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And Finally…….1950’s inventions that never caught on!

Leonardo Da Vinci’s War Machines

The Great Leonardo Da Vinci designed many weapons, including giant crossbows, machine guns, siege towers, cluster bombs and even a precursor to the modern-day tank.

1. Leonardo Da Vinci’s Terminator

Leonardo Da Vinci’s mechanical knight was not discovered until 1957, when Carlo Pedretti discovered it, hidden amongst Da Vinci’s countless designs. The mechanical knight, first sketched by DaVinci in 1495, was mentioned in 1974, in the Codex Madrid edited by Ladislao Reti, but there was no attempt to reconstruct it until 1996 when Mark Rosheim published an independent study of the robot, followed by a joint enterprise with the Florence Institute and Museum of the History of Science.

However, it was not until 2002 that Rosheim built a complete physical model of the robot for a BBC documentary. Since then, a soldier on wheels labelled, “Leonardo’s robot” has been included in countless exhibitions and museums.

In the 2007 Mario Taddei made a new research on Da Vinci’s original documents finding enough data to build a version of the soldier robot, more closely related to the original drawings. This robot was designed just for defensive purposes, not for war or theatre. Its movements are somewhat restricted since the arms only move right and left when pulled with a rope. This particular model is shown in various exhibitions around the world and the Tadei’s research results are published in the book, Leonardo Da Vinci’s Robots.

2. Machine Gun

The multi-barrelled machine gun was a weapon with remarkable firepower. Da Vinci sketched this rolling artillery battery around 1480 while in Florence, perhaps as a calling card to a warrior prince in need of a military architect. A hand crank adjusts elevation, and reloading is a major challenge ““ especially when under fire .

Though capable of rapid-fire which later model machine guns became noted for, this his housed an ingenious aiming and loading mechanism. By widening the field of fire, the fan-like shape of Da Vinci’s prototype made it a potentially effective weapon against a line of advancing troops. In addition Da Vinci’s design was easy to move around on the battlefield because it was lightweight and mounted on wheels.

3. Cluster Bomb

To make the bombard, or cannon, a weapon already known at the time, even more deadly, Da Vinci also designed large projectiles, comprised of round shells fitted around iron spacers and stitched inside a pliable casing. Once fired, this invention exploded into many fragments with that had greater range and impact than a single cannon-ball.

4. Scythed chariots

This is one of Leonardo’s most beautiful manuscripts. His sketches horse drawn reveal carriages covered with sharp, swirling blades that moved in the thick of battle slashing through everything in their wake. The rotating blades were specifically designed to sever the limbs from its victims. In one of his drawings, Da Vinci illustrated the carnage in such gruesome detail that his notation indicated that his contraption probably would wreak as much havoc on friends as on foes.

5. Barrage Cannon

This drawing is on of the first page of the Codex Atlanticus. The drawing itself is very complete and quite fascinating, illustrating the plan of a bombard with sixteen radial cannons. The most interesting aspect of the project is the centre of the bombard itself, housing a pair of mechanical paddles and gear wheels, providing only a partial glimpse of the possibilities of massive weapon.

6. Tank

This is perhaps one of the most famous of Da Vinci’s projects. His idea of reaping panic and destruction among enemy troops was envisioned in this tortoise-shaped vehicle, reinforced with metal plates, and ringed with cannons. In a job application to the Duke of Milan, Da Vinci boasted “I can make armoured cars, safe and unassailable, which will enter the close ranks of the enemy with their artillery, and no company of soldiers is so great that they will not break through them. And behind these the infantry will be able to follow quite unharmed and without any opposition.” Da Vinci’s precursor to the modern tank surely could have created “shock and awe” on the 15th-century battlefield, the design contained some serious flaws. Even with several modifications to the original plans he continued to be faced with a number of unresolved problems and eventually abandoned the project.

7. Wall Defense

Leonardo designed complex and ingenious methods of defence. Here, when the walls are under attack, the soldiers hidden behind the battlements could quickly and easily ward-off enemies and their single movement by using a system of levers. As the enemy used ladders in an attempt to breach the walls, the levers were engaged to move the rails built into the walls that the ladders were leaning on, causing them to become unstable and eventually fall.

