Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Ancient siege engines
The earliest siege engine was the battering ram, followed by the catapult in ancient Greece and the onager invented by the Romans. It has recently been proposed that the Trojan Horse was not, as the legends say, a covert container for stealthy attackers, but rather a large battering ram resembling a horse.
Medieval siege engines
Medieval designs include the catapult, the ballista and the trebuchet. These machines used mechanical energy to fling large projectiles to batter down stone walls. Also used were the battering ram and the siege tower, a wooden tower on wheels that allowed attackers to climb up and over castle walls, while protected from enemy arrow fire.
A typical military confrontation in medieval times was for one side to lay siege to their opponent's castle. When properly defended, they had the choice whether to lay siege to the castle or to starve the people out by blocking food deliveries, or more proactively to employ war machines specifically designed to destroy or circumvent castle defenses.
Other tactics included setting fires against castle walls in an effort to decompose the cement that held together the individual stones so they could be readily knocked over. Another indirect means was the practice of sapping, whereby tunnels were dug under the walls to weaken the foundations and destroy them.
Modern siege engines
With the advent of gunpowder, firearms such as the arquebus and cannon—and eventually the mortar and artillery—were developed. These weapons proved so effective that fortifications, such as city walls, had to be low and thick, as exemplified by the designs of Vauban.
The largest railway rifle ever constructed, called informally "Big Bertha", was used by the Germans in the siege of Paris during World War I. The largest and longest range cannons proposed for use in World War II were the little-known German V3 weapons, a series of fixed barrels bored into tunnels and intended to fire a shell of over a metre in diameter, constructed on the coast of France and intended to completely destroy London. Their construction was halted after bombing by allied forces, using earth-penetrating bombs. The remnants of this weapon may still be viewed today.
Prior to the First Gulf War it was believed that Iraqi armed forces were developing a "supergun" to attack Israel, under the leadership of a Canadian engineer named Gerald Bull. It is believed that this engineer was assassinated by the Israeli security forces (Mossad). This was fictionalized in the 1994 film Doomsday Gun .
Siege weapons are now considered obsolete owing to the effectiveness of aircraft-delivered munitions and cruise missiles, which have made defensive area fortifications obsolete. The only cost effective static defensive structures are now deep bunkers used for military command and control. Even these fixed assets are of questionable value as it appears that the most survivable command and control of mobile defensive forces (such as modern tactical and strategic aircraft, mechanized cavalry and mechanized infantry) is through decentralized command and the use of mobile command centers.
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