Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped

Khalid Elhassan - November 14, 2021

A sad fact about human nature is that few things get the creative juices to flow more copiously than plans for mayhem and the designs of ever deadlier and more destructive weapons. However, while thoughts of mayhem often inspire creativity, success is not always guaranteed. Indeed, it seldom is, since for every great idea, there are usually many more bad ones. Which is how we end up with failed weapons like firearms with curved barrels or double-barreled artillery pieces. Following are thirty things about those and other failed weapons from history.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
Double-barreled cannon concept. Today in History

30. The Double-Barreled Cannon

The marriage of gunpowder and cannons revolutionized warfare. Heavy siege artillery rendered medieval castles obsolete, while lighter field pieces wreaked havoc upon infantry and cavalry within its range. Before modern breech-loading artillery, gunpowder muzzle-loaded field cannons used solid metal shots to reach out to distant targets. For closer targets within a few dozen yards, cannons were packed with smaller projectiles such as grapeshot, a bundle of small metal balls, or canister, even smaller metal balls. They transformed cannons into giant shotguns that mowed down everything in front of their muzzles. In practice, just about any bits of small metal fired from a cannon would produce a similar shotgun effect, and one of the deadliest was heavy chain.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
Balls and chain for a double-barreled cannon. We Are the Mighty

When it exited the muzzle, chain would swirl around at incredible speeds, and chop down people in its path like an electric saw going through watermelons. Because mankind likes mayhem, that got some people to think: what if instead of one cannon that fired chain, we had twin cannons that fired a chain stretched between them? The idea was to have an artillery piece that simultaneously fired from two side-by-side barrels a pair of iron balls, with a taut chain between them. As the balls whirled around each other, the chain between them would scythe down enemy soldiers in its path like wheat. So in 1642, a Florentine gun maker named Antonio Petrini cast a double-barreled cannon to test out the concept.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
John Gilleland’s double-barreled cannon. Pinterest

29. A Good Concept That Failed in Practice

Petrini’s idea was good in theory, but it failed in practice. In order to work, the gunpowder in each barrel had to ignite simultaneously – extremely difficult even with modern technology, and nearly impossible back then. A difference of a tiny fraction of a second would send one ball ahead of the other, to whip around the muzzle and scythe the cannon’s crew instead of the enemy. So Petrini dropped the project. However, the concept of a double-barreled cannon continued to crop up from time to time in subsequent centuries, as tinkerers with mayhem on their minds sought to transform it into a practical reality. One such instance occurred in 1862, when a dentist named John Gilleland raised money from the Confederate citizens of Athens, Georgia, to make a double-barreled chain cannon.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
Gilleland’s double-barreled cannon in front of the City Hall of Athens, Georgia. Wikimedia

It was cast in a single piece, with roughly 3-inch bores that were slightly splayed outward to keep the chain between the balls taut. When tested, Gilleland’s cannon proved devastating – but its devastation was uncontrollable. As a witness recalled, the projectile: “had a kind of circular motion, plowed up an acre of ground, tore up a cornfield, and mowed down saplings. The chain broke, the two balls going in opposite directions; one of the balls killed a cow in a distant field, while the other knocked down the chimney from a log cabin. The observers scattered as though the entire Yankee Army had been turned loose in that vicinity“. Gilleland’s cannon was never used in combat. It sits on display nowadays in front of Athens’ City Hall.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
An SS man with an StG 44. Fatos Militares

28. The Nazis’ Failed Attempt to Curve Bullets

The German World War II Sturmgewehr 44 (StG 44) was an innovative weapon and history’s first successful assault rifle. Although markedly heavier than its modern equivalents, it had all the basic features common to all assault rifles up to the present. It was more compact than the battle rifles of its day that fired fully powered cartridges that could, theoretically, hit targets more than a thousand yards away. Instead, the StG 44 used intermediate cartridges, designed for targets within a few hundred meters – the range in which the overwhelming majority of engagements occurred.

