The Most Impractical Weapons in History


George S. Patton once said “Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men.” That may have been a quote about the honor, skill, and mettle of soldiers. But it also can apply to the use of these impractical weapons, which seem more likely to help you lose a fight than win one.

10. Davy Crocket Portable Nuke

It’s hard to imagine that there’s anything you could do to a nuclear weapon to make it more dangerous than it already is. But there was some effort put into making them more portable which in turn made them frightfully impractical to use.

The Davy Crockett portable nuclear device was about the smallest warhead that could be produced while still being able to actually create a fission reaction. The tiny warhead looked like a watermelon with some fins on the side of it and was incapable of being fired from traditional artillery like mortars or other such devices. Instead, it had to be fired from some kind of recoilless gun. That meant a team of three soldiers had to be deployed to use it on the battlefield. And with a range of under three miles, they were terribly close to wherever the  warhead was going to detonate. The risk of exposing yourself to radiation was extremely high. 

Luckily, soldiers never had to endure the risk of exposure to radiation because, after the Davy Crockett was test fired in Nevada, it was determined to be so terribly inaccurate that there was no practical way it could be used in battle.

9. Urumi

If you’ve never seen the Indian weapon known as an urumi then it’s definitely worth your while to take a look at it. The basic concept is pretty simple, it’s like a whip only instead of a long strap of leather you’re wielding a flexible piece of very sharp metal. And, just like a whip, if you’re not skilled in using it it has the likelihood to snap back and cause serious damage to the person wielding it rather than whatever is being targeted by it.

A combination of whip and sword, simple versions just feature one single flexible 4 or 5 foot length of metal held by a handle that has a knuckle guard and a thumb guard. The metal Is sharp enough to cut flesh. More complicated versions exist with much longer blades and multiple blades attached. Word is there was even one kind that had 32 different blades. These additional blades made wielding it that much more dangerous.

8. Flamethrowers

No one really needs to be told what a flamethrower is these days, they’ve appeared in enough different kinds of media by now that you’ve no doubt seen them and have a basic understanding of how they work. A tank of fuel is strapped to the back of a soldier who then has some kind of spraying device hooked up to it that will pump out the fuel and ignite it, creating a constant stream of terrifying Hellfire.

As effective as a flamethrower is not just as a weapon itself but a method of scaring the daylights out of your enemies, it’s also a horrible danger to the person wielding it. To start with, the moment a soldier sets foot on the battlefield and lights up a flamethrower they are literally pointing a light at themselves that any enemy can see and target. Aside from making yourself vulnerable to enemy fire, the fuel tank itself was just as vulnerable and could easily be hit by an errant bullet and explode.

It’s been said that the average lifespan of a flamethrower operator on the battlefield was about 5 minutes. This was due in part to the obvious target they made of themselves, and the fact that a flamethrower fuel tank would be  completely drained in mere seconds leaving the flamethrower operator mostly defenseless.

7. Duck’s Foot Pistol

A duck’s foot pistol was what was known as a volley weapon. When in use, you’d be able to fire more than one shot and potentially take out several targets at the same time. If you don’t think about it at all, and you don’t look at the picture of it, it sounds really good. However, the design was remarkably impractical and unless you managed to get four people to stand in front of you in the exact same spot where the barrels were pointed, it was essentially useless as a weapon.

That’s not to say there were no cases when such a weapon would be impractical. If you were somehow alone against a rush of enemies coming at you from the same direction, you could probably kill four of them if they were grouped together. It’s just what are the odds that was ever going to happen when you had one of these preposterous guns handy? Nevermind how you might holster the thing.

6. Double Barrel Cannon

Even though modern firearms have come a long way, the double barrel shotgun is still regarded as a powerful and serious weapon. If you want a character to look badass in a movie, give him a double barrel shotgun. And there was probably some of the same thinking behind the development of the double barrel cannon back in the day. If a normal cannon is fearsome, then surely a double barrel cannon would have been awe-inspiring.

On paper, the idea of a double barrel cannon sounds promising. The reality was not quite the same however. The initial test proved disastrous  because the plan was to fire two cannonballs that were attached by a chain, creating a destructive Scythe-like device that would spin and cut through everything in its path. Unfortunately, if both cannonballs don’t fire the exact same moment what you end up doing is destroying the cannon and anyone around it.

Word is there is one test fire of such a cannon during the Civil War. The chained balls tore up an acre of corn fields before the chain broke, with one of the cannonballs flying off into a field and killing a cow. Realizing the cannon was going to be too hard to control, it was never used again. You can still see it today at the Athens-Clarke County City Hall in Georgia.

