7. Math Mistake Leads to Confusion About a Miracle Plant
Generations of children grew up and were entertained by Popeye the Sailor Man. Thanks to him, many kids have dreamt at some point in their early years that they could gain super powers by overcoming their distaste for spinach. Popeye’s love of spinach was popularized by a receptive public, primed by a widespread belief that spinach was an extraordinarily beneficial food item.
Sadly, Spinach is nothing special – at least insofar as bestowing super powers upon those who eat it. Kids who mastered their gag reflexes long enough to swallow the green stuff were not rewarded by an explosive increase in strength, prowess, or other abilities and talents. However, there was a silver lining, as the kids learned one of life’s early lessons: don’t believe everything you see on TV. As it turns out, the perception of Spinach being a super was caused by a math mistake.
6. Decimal Point Placement Mistake Turns Spinach Into a Super Food
Popeye’s passion for spinach, as well as the popular faith in its exceptional qualities, was caused by a simple mathematical mistake. In 1870, German scientist Erich von Wolf was conducting research into the amount of iron in spinach and other vegetables. He discovered that spinach had an iron content of 3.5 milligrams per 100-gram serving.
However, when Wolf wrote his findings, he misplaced a decimal point, putting down spinach’s iron content as ten times greater than what it actually was: 35 milligrams of iron per 100-gram serving, instead of 3.5 milligrams. It was not until 1937 that somebody double-checked Wolf’s math, and spotted the error. By then, Popeye was already a cultural icon, and the spinach myth had taken hold.
Fortunately for mankind, Nazi Germany’s defeat in WWII was helped by some major mistakes by Adolf Hitler. One such was the Fuhrer’s foolhardy investment of scarce German resources in so-called “Miracle” or “Vengeance Weapons”. While some of those weapons were marvels of technology for their day, they did not bring Germany any closer to winning the war. Instead, they took away resources from more reliable weapons that could have done more to stave off eventual German defeat.
The German V-2 rocket, or “Vengeance Weapon 2“, was a prime example of Hitler’s misplaced priorities. It was the world’s first ballistic missile, which carried a ton of explosives to the edge of space, then descended at unstoppable supersonic speeds to detonate on its target. It was a brilliant, advanced, and revolutionary feat of technology. It was also one of history’s most wastefully expensive weapons. It inflicted relatively little damage, and thus did not justify the vast expenditure of resources that went into its production. It detracted from more effective weapons programs or other uses that might have better served the German war effort.
Another factor highlighting Hitler’s mistake in putting so much faith in the V-2 rocket is its terrible cost-effectiveness. From its first operational launch against enemy targets in September, 1944, to Germany’s surrender nine months later, roughly 3000 V-2 rockets were fired. Many did not reach their targets. However, even if they all had, at one ton of explosives per V2 warhead, that would have been a total of 3000 tons of explosives dropped on enemy cities over nine months.
By contrast, during that same period, the Royal Air Force would routinely drop more than 3000 tons of explosives on a German city in a single bombing raid. Americans also frequently exceeded that 3000 ton total in single bombing raids. And the Allied explosive delivery tools, bombers, were reusable and thus far more economical. Most Allied bombers returned to base, reloaded, and returned the next day or night to once again drop more than 3000 tons of explosives on German cities. They repeated that process dozens of times.
3. A Weapon That Killed More of its Makers Than the Enemy
During its nine months of deployment, the V-2 rocket killed 2754 people. Most of them were not soldiers, but civilians whose deaths, while tragic, did not impede the Allied war effort by much.
By contrast, over 20,000 workers, mostly slave laborers, died while manufacturing the V-2. That gave the rocket the tragic distinction of being the only weapons system in history whose production cost more lives than did its actual use. Thus, when contrasting the cost with the results, the V-2 literally produced little bang for the buck.
Another of Hitler’s mistakes stemming from his obsession with big weapons was the Panzer VIII Maus super-heavy tank. It was the heaviest tank ever built, measuring about 33 feet long, 12 feet wide, 12 feet high, and weighing nearly 200 tons. Its secondary armament was a 75 mm coaxial gun instead of a machine gun. Its main gun was a 128 mm monster capable of destroying any Allied tank at ranges of up to 2.2 miles. That was increased at Hitler’s insistence to a 150mm gun, because he thought the 128 mm looked like a toy gun on the Maus.
The huge size and heavyweight came at a correspondingly heavy price. The Maus was too heavy for most bridges, so it had to cross rivers either by wading through fords, or driving over the river’s bottom while using a snorkel for ventilation. Additionally, getting the Maus moving was a problem in of itself. It was difficult to develop an engine and drive train powerful enough to propel 200 tons of metal on the ground at any appreciable speed, yet small enough to fit inside the tank. In the end, the maximum speed achieved during trials was 8 m.p.h. on a hard surface.
1. Hitler’s Mistakes With Super Weapons Helped Hasten His Defeat
The Maus was intended to spearhead German attacks by smashing through opposition and destroying all enemy armor it came across, while impervious to damage from enemy tanks. With 9.4 inches of turret armor, 8 inches of hull front armor, 7 inches of hull side armor, and 6 inches of rear armor, the Maus was immune from Allied tanks, whose shells would simply bounce off the behemoth. However, it was built in 1944, by which time the Allies had complete aerial supremacy over the battlefield. The Maus did not have sufficient armor up top to protect it from armor-piercing bombs or rockets from above.
Ultimately, the Maus was symptomatic of Hitler’s irrational obsession with big things and superweapons. He was indifferent to, or unable to understand, the concept of relative cost-effectiveness. He had trouble grasping other “normal” weapons that could accomplish the same task at a fraction of the cost. Using such normal weapons instead of turning to superweapons would have freed up scarce resources for other uses that could have better served the German war effort. Fortunately, Hitler persisted with his mistakes, which only helped to hasten his defeat.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading