History of the firearm

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The phalanx-charging fire-gourd, one of many hand cannon types discharging lead pellets in the gunpowder blast, an illustration from the Huolongjing, 14th century.

After the Chinese invented black powder during the 9th century,[1][2][3] these inventions were later transmitted to the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. The direct ancestor of the firearm is the fire lance. The prototype of the fire lance was invented in China during the 10th century and is the predecessor of all firearms.

Hand cannon from the Chinese Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368).

China[edit]

The direct ancestor of the firearm is the fire lance, a black-powder–filled tube attached to the end of a spear and used as a flamethrower (not to be confused with the Byzantine flamethrower); shrapnel was sometimes placed in the barrel so that it would fly out together with the flames.[3][4] The earliest known depiction of a gunpowder weapon is the illustration of a fire-lance on a mid-10th century silk banner from Dunhuang.[5] The De'an Shoucheng Lu, an account of the siege of De'an in 1132 during the Jin–Song Wars, records that Song forces used fire-lances against the Jurchen.[6]

The proportion of saltpeter in the propellant was increased to maximize its explosive power.[4] To better withstand that explosive power, the paper, and bamboo of which fire-lance barrels were originally made came to be replaced with metal.[3] And to take full advantage of that power, the shrapnel came to be replaced by projectiles whose size and shape filled the barrel more closely.[4] With this, the three basic features of the gun emerged: a barrel made of metal, high-nitrate gunpowder, and a projectile which totally occludes the muzzle so that the powder charge exerts its full potential in propellant effect.[7]

The earliest depiction of a gun is a sculpture from a cave in Sichuan dating to the 12th century of a Chinese figure carrying a vase-shaped bombard with flames and a cannonball coming out of it.[8][9] The oldest surviving firearm is the Heilongjiang hand cannon dated to 1288, which was discovered at a site in modern-day Acheng District where the History of Yuan records that battles were fought at that time; Li Ting, a military commander of Jurchen descent, led footsoldiers armed with guns in battle to suppress the rebellion of the Christian Mongol Prince Nayan.[10]

Middle East[edit]

Guns - Safavid Empire - Iran (Persia)

The Middle East obtained firearms in the 14th century.[11] Al-Hassan claims that the Battle of Ain Jalut in 1260 saw the Mamluks use against the Mongols "the first cannon in history" gunpowder formula which are almost identical with the ideal composition for explosive gunpowder.[12][13] However, Khan states that it was invading Mongols who introduced gunpowder to the Islamic world[14] and cites Mamluk antagonism towards early riflemen in their infantry as an example of how gunpowder weapons were not always met with open acceptance in the Middle East.[15]

Europe[edit]

One theory of how gunpowder came to Europe is that it made its way along the Silk Road through the Middle East; another is that it was brought to Europe during the Mongol invasion in the first half of the 13th century.[16][17] English Privy Wardrobe accounts list "ribaldis," a type of cannon, in the 1340s, and siege guns were used by the English at the Siege of Calais (1346–47).[18]

The first mention of firearms in Russia is found in the Sofiiskii vremennik chronicle, where it is stated that during the 1382 defense of Moscow from Tokhtamysh's Golden Horde, Muscovites used firearms called tyufyaki (Russian: тюфяки), which were of Eastern origin; this word derives from Turkic tüfäk "gun".[19][20]

Around the late 14th century in Italy, smaller and portable hand-cannons or schioppi were developed, creating in effect the first smoothbore personal firearm. In the late 15th century, the Ottoman Empire used firearms as part of its regular infantry.

The earliest surviving firearm in Europe was found in Otepää, Estonia and it dates to at least as early 1396.[21]

Early modern age[edit]

Page showing a musketeer (Plate 4) from Jacob de Gheyn's Wapenhandelinghe van Roers, Musquetten ende Spiessen (1608)

During the early modern age, these hand-held cannons evolved into the flintlock rifle, then the breech loader and finally the automatic weapon.

In 1356 the Imperial-Spanish army had equipped units with handguns called arquebusiers. They had handguns which were more accurate, lighter, and portable than their 12th-century brothers from Europe. They were used in the Battle of Pavia in 1525 and proved to have dominated over King Francis I knights.[22]

The Battle of Cerignola in 1503 was largely won by Spain through the use of matchlock firearms, marking the first time a major battle was won through the use of firearms.[23] Early firearms were fired by touching a flame or 'match' to a fuse or pan filled with gunpowder that was connected by a small hole to the charge of powder in the barrel. In the earliest examples, this was done by hand. Later, mechanisms were developed to apply the flame or more simply a spark to the pan.

As ignition devices, matchlocks, wheel locks, snaplock, flintlocks and percussion caps were used in turn.

The paper cartridge was introduced sometime before 1586, and the bayonet came to use in 16th century France. Hand grenades, thrown by grenadiers, appeared around the same time.

