It’s no secret that Saturday morning cartoons are packed with ridiculous, over-the-top weaponry. However, few people realize just how many times cartoon logic has seemingly influenced the development of real-world instruments of death. These outlandish devices are just a few of the examples of life imitating the most absurd elements of fiction.
We tend to think of James Bond style secret agents as being exclusive to the Cold War era, but World War II saw its fair share as well. British agents came up with countless creative ways to destroy Nazi Germany from within. Pistols concealed inside tobacco pipes and explosive wine bottles were among these devious devices, but the most bizarre was easily the rat bomb.
The idea was intended to take advantage of a strange habit of German factory workers: When they spotted a rat, they would simply throw it into the fires of the nearest boiler. It sounds horrible, but karma came knocking in the form of a rat skin packed with explosives and smuggled into German factories. Left near boilers, the disguised bombs would wait to be detonated by the unwitting employees.
As clever as it was, the plot was uncovered before it even began. German troops found a crate of the devices and launched into a paranoid hunt for any that may have already been planted (none had). This mad search for nonexistent explosives caused more damage to the German war effort than the British had ever intended.
When not out for leisurely evening rat hunts, the German military of World War II dabbled in various insane weapons programs. One of their strangest involved using pure sound to kill enemy soldiers.
Ever been to a rock concert? You know that uncomfortable throbbing in your chest? Those high-pressure sound waves are only a fraction of the strength of those produced by the Nazi sonic cannon. This device would use methane and oxygen explosions to generate a beam of such high-pressure sound that it could kill a target 50 meters (150 ft) away in about 30 seconds. More distant targets would be incapacitated by extreme pain. They even devised a different sound-based weapon that would use controlled sonic shock waves to bring down enemy aircraft.
However, while tests on lab animals proved the idea to be possible, no full-scale device was ever built, much to the disappointment of audiophiles the world over.
Most of us are aware of the famous war elephants of the ancient world. These unstoppable monstrosities would rampage through enemy ranks, slaughtering countless soldiers. However, you might not know about the absolutely bizarre counter-measure dreamed up by the Romans around 275 BC: flaming pigs.
Various other strategies were attempted first, such as simply stabbing the elephants’ legs or pelting them with the ancient equivalent of Molotov cocktails, all with very limited success. But eventually, the Roman military realized that elephants were “scared by the smallest squeal of the hog,” leading to the cruel practice of dousing pigs in flammable liquids, setting them alight, and herding them toward the massive beasts. Frenzied by pain, the pigs’ squeals and erratic movements would terrify the elephants, causing them to double back into enemy ranks. This had the double benefit of removing an enemy super weapon and simultaneously turning it against its owners. No wonder the Romans used to own pretty much everything.
7Rolling Rocket Bombs
During World War II, the British were desperate for a weapon to give them the edge in the D-Day invasion of Normandy. After much deliberation, they popped a couple of wheels on two tons of explosive, strapped a few dozen rockets to it, and called it a day.
Named “The Great Panjandrum,” this device was supposed to use rocket propulsion to roll up on Nazi-occupied beaches and blow holes in enemy defenses. Except it never made it that far. Tests performed on a British beach popular with vacationers not only destroyed any secrecy the project may have had, but also revealed that the weapon had a nasty habit of shedding rockets. This was not only dangerous to anyone nearby, but it also meant the wheel tended to veer off course, sometimes back toward the peole who had released it. The project was scrapped soon after this test run.
6Tornado In A Can
In addition to the Nazis’ attempts at weaponizing sound, the imaginative fascists of the Third Reich also researched a weapon designed to generate a wind vortex powerful enough to down enemy aircraft.
Basically, shells filled with slow-burning explosives and coal dust would be fired from large mortar tubes in the ground. Upon detonating, this strange mixture would create an artificial whirlwind, causing aircraft to lose control and plummet from the sky. It was also thought that the man-made tornado may have had sufficient force to actually tear the wings from some aircraft. With a range of 100 meters (328 ft), this device would have given the Allied forces quite a bit of trouble—if they had ever actually seen it. Despite successful test runs, the machine never saw the battlefield.
