If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look like?

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If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look like?

Postby King Author » Sat Feb 26, 2011 11:20 am UTC

Let's suppose that the core, irreplacable components of gunpowder and explosives and so forth never existed on Earth. (For the sake of argument, let's assume history played out the way it did, anyway.) Other technologies developed as normal, though, so we still have computers, we still have modern plastics and advanced polymers, but the firearm never came to pass. In other words, we still conduct our wars with melee weapons and bows and arrows and body armor.

Well...given all our advanced synthetic materials, what do you think combat would look like? What kind of armor would we be wearing? What kind of weapons would we be using?

I'm especially pondering armor. Would we use metals? Plastics? Carbon-fiber? Combinations thereof?

And what about combat tactics? We still have vehicles. Would we have tanks with mounted ballistas? Would the phallanx still dominate strategy?

Even if you have no expertise, feel free to brainstorm here.

EDIT: The idea is basically "what if medieval weaponry were still used, with all our advanced materials?" Basically, what would a modern knight in shining armor look like if a knight in shining armor were still the standard of combat, large and small scale? So no guns, no missiles, no modern weapons whatsoever (guns, missiles, high explosives) -- the only ranged weapons are bows and whatever you can throw. The focus, like in the distant past, is on melee weapons. That is to say, I'm not asking, "how could we make a kludge gun" -- the idea isn't to replicate the gun with medieval technology. The idea is, what if melee weapons and body armor were still the staples of combat? Like, would we be wearing carbonfiber armor? Make some kinda super-high tech sword?
Last edited by King Author on Tue Mar 01, 2011 4:17 am UTC, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby Technical Ben » Sat Feb 26, 2011 11:38 am UTC

Sorry to bring down the thread to depressing levels, but...
They used rocks and sticks recently in Egypt. Seems even that "low tech" worked.

It's sad, but "anything to hand" is often the way people think. In that the lack of weapons does not equal a lack of fighting or war.

On a more lighter note, it would be interesting to see the "latest weapon" be a train mounted "Stick thrower" of gigantic proportion.
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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby Paranoid__Android » Sat Feb 26, 2011 2:23 pm UTC

In the case of swords and other medieval weaponry you just have to look back in time; the Romans with their discipline and better equipment won against vastly greater numbers. A well coordinated/disciplined/trained and equipped force would prevail.
With no guns vehicles would only really be used for transport and resupply.

Are we allowed rail guns, fuel bombs, high voltage cattle prods/tasers, chemical and biological warfare?
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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby Soralin » Sat Feb 26, 2011 2:36 pm UTC

Canisters of VX nerve gas, dropped by Project Pluto Heck, anything at all dropped by Project Pluto. :)

And how much does "and so forth" cover?

If there's gasoline, you can have flamethrowers, napalm, molotov cocktails, and other various incendiaries. Not to mention fuel to power vehicles, or powered weapons (chainsaws, etc.). You could probably make some sorts of guns as well, for example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvcwCCWkhBI (And there was another one that used centripetal force, and a catch that released the next pellet at the right point of the cycle to rapidly shoot a bunch of pellets in the same direction at high speed, that I can't find right now). But those might be used for a bit larger weapons, might be hard to scale them down for personal use and have them still be useful.

If there's rocket fuel, then obviously, you can make rockets. They don't need, and a lot of them don't even use explosive warheads, the kinetic energy alone is enough to do a lot of damage. And this would not only cover large rockets, but you could get really small ones, for example, the gyrojet: http://www.projectrho.com/rocket/sidear ... hp#Gyrojet http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gyrojet (And defeat the idea of not having guns right there. :))

If there's nuclear power, you could work quite a bit with that. Nuclear powered battleships with railguns. Nuclear bombs would be a bit difficult to do however without any chemical explosives to implode them or force pieces together quickly. Although there's always radiological weapons, drop a bunch of highly radioactive material somewhere. Or maybe just drop something that has a couple critical masses of plutonium in it, which then lets the two, or more, parts fall together. Not being forced together quickly, it wouldn't explode like a nuke, but at the very least you could get a big radioactive poof out of it that would kill everyone nearby, or let it melt and boil, and irradiate everything around it in the process. Heck, if you have a few critical masses worth of U-235, you could try a gravity-powered design: Two halves separated by empty space, the top one lightly held, maybe with a big weight on top of it, drop it from a big height, and let the top half smash into the bottom half at high speed. It wouldn't be nearly as explosive as a normal nuke, but you should still be able to get something out of it, maybe even more than a normal conventional bomb (and it would probably kill people a lot further out than it's blast range from radiation)