It could also put many more bullets downrange, with controllable automatic fire. All in all, the StG 44 was a huge success. Not so an attachment that was developed for use with the innovative assault rifle: a curved barrel intended to allow soldiers to fire an StG 44 around corners or over obstacles without exposing themselves. Known as the Krummlauf, German for “curved barrel”, it was a good concept. As seen below, however, it failed when it was employed in the real world.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
An American ordnance officer firing a Krummlauf with a grenade attachment. Popular Mechanics

27. Instead of Bullets, the Krummlauf Sent Out Bullet Fragments

Various versions of the Krummlauf were produced, with 30, 45, 60, and 90 degree bends. The 30-degree version was intended for general infantry use. The severe 90-degree one was intended to be mounted in tanks and other armored vehicles and stick out of a port in the armor from which it could be swiveled around. The idea was to cover the dead area not already covered by the vehicles’ machine guns and sweep infantry who got close enough to try and attach explosives to their hulls or set them ablaze with incendiaries.

In use, it was discovered that the curved barrel wore out quickly and grew distorted from the pressure of the rounds fired. In a best-case scenario, the 30 degrees curved version had a lifespan of only 300 rounds, while there was no way to predict whether the 90-degree one would last a few dozen rounds, or blow up with the first shot fired. After the war, the US military tested the Krummlauf at the Aberdeen Proving Ground and discovered that the bullets usually failed to even exit the barrel. Instead, they broke in half or fragmented into smaller pieces when they hit the curve, and the result would be an unintended shotgun effect that made the device useless for any but very close distances.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
Hitler’s proposed Volkshalle. Never Was Magazine

26. Hitler’s Fascination With Big Things

Adolf Hitler was obsessed with big things. The Fuhrer wanted to have the biggest battleship, ever. As seen below, he developed a fixation on and demanded that Germany field the world’s biggest tank. He wanted to transform Berlin into the world’s capital, and dreamt of a massive monumental domed building as its centerpiece. To be known as the Volkshalle (“People’s Hall”) or Ruhmeshalle (“Hall of Glory”), the project was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome – but a Pantheon on steroids.

The Pantheon’s dome has a diameter of 143 feet and rises 71 feet above its base for a total height of 141 feet. Hitler’s Volkshalle was to have a dome whose diameter measured 820 feet and rose 243 feet above its podium for a total height of 950 feet. It could seat 150,000 people, and their respiration in that enclosed space would condense in the dome and lead to rain. So with that track record of fascination with massive objects, it is perhaps no surprise that Hitler also wanted to have the world’s biggest gun, ever. Fortunately, the project failed.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
August Conders. WW2 Facts Net

25. A Really Big Gun

In 1942, a German ballistics engineer named August Conders convinced Hitler that he had come up with a design for a supergun that just might knock Britain out of the war. Conders’ design called for a 417-foot barrel, from which an elongated projectile that weighed hundreds of pounds would be fired. As it made its way through the barrel, the shell would be accelerated by the successive detonation of 32 more charges, and exit with a muzzle velocity of 4920 feet per second.

The supergun’s shells would travel almost 100 miles, and as Conders put it to the Fuhrer, if they were placed near the English Channel, the superguns could hit London. 50 such guns that launched 3,000 rounds a day could devastate central London and destroy a 15 square miles area of the British capital. The results from a prototype that used a 20mm gun showed promise, so the go-ahead was given to scale up the research and development for the project to wreck London.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
Reconstructed plan of the V-3 Cannon site. Wikimedia

24. Work Begins on the Superguns

In May of 1943, Albert Speer, the Reich Minister for Armaments and War Production, gave his boss a bit of good news amidst the gloom caused by many of the Fuhrer’s failed endeavors. Hitler was informed that work had begun on the new super guns that could fire hundreds of rounds an hour and hurl their special projectiles over extremely long distances. An underground complex was dug in the Pas de Calais in northern France, across the narrowest stretch of the English Channel that separated Nazi-occupied Europe from England. It lay six miles inland – estimated to be safe from seaborne commando raids and British Royal Navy guns – and 103 miles from central London.

