The History of Weaponry and Warfare – part 2

In this episode we continue talking about the impact of gunpowder on warfare. We also go back in time to discuss stirrups and then jump forward to talk about nuclear warfare.

On the way we also talk about snipers, castle design, barbed wire and drones. I would have liked to discuss naval warfare a little more and also the impact of gunpowder on the invasion of what is now Latin America, but you can’t fit it all in. I will put some references below if anyone wants to look into these a little more deeply.

We have looked at the history of weaponry and warfare from the point of view of the distance between combatants. This seemed to a good way of looking at the broad sweep of military history as combatants do seem to be getting progressively further apart as time moves on. Of course, even in the most modern of battlefields with drones flying overhead, combatants do go hand-to-hand like they always have; as can be seen in the current battle for Mosul between Isis and the Iraqi army and this kind of fighting is as ghastly as it has always been.

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The photos above are of the trebuchet my friend Tom’s Dad made. It was full-sized and fully operational. He needed two tractors to cock it into position. He used to throw various things, including the car that you can see. He also threw a number of animals: horses, sheep, pigs. I should probably say that these animals were all pre-dead and there was a historical point behind catapulting animals. It was quite common practice to throw infected animal carcasses into a besieged castle to try to spread disease. This was an early form of germ warfare. 


Book we have read:

Rifles: Six Years With Wellington’s Legendary Sharpshooters by Mark Urban

The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo and The Somme by John Keegan

An Intimate History of Killing: Face-to-Face Killing in Twentieth Century Warfare by Joanna Bourke

Guns, Germs and Steel: A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years by Jared Diamond

Warhorse by Michael Morpurgo

Podcasts we have listened to:

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History: The Destroyer of Worlds I cannot recommend Dan Carlin more as a history podcaster, he is the godfather of the genre. This episode about nuclear weapons is amazing. (Oooh, I have just had a great moment. In Stitcher, this Dan Carlin episode popped up as a “similar episode” to ours!!)

RadioLab: Buttons Not Buttons There is a segment in this episode about the nuclear “button”. I found it fascinating. They discussed all the ways in which they have tried to make pressing the button as high stakes as possible. One idea was to put the nuclear codes inside the chest of one of the President’s aides, so that he had to kill his own aide and cut open his chest before he could launch a nuclear war. The idea was that the President would have to be the first person to actually kill someone before going ahead and unleashing Armageddon.

History on Fire: The Conquest of Mexico This is very good about the asymmetric warfare between the Spanish and the Mesoamericans. It wasn’t just gunpowder that gave them the edge, they also had horses and some pretty mean war dogs.

The History of England: Background to War I love this podcast and the host, David, has been very helpful to us in setting up our podcast. This episode goes into more detail about Charles XII of France’s campaign in Italy where he used cannons to great effect.

Films/TV we have seen:

Enemy at the Gates – the film is a little schlocky but it is very interesting about the fight between two snipers during the Battle of Stalingrad.


Warhorse – I have seen the film and the play. Otto has read the book and seen the film.

Blackadder Goes Forth

Eye in the Sky

Sharpe – I haven’t read the books, the TV series is fun, not massively relevant other than there is a lot about rifles.

The main image is mural that recreates The Guernica by Pablo Picasso. Otto and I went to see the original painting in Madrid. It is certainly one of my favourite paintings and feels like an exceptional representation of the pain inflicted by war. This image is used under Creative Commons licensing: By Papamanila (Self-photographed) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons


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