There's a pretty big difference between what works in a cartoon and what works in real life. But military generals and weapons designers both have an inner child who still likes to draw super awesome weapons on the back of a notebook. And these are people who have the power to make those cartoonish ideas come to life, at taxpayer expense.
We're pretty sure that's how we wound up with ...
The wacky enclave of American military scientists known as DARPA are a bottomless pool of content here at Cracked due to their being a kind of mashup between James Bond's gadget purveyors and the ACME company. Back in 2008, they brought the gold once again with a "nonlethal personal suppression projectile," or for the rest of us, a stink bomb specifically engineered to make enemy soldiers smell like ass on a semi-permanent basis.
Ted Aljibe / Getty
"Somebody wanna light a match?"
Stink bombs, or "malodorants," have actually been used by the military as far back as World War II. That's when American scientists developed a stink weapon nicknamed "Who Me" for use by the French resistance against Nazi soldiers. The idea was that French resistors could walk up to German soldiers and spray them with poop smell, thus embarrassing them, and, after an unknown second step, the Nazis would lose the war. As you didn't learn about this in history class, it's probably clear that this tactic didn't work.
As members of the French resistance discovered, if you try to spray a chemical mist at another person while standing close by, a lot of that shit is going to get on you. The sprayer ended up smelling just as bad as the person being sprayed, and it took about two weeks for everybody involved to realize that "Who Me" was a dismal failure.
High-ranking Nazis spent all day sweating in leather trench coats, rendering the spray redundant.
DARPA's XM1063 bomb resolved most of these issues, but another point that has raised eyebrows here is that you need to be ridiculously racist in order to get poop bombs to work, and not just the OK form of racism that involves French people. Diet, culture and lifestyle choices mean that different populations perceive many smells differently, and if you want to create a stink bomb, you need to profile members of the target population and then build a weapon specifically for them.
We're not going to tell you what a bad idea it is to develop racially profiled weapons, since we're assuming that you were all awake for at least five minutes during your high school history class. But this is pretty much why the perfect stink bomb has evaded the U.S. military all these years -- they're actually not racist enough to have figured out how to develop a weapon that's sufficiently effective. But for all the reasons why a war effort might fail, "lack of racism" is probably one of the most socially acceptable.
Tanks are pretty awesome already, and we still kind of wish we owned one. But do you know what's even more badass? If you said "underwater tanks," then you're either a 15-year-old boy or a Nazi engineer.
Of course, most Nazi engineers were 12-year-old boys.
During Operation Sea Lion, Germany's unsuccessful 1940 attempt to invade Britain, the Nazis faced the problem of getting all their tanks across the water and onto that island. Someone asked, "Can't we just drive there somehow?" So their solution was to look back at designs they'd scribbled down in fifth grade, and they came up with what they called the Tauchpanzer, but we prefer to call it the snorkeltank.
Bundesarchiv, Bild 101II-MW-5674-45 / Engelmeier / CC-BY-SA
"Soon, there will be swastikas over Atlantis!"
Basically, they waterproofed a bunch of Panzer tanks, retrofitted them with a modified hose-snorkel and drove them into the ocean. Had Operation Sea Lion not been cancelled at the last minute, 254 snorkeltanks would have been dropped into the English Channel to sneak into England under the veil of water like a bunch of tank ninjas.
As much as it pains us to admit it, the harsh reality is that snorkeltanks come with a variety of inherent problems, the most obvious being that the bottom of the ocean isn't the best terrain for driving. If the tanks had to stop for any reason, such as the myriad obstacles scattered across the sea floor, they had a tendency to sink into the mud.
They should have tried sticking floaties on the end of the barrel.
Then there are the issues that arise from being locked inside a metal box under the sea. If there was any kind of problem down there, you couldn't just float to the surface like a submarine. The water pressure outside meant that you couldn't open the hatch, either, so your only hope was to flood the tank and hope that you could get yourself out in time to most likely drown anyway.
But, hey, you and your snorkeltank could probably still unleash a blitzkrieg upon your local kiddie pool.
Alongside whatever else World War II was about (we forget), the whole affair was kind of one big dick-measuring contest. So it was in this spirit of overcompensation that the Nazis put together the 430-foot-long V-3 cannon -- the V, by the way, stands for "vengeance."
Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1981-147-30A / CC-BY-SA
The Nazis were a subtle people.
This thing was capable of firing more than 300 shells the size of schoolchildren an hour, over a range of up to 100 miles. This way, they could literally shoot somebody from the next country over, which they did on the one occasion they actually got to use the thing, to bombard Luxembourg from Germany in 1945.
As it turns out, shooting bullets at a target 100 miles away is kind of difficult, and was more so in the 1940s. As indisputably badass as the vengeance cannon was, the bombardment of Luxembourg killed an estimated 10 people -- hardly the most memorable battle of the war, considering the effort and expense that something like this took to build.