If there's none of those, then you might be a bit more limited, but you could still use chemical weapons, although they might not be as useful if you're prepared for them, so using them directly against other military forces might be of limited use. Dropping them on farms or production facilities, or population centers, could work eventually to win by attrition, and would end up a very nasty form of combat. There are electrically powered propeller airplanes that have been made, running off of batteries (as in, ones big enough for a person), but they'd be a bit slower and have a shorter range than what you could get off of jet fuel, at least for a plane of the same size (although, there would be less to shoot them down with too). Toss a few containers of nerve gas onto remote or autonomous electric planes, and you could drop them all over. And some of the gun stuff mentioned above could work with electrical power, although that would be more useful on the defensive, where you could plug into a power grid.

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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Sat Feb 26, 2011 2:42 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:They used rocks and sticks recently in Egypt. Seems even that "low tech" worked.

But that wasn't a military victory. The state could have mowed down civilians and elected not to.
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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby firechicago » Sat Feb 26, 2011 3:10 pm UTC

Pez Dispens3r wrote:But that wasn't a military victory. The state could have mowed down civilians and elected not to.


More specifically, the military refused to fight.

Back to the OP's question: Check out this and this for an idea of some of the armaments that could have been developed into a usable state if gunpowder and explosives had never existed.

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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby BlackSails » Sat Feb 26, 2011 3:12 pm UTC

I think it would not be impossible to make stab-proof combat armor.

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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Sat Feb 26, 2011 3:14 pm UTC

Sure, but wouldn't modern crossbows punch straight through it?
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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby BlackSails » Sat Feb 26, 2011 3:28 pm UTC

Possibly, i dont really know.

Actually, it wouldnt be crossbows and swords. We would probably just have spent more money making railguns.

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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby torgos » Sat Feb 26, 2011 6:21 pm UTC

Paranoid__Android wrote:With no guns vehicles would only really be used for transport and resupply.



You can use them for transport and resupply. I, on the other hand be attaching spikes to the front of an armored humvee and driving through my enemies, who have foolishly exited their vehicles.
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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby Sockmonkey » Sat Feb 26, 2011 6:40 pm UTC

Just about everything that can power a vehicle can explode so if you have that, you can make guns.

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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby Technical Ben » Sat Feb 26, 2011 6:47 pm UTC

Pez Dispens3r wrote:
Technical Ben wrote:They used rocks and sticks recently in Egypt. Seems even that "low tech" worked.

But that wasn't a military victory. The state could have mowed down civilians and elected not to.

Probably down to bad reporting by the news media, but there was a story that the civilians took out a tank. However, as you said, they would be inefficient weapons against tanks.
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I'm sure there's Anime and such of Steampunk steam guns.
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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby bentheimmigrant » Sat Feb 26, 2011 10:37 pm UTC

Are we allowed compressed air? Because, well... it's compressed. You can do stuff with that.

So... isn't this what the "Fictional Science" forum is for?
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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby Izawwlgood » Sat Feb 26, 2011 10:43 pm UTC

Pez Dispens3r wrote:Sure, but wouldn't modern crossbows punch straight through it?

Heh, historically accurate humor. I giggled.

Lets just assume that bullets and guns and bombs don't exist; what does that really leave? Oh, everything else? Right.
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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby Carnildo » Sat Feb 26, 2011 11:00 pm UTC

Sockmonkey wrote:Just about everything that can power a vehicle can explode so if you have that, you can make guns.

Explode? Yes.

Explode in a useful way? Not neccessarily. To make a gun, you need something that explodes primarily into gas, at a rate slow enough to contain with a lightweight gun barrel, but fast enough to propel a projectile at a useful speed. Lithium batteries, for example, are worthless for making guns because they don't generate gas fast enough -- they don't so much "explode" as "rupture releasing flaming substances". NiCd rechargables are even less useful: they "explode" by spraying unpleasant chemicals around.

