World War II started off with the Nazis pretty much wanting to control the whole world. Twenty years after the previous World War, Europe was still in a period of recuperation and Germany was one of the countries worst off in the aftermath. In an astonishingly short period of time, they were able to rebuild their war ravaged country, consolidate the army –even though they weren’t allowed to- and begin down a path, in their minds, thought to bring them justice. Besides this, Hitler also had in mind to transform Germany into a self-sustaining empire, by displacing the peoples from what is now present-day Ukraine and take those fertile lands for his own.
To do this, the Nazis resorted to a systematic and ruthless way of fighting, which in the first half of the war brought them one victory after another. This came to be known as the Blitzkrieg (Lighting War). They also made use of some state of the art technologies and war machines, the Allies were no match to. Here are ten of those “superweapons”, as well as some which fortunately remained only on the drawing board and were never deployed on the battlefield.
10. The Panther Tank
To start off this list, we must first talk about the Nazi Panther tank. What makes this war machine stand out of all the other tanks of WWII is a combination of firepower, armor, maneuverability and speed. Originally intended to be used as a counter to the T-34 Soviet tank, the Panther was introduced on the battlefield in 1943 and was in use up until the end of the war. Initially it was to replace the Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks, but ended up fighting alongside them throughout the duration of the war.
Nevertheless, the Panther soon enough became one of the most feared machines on the ground. Thanks to its sloped armor, the Panther got both extra protection, all the while limiting its total weight, as well as not sacrificing speed and maneuverability in doing so. This design was made standard on both sides, during and after the war. What made it stand out most of all was its rage. Firing a 75 mm cannon, the Panther was able to take out pretty much any Allied tank from long distances and not having to worry about retaliating fire.
Other, larger Nazi tanks were built and deployed during WWII; tanks like the Tiger I and II, and even though they were more heavily armored and with better firepower, these tanks used huge amounts of fuel, which limited them greatly. Many believe that the Panther had the best tank design of WWII and directly competed with the Soviet T-34 which, even though lacked many technical advantages, it more than made up through its simple design, easy drivability and huge numbers of it being built by the Soviets.
9. The V3 Cannon
The Vergeltungswaffe 3 Cannon (a.k.a. “England Cannon”) or more commonly known as the V3, this Nazi “vengeance weapon” was intended to fire huge projectiles at immense distances across the English Chanel, from France to London. Built directly into a hill, the V3 operated by a multi-charge principle where secondary charges were detonated inside the long barrel, in order to propel the artillery shell even further.
Initial trials of the V3 took place in May 1944 when the cannon achieved a range of 55 miles (88 kms.) and again in July with 58 miles (93 kms.). Two of these cannons were built and only one of them saw any action during the war. From January 11th 1945 until the 22nd, a total of 183 rounds had been fired on the recently liberated city of Luxembourg. It nevertheless proved mostly ineffective as out of the total 142 projectiles that detonated, only 10 people fell victim to it and injuring another 35.
8. The Fritz X Radio-guided bomb
Fritz X was the common name used by both the Germans and the Allies for the world’s first precision guided gliding bomb used against Navy ships. Its full name was Ruhrstahl SD 1400 X and was based on the standard SD 1400 armor piercing bomb, designed to sink heavily armored Allied ships. The Fritz X however made use of improved aerodynamics and four small wings mounted on each side, as well as a tail for improved maneuverability. Its only drawback was the fact that in order to launch it effectively, the plane had to fly directly over its target, thus greatly exposing it to enemy flak fire.
Despite this, the Fritz X was highly effective in combat and was responsible for sinking the British Cruiser HMS Spartan, the British destroyer HMS Janus, and the Newfoundland hospital ship among others. It was also used to sink the Italian battleship Roma after their truce on September 9th, 1943. A total of 2,000 such weapons were produced during the war, but only 200 were actually used. This was in large part due to the changing tides of the war when Nazi Germany had to change its tactics from an offensive front to a defensive one.
7. The Aggregat Rocket Series
Like we said before, Hitler and the Nazis had plans to ultimately control the whole world. To do so they would inevitably have had to attack the US directly at some point. For this to happen the Aggregat rocket series was designed as early as 1933, up until the end of the war. One of the best known rockets from this series was the V-2 or officially called the A4. This weapon, the world’s first long range ballistic missile, was used by the Nazis in the late stages of the war over London, Antwerp and Liege. It is estimated that they were responsible for taking around 9,000 lives of both civilians and military personnel, as well as another 12,000 force laborers who worked on their production.
Nevertheless, if Hitler had his way and the war developed in his favor, the V-2 rocket would have been only the beginning. Plans were up on the drawing board to build the A10 rocket, capable of attacking US soil strait from the European mainland. Even greater was the A12 which could take up 10 tons of payload into the Earth’s lower orbit. Fortunately the war was over before these weapons could be made.
6. Dora and Gustav Rail Cannons
No such list can ever be complete without mentioning these two humongous cannons built by the Nazis during WWII. With 31.5 inch caliber warheads, these two behemoths were the largest cannons ever built. And compared to the V3 cannons mentioned above, these had the added advantage of moving from place to place. But in order to do so, these rail cannons had to be taken apart, transported in several pieces, reassembled and then mounted on an already prepared emplacement. This whole procedure required about 4,000 men. Each time they were deployed, an entire anti-aircraft regiment was put to protect them, as well as special ground troops to guard for saboteurs.
Of the two, only Gustav was placed in active service, during the 1942 siege of Sevastopol in the Crimean Peninsula. In total it fired 300 huge shells which, with a weight of almost 11,000 pounds (4,800 kg) each, could take out an entire ammunitions bunker, 100 feet (30 meters) underground. Weapons expert Alexander Ludeke refers to them as “technological masterpieces” but says they were “basically a waste of materials, technological expertise, and manpower.”
