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Helge B.





Joined: 06 Mar 2008

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PostPosted: Fri 28 Mar, 2008 6:44 am    Post subject: Warfare without gunpowder         Reply with quote

I ponder how tactics and technologies in warfare would have evolved without the invention of gunpowder or other chemical missile propellants.

Would there be a standstill with pike/crossbow infantry and hvy. lancer cavalry beeing the norm? Maybe with arms and armour made of better materials?

After all there did not seem to have been that much progress in other cultures who did not develop more sophisticated gunpowder weapons (Asia, Africa etc.). On the other hand these cultures did not proof to be so inventive in general in comparison to Europe (at least from the renaissance period onwards).

What are your thoughts on this subject?
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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Fri 28 Mar, 2008 7:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, IIRC, Africa and the Aztec/Myans/Incas had ritual warfare, so that might be a contributing factor.

Had we not invented this, I'm pretty sure we'd still be ruled by the warrior elite. I doubt the Americas would have been independent from the Old World, either.

Warfare wise, who's to say? Probably would have stayed mass-infantry, or perhaps a new investment in bowmen.

M.

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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Fri 28 Mar, 2008 7:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The two relevant questions are "where?" (warfare in Bactria was never the same thing as warfare in Tuscany) and "assuming what other inventions do occur?" But any society with Medieval or Early Modern chemistry and alchemy is likely to invent something which explodes given time, and of course after the first (steam and water powered) Industrial Revolution gunpowder is completely outdated by evn better explosives, so the gunpowder revolution would have happened eventually.
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Dan P




Location: Massachusetts, USA
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PostPosted: Fri 28 Mar, 2008 11:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I bet on crossbows becoming the standard weapon for the infantryman.
As industry and material science progressed it would be easier and easier to mass-produce standardized 'bows and bolts. This consistancy of weapon characteristics would then lead to standardized training and tactics.
Maybe there even would be some kind of pump-action or lever-action crossbow, for a rate of fire comparable to a longbow with far, far less strength and training required.

On a wilder bent, air-pressure weapons. Or energy weapons. FLAMETHROWERS!
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Mike Lee




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PostPosted: Fri 28 Mar, 2008 11:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Given technological advances in other areas I'd imagine we'd have some rather cool looking repeating crossbows, planes dropping 'arrow-burst' ordinance, Tanks with catapults, Full suits of kevlar body armour.

Theres a good graphic novel in that lot somewhere!

Suffice to say, warfare would be alot more 'hands on' and up close.

I refuse to have a battle of wits with someone who is unarmed.
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George P.





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PostPosted: Fri 28 Mar, 2008 12:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

tanks with rams, they would easily get through infantry Happy
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Christopher Gregg




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PostPosted: Fri 28 Mar, 2008 12:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would think that if armies had tanks and planes, they would be able to come up with some alternative to gunpowder explosives. Combustible fuels explode very nicely, and could launch all sorts of projectiles. Wink
Christopher Gregg

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Dan P




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PostPosted: Fri 28 Mar, 2008 1:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I missed one thing. Railguns.
BTW, the original idea was no "gunpowder or other chemical missile propellants". So this includes modern explosives and I think would rule out anything with an internal combustion engine.

So, electrically powered tanks, with railguns and lasers and other directed energy things.
This basically describes a "Hammer's Slammers" book.
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Ken Speed





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PostPosted: Fri 28 Mar, 2008 1:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Dan

You wrote, "missed one thing. Railguns." Aren't they electro magnetic? Would you have steam driven generators?

You continued, "BTW, the original idea was no "gunpowder or other chemical missile propellants". So this includes modern explosives and I think would rule out anything with an internal combustion engine.

So, electrically powered tanks, with railguns and lasers and other directed energy things.
This basically describes a "Hammer's Slammers" book."

Why not steam powered tanks and cars and for that matter, believe it or not, airplanes! Yeah, look it up on the web, a guy in the thirties made steam powered planes. They were so quiet he could talk to people on the ground as he flew by! Steam powered cars were clocked at over 100 miles per hour when internal combustion powered cars couldn't even come close to that speed and they also regularly beat IC cars at hill climbs.

No one has mentioned air rifles. I understand that European armies had air rifle snipers. They had tanks that held air drawn from a central horse powered compressor. The air rifles were used by snipers and I believe that they were so feared, because they were so quiet, that an enemy soldier found with one was summarily killed. The only other item I'm aware of that was treated this way was bayonets with saw teeth on the top edge.

If they used steam and compressed air warfare wouldn't look much different than it did in WWI or the early days of WWII.