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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby Solt » Sun Feb 27, 2011 9:53 am UTC

Would naval warfare as practiced in the era of European Imperialism even have been possible? No cannons means you have to physically board or ram the enemy ships. If the enemy wanted, he could just sail in the same direction as you and since you are experiencing the same wind you would never cross paths. Ship construction would be essential and I can imagine them being built either for speed or ramming strength, with far more effort put into design than anyone did in the cannon era.
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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby Token » Sun Feb 27, 2011 4:14 pm UTC

Doesn't naval warfare predate gunpowder anyway?
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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby BlackSails » Sun Feb 27, 2011 6:14 pm UTC

Token wrote:Doesn't naval warfare predate gunpowder anyway?


Not with guns. They used to pull up along side and board each other. Also ramming, and fire.

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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby Carnildo » Sun Feb 27, 2011 11:55 pm UTC

Solt wrote:Would naval warfare as practiced in the era of European Imperialism even have been possible? No cannons means you have to physically board or ram the enemy ships. If the enemy wanted, he could just sail in the same direction as you and since you are experiencing the same wind you would never cross paths.

This assumes equal performance from the ships, and equal skill from the captains. In practice, one ship will be faster than the other and will be able to either force the engagement or escape.

And you don't ram with your masts up and sails out. All that mass up there is just asking to have your masts snapped off on impact. There's a reason why ramming fell out of favor with the development of high-performance sailing ships, and only made a (brief) comeback with the development of pure-steam ships.

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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby Glass Fractal » Mon Feb 28, 2011 4:36 am UTC

Pez Dispens3r wrote:Sure, but wouldn't modern crossbows punch straight through it?


Maybe. Military body armor is designed to accept trauma plates that can reliably stop shots from the 5.56 NATO and not so reliably stop the 7.62 NATO. I very much doubt that even the best crossbow would be able to compete with that degree of penetrating power.

Tanks would be even worse. Modern main battle tanks are very hard to kill as it is, without long rod penetrators they might seem completely invulnerable. Certainly no ballistia would have the ability to damage them except on the most insanely luck of shots. Engineers would be even more important, making pits and walls, you don't want a convoy of unstoppable trucks rolling into the middle of your city and off loading an entire army in the town square.

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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby BlackSails » Mon Feb 28, 2011 5:48 am UTC

Glass Fractal wrote:
Pez Dispens3r wrote:Sure, but wouldn't modern crossbows punch straight through it?


Maybe. Military body armor is designed to accept trauma plates that can reliably stop shots from the 5.56 NATO and not so reliably stop the 7.62 NATO. I very much doubt that even the best crossbow would be able to compete with that degree of penetrating power.

Tanks would be even worse. Modern main battle tanks are very hard to kill as it is, without long rod penetrators they might seem completely invulnerable. Certainly no ballistia would have the ability to damage them except on the most insanely luck of shots. Engineers would be even more important, making pits and walls, you don't want a convoy of unstoppable trucks rolling into the middle of your city and off loading an entire army in the town square.


You can kill tanks with other things, like HESH rounds.

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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby idobox » Mon Feb 28, 2011 9:05 am UTC

Glass Fractal wrote:Maybe. Military body armor is designed to accept trauma plates that can reliably stop shots from the 5.56 NATO and not so reliably stop the 7.62 NATO. I very much doubt that even the best crossbow would be able to compete with that degree of penetrating power.

It depends on what material you use for the bow. If you have a motor on the crossbow to load it, you can have pretty impressive force.

I think incendiary and chemical weapons would have crucial importance. You could still send incendiary bombs to other ships with balistas, like the romans used to do, and no matter how thick the armor of a vehicle is, you can kill everyone inside by heating it. All glory to the mighty chlorine trifluoride bomb.
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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby p1t1o » Mon Feb 28, 2011 9:50 am UTC

Glass Fractal wrote:
Pez Dispens3r wrote:Sure, but wouldn't modern crossbows punch straight through it?


Maybe. Military body armor is designed to accept trauma plates that can reliably stop shots from the 5.56 NATO and not so reliably stop the 7.62 NATO.


