Firearms In Africa, Pre-20th Century

MrM

Jul 2012
105
U.S
I always wondered why West and East African nations never had the ability to gain access to large amounts of firearms. I'm aware that some western kingdoms were able to get there hands on "modern" weapons. Is it because European powers were prepping to invade all along and that when African nations actually wanted to gain these weapons they were either denied or given faulty equipment? Like in the case in Ethiopia during or Post Italian War. Russia sent 300,000 rifles to Ethiopia but the shipment never got there:sad:. My follow up question is, had african countries been able to get their hands on more modern weapons such as fire arms and cannons. Would we see a different continent today?
 

bartieboy

Ad Honorem
Dec 2010
6,616
The Netherlands
Just look at the Egyptian army at the start of the Sudan war, they had modern equipment but a horrible officer corps and badly trained troops.

Now Egypt at that time was somewhat of a modern state, just imagine how primitive people like the people in sub Sahara Africa would do.
 

jehosafats

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
2,088
...
Kanem-Bornu acquired guns from the Ottomans well before European colonization. And remember in the 16th century Morocco used firearms to decimate the Songhai. When Europeans first made inroads deeper into the continent they gradually saw the wisdom in local tactics, proving guns weren't necessarily superior. And they were deathly afraid of the poison-tipped arrows.

Europeans saw little military success until the invention of the maxim gun, which at the same time allowed them to conquer parts of SW Asia, India and China. And still Ghana won most of the major battles of the Anglo-Ashanti Wars. European colonization lasted an average of 70 years - mostly in areas that were sparsely populated, but they nevertheless left a lasting impact. Benin was manufacturing their own rifles around the 17th century, though apparently they were of poor quality.
 

bartieboy

Ad Honorem
Dec 2010
6,616
The Netherlands
Kanem-Bornu acquired guns from the Ottomans well before European colonization. And remember in the 16th century Morocco used firearms to decimate the Songhai. When Europeans first made inroads deeper into the continent they gradually saw the wisdom in local tactics, proving guns weren't necessarily superior. And they were deathly afraid of the poison-tipped arrows.

Europeans saw little military success until the invention of the maxim gun, which at the same time allowed them to conquer parts of SW Asia, India and China. And still Ghana won most of the major battles of the Anglo-Ashanti Wars. European colonization lasted an average of 70 years - mostly in areas that were sparsely populated, but they nevertheless left a lasting impact. Benin was manufacturing their own rifles around the 17th century, though apparently they were of poor quality.
Before the invention of the maxim gun you say?
I think the voortrekkers would disagree with you there...
 

spellbanisher

Ad Honorem
Mar 2011
4,136
The Celestial Plain
There were three zones of armaments in Africa in the nineteenth century. Areas that had been in close contact with Europeans for a long time--primarily those in West Africa--had ample supplies of muskets and ammunition. In interior regions where horses could survive, such as in the savannas of the Sudan, firearms were known but scarce--primary weapons were swords and spears. In areas where trypanosomiasis was endemic--a zone covering most of equatorial, eastern, and southern Africa--there were very few guns.

There was a fairly significant gun trade with Western Africa. In 1829, for instance, Britain shipped 52,540 guns to West Africa. Belgium produced an average of 18,000 muskets a year for Africa, and in some years over 40,000. France, Spain, and other countries also exported guns to Africa.

However, the "Dane guns" of the African trade were of very low quality. They were as dangerous to their users as to their targets. They usually didn't fire in wet weather and they frequently burst. The gunpowder was of low quality, as it absorbed moisture and fired inconsistently. Because of the poor accuracy of the barrels and the high price of lead, Africans often used several bullets of polished stone--shotgun style.

Africans were well-aware of the shoddy quality of the guns Europeans sold to them, but there was not much they could do. The village furnaces used to produce iron were very badly ventilated, so they could never get hot enough to produce cast iron. They could hammer the spongy iron bloom into wrought iron or steel, which was suitable for hand tools but not consistent enough for barrels or precision parts. Additionally, The low productivity of their furnaces meant it was cheaper to import low quality guns than to make their own.

Europeans were not much of a threat to Africa before the 1860s. Europeans could defeat Africans in battle, but to conquer Africa as they did during the era of the New Imperialism was too costly, in addition to the fact that before quinine Africa was known as the "White Man's Grave." Europeans only colonize Africa when it was relatively cheap and easy, which it was not before Europe industrialized in the nineteenth century (enabling the mass production of super high quality low cost weapons and ammunition).

