History of Firearms

History and Historical European Martial Arts in the Codex Martialis

History of Firearms

Postby Galloglaich » Thu Jan 17, 2013 5:22 pm

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Re: History of Firearms

Postby Galloglaich » Thu Jan 17, 2013 5:23 pm

This is a post I did on another forum on the history of early firearms, which I wanted to keep here

I think it's a good question. It took me a long time to figure this out, so in the interest of all that we love about the internet, (hopefully) I'll share what I understand about it:

The first were a class of proto-firearms in the 'fire lance' family which were set off by putting a fuze or a piece of red hot iron directly into the barrel. These correlate with the first appearance of flammable powders based on potassium - nitrate (known in Europe as salt of st. peter or saltpeter) which were similar and related to gunpowder but were not exactly gunpowder.

1100 AD - Fire Lance

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[SIZE="1"]This would be mounted on a pole[/SIZE]

These early weapons worked by a combination of pyrotechnic (i.e. flame) effects and projectiles, usually in the form of small rocks. They were used in siege warfare. Weapons of this sort appear in Chinese books in the 12th Century, the earliest documented use in war was from 1132 AD in China but they appear in some paintings from as far back as the 9th or 10th Century.

For example the demon in this painting is using what looks like a fire lance in the upper right

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/86/FireLanceAndGrenade10thCenturyDunhuang.jpg/748px-FireLanceAndGrenade10thCenturyDunhuang.jpg

You can get an idea what they were like from this video (long but worth watching, good bits at 5:18, 8:08, )

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMzZ3CPgMrg

These proto-gunpowders were alchemical substances developed while attempting to create longevity potions.

By the 13th Century something more like a firearm, using an improved type of power with all three ingredients of gunpowder (carbon, potassium nitrate, and sulfur) while also placing more of an emphasis on the projectile, began to be documented in sieges in several Chinese towns.

1250 AD - Hand Gonne

In the 1230's during the Mongol invasion of the Middle East fire-lances and primitive hand cannon were used by the Mongols and quickly figured out by their enemies, the Egyptian Mamelukes. During fighting between the Mongols and the Mamelukes the hand gonne or hand-cannon seems to have first appeared, first documented use was in 1260.

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This website has a bunch of good replicas of hand gonnes or hand-cannons

http://www.redriverrenegades.com/BP%20Rifles%20&%20Canons.htm

At this same time the Mongols were also using firelances and / or hand gonnes in Eastern Europe as early as 1241, and they were reported as used by the Moors in Spain in the 1250's and 1260's. (Interestingly the Chinese continued to use the basic fire-lance well into the Ming Dynasty, for siege warfare)

The English Franciscan monk Roger Bacon probably got the gunpowder formula from Moors and Jews he was corresponding with in Spain and he first published it, in encrypted form as a 'recipe for a children's toy' (a firecracker) in 1267 in his Opus Majus. By 1300 some improved gunpowder formulas appeared in various European alchemical books such as the Liber Ignium.

1300 AD Hook -Gun

By this time European guns were starting to be made with hooks to steady them on ramparts (where guns were being used most often, in siege warfare) and these are called hook guns. These are still touch-hole firearms but more strongly made, designed to handle higher pressure from faster burning powder.

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The German word for Hook gun was something like hacken - buschen, which the English and the Frisians called something like 'hack-butt' or harque- busche which evolved into 'arquebus' very gradually. The Czechs also came up with some very interesting variations on the original hand-gonne around this time:

Image

see also http://1-media-cdn.foolz.us/ffuuka/board/tg/image/1348/58/1348588197927.jpg

1430 AD - Early Arquebus
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Another good one made in Nuremberg here:

http://1-media-cdn.foolz.us/ffuuka/board/tg/image/1348/58/1348587424553.jpg

So you have these very early, handgonne / arquebus, some touch-hole, some with simple matchlocks, which were increasingly effective, started appearing around the 1430's when guns were kind of revolutionized by the Czechs, and remained in use alongside more sophisticated guns well into the 1500's. These have a longer barrel now than the original hook-guns, which improves power and accuracy, and they are a little easier to handle, more reliable (in terms of the barrel not cracking) and better made, generally.