I concur, if you can build a stab-vest, you could easily build a crossbow-vest. However, it is interesting to note that a light kevlar vest, whilst providing excellent protection from the majority of handgun rounds, can be stabbed through. Most police these days wear a "stab vest" which incorporates layers specifically inteded to resist stabbing (note:"resist") - I believe they also provide a kevlar layer.

Having said that, from what I've seen I think those trauma plates you get in modern body armour would be pretty handy against most arrows.


As far as the "what would we fight with" debate, my two pence:
As gunpowder became more widespread, its basically started to make the various armours obsolete and provided power at range in a way that started to push melee combat out of fashion. During this time, metallurgy was one of the most prevalent areas of military research, providing stronger, lighter armour and blades whilst man-powered ranged combat had pretty much reached its pinnacle with the longbow and crossbow (with weapons capable of absorbing every ounce of a single man's strength, the only way to go there was larger). Without the advent of gunpowder, I would suggest that initially, further advances would be made in the field of blade and armour construction - with strong, light, cheap armour an army could equip relatively untrained troops with gear that would make each man half-indestructible, of course, the other side would also try to do this.

As the armour-blade-arrow arms race continued, avenues would be persued to try and negate those advantages, "how can one man reliably penetrate hardened steel alloy armour?", "Physical strength alone is no longer enough.", "What can we use to power a piece of equipment that one man can reliably use in combat?".

So what power source would be invented in place of gunpowder? Even a steam gun would require a source of said steam - possibly a hydrogen peroxide + catalyst system (as seen in those rocket packs), that could be used to generate high-pressure steam on demand to drive a harpoon or bullet I suppose?

Then the arms race would be to find ever more powerful-yet-controllable chemical reactions that a man can use to power their weapons.

Like a hydraulically-actuated halberd-tank. Obviously.

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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby idobox » Mon Feb 28, 2011 1:27 pm UTC

I have to find reliable references, but I've always heard from videogames that crossbows were armor piercing weapons. I you are using a chemical or electrical motor, and very stiff materials for the bow, the energy of a bolt can probably be comparable, or even greater, than standard firearms.

The other otpion is the warhammer. If your weapon is heavy enough, no amount of reasonnable personnal armour can protect you from a blow. You won't get cut, but the kinetic energy will be delivered and will still kill you.

And I don't know how realistic it is, but a plasma torch, or any other very very hot tool can probably be adapted into a pretty efficient armor melting melee weapon.
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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Mon Feb 28, 2011 1:35 pm UTC

p1t1o wrote:I concur, if you can build a stab-vest, you could easily build a crossbow-vest.

I accept Glass has a point, but a crossbow delivers a lot more whomp than a stabbing-action. It's not for nothing crossbows were considered unfair, back in the days: they could punch through plate armour. Try stabbing through the same.
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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon Feb 28, 2011 1:49 pm UTC

The joke about the crossbow was that, historically, it's invention was expedited because of the innovation of body armor. I.e., modern body armor would be awesome and lightweight and have micro controlled impact readjustment polygraphene anisotropic nanoetched [stuff], but someone would just make a 'crossbow' that would punch through it.

Gothic plate did wonders for preventing a sword from puncturing your abdomen, but a crossbow bolt would go right through it.

Also, it bears pointing out that everyone who wants to debate what combat would look like should have read Dune. AND, it bears mentioning that plate armor combat wasn't primarily done with sharpened swords, as the name of the game shifted from 'slash this fucker' to 'bludgeon his armor and tear it off piece by piece, then stab him'.

Swords grew heavier and duller, but pointier, in response to plate armor.
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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby p1t1o » Mon Feb 28, 2011 2:08 pm UTC

Pez Dispens3r wrote:
p1t1o wrote:I concur, if you can build a stab-vest, you could easily build a crossbow-vest.

I accept Glass has a point, but a crossbow delivers a lot more whomp than a stabbing-action. It's not for nothing crossbows were considered unfair, back in the days: they could punch through plate armour. Try stabbing through the same.


Sure, but you could shoot a 9mm through plate armour too, but not through a lightweight kevlar vest. Its not just a question of magnitude of force, or vest, but of design and the nature of the projectile. I doubt a kevlar vest would stop a arrow or bolt, because bullets deform on impact and arrowheads are hard steel and would remain pointed, a stab-vest-like construction would be better suited, but of course there is still the magnitude problem with the force, so, thicker? Thicker may not be the answer but I think would have been a likely area of research if gunpowder was not around to lend its overwhelming advantage.

