuver lightweight satellites-possibly similar to those from the Nivelir program-around the GEO belt. A report published in 2019 indicated that a new ground control center was being built for Nivelir and Burevestnik at the same site the Soviets used to control the Istrebitel Sputnikov missions in the 1960s.

Luch Continues to Explore the GEO Belt. The Russian satellite has stopped at 19 different positions in the geostationary belt since its launch in 2014, including those depicted here in 2019.

Although there is no evidence yet of lightweight Russian satellites maneuvering in the GEO belt, a larger satellite has been observed engaging in suspicious RPO activity in the regime. The satellite-known as Olymp-K or Luch-has attracted attention for shifting its position within the geosynchronous belt on a relatively frequent basis, occupying at least 19 different positions since its launch in September 2014. Luch first attracted attention when it repositioned itself between two satellites operated by Intelsat, a U. S. satellite communications company. Approaching satellites in GEO in this manner could allow for close inspection or potentially interception of their communication links. In September 2015, Luch approached a third Intelsat satellite. The international response escalated in September 2018, when French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly accused Russia of committing “an act of espionage” after it approached a French-Italian military satellite “a bit too closely” in October 2017.

Analysis of Luch’s on-orbit behavior since its launch in 2014 suggests that the satellite has approached 11 unique Intelsat satellites, four Eutelsat satellites, two SES satellites, and at least nine other satellites operated by Russia, Turkey, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, and the European Space Agency. Although Luch appears to be maneuvering around the GEO belt in a systematic, deliberate manner, no public reports suggest it has damaged any of the neighboring satellites along the way.

Spying on a Spy Satellite ON NOVEMBER 25, 2019, Russia launched a small satellite, Cosmos 2543, into what the Russian Ministry of Defense described as a “target orbit from which the state of domestic satellites can be monitored.” Two weeks later, the ministry announced that a subsatellite, Cosmos 2542, had been deployed from Cosmos 2543.

Three days after its deployment, Cosmos 2542 performed an orbital maneuver to synchronize its orbit with USA 245, what is believed to be a U. S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) satellite. Amateur satellite observers who record and share satellite observations online noticed that USA 245 performed its own maneuver soon thereafter, possibly to steer clear of Cosmos 2542. In January 2020, Cosmos 2542 maneuvered toward the American spy satellite again, this time coming as close as 50 km. A day later, USA 245 made another maneuver, further distancing itself from the Russian inspector satellite.

In an interview with SpaceNews, General John Raymond, the Commander of U. S. Space Command and Chief of Space Operations of the U. S. Space Force, confirmed the close approach, adding that he believed it was intentional.

Medieval Sword


Oakeshott’s Typology of the Medieval Sword – A Summary

The medieval weapon par excellence. Iron made a significant difference, producing a thinner and more flexible weapon. The Roman sword was short and stout, primarily for thrusting. Its development probably came via the Greeks and Etruscans. Iron swords were found at La Tene on Lake Neuchatel. Styria was an important centre of manufacture. Early users were the Celts who developed the pattern-welded blade with strips of iron twisted together cold and then forged; twisted again and re-forged to the edges. The blade was then filed and burnished, leaving a pattern from the now smooth surface of twisted metal. Unlike bronze, iron was worked by forging rather than casting. Iron made possible a different structure for the sword, with a tang from the blade over which the handle could be slotted. Iron had advantages but a longer iron sword would bend and buckle if used for thrusting. Early European swords were long with cutting edges. When used by charioteers they needed length, best used with a cutting action. Much the same is true of cavalry swords. Swords from the first four centuries BC came from bog deposits in Scandinavia. Those at Nydam had pattern welded blades, about 30 inches long and mostly sharpened on both edges. A sword at Janusowice from the time of the Battle of Adrianople had a long blade and evidence of a leather scabbard. It had a large bronze, mushroom-shaped pommel. The sword at Sutton Hoo, old when buried, had a pommel decorated with gold and red garnets. It had rusted inside its scabbard, but X-rays showed it was pattern welded. The scabbard was of wood and leather.

