Libmonster ID: BY-1589
Author(s) of the publication: Sergei BAZANOV, Alexei OLEINIKOV

by Sergei BAZANOV, Dr. Sc. (Hist.), RAS Institute of Russian History, Moscow; Alexei OLEINIKOV, Dr. Sc. (Hist.), Astrakhan State Technical University, Astrakhan, Russia

The year 2014 marks the centennial since the outbreak of the First World War, a global blood-letting conflict that went on for as long as four years. Actually it was the first modern war beget as it did new kinds of weaponry and hardware still in the arsenal of armed forces in many countries. At the same time the war meant a breakthrough in many areas (with a great many discoveries and inventions made by Russian scientists and engineers). As good as all industries received great impetus; this is especially true of the aviation, chemical and metallurgical industries, of shipbuilding, automanufacturing, and electrical engineering.

The First World War of 1914-1918 became one of the greatest in human history both in the extension of battlefronts and in the number of warring countries (the four powers--Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Bulgaria pitted against the countries allied in the Entente--France, Great Britain, Russia, the United States and others). It had no precedent either in the number of killed or wounded, and in the scope of resources and wherewithal spent. It was the acid test of strength and minds: since the First engagements revealed shortfalls of weapons (offensive weapons above all!), the governments of the warring countries bent every effort to develop better, upgraded weapons the soonest.

The outbreak of World War I, also known in the West as the Great War and in this country, as a Second Patriotic War, sparked an upsurge of patriotic fervor--among our people, too. The scientific community did not straddle the fence either. As Anatoly Ivanov, Doctor of History, wrote in his study on the subject, "like the Russi-

стр. 66

an bourgeoisie with its industrial mobilization drive slogan, so our college and university faculty viewed the 'war mobilization of the higher school"' as their priority duty. This meant an all-out war effort in developing new kinds of military-related hardware... and ideological support for the sought-after victory (article The Russian "Scholarly État" in the Years of the "Second Patriotic War", journal Voprosy istorii estestvoznaniya i tekhniki, No. 2, 1999).


The war also meant a breakthrough in aviation revolutionized from a sport and pastime into a deadly weapon. Nikolai Zhukovsky, the founder of modern hydrodynamics and aircraft designer, predicted its great future. During World War I he made a signal contribution in building up the nation's air force. In his articles published in 1915 (Lectures on Ballistics, Bomb-throwing from Airplanes) Zhukovsky proposed methods for determining a bomb's trajectory, its rate of fall, and air density as a function of altitude, and so forth; thus he laid a groundwork for a new discipline, aerodynamics. He superintended work on making large-caliber aviation bombs. In 1913-1918 he was lecturing to air pilots in Moscow on the theory of ballistics and aeronautics.

The early nineteen-hundreds witnessed a new rising star, Igor Sikorsky, a great aeronautical engineer. Between 1912 and 1917 he was in charge of the aircraft design department of the Russobalt Shipyards (Riga, St. Petersburg). Thanks to his great enthusiasm and creative imagination, Sikorsky soon became a lead aviation engineer in Europe. Russobalt was also the cradle of other prominent engineers like Nikolai Polikarpov, the "king of fighter planes" to be, and Alexander Mikulin, a designer of aircraft engines.

Mikhail Shidlovsky, president of the Russobalt board of shareholders, gave much support to Sikorsky in his creative work, and thus heretofore unseen multimotor airplanes came into being between 1912 and 1914. First came the Grand Russky vityaz all-wood 4-ton biplane equipped with four engines manufactured by the Argus Modern Werke of Germany, each having 100 hp, and picking up a speed to 96 km/hr. It had a spacious cockpit with large windows, and the pilot could come out into the balcony in the nose compartment and down to the lower wing in the event of in-flight repairs.

Next came another creation of the "caballero of the air", as Sikorsky was dubbed. It was Ilya Muromets named so for the Russian epic hero; fitted with similar four engines, it looked like the Russky vityaz, though being larger in size. In February of 1914 it had its test flight and soon after, in the spring of the same year, another aircraft in this series was built, smaller but more powerful. It became a model plane for long-range bomber aircraft that appeared in Russia earlier than in the other warring states. Soon after, Sikorsky designed the world's first light fighter plane supplied with a wheel, ski and float gear for coverup operations.

In February of 1915 the Ilya Muromets had its maiden flight as a bomber. In the years of World War I as many as 75 planes of this type in various modifications made above 100 sorties into the enemy's hinterland. Apart from their deadly cargo, they were collecting intelligence information on En deployments and redeployments, and taking pictures of En positions. Such "flying fortresses", mobile and noted for precision bombing, scared the enemy out of his wits. They were invulnera-

стр. 67

ble to rifle and machine-gun fire since they climbed as high as 3,700 meters, and one plane reached an altitude of 5,700 meters.

