In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Artillery

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference and Primary Sources
  • Journals
  • Engines of War
  • Smoothbore Artillery to Rifled Artillery: 1850–1880
  • Indirect Fire: 1880–1919
  • Rise of Modern Artillery: 1880–1919
  • Artillery Operations: 1880–1919
  • Between the Wars: 1919–1939
  • World War II: 1939–1945
  • Cannons, Rockets, and Missiles: 1945–Present
  • Artillery Operations: 1945–Present
  • The Precision Revolution

Military History Artillery
Boyd L. Dastrup
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0082


During the early years of the 21st century, field artillery achieved unparalleled accuracy with the introduction of precision-guided munitions. Such munitions allowed a gun crew to hit a target with one round or to engage a target without adjusting fire as long as the target was precisely located. In Iraq and Afghanistan in the first decade of the 21st century, the US Army fired Excalibur precision munition from its 155-millimeter (mm) howitzers and the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System precision munition from its Multiple Launch Rocket System to destroy insurgent safe houses and other pinpoint targets. This precision capability revolutionized field artillery because massing fire to compensate for the lack of accuracy dominated field artillery tactics since the late 18th century with the introduction of relatively light, mobile field guns to complement siege artillery, coast artillery, garrison artillery, and pack artillery. Precision artillery munitions gave armies, especially the US Army, the capability of destroying a target with minimal collateral damage, meaning the destruction of civilian property or deaths of noncombatants who were near the target but not part of the target. This precision came centuries after gunpowder siege artillery in the form of bombards and heavy cast-bronze cannons had replaced mechanical siege engines, such as trebuchets and onagers, as a means of battering down fortification walls and after European armies started employing lighter cannons on the battlefield.

General Overviews

Only a few good general overviews of artillery exist. For the most part authors restrict their coverage to a specific topic, such as siege engines or a period of history, rather than providing broad historical coverage by writing about a lengthy period of time. The closest to good overviews are Dastrup 1994 and Bailey 2004. Dastrup examines the beginnings of gunpowder artillery in Europe through the latter years of the 20th century and includes an extensive bibliography, while Part 4 in Bailey covers gunpowder artillery since its inception in Europe to the end of the 20th century. Comparato 1965 is another solid general overview of gunpowder artillery through the early 1960s. None of these works covers mechanical siege engines or machines, such as trebuchets and onagers. Rogers 1975 and Stevens 1967 also supply a broad coverage of artillery, are less scholarly, and are intended for the general reader or undergraduate student. In comparison, Norris 2000 examines mechanical siege machines and gunpowder artillery through 2000 as does Ransford 1975, which discusses mechanical siege engines and gunpowder artillery and provides interesting illustrations to accompany the narrative. Kinard 2007 also examines the development of artillery from its invention in China to 21st-century artillery, while Halberstadt covers the rise of artillery in Europe in the Middle Ages through the present. The best overview on siege engines is Nossov 2005.

  • Bailey, J. B. A. Field Artillery and Firepower. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute, 2004.

    Although the study covers gunpowder artillery since its inception through the 1990s, it examines extensively the development of rifled artillery, indirect fire, and the 20th-century battlefield. The book also has an exhaustive bibliography, primarily focusing on journal articles, and is one of the best on field artillery history and provides insights that only a professional field artillery officer could give.

  • Comparato, Frank E. Age of Great Guns: Cannon Kings and Cannoneers Who Forged the Firepower of Artillery. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1965.

    Although dated with a confusing format, this work contains valuable, detailed information on artillery technology and operations from the introduction of gunpowder artillery in Europe through the first years of the 1960s.

  • Dastrup, Boyd L. The Field Artillery: History and Sourcebook. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1994.

    The study provides a solid overview of the technological developments and field artillery tactics since the beginning of gunpowder artillery in Europe through the end of the Cold War in 1991 and furnishes a far-reaching bibliography.

  • Halbertstadt, Hans. The World’s Great Artillery from the Middle Ages to the Present. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2002.

    The author provides encyclopedic coverage of all forms of artillery, including mortars, cannons, siege guns, naval guns, railway guns, field guns, and howitzers complete with photographs and line drawings. Unfortunately, the book is weak on artillery outside of Europe and the United States during the last part of the 20th century.

  • Kinard, Jeff. Artillery: An Illustrated History of Its Impact. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2007.

    Written by an expert in the field, the book discusses the evolution of artillery from the catapults of the ancient world to the invention of gunpowder in China to its use in siege and field artillery in Europe to modern artillery of the first years of the 21st century.

  • Norris, John. Artillery: A History. Stroud, UK: Sutton, 2000.

    After a first chapter on mechanical siege weapons, the work covers the history of artillery from 1300 through 2000 in sweeping generalizations, suitable for the general reader or undergraduate student.

  • Nossov, Konstantin. Ancient and Medieval Siege Weapons: A Fully Illustrated Guide to Siege Weapons and Tactics. Guilford, CT: Lyons, 2005.

    This comprehensive and richly illustrated book focuses on western Europe and the Near and Middle East. It is an excellent reference book on siege machines and siege warfare and should be the starting point for any research on the topic.

  • Ransford, Simon, ed. War Machines: Land from the Primitive Weapons of Stone Age to Rocket-Assisted Grenades. London: Octopus, 1975.

    This is a short pictorial book covering weaponry from the Stone Age through the present. Although it is probably more useful as a coffee-table work, the book’s illustrations are the focal point.

  • Rogers, Hugh Cathburt Basset. A History of Artillery. Secaucus, NJ: Citadel, 1975.

    This work provides a detailed, broad history of artillery from the beginnings of gunpowder artillery in the 14th century through the last decades of the 20th century.

  • Stevens, Phillip H. Artillery through the Ages. New York: F. Watts, 1967.

    This overview of artillery history from pre-gunpowder days to the nuclear age is appealing to the generalist or undergraduate student because it lacks a bibliography.

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