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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.

Munster | Germany
The Bundeswehr’s (German Army’s) school of armoured warfare is situated at Munster, and from the 1960s officers at the school began to accumulate a collection of tanks for training purposes. The establishment of a teaching collection was formally approved by the federal Ministry of Defence in 1972. ...

German Tank Museum
Hans-Krüger-Strasse 33
29633 Munster, Germany

Dora was a concentration camp on the north-west edge of the city of Nordhausen in Thuringia, established in 1943 on a site used previously for a subterranean fuel depot. It was a sub-camp of Buchenwald and the centre of the Mittelbau network of nearly 40 camps in the Harz Mountains. Extensive ...

Mittelbau-Dora (Concentration Camp Memorial)
Kohnsteinweg 20
99734 Nordhausen, Germany

Sondershausen | Germany
Sondershausen, a medium-sized town of about 20,000 inhabitants, lies about 50 km. north of Erfurt in the land of Thüringia.  Prospecting for potash began in the closing years of the nineteenth century and the first shaft of what became the Glückauf mine was completed in 1895. Two years later a ...

Sondershausen Adventure Mine
Erlebnisbergwerk Sondershausen
Schachtstrasse 20-22
99706 Sondershausen, Germany

Waldkraiburg | Germany
Waldkraiburg in the district of Mühldorf-am-Inn in southern Bavaria, like Hermoupolis on the Greek island of Syros, is a town where refugees arrived in poverty and within decades established prosperous industries. In the late 1930s the defence contracting company Chemie GmbH established an ...

House of Culture
Haus der Kultur
Braunauerstrasse 10
84478 Waldkraiburg, Germany

Győr | Hungary
Rába is a very large engineering company that originated in 1896 as the Hungarian Railway Carriage and Machine Works. It produced more than a thousand railway wagons in its first two years. The company supplied the Habsburg imperial army and produced its first road vehicles in 1904. In 1906 it ...

Raba Technological Centrum
Martin ul 1
9027 Győr, Hungary

La Spezia | Italy
The Italian navy established a base at La Spezia in the 1860s which subsequently became one of its principal dockyards and arsenals. The museum originated in the 18th century in a collection of artefacts relating to the navy of the royal house of Savoy that was displayed at Villafranca, and later in ...

Technical Naval Museum
Museo Tecnico Navale
Piazza Domenico Chiodo
19100 La Spezia, Italy

Daugavpils | Latvia
The Daugavpils Skrošu Rūpnīca (Daugavpils Shot Factory) includes a working shot tower that may be the oldest still operating in Europe. The factory was opened in the early 1880s by M Resler from Minsk. Originally it had a wooden shot tower which was replaced by a brick tower after a fire in 1911. ...

Daugavpils Shot Factory
Daugavpils Skrošu Rūpnīca
Varšavas ielā 28
5404 Daugavpils, Latvia

Amersfoort | Netherlands
This museum portrays the history of cavalry over more than 400 years. The theme of the main displays is ‘Van Paard tot Pantser’ (From Horse to Tank). There are collections in two principal buildings. The St George Building contains uniforms, small arms and armour worn by cavalrymen, the harness and ...

Netherlands Cavalry Museum
Museum Nederlandse Cavalerie
Barchman Woytierslaan 198
3818 LN Amersfoort, Netherlands

Den Helder | Netherlands
Den Helder is the port guarding the entrance to the Zuyder Zee (now the Ijsselmeer) at the northern tip of the North Holland peninsula. The waters of Den Helder were the assembly point for Dutch fleets trading to distant parts of the world in the 17th and 18th centuries. The port has been ...

Willemspoort Naval Dockyard
Stichting Museumhaven Willemsoord
Willemsoord 73
1781 AS Den Helder, Netherlands

In 1983 Dyno Industrier A/S opened a museum which formed part of their plant at Hurum, 12 miles south-east of Drammen, on the site of the factory established in 1875-76 by Alfred Nobel (1833-96). The inauguration of the museum marked the 150th anniversary of Nobel’s birth. Subsequently the factory ...