It would house the Vergetlungswaffe 3, German for “Vengeance Weapon 3”. The superguns, whose name was shortened to the V-3 Cannons, and also known as “The London Cannons”, were to be aimed at the British capital, which the Nazis hoped to destroy. The underground complex was to include over 165 kilometers of tunnels, dug by German workers and slave laborers. The network of tunnels was to be linked to 5 inclined shafts, in which 25 huge gun tubes were to be laid, all aimed at central London. A similar complex would be built nearby, and once both were completed, 50 superguns would wreak havoc upon the enemy capital.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
A prototype V-3 Cannon in 1942. Bunesarchiv Bild

23. Although Allied Intelligence Failed to Get a Whiff of the Supergun, London Got Lucky Anyhow

As designed, the V-3 superguns were to fire 10 explosive projectiles that weighed 310 pounds each, with a 55-pound explosive charge. Two batteries were planned, and if they went all out, they would be able to fire 600 rounds per hour, 24 hours a day, and rain devastation down upon and wreck London. As Winston Churchill later commented, if the Nazis had managed to pull it off, it would have been history’s most destructive conventional attack ever launched against a city.

The Allies were completely in the dark about the V-3 program, and their intelligence utterly failed to detect the project. Reconnaissance flights spotted the activity around the Pas de Calais complex, but analysts assumed that the photos depicted a potential base for the launch of V-1 or V-2 rockets. Luckily for London, V-1s and V-2s were worrisome in themselves and worthy of attention. So although the Allies were ignorant about the supergun project, they went ahead and subjected the site to frequent bomb raids anyhow from late 1943 onwards.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
The Allies didn’t know what the V-3 site was, but they went ahead and plastered it with bombs anyhow. National Archives

22. The British Capital Was Fortunate That Hitler’s Supergun Project Failed

The Allied aerial raids in the Pas de Calais area seriously disrupted the construction of the structures needed to house the supergun project, and the Germans were eventually forced to abandon parts of the planned complex. The rest of the site was seriously damaged in July 1944, in a raid that used heavy ground-penetrating bombs, which burrowed deep beneath the surface before they detonated. The underground explosions wrecked and collapsed the tunnel system, and buried hundreds of workers and technicians. Simultaneously, development bugs had slowed the pace of the project. Even when all went well, the V-3’s shells failed to reach the intended muzzle velocity of over 4900 feet per second, and barely exceeded 3300 feet.

Trials in May 1944, fired shells to a range of 55 miles – impressive, but not enough to reach London from France. A July test failed catastrophically when a shell was fired 58 miles, only for the gun barrel to burst in the process. Construction was finally halted for good as the Allies made their way up the coast from Normandy to the Pas de Calais, and the abandoned V-3 compounds fell to Canadian troops in September of 1944. It was only then that the Allies discovered just how big a threat the complex had actually posed, and just how lucky London had been to dodge that menace.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
A Type 94 Nambu Pistol. Wikimedia

21. History’s Worst Pistol to Ever Get Issued to an Army?

In 1935, the Imperial Japanese Army began to issue to its service personnel – particularly tankers and aircraft crews – the Type 94 Nambu 8mm Pistol. It failed in a variety of ways and is considered by many to have been one of the worst pistols ever inflicted by a military establishment upon its personnel. The Type 94’s basic maintenance was difficult because it was overly complex and had too many parts, which made disassembly and reassembly awkward. It also had an unfortunate tendency to fire off unintentionally if it was jarred.

On top of those design, defects were defects in manufacture, which stemmed from poor workmanship and inadequate quality control in the production plants. Included in the Type 94’s myriad problems was that it did not have a hammer, but used a firing pin instead – and a weak pin at that, which broke easily when the pistol was fired. When it was fired, it was just about impossible to accurately aim the Type 94 because the front blade atop the muzzle and the rear ‘v’ were often misaligned.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
Type 94 Nambu Pistol. C&Rsenal

20. A Thoroughly Failed Pistol Design

To add to the users’ woes, the Type 94 Nambu Pistol had too many parts, which made daily maintenance and upkeep overly onerous. The parts were not finely machined and often failed to fit well with each other, so the pistol frequently jammed. It had a small grip, and a correspondingly small magazine that held only six rounds. And the magazine, which was held in place by bolt pressure inside the pistol, was hard to reload and insert. It frequently disengaged and came loose if the pistol was jarred, placed on a hard surface, or was simply inserted into a holster.

