Experimental 6 inch (150 mm) Krupp armour plate from 1898.

The various types of iron and steel in armour are often a source of confusion. Without going into detail on the process of converting iron ore into iron or steel, the various types of metal used for armour can be briefly described. Iron with lower carbon levels is usually more malleable and flexible than iron with higher levels of carbon. The greater its carbon content, the stronger the iron is, but the greater its rigidity.

In the nineteenth century, armour was mostly made of cast iron, wrought, or rolled wrought iron, chilled cast iron, and steel later in the century. Cast iron is hard because it contains high levels of carbon and it is cast in a mould. Its carbon content is greater than in steel and therefore it is not malleable. Wrought iron is very low in carbon content making it comparatively soft compared to cast iron, but it is malleable. Rolled wrought iron is wrought iron that is broken up and reheated to create a higher quality of wrought iron. The American Civil War monitors and other ironclads were made of wrought iron. The first armoured ship was the French warship La Gloire, built in the 1850s to counter the development of the explosive shells that spelled an end to wooden-hull warships. Advancements in naval armament generally preceded similar developments for land fortifications. In the mid-1870s, the Italians began building steel ironclads, while land fortifications continued to use wrought-iron armour until almost the end of the 1880s.

In the late 1860s, steel armour was a hard enough surface to deflect shot, but steel plates were still too brittle to stand up to multiple hits. Thus in 1968, Grüson perfected its trademark chilled cast iron, a low-carbon cast iron. To produce this type of iron Grüson combined two types of pig iron: a highly carbonized type known as white iron, and a less carbonized soft grey iron. Layers of each type of iron, wrote Major A.G. Piorkowski in Scientific American, were ‘chilled by being cast in partly iron molds, thereby attaining an extraordinary hardness of surface, without apparently weakening the tenacity’. When the surface cooled, the two layers of white and grey merged so gradually that there was no marked line of separation in the metal. The outer surface held the carbon, which gave it hardness, while the interior layer was softer or more elastic. Thus, if an artillery round managed to break the surface, the area behind it, which was not brittle, did not shatter. In this manner, Grüson was able to combine hardness on the surface with tenacity in the metal below it to increase the resistance of the armour. He was able to cast his metal in any form and size required and to produce curved exterior surfaces, which was impossible with wrought iron. Due to their shape, his curved plates supported one another by remaining in position without bolts to hold them in place. Grüson’s process allowed the production of large plates that reduced the effects of a hit by distributing them over a large area. Other manufacturers who tried a similar process produced an armour with a distinct separation point between the white and the grey iron, which made the outer layer more vulnerable to shattering. In the 1880s, it was claimed that chilled cast iron had the ability to resist hits from the newly developed ordnance, including the Krupp armour-penetrating shells.

Grüson’s chilled iron amour was tested at the army’s artillery range at Tegel (just west of Berlin) between 1869 and 1871. During these tests, a 24-pounder (150mm) rifled gun, a 72-pounder (8.3in), and a 9.4in gun fired against embrasure plates and side plates. In 1871, a 210mm (8.3in) mortar fired at roof plates. During additional tests in 1873–1874, two types of 150mm (5.9in) guns with shell and solid shot fired against Schumann’s first chilled iron turret. The results of all these experiments were favourable. Another test against a second turret in the summer of 1874 revealed that additional, more rounded plates were needed. Grüson conducted additional trials, mainly at his firing range at Buckau outside of Magdeburg, between 1882 and 1885. Despite the success of this armour, a committee decided that heavier and thicker glacis plates were needed and future cupola plates should have a flatter profile curve. Unlike the glacis armour, it concluded, the turret armour had ‘considerable excess strength’.

In tests they conducted in 1886, the French determined that the high-explosive melinite shell of 1885 completely shattered cast-iron armour. As a result, they went back to using laminated or compound armour (see below), which they had abandoned in the late 1870s. In the 1890s, following the German lead, the French adopted steel armour produced with new casting methods. A major test at La Spezia, Italy in April 1886 involving a 100-ton Armstrong 16.9in gun came up with mixed results. However, it was limited to individual armoured plates. Shells that struck the sides of the Grüson chilled iron armoured turrets designed by Schumann shattered like glass. The cast off fragments inflicted little to no damage to the turret or other positions under the curved armour. When the Grüson armour took a hit, the result was usually a bright splash or a very slight indentation of a fraction of an inch.

Grüson chilled cast iron armour predominated on the Continent until the end of the century. It gradually replaced rolled wrought iron in fortifications and warships after 1875. Naval armour had gone from wrought-iron plates covering teak wood to compound armour consisting of a steel plate welded onto iron plates. This arrangement was not successful since the steel could shift or completely separate from the iron. In 1883, the Schneider Company tested all steel armour plates with some success. In the 1890s, the new ‘Harvey’ armour was developed. It consisted of soft steel with a carbonized surface to give it hardness and better resisting power.

Before the advent of Harvey armour, in 1875, the Italian navy held a competition at La Spezia to test new types of armour. The French Schneider Company dominated the competition with a new type of soft steel, which unfortunately broke under stress. A British manufacturer solved the problem of welding steel plates to iron in 1877. By the end of the 1880s, better quality steel armour replaced compound armour mainly for use on ships. In 1889, nickel-steel alloys improved the quality of armour plate. The next major improvement came in the 1890s when the American Hayward A. Harvey developed Harvey amour with hardened plate surfaces. This was done by covering the steel plate with charcoal and heating it at high temperatures for a few weeks then chilling it in oil and water baths successively. This process, which increased the carbon content on the surface and gradually decreased it inward, was very similar to Grüson’s, but greatly improved the qualities of the final product.

The American navy adopted nickel-steel for its ships to take advantage of its increased strength. Other nations followed suit. In the late 1890s, Krupp armour replaced Harvey armour for both naval and land fortifications. In 1893, Krupp developed a method similar to Harvey’s, but added chromium to the alloy to increase hardness. He also used carbon-bearing gases to heat the steel instead of covering the surface with coal, which yielded casehardened steel of greater strength than Harvey steel. The protection offered by 25.9cm (10.2in) of Krupp armour was the same as 30.4cm (12in) of Harvey armour. Krupp followed this up at the turn of the century with Krupp ‘cemented armour’ that included nickel, chromium, and manganese, which gave it greater elasticity and reduced spalling and cracking from direct hits. Krupp took over the Grüson Werks in 1893 and soon began producing steel armour for land fortifications.