Viking swords were outstanding in design and efficiency. What we call `Viking’ swords are common to those used over a wider area including Francia. They were of varied styles of blade and hilt. Petersen detected no less than 26 types of hilt. The hilt was formed over a tang from the blade, slotting over the guard, covering the grip, the end stopped with a pommel. The most common zv2 49 Viking pommel had three lobes but there were many variations. Most Viking swords were plain but well designed. Some were decorated with patterns of inlaid copper and brass on the hilt. Thin sheets of tin, brass, gold, silver and copper might be used. Some had a maker’s name or a firm’s name. On one lower guard is lettering Leofric me fec[it] (Leofric made me). Other names are Hartolfr, Ulfbehrt, Heltipreht, Hilter and Banto. Ulfbehrt is found quite often, for example on a sword from the Thames. The name seems a Scandinavian-Frankish hybrid. Ulfbehrt swords date from the 9th to the 11th centuries. One should probably think of most as made by `firms’, no doubt family concerns, rather than by individuals. This manufacture probably originated in the Rhineland. Another name to appear in the 10th century, though less frequently, is Ingelrii-about 20 have been identified. A sword from Sweden reads Ingelrii me fecit. One finds other inscriptions and symbols, often enigmatic, including crosses, lines, Roman numerals and runes. Some names were of owners rather than makers, for example, `Thormund possesses me’. Swords were sometimes named by their owners for example as millstone-biter, leg-biter. Viking swords became heavier from the 8th century, and in the 10th century there were design improvements. Later swords were not usually pattern welded and some were of steel, harder and more flexible. They were lighter and tougher with a more tapered blade, bringing the balance nearer to the wrist, and could be used for thrusting or cutting.

The sword became the weapon par excellence of the later medieval knight. The significance given to swords in literature, to Arthur’s Excalibur or Roland’s Durendal reflects this regard. It had symbolic value, in oath-making, dubbing, being blessed by the Church or promised to churches after the knight’s death.

Late medieval swords were shorter and less flexible. Some survive-from burials, riverbeds and in churches, including `Charlemagne’s sword’ which is probably 12thcentury, the sword of Sancho IV of Castile late 13th-century, of Emperor Albert I c. 1308 from his tomb, and of Cesare Borgia dated 1493.


The pommel was the extreme end of the sword hilt or dagger. Swords were constructed so that the blade had a projecting tang over which the parts of the hilt were threaded. The pommel completed the hilt and held it in place, the tang being hammered over the end of the pommel. The term came from Latin for a little fruit, in French a little apple. Pommel shapes help to distinguish types of sword-Oakeshott has identified 35. Modern attempts to zv2 47 describe these shapes include cocked hat, tea cosy, scent-stopper and brazil nut. Pommels were often decorative; one from Sutton Hoo was decorated with gold and red garnets. A dagger from Paris was marked with arms on the pommel. The most common Viking pommel had three lobes. A disc-shaped pommel was popular in the later Middle Ages. After the medieval period old detached pommels proved useful for shopkeepers’ weights. (Note: the word pommel was also used for the upward projecting front of a saddle.)


Container for a sword or dagger. The term is from Old French, the English equivalent being sheath. It protected the blade when not in use. Wood and leather were common materials, as in the Sutton Hoo example. The inside was sometimes lined with wool so that lanolin would prevent rust. The scabbard could have a locket at the top to grip the blade just below the hilt. The scabbard could be made of cuir bouilli (leather soaked and dried). The scabbard might be attached to a baldric, worn over the shoulder, or on a belt. Several scabbards survive, A 13th-century one from Toledo is made of two thin pieces of wood covered with pinkish leather. It ends in a chape of silver, a projecting piece of metal. Oakeshott believes the chape was meant to catch behind the left leg for ease in drawing the sword. It also protected the vulnerable end of the scabbard.

Seax (Sax)

A short sword or knife with a heavy, single-edged blade wielded one-handed, associated with the Franks and Alemans. It was used by the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings. Seax was its Old English name, possibly from the Saxon folk as the franciska from the Franks though it may derive from the Latin sica, a Thracian weapon. Blade types included the angle-backed shape from the 7th century. The seax varied in length from 6 to 18 inches, with 12 inches the most common. The blade usually had a tang with a hilt, like a sword. The shorter seax is sometimes called a scramasax.


The handle or grip of a sword or dagger. Petersen detected no less than 26 types of hilt for swords of the Viking period. The hilt was formed over a tang from the blade, slotting over the guard, covering the grip, with a pommel to stop the end. The hilt was often decorated in patterns, for example with inlaid copper and brass. Thin sheets of tin, brass, gold, silver or copper might be used. Some were marked with a maker’s or firm’s name. On one lower guard is lettering `Leofric me fec[it]’ (Leofric made me), possibly meaning the hilt rather than the whole sword. The transverse piece of metal forming part of a sword hilt is the crossguard, separating it from the blade.