And on the arms race front, during the advent of gunpowder, there were plate armours that could stob an arrow or an early musket ball, but these were very labour intensive to make and very expensive, unlike a musket or crossbow. And, I imagine, reaching the limit of their practical level of protection for the current technology level, whereas muskets had only just been introduced.

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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Mon Feb 28, 2011 2:22 pm UTC

p1t1o wrote:Sure, but you could shoot a 9mm through plate armour too, but not through a lightweight kevlar vest. Its not just a question of magnitude of force, or vest, but of design and the nature of the projectile. I doubt a kevlar vest would stop a arrow or bolt, because bullets deform on impact and arrowheads are hard steel and would remain pointed, a stab-vest-like construction would be better suited, but of course there is still the magnitude problem with the force, so, thicker? Thicker may not be the answer but I think would have been a likely area of research if gunpowder was not around to lend its overwhelming advantage.

Well, fine. But the magnitude-of-force problem is a more significant one than you originally implied.

Izawwlgood wrote:The joke about the crossbow was that, historically, it's invention was expedited because of the innovation of body armor. I.e., modern body armor would be awesome and lightweight and have micro controlled impact readjustment polygraphene anisotropic nanoetched [stuff], but someone would just make a 'crossbow' that would punch through it.

You told me I had made that joke already. Not willing to admit my ignorance, I enjoyed pretending that I knew what you were talking about. Thanks for explaining it.

It might also be worth mentioning that Napoleon was an absolute fucker. Prior to him, European warfare could largely be described as "outmaneuver and intimidate your enemy until they give up". There were exceptions, of course. But none of this, "I'm going to get every fucking male civilian I can, march them till they bleed, and zerg rush all you horsey aristocrats". This strategy, in turn, made it necessary to sharpen your tactics to "whites of their eyes". That was when the European arm's race really commenced.

That is, it wasn't necessarily technology that changed modern welfare, but the ability to raise civilian armies (which was assisted by nationalism and vernacular publications).
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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon Feb 28, 2011 2:50 pm UTC

Pez Dispens3r wrote:Prior to him, European warfare...

I dunno, the arms race of technologies had been going on for quite a while. Longbows revolutionized the battlefield, to the point that giving someone the finger is a call back to how effective giving a bunch of conscripts a bow and some quarrels was against a trained force. (I'm not sure if that's an urban myth of not, but I've heard it from RenFaire nerds... So... authority!)

But yeah, I remember hearing that the number of people required to get soldiers on the battlefield has gone way up, indicative of an overall specialization of soldiers over time.

Pez Dispens3r wrote:That is, it wasn't necessarily technology that changed modern welfare, but the ability to raise civilian armies (which was assisted by nationalism and vernacular publications).

That's a curious point I've often wondered at. I doubt at any point in history entire armies were armored in full plate. You can mass produce some armors, but part of the point of full plate was that it fit properly. Anyone can wear a helmet, and maybe even gauntlets, but pauldrons, vambraces, greaves, breastplates. There's only so much interchangeability you can run with before the chinks and awkwardness makes it less worthwhile.
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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby idobox » Mon Feb 28, 2011 2:59 pm UTC

Pez Dispens3r wrote:That is, it wasn't necessarily technology that changed modern welfare, but the ability to raise civilian armies (which was assisted by nationalism and vernacular publications).

Longbows and crossbows could cause damages comparable to that of early firearms. But it was much faster to train a soldier to use a rifle. In the middle ages, you could have armed your peasants with pikes and use them as a meat shield, but with the advent of the rifle, you could turn them in a deadly army in a few months.
The usefulness to raise civilian armies is linked with weapon technology.

Pez Dispens3r wrote:It might also be worth mentioning that Napoleon was an absolute fucker. Prior to him, European warfare could largely be described as "outmaneuver and intimidate your enemy until they give up". There were exceptions, of course. But none of this, "I'm going to get every fucking male civilian I can, march them till they bleed, and zerg rush all you horsey aristocrats". This strategy, in turn, made it necessary to sharpen your tactics to "whites of their eyes". That was when the European arm's race really commenced.

