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Warfare in 1912: A Look in Scientific American's Archives [Slide Show]

Images of weapons technology from a century ago, two years before World War I broke out in Europe

By Daniel C. Schlenoff

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DEFENDING THE COAST:

This gun was designed to pop up, fire, then vanish behind the safety of thick concrete walls. In World War I the lack of overhead protection for this fortified position would have left it extremely vulnerable.....[ More ]

HOMELAND DEFENSE:

The specter of fleets of enemy warships menacing the United States held a powerful grip on the imagination of military planners. In this cover image, stalwart gunners load a large gun with bags of propellant.....[ More ]

SECRETS AND SPIES:

This device had three mirrors so perfectly ground they reflected a light beam in the exact direction it came from. Communication was therefore secure—perhaps between army commanders or between a spy and an enemy fleet lurking offshore.....[ More ]

BATTLESHIP NEW YORK:

Launched in 1912, this ship saw action in World War I and World War II. This proud symbol of U.S. naval might ended its days as a test subject for two atomic bomb blasts at Bikini Atoll in 1946 and was later sunk in target practice.....[ More ]

BATTLECRUISER MOLTKE:

This German ship, launched in 1910, visited New York in 1912. The ship fought in two of the rare naval battles in World War I, and at the end of hostilities it was scuttled. The lowest line of men is standing on the chain anti-torpedo netting.....[ More ]

SIEGE HOWITZER:

An 11-inch road-mobile gun made by Krupp in Germany was designed to smash fortifications. The editors’ prescient comment: “There is no doubt but that in the next war between any two of the foremost powers, greater stress will be laid upon the artillery.”....[ More ]

MACHINE GUN:

Relatively portable, utterly reliable and definitively deadly, the British Vickers gun had a water-cooled jacket around the barrel to help provide continuous firing. It was so well designed that it served widely in several armies until the 1960s.....[ More ]

ENHANCED TORPEDO:

This overly complex design attempted to improve on the poor performance of the torpedo in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. By World War I, however, other conventional torpedo designs had advanced enough to prove very effective against military and civilian ships.....[ More ]

SUBMARINE REPAIR:

Submersible craft in the early years of their development were perilous to friend and foe alike. Here, we see an Italian theoretical design to test submarines or salvage them quickly in case of accident.....[ More ]

MOTIVE POWER AND MOBILITY:

Gasoline-powered internal combustion engines gave speed and reach to military operations. (Also widely used in World War I: railroads and, yes, war horses.)  In this photograph a Blèriot airplane with folded wings is towed out of a hanger by a motor car....[ More ]

EYES IN THE AIR:

Aviation was first used for scouting and communications. During World War I, airplane spotters became a prime component of artillery tactics. U.S. Army Air Corps pioneers Lieutenants Thomas DeW. Milling ( left ) and Benjamin D.....[ More ]

AERIAL BOMBING:

Shrapnel-loaded bomb was designed to be thrown from an aircraft. The parachute was supposed to aid in accuracy. With an explosive charge weighing just one pound, this device would have been of limited use.....[ More ]

FRENCH FIELD HOSPITAL:

Mobile surgical theater came complete with “Roentgen rays” (x-rays). Unfortunately, World War I battlefields lacked roads or easy access to such luxurious medical facilities. Half of the 8.4 million soldiers mobilized by France were wounded.....[ More ]

MANO À MANO:

The concept of self-defense for individuals and nations was and is a serious one. Today, however, the crudity of the stereotypes in this century old handgun advertisement is faintly amusing.....[ More ]

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