You'd expect a rain of explosive dicks to do more damage.
On top of that, the sheer size meant that these things weren't exactly mobile, so any one that they actually managed to build was a sitting duck as soon as the enemy figured out where the bullets were coming from, which was simple enough for anyone who managed to pass grade school physics.
Even before they finished building them, the Nazis had a tough time keeping the V-3 cannons secret. When the Germans started building a bunch of them in France to aim at London, the British knew that something was up, and although they didn't know what the V-3 actually was, they nevertheless sent the air force in to bomb whatever it was into oblivion. And it's a good thing, too -- just imagine how many tens of people might have been killed.
Tens of tens, even.
The F-84 Thunderjet is often considered the fastest propeller-powered aircraft of all time, capable of achieving almost the speed of sound, and that's an achievement all on its own. Generally speaking, the aviation industry has been trying to get away from the propeller for the same reason the automotive industry has been trying to get away from, well, horses. So it seemed a strange idea, after they had invented the modern fighter jet, for the U.S. Air Force to go ahead and throw a propeller on it.
"I've never met a problem that couldn't be solved by more propeller."
It made sense, though -- engine-powered jets were faster, but they took a hell of a long time to accelerate to top speed. Propeller planes had the acceleration advantage, so to get the best of both worlds, they equipped a jet with a propeller that spun at around Mach 1.18, just over the speed of sound itself. It was the most badass attempt ever made to improve on the Wright brothers' "spinny thing on the nose" idea.
While there's some dispute about whether the Thunderjet is really the fastest propeller aircraft ever made, there's no dispute that it was the loudest aircraft ever made. It turns out that a propeller spinning that fast has some unfortunate side effects -- the plane could easily be heard 20 miles away from the base, earning it the nickname "Thunderscreech."
Or "Holy shitting butthole, my ears are bleeding!"
But the inability to sneak up on communists wasn't the worst part. The perpetual sonic boom that this thing was broadcasting was so godawful that it actually triggered nausea, seizures and loosening of the bowels. In fact, the pants-soiling reaction that made the Thunderscreech notorious is the source of the "brown note" myth, the rumor that there's an actual frequency of sound that can make you poop yourself when you hear it.
Come to think of it, this would have made a pretty nifty weapon, if not for the risk of the guy in the pilot's seat getting a sudden case of the poop seizures.
The remaining Thunderscreech is used for CIA prank wars.
The ancients didn't have access to tanks, amphibious or otherwise, but what they did have was elephants. And of course, human nature is such that as soon as people see a giant, lumbering beast, the only thing they're wondering is the best way to use it to murder other people.
"Oh yeah, that might work."
Elephants were used in warfare throughout the ancient world, most notably by the Persians, who captured them from India. The rationale was simple -- elephants are huge and intimidating, with tough hides that arrows just bounce off of, and spears attached to their faces. If you're an exotic foreign army, the best way to frighten the Roman legions is to remind them that giant monsters are on your side, and unfortunately for the enemy with their pansy-ass swords, you can't just bring a knife to an elephant fight.
But war elephants weren't just a relic of ancient times -- armies used them right up to the end of the 19th century, in part due to their ability to withstand gunfire, and as shown in this 1893 photograph of the Siamese army, they could be equipped with cannons. Let's see a horse do that.
If we'd spent all that F-35 money on war elephants, we can guarantee you it wouldn't have been a waste.
Unfortunately, elephants come with a rather serious design flaw -- despite their size, they're huge pussies, and when you spook them, they don't really care whether they're squishing the humans on one side of the conflict or the other. So although they might be able to shrug off the enemy's weapons, there's a better than good chance that your elephant is going to go into a fear-induced stomping rage among your own ranks if it gets shot enough times.
So yeah, maybe not the best place to build a tower.
The Greeks came up with a particularly novel (though horrifying to animal rights activists) way of exploiting this fact. According to them, the elephant's natural enemy was the pig, although cartoons always taught us that it was the mouse. When they were besieged by Macedonian armies with their war elephants, the Greeks took the obvious course and coated a bunch of pigs with tar, set them alight and set them loose among the invading forces. Then they just sat back with a box of cigars and watched the Macedonians getting stomped on by their own terrified elephants.
Historians are divided, but there's some evidence that ancient armies might have used rhinoceroses to combat elephants as well. One report from Portugal in 1513 describes rhinos as "the mortal enemy of the elephant," being sent in to attack elephants with their face horns. Kind of like in 300, although we're sorry to say that most academics don't regard that as a reliable historical source.
For more crackpot weapons, check out 7 WTF Military Weapons You Won't Believe They Actually Built and The 7 Most Stupidly Overpowered Hunting Weapons.