The biggest problem, however, which made the Type 94 one of history’s most dangerous pistols, was its tendency to discharge unintentionally. The cause was a sear bar located outside the pistol that could easily snag on the user’s holster or uniform. If that happened while a round was chambered, and the pistol was then jostled, wiggled, or placed on a hard surface in a manner that depressed the sear bar, it could discharge accidentally. The accidental discharge could occur even with the safety switch in the ‘on’ position.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
Rear Admiral Charles Lockwood, left, pins an award on a sailor. Pinterest

19. A Failed Detonator That Caused American Submariners a Ton of Grief

In March 1943, Rear Admiral Charles Lockwood, recently placed in charge of the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet submarines, sat down to examine the tally sheet of enemy ships sunk by his men. The figures he found gave little cause for cheer. The previous year, American submarines had fired off 1442 torpedoes but failed to sink more than 211 Japanese ships that totaled less than 1.3 million tons. The real figures, if he had known them at the time, would have depressed him even more.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
The USS Tang in WWII. National Medal of Honor Museum

After the war, it turned out that the poor figures examined by Lockwood had actually been wildly optimistic. Analysis of captured Japanese records revealed that in 1942, only 109 enemy ships, with a total weight of a mere 41,871 tons, had been sunk by torpedoes from US submarines. The culprit, as was ultimately revealed – but only after massive resistance from US Navy higher-ups – was the Mark 14 Torpedo. Designed in 1931, it was the standard weapon of American submarines when the country joined WWII in 1941, and it failed the submariners miserably.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
The magnetic detonator that was used in the Mark 14 Torpedo failed to explode in this 1926 test. Naval History and Heritage Command

18. A Weapon That Was Approved Despite a 50% Test Failure Rate

Unlike earlier American torpedoes which detonated on impact with a target ship’s hull, the Mark 14 Torpedo had an advanced magnetic detonator. It was supposed to set off the torpedo’s explosive charge directly beneath the enemy’s keel and break its back – fatal damage to any ship. The concept was good since it meant that a single Mark 14 would theoretically suffice to sink an enemy ship, regardless of its size. By contrast, earlier designs often required multiple torpedo hits on various spots in an enemy’s ship’s hull in order to hole and sink it.

Unfortunately, the Mark 14 was designed at the height of the Great Depression, when money and military budgets were exceptionally tight. Between frugality and secrecy, no live tests of the Mark 14 were conducted. The magnetic detonator it was to use and upon which great hopes rested, had been live tested only twice on older torpedoes in the 1920s, and in one of the two tests, the detonator had failed to go off. A 50% test failure rate did not give the US Navy pause and prompt it to conduct additional tests.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
A Mark 14 Torpedo. Mapio

17. The Myriad Problems of This Unfortunate Weapon

Despite the fact that it had fared miserably in the few live fire tests conducted, the magnetic detonator to be used on the Mark 14 Torpedo was approved for use by the US Navy’s Bureau of Ordnance. And despite the fact that the Mark 14 itself had never undergone any live tests, the Mark 14 was issued to the US submarine fleet as its standard torpedo in 1938. It was only after America was thrust into WWII that the torpedo’s grave flaws became apparent.

Within the first month of hostilities, submarine commanders correctly reported that the Mark 14 often failed to maintain accurate depth so as to pass within the correct distance beneath an enemy ship’s keel. Another problem was with the magnetic detonator, which frequently detonated prematurely or failed to detonate at all. Even the simpler contact detonator often failed to set off the torpedo even when it struck an enemy’s hull at a perfect angle with a loud and clearly audible clang.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
US Navy Bureau of Ordnance personnel inspect a Mark 14 Torpedo in 1943. National Interest

16. A Torpedo That Sank the Submarines That Launched It

Perhaps the worst of the Mark 14 Torpedo’s problems was that if it missed and failed to hit or detonate beneath its target, it could boomerang, run in a wide circle, and come back to strike the submarine that had launched it. The US Navy ignored numerous reports from submariners who complained about the Mark 14. In one incident, a submarine commander fired two spreads that totaled a dozen torpedoes at a large Japanese whaler. They failed to sink the enemy ship and only managed to cripple it. Then, with the whaler dead in the water, he maneuvered his submarine and carefully positioned it so that his torpedoes would have a perfect angle of impact. He then fired off nine more Mark 14s. Each and every one of them failed to detonate.

