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Next up is a look at the Weapon series, which examines the most important, famous and infamous weapons throughout history.
Colt Single-Action Revolvers
In 1836, Samuel Colt changed the face of warfare with the production of the first of a series of iconic and influential single-action revolvers, including the .44-calibre Colt Walker and the seminal .45-calibre Colt Single Action Army, which remains in production today. These weapons shifted the role of the pistol from single-shot weapon of last resort to a practical and powerful sidearm that gave the soldier the ability to defend himself once his primary armament was discharged. They transformed cavalry tactics and relegated the sword to a largely ceremonial role in many armies.
The FN Minimi Light Machine Gun
In 1974, renowned Belgian arms company Fabrique Nationale brought out a ground-breaking new light machine gun, the Minimi. Its success has been meteoric, arming more than 45 countries around the world.
The Minimi offers the ultimate in portable firepower. Firing the high-velocity 5.56×45mm round, the Minimi is a gas-operated, lightweight, belt or magazine-fed weapon, able to burn through cartridges at a cyclical rate of up to 1,150 rounds per minute, making it the weapon of choice for tactical support at squad level.
The Suomi Submachine Gun
Entering service in 1931, the 9x19mm Suomi KP/-31 submachine gun saw extensive combat with Finnish troops during their fight against Soviet forces in 1939–44. It was also manufactured under licence in Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden, and remained in Finnish service until the 1980s, an indication of its durability.
Rugged and accurate, the Suomi was a favourite with Finnish ski troops who would strike from ambush, cutting down Soviet troops, then skiing away into the woods. Initially used by the Finns as a light machine gun at infantry squad level, it eventually became a dedicated submachine gun, and since it had been designed to be more accurate than the typical SMG, it was often even used as a sniping weapon, or to supplement longer-ranged rifles such as the Mosin-Nagant.
A heavy javelin, normally used as a shock weapon immediately before contact, the pilum was designed with a particular speciality: it could penetrate a shield and carry on into the individual behind it. Relying on mass rather than velocity, at short range a volley of pila had much the same effect on a charging enemy as musketry would in later periods. The design was not uniform, with a wide diversity of types throughout the developmental history of the weapon, but for more than four centuries it remained a vital part of the arsenal of weapons at the disposal of the Roman legionary.
Sharpshooting Rifles of the American Civil War
At the outset of the American Civil War, the Union Army's sharpshooters were initially equipped with the M1855 Colt revolving rifle, but it was prone to malfunction. Instead, the North’s sharpshooters preferred the Sharps rifle, an innovative breech-loading weapon capable of firing up to ten shots per minute – more than three times the rate of fire offered by the standard-issue Springfield .58-caliber rifled musket. Other Union sharpshooters were equipped with the standard-issue Springfield rifled musket or the .56-56-caliber Spencer Repeating Rifle.
Conversely, the Confederacy favoured the Pattern 1853 Enfield rifled musket for its sharpshooters and also imported from Britain the Whitworth Rifle, a .45-caliber, single-shot, muzzle-loading weapon distinguished by its use of a twisted hexagonal barrel.
US Grenade Launchers
Reliable, easy to use, and lethally effective, the M79 grenade launcher stands as an iconic symbol of the Vietnam War. It had a profound influence on small-unit tactics, making a valuable contribution to the squad’s overall firepower at the expense of one rifle per M79 assigned. As the Vietnam conflict continued it was joined on the front line by experimental models such as the magazine-fed T148E1 and pump-action China Lake grenade launcher, as well as two launchers intended to be fitted under the barrel of the new M16 assault rifle, Colt’s XM148 and AAI Corporation’s M203. The M203 remains in US Army service today alongside a newer model, the M320, while the US Marine Corps now also fields the M32 multiple grenade launcher – like the M79, a standalone weapon. The M79 and its successors also influenced the design of tripod- and vehicle-mounted full-automatic grenade launchers, which for the most part, used similar, but different high-pressure 40mm rounds.
The 'Broomhandle' Mauser
At a time when most handguns were limited to six rounds, the ten-shot Mauser caught the attention of the world for its unprecedented firepower and formidable high-velocity 7.63×25mm cartridge, offering longer range and better penetration than other pistols of the day. This saw its ultimate expression in the first-ever select-fire handgun – the ‘Schnellfeuer’ machine pistol, fed by a detachable magazine and offering both full-automatic and single-shot modes. Long-barrelled carbines were also produced to take full advantage of the weapon’s power and accuracy, and even standard variants were supplied with a combination shoulder stock and holster, prefiguring the ‘Personal Defence Weapon’ of today.
Offering formidable reach and striking power, the lance has been the quintessential shock weapon of the cavalry throughout history. Yet with the development of cavalry firearms and the widespread disappearance of armour from the European battlefield, it became somewhat marginalized. However, by 19th century the lance, much changed from its medieval predecessors in both form and function, was back in use by the majority of Western militaries. A weapon once considered obsolete returned to favour, seeing action in a host of conflicts including the Napoleonic Wars, the American Civil War and World War I. It was not until the disappearance of the mounted warrior from the battlefield that the lance was finally consigned to history.
Eight books that would make a great addition to anyone's armoury - let us know what you think in the comments section below!