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The matchlock is basically just a little 'S' shaped piece of metal on a hinge, called a serpentine, which holds a slow match (a sort of little rope or cord that has been soaked in a saltpetre solution so it burns slowly). The serpentine is held back by a spring, and when you pull it, touches the match to your touch hole for you (so you could keep both hands on the gun when firing). The lock part comes from a little cover for the tiny 'pan' you have your priming powder in, which was an elaboration of the touch hole.

These things seem primitive but they are already pretty hard core, about the equivalent of a single-shot 12 or 20 gauge shotgun. For an idea of what they were like, I recommend this impressive video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkbSTyT1COE

1450 AD - Matchlock Arquebus

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By the 1440's early match locks had appeared in the field, we see something which looks like the serpentine in some military / alchemical manuals as early as 1380 and again in 1410, but they aren't widely used on the battlefields until the Czechs start accelerating gun development in the Hussite wars. By the 1450's the idea is spreading fast to the most efficient military powers (like Venice, Bruges and Ghent in Flanders, Milan, the Ottomans, the German Hanseatic towns, the big southern German cities like Augsburg, Strasbourg and Nuremberg). In 1475 the matchlock appears in a printed book and then it's everywhere. The basic design of the matchlock changed, some had a catch so a spring would snap the trigger down when you pulled it and released the catch, others had the spring set the opposite way so that it provided resistance

Another big invention at this time was corned powder. Up until the 1400's powder had to be mixed in the field because it would separate out into it's components. Corned powder had just been moistened with alcohol and pushed through a sieve to make uniform 'corn' sized pieces, then allowed to dry in grains. This was a huge step for gunpowder weapons since it was 'ready to go' and much more powerful.

By the late 15th Century you start to see more developed arquebus starting to appear, some quite beautiful, with fairly long barrels like a modern firearm
Spoiler: show
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1500 AD - Wheellock

The next big invention was the wheellock, this was a complicated device which at it's most fundamental simply created sparks similar to the way a modern zippo lighter does, except it uses iron pirate to make the sparks instead of flint (flint came later). I think some wheellocks also had some features which opened the priming pan, though fuslier can correct me on that.

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[SIZE="1"]You can always tell a wheellock from a flintlock from the distinctive round wheel-shape in front of the trigger.[/SIZE]

The wheellock was a huge improvement because you didn't have to keep a lit match - lit matches gave away your position due to smell and smoke, and were also vulnerable to rain or just humidity. But wheellocks were complicated, expensive, and initially not super reliable, so most infantry weapons (arquebus, musket etc.) remained matchlocks. So wheellocks were most commonly seen on expensive pistols used by cavalry or as personal weapons of nobility and wealthy burghers. They actually created a bit of a gun control crisis because they were so good for assassinations - it was a powerful and easily concealed weapon.

Later improved versions were called the snaplock, in the 1540's, the snaphaunce, came out in the 1560s used a flint instead of the iron pirate, and then the true flintlock came out around 1610.

1610- the Flintlock

This was the ultimate firing mechanism until the invention of the percussion cap. This was essentially a much simpler and more efficient version of the wheellock, which opened the priming pan right as it shot.

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All these weapons are muzzle loaders, usually smooth bore though there were some rifled barrels as far back as medieval times, and they were also making small breach-loading cannon as early as the 14th Century.

G
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Re: History of Firearms

Postby Galloglaich » Thu Jan 17, 2013 7:55 pm

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Re: History of Firearms

Postby Galloglaich » Thu Jan 17, 2013 7:57 pm

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Re: History of Firearms

Postby Galloglaich » Thu Jan 17, 2013 8:13 pm

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Re: History of Firearms

Postby Galloglaich » Thu Jan 17, 2013 9:41 pm

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Re: History of Firearms

Postby Hegwood » Tue Jul 04, 2017 6:49 am

It's amazing to me they camee up with this in 1300AD!
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Re: History of Firearms

Postby Galloglaich » Fri Jul 14, 2017 5:04 pm

yes it's quite remarkable. That last video gives you a pretty good idea how dangerous those guns can be, when you see how quickly that guy can get multiple rounds downrange with that thing, with a little experience. The actual handgunners in the 14th and 15th centuries were highly paid and considered experts, which they often were. Later on as firearms were made more 'convenient' the necessary skill level for gunners declined.
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