5. Schwerer Gustav

There’s no denying that the Schwerer Gustav was a massive weapon. In an effort to invade France, Adolf Hitler was looking for a way to penetrate the fortifications of the Maginot Line. The solution that they came up with was a railway-mounted cannon the likes of which no one had ever seen before. The gun was 12 meters high, 47 meters long, and weighed 1,350 tons. It could fire ten-ton the shells from a barrel that was 30 meters in length. They called it the Great Gustav.

As potentially devastating as the Gustav was, it became utterly impractical to make frequent use of it. Aside from the fact that it was so big it was easy to spot from the sky which made it a target, it was also too heavy to travel on normal railway tracks. The Germans had to build reinforced tracks ahead of it whenever they wanted it to go, which would have been impractical during normal times let alone during wartime. 

In order to prepare the cannon for firing several hours worth of calibration was needed for each shot. That means they could only shoot a maximum of 14 rounds per day. It also took four days to fully assemble the cannon once it was in place.

4. Sticky Bombs

During the Second World War nearly a quarter of a million sticky bombs came into service for British forces. The bomb was essentially a container full of nitroglycerin held inside an extremely sticky birdlime solution in a glass bottle. While they were never officially ok’d for military use, obviously they saw a lot of action on the field. The initial plan was to throw them at a distance so the glass would break and the bomb would adhere to a target but that proved to be very inaccurate. A simpler and more efficient method was to walk up to your target and smash the sticky bomb on the side of it. There was enough explosive to actually get through the armor and some smaller tanks.

The big problem with the sticky bomb was the fact that it was so sticky. It’s been noted that during training more than one soldier got a sticky bomb stuck to themselves and had a seriously hard time getting it off while holding onto the handle to ensure it didn’t blow them up. There’s at least one story of a soldier who got it stuck to his pants and was only rescued when a fellow soldier pulled the man’s pants off, bomb and all.

3. Apache Revolver

History is rife with what can best be described as novelty guns, like the duck’s foot pistol we saw earlier. But perhaps the most impractical of all the weapons of this sort was the Apache revolver. Clearly meant to be three weapons in one with a knife blade, a gun, and a pair of brass knuckles, it was arguably useless when used as any of those items, let alone trying to use all three together.

There was no trigger guard for the revolver which meant the risk of firing it randomly was always present. The blade was attached very loosely and ran the risk of breaking off, and for whatever reason the brass knuckle portion of the handle was designed so small that only someone with extremely small hands could even hope to get their fingers through the holes.

The gun had no sight, and essentially no barrel either. It would have been effective at very close range and that’s it. Because of the lack of trigger guard you would have to store it unloaded for safety reasons. And loading it meant removing the entire cylinder. So really, this was a truly ineffective weapon if you needed to use it in a pinch or at a distance.

2. Novgorod

Scottish shipbuilder John Elder thought you could make a ship wider in the beam with a shallower draft so it could carry bigger guns while not requiring a lot more power to make it move. The Imperial Russian Navy really liked this idea and the result was the creation of a warship that was a nearly perfect circle.

The idea was that the circular design would offer the greatest displacement of water and the least amount of armor because of the short hull. You could have giant guns on the deck and with so little side exposed you wouldn’t need to worry about heavy armaments. As a bonus, if a shell did hit the side, because it was a circle the odds are it would deflect off anyway. And, with no keel, it could patrol extremely shallow waters.

When the ship was finally built with a diameter of 100 feet, no one had foreseen the major problem was going to hold it back. Because it was a circle the steering was almost nonexistent. If you wanted to turn the ship around it took about 45 minutes to do so. That was on calm seas. In a storm or in a combat situation, the ship would have been utterly useless. Also, because of the hull it had an incredible amount of drag. So the end result was a ship that was incredibly slow and hard to steer.

1. Blue Peacock Mine

It’s hard to overstate just how silly the blue peacock mine was. To fully appreciate what a bizarre idea this weapon was you just have to know about it involves the use of chickens to keep it warm. Live chickens. 

The way a blue peacock mine was supposed to work was that a 10 kiloton nuclear device was to be buried on the North German plain. There they would stay, hidden underground until the Soviet Army invaded. The mines would be detonated either by a tripwire or after an eight-day timer expired. The point was to destroy all the military facilities in the area and prevent the Soviets from occupying the space because of both the destruction and the nuclear contamination.

Because of the part of the world this was in there was a fear that the cold temperatures the mines would be subjected to could be a hazard. Buried underground, the electronics could potentially get too cold to function properly. So the method of preventing this was to have live chickens included inside the mine. They’d have a supply of food and water, enough to keep them alive for about a week and their body heat would be able to keep the mine working. When this information was first declassified, people assumed it was an April Fool’s joke since it was April 1, 2004. However, it was no joke. The chicken mine was an all too real idea.

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