5. The Landkreuzer P 1000 Ratte
While we’re on the subject of humongous war machines, here’s one prototype which fortunately never left the Nazi drawing board. The P. 1000 Ratte (Rat) was a super-tank prototype first proposed in 1942. It was designed to weigh in at 1,000 tons with the turret and guns alone being 200 tons. Standing at 115 feet long, 45 feet wide and four stories tall, it’s no surprise the concept appealed to Hitler who approved its development.
If built it would have had 20 crew members, complete with habitation quarters and lavatories. The turret itself would have been of naval design, something similar to those used on capital ships. The two main guns could fire 280 mm shells 25 miles away, weighing 700 pounds each. As protection, the Rat was to be outfitted with at least one 128mm Anti-Tank gun and eight 22mm Anti-Air FLAK-38 cannons.
Its drawbacks however are evident right from the start. Being so big and heavy, it would have destroyed any road in went over, not to mention any bridge. This made every river crossing a gamble. Not to mention the fact that it couldn’t enter any town or village and it would have been a prime target for any attack. The project was discontinued in 1943 and no prototype was ever built.
4. The Horten Ho 229 Stealth Bomber
This plane stands to show just how advanced the Nazis were in terms of technological development and just how early on people knew about stealth aircraft. The Horten Ho 229 was the first ever flying wing which used jet engines and came the closest to Hermann Göring’s “3 x 1000” performance requirements. This implied an airplane capable of carrying a 1,000 kilogram payload over a distance of 1,000 kilometers, with a speed of 1,000 kmph.
Not only was the Horten Ho 229 close to these requirements, it was also fitted with stealth capabilities, specifically designed to be undetectable by the British Chain Home radar early warning system. Due to its wing shape and charcoal dust mixed in with the wood glue, this plane was able to be 20% less visible by radar. This gave the British only 2 and a half minutes to prepare for its high-speed attack which most likely wasn’t long enough. If it would have been ready in time, this plane could have taken out the entire radar network, leaving Britain extremely vulnerable to any aerial attack.
3. The ZG 1229 Vampir
The Zielgerät 1229, also known by its code name Vampir, was the first ever active infrared device to be mounted on a rifle and be used primarily at night. This may not sound as much now, and especially given the other entries on this list, but being sniped in pitch darkness with no visibility whatsoever can quickly transform this simple invention into a literal vampire worthy of being feared by the Allies and classified as a superweapon during WWII. Moreover, the sniper using it was known as a Nachtjäger (night-hunter) which is a cool name in its own right.
The biggest drawback of this infrared scope was its bulkiness. The ZG 1229 Vampir weighed in at about 5 pounds, which is not that much, but it was also attached to a 30 pound wooden case battery for the light, as well as another, smaller one, for the image converter. But even so, given the fact that this scope was used at night, it didn’t require the sniper to move about too much and change vantage points too often. It only operated in the upper infrared spectrum of light and not the lower infrared one and was thus not sensitive to body heat. Nevertheless, seeing in pitch darkness was a tremendous advantage for any “night-hunter”.
Small arms were first introduced to this technology in early 1944, but the Vampir was only used in combat in February of 1945. Just 310 units were produced and delivered to the Wehrmacht in the final stages of the war. Eye-witness accounts from veterans of the Eastern Front have reported sniper shootings at night with the aid of “peculiar non-shining torches coupled with enormous optical sights”.
2. The Silbervogel Sub-Orbital Bomber
The Silbervogel (Silver Bird) concept was first proposed by by Eugen Sänger and Irene Bredt in the late 1930’s as a rocket-powered sub-orbital bomber which would be out of reach of any Allied aircraft or anti-air guns. The project went under the spotlight in 1942 and was a serious contender for the Amerika Bomber mission where the Nazis wanted to design a long-range strategic bomber capable of attacking the American mainland straight from Germany, over a distance of 3,600 miles (5,800 kms.).
Its design was so ahead of its time that the modern Space Shuttle is based on it. If it ever came to fruition and the Silbervogel would have reached the planet’s orbit, it would have been able to deliver a 4,000 kg. bomb anywhere over the continental US and then finish its mission on a Japanese landing strip somewhere in the Pacific. What’s even more frightening is that the Germans were also working on a nuclear program of their own and the Silbervogel would have been the top contender to deliver that deadly payload. Fortunately, the war turned on the Nazis before both projects could be finalized and neither was ever completed.
1. The Orbital Sun Gun
Taking the no.1 place on this list is the infamous Nazi heliobeam weapon, most commonly known as the Sun Gun. Even though the Nazis were also working on their own nuclear program and came really close to using it, we believe that the Sun Gun deserves this place, mainly because the Americans beat them to designing the nuke and using it first.
The idea and initial design came from the German physicist Hermann Oberth as early as 1923. He envisioned a space station on which a 100 meter wide concave mirror would be placed, facing the Earth and which could boil oceans and burn entire cities to a crisp. These initial calculations were not correct, but nevertheless, Nazi scientists at the German research base in Hillersleben began improving on the design. Instead of an ordinary mirror, they would use a reflective surface, 9 sq. kilometers wide, made out of metallic sodium.
After the end of the war, these scientists insisted that the project could have been operational in just 10 years. Given the German advances made in rocketry, this idea is not so farfetched and like the Silbervogel above, no Allied weapon at the time could even come close to taking it out. Most likely the Sun Gun would have been used to keep the whole world in check, given the Nazis would have won the war.