Small arms are firearms that are designed to be carried and fired by individual soldiers.
Small arms are firearms that are designed to be carried and fired by individual soldiers. A machine gun is a firearm that continues to fire automatically as long as the operator keeps the trigger depressed. Medium and heavy machine guns are technically not small arms, because they are designed as crew-served weapons.
Firearms are weapons in which a
All modern firearms trace their lineage back to the small
A light machine gun fires a rifle cartridge and is effective up to 600 yards. A medium machine gun fires a similar cartridge but is normally mounted on a tripod and served by a crew. A heavy machine gun fires a much more powerful cartridge–usually about 0.5 inch (12.5 millimeters) in caliber–and can be used effectively to up 2,000 yards. Heavy machine guns are not only infantry weapons; they are also found mounted on tanks, helicopters, and fixed-wing aircraft. Submachine
The general pattern of firearms development has been to increase their portability, power, accuracy, and speed of operation. By 1500 the cart-mounted small cannon of the Middle Ages had evolved into the hand cannon, which had become, by the late sixteenth century, the
In the early years of firearms development neither the rates of fire nor the accuracy of handheld weapons was equal to those of the longbow or crossbow. Consequently the cannon, whose range, striking power, and relative ease of manufacture made it superior to the catapult, had an earlier impact on military tactics and strategy. Like the longbow and crossbow, handheld firearms did have the ability to penetrate armor. Indeed, firearms were superior to longbows and crossbows in striking force, thereby accelerating the disappearance of the armored mounted knight in battle. Troops using firearms were vulnerable to cavalry or mass infantry shock attacks and consequently required the protection of pike formations or entrenchments. Their usefulness was limited to harassing fire and skirmishing preliminary to the main action. Before firearms could become universally practical weapons of war, a number of difficult technical problems had to be solved. These problems fall into the general categories of ignition, accuracy, and speed.
Until the mid-nineteenth century nearly all firearms, including artillery, were loaded from the muzzle end. Neither the metallurgy nor the manufacturing techniques of gun making lent themselves to the invention of a breech closure that could be consistently sealed against the escape of powder gases during firing. Not only would propellant gases escape with each shot, endangering the shooter, but heat and gas resulting from continued firing quickly eroded and destroyed the breech mechanism. Consequently, technical progress focused on refining the method of ignition. The inconvenience of carrying a separate match or hot wire was first surmounted by the
Nineteenth century sailors operating the hand-cranked Gatling gun, which utilized a system of barrels rotating around a central axis, each firing in turn.
Because matchlocks required the use of a lighted match, they were not only cumbersome but also particularly susceptible to failure in wet weather. To remedy this problem, the wheel
The next great advance in firearms technology was the flintlock. The earliest
In 1807 Alexander
Most military firearms from the fifteenth century to the end of the nineteenth century fired a round lead ball of
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries new tactics for such weapons evolved. Armies lined up in rows, and one rank would fire while another was reloading. For close combat, when there was insufficient time to reload, soldiers could fix swords or
Greater accuracy and range could be achieved by cutting spiral grooves, or
An engraving from an 1861 issue of Harper’s Weekly describes the Springfield Armory’s manufacture of single-shot, muzzle-loading rifles, widely used weapons during the American Civil War.
By the mid-nineteenth century, although few military leaders had yet perceived it, the combination of the rifled musket, percussion cap, and cylindrical bullet had made the old tactics obsolete. Battles in which soldiers stood out in the open to load and fire resulted in immense casualties, even with rifles that could be fired three times per minute. The heavy casualties suffered by both sides in the American Civil War demonstrated the need for new tactics.
Smokeless powders offered immense military advantages. The effective range of small arms increased from 200 to perhaps 800 yards. The effective range of the largest
Smokeless powders are classified by their content. Single-base powders consist of nitrocellulose compounds only; double-base powders also contain
The burning rate and energy content of contemporary powder is controlled not only by the chemical composition of the powder but also by the size and shape of the grains. For example, the powder used in 16-inch naval rifles has grains of nearly an inch in diameter and 2.44 inches in length. By contrast, rifle and pistol powders have grains that can be less than 0.03 inch in both length and diameter.
A further revolution in warfare resulted from the development of breech-loading repeating arms firing self-contained cartridges. Once it was discovered that a
The American 1903 Springfield
Some armies appreciated the impact of the increase in lethality of infantry weapons that resulted from rifling and breech-loading. For example, by 1870 the Prussians had dropped the close-order
All four of the great pioneers of automatic weaponry–Richard
The Maxim field gun, the first fully automatic gun, invented in 1884.