Despite a flood of reports from submarine commanders that detailed the Mark 14’s shortcomings, it took the US Navy’s Bureau of Ordnance two years from the start of hostilities to even acknowledge the possibility that a problem might exist. Only then did it begin to conduct tests to find out what was wrong. The tests verified what American submariners had complained about nonstop for two years. Only then were remedial steps to address the problems finally begun – two years later than should have been the case.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
Still from film of a V-2 rocket development test. YouTube

15. It is Apt That the Nazis Pioneered a Technology That Could Deliver Death to Any Spot on the Planet

Ballistic missiles today are carriers of frightful payloads, whose nuclear yields have the potential to end all life on Earth. It is perhaps somehow apt that such instruments of mass destruction are the direct descendants of Nazi technology. And since space rockets are basically ballistic missiles, they are also the direct descendants of Nazi technology. Indeed, both America’s NASA space program and that of Russia via its Soviet predecessor were built on the back of innovative Nazi rocket technology that broke the ground for all that followed.

After the Third Reich went down to defeat at the end of WWII in Europe, and even earlier in the midst of the chaotic period that preceded Germany’s final collapse, the victors scrambled to secure Nazi missile technology and technicians. The Americans and Soviets in particular raced each other to seize as much Nazi rocket research, facilities, and equipment, as they could. They also competed to capture or coopt all the German rocket scientists and technicians they could get their hands on.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
A V-2 rocket at the moment of launch. Wikimedia

14. A Technological Marvel That Also Managed to be a Failed Weapon

The reason for the victors’ eagerness to get their hands on German rocket program personnel was straightforward: they were the best. At the end of WWII, German rocket technology was the most advanced in the world and stood leagues ahead of that of any other country. Germany’s V-2 rocket, or “Vengeance Weapon 2”, was the world’s first ballistic missile. It carried a ton of explosives to the edge of space, then descended at unstoppable supersonic speeds to detonate upon impact. It was a brilliant, advanced, and revolutionary feat of technology.

As a technological feat, it was outstanding. Luckily for mankind, as a war-winning weapon, it failed miserably. The V-2 was one of history’s most wastefully expensive weapons, and it inflicted relatively little damage upon Germany’s enemies. Not enough to justify the vast expenditure of resources that went into the missile’s production. The Allies benefitted, and the Nazis did not, from the diversion of resources to the rocket from more effective weapons programs or other uses that could have better served the German war effort.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
A V-2 rocket. Rare Historical Photos

13. The V-2 Terror Campaign

V-2 rockets went operational on September 7th, 1944, when two were launched against Paris, recently liberated from Nazi occupation by Allied armies. Both failed to reach their targets and crashed soon after launch. The following day, another V-2 was launched in Paris, which caused modest damage. Two were also launched later that day in London, where they killed three people, including a three-year-old child. The frequency of launches intensified from then on, and by the time Germany surrendered, nine months later, about 3000 V-2s had been fired. Many failed to reach their targets. Even if all had, at one ton of explosives per V-2 warhead, that would have been a total of 3000 tons of explosives dropped on enemy cities, spread out over a nine-month period.

By contrast, in that same nine-month period, the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command often dropped over 3000 tons of explosives on a single German city in a single nighttime raid. US Army Air Forces bombers also frequently exceeded that 3000 ton total in single raids during the daytime. Unlike the German V-2s, the Allied explosive delivery tools were reusable and thus more economical. Most Allied bombers returned to base, reloaded, returned to again drop more than 3000 tons of explosives on German cities, and repeated the process dozens of times.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
Slave workers at a V-2 rocket manufacturing plant. Quora

12. A Failed Weapon That Killed More of its Makers Than of its Targets

In the nine months of its operational deployment, the 3000 V-2 rockets fired by the Nazis killed 2754 people. The majority were not soldiers, but civilians whose deaths, while tragic, did not impede the Allied war effort by much. On the other hand, over 20,000 workers – mostly slave laborers – died as they toiled to manufacture the V-2s. That gave the missile the tragic distinction of being perhaps the only weapons system in history whose production cost more lives than did its actual use. Thus, when their costs are contrasted with their results, the V2 literally produced little bang for the buck.