AN/BLQ-11 Autonomous Unmanned Undersea Vehicle

The AN/BLQ-11 was a heavy weight autonomous Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (formerly known as the Long-Term Mine Reconnaissance System (LMRS)) manufactured by Boeing. The 20 foot long vehicle was designed to be launched and recovered from an attack submarine (SSN) for covert mine countermeasures.

The AN/BLQ-11 comprises several elements in addition to the actual UUV itself. The system built by Boeing for the U. S. Navy comprises two 20-foot-long, 21-inch-diameter, torpedo-shaped UUVs, a 60- foot robotic recovery arm, onboard handling equipment, support electronics, a shore-based depot, and a specialized van for vehicle transportation.

The AN/BLQ-11 is fully autonomous and untethered, meaning that it can be sent on missions for several hours while the host submarine conducts other missions of its own. It is also designed for full launch, recovery, and maintenance from Los Angeles- and Virginia-class sub marines, using existing torpedo tubes as the launch technique. Four support personnel install, maintain, and utilize the system during operations. A typical mission is 40 hours, with each UUV alternated three times for a total of six separate sorties. During this time, the AN/BLQ-11 can cover a search area of 400 square nautical miles in its search for enemy mines.

The components of the AN/BLQ-11 UUV include a propulsion section, ballast and trim section, forward and aft electronics, side-look sonar (SLS) section, and forward-looking sonar at the front of the UUV.

Planned upgrades for the AN/BLQ-11 include the incorporation of synthetic aperture sonar (SAS), precision underwater mapping, and improved acoustic communications.

The AN/BLQ-11 is a five-year, over $100 million program that was started in November 1999. The previous program, the Near Term Mine Reconnaissance System (NMRS), completed testing in May 1999. Both programs were part of the Navy’s UUV master plan.

Boeing has been the prime contractor for the AN/BLQ-11 program and delivered the first system for testing to the U. S. Navy in November 2002. In October 2002, the Office of Naval Research announced that the SAS had been rapidly transitioned into the AN/BLQ-11 system. The SAS demonstrated four times the range and 36 times the resolution of the side-looking sonar and was, therefore, transitioned in ahead of the planned schedule.

The LMRS was first tested in September 2005 from USS Oklahoma City (SSN-723), when the vehicle was successfully launched. In January 2006, USS Scranton (SSN-756) demonstrated twenty four test runs, including torpedo tube launches, repetitive helo recovery, and the homing and docking of two AN/BLQ-11 vehicles. In October 2007, two vehicles were launched from USS Hartford (SSN-768) and then recovered into a torpedo tube with a recovery arm.

The AN/BLQ-11 was part of the U.S. Navy’s Mission Reconfigurable UUV System (MRUUVS) program, which was ended in December 2008. The system’s technical and engineering limitations resulted in an inadequate operational capability.

Second Industrial Revolution (1917–45) – Warfare

“LITTLE BOY” AND “FAT MAN” First Atomic Bombs

LAND WARFARE: The most obvious change was the introduction of tanks and other motor vehicles, which helped to restore mobility to a battle-field that had turned increasingly static in the period between the Crimean War and World War I. Armored vehicles were most effective when closely coordinated via radio with ground-attack aircraft, a combination that was at the heart of the Germans’ widely copied blitzkrieg. Air-and-armor operations would eventually be used by most of the major belligerents of World War II and also by a number of postwar states. The Israeli Defense Forces proved particularly adept at blitzkrieg-type offensives in 1956 and 1967. The Egyptian and Syrian armies, in turn, had some success with this same approach in 1973 before finally being defeated in the Yom Kippur War. The Indian army staged a lightning offensive of its own in 1971. Its conquest of East Pakistan in just fourteen days gave birth to the new state of Bangladesh.

Airborne operations were another new element of warfare, allowing troops to be moved far behind enemy lines using transport aircraft, gliders, and parachutes. Large-scale airborne operations ranged from the Germans successfully dropping paratroopers on Crete in 1941 to the British and Americans unsuccessfully dropping paratroopers into Holland in 1944 (Operation Market Garden). Victorious or not, airborne troops invariably suffered heavy casualties because they lacked much firepower or mobility once they arrived. For this reason, airdrops generally fell out of favor for large-scale offensives after 1945; with a few exceptions, such as the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989, they would be used primarily to infiltrate small groups of commandos or spies behind enemy lines.

Amphibious operations were less novel—Julius Caesar had invaded England from the sea in 55–54 B.C.—but they were put on a sounder basis after the failure of the Gallipoli landings in 1915. In the interwar period, the U.S. Marine Corps studied how to seize advanced island bases. This was mostly a matter of coordinating assaults with supporting fire from sea and air, but it also involved developing new equipment such as shallow-draft landing craft with quick-release ramps. The Marines’ 1934 Tentative Manual for Landing Operations evolved into the basis of amphibious doctrine not only for the Marine Corps but also for the U.S. Army and Navy. Amphibious warfare proved absolutely vital in the Pacific, where the Marines engaged in a campaign of “island hopping,” as well as in the European theater, where Allied troops stormed ashore in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and finally in Normandy and the south of France. All of the major Allied amphibious attacks succeeded but at heavy cost. (The first thirty minutes of Steven Spielberg’s film Saving Private Ryan is a harrowing dramatization of the dangers involved in sending unprotected infantrymen against entrenched shore positions.) The ability to insert troops by helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft led to a decline in amphibious operations after World War II. Although U.S. Marines bluffed Saddam Hussein into thinking that they were going to land on the beaches of Kuwait in 1991, their commanders concluded that such an assault would be too costly. The last great landing occurred forty-one years earlier, in September 1950, when General Douglas MacArthur’s men disembarked at Inchon to cut off the North Korean advance.

