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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(law). In the USSR firearms, primarily combat weapons, may be kept for individual use only with special authorization from agencies of the militia. Smooth-bore hunting firearms are ordinarily sold only to members of the Union of Hunters. Soviet criminal law (for example, the Criminal Code of the RSFSR, arts. 218–19) establishes liability for illegally bearing, keeping, making, or selling firearms, for stealing firearms, and for the negligent keeping of firearms.

Illegally keeping firearms entails criminal liability regardless of whether it is done openly or secretly. The negligent keeping of firearms presupposes that the person has special authorization for the weapon but is keeping it in such a way that it can be used by other people. The keeping of cutting weapons does not in itself entail liability; liability ensues only if the weapon is illegally carried, made, or sold. In places where cutting weapons are part of the national dress or are used for hunting (for example, in parts of the Caucasus and the Far North), carrying them does not entail criminal liability. Servicemen who have retired or joined the reserves have the right to carry a dagger as part of their uniform without registering it with the militia or receiving special authorization. The making of firearms and cutting weapons is punishable regardless of whether completely new weapons are made, old ones are restored, or other objects (for example, signal guns) are adapted or rebuilt as firearms. The caliber of the weapon is also immaterial.

Illegally bearing, keeping, acquiring, making, or selling firearms (except smooth-bore hunting guns), ammunition, or explosives is punishable by deprivation of freedom for up to five years. For illegally bearing, making, or selling cutting weapons, the punishment is deprivation of freedom for up to one year, corrective labor for up to one year, or a fine of up to 30 rubles. The negligent keeping of firearms is punishable by deprivation of freedom for up to one year or corrective labor for the same term. A found weapon is subject to immediate confiscation. These matters are resolved in a similar way in the criminal codes of all the Union republics; there are some differences in punishment, particularly in the length of the term of deprivation of freedom. The criminal law of the Union republics establishes liability for illegally bearing, keeping, making, or selling explosives or for stealing them.

The presence of a weapon during the commission of a crime makes it more socially dangerous, which entails increased liability. For example, the punishment for hooliganism involving the use of a weapon is more severe.

Despite formal prohibitions on owning firearms without special authorization, in most of the capitalist countries there are many opportunities to acquire such weapons, ammunition, and explosives by circumventing the law, which promotes a rise in crime. In the United States, for example, only nine states require special authorization to obtain firearms, which are freely sold in stores. According to incomplete data for 1971, about 100 million people in the United States possess firearms.




the common term for machines and devices used in armed struggle to destroy enemy personnel, matériel, and facilities.

The development of weapons depends on the mode of production and especially on the level of development of the productive forces. The discovery of new laws of physics and new sources of energy leads to the invention of more effective weapons or new types of weapons. This in turn gives rise to important and sometimes even fundamental changes in the methods and forms of combat and in the organization of troops. Weapons, for their part, develop under the influence of the art of war, which demands the improvement of existing weapons and the creation of new ones.

Weapons appeared at an early stage of the development of mankind—at the stage of the primitive communal system, when they were used for hunting and defense. At first there was no distinction between work tools and weapons. The first kinds of weapons as such were the club and the cudgel and variations of them—the boomerang, the wooden spear with a stone tip, the sling, and the bola, all of which were used in the Paleolithic age. Thus, at this very ancient time there were already thrusting and hurling weapons. In the late Paleolithic, man invented the throwing-stick, which greatly increased the range of flight of the spear, and in the Mesolithic age, the bow and arrow—one of the most important inventions of mankind. New types of weapons appeared in the Neolithic age, including the stone axe, the mace, and the dagger. The further development of weapons led to the appearance of defensive armament.

The use of metal (bronze and especially iron) greatly influenced the development of weapons and led to significant changes in their types and forms. Specialized military weapons were manufactured, such as bronze (later iron) swords, battle-axes, and spears. The saber was used by the nomads of the Black Sea steppes from the eighth century and then introduced in Rus’ in the tenth century and much later in Western Europe. The Russian cavalry and horse artillery were armed with a shorter saber (shashka) in the 19th century. The armies of the ancient Oriental states, especially the Greek and Roman armies, used heavy hurling weapons, or hurling machines.

Firearms appeared after the invention of gunpowder. One of the first firearms, the mudfa, was used by the Arabs in the 12th century. In Western Europe and in Rus’ firearms were used in the 14th century. The guns of that time were smooth-walled iron tubes (barrels) fastened on wooden stands that fired stone projectiles (balls). The first hand firearms for use by the infantry of that time were a hand-held cannon and the petronel (French). The charge was ignited in these weapons with a wick or a red-hot iron rod.

