Chronography of Military Technology

Page last modified 17/9/2022


A tall handsome chivalrous Knight, killed by a short ugly little Gun.


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UK offshore munitions dump sites, also mines etc,


COMPANY. Up to 150 men.


REGIMENT. 650 to 900 men.


BATTALION, Tactical battalion Group, up to 900 men.


BRIGADE, 2,000 to 5,000 men, around 3 to 5 battalions


DIVISION. Usually commanded by a Major General, divisions are made up of three or four brigades and include 10,000 to 15,000 soldiers.


2003, Multiple JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) air-alunched smart bombs invented.

2001, Heckler and Koch submachine guns invented.

27/1/1998, In response to a worldwide movement against landmines, the UK Government said it would destroy its stocks of these weapons.

31/12/1994, Britain began using the Trident nuclear deterrent on its submarines.

1988, IMINT (Imagery Intelligence) satellites launched.

22/11/1988, The US Stealth bomber, invisible to radar and heat seeking missiles, first appeared in public.

1985, Semtex explosive became available. It was named after Semtin, the Czech village where it was manufactured, p;lus ex (for export or explosive). It is an odourless plastic explosive and is much favoured by terrorists.

1984, Stun guns invented.

22/3/1983, The US Army awarded AM General the contract for a new type of ;land vehicle,, the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, or Humvee. This was to be a versatile off-road vehicle that could ford 5 feet of water.

1982, Air-launched cruise missiles invented.

1980, The very large aircraft carrier ship, 20,000 � 30,000 tonnes, was introduced, because of the need to destroy enemy aircraft beyond the range of the ship�s own weapons, for example when on convoy duty. Previously, the size and vulnerability of earlier aircraft carriers, and their cost, was thought to outweight their utility. The Eisenhower, USA, 81,600 tonnes, built 1979, was one of the largest such ships.

30/10/1979, The aeronautical engineer andinventor Sir Barnes Wallis died aged 92. He invented the bouncing bombs for the Dambusters raid.

18/1/1972, The first plastic warship, the minehunter HMS Wilton, was launched at Southampton.

1970, Exocet missiles invented.

1960, Harrier jump jets invented.

15/11/1960, The US launched its first nuclear armed submarine, the USS George Washington, from Charleston, South Carolina. President Eisenhower said that the submarine�s 16 missiles had the same destructive power as �the total of all of the bombs dropped during World War II�

1954, Nuclear submarines invented.


Nuclear weapons developed

1952, Hydrogen bomb invented.

1947, Lieutenant-General Mikhail Kalashnikov designed the AK47 assault rifle.

1946, The swept back Delta wing appeared on fast military aircraft. It was later adopted on the Concorde supersonic airliner.

1945, Atom bomb first used by the USA on Japan.


1943, Jet bombers and fighter planes in use.

1942, V2 rockets, in use. Napalm was developed by US chemist Louis Fieser.

5/1942, Bazookas (anti-tank weapons) first put in use.


German Enigma Code cracked by Bletchley Park

22/5/1940, Bletchley Park succeeded in cracking the most frequently-used German Enigma code, giving the British access to German Air Force messages. These included messages between the German Air Force and German land forces.

12/2/1940, The British minesweeper HMS Gleaner sank a German submarine, U33, in 30 fathoms of water, Three Enigma rotors were recovered from this submarine, without German knowledge; they gave Bletchely Park analysts important insights into German military coding.


1939, Military helicopters in use.

2/12/1939, The Molotov Cocktail was invented when the Finns, resistimng a Soviet invasion against overwhelming odds, deployed extremely mobile units moving by ski or bicycle on nsarrow forest paths. They threw bottles full of petrol, with a lighted rag oin the neck, into the turrets of advancing Soviet tanks, with devastating effectrs.


Magnetic mines and counter measures (see 1853)

19/12/1939, The British Admiralty discovered that a ship could be demagnetised by means of a coil wrapped around the ship greatly reducing its susceptibility to the new German magnetic mines. To keep this discovery secret, every time a UK ship was sunk by an ordinary mine, her demise was attributed to a magnetic mine.

