For centuries, man has proved he’s a vicious and lethal war animal. As a result, millions of people (the vast majority of whom were innocent) have lost their lives in war. But something else sickening about human warfare and its aftermath: The length to which man is prepared to go to neutralize the perceived “enemy.”
We’ll sample some of the most outrageous schemes man has conceived in efforts to ward off the enemy, real or imagined. Can you guess the highlights? Well, consider this: The use of deadly chemicals, “innocently-flying” balloon bombs, and a generous spray of putrid “fecal juice bombs!”
Fortunately, some of these horrifying schemes failed miserably, but nonetheless, here are 10 inventions meant for the military they never used.
10 The Military Grade Stink Bomb
Can you even imagine it? The French military, in 1943, dared to create what they dubbed “a military-grade stink bomb.” So, it tasked Private Ernest Crocker to complete “the foul-smelling task.” Crocker was a chemist who had earlier worked on a project to develop poisonous gases that the military would use.
The big idea? To produce a stink bomb for use by the French Resistance, the latter would embarrass the German forces by spraying them with the smell bomb. Hopefully, this would undermine their morale as well. So, for months, Crocker and his team tested many putrid scents; they eventually decided to use a formula that produced a cocktail of unpleasant smells. These included urine, vomit, excrement, rotten eggs, rancid butter, and foot odor. It all came in one mighty spray that they nicknamed “Who, Me?”
Once ready, the designers deployed 600 units of the spray, ready for use. But oops! Things didn’t work as planned; the war ended suddenly before the military could unleash the new invention on an enemy; what a miss!
9 The Goliath Tracked Mine
Does Goliath remind you of the ancient legendary hero? Perhaps. One day in 1940, the German Wehrmacht came across a “weird,” remote-controlled prototype vehicle down the River Seine by chance. They learned that Adolphe Kegresse, a French vehicle designer, had invented this strange-looking vehicle. In time, Adolphe’s prototype fired up the German imagination, inspiring them to produce their home-grown remote-controlled vehicle.
German engineers designed the vehicle to serve as an anti-tank weapon. This marked the birth of the fancied “Goliath Tracked Mine.” The 30.5-centimeter tall, 122-centimeter-long (1-foot-tall, 4-foot-long) military vehicle could carry approximately 60 kilograms (132 pounds) of high explosives. Several officers could steer the vehicle remotely, drive it beneath enemy tanks, and detonate bombs.
But the Goliath came with its fair share of issues. First, the remote control feature worked via a cable measuring 650 meters (2,132 feet) long; the designers fitted the cable between the driver and the vehicle. Before long, the opposing soldiers learned that they could quickly neutralize the Goliath by cutting this cable. And that wasn’t all; moving at a “paltry” 9.6 kph (6mph), the Goliath was painfully slow. To make matters worse, it easily got stuck in the ground and enjoyed little protection with its thin armor cover.
Predictably, the Germans tried to use the Goliath in battle with little success. They attempted to deploy the inefficient behemoth during the Warsaw Uprising and on the Normandy beaches. Finally, hugely disappointed and frustrated, the Germans abandoned this failed project in a huff.
8 Fu-Go Balloon Bombs
Just before World War II ended, the Japanese military conceived a nefarious but—admittedly—ingenious plan to attack the U.S. with bombs. The Japanese came up with the idea in 1944. And what was this “ingenious deal”? Well, Japan would drop several steam bombs over the Pacific Ocean; the jet stream-driven bombs would target the U.S.
Without delay, Japan’s senior military strategists began planning how to launch their deadly paper balloons, carrying explosives, over the enemy. They planned how to float these silently across the Pacific, ensuring fear and panic spread throughout the U.S. The Japanese finally launched the first “deadly” balloon on November 3, 1944. Evidently, between then and 1945, the Japanese dropped about 1,000 “Fu-Go” balloon bombs across North America.
Interestingly, despite these multiple launches, only a single balloon caused the loss of human life. On May 5, 1945, a bomb killed a woman and five children in the woods neighboring Bly, Oregon. The freak accident happened when the children played with the explosive-carrying paper balloon, setting off the bomb.
The Japanese were forced to re-think the whole idea due to the largely uncontrolled nature of balloon bombs. Another factor was the general uncertainty of atmospheric conditions. In the end, the Japanese military found that the experimental weapon was neither successful nor viable.
7 The Panjandrum
In 1943, the British military sought to develop a weapon that could break through the Atlantic Wall’s defenses (the Nazis’ extensive coastal fortifications system). The army charged the Directorate of Miscellaneous Weapons Development with the urgent task.
Soon, the DMWD came up with what they called the Panjandrum, a colossal contraption designed with two wheels connected by a robust drum-like axle. The designers fitted the Panjandrum with rockets on the wheels to propel the machine forward.
How would it work? When packed with explosives, the engineers expected the Panjandrum to shoot toward the enemy defenses, smash into them and explode; hopefully, this would create a sizable breach that could allow a tank to pass through.
As you might guess, things quickly went haywire. The 70 slow-burning cordite rockets suddenly dislodged during the test, flying off in all directions with the dogs barking and the generals fleeing for dear life! Meanwhile, the Panjandrum wildly charged around the beach, completely uncontrollable Who’d dare repeat this scary experiment in a real battle?
6 Rotor Cars
As World War II raged on, the British army conceived the Hafner Rotabuggy idea. The gadget was essentially a flying jeep with a sublime name, a rotor, and tail fins.
