6 Real-World Death Stars (That Were Just As Easy To Destroy)
Star Wars has taught us that every impenetrable fortress or world-annihilating superweapon can be reduced to space dust via some easily exploitable weakness, such as a space farthole. And this lesson is less far-fetched than you think, because (as we've shown you before) actual history is chock-full of terrifying superweapons that were one metaphorical "exhaust port" shy of indestructible.
Imposing Fort Eben-Emael Could Be Taken Out By A Handful Of Soldiers In A Rickety Glider
At the time of its construction, Belgium's Fort Eben-Emael was the world's largest and strongest fortress and Belgium's main insurance policy against the Nazis.
Its walls were nearly twice as thick as its country's namesake waffles.
Looking like a castle that willed itself into existence in a mountain along the border with the Netherlands before commanding the Albert Canal to serve as its moat, Eben-Emael boasted reinforced concrete walls, a garrison of more than a thousand men, anti-tank defenses, anti-submarine defenses, and armor-reinforced bunkers. Its abundance of cannons covered all roads leading to the city of Maastricht, as well as the three bridges crossing the canal -- Hitler's only path into Belgium. By all accounts, this was Belgium's Doom Base.
"I CHALLENGE God to try breaching this fortress."
Best of all, the fort's earthen roof made artillery attacks and aerial raids damn nigh pointless. Bombing Eben-Emael was like bombing a well-armed mountain.
"Nice going, Hans. Now you've pissed off the mountain."
The Fatal Flaw:
The fort could be taken out with just a handful of troops, assuming they could arrive there alive. Which might have been OK, since the whole design should be based on keeping that from happening. But it also turned out that the fort was unintentionally designed to roll out the red carpet for troop-carrying gliders. And we're not talking some fancy, heavily armed wunderwaffe of a glider; no, we mean the unarmed, "prone to flying apart in a whimsical puff of sticks and fabric if you look at 'em funny" type.
Seconds before direct sunlight caused it to burst into flames.
So in the wee hours of May 10, 1940, 11 German Ju 52 planes hauled eleven DFS 230 gliders stuffed with a massive invasion force of 74 paratroopers into the air and flung them toward Eben-Emael like history's deadliest paper airplanes. While the earthen roof of the fort rendered it relatively bomb-proof, it also made for a perfectly cushy landing surface for the gliders, which eschewed wheels in favor of nose skids wrapped in barbed wire to land in a space as short as 20 yards, which is the aircraft equivalent of stopping on a dime.
Once down, taking out the invincible fortress was comically easy: The invaders spilled from the gliders and used hollow charges to funnel devastating explosions down into the base like little reverse volcanoes.
As if volcanoes weren't scary enough in the regular direction.
Yes, just like dropping photon torpedoes down an exhaust port. Once the fort's defenses were more or less taken out, the Nazis blew up the stairwells, trapping the Belgian troops inside. Fortress commander Major Jean Jottrand surrendered the very next day, as his troops poured out of Eben-Emael waving white flags.
Armored Trains Were Terrifying ... And Laughably Easy To Derail
Because GoldenEye is apparently based on a true story, armored trains used to totally be a thing. These hulking mobile fortresses ruled the rails from the Civil War all the way up to World War II, combining the utility of cross-country supply transportation with the practicality of a pants-shitting amount of weaponry.
By design, trains can carry a ton of weight, so it didn't take much brainstorming to realize that they could also haul artillery, anti-aircraft guns, tanks, and soldiers, all while being nearly impervious to small-arms fire. And since railways were like the circulatory system of the 19th- to early-20th-century world, there was a damn good chance you could send a death train straight into the heart of whatever city happened to be your target.
"Special delivery! Haha, but seriously, we came here to kill you."
The Fatal Flaw:
The problem with armored trains (and indeed trains in general) is that they only run on a track. And you don't exactly have to be a secret agent to sabotage one -- leaving a brick on the track is enough to derail a train and send it rocketing into the countryside like a drunk meteor.
A mobile fortress that can be destroyed by two guys with a crowbar sucks at both being mobile and being a fortress. The bombing runs of WWII served to sap armored trains of the final drops of the considerable intimidation factor they had once possessed, because it's hard to be scared of an invasion force that can travel along only one route and can be knocked completely into irrelevancy by a single airplane.
Note the lone crater.
The Enormous And Deadly French Submarine Surcouf Was Too Big To Submerge Effectively
Up until Japan defeated them at their own ridiculous game in World War II, France held the coveted award for Most Preposterous Submarine with the Surcouf, the biggest submarine of its day that also inexplicably carried a Besson MB.411 floatplane, for those times when you need to launch a plane off of a submersible. We're not sure where they stuck the airplane, however, considering every available inch of this thing was housing some type of gun.
Note the covers on the barrels. They thought of everything!
Billed as an "undersea cruiser," the dual-engine Surcouf lived up to the title by carrying more weapons than the Montana Freemen. In addition to her cruiser-caliber eight-inch guns, she packed six anti-aircraft guns and 10 freaking torpedo tubes. It can be said without hyperbole that the Surcouf was essentially just a bunch of guns tied together on a raft.
When France fell to Germany in 1940, the Surcouf escaped on one working engine to prowl the Atlantic from Halifax to Connecticut like a goddamned sea monster, even serving with the Free French Naval Forces to liberate the French archipelago of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon in December of 1941.
