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С.А. Школяр

The pre-gun period in the evolution of Eastern artillery, thus far, remains a blank in scholarly writings. This enhances the interest in the study of projectile machines in China. Relevant Chinese data are particulary valuable in compiling a characteristic of the arcballistes and drawed lever-operated machine-blides, which were traditional to the projectile artillery of the Far East but are least surveyed in research publications. The present author terms them projectile machines of the Chinese type. The researcher saw one of his principal objectives in citing the greatest possible amount of Chinese source data which, forming the underlying basis of the monograph's exploratory part, could be found useful in the subsequent study of mediaeval artillery. Major attention is devoted to the elucidation of meaning of technical terms pertaining to the problem in hand. The emphasis is on the period of flowering of Chinese pre-gun artillery — the 7-th–13-th centuries — which also initiated the employment of powder weapons, whose development was then closely related to projectile artillery.

Chinese projectile artillery pieces must have been a local invention. An analysis of data contained in China's ancient written sources suggests that the earliest authentic evidence of China's stonethrowed machines was a military treatise by Fan Li. The first comparatively elaborate description of a mounted crossbow and stonethrowed machine is to be found in the treatise Mo-tzu. The character of the text invites an endeavour to re-create their structure.

The crossbow's projectile mechanism emerged as an interacting system of a propelling instrument (bow) and a trigger mechanism. The indivisibility of the system, which successfully resolved the key problem posed by this type of weapon — the delivery of an arrow-shaped projectile — explains why the crossbow persisted as the basis of the arcballiste-type artillery pieces. The arcballiste's constructive solution — a crossbow mounted on a wooden support — came to the scene at a fairly early date and remained fundamentally unchanged for many centuries.

In the stonethrowed machines the projectile mechanism gradually changed into a lever of the first order and the machine itself (at the dawn of our era) into something like a well sweep. The continued development of its structure, which retained the principle of lever-operated propulsion, brought into existence three groups of stonethrowed machines: whirlwind pole-mounted stonethrowed machines (which must have taken final shape in the 3-rd–7-th centuries) and stonethrowed machines on prismatic (8-th–10-th centuries) and pyramid-shaped (after the 9-th century) supports. The grouping method used in this book has permitted, first, a close scrutiny of the structural details of the stonethrowed weapons and the disclosure of their substantial performance characteristics and. second, correction of obvious imprecisions in the extant text of the 12-th chüan of the treatise entitled «Wu ching tsungyao» which had become accumulated in the course of its long publishing history (see Table 1, 2). An analysis of logical interrelation between the constructive forms of Chinese stonethrowed machines and the factors behind their tactical application against the background of historical data on when they made their appearance and were employed in military operations enables the author to consider the suggested grouping of Chinese stonethrowed machines as a research method as well as consecutive stages in their history, in other words, as the basis of their historical classification.

The structural evolution of arcballistes and stonethrowed machines exhibits a common process: the increase in projectile capacity took the form of a numerical increase of bows (arcballistes) and elastic levers (stonethrowed machines). Objectively, this made the weapons larger forcing their designers to simplify the structure of projectile units to the detriment of some useful characteristics of small weapons of the previous epochs (traversing gear for all-around firing, gun carriage, etc.). Such a pattern of constructive development was natural to mechanical artillery, with the limited potential of its wooden basis. Nevertheless, in the stonethrowed machine technique the projectile utilization of human muscle power alone with the refusal to use the simplest mechanisms like the pulley and windlass in obtaining the drawing effect set some limit to the evolution of the Chinese blide. The short but eloquent history of «Moslem» stonethrowed machines in China vividly illustrated the negative aspects of Chinese military-technical tradition in the field of artillery armament. In the discussion of the essence of these «Moslem» weapons (hui-hui p'ao or hsiangyang p'ao, hsiyü p'ao) a comparison of data derived from different sources and those on the state of artillery and powder weapons in the 13-th century in both China and the neighbouring countries suggests that these weapons were represented by powerful stonethrowed machines (like the Persian manganiks and the European trebuchets) with a balance weight, which was mobile in «Chinese» variant. This accords with the terminology of Chinese texts and the evidence of Rashid ad-Din and Marco Polo. The author assumes that the structural changes made in these machines in China could be due to the mounting on Chinese supports of counterpoise projectile levers that had the shape of truncated pyramids and were therefore better suited to the operating requirements of large stonethrowed machines.

Chinese pre-gun artillery had long been known for its incendiary projectiles but in the 10-th–13-th centuries the use of powderlike and subsequently powder compositions made them multipurpose and high-casualty-effect projectiles. According to sources, proto-powder came to the Chinese scene in the second half of the 8-th century while at the end of the 9-th century and the beginning of the 10-th powder composition found military application.

The early powder compositions, having only deflagrating properties, were employed as a powerful fire agent. This legitimate stage in the development of powder formed the historically unavoidable first stage in the evolution of powder weapons as predominantly incendiary. There are no grounds for presenting them as guns above all because the early powder had no adequate propelling properties.

At the initial stage of the period of transition from projectile weapons to guns the employment of powder projectiles in pre-gun artillery formed the main direction of development of the powder weapons. This lends substantial importance to the elucidation of essence of the term «huo p'ao», which occurred in 10-th century sources. An analysis of texts compared to data on the structural principles of weapons and the terminology of the missile process permits to identify 10-th–13-th century huo p'ao with «fire projectile», in other words, the stonethrowed artillery powder projectile.