22/11/1939, A German magnetic mine was dropped by plane onto the mudflats off Shoeburyness, and recovered intact from the soft mud. The Admiralty could now begin work to find an antidote to this weapon. Germany remained unaware of the British discovery.

14/11/1939, First use of magnetic mines, against British shipping, by Nazi Germany. Dropped by plane, they sank merchant shipping indiscriminately. See 22/11/1939.


1936, The first nerve gas, tabun, was invented.

31/12/1927, The use of the lance was abandoned by the British Army, except for ceremonial purposes.

1925, Biological warfare was prohibited inder the Geneva Convention. However the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention permits biological warfare for �defensive� pirposes, without specifying how this differs from offensive weapons development. Chemical warfare was also banned.


Development of the Tank

5/1/1951, Sir Ernest Swinton, British soldier and inventor of the military tank, died.

15/9/1916. Tanks went into battle for the first time, for the British Army at the battle of Flers on theSomme.They were invented by Sir Ernest Swinton, weighed 30 tons, and travelled at 4mph. It was hoped they would break the stalemate of trench warfare. Some German soldiers fled, thinking the Devil had come. The tank forces achieved their objective but infantry reserves could not arrive in time to consolidate the successes. See 1908, 28/2/1912.

6/9/1915. The first military tank, the No.1 Lincoln, modified and renamed Little Willie, had its first run.

28/2/1912, The Austrian, Gunter Burstyn, patented an armoured vehicle that preceded the Tank. Although it did not have the continuous track that enabled Tanks to traverse trenches and shell-holed ground, it did have front and rear ancillary wheels on long pivots held above ground. These could be lowered to lever the vehicle up and over steep edges.

1908, The Caterpillar Tractor was invented. It had steel bands within which its wheels travelled, to facilitate travel over rough ground. In 1915 Winston Churchill saw the potettial for this vehicle to cross the trenches of World War One.

21/10/1868, Sir Ernest Swinton, one of the inventors of the military tank, was born in Bamgalore, India.

20/4/1770. The first tracked vehicle was patented by Richard Lovell Edgeworth. It worked similarly to modern tanks. The idea was to overcome traction problems caused by rough or soggy ground. Far ahead of its time, the vehicle never caught on.


World War One

1917, Depth charges, explosives dropped from ships to detonate underwater and destroy submarines, were in use.

1917, Flamethrowers, weapons that projected a steady stream of ignited fuel, were in use.

1917, The term �ace� was coined for a World War One fighter pilot who had shot down at least ten enemy planes.

1916, The creeping barrage was employed in World War One. Guns situated behind the front line pounded ground in front ot it, and then hopefully the front line troops could move forward and occupy this ground. The rear guns also moved forward, and the process would be repeated.

24/11/1916, Sir Hiram Maxim, English-born US inventor of the machine gun in 1883, died in London.

26/6/1916, Peter Nissen (1871-1930) patented the Nissen Hut. He noticed that there was a lack of easy to build housing for the troops in World War One. 100,000 of these huts were built by the end of the War; each one taking 6 men 4 hours to build. Their main drawback was they were very cold in the winter. In 1942 the US military had a version of the Nissen Hut, known as the Quonset Hut, named after its place of manufacture (Quonset Point, Rhode Island). Quonset Huts replaced tent cities for US troops.

1915, Aircraft-mounted machine guns in use.

1915, Rifles with periscopic sights (allowing the user to remain hidden) were invented by an Austrian soldier.

1915, Poison gas first used by the Germans in World War One at Ypres. They used chlorine, phosgene Cl2CO, mustard gas C4H8CI2S and tear gas.

1914, Flechettes in use � steel darts designed to be dropped from an aircraft on personnel below.