Meanwhile the combat air force was making rapid headway. The army command, at the request of air pilots by the way, thought back to Gleb Kotelnikov's invention made in 1911: the parachute pack, also a Russian first. Its batch production streamlined, air pilots got a useful thing to bail them out if need be. The parachute had a semispherical silken cupola opened by the pull ring. Such packed parachutes saved many a life. Modern parachutes have adopted that design with slight modifications.


One of the pioneers there was Dmitry Grigorovich, a talented designer who, in 1913, created a "flying boat"-- a hydroplane capable of landing and taking off on water. The following year he came up with an upgraded modification, an all-wood two-seat biplane flying as fast as 128 km/hr and adopted by the Russian Navy for reconnaissance and gun fire correction. Dmitry Grigorovich designed also the world's first fighter hydroplane followed by a hydroplane bomber.

Viktor Kostenko was another Russian science celebrity. An eminent designer and shipbuilder, he had as

стр. 68

many as 90 publications to his credit on hydrodynamics, armor protection of warships and shipbuilding; he is the author of the Tsushima battle reminiscences--he witnessed at first hand that crucial battle of the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905 on board the Orël (Eagle) battleship. Kostenko also created Russia's first transport ships. In 1904 he finished a course at H.M. Nikolai College of Naval Engineers with a graduation project on a light, fast and well-armed battleship.

In his work the young designer offered a number of innovations. For one, he suggested replacing the steam generators and fixings with lighter modifications, thus making it possible to increase the warship's deck cargo, say, by taking heavier guns on board. Also, he was among the first designers to come up with an improved layout of onboard gun emplacements (two of the four towers raised above the deck) so as to increase an angle of fire. Such an arrangement was adopted by the Entente navies during the war.

Kostenko saw action in the Russo-Japanese war as a board engineer at the battleship Orel. In this capacity he had this man-of-war equipped with the world's first rapid system of list leveling by using buoyancy tables computed by Alexei Krylov, an engineer and mathematician elected to the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences in 1916; such tables are still in use. The Orel took part in the Tsushima battle. In for dozens of direct shell hits, she did not careen out of control and stayed above water.

In 1907-1908 Kostenko sketched a propulsive bionic* device of the "fish tail" type, a flexible elastic plate with a corrugated surface and two rows of inner cavities. This handmade "fin" or screw, by creating pressure differentials now in the port, now in the starboard chambers, was a good ballast for the ship's mobility and speed. Such screws are still in use at small vessels.

In 1912-1917 Kostenko saw service as chief engineer at the Naval Shipyards (today the Black Sea Shipyards at Nikolayev, Ukraine). He lent a hand in designing several destroyers, including the first Russian torpedoboat destroyers equipped with steam turbine engines of the Novik type--the world's best warships of this class. Kostenko likewise supervised the construction of a battleship dedicated to Empress Catherine II (Catherine the Great).

Also born at Nikolayev was the world's first submarine minelayer Crab (designer, Mikhail Naletov) armed with two bow torpedo launchers and a 76.3 mm gun. Naletov completed his work in 1912, though he began it before the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905. Three years after, this submarine was attached to the Black Sea Fleet. On her maiden voyage she set a minefield where the German cruiser Breslau blew up.


Our chemists were actively engaged, too. The protective gas helmet was certainly a revolutionizing inven-

* With reference to bionics, an applied discipline on using natural systems and mechanisms in manmade technical devices.--Ed.

стр. 69

tion. As its inventor Nikolai Zelinsky, an organic chemist, put it, it was his lifetime job. Dramatic events spurred this invention. In April of 1915 the Germans launched a gas attack near Ypres, Belgium, claiming around 15,000 victims among the allied forces (a third of this number died). Next month the Germans sprayed chlorine gas from 12 thousand bottles on the Eastern (Russian) Front near Warsaw, Poland. Our casualties totaled between 7 and 8 thousand men, of whom as many as two thousand died.

Studying casualty reports, Zelinsky discovered an important regularity. As he recalled later, survivors resorted to quite simple remedies like breathing through a rag wetted with water or urine or, biting the ground, through loose soil. Also escaping alive were men who covered their heads with a coat and lay still during the gas attack... "This fact made a big impression, and we decided to use a simple thing like the cloth of a soldier's coat or soil. In either case the poisonous substances were absorbed by the wool or soil, they were not bound chemically. We thought of finding a remedy like that in charcoal, the absorption factor of which relative to gases is much higher than that of soil."

