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10 Weapons that changed the world. Atomic bomb, AK-47, longbow, arquebus, Roman gladius and others.

George Washington famously once said “A free people ought to be armed.” In America, weapons have always been a strong part of the culture — we associate them with freedom, personal independence and self-reliance. During wars, we’ve depended on the latest innovations to give us an edge against our enemies, hoping to minimize casualties on our side. Only a select few of them, however, have drastically altered the manners in which wars are fought, populations are controlled and foreign policy is handled. The following weapons sent shock waves around the world when they were created — some literally — and, to varying degrees, have altered the course of humanity.

1. Atomic Bomb: Robert J. Oppenheimer, recognized as the “father of the atomic bomb,” fully comprehended the magnitude of such a creation. Years after the first nuclear weapons test of the atomic bomb, he reflected on the feelings of those involved: “We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent.” The U.S. holds the distinction of being the only country to use them during a war. “Little Boy” was detonated in Hiroshima and “Fat Man” was detonated in Nagasaki. Combined, they killed approximately 200,000 people, not including those who suffered illnesses due to the fallout.

2. AK-47: An invention of the Soviets after the end of World War II, the AK-47 remains one the world’s most used combat weapons. Small arms designer Mikhail Kalashnikov conceived it as a response to the advanced German weaponry brought forth in World War II. Because it’s relatively inexpensive to produce and incredibly efficient, the AK-47 is a staple of at least 50 armies, plus conflicts involving revolutionaries and terrorists. In the more than 60 years of its existence, roughly 100 million have been produced and spread around the world.

3. Longbow: The longbow first appeared in the battle of Falkirk in 1298 and became England’s preferred weapon for the next two hundred years. During the battle of Agincourt, more than 5,000 Englishmen used it to defeat the large but over-matched French army, firing tens of thousands of arrows during the brief conflict. Proficient longbowmen honed their craft from an early age, developing the strength and skill to lift the 200-pound instrument and turn it into a killing machine. Longbows have also made excellent hunting devices for numerous cultures.

4. RPG-7: Rocket propelled grenade (RPG) launchers enable one person to take out armored vehicles and other large objects with a single fire. Designed by the Soviets and manufactured by the Bazalt company, the RPG-7, like the AK-47, is inexpensive to produce, easy to use and incredibly effective — it’s also very accurate given its simplicity. Guerilla forces from around the world have been using it in conflicts since the Vietnam War, and today, more than 40 countries around the world use it.

5. Thompson Submachine Gun: General John T. Thompson’s quest to build a semi-automatic rifle led to the development of a “one-man, hand-held machine gun” best known as the Tommy gun. The U.S. Marines were the first to purchase the weapon, introducing it to combat during the Banana Wars in China, but it became a part of popular culture — and crime culture — when gangsters used them during Prohibition and the Great Depression. The carnage these guns are capable of inflicting became evident to the public in 1929 during The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, in which six members of Chicago’s North Side gang and one other man were brutally murdered.

6. Maxim Gun: American-turned-Brit inventor Hiram Maxim was inspired by a friend to construct a gun that would allow “Europeans to cut each others’ throats with greater facility,” so along came the Maxim gun. With one fell swoop, the self-powered machine gun could incur more damage than most people could fathom during the late 19th century. It was prominently used during Europe’s colonization of Africa — at one point in the First Matabele War, 50 British soldiers neutralized 5,000 warriors with just four Maxim guns. The gun would evolve by World War I, bringing forth the reliable Vickers machine gun.

7. ICBM: Like many other world-changing weapons, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) were developed during World War II and have threatened peace ever since. Nazi Germany undertook the first design in Projekt Amerika with the goal of procuring damaging long-range bombs to use on major American cities. Soviets and Americans developed and tested their own ICBMs during the Cold War, making the threat of a nuclear war more possible. Eventually recognizing their potential for causing a major irreversible catastrophe, both powers agreed to the SALT and START treaties to control the buildup of such weapons.

8. M1 Garand: Praised by General George S. Patton as “the greatest implement of battle ever devised,” the M1 Garand, the original semi-automatic rifle, helped give the U.S. a decided advantage in firepower during World War II. A decade earlier, it became the standard service rifle of the U.S. Armed Forces because of its quick recovery time between shots. Today, some areas of the armed forces still use it, and it’s also used by civilians for recreational purposes.

9. Arquebus: During the 14th century, the Ming army fought the Mongols out of China with the help of the Arquebus, a precursor of the rifle. Its presence was felt in several notable battles from that point to the beginning of the 17th century, when the Dutch used it in the Battle of Nieuwpoort. The powerful firearm was effective against enemies wearing steel plate armor, but was best utilized during volley fire, a rotating firing squad, because of the slow reload times. Once armies determined its proper use, it became a key component of even more battles.

10. Roman Gladius: The subject of Roman lore, the gladius — or sword — was an item prevalent during gladiator competitions and battles. There were several different types of gladii, each produced during different eras to meet different needs. The Gladius Hispaniensis in particular, which was used by the Romans from about 200 BC to 20 BC, enabled them to win conflicts more decisively. The Pompeii and Mainz versions of the gladius were also popular, and have been recovered and examined in modern times because of their importance to the history of weaponry.

Source: submitted by Tim Handorf


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