As much as I understand, war before Napoleon was some kind of aristocratic sport, where armies would agree on a place and date to fight. Ordinary soldiers were forbidden to attack officers, for exemple.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Fontenoy At this battle, this happened :
The English officers saluted the French by doffing their hats . . . the French, returned the greeting. My Lord Charles Hai, captain in the English Guards, cried, 'Gentlemen of the French Guards, fire !' The Comte d'Auteroche, then lieutenant of Grenadiers, shouted, ' Gentlemen, we never fire first ; fire yourselves."


Napoleon won many battles because his army was fast, large, disciplined, well led, and didn't wait for the enemy to be ready.
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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby gmalivuk » Mon Feb 28, 2011 4:21 pm UTC

idobox wrote:but with the advent of the rifle, you could turn them in a deadly army in a few months.
For what it's worth, the rifle wasn't invented until several centuries after firearms had started appearing on battlefields.

Izawwlgood wrote:that giving someone the finger is a call back to how effective giving a bunch of conscripts a bow and some quarrels was against a trained force.
Pretty sure every attempt to explain any rude finger gesture in terms of the longbow is a myth, given that the middle finger gesture is at least a couple thousand years old. And I suspect that it has always meant pretty much what it does now: up yours.
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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Mon Feb 28, 2011 4:29 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:I dunno, the arms race of technologies had been going on for quite a while. Longbows revolutionized the battlefield, to the point that giving someone the finger is a call back to how effective giving a bunch of conscripts a bow and some quarrels was against a trained force. (I'm not sure if that's an urban myth of not, but I've heard it from RenFaire nerds... So... authority!

I refer more to the arms race that brought about imperialism and then, eventually, the Great War. Yes, longbows were brutal and changed warfare dramatically, but the civilian army Napoleon raised constituted a paradigm shift. Instead of a bunch of aristocrats and their subjects fighting for their respective lords, you had civilians marching and fighting for a republic. This was one of the major developments which formed a crux of the modern nation state. It was something completely new, whereas longbows were about Europeans finally catching up with global advancements.

Izawwlgood wrote:That's a curious point I've often wondered at. I doubt at any point in history entire armies were armored in full plate. You can mass produce some armors, but part of the point of full plate was that it fit properly. Anyone can wear a helmet, and maybe even gauntlets, but pauldrons, vambraces, greaves, breastplates. There's only so much interchangeability you can run with before the chinks and awkwardness makes it less worthwhile.

Well, yes. I'm talking about the change that took us from "knight on horse" to "government issue".

idobox wrote:In the middle ages, you could have armed your peasants with pikes and use them as a meat shield, but with the advent of the rifle, you could turn them in a deadly army in a few months.

Rifles were pretty shitty during Napoleon's time, and his army wasn't issued with the latest tech and they didn't employ the most sophisticated tactics. Further, in the middle ages, you didn't march the peasants: you left them at home. If you wanted an army, the aristocrats or the church paid for them. I'm talking civilians fighting for their country: quite a powerful idea, once your civilians have internalized the idea of a country that belongs to them rather than a monarch.

If you're looking for a piece of technology that allowed for untrained and undisciplined yet deadly armies, then you want the mass-manufactured breech-loading rifle, and that was to come a little later.

gmalivuk wrote:I suspect that it has always meant pretty much what it does now: up yours.

If it goes back thousands of years, I wonder if there's a sensual element to it? "This finger might be long enough to find your cervix or prostate".
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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby idobox » Mon Feb 28, 2011 4:42 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:For what it's worth, the rifle wasn't invented until several centuries after firearms had started appearing on battlefields.

Is there a fundemental difference betwen a musket, an arquebuse and a rifle? I always thought of the first two as crude versions of the rifle.

gmalivuk wrote:Pretty sure every attempt to explain any rude finger gesture in terms of the longbow is a myth, given that the middle finger gesture is at least a couple thousand years old. And I suspect that it has always meant pretty much what it does now: up yours.

I heard the story that during the hundred years war, the French cut the index and middle finger of English prisoners, forbidding them to ever use a longbow again, and that English bowmen used to show their fingers as a way to taunt the French troops.
I don't even know where to look for sources, but it sure look plausible to me.