While the means of getting infantrymen into battle had improved during the Second Industrial Age, once engaged they had to make do with weapons that were not terribly novel. The typical grunt carried a rifle roughly similar to the one his father had used in World War I; some were actually issued exactly the same rifles. The Japanese armory was particularly antiquated; their main rifle dated from 1905. The best rifle of World War II was probably the U.S. M-1 Garand, a semiautomatic weapon that could fire eight rounds from a single clip with eight pulls of the trigger. General George S. Patton reportedly called it “the greatest battle implement ever devised.” Infantrymen were also armed with handheld submachine guns (such as the American Tommy gun, the British Sten gun, and the German and Russian “burp guns”) and crew-served heavy machine guns (such as the German MG34 and MG42). The most innovative weapons issued to infantrymen were shoulder-fired antitank rockets such as the American bazooka and the German Panzerfaust.

This was part of a general resurgence of a weapon that had last played a major role in warfare in 1812 when British Congreve rockets had inspired Francis Scott Key’s mention of “the rockets’ red glare” in “The Star-Spangled Banner.” In addition to the German V-1 and V-2, the Red Army deployed the Katyusha, a short-range, unguided rocket that could be fired from mobile launchers in bursts of more than forty at a time. Artillery also improved with the American introduction of proximity fuses, employing a tiny radar set in the nose cone to set off the shell whenever it got close to a large object. (Previously a shell would go off only if it hit the target—a contact fuse—or at some predetermined point after firing—a time fuse.) Some field guns also became self-propelled, moving forward on armored chassis in an echo of tank warfare.

NAVAL WARFARE: For surface vessels and even submarines there was much continuity between the First and Second World Wars. The battleships, cruisers, destroyers, and submarines of the 1939–45 period were generally bigger, faster, and better armed than their 1914–18 predecessors but not fundamentally different. Indeed, they had not changed much since the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. Yet naval warfare was nevertheless transformed by the introduction of aviation. Fleets that were once built around battleships came to be built around aircraft carriers instead.

Aircraft proved superior not just to conventional surface ships but also, in the Battle of the Atlantic, to submarines as well. German U-boats preying on Allied shipping were foiled through a variety of means including convoying of merchants ships and the use of radar and sonar. But the weapon that proved most effective was an aircraft dropping depth charges. The dispatch of long-range B-24s equipped with the latest radar to patrol the North Atlantic in 1943 helped turn the tide against the U-boats. The proliferation of small escort carriers also allowed air cover for convoys even in the middle of the ocean. Submarines proved more effective in the Pacific, where the vast distances precluded effective patrolling by aircraft and where the Japanese did not develop the types of advanced antisubmarine techniques employed by the Allies in the Atlantic. U.S. submarines took a heavy toll on Japanese merchantmen and warships alike once they managed to fix the problems that bedeviled their Mark 14 torpedo early in the war. “A force comprising less than 2 percent of U.S. Navy personnel,” naval historian Ronald Spector would write of U.S. submariners, “had accounted for 55 percent of Japan’s losses at sea.” The torpedo, whether launched by submarines, surface ships, or airplanes, proved the biggest ship-killer of the war.

AERIAL WARFARE: Aircraft as a component of ground and sea warfare proved indispensable, and victory often went to whichever side was more adept at integrating them into its operations.

Heavy bombers suitable for strategic bombing were utilized mainly by the U.S. Army Air Forces and the Royal Air Force. After briefly flirting with strategic bombing in the Battle of Britain, the Germans largely abandoned it. The Soviets, Japanese, French, and Italians never embraced it to begin with—a decision that some of them would come to regret. A Japanese naval aviator later wrote, “Had Japan developed such bombers as the B-17, I believe the war would have taken a different course. We did not have a single warplane comparable to these aircraft, and Japan paid a heavy price for this lack.” Germany did develop a four-engine bomber, the Messerschmitt Me-264, dubbed the Amerika because it was intended to bomb New York, but it never got past the prototype stage.

Most of the bombs used in the war were iron canisters filled with high explosives that were guided to their targets by nothing more than wind, gravity, and sheer luck. The standard armaments of all aircraft were machine guns and cannons, supplemented later in the war by rockets. By 1945, jet aircraft began to appear that were much faster than their propeller-driven predecessors, but none was deployed in sufficient numbers to make much of a difference. Nor did the long-range missiles developed by Germany, the V-1 and V-2, affect the war’s outcome. These would be the weapons of the future. Into this category also falls the helicopter, which was still in the prototype stage during World War II but would be employed on a large scale by the French in Algeria in the 1950s and by the Americans in Vietnam in the 1960s.

ELECTRONIC WARFARE: In addition to aerial warfare, the Second Industrial Age added another element to the traditional clash of armies and navies: electronic warfare. Since the dawn of organized warfare, armies had always tried to intercept the plans of the other side, usually by employing spies or capturing messengers. What had historically been a hit-or-miss business was placed on a much more scientific basis with the birth of signals intelligence. The widespread use of radios afforded virtually limitless opportunities for learning the enemy’s secrets, provided their codes could be broken. The British were pioneers at this art. The Admiralty’s Room 40 succeeded during World War I in breaking many of the Imperial German Navy’s communications, but the Royal Navy did not take full advantage of this windfall because its code breakers were not well integrated with operational commands. British code breakers did, however, score a historic success in 1917 when they intercepted and decoded a telegram from German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann offering Mexico the return of the American Southwest in return for making war on the United States. The publication of the Zimmermann telegram helped convince the U.S. to enter World War I.

In World War II, the big British coup was replicating the Enigma machine used to encode most German messages. British scientists also pioneered radar and sonar. All of these inventions were shared with the United States. Meanwhile, U.S. Navy and Army cryptanalysts on their own had already broken the Japanese naval and diplomatic codes. Ultra and Magic—the code names given to the cracking of German and Japanese ciphers, respectively—gave the Allies an invaluable edge over the Axis, who never developed the same level of success in penetrating Allied communications.

Electronic warfare turned into a game of cat and mouse, pitting teams of scientists and engineers against one another. Many lives depended on the outcome of what became known as the “wizard war.” In 1942 U-boats gained a major edge in their attacks on Allied commerce when the German naval intelligence office, B-Dienst, was able to break the ciphers used by the Americans, British, and Canadians to route transatlantic convoys. This information helped the submarines sink more than 1,600 ships that year. The Allies were operating blind for most of the year because the German navy had changed its Triton cipher. It was no coincidence that the advantage in the Atlantic shifted to the Allies at the end of 1942 when they managed once again to crack the German codes and changed their own so that the U-boats would no longer be privy to information about convoy movements.

