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European Themeroute | Industry and War

The origins of gun powder can be traced to China. There the oldest recipe for mixing charcoal, salpeter and sulphur dates from the year 1044. In the Far East though, powder apparently was used only in fireworks and fire arrows. The first firearms were developed in various places in Europe during the 14th ... more

Icon: Industry and WarEuropean Themeroute Industry and War

The origins of gun powder can be traced to China. There the oldest recipe for mixing charcoal, salpeter and sulphur dates from the year 1044. In the Far East though, powder apparently was used only in fireworks and fire arrows. The first firearms were developed in various places in Europe during the 14th century. Based on experiences with bell-founding, the first cannons were soon cast in bronze – for many centuries bronze was to be the unrivalled material for manufacturing cannons. Bullets were first made of stone, but from the 15th century on they were cast in iron.

Standardization was crucial for the early, quasi-industrialised production of military goods. In the 15th century the Republic of Venice, predominant power in the Mediterranean, produced the first standardised parts for warships. Venice as well embarked on systematizing the wide variety of the guns in use – a task which was finally brought to an end by Holy Roman Emperor Karl V. Under his reign two measurements for guns were introduced, which remained in use for a long time: the weight of the bullet and the diameter of the barrel. Shortly before World War I, the second one, now termed "caliber", became the internationally accepted measure. The next step to standardization was the Oranian Military Reform at the end of the 16th century: in their fight for independence the Dutch created the first standing army which, due to permanent drill, was ready for combat at any time. The concept was carried further during the following century, when the modern army came into being: all soldiers dressed in uniforms, carrying the same arms, stationed in barracks. At the same time the major powers, led by Great Britain and France, restructured their fleets. Warships were classified according to the number of guns they carried and the admiralty designed a set of rules for building ships which was meant to lead to a standardised serial production.

This goal however, was only reached by the small arms industry in the mid-19th century. Until then, state owned manufactories made guns and pistols which looked alike, but in the final assembly every single part had to be fitted by hand. Now gun makers from North America, like Samuel Colt, developed high-precision machine tools, which produced accurately fitting parts a worker simply had to assemble. The new machine tools quickly became a huge success throughout Europe, because emerging new sectors like the electrical industries relied heavily on high-precision parts. Thus industrial production was changed forever – and the skill of the craftsman became a thing of the past.

During this period of great innovations countless technical improvements from civilian industries were adapted for military use. The "Industrialisation of War", which followed, was exemplified first by the American Civil War (1861-65). There the first machine gun was used, the Gatling Gun, manufactured with the new high precision machine tools. Cannons were fitted out with rifled barrels now, which imparted a spin to the projectile and greatly improved range and target accuracy. At the same time, due to an extraordinary progess in iron making, sheet steel was improved considerably while its cost decreased. Thus, armour plates could be used for more and more purposes. In the naval sector these innovations led to the development of an entirely new class of battleships: the steam powered ironclad. Above the waterline it displays only a low, heavily armored superstructure, a large smoke stack and a huge gun turret.

With the industrialization of war since the middle of the 19th century, production of military equipment became a mass market. It was controlled by a few large enterprises from Great Britain, France and Germany, the most industrialised nations of the time. In the UK, Vickers from Sheffield were the indisputable number one in armament production: Europe's leading manufacturer of battleships also produced guns and ammunitions, airplanes and vehicles. By 1927, when big national trusts were formed everywhere, they finally merged with their strongest competitor, Armstrong Whitworth of Newcastle. In France, the steel tycoons from the Schneider family had their headquarters in the gigantic ironworks of Le Creusot in Burgundy, where they manufactured a wide variety of war materials. In their operations on the Atlantic coast they engaged in ship building and development of submarines and torpedoes.

The most research has probably been carried out on Germany's Krupp-Konzern of Essen, the so called "Cannon-King of the Deutsches Reich". In the middle of the 19th century, Alfred Krupp built his empire on the production of highly resistant but still flexible cast steel. At first he spezialised in seamless rolled wheel rims for the new railways. Sales of cannons only reached considerable amounts after the Franco-German war of 1870/71, which established the superiority of guns cast in iron over the traditional bronze casting. From then on Krupp acquired an almost absolute monopoly in the german armaments industry, partly due to his close ties with the German government, even to the emperor himself, partly due to the lack of serious competitors – who emerged only after the turn of the century. Krupp achieved his dubitable fame for producing cannons, but made his biggest profits with his unrivaled armour plates, which were indispensable for the build up of the German fleet, but were sold to the British and American navies as well. Nevertheless, the amount of military products rarely exceeded 40% of the company's overall output. Also, due to the militaristic propaganda of the times, the importance of the armaments industry for the German economy on the whole has mostly been overrated. In 1907 for example, no more than 2% of the German work force were employed in the military sector. In fact, most historians agree now that it was not the big armament companies who finally triggered the outbreak of World War I.

