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Industrial Revolution and Large-Scale Combat Operations


Military revolutions (MR) radically change all dimensions, including military operations. This concept is widely discussed in connection with its impact on large-scale hostilities. This essay will show that the Industrial Revolution was the most influential proposed by Knox and Murray as it radically changed the way war was waged. It introduced new technologies that are used by modern generations, laid the foundation for tactics and diplomacy, and became the basis for all other military revolutions. As for the revolution in military affairs (RMA) concerning specific changes in the armed forces, it can be called a revolution that contributed to the mentioned MR and the concept of total war.

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Most of the technologies that have become widespread from the eighteenth century to the present day were created during the industrial revolution. It fundamentally changed the life of people in general and the conduct of the war in particular. Recoilless and rifled artillery, smokeless powder, and rifled and semi-automatic small arms are just some of the weapons developed as a result of this military revolution. These innovations were immediately put to the test during the ensuing American Civil War (1861-1865), which is often given as an example of the first total war, a term coined by Ludendorff in 1935.

An important aspect of the development of the theory of military revolution was its ideological closeness and compatibility with the paradigm of modernization. The two theories intersect in the fact that in the condition of prolonged foreign political tension, characteristic of all regions of Eurasia between 1500 and 1650. The task of ensuring military security and sovereignty was in the first place. The complex military measures, as a rule, cost much more than the traditionally oriented economy could afford. The condition for survival and further development was the satisfaction of the ever-increasing need of the state for money. Economic reform could be extensive or intensive at the level of domestic policy. Its ultimate goal was tax reform, expanding the state’s revenue base. These efforts required unprecedented measures to strengthen the central government and overcome the resistance of traditionalist elites and bureaucratization.

Gunpowder Revolution, An important element of the military revolution is the gunpowder revolution – the invention and distribution of gunpowder, artillery, and handguns in the XIV-XVI centuries. In cannon production, the Crimean War also sparked a revolution that won the patronage of the British government, but only for a while. Breech-loading rifled guns were much more accurate than muzzle-loading smoothbore guns and the Newcastle hydraulic machine maker William Armstrong. He invented such a gun and agreed in 1859 to surrender his patents to the government in exchange for a knighthood and an appointment to Woolwich Arsenal as a rifled artillery engineer.

The Role of Metallurgy in the Military Revolution

Metallurgy, breech design, and above all, the explosive properties of the chemicals used as gunpowder clearly showed that muzzle-loading guns were inherently inferior to breech-loading guns. The decisive moment was a special demonstration that Alfred Krupp arranged in 1879 at the new training ground he had just created in Meppen. In front of representatives of the armed forces of more than a dozen countries, Krupp’s artillery crews fired a series of shots:

  • the muzzle-loading guns of various calibers,
  • far exceeding the range and
  • initial speed of muzzle-loading guns of comparable sizes.

Traditionalism and Modernization

One of the main characteristics of wars in the Industrial Revolution era is asymmetry. It is largely due to the use by one side of the conflict of new forms and methods of warfare. Though, the other side is fighting based on the ideas of the previous period of military affairs. Most military-technical solutions should also be asymmetric. The study of internal relationships between the processes of modernization and transformations in the military sphere led to the question of the historical conditions and factors for the success or failure of the military revolution. In non-European scenarios of modernity, the military aspect is often the leading one. It determines the exogenous nature of modernization and military reform under the stimulus of an external threat. The examples of the Ottoman Empire and Japan of the Tokugawa era show that military innovations are successful only in a favorable cultural and historical context, with an accompanying set of social and cultural transformations. In 17th-century Tokugawa Japan, the authorities abandoned the use and production of firearms, which had already reached European levels in the 16th century, in order to preserve the traditional social order.


In the narrow sense of the word, military revolution refers to the transformations in the military affairs of Europe at the end of the 15th and beginning of the 18th century. When a regular mass army replaced the medieval feudal military-political organization. It was based on a developed military industry, commercial economy, and fiscal, and administrative capacity of a centralized nation-state. The historical results of the military revolution are the development of a military-bureaucratic absolutist state and the military hegemony of Europe over the rest of the world, achieved by the middle of the 18th century.

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