The development of artillery paralleled that of hand firearms. In the 15th and 16th centuries, the use of cast iron and bronze to make barrels and the use of cast-iron and lead balls as projectiles had a significant effect on the development of artillery guns. It made it possible to reduce the caliber of the guns. Granulated powder simplified the loading and increased the rapidity of fire. By the late 14th century, the sword was replaced in Rus’ by the saber and in Western Europe by the rapier.

The harquebus, a hand firearm, was invented in the 15th century. In the 16th century the invention of the matchlock and the trigger and later the percussion hammer led to the manufacture of improved small arms—muskets and pistols. Bayonets were attached to hand firearms in the 17th century. Smoothbore muzzle-loaded flintlocks became current in Russia and Western Europe in the late 17th century. In the second half of the 17th century in Russia and Western Europe artillery guns were introduced with rifled bores, which increased the range and accuracy of fire. The subsequent improvement of locks and breechblocks increased the rate of fire. The first rifled small arms (carbines) appeared in the 16th century but were not widely used until the 19th century, because they were difficult to manufacture.

In the mid-19th century, armies and navies adopted artillery guns with rifled bores, breech-loading rifled guns, and later magazine infantry weapons—rifles and carbines. In the early 19th century the armies and navies of several states (Russia, Great Britain, and France) had powder war rockets, the forerunners of modern missiles. They were, however, abandoned in the second half of the 19th century in view of the greater firepower of rifled artillery. The armies, and especially the navies, of the mid-19th century used mines and later torpedos.

An important phase in the development of weapons was the appearance of automatic weapons, such as automatic cannon and machine guns, in the late 19th century. The rapid development of automatic weapons was due to the invention of smokeless powder. Automatic weapons were used in the Russo-Japanese War (1904–05) and in World War I (1914–18) and greatly influenced the forms and methods of combat. In the Russo-Japanese War the Russian Army fired mines from artillery guns. Such guns were called mortars. Later, mortars were adopted by many armies.

In World War I the large-scale employment of tanks (1916) and aviation led to the development of armament for them. Tank armament included machine guns with a caliber of 7.62–7.9 mm and guns of 37–75 mm. Aviation received machine guns with a caliber of 7.62–7.9 mm and bombs. One of the first models of antiaircraft weapons was the 76-mm antiaircraft gun of 1915 used by the Russian Army. In addition to artillery, the navies of various states used torpedoes, depth charges, and antisubmarine shells. Naval aviation employed aerial bombs and torpedoes. During the war, the German troops were the first to use chemical weapons (chlorine in 1915, phosgene in 1916, and mustard gas and toxic smoke in 1917) and flamethrowers. The Entente armies also used chemical weapons.

On the eve of World War II (1939–45), several countries introduced new, improved field and naval artillery guns, antitank and tank guns, mortars, automatic rifles, antitank rifles, pistols, submachine guns, and light, heavy, and heavy-caliber machine guns, as well as special-purpose (aircraft, tank, and antiaircraft) machine guns and self-propelled guns. In 1937–38 the Soviet Air Force adopted 82-mm and 132-mm rocket shells.

At the beginning of the Great Patriotic War (1941–45), the Red Army for the first time in July 1941 used field rocket launchers, named Katiusha. During World War II, field rocket launchers also came to be used by the fascist German Army and by the American Army. In 1943–44 the Red Army used many self-propelled artillery guns with calibers of 76, 100, 122, and 152 mm. In 1943 it adopted the first heavy-caliber 160-mm mortar. At that time foreign armies used self-propelled (assault) guns. In the fascist German Army the guns had a caliber of 75–150 mm, and in the armies of the USA and Great Britain, 75–203 mm.

The air forces of various countries had aerial bombs that weighed from 25 kg to 9,000 kg, small-caliber automatic cannon (20–47 mm), heavy-caliber machine guns (11.35–13.2 mm), and torpedoes (for naval aviation), as well as rocket shells for firing at surface and air targets. Red Army tanks had guns with a caliber of 85–122 mm and machine guns of 7.62–12.7 mm. The caliber of German tank guns was 37–88 mm. There was a further development of automatic small arms, especially submachine guns, and various types of flamethrowers, aerial incendiary bombs, shells, mines, and explosives. In 1944 the fascist German Army used the V-l guided self-propelled aircraft and the V-2 guided ballistic missile.