The massive arms build up during the imperialistic era and the years of war induced a fundamental change in the relationship between the military and the arms industry. Until then, every army had maintained its own arms workshops to ensure its autonomy. But now the rapidly advancing sophistication of arms systems led to an increasingly close co-operation between military administrations and private enterprises.


A striking example is to be found in the German chemical industry, which thanks to a number of excellent scientists had achieved a globally leading position by the end of the 19th century. As early as 1915 it saved the Reich from capitulating as the German armies ran out of ammunition, because the Entente blockaded the importation of salpeter, an indispensable ingredient in gunpowder and explosives. The way out was seen in the utilisation of the ammonia synthesis, a ground breaking invention which chemists Fritz Haber, professor in Berlin, and Carl Bosch of BASF chemical company had made before the war. This chemical process for the first time enabled mass production of an artificial fertilizer and induced a revolutionary change in agriculture. It also allowed for the manufacturing of nitric acid, a different chemical form of salpeter. So military, science and industry joined forces: the government funded the construction of huge production facilities for nitric acid, the German armies stayed on the battlegrounds and BASF in the 1920s became the world's largest manufacturer of chemical fertilizer.

In a similar combined effort the Reich started production of lethal gas. The first gas attack was launched at Ypern in Flanders in 1915, behind it was again Fritz Haber and on behalf of the industry Carl Duisberg, Head of Bayer chemical works. As Haber kept on experimenting with various new sorts of toxic gases, the Entente felt forced to join the crude competition and ordered the same materials from their chemical industries.
Moreover, both sides heavily relied on chemists for the replacement of goods they could no longer import: the Entente especially lacked chemical and optical materials, the Central Powers were cut off from commodities. Thus, chemical industries acquired a novel military importance: a first hint that the steel companies were to lose their centuries-old leading role in the production of armaments.

In the First World War they still contributed – apart from ever bigger and better armoured battleships – the first tank: it was developed in Britain in 1915 on the basis of a civilian American track vehicle, the "Caterpillar". But usually the military remained sceptical about adopting technical advancements. Therefore, more radical innovations such as submarines and airplanes were used rather reluctantly and displayed their full potential only in World War II.

Whereas in the first two "industrialised" wars most military innovations had come from civilian sources, now the picture changed. Countless ground breaking advancements, which led to common goods in nowadays' mass markets, go back to military developments in the thirties and forties. The first jet engine equipped airplane for example took off in 1939: a fighter plane, built by the German manufacturer Heinkel. Its technical design, which uses a jet of compressed in-coming air as a propellant, was introduced into standardized passenger plane construction by the British company De Havilland in 1949. On the contrary, the development of rockets, which carry both oxygen and fuel on-board, started with civilian experiments in the twenties, but was taken over by the military in the thirties and brought to use for the first time in the German "V-2" in 1944.

Radar again, in everyday use now on airplanes, ships or motorways, was invented for military reasons. In 1937 a first station on the British coast emitted electromagnetic waves to acoustically detect incoming airplanes. Later on, a planning tool termed "Operational Research" helped British experts to decide on the placement of more stations. This tool, combining techniques from mathematics, information sciences and economics, also has long since been adapted for civilian uses. The same goes for the beginnings of computer technology, especially in the U.S. Thus, the armaments industries have evolved from the small worlds of bronze und iron casting into a multi-faceted, interdisciplinary economic sector.

In the Second World War, particularly in Germany, a rather unique measure was taken to protect armament facilities from bombing: Hitler had certain factories moved below ground, especially those for production of airplanes and synthetic fuel or development of the new "V"-rockets. In the hasty preparation of the subterranean sites, mostly old mining plants or tunnels, tens of thousands of forced workers and prisoners from concentration camps met their death. In the UK, some airplane plants were moved below ground, too, but because of the high effort necessary to construct suitable spaces, the British government generally preferred the decentralisation of big factory complexes instead.