Charcoal was known to man from time immemorial. Conducting experiments in activating this substance, Zelinsky tried it on himself. Holding a handkerchief with a pinch of charcoal powder tight to his nose and mouth, and closing his eyes, he stayed for a few minutes

стр. 70

in a room filled with a high concentration of chlorine and phosgene. That happened in the summer of 1915. And in November of the same year Mikhail Kummant, an engineer, designed a rubber helmet and eyeglasses protecting the face from deadly gases. That's how the Zelinsky-Kummant gas mask made its appearance.

In February of 1916 Emperor Nikolai (Nicholas) II, staying in his headquarters at Mogilev, ordered to test Russian and foreign chemical warfare defenses. This was done in a car laboratory of the Supreme Commander's train. Sergei Stepanov, an aide to Zelinsky, tested the gas helmet by spending an hour or so in a mixture of chlorine and phosgene, that is, longer than allowed by other protective masks. The emperor awarded a St. George Cross to the tester for his bravery and soon after, ordered mass production of the great chemist's invention.


In 1907 Vladimir Fyodorov, an artillery academy graduate, got down to designing an automatic rifle. He went on with this work during World War I in upgrading that firearm--for one, he designed a cartridge to it. On being fired, its barrel recoiled, recocked its hammer to a firing position and fed another cartridge in.

Fyodorov did not stop at that. He cut down the weight of his rifle to five kilos, upped the rate of fire to 100 shots a minute and the range of fire, to 300 meters. He found an effective method of cooling the barrel. In the end our foot soldiers got a fine firearm similar to "self-firing rifles", as the designer recalled later. Having a shorter barrel with a grip as well as a detachable magazine for 25 cartridges, this automatic rifle, or rather a submachine gun, was quite good for a wide variety of combat missions. In 1916 it was put into service at our Grenadiers and ever since has been the chief firearm in land forces the world over.

The "queen of the battlefields", as the infantry was known in Russia, was in for other armaments as well, in particular, nine systems of flame-throwers. The best one in terms of its technical design and combat characteristics was the world's first fougasse piston-activated launcher designed in 1916 by engineers Stranden, Povarin and Stolitsa; it spit the flammable liquid under the pressure of powder gases. This principle of firing still holds today.


Way back in 1904 Lieutenant Mikhail Nakashidze of the Cossack corps built Russia's first armored car from the French Charron 50 CV automobile. It was found good enough--so much so that the war department ordered twelve vehicles like that for the army. Clad in chromium-nickel armor from top to bottom, the car was furnished with a rotating turret for a machine gun, a periscope to watch the enemy, and bulletproof rubber treads; in short, this combat vehicle was well equipped for the battlefield.

Nakashidze proceeded with his work. But as ill luck would have it, his life was cut short in St. Petersburg in then an abortive attempt on Premier Pyotr Stolypin* in August of 1906--to whom he went to present his

See: O. Bazanova, "A Tragedy of Missed Opportunities", Science in Russia, No. 5, 2007.-Ed.

стр. 71

design. The work on armored vehicles was resumed only with the outbreak of the war in 1914 on orders from the then Supreme Commander Prince Nikolai Nikolayevich Junior.*

Colonel Alexander Dobrozhansky turned to the job in hand right away. Getting in touch with other army officers, he designed an armored machine-gun car converted from a Russobalt C24/40 car manufactured by the Russobalt works in Riga. As early as September 1914 the

See: S. Bazanov, "Glorious Epic Hero", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2013.-Ed.

design was presented to army chiefs. The body of the machine was protected by hardened armor of chromium and nickel composed of sheets of different thickness (5 mm at the front and rear, 3.5 mm on the sides, and 3 mm on the roof) fixed at rational angles, that is at a tilt to the rated trajectory of enemy fire; the crew had three machine-guns.

In all, nine combat vehicles like that were made. Seven went on the ninth of October 1914 to the Northwestern Front to form an automobile machine-gun company (the world's first armored unit) that had its

стр. 72

baptism of fire at Strykow, Poland, helping to clear it quickly from the enemy. Russian armored vehicles made quite a few assaults like that--remaining safe and sound, they inflicted substantial losses on the enemy.

Other, better machines followed soon. One such heavy armored vehicle was equipped with a rapid-firing gun designed by Major-General Nikolai Filatov who converted a five-ton truck manufactured by Garford Motor Truck Co of the United States by mounting a 6.5 mm armor-clad body on its chassis. This vehicle had three machine-guns installed on the left and right sponsons (projecting gun platforms) to increase an angle of fire. Placed in its turret was a 76 mm rapid-firing gun. Thanks to it the Garford-Putiloff-- as this model was christened (for built it was at the Putiloff works in Petrograd)--proved quite effective in combat.