Pre-World War One naval arms race, Britain and Germany

1915, The British developed the first anti-submarine depth charge. It comprised a container with 120 lb (50 kg) explosive dropped into the water and set off by a hydraulic trigger. However it had to be detonated within 21 ft (6.3 metres) of a submarine to be effective, and submarines were hard to locate precisely.

1911, The battle cruiser ship was developed,by Britain and Germany. It was the size of a battle ship but more lightly armoured and faster.

18/2/1906, Britain launched its first Dreadnought battleship. They were a key part of UK naval strategy in World War One; they were named after a naval ship of Francis Drake�s time.

1905, The term �minesweeper� was first used, for a ship used to clear mines.

2/10/1901. Vickers launched the British Navy�s first submarine. HMS Holland I, 105 tons, was designed for coastal duties. Earlier submarine designs had been tried, but the idea did not work until metal could be used for ships hulls, Now all major world powers had submarines, setting the scene for future underwater warfare. The idea was dismissed as �underhand, underwater, and damned un-English� by Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson. The petrol engine was dangerous; later submarines used diesel engines. Mice were kept on board, to give warning of dangerous levels of petrol fumes. The crew breathed compressed air, and stayed under for 4 hours. The Royal Navy concentrated on using submarines for inshore patrols whereas other navies, especially Germany, developed longer-distance craft. This disparity was a severe handicap to Britain during the First World War; only the development of sophisticated counter measures saved Britain from starvation as German U-boats sunk supply ships.

1861, Sea mines in use.

1777, David Bushnell invented the torpedo.


Advances in gun technology, 1718-1942

1942, The Sten Gun was developed; named after the initials of its inventors, RV Shepherd and HJ Turpin, plus the En of Enfield, where it was manufactured.

1937, The Bren Gun, a light and quick-firing ,machine giun, was introduced. It was named after Brno, a town in Czechoslovakia where the gun was first manufactured, plus Enfield, north London, where the giun was produced at the British Royal Small Arms Factory.

1935, The Magnum gun, a powerful handgun, was introduced by Smith and Wesson.

21/5/1915, Leonid Gobyato, Russian General who designed the portable mortar, died in combat aged 40.

1913, The Lewis Gun, a light machine giun, came into use.

26/2/1903. Richard Gatling, US inventor of the rapid-fire gun, died aged 84.

1902, The Lee-Enfield rifle was in use in the British Army (used in the Boer War 1899-1902). It was named after JP Lee, 1831-1904, the US desoigner of the bolt-action gun, and Enfield, the north London town where the gun was made, at the British Royal Small Arms Factory.

1900, The revolver was invented by JM Browning.

1898, Luger pistols in use,

1884, Maxim machine guns in use, developed by Hiram Maxim (born 5/2/1840 in Sangerville, USA).

1872, Automatic pistols in use,

4/11/1862. Richard Gatling, in Indiana, invented a gun that could fire hundreds of rounds a minute using rotating barrels.Mounted on wheels, it had 10 parallel barrels and fired 1200 shots a minute.

10/1/1862, Samuel Colt, who invented the Colt revolver in 1835, died at Hartford, Connecticut.

1861, The Gatling Gun was invented by US engineer Richard Jordan Gatling, aged 43. It was soon introduced to the US Civil War battlefields.

1846, Samuel Colt recieevd a large order for his new revolver, as the Mexican War caused a shortage of them for the US military.

1841, The Prussian needle gun, designed by Johann Nikolas Dreyse, aged 54, was the first successful,breech-loading military rifle. It had a long thin needle-like firing pin which penetrated through the black powder charge to set off the primer. The Prussian Army adopted this gun in 1848 to replace their muzzle-loading rifles.

5/2/1840, Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim, American inventor of the first fully automatic machine gun, was born in

Sangersville, Maine.

1838, Breech-loading rifles in use.

25/2/1836, Samuel Colt was granted a patent for his new revolver firearm.

12/9/1818, Richard Gatling, US inventor of the revolving battery gun, was born in Winton, North Carolina.

19/7/1814, Samuel Colt, the inventor of the Colt revolver (patented 1835), was born.

