Gunpowder and War

Gunpowder and explosives include gunpowder and explosives. They are a class of high-energy-density materials and are also the source of energy for land, navy, and air force weapons. Propellant and explosives have allowed mankind to move from the era of cold weapons to the era of hot weapons, and have participated in almost every war in the era of hot weapons. It can be said that the history of gunpowder is a legendary history of war.

“God of War” black powder
Black gunpowder is the originator of gunpowder and one of the four great inventions in ancient China. It came out at the end of the 9th century and was soon used in warfare. In the first year of Tang Tianyou (904), Yang Xingmi, a warlord who ruled Jianghuai, besieged Yuzhang (now Nanchang, Jiangxi), and his general, Zheng Fan, “fired with his troops and burned the Dragon Shamen.” After textual research, the so-called “engine flying fire” is to make black powder into a ball, ignite the fuse, and then throw it at the enemy. The effect is similar to artillery. This is also the earliest record of the use of explosives in war.

Black powder is composed of sulfur, saltpeter and charcoal. When it is ignited, the following reactions occur:

Among them, the main component of saltpeter is potassium nitrate. Potassium nitrate is used as an oxidant, which will decompose and generate nitrogen and oxygen when exposed to heat. Sulfur and charcoal are used as combustible agents. Under the support of oxygen, a violent combustion reaction occurs successively. The charcoal is oxidized, producing a lot of heat and carbon dioxide gas. Due to the rapid reaction, the rapid expansion of the volume caused an explosion, and the potassium sulfide particles produced during the explosion were dispersed in the gas to produce billowing smoke, and the black powder was also named.

During the Song and Yuan dynasties, Chinese firearms were introduced to Mongolia through war. In 1252, the Mongolian Great Khan Meng Ge sent his third brother Xu Liewu to lead an army of 100,000 to launch a large-scale western expedition. Meng Ge dispatched a siege force of about 1,000 Han soldiers for Xu Liewu. This force was led by the famous firearms expert Guo Kan and possessed powerful early artillery. With this “high-tech” force, the Mongolian army is invincible.

In 1253, Hulagu’s troops were located in the Mucha Yi country in northern Iran. During the siege, Guo Kan was ordered to bombard the city and cooperated with the main force to destroy more than 100 cities, making great contributions to the Mongolian army. In 1256, Mu Layi King Luknadine Kulsha surrendered, and Mu Layi Kingdom perished.

In early 1258, the Mongol army began to attack Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid dynasty. Before the Mongolian army attacked the city, Hulagu wrote to the Caliph, the ruler of the Abbasid dynasty, asking him to surrender. However, this historic city witnessed the golden age of Islamic civilization. At that time, it had a population of 1.2 million, a 12-foot-thick wall and a strong Five centuries of glory. Abbas Caliph Mustasin disdains the Mongolian light cavalry. What can the enemy do in front of the impregnable city? He decisively rejected the request of the Mongols.

On January 30, 1258, Xu Liewu ordered a general offensive, and the Han siege troops entered the position. The fierce shelling opened the gates of Baghdad, and the powerful gunpowder filled in the tunnel buried the proud city walls of Baghdad. Just ten days later, Baghdad was captured, the Caliph surrendered and was killed, and the famous Abbasid dynasty was declared annihilated.

Xu Liewu continued to lead his army westward, and the Western world fell into a huge panic, because they were about to face not only the Mongolian cavalry that came and went like wind, but also the thundering black god of war-black powder. It was also during this western expedition that black powder was introduced to Arabia, and after it was transformed by Arab craftsmen, it was introduced to Europe in the mid-14th century. In the 16th century, relying on new sea routes and increasingly perfect firearms, Europe, which experienced the Renaissance, launched an invasion of the entire world. The black powder from the ancient East changed the course of world history time and time again.

