Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Just Don't Fire the Thing

Wednesday, 27 November 2002

It's funny where the mind goes when you wake up to ABC news in the morning. Listening to a report that the Navy's Collins class submarines are causing another political ruckus - this time over the fact that re-equipping them to take new, heavier US manufactured torpedoes is going to cost an additional $200 million dollars over the $250 million budgeted to buy the torpedoes - reminded me of a little story I read in a footnote in a book on the international arms trade. Like my copy of Hymns Ancient and Modern it's somewhere in storage, so I can't look it up to give you the citation details. For all you know I could be making this all up and I'll have to ask you to take the veracity of this story on trust. It's certainly absurd enough to be true.

It seems that around the turn of the 20th century in the late 19th century, the tiny European country of Liechtenstein Andorra decided to upgrade their defence capabilities, as we say nowadays. To this end they bought a new cannon for their artillery corps from the German armament manufacturers, Krupps. It was a damn fine state of the art cannon and the artillery corps were no doubt very pleased with it. Unfortunately, they were never able to actually do any training with live rounds: the cannon's range was greater than the length of the country from one end to the other, and any test firing would have amounted to an act of war against either Austria France or Switzerland Spain, depending on where the shell landed. The history of defence spending is full of these little curiosities.

Update: I tracked down the book: it's called The War Business by George Thayer. As you can see, this resulted in a few necessary corrections.

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