Ken Speed


Ken Speed
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Christopher Gregg




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PostPosted: Fri 28 Mar, 2008 2:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ken,

I believe that the 1804-1806 Lewis and Clark expedition included an experimental air powered rifle, which was "lost" when the team reached the midway point north of St. Louis. It has been suggested that it was buried along with some other supplies to ensure they wouldn't fall into hostile hands. I have owned high powered air rifles in my youth, and I can tell you they can be deadly! A Smith and Wesson model I had was .22 caliber and could shoot through a steel 55 gallon drum. Ouch!

Christopher Gregg

'S Rioghal Mo Dhream!
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Fri 28 Mar, 2008 3:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As some have mentioned steam power or compressed air are the obvious ways to get around not inventing a chemical propellant.

I think gun powder would have been inevitable eventually and any very hightech culture wouldn't progress too far with steam and electrical power without finding chemical ways to push things out of a weapon at high speed.

That said, a delay of a few hundred years before gun powder was invented does give the other options some room to develop as long as we don't get to having Phasers and Warp drive but still are clueless about explosives !

Another " low tech " possibility would be the use of more effective leaf or coil springs designs.

Gravity based or flywheel energy storage might be possible also ?

I could see a flywheel design that might be able to work as a type of stone or arrow machine gun: Obviously lots of complex design work to make it work, but them clockwork mechanisms are also very complex and where in use by the 14th Century or even a bit earlier: A lot would depend on being able to machine at close tolerances.

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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J.T. Aliaga




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PostPosted: Fri 28 Mar, 2008 3:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Rather long but informative site about the Girandoni air rifle
http://www.beemans.net/Austrian%20airguns.htm

IIRC Held's Arms & Armor annual vol.1 also has an article on it.
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Ken Speed





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PostPosted: Fri 28 Mar, 2008 4:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

[Hi Christopher,

You said, "I believe that the 1804-1806 Lewis and Clark expedition included an experimental air powered rifle, which was "lost" when the team reached the midway point north of St. Louis. "

No kidding? You know I read most of UNDAUNTED COURAGE a few years ago and I don't think they said anything about air rifles. I do know it was one of the dullest books I ever read and I didn't finish it. It must really take some kind of towering talent to write a dull book about the Lewis & Clark expedition. I seem to remember that their biggest problem was grizzly bears, their single shot muzzle loaders didn't do very much to the grizzlys other than really annoy them, must have been a pretty sporty trip!

As I was writing this I was thinking that we are thinking of air rifles shooting bullets but they don't have to, they could shoot syringes like they use to capture animals. Hey! I just invented humane warfare! Laughing Out Loud Drifting off to sleep beats the Hell out of taking a dirt nap!

They can fedex the Nobel Prize to me anytime,

Ken (the humble) Speed
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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Fri 28 Mar, 2008 4:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Might have come up with a repeating crossbow small enough to be practical. Unless I'm mistaken, the Chu-ku-no was very large.

M.

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Ken Speed





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PostPosted: Fri 28 Mar, 2008 4:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean,


You said something about delaying the discovery of gunpowder by a couple of hundred years and it started a train of thought.
I know the French soldiers who came to Canada had matchlocks and that was in the 1600's. So if we delayed the use of guns to the 1800's we would probably have had to, at the very least delay, the European takeover of North America. Right? So what if everything else had stayed more or less the same; so that the Indians would have had a couple hundred years to get used to the Europeans. Do you think they would have been able to resist the encroachment of the Europeans? What would the Europeans have been doing all that time?


Ken Speed
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M. Eversberg II




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PostPosted: Fri 28 Mar, 2008 7:46 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

We probably would have used politics a bit more.

M.

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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Fri 28 Mar, 2008 8:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ken Speed wrote:
Jean,


You said something about delaying the discovery of gunpowder by a couple of hundred years and it started a train of thought.
I know the French soldiers who came to Canada had matchlocks and that was in the 1600's. So if we delayed the use of guns to the 1800's we would probably have had to, at the very least delay, the European takeover of North America. Right? So what if everything else had stayed more or less the same; so that the Indians would have had a couple hundred years to get used to the Europeans. Do you think they would have been able to resist the encroachment of the Europeans? What would the Europeans have been doing all that time?


Ken Speed


As to stopping or delaying the European take over of the Americas the absence of gunpowder weapons might have made it easier for the " locals " to fight back? But, not that much I think as armour, swords, crossbows and tactics would still favour the Europeans at least early on for set battles. How, quickly the Amerindians could have stolen, traded for and start making their own European style weapons and even more important raise real armies as opposed to small warbands would have made a difference decades or centuries later.

