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Military use of steam power

Military -Steam -power

Image credit: U.S. Naval archives

It’s not surprising that, whilst the development of steam power was done primarily to aid industry and transport it wasn’t long before countries started using the new technology for military purposes.

Being interested in Military history as well as civil engineering we’ve been doing some research in just how Steam power has been used by armies and navy’s down the years.

Examples of early Military use of Steam power

It’s not surprising that, whilst the development of steam power was done primarily to aid industry and transport it wasn’t long before countries started using the new technology for military purposes.

Being interested in Military history as well as civil engineering we’ve been doing some research in just how Steam power has been used by armies and navies down the years.

The earliest use of railroads we’re aware of was the transport of 12,000 Prussian troops, guns and horses to suppress the 1846 Polish uprising.

There were a lot of similar uprisings in the same period which saw Russia and Austria use their fledgling rail networks to transport military assets to tamper down revolting people!

When did Britain start using Steam power militarily?

All through this Britain must have been taking note - whilst they had no insurrections to contend with on their home-turf their experience fighting in an alliance against Russia in the Crimean War taught Britain an important lesson about the necessity of rail-power in post-Napoleonic warfare.

Taking what they’d learnt Britain built railways across it’s expanding empire to carry supplies for military and civilian use.

In South Africa, during the Boer wars, the British Army oversaw the building of 13 armoured trains which, according to James Simpson’s article on medium.com

“…included monitor-like rail cars with loopholes to allow the infantry to fight from the safety of the armored car. Other cars carried Maxim “pom-pom” guns and naval guns for added firepower.”

He goes on to say...

“Over the course of the war, Britain used its armored trains in many different roles — supporting infantry, reinforcing and protecting rail infrastructure, escorting regular trains, reconnaissance and 24/7 patrolling. These were all missions learned in its previous colonial adventures.”

In 2018 the Great Dorset Steam fair organised a special WW1 Convoy commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the the end of WW1 and to celebrate their own 50th Anniversary featuring a fantastic range of Steam military vehicles:

What other types of Steam powered military vehicles were developed?

Steam power was also used to power military ships, Steam providing an effective alternative to human and wind power in the late 1880’s - this massively increased the strategic importance of maritime forces due their size, speed and maneuverability.

Early Steam ships paddle steamers were soon replaced by the more efficient method of screw propulsion which made it possible to make steam-propelled versions of traditional styles of ships such as sloops, corvettes and the largest type of navy ship, frigates.

Other more adventurous (though less successful) forms of steam powered land transport experimented with included two early U.S. designed Steam powered tanks.

The tracked Steam tank was based on the British designed 1918 Mark IV tank, but using steam rather than internal combustion - the second the similarly named Steam Wheel Tank which was prototyped between 1916 and 1917 which, suffice to say, performed poorly in tests and was developed no further.

Is there anything we should’ve mentioned?

Do you have any thoughts, comments or views on how the military has used Steam Power?

Is there anything you think we should have mentioned?

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By Stuart Paterson at 21 Apr 2021, 00:00 AM