“Shang of Jiawu” bitter taste
In 1771, Irish chemist Peter Wolf discovered that a yellow substance can be obtained when nitric acid and indigo are mixed in a certain proportion. This is later trinitrophenol, commonly known as picric acid. At first, picric acid was only used as a yellow dye. It was not until 1871 that German-British chemist Herman Sprengel confirmed that picric acid has the ability to detonate. In 1885, French chemist Eugene Turpin applied for a patent for die-casting picric acid for explosive charges and shells based on the research results of Herman Sprenge. In 1887, France took the lead in using picric acid. Melinite explosive mixed with nitrocellulose. In 1891, Japanese scholar Shimose Masahiro made a similar picric acid explosive. After some exploration, at the beginning of 1893, Japan succeeded in using picric acid explosives as warhead fillers for naval artillery shells. This practice was extremely advanced at the time.

In the Sino-Japanese War of Sino-Japanese War in 1894, picric acid explosives appeared for the first time. At that time, the shells used by the Beiyang Navy mainly consisted of blooming bombs and solid bombs. The blooming bombs were filled with black powder. However, due to their weak industrial capabilities, the shells were rough in workmanship. The solid bombs were filled with sand and basically had no charge. Penetrating the enemy ship’s hull to attack, the power is extremely limited. In comparison, the picric acid explosive used by the Japanese Navy is not only more powerful than black powder, but also forms a continuous high-temperature flame after the explosion, burning the hull of the ship. In addition, after the explosion of picric acid gunpowder, toxic yellow smoke will be produced, which can cause serious disturbance and destruction to personnel.

On September 17, 1894, at Dadonggou in the Yellow Sea, the Japanese combined fleet confronted the Beiyang Fleet head-on. After 5 hours of fierce battle, the Beiyang Navy suffered heavy losses and lost a total of 5 warships. Although all the officers and soldiers of the Beiyang Navy fought bravely, their artillery shots were not inferior to their opponents, but in the end they failed to sink a Japanese ship, which made people sigh. As Shen Shoukun, chief officer of Dingyuan naval guns, said, “The defeat of Dadonggou is not due to lack of ammunition, but also the disadvantage of weapons.” The success or failure of this battle is directly related to the development level of the artillery shells of both sides.

“King of Dynamite” TNT
TNT, or trinitrotoluene, was invented by the German chemist Joseph Wilbrand in 1863. It is one of the most widely used “safe” explosives. It has almost no gunshot sensitivity (sensitivity refers to the presence of explosives in the outside world). The degree of difficulty of an explosion under the action of energy, the more sensitive the explosive, the higher the sensitivity, and vice versa).

In 1902, Germany began to use TNT for loading bombs, which made TNT step onto the war stage and became the explosive with the best comprehensive performance during the two world wars, and was called the “King of Dynamite.”

On May 31, 1916, the Battle of Jutland broke out. The two parties involved were the German High Seas Fleet and the British Royal Fleet. Before the war, due to differences in tactical concepts, the German fleet generally paid attention to armor protection, while the British pursued speed and firepower. As a veteran industrial power, the British and German navies are equipped with a large number of armor-piercing projectiles. The projectile materials of the two sides are almost the same. However, Germany’s warhead is filled with passivated TNT with beeswax desensitization and equipped with a delay fuze. Pursuing firepower, I chose picric acid with a higher sensitivity, and it was not equipped with a delay fuze.

After the war, the two sides launched fierce shelling. The German TNT shells had a low sensitivity. The shells equipped with a delay fuze could penetrate the armor and detonated inside the British warship, causing effective damage to the hull. However, British artillery shells often detonated prematurely after being impacted due to the high sensitivity of picric acid, unable to penetrate the armor of German ships, and their lethality was greatly reduced. Overall, the performance of the British armor-piercing projectile in the Jutland naval battle was disappointing, and the British army’s losses were almost twice that of the German army. After the war, the British Navy focused on improving the quality of ammunition based on actual combat performance, and TNT gradually replaced the bitter sour and became the darling of the war.

With the development of the times, TNT has gradually withdrawn from the stage of history. RDX, HMX and other explosives with more comprehensive performance have taken over the mantle of the predecessors. They shuttle in the new era. During the war, the legend of fire and explosives continued to be written.