In the hands of the Americans and Soviets after the war, German technology bore bigger fruit. Both for ill, with the missiles and ICBMs whose payloads might wipe out humanity someday, and for good, in space rockets that set mankind on the path to exploring the cosmos – a path that might prove the species’ salvation, someday. Of course, the Nazis had not poured all those resources into the V-2 program in order to pave the way for humanity’s exploration of the cosmos. Nor had they intended the program and its scientists to seed the space programs of their American and Soviet enemies after the war. The Nazis had intended the V-2 as a war-winning weapon, and from their perspective, it failed miserably to accomplish what they had wanted.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
A 1796 Spadroon. Royal Armouries

11. A Failed British Sword Design

At first blush, it seems hard to screw up the design of a sword: hilt, blade, a point, and a sharp edge on one or both sides. Yet British designers managed to do that with the 1796 British Infantry Officers Sword, commonly known as the “1796 Spadroon“. Unlike many failed designs, it was not scrapped at the trial stage, but was widely distributed to the British Army and became the standard-issue sidearm of line regiment officers throughout the Napoleonic Wars. Its defects were particularly problematic in an era when officers’ swords were still routinely used as weapons in combat and had not yet been relegated to mere decorative accouterments to dress uniforms as is the case today.

Spadroons – straight-bladed, flat-backed, single-edged light swords of the cut and thrust type – were not bad weapons in of themselves. However, the designers of the 1796 Spadroon managed to take a concept as simple as a sword – something that had been around for millennia – to the drawing board and screw it up. They came and produced a weapon that failed to cut, thrust, defend, and was poorly constructed to boot. The first problem was the hilt. It was that of a smallsword – a weapon intended solely to thrust into opponents, such as a rapier. That made the 1796 Spadroon ergonomically unsound and ill-suited for the handgrip necessary to cut and slash.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
The clam shell guard of a 1796 Spadroon. My Armoury

10. A Sword That Could Neither Cut Nor Thrust

If an officer overcame the problem of the 1796 Spadroon’s hilt and managed to get a good grip in order to cut and slash at opponents, he discovered that the blade was so light and flexible that it failed to make a serious cut. Indeed, it often bounced off even from naked skin. The excessive flexibility also made the sword ill-suited even for the thrust its hilt was best suited for. The thrust problem was further exacerbated by lack of a profile taper – the sword’s point was not as sharp and pointy as it should have been to pierce an opponent.

Another hilt problem was the guard: rather than a solid saucer to protect the user’s sword hand, the guard was a foldable clamshell secured by pins, which was liable to give way and break off under impact. The poor hand protection was made worse by a thin and weak knuckle-bow (the projecting piece on the hilt) that bent easily under impact or pressure and was frequently smashed into or pinched the user’s hand. As a British general of the era summed it up: “Nothing could be more useless or ridiculous than the old infantry regulation [sword]; it was good for neither cut nor thrust and was a perfect encumberance. In the Foot Artillery, when away from headquarters, we generally wore dirks instead“.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
How Allied planners hoped the Great Panjandrum would work. Look and Learn

9. D-Day Planners Had Great Hopes for This Failed Weapon

As the prospects of an eventual Allied invasion of continental Europe grew, planners had to figure out ways to handle the German fortifications that lined the potential landing sites. The British eventually came up with an innovative – but ultimately failed – prototype weapon, which planners hoped would clear enemy obstacles ahead of the eventual D-Day landings. Known as The Great Panjandrum, it looked like something straight out of Looney Tunes – a product of the febrile mind of a Wile E. Coyote.

The weapon consisted of a large drum that was stuffed with a ton of explosives, and attached to wheels that were propelled by angled rockets. The idea was to ignite the contraption from a platform at sea, and the angled rockets that were attached to the wheels would cause them to rotate rapidly. That would launch the device at targets and obstacles onshore, blow them up, and clear the way for follow-on troops who would land hot on the Great Panjandrum’s heels.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
The Great Panjandrum. Military Machine

8. Awkward Tests That Inspired Little Confidence

The Great Panjandrum was supposed to be developed in secrecy in order to spring it as a surprise on the Germans. However, tests were carried out on a British beach that was popular with vacationers, so the trials were witnessed by huge crowds. The design’s flaw emerged at the first trial run in 1943: the weapon failed to move in a straight line. When the rockets were ignited and the device was launched, it made its way up the beach in a reasonably satisfactory manner at first. Then one of the wheels malfunctioned, which caused the Great Panjandrum to careen wildly off course.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
The Great Panjandrum. Nevington War Museum

