The Scariest Improvised Weapons in History


Some people say that when life gives you lemons you can make lemonade. And if life gives you a handful of metal, maybe a barrel or two, some flammable chemicals, and a few small objects that you can use as projectiles then you can make an entire battlefield’s worth of improvised weapons if you’re dedicated enough, creative enough, and in some cases merciless enough. 

10. The Killdozer

The story of how Marvin Heemeyer came to make the Killdozer that his name will forever be attached to is something of a sad one. Heemeyer had been in a three year long fight with City Hall in the town of Granby, Colorado. The city had approved the construction of a concrete plant next to his machine shop. He didn’t like that, and petitioned to have the land rezoned to no avail. For years he fought against the construction of the plant but it just didn’t pan out. Finally, Heemeyer had enough.

Using his knowledge as a mechanic and welder, Marvin Heemeyer turned a bulldozer he had in his shop into what came to be known in the media as the Killdozer. He outfitted it with armor plating and completely enclosed the cabin, engine and some of the tracks to make it virtually unstoppable. The outside was shielded by a steel wall that was hollow and filled with concrete. This created a one-foot thick stone shell bordered on the inside and outside by sheets of steel.

The effect of Heemeyer’s incredible engineering feat was that when law enforcement attempted to use small arms and even explosives to stop him it proved utterly useless. The bullets bounce off as though they were shooting at Superman himself.

Heemeyer drove his Killdozer through town hall, the local newspaper, a hardware store, the concrete plant that he was so opposed to, the home of a judge, and some other houses. Anyone who had wronged him in his zoning permit pursuit was destroyed by the Killdozer. His rampage lasted two hours at remarkably slow speeds and caused $7 million worth of damage. It only stopped when the Killdozer got stuck on the foundation of a building and couldn’t move any longer. Heemeyer took his own life, ending his path of destruction.

9. Pipe Bombs

Some of the oldest explosives in the world, and even to this day some of the most terrifying, pipe bombs are simple, and brutally efficient. There are records of people using pipe bombs as far back as the late 1880s to wreak havoc and cause death and injury.

In its simplest terms, a pipe bomb is just what the name suggests. A length of pipe packed with explosives and the ends capped off so that there is increased pressure to maximize the damage when it explodes. 

Soldiers in the Second World War were actually trained in how to make pipe bombs in a pinch. They are so commonly used that the school shooters at Columbine had actually made a handful of pipe bombs that they planned to use as well. They’ve been sent to many politicians over the years, and still remain a popular choice for people making improvised explosive devices because of how simple and easy it is to make them. That’s what makes them so terrifying after being around for so many years as well. It takes such little effort to make these devices that there really is no way to predict when or where someone might set one off, because literally anyone could gather the materials from just about anywhere in the world.

8. Vasily Zaytsev’s Anti-Tank Sniper Rifle

Vasily Zaytsev was one of the most famous snipers in military history, with over 400 confirmed kills during the Second World War. It was his prowess as a sniper that led to one of the most devastatingly effective improvised weapons of the entire war.

Zaytsev used the scope off of a sniper rifle and rigged it to an antitank gun, effectively making an anti-tank sniper rifle which had not existed before. The result was a weapon of remarkable destructive capability that could also operate at a stunning distance. 

7. Molotov Cocktails

Few improvised weapons are as recognizable and down and dirty as the Molotov cocktail. Just about everyone has heard of one as they’ve been a staple in movies for years, and arguably anyone could make one with a few simple household ingredients. All you need is a bottle full of flammable liquid, and a rag stuffed inside to act as a wick.

The Molotov cocktail traces its origin to the Spanish Civil War. When faced with nearly impervious tanks, Francisco Franco ordered the development of incendiary devices that could burn the tanks’ treads, rendering them all but inoperable. They also ensured that the crew inside the tank would have to flee or burn.

The name Molotov cocktail was actually from the Finnish Army. When the Red Army was invading Finland several years after the Spanish Civil War, the Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs Vyacheslav Molotov assured citizens on the radio that they were just dropping humanitarian aid when in fact they were bombing the population. The Finnish soldiers responded by saying that they were replying to Molotov’s humanitarian packages with Molotov cocktails. The rest is history.

6. Fougasse Flamethrower

There are few more terrifying ways to meet your maker than in a blazing inferno. That’s pretty much what a flamethrower threatens to do when you see the business end pointed in your direction. Though anything that can direct flames could be considered a flamethrower, the modern idea of a flamethrower as a weapon dates back to 1901 in Germany. And while a fuel tank with a propulsion system in the form of a gun is terrifying, a fougasse flamethrower is even more terrifying.

