The Second World War witnessed a leap in technology and weaponry. But there are some bizarre weapons that never quite made it into the wider public knowledge.
1 – Ice Aircraft Carriers “Bergships”.- Project Habakkuk was a British plan by Geoffrey Pyke to build aircraft carriers out of pykrete, a mixture of wood pulp and ice. The carriers, nicknamed “bergships” were to operate as landing platforms for aircraft in the war against the German U-boats in the mid-Atlantic. A small prototype was constructed at Patricia Lake, Alberta, measuring only 60 by 30 feet (18 metres by 9 metres), but the final design was to have a deck 2,000 ft (610 m) long with a hull 40 ft (12 m) thick to withstand torpedo attack. In December 1943 it was officially concluded that “The large Habbakuk II made of pykrete has been found to be impractical because of the enormous production resources required and technical difficulties involved.”
2 – Goliath tracked mine.- The Goliath tracked mine “beetle tank” was a remote controlled demolition vehicle used by the Germans in world war two. Capable of carrying 60 to 100 kilograms of high explosives, the vehicle was intended for tank demolition, disrupting dense infantry and the demolition of buildings and bridges. Goliaths were used on all fronts where the Wehrmacht fought, beginning in early 1942. They were used principally by specialized Panzer and combat engineer units. A total of 7,564 Goliaths were produced, however, as a weapon of war it was not considered a success due to the high unit cost, low speed (just above 6 miles per hour (9.7 km/h) and thin armour which failed to protect the remote bomb from any form of antitank weapons.
3 – Bat Bombs.- The Bat bomb was an experimental weapon conceived by a Pennsylvania dentist named Lytle S. Adams and developed in the United States. The bomb was a shell shaped container that held scores of Mexican Free-tailed bats. The bats were attached to small timed incendiary bombs and released from a bomber at dawn. The concept was, that the bats would roost in buildings and attics, then detonated on the timer to start mass fires in towns and cities. The program was cancelled by Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King when he heard that it would likely not be combat ready until mid-1945.
4 – Fire Balloon Bombs.- The fire balloon was a hydrogen balloon launched by the Japanese containing either an antipersonnel bomb or incendiary bomb. They were designed as a cheap weapon intended to make use of the jet stream over the Pacific Ocean and drop bombs on American and Canadian cities, forests, and farmland. The balloons were relatively ineffective as weapons, but their potential for destruction and fires had a potential psychological effect on the American people.
5 – The Bob Semple Tank.- Originating out of the need in New Zealand to build military hardware from available materials at the outbreak of WW2, the tank was built from corrugated iron on a tractor. The tank was designed by New Zealand Minister of Works Bob Semple, but without formal plans or blueprints, it had numerous design flaws and practical difficulties, and was never put into mass production or used in combat. The first prototype was built on a Caterpillar D8 tractor and equipped with seven Bren machine guns—two in the sides, three facing the front, one in the turret and one at the rear. Due to the lack of armour plate, corrugated (manganese) plating was used in the expectation it would deflect bullets. The tank design was discarded and converted back to tractors after the tanks attracted public ridicule.
6 – Bachem Ba 349.- The Bachem Ba 349 Natter was a German point-defence rocked powered interceptor, similar to a surface to-air missile designed by Erich Bachem.Launched vertically like a V2, the interceptor was mainly controlled remotely and then aimed by the pilot at enemy aircraft where they would jettison the nosecone and fire its armament of rockets.The pilot and the fuselage containing the rocket-motor would then land using separate parachutes as the Ba 349 had no landing gear. The only manned vertical take-off flight took place on 1 March 1945 but ended in the death of the test pilot, Lothar Sieber. Only 36 models were manufactured and never saw active conflict.
7 -V-3 cannon.- The V3 was a German supergun that worked on the multi-charge principle where secondary propellant charges are fired to add velocity to a projectile. The gun used multiple propellant charges placed along the barrel’s length and timed to fire as soon as the projectile passed them. The Nazis planned to use the cannon to bombard London from two large bunkers in the Pas-de-Calais region of northern France with a complex of 25 gun tubes in operation by 1 October 1944. The site was put out of commission on 6 July 1944, when bombers of RAF Bomber Command’s 617 Squadron (the famous “Dambusters”) attacked using 5,400-kilogram (11,900 lb) “Tallboy” deep-penetration bombs. Two similar guns were used to bombard Luxembourg from December 1944 to February 1945.
8 – Landkreuzer P. 1000 Ratte Super Tank.- The Landkreuzer P. 1000 Ratte was a German design for a super-heavy tank by Friedrich Krupp AG. At 1,000 metric tons, the P-1000 would have been over five times as heavy as the Panzer VIII Maus and be the heaviest tank ever built.It was to be armed with naval artillery and armored with 25 centimetres (10 in) of hardened steel. To compensate for its immense weight, the Ratte would have been equipped with three 1.2 metres (3 ft 11 in) wide treads on each side with a total tread width of 7.2 metres (24 ft). Hitler became enamored with Grote’s concept and ordered Krupp to begin development on it in 1942, however, Albert Speer canceled the project in 1943 before any were constructed.
9 – Hafner Rotabuggy.- The Hafner Rotabuggy “Malcolm Rotaplan” was a British experimental aircraft that was essentially a Willys MB army jeep combined with a rotor kite like those found on a gyrokite. It was designed by Raoul Hafner of the Airborne Forces Experimental Establishment and the prototype was built by the R. Malcolm Ltd at White Waltham in 1942. The Rotabuggy had a 12.4 metres (40 ft 8.2 in) diameter rotor, a tail fairing and fins, but no rudders. It required two men to pilot the aircraft: one to drive it as an automobile, and one to pilot it in the air using a control column. Initially it was named the “Blitz Buggy”, but that was soon dropped for the “Rotabuggy”. The introduction of gliders that could carry vehicles made the Rotabuggy obsolete so the project was eventually cancelled.
10 – Flea Bombs.- In 1940, the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service bombed China with fleas carrying the bubonic plague. The plague-infested fleas, bred in labs were spread by low-flying airplanes upon Chinese cities, coastal Ningbo in 1940, and Changde, Hunan Province, in 1941. This military aerial spraying killed thousands of people with bubonic plague epidemics. During the Khabarovsk War Crime Trials, the accused, such as Major General Kiyashi Kawashima, testified that, in 1941, some 40 members of Unit 731 air-dropped plague-contaminated fleas on Changde.