Alternatively and contradicting some of what I wrote in the above paragraph: The Aztecs, Mayans and Inca had very organized societies and might have " UPGRADED " their weapons to European level quickly in a way similar to the rapid progress made by the Japanese when they first met Europeans in the 16th Century and the way they later progressed from a feudal pre-industrial society to being equals of European/Western culture in technology in the years between 1855 and 1900.

A lot depending on the level of adaptability of specific cultures.

Oh, and the die off of native Americans due to European diseases that they had no immunity to.

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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Ken Speed





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PostPosted: Fri 28 Mar, 2008 9:47 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean,


I'm quoting your post here because there's a lot of interesting ideas here. You wrote,

"As to stopping or delaying the European take over of the Americas the absence of gunpowder weapons might have made it easier for the " locals " to fight back? But, not that much I think as armour, swords, crossbows and tactics would still favour the Europeans at least early on for set battles. How, quickly the Amerindians could have stolen, traded for and start making their own European style weapons and even more important raise real armies as opposed to small warbands would have made a difference decades or centuries later.

Alternatively and contradicting some of what I wrote in the above paragraph: The Aztecs, Mayans and Inca had very organized societies and might have " UPGRADED " their weapons to European level quickly in a way similar to the rapid progress made by the Japanese when they first met Europeans in the 16th Century and the way they later progressed from a feudal pre-industrial society to being equals of European/Western culture in technology in the years between 1855 and 1900.

A lot depending on the level of adaptability of specific cultures.

Oh, and the die off of native Americans due to European diseases that they had no immunity to."

Well, I seem to remember reading somewhere that gunpowder was really the downfall of the American Indian and the problem wasn't that they couldn't use it or take steps to protect themselves from it, the problem was they had to go to the Europeans to get it. "...raise real armies" Why, in the beginning there weren't a lot of European settlers here, the guerrilla tactics and raids the native people used would work even better if they weren't facing gunfire. as far as I'm concerned Adaptable should be the middle name of practically all of the native peoples. Look at the Cree, they started out as eastern woodland people and became traders and moved North into or almost into the Subarctic and West as far as Saskatchewan and maybe Alberta, to me that's adapting like crazy! Not to mention that they apparently got on real well with the Assiniboine and the Metis ( I'll bet you they were interesting people). It just occurred to me, somewhere I heard about Eastern Inuit having/ making crossbows. If they could learn to do it theres no reason that the Southern branch of the family couldn't. And then of course there's the horse. Most of the tribes didn't even have a name for "Horse", they called them long eared dogs or big dogs but they sure learned how to ride them in short order.

There were the Huron and Iroquois Confederacies, I think they both predated Europeans in North America and they could both put fairly large numbers of warriors in the field at their peak.

Yes, you know, I was going to mention the die off but I feel it kind of cancels out because there were so few European settlers.

I can see it working for the Native people maybe, they might have had to give up some territory, maybe they could have stopped the Europeans at the Allegheny Mountains or at least held them there long enough to make a deal and keep enough power that the Europeans had honor it. I can see the native americans in a kind of Fortress America though; holding off the English and French to the East, the Spanish to the South and the Russians would work their way down the West coast from Alaska; that would be pretty ugly.

Well, that was a trip to the New World! Fun stuff,


Ken Speed
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Fri 28 Mar, 2008 10:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ken;

I agree with most if not all of your points but maybe there are numerous ways things could have evolved depending on all sorts of things including chance or the genius of a warleader.

The biggest problem would be for the Amerindians to develop their own sources of making their own steel: Mining, smelting, forging etc ...

Captured European with the right knowledge and skills might be " convinced " to teach them how to do all of the above.
A European Medieval army ( without gunpowder in this Topic ) would be Feudal and some Knights might go native and allied themselves with the locals.

Even with gunpowder weapons and real history the Europeans could have been stopped dead cold by an early unified resistance.

Oh, the guerilla tactics would certainly have been effective but for a standup fight armoured Knights and soldiers in open terrain would have a serious advantage against vastly larger forces: The Conquistadors had very few firearms but their armour and steel weapons gave them some serious advantages as well as the small number of horses. They also made allies of some tribes giving them a little more manpower than they would have had alone.

But, seriously, in any alternate universe the outcomes could have been different even with the same starting conditions and even more so if the advantages of firearms was removed from the equation. ( All good starting points for Alternate Military History Novels: One of my favourite genres of Fantasy/Sci Fi ).

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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Ken Speed





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PostPosted: Sat 29 Mar, 2008 10:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi J.T.

"Rather long but informative site about the Girandoni air rifle"



Yes, it is indeed. I think the writer really needs a good editor.


Thanks,


Ken Speed
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