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Weapons and Battles Facts

"Nothing is so exhilarating as to be shot at without results." - Sir Winston Churchill

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Iron-working was first used in the Near and Middle East around the end of the second millennium B.C. It allowed for several enhancements in weaponry and equipment. For example, the introduction of iron swords made it possible for a more skilful infantry army to reach a decision without the pushing and shoving match that usually happened in previous battles. (source)

The ancient Assyrians instituted several key innovations in warfare between around 1,000 B.C. and 500 B.C. One was mounted archers, which opened up many tactical possibilities on the battlefield. The Assyrian kings also made sure that their troops were always well-equipped and that weapons were kept in repair. This was not always done in the past, often with disastrous results on the battlefield. The Assyrians also instituted an ongoing training program for their troops, who, like most armies of the time, were basically a part-time militia. Superior organisation also allowed the Assyrians to put more men into the field for longer periods of time. Although accurate numbers are impossible to obtain, it is estimated that the Assyrians were capable of fielding armies of at least 30,000 to 40,000 men. (source)

An authentic "lost weapon" is Greek fire, which the Byzantine Empire used on several occasions between the seventh and ninth centuries to defend Constantinople against attacking Muslims. Constantinople might have fallen but for Greek fire, and conceivably the Muslims might have taken over a weak and divided Europe. To this day, we don't know exactly what the "recipe" for Greek fire was. All we know is that it burned all the more fiercely when wet (hence it likely contained some sort of petrol compound), and that it could be floated toward the enemy's wooden ships. (source)

View more facts about: Roman Empire

The main innovation in terms of military technology in the early Middle Ages was the stirrup. From 100 to 500, there was a seemingly never-ending wave of nomad horsemen armed with swords, spears, and bows coming out of the central Asian steppe. The archers would fire volley after volley into the foot troops. Then, when the defenders seemed suitably weakened, mounted lancers would charge in. With the aid of the stirrup, the shock effect of these horse lancers was nearly irresistible. Germanic and other European tribes adopted these Oriental techniques, and out of this came not only the destruction of the western Roman Empire, but also the development of a mounted, armoured "man-at-arms." This included the legendary "knight in shining armour," but most of these men were simply well-trained and experienced swords for hire. (source)

A method of hardening steel swords in the Middle Ages was the damascene process of thrusting a superheated blade in the body of a slave and then into cold water. Crusaders discovered, to their dismay, that swords made of Damascus steel were more resilient and harder than those of European manufacture. Europeans did not discover the secret until 500 years after the Crusades, however, when it was discovered that thrusting a red-hot sword into a mass of animal skins soaking in water had a similar effect to the Damascus method. The nitrogen given off by the skins in the water produces a chemical reaction in the steel. (source)

View more facts about: Crusades

Tintoretto, a famous Italian painter, in the famous oil painting Israelites Gathering Manna in the Wilderness, represents them armed with shotguns. However, the first recorded use of guns was in 1326, several thousand years after the ancient Israelites. Other famous paintings contain anachronisms as well. In Cigoli's painting of the presentation of the infant Jesus at the temple, Simeon is depicted wearing a pair of spectacles. A French painting depicts Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden; in the background, in full costume, is a hunter with a gun, shooting ducks. (source)

It is not true that the early Chinese used gunpowder only for fireworks. They had forms of guns (invented in 1288), bombs, grenades, rockets, landmines, flamethrowers, small cannons, and other weapons.

View more facts about: China | Misconceptions

One of the most unusual military maneuvers ever was performed in 1191, during the third Crusade, when Richard the Lion-Hearted captured the city of Acre. The inhabitants were barricaded inside, so King Richard had his soldiers throw 100 beehives over the walls. The people in the fortress surrendered immediately. (source)

View more facts about: Crusades | Middle Ages

Early guns took so long to load and fire that, in trained hands, bows and arrows were twelve times more efficient. (source)

Babur, the first Moghul emperor of India, marched through the Khyber Pass onto the North Indian plain in 1526. The then North Indian ruler, an Afghan king, Sultan Ibrahim, leading an army of 100,000 men, attacked the invaders and lost, despite the nearly ten-to-one odds in manpower in his favour. The reason for Babur's triumph was an ancient Chinese invention that the Sultan had never heard of—gunpowder.