Similar back-and-forth battles raged around radar, sonar, and radio-directional navigation equipment. For instance, the RAF was able to bomb Hamburg so effectively in 1943 because it came up with a clever system of dispersing aluminum chaff (known as Window) to disrupt German radar. When the Germans developed alternative methods of detecting incoming bombers (for instance, by homing in on their “Identification, Friend or Foe” radio beacons), they in turn were able to devastate the attacking formations. Ultimately, the Allies won the “battle of the beacons”—and with it the war.

There is a tendency to see the outcome of World War II as foreordained: How could the Axis possibly have prevailed over the much greater industrial resources of the Allies? Richard Overy rightly cautions against this “hindsight bias” in his invaluable book, Why the Allies Won. As he points out, “Economic size as such does not explain the outcome of wars.” Indeed this book offers many examples of significant battles—e.g., the Spanish Armada, Assaye, Königgrätz, and Tsushima—won by the side with the smaller economy. World War II further proves the point.

The German armed forces were far more starved of resources in the 1920s than their rivals in Britain or France, yet they were able to develop the blitzkrieg while they could not legally buy a single tank. The Germans out-thought their enemies in the interwar period, which is why in 1939–41 the Third Reich was able to outfight the countries of Western and Eastern Europe even though they were in aggregate much richer than Germany itself. By 1942 Hitler was in control of most of the economic resources of Europe from the English Channel to the Urals. On paper, at least, this gave the Third Reich the potential to compete against the U.S. and USSR; today the European Union, which encompasses roughly the same area, has a GDP greater than that of the United States. Japan, too, grabbed a vast empire for itself in Asia that should have given it greater ability to hold its own. Yet by 1942 the U.S. was outproducing all of the Axis states combined. The USSR, too, staged a remarkable recovery from its devastating losses in 1941 and was soon outproducing Germany, even though the Germans had overrun two-thirds of its coal and steel industry.

The outcome of the battle of production lines was no more predetermined than the outcome of Midway, El Alamein, or Stalingrad. The Allies produced more tanks, aircraft, and ships because they were more skilled than their enemies at mobilizing their industrial base. Hitler did not even start to put his economy on a full war footing until 1942, and by the time his armaments minister, Albert Speer, was starting to implement his major reforms in 1943, Germany was already losing the war. For most of the conflict the German economy was a mess, characterized by wasteful production of too many models of everything (at one point 425 different kinds of aircraft were being made) and not enough standardization. The Japanese were even more backward. The Soviets were less advanced technologically than the Germans, but they were able to churn out greater quantities of simple and reliable equipment under the aegis of their economic planning agency, Gos-plan. The United States was able to combine quality and quantity by using the mass-production techniques pioneered by Henry Ford. American factories under the direction of the War Production Board and other bureaucracies achieved stunning leaps in productivity during the war years. And many of the machines they were producing, ranging from Essex-class fast carriers to B-29 heavy bombers, were, by the end of the war, the best in the world.

The growing complexity of warfare in the Second Industrial Age made it imperative to integrate complex systems—not only military but also industrial and scientific—into a smooth-running whole. No country had a perfect track record: The Germans did well with tank warfare and submarines but not with strategic bombing or aircraft carriers; the Americans did well with long-range bombers and aircraft carriers but not tanks. On the whole, however, the Allies pulled off the difficult feat of war management far better than the Axis. Nazi Germany was plagued by the erratic and often irrational decision-making of Adolf Hitler, who fostered an atmosphere of bureaucratic chaos and infighting. While Japan had no single leader of comparable power, it was handicapped by the lack of coordination between its army and navy. The British and Americans, by contrast, set up a Combined Chiefs of Staff Committee that, despite some inevitable friction, capably coordinated their joint war effort. Even Stalin, who often fell prey to the same megalomania and delusions as Hitler, learned as the war went along to defer to his increasingly competent general staff and to such gifted commanders as Marshal Georgi Zhukov.

This underscores a theme running throughout this volume: Having an efficient bureaucracy is the key determinant of whether a country manages to take advantage of a military revolution. Just as England was better organized than Spain in 1588, Sweden better than the Holy Roman Empire in 1631–32, Britain than the Marathas in 1803, Prussia than Austria in 1866, Britain than the Sudan in 1898, and Japan than Russia in 1905—so too the Allies were better organized than the Axis by the end of World War II. The reason German armies were able to reach the gates of Moscow and Japanese armies the borders of India before being defeated was that the Axis had done a better job of organizing before the war. This gave them an important initial advantage that they allowed to slip away through catastrophic miscalculations, which once again goes to show that the early movers in a military revolution are not necessarily the long-term winners.

The German and Japanese failure to make better use of their resources and to set reasonable war aims consigned them to defeat. So total and traumatic was their collapse that after 1945 they were forced to renounce the very idea of power politics and pledge to use force only for self-defense. Britain and France were also losers, even though they were on the winning side. They emerged in 1945 much weakened and unable to hold on to their colonies—a fate they might have avoided or delayed had they been more prepared for war. Britain, Holland, Belgium, and France would have had a good chance of defeating the 1940 Nazi offensive if they had done a better job of building armor and air forces. The British might also have been able to stave off the Japanese onslaught in the Pacific if they had invested more in modern aircraft carriers and naval airplanes. Britain was able to avoid total defeat in 1940–41 partly because of its geography but mainly because it had made some wise investments in the late 1930s—particularly in fighters, radar, and code breaking—that helped to offset some of its deficiencies. Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the other nations of central and eastern Europe were not so lucky. Lacking either a favorable geographical position or modern armed forces, they were enslaved in turn by the Germans and the Russians and did not taste freedom until the 1990s.

The Soviet Union and the United States were the biggest beneficiaries of the Second Industrial Age. Their rise to global power ended the period of Western European dominance that began around 1500. Victory in the Great Patriotic War gave communism enhanced legitimacy inside the Soviet Union and made it a more attractive model for other countries from China to Cuba. Likewise the outcome of the war enhanced the power and prestige of the heavily bureaucratized American government. Federal civilian employment increased nearly fourfold between 1939 and 1945, and even after five years of demobilization the total number of civilians employed by Washington in 1950 was 100 percent higher than it had been in 1939. Total federal expenditures were almost three times higher in 1948 on an inflation-adjusted basis than they had been in 1938. Giant corporations such as Boeing, General Motors, and General Electric, which had grown even bigger to manufacture military materiel, continued to dominate the U.S. economy (indeed, the global economy) after the war.