In World War II armies relied more and more on quick replacements of their sophisticated arms systems. As a consequence, more industries were forced to manufacture war materials than ever before. Decisions about production as well as research were made by collective bodies of representatives from government and military, industry and science. In Nazi Germany though, the totalitarian system produced such an intricate labyrinth of rivalling institutions and competing responsibilities, that the efficiency of the war economy was considerably impeded. In the U.S. on the contrary, co-operation was nearly brought to perfection in a "military-industrial complex" – which soon developed a momentum which tended to put it beyond democratic control. Traditional private armament companies, like Vickers and Krupp, influential as they once were, have all but disappeared.

Peenemünde | Germany
Peenemünde was once the embodiment of high-tech perfection – earlier and more modern than anywhere else in the world. Here in the extreme north-east of Germany the first long-distance rocket was set off in 1942. Some scientists even dreamt of developing a means of transport which would catapult ...
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The Peenemünde Historical Museum
Im Kraftwerk
17449 Peenemünde, Germany

Top secret and highly explosive: the world visitors explore when entering the Exploseum was sealed to strangers for a long time. Right here one of the largest ammunition factories of the Third Reich came into being with the beginning of World War II, well hidden in the woods surrounding Bydgoszcz ...
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Leon Wyczolkowski District Museum Exploseum
Muzeum Okręgowe im. Leona Wyczółkowskiego EXPLOSEUM - DAG Fabrik Bromberg
Alfreda Nobla
85-006 Bydgoszcz, Poland

Duxford | United Kingdom
Six large halls, one more gigantic than the other: inside, hundreds of veteran aeroplanes, from biplanes via propeller-driven reconnaissance and combat aircraft to jets. Glitteringly restored, they stand on the floor and in galleries, or hang suspended from the ceiling as if in flight. During air ...
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Imperial War Museum Duxford
CB22 4QR Duxford, United Kingdom

The Rijeka’s torpedo launching and testing station is place where in 1866 the first torpedo Luppis-Whitehead was invented and tested.  Whitehead torpedo factory in Rijeka was the first torpedo factory on the world, and the Whitehead torpedoes became for almost half the century the standard navy ...
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Torpedo launching and testing station
Tvornica "Torpedo" PRO TORPEDO Rijeka
Milutina Baraca 19
51000 Rijeka, Croatia

Frederiksvaerk | Denmark
Frederiksvaerk boasts a remarkable history along the lines of well-known English factory villages such as Coalbrookdale, New Lanark and Saltaire. Based on waterpower Frederiksvaerk once housed the national armament industry and was a worldwide supplier of military equipment. In the 1720s an agate ...
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Frederiks Vaerk Museum of Industry
Industrimuseet Frederiks Værk
Torvet 18-20
DK 3300 Frederiksvaerk, Denmark

Hinterbrühl | Austria
The Seegrotte cave system in the district of Mödling in Lower Austria is the result of mining for gypsum. An explosion during blasting in the mine in 1912 led to its closure, and also the creation of what is believed to be the largest subterranean lake in Europe. The cave system was ‘re-discovered’ ...
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Seegrotte Hinterbrühl
Grutschgasse 2a
A-2371 Hinterbrühl, Austria

Wiener Neustadt | Austria
The Museum of the Industrial Quarter was established in 1982.by Karl Flanner (1920-2013), a welder in the city’s famous locomotive factory, who endured slave labour under the Nazis, was imprisoned in concentration camps, served as a member of the city corporation in the decades after the Second ...
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Museum of the Industrial Quarter
Industrieviertel Museum
Anna Rieger Gasse 4
2700 Wiener Neustadt, Austria

Dinant | Belgium
The town of Dinant stands on the east bank of the River Meuse in a gorge created by dramatic limestone cliffs. The river is navigable up to and beyond the French frontier at Givet, 22 km upstream. The Rock of Bayard, a pinnacle about 2 km upstream was separated from the adjacent cliff  by a road cut ...
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The citadel of Dinant
La Citadelle de Dinant SA
Place Reine Astrid 3-5
5500 Dinant, Belgium

Copenhagen | Denmark
Holmen is the name given to the row of islands linked by bridges to the east of Copenhagen between Zealand and the northern tip of the island of Amager, most of which are artificial, having been created from the 1680s onwards by sinking the hulks of ships and filling in the areas around them with ...
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Holmen Naval Base
Copenhagen, Denmark

