Sometimes, winning a war means being just a little crazier than the other guys. After all, you always want to preserve the element of surprise, and if the enemy is prepared for every non-stupid contingency, that means you have only one option left. And many times, the stupid option works.
For evidence, just look at these ill-conceived and/or hilariously insane weapons that somehow performed better than even their creators could have predicted …
#6. The Flying Aircraft Carrier That Carried Smaller Planes Like Remora Fish
Back when air travel was so new and dangerous that every warplane required an extra seat to accommodate the pilot’s enormous testicles, various militaries toyed with the idea of developing flying aircraft carriers. In 1930s America, that meant taking a bunch of fighter planes and cramming them into the belly of a lumbering air-beast, a technique that was about as successful as you might imagine. Over in the Soviet Union, the airborne aircraft carrier idea that floated to the top of the list was a far more straightforward one: bolt small planes onto much, much larger planes.
Coincidentally, Russia was also first to develop stain-resistant pilot seats.
The Rube Goldberg monstrosity you’re looking at above is a result of Stalin’s Zveno project, which consisted of repurposing super-colossal Russian bombers like the Tupolev TB-3 to carry up to six Polikarpov I-16 fighter-bombers like winged parasites. Although, “parasites” is probably an unfair description — in reality this was more of a symbiotic relationship, because once the full crop of fighters was firmly attached, each plane in this flying Jenga tower had to gun its engines just to get the whole ludicrous mess off the ground.
But It Totally Worked!
The idea was that the giant bomber could get the smaller fighters to a target that would normally be out of their range, and to that extent a Zveno could knock non-Russians on their asses more efficiently than a Russian breakfast. (Vodka. A Russian breakfast is vodka.) Once in range, the fighters detached like over-plump ticks to decimate their targets, usually Axis oil depots in Romania, German-held bridges, or anything that smelled a bit too strongly of capitalism. After transforming their target into a smoking crater, the fighter pilots could either attempt to reattach to the bomber in-flight (if they’d had a big enough Russian breakfast) or land at a nearby airfield and prepare to Voltron up again the next day.
The next time you’re tempted to bitch about having to parallel park, remember this photo.
While both the TB-3 and the Polikarpov were retired in 1942, by that time Zveno carriers had conducted 30 highly successful raids on the Eastern Front, thereby proving that causing your enemies to point and laugh at you makes it way easier to pelt them with bombs.
#5. The Mortar That Was Seriously Compensating For Something
In the late 1930s, the Third Reich tasked weapons manufacturer/possible metal band Rheinmetall with developing a 600mm-caliber heavy mortar, probably because Hitler had that whole one testicle thing going on. The result was the Karl-Gerat, a self-propelled, gargantuan howitzer that packed a 580-horsepower diesel engine capable of carrying it to a blazing top speed of 6 entire miles per hour.
The Nazis named the first one Thor, because by that time the Nazis had outlawed subtlety.
“Rectum? Mjolnir killed ’em!”
And Thor wasn’t a one-man army — he had five compatriots known as Loki, Odin, Ziu, Adam, and Eva, because you can only dig so deep into the Norse pantheon before you end up at a dude whose entire claim to fame is that he owns a really badass shoe.
But It Totally Worked!
Sure, manning one of these gigantic, plodding beasts transformed you into a target on par with being assigned AT-AT duty in the Star Wars universe, but do you have any idea the type of firepower Thor was packing?
The slow rate of travel was negated by the fact that this thing could fling a 600mm, two-ton shell up to six miles away. We’re talking shells so goddamn big that Panzer IV tanks had to be specially retrofitted just to carry four of them. To put that in pants-shitting perspective, here’s an unexploded shell found in the basement of the Prudential building in Warsaw, Poland, after the Warsaw Uprising of 1944:
“Damn, Thor must’ve been happy to see me!”
And speaking of shitted pants, here’s what the shells that actually exploded as intended did to said Prudential building:
“OK, so maybe ‘happy’ was an overstatement.”
In addition to the Warsaw Uprising, these real-life Metal Slug bosses rained down heavy-metal terror on the Soviet fortresses of Brest, Litovsk, and Sevastopol, as well as American G.I.s during the Battle of the Bulge and the Battle of Remagen. Only one of them still survives today, on display at Kubinka Tank Museum in Russia. It’s Adam, in case you were wondering.
The rest are presumably in hiding until Ragnarok begins.
#4. The Airplane-Boat, Complete With Magical Hula Hoop
Conceived in 1936 and entering service around 1940, the German Blohm & Voss BV 138 (aka “The Flying Cog”) was a vehicle with a crippling identity crisis. Was it a boat? Was it a plane? Was it definitive proof of extraterrestrial intelligence? Well, it was at least the first two — you might hear it called either a flying boat or a floatplane, perhaps depending upon whether it happened to be floating or flying at the time.
“What about an ‘airboat’?”
“No, I have a way more redneck idea for that one.”
And would you like to know how you can make this bubble-eyed, floating contradiction look even more like something sketched on the back of a grade-schooler’s notebook? Give it three overhead engines, like a whirling triceratops. Oh, and slap a hula hoop around the entire thing, because who doesn’t like hula hoops?
But It Totally Worked!
The BV 138’s main mission was reconnaissance, and it excelled at that mission by being the first flying boat maneuverable enough to avoid becoming soggy Swiss cheese at the first sign of an enemy machine gun, as well as trouncing the range of its nearest competitor, the American PBY Catalina. This extended range gave the craft the ability to report American positions to skulking U-boats.
Like you using the living room mirror to cheat at Battleship.
Surprisingly, the aforementioned hoopified version was simultaneously the most batshit and the most impressive variant. The BV 138 MS was stripped free of weapons to make room for that crazy hula hoop, which was actually a degaussing coil designed for the purpose of skimming over the surface of the water and exploding naval mines with the magic of magnetism so that the boys of the Kriegsmarine could live to hear a saliva-flecked speech another day.
Also, it could double as a UFO.
#3. The Bomber Made Of Plywood
Upon first glance, the de Havilland Mosquito doesn’t look any more ridiculous than any other WWII-era military aircraft. Strip off its kickass paint job, however, and it becomes clear that the Royal Air Force did its warplane shopping down at the friggin’ IKEA.
Its biggest threat was Nazi termites.
That’s right: Much like your bookshelf that is a single toe-stub away from complete collapse, the Mosquito was entirely constructed of molded plywood. Let’s say that one more time: An actual RAF plane, intended to rain bombs on the Reich, was put together the same way as your sixth-grade rocketry project.
But It Totally Worked!
Toward the onset of WWII, the RAF was badly in need of a multi-role combat aircraft to help fend off the nasty Nazi infestation that they suddenly found themselves facing. The de Havilland company saw this need, then saw an abundance of materials provided by Mother Nature herself covering the British countryside, and set straight to designing “The Wooden Wonder” — a twin-engine light bomber that could leave every other plane in Europe choking on its sawdust.
“… now all we need is the Blue Fairy to come and turn them into real airplanes.”
Despite being made out of wood (to the contrary, because of it), the Mosquito not only outperformed every expectation made of it — from pinpoint light bomber to high-speed photo-recon plane to vicious night fighter — it also outmaneuvered every single one of its contemporary aircraft and could outrun anything the Luftwaffe threw at it clear up until 1944. Luckily, the war ended before the Nazis were able to perfect their top-secret chainsaw cannon.
“Careful, don’t push too hard.”
And while we’re on the subject of fighter planes constructed from flimsy-ass materials …
#2. The Early Warplane With An Abundance Of Wings
We’ve all seen grainy black-and-white footage of early attempts at aviation — you know, when humankind thought achieving flight was just a matter of gluing enough wings onto an ice box or some shit. And World War I’s Fokker Dr.I is an obvious byproduct of this school of thought: One day, some mad German engineer looked at a biplane and thought, “Ja, but how much better vould it fly vith even more vings?!”
The law of diminishing returns states that this almost certainly ended in unmitigated disaster.
Especially since it would be a good half-century before modern medicine invented the desplatifier.
But It Totally Worked!
Despite a production run of a meager 320 units, the Dr.I went down in history as a well-endowed, winged demon that could outmaneuver anything the British or French could chuck toward God’s face during the years of our Lord 1917 to 1918.
Thanks to that extra wing — and the tendency of the heavens themselves to blast out a soundtrack of “Ride Of The Valkyries” whenever it took to the sky — Fokker’s wunderkunst generated a tremendous amount of lift. In the hands of an expert pilot, it could perform maneuvers that no one even thought possible: German ace Werner Voss was once able to yank his plane into a flat half spin, whipping it around 180 degrees to brutally pelt his attackers with the Fokker’s twin 8mm machine guns.
A maneuver known as The Finn-Rey Right Round.
And you may have heard of another young fellow made famous while sending at least 70 Allied pilots to fiery graves from the cramped cockpit of his Dr.I: Werner Voss’ bro Manfred von Richthofen, otherwise known as The Red Baron. Along with his entirely too whimsically named Flying Circus, The Red Baron kamikazed his triplane deep into the hearts and minds of R/C fliers and wealthy Englishmen alike, where it mercilessly guns down British aces to this day.
This painstakingly accurate replica has three wings and is fueled by the everlasting wails of 70 Allied ghosts.
#1. Hobart’s Funnies
We’ve mentioned before that the M4 Sherman tank wasn’t quite the invincible WWII icon that Hollywood has made it out to be, due in large part to its tendency to nigh-spontaneously combust. But then along came the peerlessly named Major General Sir Percy Cleghorn Stanley Hobart, whose apparent philosophy was “If at first true ridiculousness and/or badassness is not achieved, glue stuff onto that sumbitch until it is.”
As evidence, we submit his mustache.
The results were the so-called Hobart’s Funnies, a series of tanks batshittedly modded to perform some very un-tank-like roles.
But They Totally Worked!
Let’s start with the Crab, a machine that ran on pure nightmare fuel and the terrified screams of a thousand gophers:
“We shall defeat the enemy by bitch-slapping them at 1,000 rpm!”
The Crab was a Sherman onto which was bolted a motor-driven rotary drum covered in rusty chains. But this wasn’t for simultaneously tilling fields and fertilizing them with hordes of angry Nazis — it was a minesweeper. Those chains slapped the ground with such force that they destroyed mines while the tank kept the squishy humans inside safe.
For jobs the Crab couldn’t handle, there was always the Aunt Jemima:
Get it? Because it could turn literally anything into a pancake.
This voluminous modification was for clearing anti-tank mines, which were generally buried deeper than the flail could reach and could be triggered only by the heft of a giant, 29-ton dumbbell trundling along like a Cenobite’s rolling pin.
Perhaps the funniest of all of Hobart’s Funnies, though, is the one that earned the coveted spot at the head of this entry: that seamless melding of canvas and steel known as the Duplex Drive, aka the Donald Duck, aka the DD Tank.
Row, row, row your tank,
Hear them Nazis scream.
The DD came about as a result of the need to get armor onto the beaches of Normandy as quickly as possible. By adding a canvas skirt and propellers, the Allies created a working amphibious tank that only occasionally foundered in the surf. Once ashore, the canvas housing retracted to reveal the tank’s true firepower, a process that is probably oddly erotic for tank enthusiasts.
“Do it slower.”
Though its debut at Normandy was a bit half-cocked, the DD went on to cross the Rhine and pave the way for American troops behind it. Once again, the lesson here is that if you use your weaponry in ways that make the enemy stop and do a double-take, that’s an extra second you can use to blow them to kingdom come.
Or use the giant goddamn flamethrower you added.
For more crazy dumb weapons people actually built, check out The 9 Most Hilariously Irresponsible Old-Timey Weapons and The 6 Most Ill-Conceived Weapons Ever Built.