8. Catapult

The basic design of the catapult had been in use for hundreds of years before Da Vinci embarked upon improving it. He actually came up with several different models. This particular design uses a double leaf spring to produce an enormous amount of energy in order to propel stone projectiles or incendiary materials over great distances. Loading of the two large leaf springs was accomplished using a hand crank on the side of the catapult.

9. Fortress

Leonardo designed this fortress with the idea of rendering it safe from the attack. The elaborate shape is innovative and presumably could have been an effective defence against the impact of deadly artillery projectiles.

The Da Vinci fortress could be considered by many as very modern in its design with its circular towers and the slightly inclined exterior walls designed to absorb attacks from firearms. The lord of the castle lived in the centre of the complex, which, according to original drawings also features a secret underground passage. In addition, the fortress features two levels of concentric walls, the tops of which are rounded, in order to help deflect the impact of cannon fire. Small openings make it possible for those fighting from within to return fire with minimum risk of injury from the outside.

10. Dismountable cannon

Cannons were very heavy and the carriages used to transport them were often unwieldy. Leonardo deigned a structure that could be easily dismantled and transported, thus permitting the cannon to be easily moved about.

11. Springald

The Springald, a device that throws large bolts or stones resembles a contemporary crossbow with inward swinging arms. Examples of springalds were drawn by Leonardo da Vinci during a period when he was also drawing powder-propelled weapons. Though several reconstructed examples can be found, there are no known archaeological finds of these machines. It is quite probable that this is because materials used to make them were recycled when they were no longer useful.

12. Da Vinci’s Helicopter

Leonardo Da Vinci is credited with having first thought of a machine for vertical flight. His sketch of the airscrew dated 1493, was not discovered until the 19th century. It consisted of a platform mounted by a helical screw driven by a rudimentary system, not unlike that of rubber band-powered model aircraft. Da Vinci’s notes state “if this instrument in the form of a screw were well made of linen, the pores of which had been stopped with starch, it should, upon being turned sharply, rise into the air in a spiral”. His design, however, was never put to any use.

Da Vinci left his imprint on aeronautics through his work with ornithopters and helicopter models and is said to have begun the first sound experiments in search of a practical heavier-than-air flying machine. He was convinced that if man were to able to realize his long held dream of travelling in the sky above him, it would happen by a flying machine based on the principle of the helicopter. Slightly more than two hundred years later, his prediction proved to be true.

13. Armoured vessel

The drawing depicting Da Vinci’s armoured vessel shows a light vessel fitted with a prow protected by metal and used to ram enemy ships. A rotating covering shield, which opens during the boarding phase of the attack, is also featured.

The covering shield provided protection against enemy ships and allowed the vessel to approach the enemy without the cannon being observed. The shield would not be opened to reveal the cannon until after the armoured vessel rammed an enemy ship, or got too close to evade it. The shields are attached to a system of winches which open very quickly, enhancing the element of surprise. Once lowered into the water, the shields could also function as a brake to offset the recoil of the cannon. The shields were closed through a system of manually operated winches.

14. Giant crossbow

The crossbow is so big that the six wheels are set at a slight angle in order to increase its stability. This gigantic Da Vinci crossbow launches heavy balls, rather than arrows.

The bow is made with flexible wooden pieces bound together by cords and held in place by pivoting pins. It has a span of approximately thirteen meters and it is stretched by a complex screw mechanism. Da Vinci installed winches to regulate the traction at the rear sides of the bow which also set a second screw mechanism, designed to reduce the force required to tighten the bow in motion.

15. Da Vinci Siege Weapon

The model proposed by Leonardo represents a machine designed for attacking defensive walls, consisting of a mobile structure with an armoured bridge that rests on the walls of an enemy fortress, while the troops to penetrate the city or castle.

In addition to new machines, Da Vinci proposes classical systems for use in assaulting enemy city walls. The ladder is fixed to a special support, made up of partially toothed wheel grips into a worm screw. A crank turns the wheel back and forth that lifts and lowers the ladder.


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