5Flaming Bat Bombs
Yet again, World War II provides us with a weapon yanked straight from a cartoon. Devastated by the recent Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the US needed a way to strike back. After looking at all the options, they settled on the only reasonable course of action: a dentist’s plan to burn Japan with bats.
Dr. Lytle S. Adams, a Pennsylvania dentist, concocted the scheme after a trip to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, which was home to a massive colony of bats. Believing that the tiny creatures could be outfitted with incendiary devices and released over enemy territory, he sent a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who astonishingly signed off on the idea. Exhaustive tests were performed to determine the carrying capacity and delivery method of the bats, leading to a backfire familiar to Wile E. Coyote himself: During one test, the bats escaped, setting fire to the nearby military base.
In the end, the tests were for nothing. After investing over two years and $2 million, the United States military canceled the project due to its unreliability. Somewhere, on some silent rooftop, Batman breathed a sign of relief.
4The Giant Fan
If the Nazis had put half as much effort into world domination as they did into dreaming up bizarre weaponry, the war may have ended differently. Another innovation they attempted to bring to the world was a cannon designed to fire powerful blasts of wind at enemy aircraft to destroy them without ever firing a shot.
By igniting a carefully mixed cocktail of hydrogen and oxygen, the device would generate such a rapid expansion of gas that a jet of air would leave the barrel with the same destructive power as a small shell. Tests of the creative weapon proved very promising, shattering boards at distances of 200 meters (656 ft). However, aircraft are specifically designed to move through the air as easily as possible, negating the effects of an air-based weapon. Still, a wind cannon was installed on a German bridge to destroy enemy planes. It was a failed attempt, but they certainly get an “A” for effort.
3Pigeon Piloted Missiles
Effective guided missile technology was a bit ahead of World War II’s time, but that only served as a challenge to noted behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner. Aware of the excellent vision and reliability of the humble pigeon, he devised a clever plan for a bird-brained explosive projectile: Project Pigeon.
After presenting his idea to the US military, Skinner was granted $25,000 to put his bizarre idea into practice. He trained pigeons to peck a small, specialized screen when they saw an image of a battleship, and he was able to create a targeting system that could reliably steer a missile into a target. Working together, three pigeons would be loaded into the nose cone of the missile, where they would peck to alter its trajectory, guiding their craft on a gruesome suicide mission.
Demonstrations of the system were impressive, yet skepticism of the strange idea prevailed, grounding the project before it ever saw battle.
As if Pearl Harbor wasn’t enough, the Japanese were seeking to score another sneak attack on the United States during the second World War. After accidentally discovering the jet stream over the Pacific during a weather-surveying operation, they knew just how they would do it.
Hydrogen-filled paper balloons were loaded with either incendiary or highly explosive devices and set adrift over the Pacific, riding the high-altitude air currents into the United States. Upon landing, they would set fire to the countryside, causing millions of dollars of damage and spreading panic among the population. At least, that was the plan. In reality, very few made it to their target, and even fewer caused any real damage. Only one proved fatal, killing five children and a pregnant woman.
The project was short-lived. After Allied forces began bombing Japanese hydrogen plants, the vital hydrogen fuel became too scarce to continue.
1Poison Dart Bombs
The British were being bombed to oblivion by the Nazis in World War II. Facing defeat and looking to save themselves, they concocted an insane plan to poison Germany into submission using homemade darts. After all, desperate times call for desperate measures.
The plan was fairly straightforward: Darts would be fashioned from sewing needles, given drinking straw tails, and poisoned with either ricin or anthrax. Then, tens of thousands of these poisonous projectiles would be loaded onto bombs and detonated over German territory, raining toxic shrapnel over massive regions. Anyone struck by one of these improvised weapons had mere seconds to remove it before facing a slow, agonizing death by poisoning.
Despite incredibly cheap production costs and testing that was so scarily successful that it rendered a Scottish island uninhabitable for 50 years, the weapon never saw battle. The darts, while deadly, were fairly easy to avoid by taking cover, something soldiers tend to be pretty good at.
Alex is just a guy who enjoys writing. And zombies. And occasionally tacos.