And then there are some weapons that never really became that mainstream because they were, in a word, insanity. Let’s talk about five of those, shall we?
5 “Turtle” Submarine
The “Turtle” submarine! This one is impressive not only because it required steel in the nerves (and elsewhere) of the operator, but also because it almost worked! The Turtle was the world’s first offensive submersible, and it was pretty much just a floating barrel big enough for a guy to climb inside and propel along with a propeller attached to pedals. The idea was to pedal up to a British war ship, drill a hole into the hull and mount an explosive to it, and then pedal away. Which is exactly what was attempted several times, though never with success (due to tides, failed charges, and some sinking issues).
4 Whirlwind Cannon
The Whirlwind Cannon! You knew those crazy Nazis would make it on here somehow or other. You could, of course, do a list focusing exclusively on all the crazy stuff they tried, and a long one at that, but for today suffice it to say that a huge contraption designed to create a blast of air so powerful it knocked planes from the sky… did not work. The idea was to create a powerful vortex of pressurized air that would spiral upward like some sneeze of the gods (we’re guessing here) but instead it proved a colossal failure, wasting time, effort, materials, and money. Which was just great news for everyone else.
3 Greek Fire
Greek Fire has long been a hotly debated (get it? Get it?)weapon among scholars – did it actually exist? If so, why has it been so hard to reproduce in modern times? If indeed this offensive weapon existed, it was essentially Napalm, albeit created several thousand years before that little doozy. And here’s the kicker: Greek Fire was a fluid that burst into flame when it came in contact with water. That means that used against enemy ships, you could set them ablaze with a substance they had no way to put out! Not bad, Ancient Greece. Not bad.
2 Chu No Ku
The Chu No Ku, Ancient Chinese Machine Gun Crossbow of Death! Some of that name may be made up, but the fact is that this weapon was essentially an early automatic (or rather semi-automatic) weapon. It was similar to the crossbow in wide use across Europe, Asia and beyond for much of the Medieval period, with the noted addition of a primitive magazine mounted atop it that held ten bolts (the crossbow’s arrow) at the ready. These bolts would load automatically each time the bowstring was hauled back into firing position, letting a skilled warrior fire all of his shots in well under a minute, a great rate of fire for the day. (The fact that said bolts had pretty terrible range and accuracy kept this one from the top spot.)
1 Gun Shield
The Gun Shield leads off our list because it is the only weapon we know of that is totally caught between offense and defense. “Do I shoot you with my primitive firearm? Do I cower behind my heavy shield? Hmm… y’know what, I’m going to do both, thanks to my trusty Gun Shield!” This weapon is just what it sounds like: it consisted of a primitive pistol mounted in the center of a metal shield. One known design of this armament dates to the 1540s, and perhaps not surprisingly it was never in wide use. In fact, it was likely never used at all, and that likely because it is a terrible idea. But awesome, nonetheless.
So if you thought charging into battle was all fun and games, now you know better. Sometimes it involved wacky weapons that didn’t always work like they were supposed to, and sometimes it involved magical Greek goo that burned when it touched water. Not good for you if you’re a Persian sailor, buddy!