The conquest of Africa followed from the arms race that began in the 1860s. In 1848 Prussia replaced the slow-loading, low accuracy muskets with Dreyses. During the war of 1866 between Prussia and Austria, Prussian soldiers could fire their Dreyses seven times faster than the Austrians could load and fire once; also, the Prussians could load and fire their weapons kneeling or lying down, whereas the Austrians could only load their weapons standing up. The result, of course, was a decisive victory for the Prussians at Sadowa.

The Prussian victory at Sadowa precipitated a European arms race. Armies called for newer and better guns, and their laboratories competed with private inventors. In 1866 the French Army adopted the Chassepot, a bolt-action needle-gun that fired six times per minute and had a range of 650 yards, compared to the Dreyse's 350. In 1869 the British adopted the Martini-Henry, which was fast, accurate, tough, and impervious to the weather. Then in 1874 the French army adopted the Gras, and in 1877 the Prussians adopted the Mauser.

Meanwhile, during the Civil War Americans used repeating rifles, which were quick firing but had a tendency to explode. European armies improved upon the American repeating rifles, with the French converting their Gras single-shot rifles into Gras-Kropatchet repeaters, the Germans with various Mausers in the 1880s, and the British with the Lee-Metford. In the 1870s the British also start to use .45 caliber Gatlings, which saw service against the Zulus in 1871 and 1879 and the Ashanti in 1874. By the 1890s Europeans were using Maxims and other light machine guns. Africans and Asians could get access to obsolete models, in the same ways that weaker countries today can get access to outdated weapons, but the arms race that began in the 1860s gave Europeans an overwhelming advantage that Africans and Asians simply could not keep up with.
 
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jehosafats

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
2,088
...
I actually meant Angola, not the Congo. And disease was often invoked to excuse humiliating losses (think the French in Hispaniola).

Firearms before the maxim gun weren't very effective in open warfare, at least not in the Sahel and savannah regions, because Africans rarely used tight formations as they did in Europe but rather both cavalry and infantry fought in "open order", according to Thornton, either to develop the skills of individual soldiers or to render missile weaponry less effective. The Portuguese learned this when they suffered numerous defeats in Angola and the Senegambia region at land and sea. Excerpts from Warfare in Atlantic Africa 1500-1800:

[FONT=&quot]"In Angola, the fact that Europeans were not particularly successful,
[/FONT][FONT=&quot]and largely adopted African organization and[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]technique, certainly does not support the idea that African armies that did not[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]follow European models of organization were less effective. Above all else,[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]however, the ease with which Africa was conquered by European-led forces of[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]locally recruited African soldiers in the late nineteenth century has supported[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]the belief that the military backwardness that this event illustrates was a[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]permanent condition of Africa (even though the military transformations of the[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Industrial Revolution are not fully considered in the assessment)."[/FONT]


[FONT=&quot]"The Portuguese built the largest European colony in Africa in their
holdings in Angola, but the success of the colony was limited. No major
African power was conquered, and Portuguese arms only succeeded to the
degree that they adopted a considerable amount of African military culture,
as well as using thousands of African soldiers trained and usually led by
their own commanders in that culture. In many respects, the story of
Europeans in Angola is an important counterexample to the success of
Europeans (including Portuguese) in the Americas."


[/FONT] [FONT=&quot]"The earliest European–African military contests, waged on[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]the Senegambian coast in the mid-fifteenth century, clearly reveal the[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]superiority of poisoned arrows to the armour that Portuguese marines wore[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]in the period, for the Portuguese accounts of the encounters constantly reveal[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]the fear they had of poisoned archery. Given the musket’s general inaccuracy,[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]musketry was most effective when masses of troops confronted each other,[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]and less effective when soldiers advanced in dispersed order (as they often[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]did in Africa) or in environments such as rainforest.[/FONT]"