15/5/1718, The machine gun was patented by a London lawyer, James Puckle.


Dum Dum bullets

7/12/1908, Major explosion at the Dum Dum arsenal in India, killing some 50 Indian workmen. It was here in around 1898 that �Dum Dum� bullets were first manufactured by the British. They have a hollow nose and so expand on impact, causing a more serious wound than ordinary bullets. These bullets were used by the Russians against Japan in 1904/5, and after protests by Japan the Second Hague Convention subsequently banned their use. This convention was signed by most States, but not the UK or USA.

1897, Dum-dum bullets invented; they were internationally banned in 1908. They had a hollow nose, to improve their stopping power (within their target), and caused terrible wounds.


1906, Plastic explosive was invented. It is a putty-like substance, much favoured by terrorists from the later 20th century onwards because it can be moulded to the shape of its target for greater impact.

1902, Armoured cars in use.

27/3/1902, Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps was established in the British Army, with Queen Alexandra as its first President, with the signing of a Royal Warrant by her husband, King Edward VII.

1/10/1887. The British in India annexed Baluchistan, an area strategic to the North-West Frontier.

British military strategy on the Indian North-West Frontier was to maintain an administrative zone where the military protected the civilian, farming, population, a �forward zone� where garrisons were purely for military operations, and forward of that, a �tribal zone� where just the main roads were protected. This zone system had been in use for many centuries.

1855, Lord Dunaldson suggested the use of poison gas (sulphur dioxide) in the Crimean War.

1853, M Jacobi invented the first naval mine, a floating bomb which blew up on contact with a ship; he gave it the name �mine�. See 1939

1847, Nitroglycerine was discovered by Italian chemist Ascanio Sobrero, aged 35. Prepared from

.glycerol, with nitric and sulphuric acid, its highly explosive properties were used mainly for manufacturing dynamite (it was also used to treat symptoms of angina pectoris).



13/3/1842, Henry Shrapnel, English soldier and inventor of the shrapnel shell, died.

30/4/1804, The British used shrapnel in warfare for the first time, against the Dutch in Suriname.

1761, Henry Shrapnel of England was born this day; he invemted the shrapnel shell.


1/3/1840, John Philip Holland, inventor of the modern submarine, was born.

1828, British arms company Vickers began as a toolmaking company started by steelmaker Edward Vickers, aged 24, along with his father-in-law George Naylor. The firm became Vickers and Sons in 1867, and specialised in armaments from 1888.

3/1/1823, Robert Whitehead, English engineer and inventor of the naval torpedo, was born in Bolton Le Moors, Lancashire.

1751, The Ecole Superieure de Guerre (High School of War) was established in Paris.

1700, Armies were often raised by payment of a �premium� to secure volunteers. The amount of this premium was linked to the general economic situation;when prices were low, or food was plentiful the premium had ot be set high; when scarcity of food and highb prices prevailed, the necessary premium was mich lower. It was higher at harvest time and lower in the winter. In 1700-10, France, it ranged between 20 and 50 livres. In some bad winters after 1710 the premium was effeciively zero � men enlisted simply to be fed and avoid starvation.

1667, Hand grenades were first used in action, by the French Army.

1590, Bayonets first made, at Bayonne, France.


The supremacy of the gun

1543, Guns first entered Japan. A Chinese ship was wrecked off Kyushu, with two Portuguese on board carrying muskets. The local governor bought these muskets and replicated them. Firearms eventually made the Samurai redundant, as they did the European knights.

1539, The earliest recorded flintlock gun was made, in Sweden.

24/2/1525. The Battle of Pavia. Pavia, held by the French, had been under siege by Spanish forces since October 1524. Italy itself was a territory being fought over by the rival powers of France, Germany, Turkey and Spain. The French under King Charles VIII defended Pavia with cavalry and cannon, but the Spanish had adopted the arquebus or hackenbushe, an early version of the handgun; this weapon replaced the Spanish crossbow. The arquebus meant an unskilled infantryman could kill a skilled knight and Pavia was the start of the dominance of the handgun as a military weapon.


