Machines Of War : 17 of the Most Bizarre War Machines of All Time

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17 of the Most Bizarre Machines of War 

Military technological development is one of human history’s most “fruitful” methods of innovation. Tragically, war can and has helped humanity push the boundaries of our technology beyond our wildest dreams.

From humble beginnings, it has aided our species in reaching greater heights of technological innovation.

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While many machines of war have become icons in their own right, many other, lesser-known and forgotten examples appear to be the creations of a baffling.

 

We scoured the historical records of war technology to find the strangest examples we could find.

 

We tried to include a diverse range of military vehicles, but be warned: this list is a little “tank heavy.”

1. Have you seen the WW2 German ball tank?

This submarine-turned-cruiser, known as the Surcouf, was a true war machine. The Surcouf is one of the strangest machines of war you’ve probably ever seen, designed to exploit a loophole in the post-World War I Washington Naval Treaty.

In an attempt to avoid the kind of arms race that led to one of the most lethal wars in human history, the Washington Naval Treaty imposed explicit limits on the displacement and gun calibre of new warships. However, it was limited to surface ships such as battleships and cruisers.

To get around this, the French created a submersible ship with the firepower of a cruiser. She was commissioned in 1934 with ten torpedo tubes, six anti-aircraft guns, and massive twin eight-inch (203mm) guns in a pressure-tight turret forward of the conning tower.

She was also outfitted with a small hangar that housed a Besson MB.411 observation floatplane. The Surcouf escaped capture during France’s capitulation in 1940, but she was lost after colliding with an unknown ship in the Caribbean Sea in February 1942.

2. This is what happens when you cross a submarine with a cruiser

This submarine-turned-cruiser, known as the Surcouf, was a true war machine. The Surcouf is one of the strangest machines of war you’ve probably ever seen, designed to exploit a loophole in the post-World War I Washington Naval Treaty.

In an attempt to avoid the kind of arms race that led to one of the most lethal wars in human history, the Washington Naval Treaty imposed explicit limits on the displacement and gun calibre of new warships. However, it was limited to surface ships such as battleships and cruisers.

To get around this, the French created a submersible ship with the firepower of a cruiser. She was commissioned in 1934 with ten torpedo tubes, six anti-aircraft guns, and massive twin eight-inch (203mm) guns in a pressure-tight turret forward of the conning tower.

She was also outfitted with a small hangar that housed a Besson MB.411 observation floatplane. The Surcouf escaped capture during France’s capitulation in 1940, but she was lost after colliding with an unknown ship in the Caribbean Sea in February 1942.

3. Meet the Vespa 150 TAP

The Vespa 150 TAP is another of the most bizarre war machines of all time. This military technology, a modified Vespa bike, was designed to be used as an anti-tank gun platform by French paratroopers.

The vehicle was first introduced in the mid-1950s and was built under licence from the Vespa company by Ateliers de Construction de Motocycles et Automobiles. Each vehicle was outfitted with a single US M20 75mm recoilless rifle capable of firing rounds capable of penetrating 3 and 15/16ths of an inch (100mm) of armour.

The scooter was designed to be dropped in with paratroopers during operations to provide heavy support. Obviously, the scooter platform is not the most practical solution for the gun, so when fired, it would be dismounted and remounted on a Browning machine gun tripod.

However, in an emergency, the gun could allegedly be fired while still attached to the Vespa. This is because the main gun’s recoil was reduced by strategically routing propellant gases through the gun’s rear during firing.

4. The Germans actually developed exploding mini RC tanks

Did you know that during World War II, the Germans developed remote-controlled explosive mini-tanks? These tiny tracked explosive devices, known as Leichter Ladungsträger Goliath (Goliath Light Charge Carrier), could be controlled with a joystick and thousands of feet of cable.

Each unit was powered by twin electric motors or small gasoline engines and could carry a payload of between 130 pounds (60 kg) and 220 pounds (100 kg) of high explosive.

 

5. Meet Crysler’s nuclear-powered tank

On the subject of strange tanks, this bizarre war machine is truly unique. It was designed to be powered by an actual nuclear reactor and included CCTV to provide the crew with 360-degree visibility.

