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An early machine gun

An early machine gun


Tanks were first used during World War I

Tanks were first used during World War I


The German Zeppelin

The German Zeppelin


Long-range canon

Long-range canon


barrage balloon

Barrage balloons over London


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The Second Industrial Revolution

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.

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At the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, the musket had been replaced by the repeating rifle.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 The old, bronze cannon had been replaced by cast steel guns.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

A French 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.

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.

In Britain, at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, ships of the Royal Navy had been traditionally made of oak. However, as the technology of war progressed, so wooden-hulled ships were replaced by iron and steel ships which could hold the cannon. This gave impetus for the development of better and more powerful engines, as well as different methods of propulsion. As cannon technology progressed, so sailing ships, with all their rigging, became more vulnerable.

The Navy was never happy with paddle propulsion because it was also too vulnerable from attack. When the screw propeller was demonstrated by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1843, it was enthusiastically received and the Navy incorporated it into all of its future ship designs.

In the two hundred years of the Industrial Revolution, the Royal Navy went from wooden-hulled sailing ships, using bronze cannon, to the sophisticated steam turbine-driven, steel armoured battleships of the Great War.

It was the European armies and navies which benefited from the Industrial Revolution and, by their demands, actually drove it along. However, warfare found its greatest development in newer and more experimental areas. By the first decade of the twentieth century, the aeroplane was still unreliable, while the motor car was still a rich man's toy. However, by the time of the Great War, both had developed sufficiently to show their potential as weapons of war.

One of the characteristics of the Second Industrial Revolution is new ideas which were developed by many individuals rather than a single inventor, as in the case of the motor car. Many of these new inventions, such as telegraphy, the aeroplane and motor transport, had great military potential.

Of these the most important, because of the part it came to play in future warfare, was aeroplane development. Although it was still in its infancy in 1914, by the end of the Great War the air warfare had demonstrated its important potential. At the beginning of the war, the aeroplane's only useful role, (or so it was thought), was as an observer for artillery. However, as the war developed, so did the aeroplane. By the end of the war in 1918, the aeroplane had developed from a flimsy, single-engined machine made of wood and canvas, into a large and sophisticated four engined plane, capable of dropping large quantities of bombs.

The Industrial Revolution brought great changes to Europe, as well as many new ideas, not only in science and technology, but also in politics and the humanities. The appalling conditions that many people lived in, and laboured under, gave rise to new and more humane ideas of the way people should be treated. The political ideologies developed during this period are the platform upon which our society today is founded.


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