The conquest of man to create machines of destruction did not only start during the First World War. However, that era definitely saw a lot of innovations in terms of weapons, vehicles, and all those other machines used in medieval times. If you think they stuck to battering rams, catapults, and heated sand being poured down the heads of their enemies, then you have to check out these war machines of their time.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Fighting Tank

Before the first-ever modern tank was used in the Western Front during the First World War, the one and only Leonardo da Vinci designed what was believed to be the real first armored vehicle in 1487, while he was under the patronage of Ludovico Sforza.

His armored vehicle with a conical cover was said to be inspired by a turtle’s shell. The covering was made of wood with a metal sheet on the outside that adds to the thickness of the cover. The conical design was to allow the vehicle to move in all directions and fire outwards on all sides. Its slanting angles were made to deflect enemy fire. Leonardo’s machine was powered by two large cranks operated inside by four strong men, while another group inside worked on firing the cannons.

Da Vinci's Fighting Vehicle Design Flaw and Dimensions
Da Vinci’s Fighting Vehicle Design Flaw and Dimensions. Created according to the original da Vinci’s drawing with emphasis on proportions. (Ľuboš ČernákCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The major flaw of this vehicle was that the gears were located in reverse order, which made the vehicle unworkable. It was said that Leonardo did it on purpose in case his design was stolen and used irresponsibly. Another issue was that the vehicle was so heavy that it was impossible to take and use it on the terrains of the battlefield. The armored vehicle became a sort of intimidation instead due to its impressive size and appearance.

Konrad Kyeser’s War Cart

Kyeser was perhaps the genius of war machines in medieval times. Not much known was about him, but he was said to be a German military engineer who wrote the book Bellifortis. It was a guidebook on military technology, something that was popular during the 15th century. In his book, he designed multiple war machines that were a mixture of practical and downright fanciful ones.

The War Cart of Konrad Kyeser (Medievalists.net)

One of his ideas was a mobile gun platform with an outer shell to what seemed like a precursor of tanks. The walls were made of wood, which made them vulnerable to fire, but it solved the problem of immobility of powerful gunpowder weapons.

One of his more interesting designs, though, was what he described as a “war cart” that would be used to shred and mangle the enemy soldiers. The illustration was a cart with six spears sticking out of each side and then five further seated barbs on each side that were made to spin with the motion of the cart to churn up the enemy foot soldiers. So in a sense, it was a… human blender?

Habsburg’s Hellburner

An engraving entitled “Pontis Antwerpiani fractura” shows the blowing up of Parma’s pontoon bridge, used in the siege of Antwerp in 1585. Print from a book by Famiano Strada. (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Used at the Sige of Antwerp in 1858, the hellburner was designed by an Italian military engineer named Federigo Giambelli after Elizabeth I of England commissioned him to construct the machine as part of her support to the resistance. And so the result was a weapon of massive destruction that would cause the death of over a thousand Spanish troops— two large ships of more than 60 tons that were converted into exploding ships by loading them with over three tons of gunpowder with a detonator. The explosion resulted in a massive hole in the enemy’s pontoon bridge wide enough to enable a fleet to sail in.

Despite the opportunity that the hellburner created for the naval forces to help the city, the Spanish still prevailed over the local insurgents, gained their power back, and took over the city by August of 1585.

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