08 January 2006

A 21 Gun Salute to War Winning Weapons

The Longbow
The regular old bow had been around for thousands of years, but it was the medieval English who turned it into a weapon feared throughout Europe. Six feet long and made of strong yew wood, their skillfully crafted longbows had a killing range of 200 yards.
A longbowman could fire 12 arrows per minute, slaughtering the enemy from a safe distance. In 1415, a force of just 9,000 Englishmen defeated 30,000 Frenchmen
at Agincourt in France, all thanks to the longbow. This is less impressive, being that they were French.

The Pike
Think fearless mercenaries and the Swiss probably don’t spring to mind. But in the 15th century, Swiss pikemen were feared throughout Europe. The pike was a long pole with a blade on one end that could be used to stab, chop and hook the enemy. A massed rank of pikemen could stop a cavalry charge in its tracks. The pope’s famous Swiss Guard still carries pikes. So enough with those Catholic jokes.

The Chinese are believed to have invented gunpowder around the 10th century. But it was the crafty Europeans who discovered you could put it in tubes and fire projectiles. They started with cannons in 1326, and primitive guns followed in 1388. At first, these weapons had a habit of blowing up the gunmen rather than the enemy. Then, in 1450, the French ironed out the design flaws and came up with the mother of all cannons, which they used to blast great big holes in English castles and splat their Anglo archers. Payback for that whole longbow thing.

The Matchlock
Your average AK-47 toting schoolyard tot won’t give it a thought, but the matchlock musket was his weapon’s great granddaddy. Invented in 1460, it was the first real rifle, and at 18 pounds, it took so long to fire and load that you were probably better off just hitting your enemy over the head with it. But it evolved into the wheel lock and then the flintlock around 1660. A regular Davy Crockett could load and fire every 20 seconds, with an accuracy of up to 80 yards. A musket ball had greater penetration force than an arrow, and the impact put a man or horse straight down.

The Iklwa
In 19th century southern Africa, tribes had a civilized way of waging war. They’d line up opposite one another, shout a few insults, hurl some spears, then go home for dinner. Shaka, a fearsome Zulu leader, ruined all that. He came up with the iklwa, a short handled spear with a long blade designed for disemboweling the enemy in hand to hand fighting. The next fight Shaka’s guys got into, they waited for the other tribe to throw all its spears, then spilled their guts in the dirt. The iklwa made Shaka the only leader in southern Africa worthy of an eventual American TV movie.

The Breech Loading Rifle
The Prussian Dreyse bolt action needle gun rifle, invented in 1840, was the first modern rifle. You slipped a cartridge into the breech and a firing pin struck the primer in its base, which fired the round. Two decades later, rifles were mass produced accurate and reliable at last giving fans of the Second Amendment something to hoot and holler about. The rifles had a range of up to 1,000 yards and a magazine that held up to10 bullets. A soldier could fire 15 shots in a minute and became a force to be reckoned with. A young Chuck Heston rejoiced.

The Rocket
The ancestor of today’s precision guided missiles, the German V-2 of WWII was a pilotless drone loaded with a ton of high explosives. Nowadays, cruise missiles can be loaded with chemical, explosive or nuclear warheads to knock out an enemy on another continent-beaming back video all the way. They aren’t the most accurate weapons, but that makes them even scarier.

The Nuclear Bomb
The best damn weapon to have because once you have it, you never have to use it.


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