Pez Dispens3r wrote:Further, in the middle ages, you didn't march the peasants: you left them at home. If you wanted an army, the aristocrats or the church paid for them.

It happened a few times, notably during the crusades. Pikemen were used as a meat shield against cavalry. My point was that civilians were pretty worthless in an army before the advent of the firearms. Even with a longbow, you need some a bit of training to do some actual damage, but the training for a gun loader or a a gunman is very quick.
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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon Feb 28, 2011 5:10 pm UTC

idobox wrote:Is there a fundemental difference betwen a musket, an arquebuse and a rifle? I always thought of the first two as crude versions of the rifle.

Muskets and arquebuse are as I understand it similar in concept; put some gunpowder in a tube and put a ball of metal in front of it. Harping on semantics, a rifled barrel is designed to spin the projectile, improving it's accuracy dramatically.

idobox wrote:I heard the story that during the hundred years war, the French cut the index and middle finger of English prisoners, forbidding them to ever use a longbow again, and that English bowmen used to show their fingers as a way to taunt the French troops.
I don't even know where to look for sources, but it sure look plausible to me.

This is the story I'm referring to.

idobox wrote: Even with a longbow, you need some a bit of training to do some actual damage, but the training for a gun loader or a a gunman is very quick.

I'm pretty sure handing a civilian a piece of wood with animal gut strung between it, and telling them to fire lengths of weighted wood 'that way' is a lot easier to do than handing a bunch of civvies a carefully machined piece of artillery. The training time to using a gun is going to be significantly steeper, and significantly more esoteric to English peasantry than using a bow would be.

EDIT: Cecil Adams has a piece on the finger, evidently its use goes back to Roman times, when it was a gesture that warded against the evil eye gesture. Impudent finger indeed.
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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby Pez Dispens3r » Mon Feb 28, 2011 5:12 pm UTC

idobox wrote:I heard the story that during the hundred years war, the French cut the index and middle finger of English prisoners, forbidding them to ever use a longbow again, and that English bowmen used to show their fingers as a way to taunt the French troops.
I don't even know where to look for sources, but it sure look plausible to me.

Lasting speculations are often plausible. That doesn't mean they're not fabrications.

idobox wrote:It happened a few times, notably during the crusades. Pikemen were used as a meat shield against cavalry. My point was that civilians were pretty worthless in an army before the advent of the firearms. Even with a longbow, you need some a bit of training to do some actual damage, but the training for a gun loader or a a gunman is very quick.

The crusades didn't involve civilian armies fighting for a republic.

Crossbows required little training or expertise and were very effective, while rifles were fairly ho-hum before the mass-manufactured breech-loading rifle. Napoleon's innovation was the strategic deployment of non-professional civilian soldiers, rather than the utilization of improvements in weapons technology.

Izawwlgood wrote:I'm pretty sure handing a civilian a piece of wood with animal gut strung between it, and telling them to fire lengths of weighted wood 'that way' is a lot easier to do than handing a bunch of civvies a carefully machined piece of artillery. The training time to using a gun is going to be significantly steeper, and significantly more esoteric to English peasantry than using a bow would be.

Err, not so much. As I said, crossbows don't require much training. But with a longbow? We've got skeletons, thanks to archaeology, to suggest you need to use them from childhood to develop the shoulder muscles to utilize them with enough force to do the required damage. That is, learning to use them with expertize is a lifetime achievement, and would probably cause long-term physical pain. We're talking foot-binding levels of manipulation to the human skeleton.
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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby gmalivuk » Mon Feb 28, 2011 5:25 pm UTC

idobox wrote:Is there a fundemental difference betwen a musket, an arquebuse and a rifle?
Yeah, rifles have rifling.