Sword with a curved, sharp outer edge broadening towards the point and then tapering so that it looked boat-shaped. The blunt edge was straight. The name was from Latin falx (scythe) from its shape. It descended from the Norse seax. Its period of prominence was the 13th and 14th centuries. The faussar of 12th-century Iberia might be an early example. The falchion was used by lower ranking infantry, men-at-arms and archers. One was found at the Chatelet in Paris with the Grand Chatelet arms on the pommel. The Conyers Falchion, at Durham, was used in tenure ceremonies.


The transverse piece of metal that forms the first part of a sword hilt, separating it from the blade, protecting the swordsman’s hand. It was commonly made from one piece of metal with a slot in the centre fitting over the tang of the blade. It varied in shape and style, for example straight, curved, or in shapes resembling bow ties. Oakeshott has produced a list of types of crossguard, an aid to dating swords.

Panzerabwehrrakete X-7 Rotkäppchen



Another most advanced weapon conceived by the Germans in WW II was the Panzerabwehrrakete X-7 (“tank defense rocket”) anti-tank guided missile, nickname Rotkäppchen (“little red riding hood”), project number 8-347. Developments for a guided AT missile begun as early as 1941 when BMW (the car company) offered the weapon to the armís weapons bureau. Because of the then generally good military war situation the army wanted to save the projected development costs of 798,000 RM. In 1942 Dr.Kramer of the German research institute for aircraft developed rocket engines for weapons that resulted in the X-series of guided bombs and precision weaponry of which the X-7 was the smallest family member.

The first prototype was followed by a larger production model with a changed detonator for the shaped charge of 2.5 kg. The back part of the main body (length 46.5 cm; diameter 15 cm)contained the two-stage solid fuel rocket engine 109-506 developed and made by the company WASAG. The wings were swept forward and had wingtips which housed the guidance wires, wingspan was 60cm. The small elevator/steering rudder assembly was set off 13.2 cm of the main bodís axis. Total length including the protruding detonator cap (diameter: 3.8 cm) was 95cm. The fully loaded Rotkäppchen weighed 9kg.

The missile was to be launched from a start rail tripod that was 150cm long and weighed 15kg. The missile’s rocket engine was ignited with a 300V battery. This fired the 2g gunpowder positioned in the two hollow half rounds of the gyro stabilizer. The explosion gases exited through two tangential openings and immediately brought the gyro to operating speed. Then the 3kg of propellant of the first stage of the rocket engine were ignited. They developed 68kp thrust and accelerated the missile to its flight speed of 98m/s in 2.5 sec.

In flight the X-7 rotated around its axis at a rate of two rotations/sec. Guidance commands from the gunner were transmitted over the two wires, one for longitudinal and one for lateral corrections. A delay mechanism let the steering rudder of the elevator only work when it was in the right position for the respective command, in other words, the elevator worked both as a (longitudinal) elevator and a (lateral) rudder. Guidance was achieved through optical tracking of the small tracer in the rear of the rocket that was to be kept superimposed over the target by the gunner’s commands until it impacted (a method still in use today and known as CLOS for command-line-of-sight).

The second stage of the rocket engine developed a thrust of 6kg for 8sec. This sufficed to keep up a speed of over 300km/h and reach a range of 1200m. The shaped charge warhead was strong enough for all known tanks of that era.

A trial was undertaken on September 21st 1944 with seven X-7 missiles. Because of the unusual and unfamiliar flying characteristics the first four weapons had ground contact after some distance and therefore crashed. On the next two the rocket engine exploded on the way to the target. The last Rotkäppchen flew all the way and hit the target tank at a range of 500m dead center.

Only about 300 X-7 Rotkäppchen were completed; mass production was planned and had already started at the companies Ruhrstahlwerke in Brackwede and the Mechanische Werke in Neubrandenburg. Many almost finished weapons were captured by the allies.

It is unclear whether the combat trial at the front took place or which results it had.

