Military technology

Page last modified 20/9/2020


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


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UK offshore munitions dump sites, also mines etc,


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

2001, Heckler and Koch submachine guns invented.

1988, Stealth bombers invented. IMINT (Imagery Intelligence) satellites launched/

1984, Stun guns invented.

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 eyond 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 and  inventor Sir Barnes Wallis died aged 92. He invented the bouncing bombs for the Dambusters raid.

1970, Exocet missiles invented.

1960, Harrier jump jets invented.

1955, Nuclear submarines invented.

1952, Hydrogen bomb invented.

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

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

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.

1940, Bazookas in use.

1939, Military helicopters in use.

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.

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

15/9/1916. Tanks went into battle for the first time, for the British Army at the battle of Flers on the  Somme.  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.

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, mustard gas and tear gas.

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

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

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.

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.

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

1902, Armoured cars in use.

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.

1900, The revolver was invented by JM Browning.

1898, Luger pistols in use,

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.

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

1872, Automatic pistols in use,

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

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, Sea mines in use.

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

31/3/1842, Henry Shrapnel, English soldier and inventor of the shrapnel shell, died.

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.

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

1776, Submarine torpedoes invented.

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

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

1777, David Bushnell invented the torpedo.

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

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. 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.

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 1288.

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 on 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.

1150, Longbows in use.

1000, Chainmail in use.

851, Crossbows began to be used in France.

332 BCE, Stones being thrown by catapults.

300 BCE, Galleys in use by Crete.

856 BCE, Battering rams in use by the Assyrians.

2000 BCE, Armour in use. Swords being used.

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.


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