Early cartridge firearms had to be cocked and caught by the "sear", which holds the hammer back, before each shot. Pulling the trigger allows the hammer or striker to fly forward, striking the "firing pin," which then strikes the "primer," igniting an impact-sensitive chemical compound (historically, first fulminate of mercury, then potassium chlorate, now lead styphnate) which shoots a flame through the "flash hole" into the cartridge's propellant chamber, igniting the propellant.

The Springfield Armory in Springfield, Massachusetts became important to the history of firearms during the 1850s, when it debuted the Springfield rifle.[24] Springfield rifles were among the very first breech-loading rifles, starting production in 1865. By that time, metallurgy had developed sufficiently so that brass could be worked into fixed ammunition. Previously, each round was custom made as needed: the shooter poured loose powder down the barrel, used leather or cloth for wadding if time allowed, selected a suitable projectile (lead ball, rocks, arrow, or nail), then seated the projectile on top of the powder charge by means of a ramrod. Performance was erratic. Fixed ammunition combined a primer, the pre-measured charge, and the projectile in a water-resistant brass cartridge case. Most importantly, the soft brass expanded under pressure of the gas to seal the rear end of the barrel, which prevented the shooter from being maimed by escaping high-pressure gas when he pulled the trigger.

Repeating and automatic firearms[edit]

A repeating firearm or "repeater" is a firearm that holds more than one cartridge and can be fired more than once between chargings. One example of a repeater is the American Springfield Model 1892–99—also made at the Springfield Armory in Springfield, Massachusetts—which were used during the Spanish–American War. Some repeating firearms require manipulation of a bolt (as in bolt action), lever, or slide to eject the fired cartridge case, draw a fresh cartridge from the magazine, and insert it into the firing chamber, and "cock" (draw to the rear and place under spring tension) the hammer or striker, so that pulling the trigger will fire the weapon. Others use either the firearm's recoil or a small portion of the propellant gas drawn from the barrel, to operate the firearm's mechanism and ready it for the next shot. Such firearms are sometimes called "self-loading," but are more commonly known as semi-automatic, if they fire one shot for every pull of the trigger, or automatic or "full-auto" if they continue to fire until the trigger is released and the magazine is empty.

A revolver is a unique type of firearm in which a rotating cylinder holds a number of cartridges; the cylinder "revolves" to align each "chamber" or "charge hole" with the rear of the barrel, hold the cartridge and contain the pressure (up to 65,000 pounds per square inch or 450 MPa) produced when the cartridge is fired. Thus the cylinder serves as both magazine and firing chambers. There are also "single- shot" and multiple barrel firearms, which hold only one cartridge per barrel and must be reloaded manually between shots.

The earliest repeating firearms were revolvers (revolving rifles were sometimes called "turret guns") and were "single action" in that they could only be fired one way: by manually cocking the mechanism (drawing the hammer to the rear with the thumb) before each shot. This design dates from 1836, with the introduction of the Colt Paterson, or even earlier. Though they are slower to reload and fire than some other types of firearms, single-action revolvers are of a simple, strong design, and are still made, though they are nowadays used more often for hunting than for self-defense. The double-action revolver is a design almost as old as the single action. Some double-action revolvers, called double-action only or D.A.O. revolvers can only be fired using the trigger (e.g., revolvers with bobbed or hidden hammers). Most double-action revolvers can be fired in either of the two ways. One can cock the hammer (the action of which moves levers to rotate the cylinder and align a fresh cartridge with the rear of the barrel), then pull the trigger for each shot ("single-action mode") or one may simply pull the trigger, through a longer, heavier stroke. This causes levers and springs to both rotate the cylinder and draw the hammer to the rear, then release it, firing the cartridge. Firing a double-action revolver in single-action mode tends to be more accurate, because the trigger pull is much shorter and lighter; usually three or four pounds-force (18−22 newtons) of pull is sufficient, instead of the twelve to twenty pounds (50−90 N) required for double-action mode, so the firearm's aim and mobility is less likely to be disturbed by the force of pulling the trigger.

The first successful rapid-fire firearm is the Gatling gun, invented by Richard Jordan Gatling and fielded by the Union forces during the American Civil War in the 1860s. It is operated by a hand crank and rotates multiple barrels. The Gatling gun needs a four-man crew to function and has had many upgrades since its introduction and has been used in many conflicts.

Self-loaders are firearms that use some of the discharge energy to reload the firearm. These are also called semi or full-automatics. These are typically fed from a tube or detachable magazine, sometimes referred to as a "clip" (which denotes a magazine reloading device used in certain rifles, or a retainer for flangeless bullets used in certain revolvers). The world's first self-loading firearm is the Maxim gun, developed by British inventor Sir Hiram Maxim in 1884, capable of firing 600 rounds per minute but requires a team of men to maintain and is not portable by one man. The Maxim gun has been used in a vast number of conflicts.

The world's first successful self-loading rifle is the Mondragón rifle, designed by Mexican general Manuel Mondragón and was the first self-loading firearm able to be operated by a single rifleman, since its debut in 1908 it received few modifications (bipod, 30-round drum magazine) and has been used during the Mexican Revolution (Mexican Army) and World War I (Imperial German Flying Corps).

