Military Revolutions and Battlefield Innovations

Western Conflicts that Produced New Weapons and Battle Tactics

The Hundred Years’ War, Thirty Years’ War, and the two world wars demonstrate how military revolutions result in better weaponry, often ensuring final victory.

Every major war in the early modern period of western history produced a “military revolution,” resulting in significant improvements to weaponry and rendering obsolete long tested methods of conducting warfare. The Hundred Years’ War, beginning in 1337, introduced the English long bow as well the crude use of gunpowder in proto-artillery. By the Thirty Years’ War of 1618, improved firearms such as the flintlock musket as well as lighter artillery revolutionized early modern warfare.

More recent conflicts, like World War I and World War II, brought the world into a nuclear age and, in terms of technology, began the process of reducing ground troops with controlled devices. Every century has had a degree of military revolution, yet the longer and more encompassing wars resulted in greater and more far reaching changes in weaponry and tactics.

The Hundred Years’ War

By the time the Hundred Years’ War ended, chivalry was a notion of the past. Initial English successes in the first years of the war owed much to the use of the English long bow, which first appeared in the 12th Century and was originally attributed to the Welsh. English yeomen archers could fire ten or twelve arrows per minute at a range of 150 yards. At sixty yards, the arrows could pierce armor.

The French still used the crossbow which, although more accurate, was cumbersome and could not keep pace with the long bow. The effectiveness of the long bow was ably demonstrated at Crecy in 1346 and again at Agincourt in 1415.

The use of firepower and cannon debuted in this conflict and underwent improvements during the war’s duration. The introduction of artillery forced a reevaluation of fortified city walls, many to weak to support heavy cannons used to defend during a siege.

The Thirty Years’ War

Sweden’s Gustavus Adolphus is credited with significant military innovations that included the battlefield use of the flintlock musket by musketeers forming parts of his infantry brigades. Firing at the same time, instead of in rows, their firepower was deadly and turned the tide of the war in favor of the Protestants.

Additionally, Adolphus developed lighter artillery that was easier to maneuver in battle as well as transport from battlefield to battlefield. The Thirty Years’ War also ended the widespread practice of employing mercenary armies as most early modern nation states increased taxes to fund standing armies that were better trained.

The World Wars of the 20th Century

The prolonged Great War, devolving into trench warfare between 1914 and 1918, spurred military innovations that made the cavalry charge obsolete and forever changed how battles were won. Airplanes, poison gas, and crude tanks found their way into the military revolution of the early 20th Century. Germany’s Heinz Guderian, experimenting with battlefield communications as well as the use of tanks, paved the way toward the blitzkrieg of 1939.

World War II signaled the greatest military revolution of all. By 1945, atomic weaponry took mankind into a nuclear age in which one properly launched ICBM could kill tens of millions. Because it was a sterile weapon, unlikely to be used by reasonable governments, technologies were developed to fight more efficient localized wars. In some cases, like Vietnam, chemical compounds like Agent Orange were employed.

Human History is a March toward More Efficient Warfare Techniques

From the earliest ancient kingdoms and empires to more expansive modern conflicts, each age has witnessed a “revolution” in military improvement. Empires arose and fell as a result of these innovations. Today, technology enables further innovation designed to minimize “collateral damage” and decrease the death count of soldiers operating in forward areas.

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