In 1914 and 1915 Alexander Porokhovshchikov of the Riga-based Russobalt engineering plant created the world's first tank calling in Vezdekhod (cross-country vehicle). It did not look like iron-clad monsters known to us from newsreels of the Second World War, let alone modern multipurpose machines displayed in war parades today. That machine was but 3.6 meters long, 2 meters wide and 1.5 m tall (not counting the turret), and weighed just 3.5-4.0 tons. Its body of steel was clad in a bullet-and waterproof shield, with its wide caterpillar tread of rubberized fabric fixed on four rotating drums, or wheels.

As its designer confided, his "landrover" was not devoid of drawbacks either. And yet he anticipated the principles of military hardware to be: the internal combustion engine, the caterpillar treads, the rotating all-metal turret and machine-gun, and the multilayer armor. Thinking ahead of his time, Porokhovshchikov visualized his creation as a "combination of elastic and rigid metal layers together with viscous and taut gaskets".

Yet the military did not have it launched into series production owing to shortcomings revealed in field tests. The same lot was also in store for the King Tank built in 1915 by Nikolai Lebedenko--an armored monster having mega-fore wheels and a far smaller hind roller (measuring 9 m and 1.5 m across respectively), to be furnished with 3 or 4 machine-guns, and an artillery piece. The designer believed his machine would negotiate easily any obstacles; however, because of its mammoth size and low speed it might prove a sitting duck to En gunfire, especially to demolition shells.

Science is a per-aspera-ad-astra road. Not a bed of roses. Long is its way through trial and error. It is "experience, son of try and error/ and genius, paradox's friend." Many creations of World War I remained just on paper or in prototypes; but their ideas became stepping stones to further inquiry.


Permanent link to this publication:

Similar publications: LBelarus LWorld Y G


Беларусь АнлайнContacts and other materials (articles, photo, files etc)

Author's official page at Libmonster:

Find other author's materials at: Libmonster (all the World)GoogleYandex

Permanent link for scientific papers (for citations):

Sergei BAZANOV, Alexei OLEINIKOV, THEY FORGED THE ARMY'S SHIELD, THEY FORGED ITS WEAPONS // Minsk: Belarusian Electronic Library (BIBLIOTEKA.BY). Updated: 12.11.2021. URL: (date of access: 03.03.2024).

Found source (search robot):

Publication author(s) - Sergei BAZANOV, Alexei OLEINIKOV:

Sergei BAZANOV, Alexei OLEINIKOV → other publications, search: Libmonster BelarusLibmonster WorldGoogleYandex


Reviews of professional authors
Order by: 
Per page: 
  • There are no comments yet
Related topics
Беларусь Анлайн
Минск, Belarus
288 views rating
12.11.2021 (842 days ago)
0 subscribers
0 votes
Related Articles
Catalog: История 
2 days ago · From Yanina Selouk
3 days ago · From Yanina Selouk
Catalog: География 
7 days ago · From Ales Teodorovich
8 days ago · From Yanina Selouk
Catalog: Разное 
8 days ago · From Yanina Selouk
Catalog: Экономика 
8 days ago · From Yanina Selouk
13 days ago · From Yanina Selouk
Catalog: Разное 
14 days ago · From Yanina Selouk
Catalog: Экономика 
16 days ago · From Yanina Selouk
Catalog: История 
16 days ago · From Yanina Selouk

New publications:

Popular with readers:

News from other countries:

BIBLIOTEKA.BY - Belarusian digital library, repository, and archive

Create your author's collection of articles, books, author's works, biographies, photographic documents, files. Save forever your author's legacy in digital form. Click here to register as an author.
Library Partners


Editorial Contacts
Chat for Authors: BY LIVE: We are in social networks:

About · News · For Advertisers - Belarusian digital library, repository, and archive ® All rights reserved.
2006-2024, BIBLIOTEKA.BY is a part of Libmonster, international library network (open map)
Keeping the heritage of Belarus


US-Great Britain Sweden Serbia
Russia Belarus Ukraine Kazakhstan Moldova Tajikistan Estonia Russia-2 Belarus-2

Create and store your author's collection at Libmonster: articles, books, studies. Libmonster will spread your heritage all over the world (through a network of affiliates, partner libraries, search engines, social networks). You will be able to share a link to your profile with colleagues, students, readers and other interested parties, in order to acquaint them with your copyright heritage. Once you register, you have more than 100 tools at your disposal to build your own author collection. It's free: it was, it is, and it always will be.

Download app for Android