The problem persisted in subsequent trials, as each time it proved impossible to get the rockets on both sides to ignite at the same time or continue to fire simultaneously. After weeks of troubleshooting, the developers returned to the beach, and this time, they had added a third wheel to the device to increase its stability. That test proved an even greater embarrassment than earlier ones. The device hurtled toward the beach, but failed to reach the shore, and instead made a wide turn and doubled back toward the craft that had launched it. In the meantime, some of the rockets had detached from the Great Panjandrum’s wheels to launch themselves at the observers on the beach, whistle over their heads, or explode underwater nearby.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
The Great Panjandrum. Nevington War Museum

7. A Final Failed Demonstration Consigned the Great Panjandrum to the Trash Heap of History

Despite the awkward failed trials, planners still had faith in the Great Panjandrum’s potential as a useful weapon. So the designers returned to the drawing board to work out the bugs. When they finally figured that they had it under control, they carried out a final make or break demonstration in front of an assembly of admirals and generals. As described in a BBC documentary: “At first all went well. Panjandrum rolled into the sea and began to head for the shore, the Brass Hats watching through binoculars from the top of a pebble ridge […] Then a clamp gave: first one, then two more rockets broke free: Panjandrum began to lurch ominously.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
The Great Panjandrum veers out of control. Benedante

It hit a line of small craters in the sand and began to turn to starboard, careering towards Klemantaski, who, viewing events through a telescopic lens, misjudged the distance and continued filming. Hearing the approaching roar he looked up from his viewfinder to see Panjandrum, shedding live rockets in all directions, heading straight for him. As he ran for his life, he glimpsed the assembled admirals and generals diving for cover behind the pebble ridge into barbed-wire entanglements. Panjandrum was now heading back to the sea but crashed on to the sand where it disintegrated in violent explosions, rockets tearing across the beach at great speed.” Unsurprisingly, the project was immediately scrapped over safety concerns.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
The Novgorod under construction. Amusing Planet

6. A Failed Russian Ship Design

Commissioned in 1874, the Imperial Russian Navy’s Novgorod monitor ship featured a controversial design: a round hull. Between that and other shortcomings, the Novgorod failed as a fighting platform and gained a reputation as one of the worst ships in history. Compared to a floating soup dish for its clumsiness, the 2500 ton vessel had six steam engines that drove six propeller screws. On the plus side, the ship was largely immune to ramming – a common naval warfare tactic of the day – because it featured a nine-inch armored belt, its round shape deflected strikes, and its vital components were well inside the hull.

It also sported a pair of eleven-inch guns, which were powerful for the era. Additionally, its shape and flat bottom gave the ship a draft of only twelve feet, which allowed her to operate close to the coastline in shallow waters. However, the advantages were outweighed by serious disadvantages. The circular hull played havoc with the rudder’s ability to steer the ship or turn it around. In a storm, the Novgorod was simply unsteerable, and even in calm weather, it took three-quarters of an hour for the ship to make a full circle.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
The Novgorod. Imgur

5. This Ship’s Defects Were Cartoonish

To compound the hapless Novgorod’s woes, the ship’s wide flat bottom meant that in rough seas, she pitched so much that her propellers came out of the water. The blunt hull did not slice through the sea so as to reduce its resistance but pushed large volumes of water out of the way by sheer brute force. That made the ship very fuel-inefficient, and she consumed coal at a prodigious rate. In addition to design defects, the Novgorod was plagued with defects of manufacture as well. Low-quality materials and poor workmanship led to persistent problems with the ship’s propulsion, from blades to shaft to drive, that lasted for the vessel’s entire career.