The tank, while an intriguing concept, was never realised. Yes, we are also disappointed.

The unusually large turret would house the tank’s entire crew, as well as its ammunition stores, power systems, and so on. It also served as a sort of floatation device, allowing the tank to be amphibious.

If it was ever built, the TV-8 would have had one 90mm T209 smoothbore main gun and two manual machine guns.

30-caliber machine guns and a remote-controlled machine gun

The pod has a 50-cal mounted on top of it. If it had ever been produced, it would have weighed around 25 tonnes.

6. Have you heard about the “Rods from God”?

“Project Thor,” also known as “Rods from God,” is another of military history’s strangest and most unsettling weapons of war. The plan was to put several large, pure tungsten rods inside a satellite platform that could literally rain down destruction on Earth whenever it pleased.

The rods, each about the size of a telephone pole, were an example of a “orbital kinetic bombardment,” a theoretical mass destruction technique. Given their speed, angle of attack, and small radar signature, such projectiles would be nearly impossible to defend against.

Using the enormous momentum created by the falling masses of tungsten, the planet-wide devastation would be equivalent to a nuclear bomb going off – except without all that pesky radioactive fallout.

The weapon, which was conceived at the height of the Cold War, is typically depicted as a cylindrical magazine containing the rods and some form of directional thruster to manoeuvre the platform.

As far as anyone knows, the concept was never developed further.

7. The ribauldequin was actually built and used in anger

bizarre weapons of war ribauld
Source: Luc Coekaerts/Flickr

The ribauldequin, also known as the rabauld, ribault, infernal gun, or organ gun, is one of the strangest weapons of war ever devised. This multi-barreled volley gun, developed in the late mediaeval period, was used in combat during the 14th and 15th centuries.

These weapons were primarily used as anti-personal weapons and were undoubtedly excellent shock weapons, but they would have suffered from the need for a long time to reload.

According to historical records, King Edward III of England used the first one in anger in 1339 during the Hundred Years’ War against the French. The weapon had about twelve barrels and could fire volleys of twelve small-caliber rounds in a single firing.

Milan used later examples during the Italian Wars, and they also appeared during the English War of the Roses.

8. The “Tsar Tank” looks more like a fancy tricycle than a weapon of war

bizarre weapons of war tsar tank
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The “Tsar Tank,” designed at the start of World War I, is probably one of the most unusual “tanks” you’ve ever seen. It was named after Russian Tsar Nikolaj, who helped finance the project, and was designed by engineer Nikolai Lebedenko.

The machine weighed around 40 tonnes and was notable for its 30-foot (9-meter) diameter front wheels and smaller rear support wheel. This unusual three-wheel configuration was devised to assist the tank in passing through any obstacle, particularly trenches.

A 39 foot wide (12m) main hull was held aloft by the two main wheels, with two side-mounted sponsons, each housing a cannon.

A prototype was built, but during testing, the smaller rear wheel became stuck in a ditch. Because the propulsion system for the larger wheels was insufficient to free the tank, it was abandoned until the mid-1920s, when it was dismantled for scrap.

9. Pigeon-guided missiles were once a thing

bizarre weapons of war pigeon missiles
Source: National Museum of American History

The highly unusual pigeon-guided bombs of “Project Pigeon” were another very unusual machine of war. Three pigeons could be housed in specially designed missile nose cones at the same time.

The pigeons in question were taught to peck at a target projected on a screen using a technique known as “B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning.”

Each pigeon was enclosed in a small cockpit-like structure with a small electronic screen in front of them. An image of the ground in front of the rocket was projected onto these screens, and the pigeons used their conditioning training to help guide the missile to its target.

The weapon would be activated once all three pecked at the screen.

The programme was eventually cancelled in 1944, but it reappeared briefly in 1948 under the code name “Project Orcon.” The concept was finally put to rest with the introduction of electronic guidance systems.

10. The corkscrew support vehicle is particularly odd

bizarre war machines corkscrew tank
Source: Mil.ru/Wikimedia Commons

The concept of the corkscrew support vehicle is another of the strangest war machines ever devised. Such vehicles, such as the American “Snow Devil,” were designed to operate in areas with thick snow and ice cover, as well as thick mud and swampland.