Improvements of the X-7 Rotkäppchen were the Steinbock which used infra-red transmitting of the guidance command and therefore didn’t require the wires. An automated tracking device was the Pfeifenkopf or Pinsel project. It utilised a machine that computed the changes in angle of the two sighting devices – one was to be aimed at the target, the other at the missile- into commands for the missile. This mechanism was further automated in the Zielsuchgerät (“target acquisition device”). By using an image recognition device called Ikonoskop the missile was to seek its target through its own optical sensor that compared the image data from the aiming device with the data it received from its own optical sensor.

Besides these avionics and electronic equipment, other long range ATGMs were the Rochen-600, Rochen-1000 and Rochen-2000 for ranges of 500m, 1500m and 3000m respectively. Another project called Flunder utilized many parts of the Panzerfaust including its warhead and using its launch tube for the rocket engine. None of these projects were completed.

The trebuchet



Recent reconstructions and computer simulations reveal the operating principles of the most powerful weapon of its time.

by Paul E. Chevedden, Les Eigenbrod, Vernard Foley and Werner Soedel

Centuries before the development of effective cannons, huge artillery pieces were demolishing castle walls with projectiles the weight of an upright piano. The trebuchet, invented in China between the fifth and third centuries B.C.E., reached the Mediterranean by the sixth century C.E. It displaced other forms of artillery and held its own until well after the coming of gunpowder. The trebuchet was instrumental in the rapid expansion of both the Islamic and the Mongol empires. It also played a part in the transmission of the Black Death, the epidemic of plague that swept Eurasia and North Africa during the 14th century. Along the way it seems to have influenced both the development of clockwork and theoretical analyses of motion.

The trebuchet succeeded the catapult, which in turn was a mechanization of the bow [see “Ancient Catapults,” by Werner Soedel and Vernard Foley; SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, March 1979]. Catapults drew their energy from the elastic deformation of twisted ropes or sinews, whereas trebuchets relied on gravity or direct human power, which proved vastly more effective.

Recovering Lost Knowledge

The average catapult launched a missile weighing between 13 and 18 kilograms, and the most commonly used heavy catapults had a capacity of 27 kilograms. According to Philo of Byzantium, however, even these machines could not inflict much damage on walls at a distance of 160 meters. The most powerful trebuchets, in contrast, could launch missiles weighing a ton or more. Furthermore, their maximum range could exceed that of ancient artillery.

We have only recently begun to reconstruct the history and operating principles of the trebuchet. Scholars as yet have made no comprehensive effort to examine all the available evidence. In particular, Islamic technical literature has been neglected. The most important surviving technical treatise on these machines is Kitab aniq fi al-manajaniq (An Elegant Book on Trebuchets), written in 1462 C.E. by Yusuf ibn Urunbugha al- Zaradkash. One of the most profusely illustrated Arabic manuscripts ever produced, it provides detailed construction and operating information. These writings are particularly significant because they offer a unique insight into the applied mechanics of premodern societies.

We have made scale models and computer simulations that have taught us a great deal about the trebuchet’s operation. As a result, we believe we have uncovered design principles essentially lost since the Middle Ages. In addition, we have found historical materials that push back the date of the trebuchet’s spread and reveal its crucial role in medieval warfare.

Historians had previously assumed that the diffusion of trebuchets westward from China occurred too late to affect the initial phase of the Islamic conquests, from 624 to 656. Recent work by one of us (Chevedden), however, shows that trebuchets reached the eastern Mediterranean by the late 500s, were known in Arabia and were used with great effect by Islamic armies. The technological sophistication for which Islam later became known was already manifest.

The Mongol conquests, the largest in human history, also owed something to this weapon. As a cavalry nation, the Mongols employed Chinese and Muslim engineers to build and operate trebuchets for their sieges. At the investment of Kaffa in the Crimea in 1345– 46, the trebuchet’s contribution to biological warfare had perhaps its most devastating impact. As Mongol forces besieged this Genoese outpost on the Crimean peninsula, the Black Death swept through their ranks. Diseased corpses were then hurled into the city, and from Kaffa the Black Death spread to the Mediterranean ports of Europe via Genoese merchants.

The trebuchet came to shape defensive as well as offensive tactics. Engineers thickened walls to withstand the new artillery and redesigned fortifications to employ trebuchets against attackers. Architects working under al- Adil (1196–1218), Saladin’s brother and successor, introduced a defensive system that used gravity-powered trebuchets mounted on the platforms of towers to prevent enemy artillery from coming within effective range. These towers, designed primarily as artillery emplacements, took on enormous proportions to accommodate the larger trebuchets, and castles were transformed from walled enclosures with a few small towers into clusters of large towers joined by short stretches of curtain walls. The towers on the citadels of Damascus, Cairo and Bosra are massive structures, as large as 30 meters square.