I heard the story that during the hundred years war, the French cut the index and middle finger of English prisoners, forbidding them to ever use a longbow again, and that English bowmen used to show their fingers as a way to taunt the French troops.
I don't even know where to look for sources, but it sure look plausible to me.
As with most urban myths that sound plausible, Snopes is the first place to check. The Straight Dope and Wikipedia also worked for me just now when I searched for something like "origin of the middle finger". At the very least, the fact that it's described in Latin and Greek works should strongly suggest that it began before the hundred years' war.
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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon Feb 28, 2011 5:29 pm UTC

No doubt the draw was intense, but you're talking about an action that requires about as much coordination and muscle control as cutting wood requires. I'm just not convinced that you could have a bunch of conscripts a gun or a crossbow and expect them to be better at it than a short or longbow, and I'm ignoring the likelihood that they'll castrate themselves trying to load the crossbow, or blow up trying to fire the gun.
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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby gmalivuk » Mon Feb 28, 2011 6:02 pm UTC

If your goal is hitting some sort of specific area that's more than a couple meters away, I can say from my own personal experience that a completely untrained individual is far more likely to hit in the neighborhood of said area with a gun-like weapon than with a bow. There's also the fact that whatever I do, the bullet or bolt is likely to leave the weapon with about the same energy as the one from the guy next to me, whereas that's definitely not going to be true if he knows how to use a longbow and I don't.
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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby firechicago » Mon Feb 28, 2011 6:12 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:No doubt the draw was intense, but you're talking about an action that requires about as much coordination and muscle control as cutting wood requires. I'm just not convinced that you could have a bunch of conscripts a gun or a crossbow and expect them to be better at it than a short or longbow, and I'm ignoring the likelihood that they'll castrate themselves trying to load the crossbow, or blow up trying to fire the gun.

No, shooting a bow accurately at range requires dramatically more muscle control and coordination than cutting wood. The important difference between a long bow and a crossbow or gun is the angle of the trajectory. Guns and cross bows fire with very low arcs, which makes it dramatically easier to aim them. You basically just point it where you want it to go, or maybe elevate it a couple of degrees if you're firing at very long range. Aiming a long bow requires dramatically more skill, since you not only have to hit your target's silhouette, you also need to angle the bow precisely so that it lands on your target and not 20 feet ahead or behind. That takes years of experience and practice to do consistently.

Also, "the draw was intense" doesn't quite cover English long bows. There's a lot of disagreement over what the draw strength of long bows was, but it's generally agreed that 60 lbs was the bottom of the range, and they may have gone up as high as 200 lbs. For comparison, imagine lying face down on a weight bench and lifting a 100 lb. bar bell to the level of your head with one hand. We have skeletons from medieval battlefields that clearly show that the intense training for using these weapons must have begun in early adolescence or before, and caused significant deformation of the right shoulder bones.

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Re: If modern weapons didn't exist, what would combat look l

Postby EdgarJPublius » Mon Feb 28, 2011 8:47 pm UTC

Not to mention the archer's paradox, that an arrow will flex in flight and ultimately hit a point to the left or right of your actual aim point depending on the arrow's stiffness.

A skilled archer must be able to gauge the stiffness of each arrow and compensate accordingly. Generally, bowmen make their own arrows in order to ensure that each one is consistent with the rest and is tailored to their needs and the properties of their bow.

As far as the OP goes, propelling small aerodynamic projectiles is a pretty basic technology. Gunpowder is the 'easiest' way to do that, but there are many other ways to accomplish the same thing that work just as well. Airguns for example can easily reach rifle-like muzzle energies, and large air cannons, while not quite up to the levels of modern artillery, can still be pretty devastating. In warfare, soldiers could offset the weight of carrying a high-capacity air supply with the fact that air-gun ammunition, lacking powder and brass cases would be significantly lighter.

If there are rockets, you can also have gyrojets, (rocket-propelled bullets) Although the original gyrojet firearms and ammunition had some performance issues, a little rejiggering of the propellant and rocket geometry could probably yield militarily-useful weapons, and better manufacturing techniques (along with economies of scale) could bring the cost of ammunition down.

For larger weapons, artillery and even tanks are beginning to transition towards missile armament anyway, even if you posit no high-explosives, kinetic energy can defeat armored targets easily. And a jet-propelled missile is just a few compromises away from a fragmenting bomb anyway (those turbines build up a lot of energy)

You can also achieve some pretty big, damaging explosions without using high explosives, by using fuel-air explosions and such.

I wouldn't underestimate the utility of crossbows, which can deliver a respectable 200-300 joules muzzle energy, but I'd also be interested in modern ballista derivatives using metal torsion springs and light-weight composites.
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