In other words, World War II reinforced the trends toward statism and corporatism that had been given such a big boost by World War I. The enhanced power of the U.S. government could be used for ends both good (desegregation) and bad (McCarthyism). In the case of the Soviet government, the ills were much greater (the Gulag) and the benefits much less apparent. What united the two Cold War rivals was that in both the U.S. and USSR, the state reached the pinnacle of its power and popularity in the late 1940s and 1950s, largely based on its success at waging war in the Second Industrial Age. It would take two losing guerrilla struggles—in Vietnam and Afghanistan—to crack the aura of state invincibility.

Explosive Gunpowder and the First Cannon

The pot de fer, known to the Arabs as midfa, was the ancestor of all subsequent forms of cannon. Materials evolved from bamboo to wood to iron quickly enough for the Egyptian Mamelukes to employ the weapon against the Mongols at the battle of Ain Jalut in 1260, which ended the Mongol advance into the Mediterranean world. A wooden cup on the end of the arrow trapped gas behind the projectile.

A certain al-Hassan al-Rammah describes and illustrates the Midfa in a work of c. 1280-1290. It was clearly an early firearm, made of wood with a barrel only as deep as its muzzle width, used to fire Bunduks (?bullets) or feathered bolts. The charge filled a third of the barrel and consisted of a mixture of 10 parts saltpetre (Barud), 2 parts charcoal, and 1½ parts sulphur.
The actual discovery of gunpowder is a dubious distinction which has been variously claimed for Chinese, Indians, Byzantines, Arabs, Germans and Englishmen, but the name of the discoverer and date of actual discovery remain uncertain. The date of the application of gunpowder to a projectile-firing weapon is even more hazy, but if the dating of this Mamluk ms. is correct then this source is certainly amongst the earliest pieces of evidence outside of China. This weapon was probably no more than an experimental device of the Royal Arsenal and may never have seen active service, though the late-13th century chronicler Ibn ‘Abd al-Zahir remarks that for the siege of al-Marqab in 1285 ‘iron implements and flame-throwing tubes’ were issued by the royal arsenals, and one wonders whether any of the Mamluk engineers armed with ‘naptha tubes’ at Salamiyet in 1299 (apparently mounted), or storming the breaches of Acre in 1291, might have actually carried such weapons. It has to he admitted that hand-siphons like those used earlier by the Byzantines seem more probable.
‘Midfa’ was also the name applied to the earliest known Mamluk cannons, dating to 1366 or possibly 1340 (late dates considering the apparent earliness of the weapon described here).

The first use of explosive gunpowder and cannon is another critical issue in the history of civilization. Gunpowder was first known in China but the mixture used was weak and not explosive. The proportions of the ingredients were not the right ones for cannon and the purity of the nitrate was not adequate because of the lack of a purification process.
In the thirteenth century the military engineer Hasan al-Rammah (d 1295 AD) described in his book al-furusiyya wa al-manasib al-harbiyya (The Book of Military Horsemanship and Ingenious War Devices) the first process for the purification of potassium nitrate. The search for some comparable weapon drove scientists and inventors such as the thirteenth century English scholar Roger Bacon and the fourteenth-century Korean scientist Choe Mu-Seon to extremes of experimentation.

The Chinese had first appreciated the explosive effects of the `fire drug’ (huo yao) – a mixture of sulphur, saltpetre and other ingredients – as far back as the ninth century. At first, they used the gunpowder mixture in the construction of their own version of `fire arrows,’ simple rockets, and in what would be called today `shock grenades’, to stun and confuse an enemy. In between its Chinese inventors and European developers were the Arab traders who brought the gunpowder mixture to the West. It is not certain who first thought of enclosing the explosive to drive a projectile, but the Arab accounts refer to a weapon called a midfa – a section of reinforced bamboo (and later iron pipe) driving an arrow with a gunpowder charge.

The raiders besetting the kingdom of Korea were Japanese pirates called wako, but the need was the same. With the Chinese keeping a similar control over the knowledge of gunpowder that the Byzantines did with Greek fire, the Korean scientist Choe Mu-Seon had to combine curiosity, persistence and great resourcefulness. Hearing that a travelling Chinese merchant knew the proper proportions of saltpetre and sulfur to charcoal, Mu-Seon was able to bribe the exact recipe out of him and produce his own versions, which he refined, like Roger Bacon, through experimentation.

Like other inventors throughout the world, Choe Mu-Seon found government support in an era long before the concept of capitalized invention had dawned in any but a military context. Demonstrations before the Korean royal court led to the first weapons laboratory since the original Museum at Alexandria, and resulted in improved leaching methods for nitrates from soil, a rocketfiring cart and a Korean version of the cannon. Preference or practicality drove the Korean line of development into artillery and away from infantry weapons. This choice would find considerable vindication before two centuries had passed.
The process involves the lixiviation of the earths containing the nitrate in water, adding wood ashes and crystallization. Wood ashes are potassium carbonates which act on calcium nitrate which usually accompany potassium nitrate to produce potassium nitrate and calcium carbonate. The carbonates are not soluble and are precipitated.

Al-Rammah deals extensively in his book with explosive gunpowder and its uses. The estimated date of writing this book is between 1270 and 1280. The front page states that the book was written as “instructions by the eminent master Najm al-Din Hasan Al-Rammah, as handed down to him by his father and his forefathers the masters in this art and by those contemporary elders and masters who befriended them, may God be pleased with them all”. It is unmistakable from this statement that Al-Rammah compiled inherited knowledge. The large number of gunpowder recipes and the extensive types of weaponry using gunpowder indicate that this information cannot be the invention of a single person, and this supports the statement of the front piece in his book. If we go back only to his grandfather’s generation, as the first of his forefathers, then we end up at the end of the twelfth century or the beginning of the thirteenth as the date when explosive gunpowder became prevalent in Syria and Egypt.
The book contains 107 recipes for gunpowder. There are 22 recipes for rockets (tayyarat, sing, tayyar). Among the remaining compositions some are for military uses and some are for fireworks. The gunpowder composition of seventeen rockets was analyzed, and it was found that the median value for potassium nitrates is 75 percent.