Simple but Devastating

The principle of the trebuchet was straightforward. The weapon consisted of a beam that pivoted around an axle that divided the beam into a long and short arm. The longer arm terminated in a cup or sling for hurling the missile, and the shorter one in an attachment for pulling ropes or a counterweight. When the device was positioned for launch, the short arm was aloft; when the beam was released, the long end swung upward, hurling the missile from the sling.

Three major forms developed: traction machines, powered by crews pulling on ropes; counterweight machines, activated by the fall of large masses; and hybrid forms that employed both gravity and human power. When traction machines first appeared in the Mediterranean world at the end of the sixth century, their capabilities were so far superior to those of earlier artillery that they were said to hurl “mountains and hills.” The most powerful hybrid machines could launch shot about three to six times as heavy as that of the most commonly used large catapults. In addition, they could discharge significantly more missiles in a given time.

Counterweight machines went much further. The box for the weight might be the size of a peasant’s hut and contain tens of thousands of kilograms. The projectile on the other end of the arm might weigh between 200 and 300 kilograms, and a few trebuchets reportedly threw stones weighing between 900 and 1,360 kilograms. With such increased capability, even dead horses or bundled humans could be flung. A modern reconstruction made in England has tossed a compact car (476 kilograms without its engine) 80 meters using a 30-ton counterweight.

During their heyday, trebuchets received much attention from engineers— indeed, the very word “engineering” is intimately related to them. In Latin and the European vernaculars, a common term for trebuchet was “engine” (from ingenium, “an ingenious contrivance”), and those who designed, made and used them were called ingeniators.

Engineers modified the early designs to increase range by extracting the most possible energy from the falling counterweight and to increase accuracy by minimizing recoil. The first difference between counterweight machines and their traction forebears is that the sling on the end of the arm is much longer. This change affects performance dramatically by increasing the effective length of the throwing arm. It also opens the way for a series of additional improvements by making the angle at which the missile is released largely independent of the angle of the arm. By varying the length of the sling ropes, engineers could ensure that shot left the machine at an angle of about 45 degrees to the vertical, which produces the longest trajectory.

At the same time, so that more of the weight’s potential energy converts to motion, the sling should open only when the arm has reached an approximately vertical position (with the counterweight near the bottom of its travel). Observations of the trebuchet may have aided the emergence of important medieval insights into the forces associated with moving bodies.

Swinging Free

The next crucial innovation was the development of the hinged counterweight. During the cocking process, the boxes of hinged counterweight machines hang directly below the hinge, at an angle to the arm; when the arm of the trebuchet is released, the hinge straightens out. As a result of this motion, the counterweight’s distance from the pivot point, and thus its mechanical advantage, varies throughout the cycle.

The hinge significantly increases the amount of energy that can be delivered through the beam to the projectile. Medieval engineers observed that hinged counterweight machines, all else being equal, would throw their projectiles farther than would fixed-weight ones. Our computer simulations indicate that hinged counterweight machines delivered about 70 percent of their energy to the projectile. They lose some energy after the hinge has opened fully, when the beam begins to pull the counterweight sideways.

Although it exacts a small cost, this swinging of the counterweight has a significant braking effect on the rotating beam. Together with the transfer of energy to the sling as it lifts off and turns about the beam, the braking can bring the beam nearly to a stop as it comes upright. The deceleration eases the strain on the machine’s framework just as the missile departs. As a result, the frame is less likely to slide or bounce. Some pieces of classical-era artillery, such as the onager, were notorious for bucking and had to be mounted on special compressible platforms. The much gentler release of the trebuchet meant that engineers did not have to reposition the frame between shots and so could shoot more rapidly and accurately. A machine of medium size built by the Museum of Falsters Minder in Denmark has proved capable of grouping its shots, at a range of 180 meters, within a six-meter square.