The tank’s unique corkscrew “tracks” also allowed it to move sideways. However, the tank was reportedly difficult to control and lacked any kind of suspension.

The Russian ZIL-2906 and ZIL-29061 are another intriguing example. These amphibious screw-driven craft were designed to recover re-entered Soyuz space capsules in difficult terrain.

A pair of auger-like cylinders with helical flanges running down their entire lengths provided propulsion. This configuration would allow the vehicle to move by engaging a specific medium (such as snow or mud) and pulling itself through it.

Such vehicles have a long history, dating back to the mid-1800s, when some early agricultural concepts were developed. Later Armstead Snow Motors resembled an old tractor mounted on a pair of corkscrew augers.

During WWII, some experiments were conducted using the concept, including the precursor to what would become the M29 Weasel.

11. This tank has a jet engine for a cannon

Another of the strangest war machines ever created is the mighty Gasdynamic trawler “Progvev-T.” Built shortly after the end of WWII, this war machine incorporates a Mig-15 jet engine into its turret to allow the tank to clear mines effectively and efficiently.

This 37-ton monster was built on a modified T-55 base and tracks.

The plan was to use the heat and jet wash from the engines to prematurely detonate mines, clearing minefields safely from a distance. However, it was discovered that using a jet wash to detonate mines was not a very effective strategy.

It was also a fairly loud machine when in use, making it less than inconspicuous in a combat zone.

It also quickly consumed a large amount of fuel.

The tank was eventually used as a sophisticated snowblower of sorts.

12. The “Praying Mantis” mobile machine gun platform was a technological dead end

The British “Praying Mantis” mobile machine gun platform was another of the world’s oddest-looking war machines. This solution, intended to meet the need for a low-profile tank that could shoot over obstacles, proved to be a dead end.

The design was patented in the late 1930s as a private venture of one Ernest James Tapp of County Commercial Cars.

The first variant, a one-person machine based on the universal carrier, was introduced in 1943. The British Army later built and tested a second two-person variant.

The main hull of the carrier was replaced with an enclosed metal-box structure with just enough room for the driver and a gunner to create the vehicle.

The box could pivot from the back, revealing a pair of Bren guns in a turret. The machine’s concept was to drive the “Praying Mantis” up to a wall or other obstacle, elevate the gun, and spray the area from a safe distance.

The idea was rejected after a series of prototype trials in 1944 because the controls were too difficult to use, especially under combat conditions. The British Bovington Tank Museum houses the prototype.

13. The Boirault machine was an interesting proto-tank

bizarre war machines diplodicus
Source: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons

The Fortin Automobile ‘la Machine Boirault écrase barbelé’ (The Barbed Wire Crushing Boirault Machine), also known as the Diplodocus militaris, is another of history’s strangest pieces of military hardware. It was designed in 1914 as an early experimental “landship,” with the first prototype appearing in 1915.

The vehicle had a distinct, almost skeletal appearance, lacked armour, and was built to run on a continuous six-piece “track.” This machine, like the first true tanks that would come after it, was designed to break the stalemate of trench warfare.

Like a continuous train track, the vehicle moved by rotating its large single track over, around, and under the central body. However, during trials, the machine proved impractical because it was far too slow, lacked armour, and was deemed too vulnerable to be of any real use.

This intriguing prototype tank predated the well-known British Little Willie by about 6 months, but it was ultimately deemed a dead end in tank design.

A second lighter, more compact, and armoured variant was also developed, albeit much improved on the original design. However, the development of true tanks soon after rendered the project obsolete.

14. The Russian Object 279 tank was designed to withstand nuclear blasts

bizarre war machines kotin
Source: Alf van Beem/Wikimedia Commons

Another of the most bizarre war machines ever built is the Soviet-era Object 279 “Kotin” tank. These massive war machines, weighing 60 tonnes each, were specifically designed to withstand a nuclear shockwave.

This steel behemoth was designed to operate over cross-country terrain normally inaccessible to conventional tanks at the time, and it ran on four tracks. The “Kotin” was created in the late 1950s at the Kirov Plant in Leningrad, and a pre-production model was completed in 1959.

The tank was powered by a 100 hp 2DG-8M diesel engine that could propel it to speeds of up to 34 mph (55 kph). It has a range of about 186 miles (300 kilometres) and is outfitted with auto fire-fighting systems, smoke laying equipment, and internal air conditioning.

The main armament of the tank was a 130 mm M-65 rifled gun with a semi-automated loader, as well as a series of coaxial machine guns dotted around its hull.

It was designed as a heavy breakthrough tank, with near-impenetrable 10.6-inch (269mm) armour plating formed into an elliptical shape to protect against APDS and shaped-charge anti-tank rounds. Its turret’s armour plating was even thicker.

Its body shape also assisted it in resisting the extreme forces produced by nuclear blasts. The tank was a notable success given its design, but it was later abandoned after Nikita Khrushchev prohibited the development of tanks weighing more than 37 metric tonnes.

15. The Focke Wulf Triebflugel is like no aircraft you’ve ever seen

bizarre war machine triebflugel
Source: Bin im Garten/Wikimedia Commons

The Focke Wulf Triebflugel was yet another of the world’s strangest war machines. This concept aircraft, which literally means “thrust-wing hunter/fighter,” was designed in 1944 but never saw production before the war’s end.

The aircraft would have been a vertical take-off and landing, tail-sitting interceptor fighter designed to provide rapid-response defence against the rising Allied bombing campaigns of the war’s final years.

This aircraft was designed by the same company that produced, arguably, one of the best piston-engined aircraft of all time, the Focke Wulf F190-series. It has no fixed wings, and lift and thrust are provided by a rotating rotor-turned-propeller with ramjets at the ends of each arm.

During takeoff, the aircraft becomes airborne in a manner similar to that of a helicopter, with the rotor acting as a massive, more conventional, rotor blade during horizontal flight.

It would have been armed with four cannons integrated into its forward fuselage, as its primary role would have been as an interceptor. To land, the aircraft would need to slow down and gradually pitch its fuselage until vertical, before landing on its tail leg/struts.

By the end of the war, the aircraft had only completed its wind tunnel design testing stage when Allied forces arrived and captured its manufacturing facility. There is no evidence that a working prototype has ever been constructed.

16.The “Mole” was one of Winston Churchill’s pet projects

bizarre war machines nellie
Source: Royal Navy/Wikimedia Commons

 

Winston Churchill dubbed the Cultivator No. 6 the “Mole” British Prime Minister. It is one of the most bizarre war machines ever designed. The Royal Navy developed this enigmatic piece of military hardware not for naval operations, but for digging trenches on land.

 

 

The first prototype, dubbed “Nellie,” was lightly armoured and unarmed. Such precautions were largely deemed unnecessary because the machine was designed to creep up on enemy formations below ground level.

Once close enough to the enemy, the machine would function as a ramp, allowing troops and small armoured vehicles to attack from the trench it had previously excavated.

The machine weighed 130 tonnes and measured 77 feet and 6 inches (23.62m) in length. Originally, the plan was to build a large number of units, but the project was drastically scaled back to a handful.

17.The Landkruezer P.1000 Ratte would have been enormous

Finally, no such list would be complete without mentioning the infamous German Landkruezer P.1000 Ratte (Land cruiser P1000 “Rat”). This war machine, designed as a 1,000-ton behemoth, would have been an intimidating sight on the battlefield.

Fortunately, the German plans for the tank were never realised, despite Adolf Hitler’s official approval. However, the sheer size of the tank and the materials required to build one were deemed excessive, and Albert Speer cancelled the project in 1943.

According to existing tank plans, it would have been 115 feet (35 metres) long, 36 feet (11 metres) tall, and 46 feet (14 metres) wide. Her primary armament would have been a pair of SK C/34 naval guns, similar to those found on the German pocket battleship Gneisenau.

It would have been nearly impossible to use the tank on existing bridges or roads, making it an obvious target for aerial raids.

Fortunately for the allies, the “Ratte” never saw daylight.

That’s all there is to it for today. We hope you enjoyed this quick tour of some of the strangest war machines ever created. Fortunately, there are many more for you to discover for yourself. We wouldn’t want to ruin your fun.

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