Hanstholm | Denmark
Hanstholm is a town and port in Thisted municipality in northern Jutland which is the location of Festung Hanstholm, a fortress with its guns trained over the Skagerrak built by the armed forces of the Third Reich immediately after they invaded Denmark on 9 April 1940. It was matched on the ...
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Museumscenter Hanstholm
Moleveg 29
7730 Hanstholm, Denmark

Herning | Denmark
The lignite mines at Soby, 15 km south of the city of Herning contributed to the supply of energy in Denmark for 30 years from 1940, and were especially important during the wartime years of occupation. At their peak the workings employed some five thousand men, and in most years more than 3,500 ...
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Soby Lignite Museum
Soby Brunkulsmuseum
Brunkulsvej 29
7400 Herning, Denmark

Værlose is a community on the north-western outskirts of Copenhagen and the location of a former Royal Danish Air Force base. Military use of the site began in 1910 when a camp was established there for the training of army recruits. It became an air base in 1934, but the forces there proved ...
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Hangar 46 - Værlose airfield national museum of military history
Flyvestation Værlose Nationalmuseets Militærhistoriske Magazin
Sandet
3500 Kirke Værlose, Denmark

Besançon | France
Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban (1633-1707), who served Louis XIV, was perhaps the greatest of European military engineers. Between 1667 and his death he was responsible for major improvements to the fortifications of 300 towns and constructed 37 fortresses of which the citadel at Besançon is one of ...
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Besançcon citadel
Citadelle de Besançon
99 Rue des Fusillés de la Résistance
25042 Besançon, France

Éperlecques | France
Le Blockhaus d’Éperlecques, near St Omer, is a massive concrete structure intended as a launching point for rocket missiles directed at the United Kingdom during the Second World War. It was constructed from March 1943 as the V2 rocket was being developed at Peenemunde, and carried the code name ...
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Le Blockhaus d’Éperlecques
Cap et Marais d’Opale Natural Regional Park
Rue de Sarts
62910 Éperlecques, France

Fécamp | France
The Palais Bénédicitne at Fécamp, on the Normandy coast, 60 km west of Rouen, is a huge factory built between 1882 and 1888 in a mixture of the Neo-Gothic and Neo-Renaissance styles. It was designed by the architect Camille Albert (1852-1942) for Alexandre-Prosper Le Grand (1830-98), wine merchant ...
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Palais Bénédictine
110 Rue Alexandre le Grand
76400 Fécamp, France

Helfaut | France
La Coupole (the cupola), between the villages of Helfaut and Wizernes in northern France, 5 km. from the city of St Omer is important for its role in the Second World War, as an example of concrete construction, and for its influence on the space programmes of the second half of the twentieth ...
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La Coupole
La Coupole
Rue Clabaux
62570 Helfaut, France

Paris | France
France’s national military museum was founded in 1905 by the merger of two earlier institutions, the Artillery Museum, created during the French Revolution, and located at les Invalides from 1871, and the Historical Army Museum, established in 1896 and inspired by French displays at the Paris ...
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Army Museum
Musée de l’Armée Hotel des Invalides
129 Rue de Grenelle
75007 Paris, France

Schoenenbourg | France
The fortifications of the Maginot Line, built in the 1920s and 30s by the French government to deter invasion from Germany, are amongst Europe’s most notable feats of concrete engineering. They were named after a defence minister, André Maginot (1877-1932).The Schoenenbourg fort lies 2 km north of ...
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Schoenenbourg fortress
Ouvrage Schoenenbourg
Route du Commandant Reynier
67250 Schoenenbourg, France

Berlin | Germany
The military history museum in Berlin is part of the Bundeswehr Museum of Military History which is located in Dresden and is focussed on the cultural rather than the technical history of warfare, particularly aerial warfare. Displays illustrate such themes as crossing borders, defenceless victims, ...
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Military History Museum
Am Flugplatz Gatow 33
14089 Berlin, Germany

Bleicherode | Germany
Potash is a term used to denote a variety of mined and manufactured water-soluble salts of potassium and particularly potassium chloride, KCl (sometimes called Sylvite) and potassium sulphate, K2SO4. The extraction of potash has been a major industry of that part of Germany west of Magdeburg and ...
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Bleicherode Potash Mine
NDH Entsorgungsbetreibergesellschaft mbH
Nordhäuser Str. 70
99752 Bleicherode, Germany