Capturing the Trebuchet’s Lessons

Later engineers attempted to capture the great power that trebuchets represented. Some of these efforts are made visible in historical records by the proliferation of counterweight boxes in the form of the mathematical curve called the saltcellar, or salinon. The counterweight boxes of the more elaborate trebuchets took this shape because it concentrated the mass at the farthest distance from the hinge and also reduced the clearance necessary between the counterweight and the frame. The same form reappeared on later machines that incorporated pendulums, such as pendulum- driven saws and other tools.

Most attempts to extend the trebuchet’s principles failed because the counterweight’s power could not be harnessed efficiently. Success came only in timekeeping, where it was not the trebuchet’s great force but rather its regular motion that engineers sought. Pendulums were a dramatic step forward in accuracy from earlier controller mechanisms.

Although the pendulum is usually associated with the time of Galileo and Christiaan Huygens, evidence for pendulum controllers can be traced back to a family of Italian clockmakers to whom Leonardo da Vinci was close. Indeed, da Vinci explicitly says some of his designs can be used for telling time. His drawings include a hinge between the pendulum shaft and bob, just as advanced trebuchets hinged their counterweights, and show notable formal resemblances to fixed counterweight machines as well. In the case of earlier clockwork, there is a marked similarity both in form and in motion between the saltcellar counterweight and a speed controller called the strob. The strob oscillates about its shaft just as the counterweight does before quieting down at the end of a launch.

Trebuchets also appear to have played a role in the greatest single medieval advance in physical science, the innovations in theoretical mechanics associated with Jordanus of Nemore. The key to Jordanus’s contribution is his concept of positional gravity, a revival in the Middle Ages of the idea of a motion vector, or the directedness of a force. Jordanus held that for equal distances traveled, a weight was “heavier,” or more capable of doing work, when its line of descent was vertical rather than oblique. In particular, he compared cases in which the descents were linear with those that followed arcs. Eventually this understanding led to the notion that work is proportional to weight and vertical distance of descent, no matter what path is taken.

The connection is clear. Engineers knew that machines with hinged counterweights, in which the weight descends essentially straight down during the first, crucial part of the launch cycle, would throw stones farther than would their fixed counterweight equivalents, in which the mass travels in a curve.

Other aspects of Jordanus’s work may show military connections as well. The suspension of the hinged counterweight, with the constantly changing leverage of its arm, may have spurred Jordanus’s related attempts to analyze the equilibrium of bent levers and to emphasize that it was the horizontal distance between the mass on a lever arm and its fulcrum that determined the work it could do. Observations of the differing distances to which fixed and hinged counterweight machines could throw their stones may have helped Jordanus in his pioneering efforts to define the concept of work, or force times distance. Jordanus’s observations are usually studied as an example of pure physics, based on the teachings of earlier natural philosophers, such as Archimedes. The closeness of his mechanics to trebuchet function, however, suggests that engineering practice may have stimulated theory. Closing the circle, Galileo later incorporated such Jordanian ideas as virtual displacement, virtual work and the analysis of inclined planes to support such newer mechanics as his famous analysis of the trajectory of cannon shot.

Galileo’s theoretical innovations came only after the replacement of trebuchets by cannon, a process that took nearly two centuries and was not fully accomplished until metallic shot replaced stones. The last instance of trebuchet use comes from the New World, at the siege of Tenochtitlán (Mexico City) in 1521. As ammunition was running critically low, Cortés eagerly accepted a proposal to build a trebuchet. The machine took several days to build, and at the first launch the stone went straight up, only to return and smash it. In view of the tremendous power of these devices, and the finesse required to make them function properly, would-be replicators should take careful note.

Further Reading

TREBUCHETS. Donald R. Hill in Viator, Vol. 4, pages 99–115; 1973. CHINA’S TREBUCHETS, MANNED AND COUNTERWEIGHTED. Joseph Needham in On Pre-Modern Technology and Science: Studies in Honor of Lynn White, Jr. Edited by Bert S. Hall and Delno C. West. Undena Publications, 1976.

BESSON, DA VINCI, AND THE EVOLUTION OF THE PENDULUM: SOME FINDINGS AND OBSERVATIONS. Vernard Foley, Darlene Sedlock, Carole Widule and David Ellis in History and Technology, Vol. 6, No. 1, pages 1–43; 1988.

ARTILLERY IN LATE ANTIQUITY: PRELUDE TO THE MIDDLE AGES. Paul E. Chevedden in The Medieval City under Siege. Edited by Ivy Corfis and Michael Wolfe. Boydell & Brewer, 1995.


University Press, 1995.