The hand-cranked Gatling
Of the different magazine-feed systems developed for machine guns, the belt of cartridges became the most dominant. In this method, cartridges are tied together by spring clips in long “belts” that feed into the gun during firing and are ejected on the other side. Modern military machine guns have cyclic rates of 500 to 1,000 rounds per minute.
Sir Hiram Maxim explains to his grandson how his machine gun works.
The use of machine guns during World War I completely changed the face of war. During the British attack on entrenched German positions at the
Samuel Colt with the Colt pistol.
In most armies submachine guns are issued only for special operations in which close-range engagements are expected. Moreover, because submachine guns normally use subsonic pistol cartridges, they can be effectively silenced for stealth attacks.
With the development of percussion caps and self-contained cartridges, pistol design forged ahead rapidly. Because pistols are low-powered weapons, compared with rifles, it is easier to design repeating mechanisms for them. In the days of black powder and percussion caps, revolvers were designed with a cylinder containing multiple chambers. The first successful design was patented by Samuel
Modern military pistol designs utilize the double-action principle. The chamber of the weapon may be loaded while the hammer is uncocked. The gun may be fired either by a long straight through-pull on the trigger or by an initial cocking of the hammer, which gives a lighter trigger pull. After the first shot, the hammer remains cocked. The M9 Beretta 92
Statistics compiled by American military authorities during the course of World War II and the Vietnam War (1961-1975) show that the number of actual casualties inflicted upon the enemy with pistols was so small that it may not be worthwhile to spend any time or money on handgun design or procurement. However, because soldiers have always felt some comfort in the possession of a sidearm, their demand continues whether or not they are actually effective. Even though pistols are close-range weapons, they are extremely difficult to shoot accurately even at short range without a great deal of training and practice. The cartridges fired by modern military pistols generate 300 to 400 foot-pounds of energy, only a fraction of the energy produced by a rifle cartridge. Pistols have not had an effect on military tactics for many years.
Chase, Kenneth. Firearms: A Global History to 1700. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Gluckman, Arcadi. United States Martial Pistols and Revolvers. Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole, 1956. Greener, W. W. The Gun and Its Development. 9th ed. New York: Bonanza Books, 1967. Hall, Bert S. Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe: Gunpowder, Technology, and Tactics. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997. Haskew, Michael E. The Sniper at War: From the American Revolutionary War to the Present Day. New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2005. Hogg, Ian V. The Story of the Gun. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996. Hughes, B. P. Firepower: Weapons Effectiveness on the Battlefield, 1630-1850. New York: Scribner, 1975. Jones, Richard D., and Leland S. Ness, eds. Jane’s Infantry Weapons, 2009-2010. 35th ed. Surrey, England: Jane’s Information Group, 2009. McNab, Chris, ed. Gun: A Visual History. New York: DK, 2007. North, Anthony, Charles Stronge, and Will Fowler. The World Encyclopedia of Pistols, Revolvers and Submachine Guns: An Illustrated Historical Reference to Over Five Hundred Military, Law Enforcement, and Antique Firearms from Around the World. London: Lorenz, 2007. Otteson, Stuart. The Bolt Action: A Design Analysis. New York: Winchester Press, 1976. Pauly, Roger. Firearms: The Life Story of a Technology. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2004. Pegler, Martin. Sniper: A History of the U.S. Marksman. Botley, Oxford, England: Osprey, 2007. Smith, Anthony. Machine Gun: The Story of the Men and the Weapon That Changed the Face of War. London: Piatkus, 2002. Walter, John. Guns of the Elite Forces. London: Greenhill, 2005. _______. The Modern Machine Gun. New York: Greenhill Books/Lionel Leventhal, 2000. Zhuk, A. B., and John Walter. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Handguns: Pistols and Revolvers of the World, 1870 to the Present. London: Greenhill Books, 1995. Early Machine Guns: Advent of Rapid Firepower. Documentary. History Channel, 1998. Glory. Feature film. Columbia Tri-Star, 1989. History of Firearms. Documentary. History Channel, 2000.
Swords, Daggers, and Bayonets
Gunpowder and Explosives
Tanks and Armored Vehicles
Aircraft, Bombs, and Guidance Systems
Rockets, Missiles, and Nuclear Weapons
Chemical and Biological Weapons