However, there were differences in the operation and tactical function of huo p'ao. Among the projectiles described in «Wu ching tsungyao» fragmentation-incendiary and fragmentation-explosive ones stood out already in the 11-th century. The logic of evolution of the projectiles' combat employment resulted in purposeful efforts designed to increase the powder's explosive potential. At the end of the 12-th century and the beginning of the 13-th China saw the effective employment of high-explosive powder projectiles, which had grown large and heavy by the close of the 13-th century. A substantial role in tlie subsequent emergence of early metal barrels in Chinese guns was played by the experience of utilization of metal bodies for these projectiles. Powder compositions also fund application in various toxic and signal propulsive projectiles.

Data contained in Chinese sources invite some assumptions regarding the early stages of evolution of the powder weapons. This makes pertinent a classification of the stages of evolution of these weapons which embraced the changeover from projectile artillery to guns, which was advanced back in 1949 by the noted Soviet weapon expert and scientist V.G. Fyodorov. His classification, which merits recognition but, regrettably, has failed, to gain publicity, justly divides the transitional period into the stages of incendiary weapons, flamethrowed weapons and guns. However, Fyodorov's definitions of the stages are not flawless. Proceeding from the propulsive, energy factor which is adopted in the general classification of epochs in artillery history, the author suggests basing the classification of siages of the transitional period of powder weapon history on the employment of characteristics of powder's explosive transformation (in a definite historical sequence — from deflagrating to propulsive), which found expression in the form of their utilization in different types of weapons — incendiary weapons, flamethrowed weapons and guns. The stages of the transitional period can he summed up as follows:

  • 1. The employment of incendiary and subsequently feebly marked explosive properties of the early powder-like, mixtures in powder projectiles of various designation which were propelled by mechanical weapons of the pre-gun type.
  • 2. The employment of feebly marked propulsive characteristics of linearly powder mixtures in ejection of fire and products of incomplete combustion of powder from barrel-type pieces of the flamethrowed type.
  • 3. The employment of propulsive properties of powder in ejection of bullets and projectiles from barrel-type pieces, in other words, guns.

On the 10-th–13-th centuries projectile artillery substantially gained in importance in the military operations conducted on Chinese territory. Chapter Five contains an elaborate discussion of the tactical employment of arcballistes and stonethrowed machines at all stages of the combat, the artillery, combat formations, the types and methods of throwing, etc. During the attack on the fortress projectile artillery was to destroy enemy defence installations and missile and protective means on the main rampart, enemy personnel on the fortress wall as well as military and civilian objectives, provide artillery cover for friendly attacks and inflict losses on the garrison and population within the fortress. In the course of fortress defence the defenders' projectile artillery was to prevent the disposition of enemy troops, siege equipment and means of projectile next to the wall, destroy enemy personnel and siege equipment during the attack and storm and disrupt enemy preparations for attack and the system of siege or blockade by strikes of projectile weapons. Artillery ordnance, for example, was successfully employed in incapacitating enemy commanders. For instance, Chinese local chronicles contain interesting accounts of the death around the fortress Tiaoyü-cheng of the Mongol Meng-ku Khan from a wound inflicted by a stonethrowed machine projectile in 1259.

The mounting importance of projectile artillery in the 10-th 13-th centuries was reflected in the validation of new tactical methods of its employment in the fortress combat by the prominent Chinese military authority Chen Gui (1072—1141). Chen Gui suggested what was perhaps the earliest tenaille pattern of defence installations in fortification history. For tile first time in the artillery annals he located slonethrowed machines within the fortress rather than on the rampart and applied indirect shooting aided by a shooting adjuster.

Sources also offer evidence of artillery participation in attacks on, and defence of, field fortifications in the course of position battle, in ambush, in support of the forcing of crossings, in defence of the shore line from enemy landings, etc. From deep antiquity projectile weapons had been a major component of the fighting equipment of men-of-war.

The diverse multiple data found in Chinese sources outline the features that were, lent to Chinese projectile artillery by the weapons it employed. One was their more extensive, tactical use than in Europe, which led to the setting up of large formations designed for the maintenance of weapons. In the 13-th century such formations reached dozens of thousands of men. As a result, measures geared to effect some organizational isolation of artillery detachments within the armed forces were introduced. Another peculiarity was the slightly greater participation of this artillery (predominantly arcballistes) in offensive and defensive field battles and naval action. Yet another distinction was the early extensive employment of powder projectiles of different designation. But these features manifested themselves within the framework of a common element in the tactical application of pre-gun artillery, which was due to the dependence of the character of military operations and the methods and forms of their persecution on the characteristics of weapons and combat materiel. Among the factors of this common element observable in pre-gun artillery all over Eurasia mention is merited by its relatively limited tactical use, the solution of kindred tactical missions by near-identical means of combat, similar methods of conduct of shooting, etc.

This furnishes added evidence of the illegitimacy of allegations concerning the specific character of socio-historical, including military-historical, processes in «tradition-bound» China and the existence of specifically «Chinese ways» in warfare. Even the discussion of a specific question like the tactical employment of Chinese projectile artillery reveals that it proceeded within the framework of worldwide tactical evolution of artillery in general and projectile artillery in particular. The history of Chinese pre-gun artillery with all its distinctive features forms part of the worldwide history of artillery.

С.А. Школяр. Китайская доогнестрельная артиллерия (Материалы и исследования). Москва: Наука, 1980