In August 1945 the armed forces of the USA exploded a new type of weapon—the nuclear weapon. The USSR set off an experimental explosion of an atomic device in 1949. Later, nuclear weapons were manufactured in Great Britain, France, and China. In the postwar period the USSR, USA, Great Britain, and other countries have developed various classes of missiles carrying nuclear weapons. Missiles equipped with nuclear warheads are known as nuclear missiles. Nuclear weapons have brought about fundamental changes in views concerning combat methods and forms and war as a whole. They have also effected alterations in the organizational structure of the armed forces.

Modern weapons may be classified as nuclear, chemical, bacteriological, rocket-launching, and silent weapons, as well as firearms (artillery, small arms, and close-combat weapons), missiles, mines, and torpedoes. In terms of degree of destructive effect, nuclear, chemical, and bacteriological weapons are classified as weapons of mass destruction, and all the others as conventional weapons.

Artillery weapons include various types of field guns, including self-propelled guns (caliber, 57–203 mm), rifled and smoothbore recoilless guns (57–120 mm), mortars (60–240 mm), small-caliber automatic antiaircraft guns (20–57 mm), aircraft automatic cannon (20–37 mm), shipboard artillery (40–203 mm or more), and tank guns (57–120 mm). Multiple-warhead rocket-launching systems are also classified as artillery weapons (caliber of the rocket shells, 80–240 mm).

Small arms and close-combat weapons consist of pistols (7.62–11.43 mm), submachine guns (7.62–11.43 mm), automatic rifles (5.6–7.62 mm), light machine guns (7.5–7.62 mm), heavy machine guns (7.5–7.62 mm), heavy-caliber machine guns (12.7–14.5 mm), hand-held grenade launchers and rocket projectors (40–90 mm), and hand grenades.

Missile weapons include missiles of various classes. Missiles may be classified according to combat mission as antitank guided, tactical, operational-tactical, strategic (also called intercontinental), and antiaircraft guided missiles. Strategic missiles with nuclear warheads are the first weapons in history that can accomplish strategic missions.

Mine weapons include antitank mines (weighing 2.3–13.6 kg), antipersonnel mines (fragmentation mines, 1.1–4.0 kg; demolition mines, 0.1–0.23 kg), and sea mines (500–1,000 kg). Torpedo weapons include various types of torpedoes with lengths of 2.5–8.6 m and diameters of 25–60 cm. In addition, navies have antisubmarine rocket launchers (caliber, 260–375 mm) and conventional projectors (127–320 mm) for releasing shipborne depth charges. The air forces have demolition, fragmentation, incendiary, and other bombs (weight, 0.5–1,000 kg). Modern silent weapons include the bayonet, the army knife, and the officer’s dagger, which are used in hand-to-hand combat.

According to scope of employment, weapons may be classified as strategic, operational-tactical, and tactical. There are stationary weapons installed on a fixed base (certain types of missile complexes, coast and casemate artillery guns, etc.), stationary weapons installed on a mobile base (aviation, tank and other weapons), self-propelled weapons (self-propelled guns, mobile missile complexes, etc.), towed weapons (guns and mortars), and portable weapons. Depending on the number of operating personnel (according to the combat table of organization), weapons are classified as individual and group weapons.

The effectiveness of modern weapons depends on their range of action, the killing zone, the accuracy and maximum rate of fire, the maneuverability (such as rate of movement and rated cruising range), the accuracy life, and other combat and technical characteristics. Different types of ammunition have been further developed in the postwar period. Thus, along with nuclear missile warheads, other types of nuclear ammunition have been created and adopted by the armed forces of several countries, including nuclear aerial bombs, torpedoes, and mines, depth charges, and artillery shells. For instance, in the USA, shells with nuclear charges have been designed for 280-mm, 203-mm, 175-mm and 155-mm guns and for the recoilless Davy Crockett gun. The casualty effect of fragmentation, demolition, shaped-charge, and other types of ammunition has been increased.

New inventions have included multiple warheads for missiles, rocket artillery projectiles and mines, shells with arrow-shaped striking elements, napalm aerial bombs, and napalm land mines. New instruments and devices have been created for fire preparation and for fire and weapons’ control (such as radar stations, laser range finders, and night-vision instruments and sighting devices), which increase the combat effectiveness of the weapons. Weapons are being further improved by increasing range, maximum rate, and accuracy of fire, as well as maneuverability. The power and effectiveness of the ammunition are also being improved. According to foreign press reports, some countries are working on laser weapons and means of destruction related to outer space.