View more facts about: India

Francisco Pizarro, the nearly illiterate Spanish adventurer, was able to conquer the grand empire of the Incas using a force of no more than 106 foot soldiers and 62 horses. Guns and gunpowder gave Pizarro the advantage. (source)

The first machine gun, the Puckle Gun, built in 1722, was also the most unusual. It could fire two types of bullets. When targeting lesser enemies such as other Christians, round bullets were used, but for truly hated enemies such as Muslims, more destructive square bullets were used.

View more facts about: Firsts

It has been estimated that around 17,500 American soldiers and sailors died of disease and starvation during the American Revolution aboard British prison ships docked at New York City, a number more than double the number killed in actual battle.

The concept of "friendly fire" is not a new one. At the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, there are many accounts of soldiers succumbing to fire or swordcuts from soldiers in their own army. (source)

The German chemist Christian F. Schönbein was experimenting with a mixture of nitric acid and sulphuric acid in the kitchen of his house in 1845. While his wife strictly forbade such experiments in the home, she was out at the time. Schönbein accidentally spilled some of his acid and, in a panic, he seized the first thing at hand, his wife's cotton apron, sopped up the mixture, then hung it over the stove to dry before his wife came home. When the apron dried, it suddenly burned, and so rapidly that it seemed simply to disappear. The astonished Schönbein investigated and found he had formed what is now called "nitrocellulose" or "guncotton". This was the beginning of the replacement of gunpowder on the battlefield, where it reigned supreme for 500 years.

The only authenticated all-female army existed in the Kingdom of Dahomey in the nineteenth century. The army contained more than 2,000 women, who used a variety of weapons. (source)

After the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War on July 3, 1863, nearby trees began dying from lead poisoning due to the large number of bullets embedded in the wood.

View more facts about: American Civil War

St. Adrian Nicomedia is the patron saint of arms dealers. (source)

View more facts about: Saints

During World War I, a gun was invented by Jones Wister that could shoot around corners. It was never used, but a similar gun was used by Germans in World War II.

View more facts about: First World War

Half of the people killed by bombs are those trying to make or set the bombs.

View more facts about: Interesting Statistics

Dynamite is made, in part, from peanuts. (source)

View more facts about: Food and Drink

One day in 1893, James Ziegland of Honey Grove, Texas, walked out on his fiancée, Metilda Tichnor, who killed herself. In response, her brother shot Ziegland and, believing he had killed the man, then killed himself. His shot at Ziegland, however, just grazed his face before burying itself in the trunk of a nearby tree. In 1913, Ziegland decided to remove the tree from his property by using dynamite. The explosion dislodged the bullet, shooting it violently into Ziegland's head, finally killing him twenty years later. (source)

View more facts about: Unusual Ways to Die

A 1947 study found that during the Second World War, only about 15 to 25 percent of the American infantry ever fired their rifles in combat. (source)

View more facts about: Interesting Statistics

The City Council of Chico, California, once issued an edict banning nuclear weapons from the city. Anyone caught detonating a nuclear device within the city limits could face a fine of up to $500. (source)

View more facts about: Laws and Customs

The Hundred Years' War actually lasted 116 years, from 1337 to 1453. (source)

View more facts about: Misnomers

At the Battle of Crecy in 1346, 4,000 Frenchmen were killed, but only 100 Englishmen.

In 1978, the nations of the world spent an average of $800,000 a minute on arms, resulting in an annual total of $400,000,000,000.

A leather cannon was used during the reign of Henry VIII at the siege of Boulogne. Leather guns were used by the Scots at the Battle of Newburn in 1640. (source)

View more facts about: Scotland

The shortest war ever lasted for 38 minutes, between 9:02 and 9:40 on August 27, 1896, between Britain and Zanzibar (now part of Tanzania). When a British fleet under Admiral Sir Henry Rawson sailed into Zanzibar harbour so that the officers and sailors could watch a cricket match, the Sultan of Zanzibar viewed this as a hostile act and ordered his only warship to open fire. The British retaliated, destroying both the ship and the Sultan's palace. The Sultan fled into exile. (source)

After the end of World War II, several Japanese soldiers still continued to hold out for years on remote islands in the Pacific, either not having heard about the Japanese surrender, or believing reports about it to be mere Allied propaganda. The last Japanese soldier to lay down arms was Private Teruo Nakamura, who surrendered in December 1974. (source)

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