5. Katanas Were Not Folded Anywhere Close to a Thousand Times
The four metal bars of which katanas were made were heated at high temperatures, then hammered into a long bar that would become the blade. Contrary to myth, samurai blades were not folded thousands or even hundreds of times – that much folding would be counterproductive, and render the steel useless for a sword. Instead, katana blades were folded between eight to sixteen times.
When the sword was sharpened, the steel took a razor-sharp edge, while the softer iron prevented the blade from breaking. Well-crafted katanas became prized heirlooms, passed down generations of samurai families for centuries. Magnificent specimens of centuries-old katanas can be seen in the Tokugawa Art Museum in Nagoya, Japan.
4. Germany’s Tiger Tanks Were Actually a Bit of a Flop
During WWII, few weapons struck as much terror into the hearts of British, American, Soviet, and other allied soldiers, than the prospect of coming across a German Tiger tank. So intimidating were they that the term “Tiger Fever” was coined to describe the panic that sometimes gripped Allied soldiers when they thought a Tiger tank was in the vicinity.
However, in the grand scheme of things, the Tigers were a bit of a flop. They were over-engineered – or more accurately poorly engineered. They were plagued with bugs, and often spent more time in the repair shop than on the front line. They were also expensive and hard to produce, consuming resources that could have been better spent on more effective weapons.
The Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger Ausf. E, or the Tiger I, entered service in 1942. It was a heavy tank whose main assets were thick armor that its common adversaries could not penetrate except from close range, and a powerful 88mm gun that could wreck its foes from prodigious distances. That gave Tigers an extensive safe standoff distance within which they were practically invulnerable. They were scary, and exerted a powerful psychological hold on their enemies’ imagination: few if any Allied tank crews relished the prospect of coming across Tigers.
On the other hand, Tigers were heavy, slow, guzzled fuel at prodigious rates, had a limited range, and were difficult to transport. They were also notorious for their mechanical unreliability and propensity to breakdown, and became immobilized when their overlapping wheels got jammed with snow and mud. They were also expensive to produce and difficult to manufacture, with only 1300 built during the war – a number lower than the typical monthly production figures of Soviet T-34 or American Sherman tanks.
When Tiger tanks worked, they were terrifyingly good. Fortunately for Germany’s enemies, the Tigers often did not work, and there were too few of them to make a difference in the war’s ultimate outcome.
On the Western Front, where the Allies lacked powerful armor capable of taking out Tigers, other than up-gunned Sherman Fireflys and M10 tank destroyers, Tigers maintained their superiority until war’s end. But on the Eastern Front, that superiority was increasingly challenged by T-34/85s, IS-2s, and IS-122s whose guns could destroy Tigers from various ranges.
In 1944, Tiger I production was discontinued in favor of the Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf. B, more commonly known as the Royal Tiger or Tiger II. 492 were manufactured by the war’s end. Weighing 77 tons, the Royal Tiger replaced its predecessor’s thick flat armor with thicker sloped armor that was significantly more difficult to penetrate.
Royal Tigers were exceptionally well protected. From January to April, 1945, they were credited with destroying over 500 tanks on the Eastern Front, at a cost of only 45 Royal Tigers, most of them destroyed by their own crews to prevent their capture after they broke down or ran out of fuel. On the downside, Royal Tigers suffered most of their predecessors’ mechanical problems plus a few more, and were even slower, capable of only 9 to 12 m.p.h. cross country.