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Weird weapons in history
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In answer to Edwin Starr’s iconic anthem, war, as it turns out, is particularly good for bringing out the best in boffins. After all conflict has provided the spur for scientists to develop some of mankind’s greatest inventions from penicillin to machine-rolled cigarettes, but it’s also inspired some truly wacky weapons.
So join us as we look at the strangest armaments ever invented, crackpot projects that were actually developed in the hope of defeating an enemy.
The gay bomb
Designed to dishearten the enemy and break the morale of opposition forces, the gay bomb is a research project that was originally proposed by the US air force back in the early 90s. The basic aim was to release non-lethal chemicals including strong aphrodisiacs to encourage the enemy to engage in homosexual activity. The project, which was revealed after a freedom of information request in the US, was described in the proposals as "distasteful but completely non-lethal". It was eventually consigned to the scrapheap after scientists admitted that no such chemicals actually existed.
The brainchild of an Austrian scientist, the whirlwind cannon was developed by German forces during second world war as a form of anti-aircraft weapon. The canon worked by creating explosions in a combustion chamber and releasing the energy through targeted nozzles towards their targets. A scale model was built and successfully tested. However, the project was scrapped after a full-sized version proved to be ineffective against targets at high altitudes.
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Legend has it that in around 260BC it was not uncommon for pigs to be covered in flammable fluid and released into the battlefield. The sight, sound and presumably smell of the beasts would disrupt opposing forces, especially if they were using battle elephants, who were notoriously scared of even the slightest of critters. It also presumably distracted opposition troops too, after all who can resist the smell of bacon cooking?
Man’s best friend was sent into battle in the second world war when, in an effort to combat the enemy’s armoured capability, Soviet forces employed what would later become known as bomb dogs. These specially trained hounds were taught to find food under armoured vehicles. They were then starved before being released on the battlefield with explosives strapped to them. Amazingly it worked and after scores of units were destroyed, an order was sent out to German troops to shoot all mutts on sight.
Currently being developed with the backing of the US navy, the vomit ray or ‘non-lethal stand-off weapon’ as it’s otherwise known, harnesses radio frequencies to make its targets dizzy. The aim is to disorientate and confuse opposing forces but the secondary effect of the weapon is that it can actually make its targets physically sick. The vomit ray is still in its experimental phase, but the company behind it claim that eventually it will be able to be fired through walls, giving forces an edge when clearing urban compounds and during hostage situations.
Craig Dingle, Getty Images
It seems that much of the second world war was spent with scientists strapping explosives to unsuspecting animals with varying degrees of success. One project that did prove promising, however, involved America’s bat bombs. The plan consisted of actual bats that would have timed explosives strapped to them and then be released in Japanese cities. By night the flying critters would whoosh around like normal, but when daylight came they’d seek shelter in the nooks and crannies of buildings, just in time for their incendiaries to detonate. Amazingly the idea actually worked, but the detonation of atomic bombs over Nagasaki and Hiroshima ended the conflict before it could be put in operation.
It may sound like the stuff of science fiction but the heat ray, or an approximation of it, has actually been developed by US contractors. Designed for non-lethal situations these weapons use high-powered energy beams to heat the target’s skin up to 50C, which is roughly equivalent to the blast of a hot oven. Designed to be uncomfortable rather than deadly it’s supposed to be used for crowd control and was even deployed in Afghanistan recently.
Aaron Myles, Rex Features
The fart bomb
As ridiculous as it sounds this was a project that actually found its way into operation during the second world war. Developed by the Americans and given to the French resistance, these weaponised stink bombs were designed to be sprayed directly onto German occupiers with the aim of humiliating and by extension demoralising them. It worked, but almost too well with the sprayer often left as pungent as their potential target. Needless to say the project was abandoned after just two weeks.
Allied shipping was repeatedly threatened by German U-boats during the second world war, with the Atlantic proving particularly perilous. Planes were effective at hunting the submerged menace, but the sheer expanse of the ocean compared to available aircraft carriers made protection difficult if not impossible. However, the British scientist Geoffrey Pyke struck upon an ingenious idea to turn icebergs into aircraft carriers to solve the problem. The aim would be to use a levelled off ice floe as a makeshift carrier providing a landing platform in the middle of the Atlantic. Despite gaining the support of Churchill himself though, the project was eventually binned on account of the spiralling costs and the development of long-range capabilities for allied aircraft.
The zombie gun
Last year it was widely reported that the Russians were ploughing on with research into what the press dubbed ‘the zombie gun’. It is believed to be based on the type of microwaves that militaries across the globe have been researching since the 1950s. The thinking behind it all is that there’s some potential for such weapons to make their targets pliable to suggestion, or even to drive them insane by targeting the brain directly.
So there you have it, some strange, weird and outright wacky weapons that have been developed down the years. What do you think of them? Let us know in the comments section below.
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