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In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. Friedrich Nietzsche

Historical Insanity

Really Weird Weapons Used in War

Human imagination and creativity are boundless. Sadly, some of the greatest and wildest uses of human ingenuity have been in the theater of war.

Hence, anybody who wants to know what human beings are capable of, need to study war. The history of war shows that there are few limits to human imagination, inventiveness, and creativity are in an extreme situation.

Thus, human imagination gives us hope in the face of horrors of such as coronavirus and Climate Change. If human beings can be so creative in war, they have the imagination to solve any problem or destroy any enemy.

Some Bizarre Weapons used in the Wars of the Past include:

Deception by Dead Body

Strangely, dead bodies have sometimes played important roles in war. The most famous and incredible corpse in military history was Glyndwr Michael – “The Man who Never Was.”

Michael took part in one of the most interesting and important secret missions of World War II though he had been dead for almost two months. To explain, Michael deceived the Nazis and possibly saved thousands of American and British lives with secret papers.

In 1943, Allied commanders faced a terrible situation because of victory. To explain, British and American forces conquered North Africa in 1943.

However, the next Allied move was logical and obvious: the invasion of Sicily and a direct attack on a member of the Axis: Fascist Italy. The Germans understood the strategy and could set a trap for the American and British invasion forces.

Two British Intelligence officers; Flight Lieutenant Charles Cholmondeley and Lieutenant Commander Ewan Montagu came up with a solution. The solution was to dress a dead body as a British officer, carrying fake documents describing an Allied invasion of Greece. The hope was to fool German leaders into thinking the Allies were planning to attack Greece and not Italy.

Cholmondeley and Montagu received permission to launch “Operation: Trojan Horse,” or “Operation: Mincemeat.” The two created a fake Australian British Royal Marines officer, “Major William Martin.” The Royal Navy would float Martin’s body off the coast of Spain with a briefcase full of secret documents handcuffed to his wrist.

Major Martin was probably Glyndwr Michael, who committed suicide in London on 28 January 1943. British Intelligence obtained Micheal’s body and stored it in dry ice.

On 30 April 1943, the submarine HMS Seraph dropped Major Martin into the sea off the Spanish coast. Martin was wearing a life vest and sailors tossed a life raft into the sea to make it appear Micheal had been in a plane crash.

They left Martin off the Spanish coast because the British were afraid German doctors could see through their deception. Instead, the Spanish authorities found Major Martin on the beach and buried the body.

However, German intelligence; the Abwehr, photographed the documents and sent them to Berlin. In Berlin, the documents fooled German leaders, including Hitler himself.

On 10 July 1943, British and American forces made a successful landing in Sicily. The landing was successful, partially because Hitler diverted some German forces to Greece.

On 25 July 1943, Italian King Victor Emmanuel III removed fascist dictator Benito Mussolini from office. The King could fire Mussolini because the invasion of Sicily had discredited the dictator and his fascist regime.

On 13 October 1943, Italy joined the Allies and declared War on Germany. On 28 April 1945, Italian resistance fighters lynched Mussolini who had been collaborating with Nazi occupation forces.

Thus, a dead man was partially responsible for the demise of Mussolini and the collapse of an Axis power. Strangely, Her Majesty’s Government kept Major Martin’s true identity secret until 1986.

Even the well-crafted 1956 movie The Man Who Never Was, kept the secret. Possibly because Michael had committed suicide. To explain, 1950s movie production codes banned the mention of suicide in American and British films.

The Flying Corpses

Operation Mincemeat was not the first time the use of corpses in war changed the course of history.

In 1344, Mongol forces were besieging the Genoese trading outpost at Caffa; modern Feodosia on the Black Sea. During the Siege of Caffa, writer Gabriele de’ Mussi claims the Mongols fired dead bodies into Caffa using catapults. The Mongols used catapults to get the bodies over Caffa’s walls.  

The corpses the Mongols fired had died of the Black Death, Bubonic Plague. Fleas from the corpses could have infected rats and Italian mercenaries, sailors, and merchants inside Caffa with the Black Death. Italian ships then took the infected rats, fleas, and people to Europe, including the great trading center of Constantinople. To explain, scientists believe fleas spread the germs that cause the Black Plague.