The ideal composition for explosive gunpowder as reported by modern historians of gunpowder is 75 percent potassium nitrate, 10 percent sulphur, and 15 percent carbon. Al-Rammah’s median composition is 75 nitrates, 9.06 sulphur and 15.94 carbon which is almost identical with the reported ideal recipe.

Analysis of the composition of explosive gunpowder in several other Arabic military treatises of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries gave results similar to those of al-Rammah. These included the composition of gunpowder in the first cannon in history that was used, according to the military treatises, to frighten the Tatar armies in the battle of ‘Ayn Jalut in 1260.

The correct formula for the explosive mixture was not known in China or Europe until much later.

The Arabs in al-Andalus used cannon in their conflicts with the crusading armies in Spain and their first knowledge of the art was effective in their encounters. But ultimately the Muslim technology of gunpowder and cannon was transferred to Christian Spain and was used by them it the last encounters with the Muslims. From Christian Spain this technology reached Western Europe. We have mentioned in Part I of this article how the Earls of Derby and Salisbury, who participated in the siege of al-Jazira (1342-1344), took back with them the secrets of gunpowder and cannon to England.


Why Did the Longbow Win Battles?

Mailed or armoured heavy cavalry were the dominant force in military practice in Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. A major purpose of the feudal system in Europe was to provide the king or prince with as many practised mailed horsemen as possible. The basic building block of the system was the establishment of estates large enough to support such a man on the labours of the peasantry. In Post-Conquest England and France whether service was owed to he king of France or to the king of England, these estates were normally part of greater lords holdings who in turn would owe the king the service of a large number of knights. In the fourteenth century, the English, the Scots, the Swiss and the Flemings all demonstrated very forcibly that infantry armies could humble these usually noble and often near-professional fighting men. But the armoured horseman was not made redundant by these infantry armies. It is worth remembering that in the fifteenth century, the Hundred Years War ended with two bloody English defeats at the battles of Formigny and Castillon, where cavalry charges made important contributions to the French victories. But by the early decades of the fourteenth century, English military practice came to concentrate on armies that fought on foot and used relatively large numbers of archers in comparison to the number of knights and men at arms. The great Scottish victory at Bannockburn resembled Crecy and Agincourt with the English mounted nobility and gentry playing the part of the French making brave but ill-considered and ineffective attacks on stalwart infantry. It was, as the earlier English victories at Maes Maidog and Falkirk demonstrated, something of an aberration in English military development brought about by Edward II’s inability to control his knights in particular, and his army in general.

So, why did English military practice change from the ‘traditional’ European model relying on heavy cavalry to the highly unusual model, which has become known as the English tactical system, of a battle line of infantry, armoured to varying degrees, supported by a greater number of archers using powerful bows?

Firstly, King John’s reign saw the breaking up of the cross-Channel combined realm of the kingdom of England and the Dukedoms of Normandy and Aquitaine. Philip Augustus of France was a powerful, able opponent for the Plantagenet kings of England. When the king of France was powerful, and Philip was perhaps the first French king for nearly two centuries who had the ability to bring his magnates under his control, the king of England’s feudal position became very difficult, since he was the French king’s vassal for the dukedoms of Normandy and Aquitaine. The problem of conflicting loyalties affected the magnates of England and Normandy regardless of whether their landholdings were wealthier in England or France since they were in the bind of owing fealty to two opposing kings. In the century and a half after the Conquest the large body of county knights in England had tended to have fewer landed interests on both sides of the Channel. In part this happened through the very understandable practice of dividing the inheritance, and so establishing separate English and Norman strands to the family. In the twelfth century only 10 per cent of the leading families in Warwickshire and Leicestershire had lands on both sides of the Channel. However, among the much smaller number of major magnates in England a high proportion still had valuable landholdings in Normandy at the end of the twelfth century. An even higher proportion of the Norman tenants in chief seem to have hung on to their cross-Channel property until the beginning of the thirteenth century.66 The dispute between Philip Augustus and John led to these men having to make an often uncomfortable calculation as to which king they would swear fealty to, knowing that the other king would confiscate their holdings in his kingdom. John may well have found it difficult to inspire whole-hearted support from his magnates in England regardless of this circumstance, but at the start of his reign a number of the great Earls of England were half-hearted in their support for his campaigns in Northern France just because of their concerns about their Continental landholdings. Philip of France’s achievement in dispossessing John of his lands in Northern France substantially reduced the revenues of the king of England and some of his magnates. Although the English king held on to much of Aquitaine through the thirteenth century it never raised revenues to replace those lost when Normandy was seized by Philip. As a result the revenues John’s son, Henry III, could apply to military activities were much more limited in comparison with those which John had used to so little effect, and more importantly much less than those available to the French kings.

Secondly, by the end of the thirteenth century, the kings of England could not raise a force of knights and men at arm to rival in numbers those that could be raised in Continental Europe. In the 1200s there were perhaps 4,500 knights whose individual wealth varied greatly. The biggest group were the lords of single manors, the men who were the basic building blocks of feudal society. Their annual income ranged between £10 and £20 per year, the minimum qualifying income for the knightly class. By the 1300s there were many fewer knights, possibly only between 1,250 and 1,300, or around a quarter of those available to the king a century earlier. Why? This was not a time of population decline but it was a time of inflation, the price of wheat doubling in the first four decades of the thirteenth century. The income of the nobles, both the great magnates and the lesser knights, did not rise to match inflation. Those knights with small estates would have very little spare produce to take advantage of the rising prices. As a result knightly status with its expensive military burden became much less attractive.