Additionally, the vessel suffered from poor ventilation that no amount of troubleshooting could fix. Even the installation of ventilation cowls on the gun emplacements failed to fix the problem. As to the Novgorod’s core function as a combat ship, it was plagued with problems there as well. Its pair of eleven-inch guns had an exceptionally slow rate of fire, at ten minutes per shot. The rotating mounts on which the guns were placed were also slow, and took three minutes to traverse 180 degrees. The problem was exacerbated by weak locks that caused the gun mounts to rotate on their own from the guns’ recoil. And when the guns fired, the ship could rotate uncontrollably.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
The Novgorod in 1892. Wikimedia

4. A Warship That Could Not Function as a Ship

Yet another of the Novgorod’s myriad problems was caused by her flat bottom. While that allowed her to operate in shallow waters, it also meant that she had no stabilizing keel to keep her in line and keep her guns pointed towards the target. So the only solution the Russian Imperial Navy could come up with was to moor the Novgorod in a fixed position. That effectively transformed her from a ship to a floating fortress anchored in place, with her guns pointed seaward.

The Novgorod and other round hulls were failed designs that were summarized thus by a naval historian: “they were a dismal failure. They were too slow to stem the current in the Dniepr, and proved very difficult to steer. In practice the discharge of even one gun caused them to turn out of control and even contra-rotating some of six propellers was unable to keep the ship on the correct heading. Nor could they cope with the rough weather which is frequently encountered in the Black Sea. They were prone to rapid rolling and pitching in anything more than a flat calm, and could not aim or load their guns under such circumstances“.

Related: Biggest Warships in the World.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
A Panzer VIII Maus. War Thunder

3. The Fuhrer’s Really Big Tank

As seen above, Hitler was obsessed with the possession of absurdly big things, and if the Fuhrer had had his druthers, he would have built some mind-bogglingly giant tanks. One such was the Ratte, which would have weighed 1000 tons, and another was the even bigger – and aptly named – Monster tank, which would have clocked in at 1500 tons. Those behemoths never got off the drawing board, but the Third Reich did manage to manufacture history’s heaviest production tank, the Panzer VIII Maus.

The Maus was the biggest operational tank ever manufactured. It measured about 33 feet long, 12 feet wide, 12 feet high, and weighed almost 200 tons. While normal tanks usually use machine guns as secondary armament, Maus’ secondary armament was a 75 mm coaxial gun. Its main gun was a 128 mm monster that could destroy any Allied tank at ranges of up to 2.2 miles. Even that powerful gun failed to satisfy the Fuhrer, who thought that 128 mm looked like a pop gun on the massive Panzer VIII. So it was increased to a 150 mm cannon.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
Scale comparison of a Panzer VIII Maus vs a Panzer III and a Panzer I. Flickr

2. A Tank That Failed Because it Was Simply Too Big

The Panzer VIII Maus was a failed weapon precisely because of the massive size and heavy weaponry that Hitler insisted upon. The tank’s huge size and heavyweight came at a heavy price that made it nearly useless as a practical instrument of warfare. The Maus was too heavy for most bridges. So in order to cross rivers, it was forced to either wade through fords where they were available, or to drive over the river’s bottom, and use a snorkel for ventilation.

To even get the massive Maus to move proved to be a problem. As designers discovered, 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 that the Panzer VIII managed to achieve in trials was a measly eight miles per hour – and that could only be accomplished on hard surfaces.

Failed Double-Barrel Cannon and Other Weapons That Absolutely Flopped
Panzer VIII Maus. Tank Encyclopedia

1. Hitler’s Obsession With Big Weapons Was of Great Help to the Allies

Panzer VIIIs were intended to spearhead German attacks, smash through any opposition and destroy all enemy armor they came across, while they remained invulnerable to damage from their opponents. 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, a Maus was quite immune from Allied tanks, whose shells would simply bounce off the behemoth. However, it was built in 1944, and by then the Allies not only had aerial superiority on both the Western and Eastern front but well-nigh complete aerial supremacy over the battlefield.

The Maus did not have enough armor up top to protect it from armor-piercing bombs or rockets dropped or fired from above. Ultimately, the Maus was symptomatic of the Nazis’ and Hitler’s irrational obsession with big things and super weapons. They failed to rationally calculate the cost-effectiveness of superweapons compared to other “normal” weapons that could accomplish the same task at a fraction of the cost. Had they done so, they would have freed up scarce resources for other uses that could have better served the German war effort. Humanity is thus indebted to that Nazi and Hitlerian blind spot.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Here are our Sources:

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We Are the Mighty – This Is the Story of the Civil War’s Only Double-Barrel Cannon

Wikipedia – 1796 Regulation Spadroon