Early arquebuses apparently constituted far inferior weaponry toa skilled archer. A well trained archer could fire ten arrows a minute, at reasonable accuracy up to a range of 200 metres. By contrast an arquebus took several minutes to reload each shot.and was accurate only up to range 100 metres. However the training to become a skilled archer might take decades; an arquebus required almost no training to use. These disadvantages of early hand firearsm could be overcome by 1) improved accuracy, and 2) the countermarch (used to great effect by Sweden in the 1600s);rank one advanced ten paces then fired; rank two advanced beyond them and they now fired, whilst rank one was reloading, and so on.


By the 1740s the Prussians had imporved their military technology to achieve a fire rate of 5 rounds per minute per soldier. The proportion of cavalry in European armies declined sharply, falling to one third in 1650, one quarter in 1750 and one sixth in 1810. However armies still needed large numbers of horses, to pull guns and supplies. These horses need large quantities of fodder; along with limited agricultural productivity this limited the capability of an army to fight and sustain itself in the field by requisitioning food. Campaigns and conquests could often only be undertaken from April until October, when grass grew; the winter break enabled defeated armies to regroup. This restriction on European invaders was especially acute in areas like Spain; in more fertile areas such as central Europe the fighting season was longer. An aggressor backed by naval power could also be resupplied by ship, if the battlefields were near the sea or large rivers.

1515, Wheel-lock muskets in general use. They were complicated to make, but could be fired using only one hand, so were popular with horsemen who could fire one-handed and still control their mount.

1512, The English Navy began to use double decked warships. They displaced 1,000 tons and had 70 guns each.

1510, The wheel-lock firearm was invented in Nuremberg, Germany.

21/4/1503, The Battle of Cerignola.The Spanish under Gonzalo Fernandez de Cordoba defeated the French under the Duc de Nemoura, who was killed.This was the first battle considered to have been won by gunpowder and small arms.1500, The pistol was invented.

1515, Because attackers of castles were increasingly succesfullyn using bombardment to destroy the walls, castlews changed design to have lower thicker walls.However this meant that defenders could less easily cover the ground immediately below the wall, making them more vulnerable to a suprise attack. Castles therefore changed design to include bastions, first used at the Papal Fort of Cittavecchia this year. Bastions were projecting angularpoints to the walls from which defenders could look sideways to the ground at the foot of their walls. However the cost of suchn elaborate fortifications, especiallywhen applied to town or city walls rather than just a castle, could be prohibitive. A proposed fortification for Rome,1542, with 18 bastions, was abandoned when just one bastion was fond to cost 44,000 Ducats, or about �10,000.

Guns made castles redundant � but huge guns (cannon) were also self-limiting. More smaller arms were the solution

1453, At the siege of Constitninople, the Ottoman forces were using huge bronze cannon. They had a bore of three feet, and could only be moved with 70 oxen or over 1,000 men � it was often easier to cast such huge weapons on the battlefield itself than to try and move them.

1449, Mons Meg, a huge cannon cast in The Netherlands for the Duke of Burgundy, ws over 3 metres long, weighed 8.5 tonnes,and could hurl cannon balls 50 cm in diameter. However such huge weapons could only be transported by water, and therefore were only of use for attacking places accessible by sea or large rivers.

1464, The increasing size of guns meant that castles were becoming redundant. Previously, the stone castles of the 1300s were so strongly built that they could only be taken by means of prolonged siege.

1415, Longbowmen defeated mounted knights at Agincourt.

1370, Early small hand guns were in use to defend castles. Guns had been used in China since 1259.

1324, Cannon first used, at the siege of Metz.

1314, At Bannockburn, Scottish spearmen showed they could defeat mounted knights in armour.

1300, The earlier chain mail armour of knights was becoming superseded by steel plate armour. However this greatly increased the expense of maintaining a knight, and the number of knights in Britain had fallen to 2,500, from 5,000 in 1150. By 1450 only a few hundred knights existed. By 1500 the knight was obsolete, due to developments in firearm technology. However plate armour was popular as a decorative feature only.