Another consequence of the loss of Normandy was that the king and the nobility became ‘English’ regardless of the language they continued to speak. While the king retained Aquitaine, Henry III for one rarely visited it, and his travels became much more a sequence of progresses round his estates in England. At the same time England became very important to the nobles since they had only lands in the British Isles to concentrate on. Meanwhile Magna Carta was issued and regularly reissued. This not only attempted to define the limits of arbitrary royal authority, but also, extended the involvement of the knights and the free men of England in national government through Parliament and in local government and justice. Without getting romantic about Magna Carta, it is not unreasonable to suggest that, combined with loss of the lands in Normandy, it brought about a singular change of focus within the kingdom of England wherein the problems of England and the English king, could only be resolved by relying on English resources, including the population at large. For example, it was no longer possible for the English king to be militarily effective by following the Continental military traditions imported by William the Conqueror. This did not mean that in the fighting within the British Isles in the thirteenth century that mailed horsemen ceased to be the primary battle-winning force, particularly in the battles between Henry III and his barons led by Simon de Montfort. But it meant that successful English campaigns in this century involved a combination of forces, mailed horsemen, infantry and archers, and that this was a step along the path to the fourteenth-century practice of English armies being very successful fighting on foot with substantial numbers of archers. Part of this transition was the increasing use of English archers using hand bows as opposed to crossbowmen whether English or foreign mercenaries. This was encouraged by the developments in the Assizes of Arms in the thirteenth century, and by a development for which there is little direct evidence, the increasing use of heavy bows, what were later known as the English longbow or warbow. One small piece of evidence which shows up the increasing use of archers is a record of the pay of the garrison of Norwich Castle in 1269, in the period when Henry III and his vigorous son Edward (soon to be Edward I) were consolidating their position in the aftermath of the wars with the barons. This shows that the garrison was made up of the following men at various times in that year: six men at arms, six crossbowmen and eighteen archers; eighteen men at arms, two crossbowmen and eight archers; five men at arms, four crossbowmen and six archers. So, while it was never a large force, the garrison consistently included more archers than crossbowmen.

The garrisons of some of the Welsh castles in the years after the death of Llewelyn the Last also show the rising importance of the archer over the crossbowman. In 1295 during the rising led by Rhys ap Maredudd, the English garrison of the newly captured Dryslwyn Castle was two knights, twenty-two men at arms, twenty crossbowmen and eighty archers. Of these, four of the men at arms and forty of the archers were Welsh. Four years later as the situation appeared more peaceful the garrison was reduced to a few men at arms, twenty crossbowmen and thirty archers. During the Welsh risings of 1294–5 in which Madoc ap Llewelyn was a major figure, Reginald de Grey reinforced the garrisons of Flint and Rhuddlan Castles so that one stood at twenty-four knights and men at arms, twenty-four crossbowmen and 120 archers, while the other had four knights and men at arms, twelve crossbowmen and twenty-four archers. In the same time of unrest, Builth town and castle was held by a garrison six knights and men at arms, twenty crossbowmen and forty archers for six weeks against blockading Welsh. These figures suggest that the ordinary archer, whether levied or hired, was attractive to a commander because he was effective and cheap to equip and pay. The consistent number of crossbowmen at Dryslwyn may suggest that the crossbowmen were still professional soldiers whereas many of the archers might not yet be so.

Solomon’s trees

In earlier wars, such as the American Revolutionary War and the Civil War, deception was generally the brainchild of a single person, usually the battlefield commander, who had to implement covert operations in the heat of combat. But World War I, “the war to end all wars,” brought a clear shift in the role of deception by the military. Deception tactics and strategies became institutionalized and played a larger part in planning. In England, decisions about deception were made by the War Office in London, and its efforts to use camouflage became one of the first organized attempts at deception in battle. The British military grew to be particularly adept and avid users of camouflage. In a sense, they wrote the early version of the “book” on deception, although they did get a bit of help from their French allies.

By December 1915, World War I had been raging for more than a year, and the United States was still more than a year away from joining the Allies to fight the Central Powers. The British War Office arranged for painter Solomon J. Solomon to sail to France to learn what a group known as the camoufleurs was doing and to determine if the British army should create its own camouflage unit.

At Amiens, France, Solomon found a group of artists who were “working out the right colors for disguising and screening and also making realistic dummies, including armored trees for use as observation posts.” French observation posts near the front lines could be used to direct British artillery strikes; in order to be most effective, they needed to be as close to the front as possible — and so needed to be well concealed. General H. E. Burstall, commander of Canadian artillery, asked Solomon if he could aid the French efforts by designing and making forward observation posts — OPs, also called Oh Pips — disguised as trees. Solomon accepted the challenge and returned to England to work with a team of “sappers,” or combat engineers.

Solomon’s trees were made of oval steel cylinders, constructed in two-foot sections. They were just wide enough for a man to work his way up inside the structure to a folding seat near the top. From there, ten to fifteen feet above the ground, he could observe every activity through holes or slits. While the basic design was suitable, Solomon knew that in order to be properly concealed, the Oh Pips needed bark to make them look more like real trees.

Solomon decided that a good source of bark was the forest around King George’s royal estate at Windsor Castle, so he wrote to the king for permission to take bark from a decayed willow tree. “Secrecy in the affair,” he wrote, “is of the highest importance.” He was correct, of course, in believing that it was better to ask the king for the bark rather than to trust the discretion of a private citizen. The king’s secretary replied from Buckingham Palace that “the King will be glad to give you every facility you require either at Windsor or at Sandringham.” With the help of two scene painters and a theatrical prop maker, Solomon fashioned tree cover that would pass for real bark when viewed from a distance. He sewed chunks and strips of bark to sheets of canvas that would then be wrapped around the trees’ steel shell.

On March 15, 1916, the first tree was erected. Solomon’s trees and other versions of the camouflage tree saw action on the battlefields of Europe, where they served their purpose well. A 1917 issue of Popular Mechanics featured a picture of a steel tree, noting that “a structure of this sort standing amid tree trunks that have long survived artillery fire is almost sure to escape detection by the enemy.” Another version found in Belgium was nearly eighteen feet tall, with “‘lumps’ on the outer shell, made of chicken wire and grass like materials to resemble either burls or lumps of moss or lichen. . . . The ‘bark’ . . . appears to include crushed sea shells to give it a rough texture.” Regardless of the construction of these steel trees, their purpose was the same: deceiving one’s enemies to gain an advantage over them.

With the Oh Pips designed, the British camoufleurs’ work was only beginning. On January 18, 1916, Solomon and his team — a draftsman, a scene painter, a property man from a theater, and a master carpenter — sailed to France and set up shop in Amiens. They spent a week studying what their French counterparts had done and then got to work.

Solomon was not content with merely creating camouflaged Oh Pips. He saw other ways that camouflage could be improved to deceive the Germans and their allies. One area that the painter felt needed attention was the covering that protected the trenches. It was common to use mackintosh sheets, a waterproof covering similar to a tarp, over the trenches. But the sheets collected pools of water, making them unwieldy and heavy. And, looking at them with the eyes of a painter, Solomon thought that the pattern painted on the sheets was too smooth and didn’t match the surrounding terrain.

