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The Industrial Revolution and Warfare

The Industrial Revolution changed Europe dramatically over two centuries. However, progress was not confined to peaceful applications of new technology. Whenever new technology has been introduced in the history of mankind, there has always been someone ready to adapt it for the purposes of war.

An early machine gun

At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, armies fought on foot or on horse, with swords, lances or muzzle-loading muskets. The musket was a long gun, firing round balls of lead. It had a killing distance of about 150 metres and a very slow rate of fire. Because of this, foot soldiers fought in three rows, or ranks. The front row was kneeling and shooting, the second row was ready to fire and the third row was re-loading. The three rows changed places as they fired, with the first row moving to the back.

Together with the infantry there were cavalry whose principal weapon was the sword. Behind the cavalry were bronze cannon which fired round, cast iron balls.

At the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, the musket had been replaced by the repeating rifle. This was made of steel and had a rifled barrel. It had a much faster rate of fire than the musket as well as an accurate range of up to 500 metres. The old, bronze cannon had been replaced by cast steel guns.

A poster calling men to war

In some cases, the weapons themselves actually created spin-off technologies which could be applied to general commerce. An example of this can be found in the pioneering work of the British inventor, Sir Henry Bessemer. He is generally known as the inventor of the Bessemer process for making steel. However, the problem he had set out to solve was how to produce a more accurate cannon.

Tanks were first used during World War I

Bessemer's initial research indicated that a grooved, or rifled, barrel would give much more accurate shots. It proved impossible to produce such accuracy with a bronze cannon. Bessemer tried using steel but found it too costly. This caused him to develop a process for making cheap steel, the Bessemer process.

The cast steel guns that could now be produced were used by the navies, as well as the armies, of Europe. As naval gun technology improved, so did the need for the creation of bigger and more heavily armed ships.

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© Shirley Burchill, Nigel Hughes, Richard Gale, Peter Price and Keith Woodall 2016

Footnote : As far as the Open Door team can ascertain the images shown on this page are in the Public Domain.