Military Technology - Selected Themes
Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University
of Wisconsin - Green Bay
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If Only the Politicians Would Stay Out...
The German general Clausewitz once wrote that war is politics continued by
other means. War is inherently political; its only practical use is to attain a
political goal. Generals will never be allowed to have things all their own way
any more than scientists will ever get absolutely unlimited research budgets.
Why the Military Does What it Does
Military attributes all have counterparts in the civilian world; the military
differs more in degree than in kind from the civilian sphere.
Ceremony, Rank, and Hierarchy
- Huge personnel turnover both in peace and in war
- Uniformity assists in administration, allows inspectors to count on a high
degree of uniformity from place to place.
Discipline and Obedience
- Nothing could be further from the truth than the concept of "mindless
- American society is filled with people who cannot defer their own
gratification, even briefly, despite consequences.
- Discipline and the ability to obey are actually very high-order mental
- Automata make poor soldiers.
- Good soldiers have to be able to adapt, show initiative, and be highly
- At the same time, soldiers have to be able to recognize and respond
instantly to situations that require automatic obedience.
- Makes units more effective: soldiers are more effective if they can count
on support and aid from their comrades.
- Soldiers perform not because of their training or fear of punishment, but
mostly because they don't want to let their comrades down.
- Peer pressure is widely used in military training to reinforce weak
- Mistakes on the battlefield affect everyone
- Uniforms and military ceremonies reinforce group cohesion by requiring
soldiers to be publicly identified with the military. Example: the Hair Wars
of the 1960's
- Once insect-borne disease was recognized, elimination of lice became a
- Haircuts became mandatory
- Soldiers returning from World War I were immediately recognizable
- Soon short hair became the norm for men.
- In the 1960's youth demonstrated their rebellion by growing long hair
- The military insisted that soldiers identify publicly with the
military by keeping hair short
- Often there is an us versus them mentality between the military and
- The only way to teach soldiers to work long hours under unpleasant
conditions is to make them work long hours under unpleasant
- Military training is unpleasant; always has been, always will be.
- Modern military literature speaks openly about "stress
- Rigorous training serves to identify people who simply cannot deal with
- Comparatively few people wash out in reality.
- For many, the military is the only time in their lives they are
ever pushed close to their limits.
- Rigorous training fosters group cohesion by creating a unique shared
- Elite training (Navy SEALS, etc.) has a different goal
- The object of this training is not to train a large mass of
- Object is to identify and train a small elite that can endure the
utmost rigors and who will simply not allow themselves to be stopped by
- The ultra-rigorous training that successful candidates endure is a
powerful force for creating group cohesion and a feeling of being
members of an elite.
Invented in China - rockets and smoke screens
Pre-gunpowder castles in Europe
- High curtain walls - defense against scaling
- Walls could be thin - curtain walls
- Crenellations - shields for archers
- Machicolations - "bay windows"
- Round towers
- Strong defensive advantage
- Early firearms crude and weak (1300's)
By 1400's, firearms were more powerful
- Curtain walls thickened, often faced with timer or earth
- Crenellations and Machicolations removed
- Moats widened
- By 1450, better gunpowder and metallurgy led to iron cannonballs (before then, iron cannonballs caused cannon to burst).
- Curtain walls replaced by lower earthen structures
- Round towers modified to triangular to remove "dead spot," then to arrowhead shape or "Oreillon."
- Final result by 1500 - "star fort."
- Freelance engineers often went from town to town designing forts, then were frequently hired in wartime as consultants by attackers.
- Gunners Quadrant, 1537
- Triangulation-Frisius, 1533
- Plane-table, 1551
- Cross-staff for elevation
- Theodolite - Leonard Digges, 1571, first efficient surveying instrument: horizontal and vertical circles.
Stimuli to map-making
- Artillery technology
- Henry VIII seizes church lands, 1536 - stimulus to surveying in England
- Copper engraving makes better map printing possible
- Christopher Saxton - national atlas of England, 1579 - first in W. Europe.
Feeding the troops
- Foraging for food
- Problems with local population
- Impractical with large armies
- Napoleon offers prizes for better food preservation
- Nicholas Appert, ca. 1800 Put food in champagne bottles, boiled
- In 1810 he was awarded a prize of 12000 francs on condition he published his method
- Cans in use by 1812 for military and exploration
- Cans on sale in shops by 1830, corned beef 8sh/2 d. Originally
upper-class status symbols. (Week's rent on a house, 12sh/2 d.)
- No can openers yet! Cans had to opened with a chisel.
The First Modern War - The U.S. Civil War (1861-1865)
Technological weapons and innovations
- Aerial observation
- Submarines (C.S.S. Housatonic)
- Steam and iron-clad ships
- Rapid-fire weapons
Other Modern Elements
- War of maneuver rather than pitched battles; strategic planning
- First major war in which balance of power described in terms of
which side has most miles of railroad and most rolling mills rather
than who has the best generals (one could hardly do better than
- War telescoped 19th century into four years: started with battles that would have been familiar to Napoleon, ended with W.W.I style trench warfare.
The Last Ancient War - World War I (1914-1918)
Technology quite advanced
- chemical weapons
- machine guns
Total failure by generals to revise tactics to meet new
- Mass charges against machine gun fire. Feeling that one more push or more willpower would earn victory. Allies lost more men on the Somme in one day than U.S. lost in Korea.
- Desperate attempts by soldiers in field to redefine old concepts of courage and valor.
- Cavalry charges
- Static trench warfare
- Originally for observation
- Initial combat with hand weapons
- Machine-gun synchronized to fire through propeller
- Air combat probably only aspect of modern combat where ancient ideas of individual combat are at all valid.
The one "modern" battle of World War I
- Allies tried to seize Gallipoli to close off Dardanelles, 1915. Campaign a costly failure.
- Highly experimental: submarines, amphibious operations, aircraft.
- Nearly destroyed Winston Churchill's career.
- Allied planners in W. W. II found little to learn from W. W. I trench
warfare but Gallipoli was a storehouse of information on amphibious warfare. Played a major role in planning for Dunkirk and Normandy.
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Created 20 May 1997 Last Update
14 December 2009
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