Thus, the use of corpses in war helped transmit one of history’s greatest plagues. Scholars estimate the Black Death, or Black Plague, killed up to 200 million people and 30% to 60% of Europe’s population.

The Rolling Rocket Bomb

Not every ingenious weapon or strategy works. Britain’s Panjandrum Rolling Rocket Bomb from World War II was a speculator failure.

The idea behind the Panjandrum was simple, put a bomb between two giant wheels. Then attach rockets to the wheels and set it loose.

The hope was that the Panjandrum could charge up Europe’s beaches and blast holes in German fortifications. The reality was a weapon that almost killed a dog, a cameraman, and a bunch of Allied generals.

In 1944, Britain’s incredibly named Directorate of Miscellaneous Weapons Development build a Panjandrum and shipped to a seaside resort called Westward Ho!. A crowd of British and American brass gathered to watch the test. Unfortunately, the testers had no way to control the Rolling Rocket Wheel.

When they launched Panjandrum. the weapon headed straight for the spectators and a cameraman. To add to the confusion, rockets began flying off the wheel and creating chaos. An Army officer’s dog began chasing the rockets.

Fortunately, the Panjandrum caught fire and disintegrated. Predictably, the generals canceled the Panjandrum program after the test.

Since World War II, there have been several efforts to recreate the Panjandrum with equally disastrous results. In 2009, a British fireworks company built a smaller Panjandrum to celebrate the 65th anniversary of D-Day, Wired reports. Thankfully, the later-day Rolling Rocket Wheel fizzled out before it could hurt anybody.

A decade later, former Mythbuster Adam Savage built his own mini-Panjandrum for YouTube. Not surprisingly, Savage’s Rolling Rocket Wheel rolled out of control and missed its targets.

Notably, no military has tried to build a Panjandrum since World War II.

The Bouncing Bombs

Sometimes bizarre weapons work and kill the bad guys. One reason the British tested the Panjandrum was because it was the creation of the designers of the famous Bouncing Bombs.

The Bouncing Bomb or Dambusting Bomb was a cylinder that resembles an oil drum. A plane dropped the Bouncing Bomb on the surface of a reservoir behind a dam.

The bomb bounced or skipped along the surface of the water like a stone thrown by a child. When the Bouncing Bomb hit the dam, it fell to the bottom of the water and exploded. The hope was that the explosion could crack the dam and start a flood.

During Operation Chastise in May 1943, Squadron 617 of the Royal Air Force (RAF) caused catastrophic flooding in Germany’s Ruhr Valley with Bouncing Bombs. To explain, Squadron 617 breached the Möhne and Edersee dams with Bouncing Bombs.

The floods caused by the bouncing bombs killed an estimated 1,600 people. Unfortunately, 1,000 of those drowned were Soviet prisoners of war used as forced labor. On the other hand, the RAF achieved its goal of shutting down German mines and factories.

Interestingly, Britain’s Royal Navy tested a smaller version of the Bouncing Bomb called Baseball. Oddly, they could have launched the Baseball from torpedo boats. They designed another version called Highball for use against German warships.

Conversely, when the RAF attacked the German battleship Tirpitz in Norway in 1944, they used bunker-busting Tall Boy Bombs, not bouncing weapons. The RAF’s Nine Squadron and 617 Squadron sank the Tirpitz, Germany’s largest warship, in Operation Catechism on 12 November 1944. The United States Air Force still uses the basic design of Tall Boy for its most powerful conventional weapons, including the infamous Mother of All Bombs.

Interestingly, the success of Operation Chastise convinced the German Air Force, or Luftwaffe, to build its own rocket powered bomb called Kurt. The Kurt was a rocket-powered copy of the Tallboy bombs used in Chastise.

German engineers back engineered the bouncing bomb by examining a bouncing bomb found in a crashed British bomber. The Germans never used a bouncing bomb in World War II because it was not ready until 1944. By then the Allies had shot down most of the Luftwaffe. However, the Germans tested a few bouncing bombs in 1944.

Military history proves human ingenuity knows few bounds. Hopefully, in the future we will use that creativity for good.