In the end, the military never got to deploy the weird machine in war. Why? Primarily due to one factor: The widely-used plane-powered gliders proved to be much more practical to deliver ground vehicles to remote areas.
Interestingly, the military later revived the flying-cars concept; it attempted to manufacture folding wings Humvees with collapsible motors. More recently, other engineers have come up with the idea of a drone wing that can drop off cargo and wheeled vehicles.
The rotor car’s dream stubbornly lives on.
5 The Bob Semple Tank
The Bob Semple holds the unenviable tag of being perhaps “the worst military tank man ever built.” As it turned out, with the Bob Semple, the designers were trying to manage a bad situation by doing “something and everything” to salvage matters.
So, the story starts in the days of World War II. New Zealand was increasingly getting worried about the possibility of Japan carrying out a full-scale invasion. In such a situation, the prospects seemed dire for New Zealand. Most likely, New Zealand would be left on its own, cut off from the realms of Allied assistance.
But there’s more; since the country wasn’t in a position to produce any armored military vehicles, the prospects of the formidable Japanese war machine horrifically outgunning New Zealand were real and sickening. In response, Bob Semple, New Zealand’s Works Minister, devised a “clever plan;” the military would design a locally made tank to counter the situation. They would create the tank using a conventional six-ton bulldozer’s chassis.
Gleefully and without delay, Bob Semple kick-started the assembly process of 81 D8 Caterpillar tractors. The designers encased these in sheets of corrugated iron. Evidently, Bob Semple and his men weren’t prepared for the unlikely “war chest” that would be the end result.
It soon became clear to the overzealous official and his men that the new machine would not live up to its billing; the tank would be unable to protect the eight-person crew inside. So, as a remedy, the designers attached six 7.62 mm Bren guns to the vehicle’s front, rear, and sides.
The result? A horror of horrors! Out came an awkward mobile pillbox that embarrassingly moved at just 22.5 kph (14 mph). Yes, you guessed right—the military never used this unsung war machine, aptly christened the Bob Semple Tank, in combat. Instead, the contraption earned a dubious distinction as “the worst military tank” man ever made!
4 Flying Platforms
Next comes the VZ-1 Pawnee, a one-person flying platform with two rotors housed in a duct; the latter kept the platform afloat. Engineers designed the machine to allow a single officer to fire from the air. But here comes the problem: The vehicle didn’t have a tail rotor or fixed wings. Thus, the situation forced a pilot who wanted to duck to the left or right to shift his body weight. This was obviously quite awkward.
Unsurprisingly, although the VZ-1 Pawnee did relatively well during tests, the military mandarins never really deployed it in battle. Tthey considered it too small, slow, and delicate for actual combat. Thus ended the Flying Platforms project.
Undoubtedly, MB Associates takes credit for developing the Gyrojet or first Rocket Bullets. They developed the Rocket Bullets way back in the 1960s. The Gyrojet was a family of experimental guns that worked in a new way. Instead of firing bullets, the Gyrojet fired tiny rockets; and it did so in near silence.
But the big gun—that many credit with a cameo in You Only Live Twice, the successful James Bond movie—ran into countless problems.
First, the rocket bullets gathered speed only after leaving the barrel- this means a soldier would find it useless when firing at close range. Also, the gun wasn’t accurate and jammed many times. For these reasons, the engineers abandoned the Rocket Bullets project after it wouldn’t impact the battlegrounds meaningfully.
2 The Stealth Helicopter
At the outset, U.S. military engineers expected the RAH-66 Comanche to be the veritable 21st-century armed scout helicopter. Unfortunately, the disastrous program merely gobbled up a staggering $6.9 billion crater in the U.S. Defense budget. In the end, there was little to show for the big bucks spent.
What killed the ambitious stealth helicopter Comanche program? Many point to three “culprits”:
- The emergence of drones
- The fall of the Soviet Union
- The sloppy engineering craft linked to the project
Thus, the defense mandarins wiped out the RAH-66 Comanche program in one fell swoop.
Yes, the Comanche program stealthily disappeared, never to return, or so it seems.
1 Bat Bombs
The Bat Bombs experiment was yet another failed experiment that resulted in a substantial financial loss. Soon after the Pearl Harbor attack by the Japanese, Lytle S. Adams, a Pennsylvania dentist, approached the White House—specifically First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt—with what seemed to be a brilliant hit-back plan: Attack with bat bombs!
The big idea was to drop a bomb consisting of over 1,000 compartments—with hibernating bats—that the engineers would attach to a timed incendiary device. Subsequently, a bomber would drop the “deadly” bomb over Japan; they’d do so at dawn, releasing the errand bats mid-flight.
What would then follow? Simple: The bats would swiftly disperse into the roofs and attics scattered over a 32–64 kilometer (20–40 mile) radius. Then the timed incendiary devices would ignite as all hell broke loose; a mighty conflagration would subsequently engulf multiple Japanese cities dispatching them to destruction.
Incredibly, despite the seemingly outlandish proposal, the U.S. National Research Defense Committee took up the matter. The military quickly captured thousands of free-tailed bats from Mexico and built tiny napalm incendiary devices that the bats would carry. The military conducted further tests and developed a complex release system. Further, the Marine Corps ran 30 rapid tests and demonstrations; this gobbled up a whopping $2 million.
The Defense Committee later halted the entire program, flushing millions of dollars down the drain on a weapon that never saw the light of day!