Artillery means any device for launching a projectile. In modern times, it does not usually refer to smaller weapons such as pistols and rifles. Artillery is also sometimes called gunnery. Guns used by navies are usually called naval guns while guns used on land are usually called artillery. Small arms are usually called firearms, side arms or infantry arms. Strictly speaking, the word gun does not refer to small firearms, but to large artillery pieces like cannon that generally require a crew for their operation. A general rule of thumb to distinguish between firearms and guns is that firearms are weapons with a caliber of less than .60 caliber (0.6-in/15.24-mm bore). All gauges of shotgun are classed as firearms. Nevertheless, the distinction between small arms and artillery is fairly vague and in common usage the term gun is frequently used to describe firearms. Several modern weapons with the word gun in their names such as shotgun and machinegun have further confused the distinction between firearms and artillery.
Use of Artillery
Artillery serves both offensive and defensive roles. The concept behind the use of artillery is to deliver casualties, confusion and mayhem to an adversary at substantial range. In an offensive, artillery is used to “soften up” an opponent before engagement with assault troops such as infantry, cavalry and mechanized artillery. In a defensive operation, the objective of the use of artillery is to inflict substantial damage upon the attacker. In recent conflicts, the roles of artillery and other long-range techniques such as aerial bombing have become more crucial so that the battle is nearly over before ground troops are sent in. The techniques used with employing artillery have changed as the capabilities of artillery and the design of fortifications have changed.
Artillery also includes such items as bows, crossbows, javelins, slings, and slingshots as well as items like ballistae, catapults and trebuchets. The latter devices are called mechanical artillery, siege engines or engines of war. There were a large variety of these types machines and they had many different names such as mangonel, scorpion, springal and falarica – to mention a few.
It is believed that mechanical artillery was invented in 399 BC by Dionysius the Elder, tyrant of Syracuse in Sicily while preparing for war with Carthage. Mechanical artillery was widely used in the ancient world and the Romans probably had the greatest variety of mechanical artillery weapons. With few exceptions, Roman mechanical artillery is noted for being the best of all time and far superior to any that came before or after. Craftsmanship used in the construction of Roman artillery, such as woodworking, was of such high quality that comparable workmanship has rarely been seen anywhere else, even in furniture. The Romans had many different types of mechanical artillery and much of it fell into disuse after the demise of the Roman Empire.
The use of mechanical artillery in general waned after the decline of the Roman Empire. It became important once again in medieval Europe where new styles of fortifications such as castles and the resulting change to siege warfare revived its use. In fact, the trebuchet probably brought an end to the use of castles as fortifications. Evidence that mechanical artillery was brought forward from the Classical period into the medieval period is lacking. It is known that the Romans used artillery to support their conquests in Europe so it is possible that Europeans noted the idea at that time. Some historians believe that the medieval period’s mechanical artillery was reinvented independently. In general, Classical period siege engines were far superior to their medieval counterparts.
Ammunition for Mechanical Artillery
Ammunition for mechanical artillery consisted of rocks, arrows, spears, javelins, bolts, quarrels, darts and nearly anything that could be thrown by these weapons. Crossbow ammunition is called bolts or quarrels. These are similar to arrows, but shorter and usually heavier gauge. Greek fire, a substance whose composition is no longer known, was sometimes launched from these weapons in breakable containers. Spherical rocks were prized for their accuracy. Mechanical artillery was also used for the first known instance of biological warfare. Corpses and filth could be flung from mechanical artillery and the Black Plague epidemic that swept through medieval Europe is thought to have been caused by this practice.
Explosively Powered Artillery
After the discovery of black powder, new types of artillery such as cannon, mortars, naval guns, rockets and missiles came into use. There were many different names for these types of arms such as bombards, lombards, basilisk, culverins, pedreros and cannon-of-battery, to name a few. Some of these terms were used to describe specific types and functions of weapons. In modern times, artillery also includes rockets and missiles. The word cannon as well as most other artillery terms do not appear to have had consistent meanings until the twentieth century.
Although the explosively powered gun proliferated rapidly, mechanical artillery stayed in common use for another couple of hundred years. It was not unusual to see both types of artillery in use in the same battle.
There is substantial evidence that the Arabs had developed the first gun by about 1300 in the form of a bamboo tube that could be charged with black powder and fired an arrow. However, it is also known that a device similar to a mortar that launched stone projectiles existed in China at about the same time. It is not known for certain which invention was first.
It is known that the Chinese had developed rockets by that time. A rocket is almost exactly like a cannon or mortar, but it works in the opposite way. Instead of firing a projectile, a rocket is turned upside down in relation to a cannon and the powder charge then propels the entire tube. There is no separate projectile used. Nevertheless, the rocket can be a formidable weapon by itself.
Early guns were marginally effective and improvements came about very slowly. Although the concept of a cannon might seem simple today, they are far more complex than is readily apparent. One of the aspects of gunnery that contributes to its imperceptible complexity is that guns are far more precise than is readily apparent. In fact, they are generally made several times more accurate in respect to machining tolerances than nearly any other types of manufactured items. From the first uses of cannon, whole new industries had to be developed in order to make them. From the technological point where they were invented, both metal products and chemical manufacturing processes as well as other industries had to be developed to fabricate cannon.
Cannon brought forth the modern era, as we know it, and might be the most important invention of all time. Making and improving cannon actually gave birth to modern science and engineering as well as many other fields. Many of the techniques upon which the industrial revolution was built were learned by making cannon. For example, the early industrial revolution was powered by steam and steam power is harnessed through the use of pistons and cylinders. The process of machining accurate pistons and cylinders were techniques learned by cannon makers.
Many other aspects of modern life are also the direct and indirect result of munitions manufacturing. For example, gunpowder manufacturers discovered certain plastics and the commercial production of plastics began for the utilization of excess materials and production capacity of gunpowder manufacturers. In about 1870, scientists discovered that nitrocellulose formed a solid solution when combined with certain solvents. E. I. DuPont de Nemours & Company began manufacturing nitrocellulose-based plastics in the early 1900s. DuPont manufactured Fabricoid® and Celluloid®, both Pyroxylin® based plastics. It is no coincidence that most early plastics were actually explosive. It wasn’t long before the public was clamoring for plastics that didn’t explode and DuPont answered the call by developing many truly-synthetic compounds such as Neoprene®, Nylon® and Lycra®. (All registered trademarks of E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company)
Artillery and Fortifications
Throughout most of history there was a close relationship between fortification and weapons technologies. For example, when one technology made an advance, a corresponding advancement in the other technology eventually followed. The process would then be repeated again and again. Developments in weapons significantly affected building and architecture methods.