As an alternative, Solomon tried using string to make a “cat’s cradle” that he envisioned could be covered with leaves and branches, making a more lifelike camouflage. His prop man took over and in short order wove a square yard of netting. Solomon was the first to implement the use of fishing nets instead of canvas as a camouflage for trenches — as well for guns, supplies, and ammunition stores.

US Army’s Early Mobile Anti-Tank Guns 1942-43

75mm Gun Motor Carriage M3(T12) and M3A1

The urgent need for a tank destroyer to be rushed quickly into service led to the adaptation of the M3 half-track in June 1941 to take a suitably modified M1897A 75mm gun on a pedestal mount firing forward. The M1897A was the American version of the famous French “75”, dating from World War I, of which surplus stocks were available. Designated T12 GMC, the gun had a limited traverse and was provided with a shield. Despite its extemporary nature, this equipment proved most successful on trials and the vehicle was standardised as the M3 GMC in October 1941. First vehicles built were sent instantly to the Philippines at the end of 1941 in time to see action against the Japanese. Aside from wide use in the Pacific, M3 GMCs were also used by US forces in the North African (Tunis) campaign and on replacement by full-track tank destroyers, these vehicles were handed over to the British who used them (in Italy) until the end of the war. In British service the M3 GMC was known as the “75mm SP, Autocar” (Autocar being the builder of this model), and the vehicles were used in HQ troops of armoured car and tank squadrons to give support fire. Due to shortage of the original 75mm gun mount, later vehicles were produced with a modified mount under the designation 75mm Gun Motor Carriage M3A1. They were externally similar to the M3 GMC.

Adopted by the U.S. Marine Corps during the Second World War was the M3 Gun Motor Carriage (GMC), originally developed by the Ordnance Department as a tank destroyer for the U.S. Army. It was armed with a 75mm gun, the American-built copy of the French 75 from the First World War. Within U.S. Marine Corps divisions, it was found in the regimental antitank platoons and division antitank companies.

Due to the small number of Japanese tanks encountered by the Marines in the Pacific, the M3 GMC was primarily employed as an assault gun to deal with enemy defensive works. The vehicle would last in service with the marines until early 1945.

M6 Stop-Gap Tank Destroyer

In early 1941, the US Army decided it needed a wheeled tank destroyer armed with a 37mm anti-tank gun as quickly as possible. The Chrysler Corporation responded by mounting an armoured-shield protected 37mm anti-tank gun in the rear cargo bay of an unarmoured 0.75-ton 4 × 4 truck. It was labelled the M6 Gun Motor Carriage (GMC). Hereafter, all GMCs will be referred to as ‘tank destroyers’.

Series production of the M6 tank destroyer began in April 1942, with Chrysler building 5,380 units of the vehicle by October 1942. It was intended strictly as an interim design, until a better thought out wheeled tank destroyer could be developed and fielded. Despite being a stop-gap design, the M6 would be deployed to North Africa beginning in November 1942, during Operation Torch.

An observer of the M6 in North Africa stated the following in a March 1943 US Army report: ‘The sending of such a patently inadequate [tank] destroyer into combat can be best termed a tragic mistake.’ In an After-Action Report (AAR) titled Operations of the 1st Armored in Tunisia, Major General E.N. Harmon stated: ‘The 37mm self-propelled gun, mounted on the 0.75-ton truck, is positively worthless and has never been used in this division.’


United States Army interest in the half-track dated back to 1925 when the Ordnance Department purchased two Citroen-Kegresse semi-track vehicles from France. They bought another in 1931. US commercial firms undertook development work on half-tracks on behalf of the Ordnance Department and the first indigenous design, the T1 Halftrack, was built by Cunningham of Rochester, NY, in 1932. The development story of these vehicles in the thirties is beyond the scope of this book, but by 1939-40 Half-track Personnel Carrier T14 had been produced and became the prototype of all subsequent half-track types used by the US in World War II. In September 1940 the T14 was standardised as the Half-track M2 and, with modifications in order to transport personnel, it was standardised as the Half-track Personnel Carrier M3.

The M2 and M3 were similar in design and all major assemblies were interchangeable. The chassis and drive units were basically commercial components. The armoured hull was tin thick and included armoured shutters over the radiator, while armoured shields (tin thick) were provided for the cab windscreen and side windows. Vehicles were built with either an unditching roller mounted ahead of the front fender (though this was sometimes removed) or else with a winch. Late production vehicles also had stowage racks on the hull sides.

The M2 was basically a gun tower with the appropriate ammunition stowage facilities, and the M3 was a personnel carrier with slightly longer hull and rearranged seating. Contracts for production of these vehicles went to White and Autocar (M2) and Diamond T (M3) in September 1940.

In April 1943, work started on rationalising the half-track design to produce a “universal” vehicle with common body features suitable for either the gun tower/mortar carrier role or the personnel carrier role. This led to the M3A2 and M5A2 types from White/Autocar/Diamond T and International Harvester Co respectively. Standardisation of these revised designs took place in October 1943 but production was later cancelled. By this time, in fact, US Army interest in the half-track was beginning to wane and production of this type of vehicle tailed off completely in mid 1944, though half-tracks remained in wide service with the American forces until the war’s end. For artillery use the half-track was being displaced as a gun tower by the increasing availability of the high speed full-track tractor and in other service arms there was a growing preference for either full-track utility vehicles or trucks for personnel and supply work. In fact, half-tracks were never fully replaced in the period covered by this book though the process had started in 1944. Total US half-track production reached 41,169 units.

While the half-track was initially conceived as a fast reconnaissance vehicle, protected against small arms fire and with a good cross-country ability mainly for infantry and artillery use, it was also widely employed by other arms including the Armored Force as a “utility” vehicle. In this respect it was roughly equivalent in the US Army to the British Universal Carrier, but its larger size gave it more development potential as a weapons carriage. For the Armored Force, the Ordnance Department produced a number of expedient designs of gun motor carriage on the basis of the half-track and these performed useful “stopgap” service while superior full-track motor carriage designs were perfected. British armoured units also used a number of these half-track motor carriage types, supplied under Lend-Lease arrangements.