Engels, F. Izbr. voennye proizvedeniia, vol. 1. Moscow, 1956.
Nilus, A. Istoriia material’noi chasti artillerii, parts 1–2. St. Petersburg, 1904.
Fedorov, V. G. Evoliutsiia strelkovogo oruzhiia, parts 1–2. Moscow, 1938–39.
Bolotin, D. N. Sovetskoe strelkovoe oruzhie za 50 let (katalog). Leningrad, 1967.
Sovetskaia artilleriia v Velikoi Otechestvennoi wine 1941–1945. Moscow, 1960.
Mostovenko, V. D. Tanki, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1958.
Latukhin, A. N. Sovremennaia artilleriia. Moscow, 1970.
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Peresada, S. A. Zenitnoe upravliaemoe raketnoe oruzhie. Moscow, 1968.
Ivolgin, A. I. Razvitie i primenenie minno-podryvnykh sredstv, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1956.
Artilleriia i rakety. Moscow, 1968.


Artistic weaponry. Artists often participated in the making of weapons, which is, therefore, to some extent a part of applied art. The manner of decorating weapons, the themes and motifs of the ornamentation, and at times even the shape of the weapons themselves were determined by the prevailing style of the historical period in the art of a particular country.

The first attempts at artistic adornment of weapons were made in the Neolithic, when magical powers were attributed to ornamented weapons. With the discovery of metal, great possibilities arose for the development of the shape and decoration of weapons. Various methods and techniques utilizing the natural properties of metals were applied to ornament weapons, such as smithing, molding, chasing, and carving. In addition, weapons were adorned by inlaying bone, mother of pearl, and precious stones; inlaying metal on metal; gilding; and lacquering. Parade weapons and handmade hunting and military weapons were specially adorned at great expense and with a variety of decorative motifs.

In the second half of the 19th century, machine methods of production led to the disappearance of the artistic decoration of weapons. Handmade weapons ordered as awards and gifts and for other special purposes have become the only exceptions.


Kirpichnikov, A. N. Drevnerusskoe oruzhie, issues 1–3. Moscow-Leningrad, 1966–71.
Tarasiuk, L. Slarinnoe ognestrel’noe oruzhie v sobranii Ermitazha: Evropa i Severnaia Amerika. Leningrad, 1971.
Stone, G. C. A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration, and Use of Arms and Armour. New York, 1961.
Seitz, H. Blankwaffen, vols. 1–2. Braunschweig, 1965–68.
Wilkinson-Latham, R. Pictorial History of Swords and Bayonets. London, 1973.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
Oh, if she but only had some sort of a weapon that might give her even a faint hope, some slight advantage against the blacks.
She wished, however, that she might have some sort of a weapon with which to lead the attack, for she could not know, of course, for a certainty whether the great apes would follow her or not.
Perhaps YOU would be good enough to suggest a weapon? Perhaps you have even had one in your mind all the time?"
This speech had so good an effect that my principal immediately stretched forth his hand and said, "I am myself again; give me the weapon."
No warrior lives who could hurl a weapon so great a distance."
Being destitute of weapons, they let themselves down by the running rigging, in hopes of getting between decks.
The Miller pressed furiously forward, dealing blows with either end of his weapon alternately, and striving to come to half-staff distance, while Gurth defended himself against the attack, keeping his hands about a yard asunder, and covering himself by shifting his weapon with great celerity, so as to protect his head and body.
Again and again Werper struggled to draw his weapon. Mohammed Beyd, anticipating no such opposition to his base desires, had come to the tent unarmed, except for a long knife which he now drew as he stood panting during the first brief rest of the encounter.
So too, like Voltaire in his time, uninvited defenders of the law of inevitability today use that law as a weapon against religion, though the law of inevitability in history, like the law of Copernicus in astronomy, far from destroying, even strengthens the foundation on which the institutions of state and church are erected.
She had not gone far before she commenced to realize how slight were her chances for survival without means of defense or a weapon to bring down meat.
The duello with its stately etiquette had not yet come into vogue, but rough and sudden encounters were as common as they must ever be when hot-headed youth goes abroad with a weapon strapped to its waist.
"I seem to have read that a sawed-off shotgun is a weapon used in some parts of America.