[FONT=&quot]"To the infantry and cavalry forces of the savannah and Sahel, Sudanese[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]armies added watercraft on the rivers and along the coast, and their victories[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]over the Portuguese gave them a permanent influence in the future of[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Senegambia. These watercraft were designed for use in the shallow waters[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]of the coast and estuaries, and were much better suited to the environment[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]than the Portuguese seagoing vessels. When the Portuguese sought to land[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]marine forces by longboat, African navies were able to bring up larger[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]forces by their own craft and stunned the invaders in a series of victories,[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]which allowed people from Senegambia southwards to dictate their relationship[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]with Portugal.[/FONT]"


[FONT=&quot]"Guns might not upset the balance of power even when borne by cavalry.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]The Bambaras, for example, who were equipped with only “poisoned arrows[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]and sabres”, still managed to defeat Moroccan-backed cavalry armies from[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]the western desert with substantial numbers of firearms three times in the[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]first two decades of the eighteenth century.[/FONT][FONT=&quot]79 [/FONT][FONT=&quot]At about the same time, the[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]people of Khasso, feared as attackers all along the Senegal, were also armed[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]entirely with bows and poisoned arrows even as late as 1729.[/FONT]"

[FONT=&quot]“The impact of firearms was as slow and uneven in the southern part of[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]the Upper Guinea coast as it was in the savannahs north of it. Initially[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]they were weapons only of Europeans, and Portuguese and English musketeers[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]served as mercenaries in the armies of Sierra Leone during the Mane[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]invasion period of the mid to late sixteenth century, sometimes on opposing[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]sides.[/FONT][FONT=&quot]10 [/FONT][FONT=&quot]Their weapons, while valued, were not much imitated and people[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]of the region do not seem to have taken a strong interest in developing[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]their own corps of musketeers.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]It was only in the later part of the seventeenth century, about the time[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]that the flintlock musket became available, that Africans sought to obtain[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]their own supplies and raise their own corps of musketeers. Muskets imported[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]from Europe began to appear in the armies of the Gambia and Casamance[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]in the 1670s as infantry weapons.[/FONT][FONT=&quot]11 [/FONT][FONT=&quot]In fact, the king of Casamance defeated[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]an English naval attack with continuous musket fire in about 1685.[/FONT][FONT=&quot]12 [/FONT][FONT=&quot]In[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]1726 one extensive Gambian war involving “most of the countries bordering[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]the river” occasioned, according to British traders, “vast demands for arms[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]and gunpowder”.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]But the spread of firearms did not wholly replace older missile weapons.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]When Francis Moore visited the Gambia in the 1731, he took pains to[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]praise the Fulbe of the region for their military prowess. Their weapons[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]included some guns, but they were still primarily armed with lance, assagai,[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]short cutlass, and bow and arrows, and most of the Mandinkas of the[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]riverine towns carried similar weapons and few guns in his day.[/FONT][FONT=&quot]14 [/FONT][FONT=&quot]The[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]poisoned arrows of earlier years were also still very much in use at the[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]time: a man in Niumi showed the Englishman a “vast number” of them,[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]each daubed in poison that was so “rank that it is only needed to draw[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]blood to kill”.[/FONT][FONT=&quot]15 [/FONT][FONT=&quot]Like wise, a French visitor to the Gambia as late as 1763[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]felt that guns were primarily confined to elite and guards units, and were[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]certainly not available to all infantry.”[/FONT]
 

mansamusa

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
3,308
Just look at the Egyptian army at the start of the Sudan war, they had modern equipment but a horrible officer corps and badly trained troops.

Now Egypt at that time was somewhat of a modern state, just imagine how primitive people like the people in sub Sahara Africa would do.
The primitive people of Subsaharan Africa were often defeated only by absurdly superior military technology possessed by Europeans.

These primitive peoples were rarely found not keen to fight or match their opponents. Like the Ashante for instance.
 
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Aug 2012
804
Washington State, USA.
Before the development of the Minie Rifle, I believe that it can be argued that the two best guns in the world were in North America (Kentucky Long Rifle), and in Morocco (Snaphaunce Rifle). Both of these weapons were extremely labor intensive, and couldn't be made in large numbers as they were hand crafted. I've always been in awe of the craftsmen who made these weapons. The industrial revolution sort of took the real genius out of everything.
Still, the Moroccan weapons caused the French enough trouble with their legendary range and accuracy that they developed the Minie Rifle as a response; made in huge numbers in factories that craftsmen couldn't possibly compete with.
Oriental-Arms: Fine and Very Long 19 C. Moroccan Snaphaunce Lock Gun