The Soviets employed fougasse flamethrowers as early as 1941. The concept was remarkably simple: a barrel of flammable liquid is buried in the ground with a nozzle sticking out that directs it wherever you want the fire to go. They could be operated remotely and would just belch forth Hellfire until the fuel source was emptied.

Improvised fougasse flamethrowers have been made on battlefields all around the world. All you really need is a barrel with a hole in the top to get the job done. They are inelegant, but extremely deadly.

5. Hell Cannons

The name Hell Cannon sounds awesome enough in terms of warcraft, and it certainly seems like something that should have a licensed manufacturer. Nonetheless, the Hell Cannons made in Syria are simple yet efficient destructive tools. 

The Free Syrian Army has a reputation for making some deadly yet effective improvised weapons but the Hell Cannon is a real standout. Essentially a homemade Howitzer cannon, the Hell Cannon’s most famous munition is not a typical mortar or rocket — rather, a propane tank rigged with fins to make it aerodynamic and stuffed with extra munitions. 

How effective is the homemade cannon? Depending on the size of the munitions, it could hit targets up to a mile away. Keep in mind, the accuracy of this cannnon is almost non-existent so wherever it hits a mile away wasn’t technically a target, but sometimes the psychological effect is all that matters.

4. Sham II Tank

Proving that the forces in Syria are not one hit wonders, not only have they developed the Hell Cannon,  they’ve also managed to create their very own improvised tank. Built on the chassis of a normal car, this heavily armored vehicle features a turret mounted machine gun and is also capable of operating with nothing more than the controller for a Playstation 2.

With a video display inside connected to externally mounted cameras, the operator of the Sham II tank could be relatively safe inside of the armored core of the vehicle while still being able to see everything, steer the vehicle, and fire the weapons.

No doubt this weapon wouldn’t stand up to legit military force and heavy duty anti-tank munitions but on a battlefield where quick thinking and improvisation are the order of the day, this is the king of the castle in terms of impromptu weaponry. 

3. Marble Gun

Back in the day if you spent any time in the country there was a good chance you learned the ways of the potato gun. This homemade weapon was used to fire a potato at some pretty impressive velocity and caused a bit more destruction than any tuberous root vegetable has any right to do. The evolution of the potato gun in the modern world seems to be the marble gun, a quick and dirty homemade weapon that can fire tiny glass marbles.

Kids in Asia in particular have taken up the hobby of making marble guns for target shooting and just goofing around. And while it seems like that’s all fun and games, the fact of the matter is these weapons can be incredibly dangerous. There was a story in 2014 from Vietnam about a boy accidentally fatally shooting his friend with a marble gun. And that’s exactly why this improvised weapon ranks on a list with massive tanks and cannons that are used in real life warfare.

When you make something like a Killdozer or a Hell Cannon you do it with the express purpose of knowing that you’re going to hurt, maim, and perhaps even kill somebody. Nobody expects a marble gun to fatally kill a child. But the fact that it can happen makes it one of the most terrifying things out there.

2. French Nail

Trench warfare was brutal and terrifying during the First World War but it was not uncommon. Close quarters combat made many firearms useless, and melee weapons were the order of the day. Soldiers had knives or bayonets but in messy conditions on a long enough timeline these kinds of weapons can get lost or destroyed. That meant they needed to improvise something new on the front lines with limited supplies.

Dubbed a French Nail, these trench warfare weapons were essentially whatever you could give to a blacksmith that he could fashion into something with a blade or a point on it. There are museum examples of pieces that are just bent rebar with the end sharpened into a bayonet point. Others were fashioned from pieces of barbed wire fence post. Whatever scrap metal was handy could be used, and the weapon would be quick, dirty, and deadly efficient. 

1. Nailarang

Bruce Wayne clearly has some skill fashioning improvised weapons shaped like bats that he can throw like boomerangs that come with the kind of cool nickname of a Batarang. While forging something like that in the real world would take a little bit more skill and effort than the average non-superhero has, there is a bizarre alternative that is remarkably efficient and incredibly easy to make. So easy, in fact, you can find YouTube videos to show you how to do it.

A nailarang is essentially just a few nails welded together with some tape wrapped around them. It sounds goofy and kind of childish, but video demonstrations show that these things fly incredibly well and can stick into a target with a scary amount of force.

The thing that makes a weapon like this so unsettling is just how incredibly easy it is to make. You can buy a handful of nails down at the local Walmart, get yourself a welding torch, and suddenly you have some makeshift throwing stars that stick into their target with ease.

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