It’s fair to say that the last truly ingenious period in warfare was the Big One. During World War II, good guys were good, bad guys were bad and we all wanted to twist science to our advantage. Both the Axis and the Allies had dozens of secret weapons projects percolating – one of ours, the atomic bomb, ended the war – and here are the ten most terrifying secret weapons of World War II.
Hitler’s Reich was very supportive of scientific research, as long as it led to new ways to kill the Allies. During the war, he had multiple labs working on conceptualizing innovative weapons. The Vortex Gun was one such creation. Developed by a Dr. Zimmermeyer at a Tyrolean lab, the gun shot large shells composed of slow-burning explosives and coal dust into the air.
When shot into the clouds, the shell would create a vortex that could incapacitate planes and even make small tornadoes. Fortunately, targeting the shots was very difficult and the Nazis never had a chance to use it in combat.
Canal Defence Light
On the surface, the Canal Defence Light, which was invented by the British, seems kind of dumb: it’s just a big light bulb on top of a tank. But, when a special shutter was operated that opened and closed six times a second, it produced a strobing pattern that made it actually impossible to see the tank.
In multiple tests, gunners tried to fire on tanks equipped with the CDL but were unable to hit it. The same technology has evolved into immobilization devices like the one being developed by Peak Beam, but for some reason the CDL wasn’t ever deployed on the battlefield despite its impressive results. Can you imagine the terror of seeing a tank bearing down on you, guns blazing, and you being incapable of landing a single shot in response?
Traditional explosives certainly have their place, but one major preoccupation of WWII ordinance designers was making them even more effective. The British were working on a unique bomb that would contain 30,600 razor-sharp flechettes, each doused in anthrax poison. Because even a scratch would prove lethal, the bombs were lightweight and relatively portable.
If detonated in a crowded area, they could cause thousands of fatalities. The anthrax bombs were never used in combat because against soldiers in cover the majority of the payload would be wasted, but if any terrorist group decided to bring the idea back it could lead to tragedy on a grand scale.
Ku-Go Death Ray
Atomic energy changed the face of civilization, and it’s just a matter of luck that the Allies deployed it first. The Japanese military was working on its own secret weapon of mass destruction based on the ideas of inventor Nikola Tesla. The “Ku-Go” was an enormous magnetron that collected and focused microwaves inside a high-powered vacuum tube and directed them in a beam through the air.
Thankfully, available power sources of the era made this a weapon that didn’t ever live up to its full deadly potential, but the Ku-Go could kill a rabbit at a range of 1000 yards without leaving a mark on its body. Sure, it took five minutes to do it, but at least it worked.
Another German long-distance death device, if the V3 cannons had been able to deliver their deadly payloads the war might have turned out very differently. These incredible artillery weapons were constructed in northern France and intended to be able to shell London from a long distance.
The barrels of the guns were constructed in 430-foot long tunnels in the ground, and shells were accelerated through the tubes by multiple propellant detonations. The batteries were bombed by the Royal Air Force before they could open fire on England, but the Nazis did later use a similar gun against fortifications in Luxembourg.
The Great Panjandrum
Most of the weapons on this list are terrifying because of the damage they could do to your enemies. But the Great Panjandrum, a British military project from World War II, was just as threatening to the Allies. When Hitler’s forces built a massive concrete wall ten feet high and seven feet thick along the Atlantic, Churchill charged the Directorate of Miscellaneous Weapons Development to invent something that could vault over it and explode.
Their solution was the Great Panjandrum, a rocket-propelled rolling wheel with a deadly payload. Unfortunately, the rockets tended to come loose and fly everywhere, and the Panjandrum never got to go over that wall.
Nazi Germany was very into tank warfare. Naturally, when you take over Europe you mostly do it on land, and having a tank can be an incredible tactical and psychological advantage. Hitler wanted to press that advantage to the hilt, so he tasked his engineers with creating ever-larger and more imposing vehicles.
The Landkreuzer P. 1000 Ratte was the apotheosis of this philosophy – a 1,000-ton armored dreadnaught that boasted a 128mm anti-tank gun, eight anti-aircraft guns and even an internal garage to store motorcycles for scouting. The Ratte was so heavy that it would have destroyed any roads it drove on, making them unusable. The project was scrapped in early 1943 and none were ever completed.
Silver Bird Bomber
Air superiority was one of the most important factors in the winning of the war. Being able to rain destruction down on your foes from the clouds completely changed the way we fought, and both sides worked tirelessly to develop new means of attack. One German concept that never saw active duty was the Silbervogel, or Silver Bird bomber.
Eschewing traditional means of liftoff, the Silver Bird was accelerated to up to 1200 miles per hour by means of a rail-mounted rocket sled. After launch, the bomber would rise above the stratosphere and glide halfway around the world to deliver a nuclear payload to America soil – an impossibility for current weapons of the era. Thankfully, the Germans could never get it functioning correctly and the project was scrapped.
Here’s a good one from the Allied side of the fence. When we dropped a bomb on the Axis forces, we wanted to make sure it’d wreak as much havoc as possible. British engineer Barnes Wallace noticed that explosions were diffusing a great deal of their force into the air, wasting much of the explosive payload.
His solution was the “earthquake bomb,” a heavy explosive device with a super-hard pointed tip that would sink deep into the Earth before detonating, producing what basically amounted to a controlled earthquake. It worked as advertised and we used it to destroy many high-value German targets.
Next: 10 Most Powerful Modern Day Weapons
The use of audio as a psychological weapon is well-documented, but the Nazis took things a step further by actually transforming sound waves into something that could cause lethal bodily harm. Dr. Richard Wallauschek was the mind behind the “sound cannon,” an array of parabolic reflectors that took the sound of a methane explosion and amplified and focused it dozens of times to create an excruciating beam of pure sound that was lethal to human beings at a range of 150 feet and caused pain and discomfort beyond that. The Nazis never managed to use it on the battlefield, but several inventors have continued to expand on the concept.