Historical Explosives Museum
Spængstoff Historisk Museum
Hurum, Norway

Kristiansand | Norway
Møvik lies 8 km south-west of Kristiansand and is the location of Bunker 55 or Batterie Vara, a gun emplacement built by the Wehrmacht after the invasion of Norway, and named after Major-General Felix Vara, an expert in military engineering, who died in 1941 while preparing fortifications for the ...

Kristiansand Cannon Museum
Kristiansand Kanonmuseum
Møvik Krooddveien
4624 Kristiansand, Norway

The town of Moss, in the county of Østfold in south-eastern Norway, is the southern terminus of commuter trains from Oslo. The museum dealing with the history of the town and its industry was established in 1995 and moved to its present premises in the mill of Kloster & Gale in 2000. The town has a ...

Moss Town and Industry Museum
Moss By- og Industrimuseum
Fossen 21/23
1530 Moss, Norway

Walim | Poland
Walim is a village in Silesia, 15 km. south-east of Wałbrzych, and close to the present-day border with the Czech Republic and to the Góry Sowe (Eulengebirges or Owl Mountains). Until 1945 the area was part of Germany and the village was called Wüstewaltersdorf. A museum opened in 1995 reveals the ...

Muzeum Sztolni Walimskich
3 Maja 26
58-320 Walim, Poland

Izhevsk, the capital of the Udmurt republic on the Izh river in the western Urals, is, with Tula, one of Russia’s ‘arms cities’. An ironworks was established there in 1743 and an armaments factory in 1800. The city was one of the USSR’s chief sources of weapons during the Second World War – or the ...

Kalashnikov Museum and Exhibition Complex of Small Arms

19 Borodina Street
426057 Ivhevsk, Russia

St Petersburg | Russia
The museum in St Petersburg is one of Europe’s most important maritime museums. It can trace its origins from 1709 when Peter the Great (1672-1725) began a collection of models. Perhaps the most celebrated item in the collection is the Botik, a scaled-down warship built for Peter the Great and used ...

Central Naval Museum
5, Truda Sq., 5
190000 St Petersburg, Russia

Tula is a substantial city with about half a million inhabitants on the Upa river 193 km south of Moscow. Ironworking was established in the district by the Dutchman Andreas Winius (1605-62), whose son knew Czar Peter the Great (1672-1725) who founded a state-owned arms factory in Tula, and in 1724 ...

Tula State Museum of Weapons
2 Ulitsa Octoyabr’skaya
300041 Tula, Russia

The movement resisting the Nazi occupation in the countries that once comprised Yugoslavia depended heavily on communications between groups of partisans and on the maintenance of good relationships between the fighting men and the inhabitants of the towns and village in the areas where they ...

Partisan Printworks at Gorenja Kanomlja
Partizanska tiskarna Slovenija
Vojsko 61
5280 Idrija, Slovenia

Es Castell | Spain
The Balearic Islands (Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, Formentera) lie in the Mediterranean about 250 km east of Valencia.  They belong to Spain, but have historic commercial ties with Italy, and for three spells, 1708-56, 1763-82 and 1798-1802 Menorca was occupied by the British. During the 19th century ...

Military Museums of Menorca
Consorcio del Museo Militar de Menorca
Explanada 19
07720 Es Castell, Spain

Toledo | Spain
The ancient city of Toledo stands above a dramatic gorge on the River Tagus, which is crossed by one of the world’s most celebrated stone arches, the Alcántara Bridge, constructed by the Romans and many times rebuilt. The city is dominated by the Alcázar fortress which took its present form in the ...

Toledo Army Museum
Museo del Ejércuti de Toledo
Call Union
45001 Toledo, Spain

Karlskoga is a town on the shores of Lake Möckeln near Örebro in the Swedish province of Värmland. It was one of the homes, in his later years, of Alfred Nobel (1833-96) creator of the modern explosives industry. Nobel was also the owner from 1894 of the nearby Bofors engineering works. He spent ...

Nobel Museum in Karlskogs & Bofors Museum
Nobelmuiseet i Karlskoga og Bofors Museet Björkborns Herrgård
Björkbornsvagen 10
69133 Karlskoga, Sweden

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WORK it Out – Day of Industrial Culture

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