The world's first submachine gun (a fully automatic firearm which fires pistol cartridges) able to be maneuvered by a single soldier is the MP18.1, invented by Theodor Bergmann. It was introduced into service in 1918 by the German Army during World War I as the primary weapon of the Stosstruppen (assault groups specialized in trench combat). Submachine guns came to prominence during World War II, with millions manufactured. During the war, manufacturers moved away from finely crafted but expensive submachine guns such as the Thompson, in favor of cheaper models that were quicker to manufacture, such as the M3.

The first successful assault rifle was introduced during World War II by the Germans, known as the StG 44, it was the first-ever firearm which bridges the gap between long range rifles, machine guns, and short range submachine guns. The assault rifle was a more powerful and had longer ranges than the submachine gun, yet can be used comfortably in close, urban environments and on fully automatic from the shoulder unlike heavier machine guns and long semi-auto rifles, thanks to its intermediate round and select-fire option (switch from fully automatic to semi-automatic). After World War II ended, the assault rifle concept was adopted by every world power and is still being used to this day.

The battle rifle was a post-World War II development pushed primarily by the United States that desired a select-fire rifle that retained the long range of the M1 Garand (the US service rifle during World War II and the Korean War). Influenced by the US, NATO members adopted battle rifles of their own. In practice, the powerful cartridge of the battle rifle proved to be difficult to control during fully automatic fire and the concept was not further developed.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Gunpowder". 
  2. ^ "Who Built It First?". Archived from the original on 2016-04-18. 
  3. ^ a b c Chase 2003, pp. 31–32
  4. ^ a b c Crosby 2002, p. 99
  5. ^ Needham 1986, pp. 8–9
  6. ^ Needham 1986:222
  7. ^ Needham 1986, p. 10
  8. ^ Lu, Needham & Phan 1988
  9. ^ Chase 2003:31–32
  10. ^ Needham 1986:293–294
  11. ^ Chase 2003:1 "The Europeans certainly had firearms by the first half of the 14th century. The Arabs obtained firearms in the 14th century too, and the Turks, Iranians, and Indians all got them no later than the 15th century, in each case directly or indirectly from the Europeans. The Koreans adopted firearms from the Chinese in the 14th century, but the Japanese did not acquire them until the 16th century, and then from the Portuguese rather than the Chinese."
  12. ^ Ahmad Y Hassan, Gunpowder Composition for Rockets and Cannon in Arabic Military Treatises In Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries Archived 2008-02-26 at the Wayback Machine., History of Science and Technology in Islam.
  13. ^ Ahmad Y Hassan, Technology Transfer in the Chemical Industries Archived 2007-04-27 at the Wayback Machine., History of Science and Technology in Islam.
  14. ^ Khan, Iqtidar Alam (1996), "Coming of Gunpowder to the Islamic World and North India: Spotlight on the Role of the Mongols", Journal of Asian History, 30: 41–5 .
  15. ^ Khan, Iqtidar Alam (2004), Gunpowder and Firearms: Warfare in Medieval India, Oxford University Press .
  16. ^ Norris 2003:11
  17. ^ Chase 2003:58
  18. ^ David Nicolle, Crécy 1346: Triumph of the longbow, Osprey Publishing; June 25, 2000; ISBN 978-1-85532-966-9.
  19. ^ Firearms in Russia
  20. ^ (in Russian) First Gun Volleys
  21. ^ Ain Mäesalu: Otepää püss on maailma vanim
  22. ^ (In order) Bennett, Bradbury, DeVries, Dickie, and Jestice, (In order) Matthew, Jim, Kelly, Iain, and Phyllis. (2013). Fighting Techniques of the Medieval World. United Kingdom: Amber Books Ltd. p. 63. ISBN 978-1-909160-47-7. Early Arquebus c.1500. By this time handguns were becoming lighter, more portable, and more accurate. At the Battle of Pavia in 1525, the Imperial arquebuisers proved their superiority over King Francis I or France's chivalric gens d'armes (knights) 
  23. ^ Citation needed
  24. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-05-21. Retrieved 2012-04-04. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • Buchanan, Brenda J. (2006), Gunpowder, Explosives and the State: A Technological History, Aldershot: Ashgate, ISBN 0-7546-5259-9 
  • Chase, Kenneth (2003), Firearms: A Global History to 1700, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-82274-2 
  • Crosby, Alfred W. (2002), Throwing Fire: Projectile Technology Through History, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-79158-8 
  • Kelly, Jack (2004), Gunpowder: Alchemy, Bombards & Pyrotechnics: The History of the Explosive that Changed the World, Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-03718-6 
  • Needham, Joseph (1986), Science & Civilisation in China, V:7: The Gunpowder Epic, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-30358-3 
  • Norris, John (2003), Early Gunpowder Artillery: 1300-1600, Marlborough: The Crowood Press .
  • Sun Laichen (2006) Chinese Gunpowder Technology Technology and Dai Viet, ca. 1390 -1497. In Vietnam Borderless Histories Eds Nhung Tuyet Tran & Anthony Reid University of Wisconsin Press

Further reading[edit]