Posted on 06 September 2012.
Achieving victory on the battlefield is something tricky and does not exclusively reside in the number superiority of one army or the other. While essentially winning the war implies being the last one standing, military leaders have always searched for new ways to ensure an edge over their adversaries. War tactics have constantly changed throughout history when various factions brought new ‘toys’ to the game and this list will present what I consider to be the tools that brought about major paradigm shifts in terms of battle.
1. The Egyptian chariot revolutionized ground combat
As far as history goes, all wars fought in the ancient times – particularly before 1800 B.C. – were fought by foot soldiers. Granted, all armies utilized different formations to ensure the most effective attack while maintaining an optimal level of protection for the troops, but fighting exclusively on foot is what they all had in common. Now, this shouldn’t lead you to believe that the first chariots were invented in the 1800 B.C. Archeologists have found versions of this transportation device dating from the earlier period before 3000 B.C., but the older versions were not exactly fit for battle due to their excessive weight and limited maneuverability.
The modifications made to the chariot over the years eventually lead to a perfected version that was incredibly lightweight (a single man could lift it above his head effortlessly). In addition, the wheels of the chariots were fixed with spikes, so you can easily understand why the device became incredibly popular among military powers of that time, from the western parts of Asia and all the way to Europe.
2. We have the Chinese to thank for gunpowder
You are probably familiar with the fact that gunpowder is a rather old Chinese invention, but what you probably don’t know is that its discovery was purely accidental. The first records suggest that this explosive powder was created back in 800 A.D., but kept secret by the government for almost 400 years. During this time, the Chinese were able to develop numerous varieties of weapons based on gunpowder, from cannons to bombs and anything in between. However, like all secrets, the existence of gunpowder eventually was leaked and the utilization of it in war became widespread across the continents. On a side note, gunpowder is the only reason why the Ottoman Empire was able to conquer the city of Constantinople, which seemed impenetrable until that point.
3. Gunpowder would have been nothing without rifled barrels
While it is true that gunpowder revolutionized warfare considerably, until the 1800s it was extremely difficult to have high accuracy and range with this type of weaponry. The smooth barrels of the guns determined a semi-random trajectory for long and medium distances. However, the introduction of the rifled, grooved barrels gave the bullet a rotational movement; greatly increasing the accuracy as well as the distance it could travel, not to mention the damage on impact. It is necessary to point out that rifled barrels were not utilized exclusively in hand guns and rifles, but also on the cannons mounted on warships, permitting naval battles to be carried out without even making eye contact with your opponents.
4. The internal combustion engine radically modified warfare logistics
Reinventing war is not only about coming up with more powerful weapons, but also about better ways to move them across the field of battle. From this point of view, World War I was an extremely slow paced battle, because armies relied heavily on steam engines and horses to transport troops and weaponry. The situation is completely different in the Second World War, when the introduction of the internal combustion engine permitted the rapid relocation of heavy artillery, tanks and planes, but also constituted the advent of ballistic missiles.
5. Planes brought a new component to the game
While before 1911, the only possible ways of carrying out battles was by land or sea, the Italians utilized planes in their war against Turkey not only to take high altitude photographs of the strategic positions occupied by the enemy but also to bomb them. However, these planes were relatively slow and the Second World War was the point when airplanes really proved their value in combat.