1297, Gunpowder was first used in siege warfare, by King Edward I against Stirling Castle. Gunpowder had been used in China since the 7th century.

1259, First recorded use of weapons that fire bullets. China�s Sung Army used bamboo tubes to fire bullets at Mongol invaders.

1249, Roger Bacon, 35, made the first known European reference to gunpowder, 12 years after the Mongol invasions.The Chinese had been using explosives as early as 1161. The explosive nature of the recipe for gunpowder, a mixture of charcoal, saltpetre (potassium nitrate) and sulphur, had been discovetred by Chinese alchmists arounf 850 CE.

1150, Longbows in use. The longbow had a maximum range of 400 yards, and was accurate up to 250 yards, twice the range of the crossbow.

1000, Chainmail in use.

851, Crossbows began to be used in France. They were a sort of hand ballista, with a slower rate of fire than traditional bows and arrows; however this was offset by the increased range and accuracy of these weapons. Generally, crossbowmen were on foot, as mounting them cuased a decrease in accuracy of fire.

700, Buyzantium began to use Greek Fire. An early version of the modern flamethrower, the exact recipe, a closely guarded secret then., has been lost. It was likely a mixture of sulkphur, naphtha and quicklime whoich would burn fiercely when wetted. The Greek Fire was packed into wooden tubes into which water was pumped; the fiery mixture exploded out under pressure causing much damage to both soldiersand wooden ships.

500, The bow and arrow was the principal weapon in India. Although their enemies used chariots and horse-borne archers, the Hindus did not use the horse much, perhaps bevcause the Deccan was unfavourable for raising horses of good quality. The bow and arrow was superior to heavy clumsy catapults and soon became the weapon of choice across Eurasia.

390, The Roman, Flavius Vegetius Renatus, wrote a book, De Re Militari (On Military Affairs). This remained a key text on military tactics for 1,000 years.

300, Germanic tribes were utilising the Gothic Wagon Fort. They linked their wagons in a laager to make a fort at each night�s encampment, and sometimes even moved in this formation during the day forming a sort of mobile fort.

332 BCE, Stones being thrown by catapults.

300 BCE, Galleys in use by Crete.

856 BCE, Battering rams in use by the Assyrians.

1186 BCE, The Egyptians were using sailing boats in marine battles against the Sea Peoples. However sail boats were limited in utility as ramming vessels because if the wind was strong enough to get up enough speed, the sea would be too rough to sail on. Rowing boats overcame this limitation to an extent as they could be rowed up to greater, ramming speeds. The aim was to hit an enemy ship on its broadside. However they had to be narrow with shallow draught to be able to attain such speeds. This limited their fighting radius to within a few days of a friendly port, because their slim design precluded the carrying of large food supplies for the rowers. Sailships with guns had a greater fighting radius, as they could carry more supplies, but were less manoeuvrable, and opposing fleets could easily miss each other completely in the open ocean.The adoption of steam as propulsion got around the manoeuvrability issue, but paradoxically re-imposed a smaller fighting radius from port as the early steam warships burnt coal at a huge rate. Only when fuel oil superseded coal could steam warships fight further from port. Nations such as the UK and France needed to maintain a network of friendly ports and coaling stations across the globe, in order to project their naval power far from home.

2000 BCE, Armour in use, firstly leather., then metal-reinforced leather, then all-metal. Initially bronze, then iron.

Swords being used, probably first by the Assyrians, once metallurgy had progressed to where sharp blades could be produced.

3000 BCE, Bows and arrows used in warfare.

15,000 BCE, Professional spear throwers used in armies.

25,000 BCE, Boomerang-like weapons in use in what is now Poland.

250,000 BCE, Estimated date of earliest stone axes.

500,000 BCE, Estimated date of earliest spears.


The Military Revolution, Geoffrey Parker, Cambridge University Press, 1988.


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