The Fatal Flaw:
The problem with having a super-massive, gun-bedazzled submarine is that it's really hard to force a giant boat underwater without sinking it. Consequently, Surcouf wasn't exactly a swift diver, and that's a huge problem for a submarine, regardless of how many cannons it has. This mammoth took over two minutes to dive just 40 feet, and when enemy warships and aircraft are hurling ordnance at you, two minutes might as well be forever.
"Oh, you want all this to go underwater?"
That's probably why, while traversing the Gulf of Mexico on the night of Feb. 18, 1942, the Surcouf was literally run over by the American freighter Thompson Lykes while struggling to submerge, and sank with all hands on deck (see "hard to submerge without sinking," above).
Or at least that's the official story. Conspiracy theories abound that the Surcouf actually sank thanks to timed explosives placed on her hull by Royal Navy divers or depth charges from vengeful Nazis, but none of those claims can be proven. So, as far as history is concerned, the Surcouf crashed into another boat in the middle of the night because it sucked at being a submarine.
Though when it comes to embarrassing French naval disasters, that's nothing compared to ...
French Ship L'Orient Had Unmatched Firepower, But Was Destroyed By Its Paint Job
Late-18th-century naval battles were like history's most fucked-up version of Red Rover: Vast, double- or even triple-decker ships lined up and took turns blasting the absolute hell out of each other until one of them broke apart and sank (in retrospect, this is dumb). In a battle like that, firepower was king, and these wood-and-canvas warships topped out at as many as a hundred cannons ... or at least they did until the French navy, in their never-ending quest to destroy the English, dreamed up the triple-decker, 120-gun Ocean-class vessel. With a thousand-sailor crew, more than 3,000 meters of canvas sails, and the aforementioned 120 cannons, L'Orient was a shining example of this new pinnacle in wind-based murder. It was less a historical instrument of battle and more an overpowered sea unit from Warcraft II.
Seriously, everything after cannon 115 is just overkill.
The Fatal Flaw:
After accompanying Napoleon's army to Alexandria in August of 1798, a French fleet of warships lined up to protect the sorely depleted transport vessels. To keep their literal flagship L'Orient looking suitably imposing, her crew took this downtime as an opportunity to splash a fresh coat of paint on her. That's how, when Cracked-certified badass Horatio Nelson unexpectedly rolled up with a British fleet to kick off the Battle of the Nile, L'Orient's crew found themselves tripping over open tubs of paint and turpentine, a fluid that goes up in angry flames if you so much as breathe on it too heavily. And you know what else is highly combustible? The mountains of gunpowder it takes to feed 120 goddamned cannons.
Still anchored as the British fleet bisected the French line, the paint- and turpentine-soaked L'Orient caught batteries from at least four of the smaller, more maneuverable British ships, unsurprisingly catching fire in the process. When the fire reached the gunpowder, L'Orient went up in an apocalyptic blast that was seen and heard for miles inland, and made the crews of other ships in the bay think their own boats had exploded. That's right -- L'Orient blew up so hard that other people thought they were dead.
It was like Michael Bay playing bumper boats.
To add insult to injury, after the battle the British scooped up what was left of L'Orient's mainmast and carved it into a coffin, in which Horatio Nelson would eventually rest.
"Fuck you, forever." -Horatio Nelson.
The Krupp K5 Railway Gun Could Fire In Only One Direction
The Krupp K5 railway gun and its even more ludicrous big brother, Gustav, were the answer to a specific Nazi quandary: How can we make the biggest gun in the universe and still be able to move it around?
They didn't ask themselves this question until they had already started building said gun.
Yes, this was another attempt to build massive weaponry that was intended to ride the rails. Luckily (for the Nazis, not for Europe), Europe was crisscrossed with a system of railways. This gave history's favorite villains the ability to build a weapon large enough to fire a shell the size of two linebackers for distances of up to 50 miles, from anywhere they damn well pleased.
Its secondary purpose was to infect everyone within a 50-mile radius with shrieking terror shits.
The K5 was one of history's most widely used railway guns, which is another way of saying that the Nazis built over 25 of them. Like a Swiss Army Knife of heavy artillery, it could shell enemy positions, reduce fortresses to rubble, level rioting towns, and even put a serious damper on Allied naval operations, assuming they managed to drag it close enough to a beach.
The Fatal Flaw:
Though it boasted an elevation arc of 50 degrees -- allowing it to target a wide range of distances -- the K5's horizontal traverse was 1 degree. In other words, the gun couldn't turn. It's aiming capabilities ranged from directly in front of it to almost, but not quite, directly in front of it.
For reference, there is no possible way the K5 could shoot the building directly next to it.
This problem was compounded by the fact that the K5 was essentially a train -- the only way to get it to face a different direction was to build an entirely new set of tracks for it to run on, not unlike the turntables train stations use to get trains facing in the right direction. Unsurprisingly, these impromptu construction sites made irresistible targets for Allied bombers, for whom railways were the primary objective when explosively demonstrating their air superiority over the Reich. This reduced the K5 (and every other rail gun) to an impressive dust collector, definitively proving that it's not the size of the gun that counts -- it's whether or not you can aim the fucking thing.
Cue Madonna's "This Used To Be My Playground."
The Castle Fortress Of Almeida Was Destroyed By A Single Shot
Armed with 100 cannons and overflowing with 400 gunners, 4,000 infantrymen, a squadron of cavalry, a plethora of food and ammo, and the considerable testicles of British colonel and Portuguese Brigadier General William Cox, the Castle Fortress of Almeida was more than equipped to withstand the French siege that came a-knocking on Aug. 26, 1810, during Napoleon's Peninsular War.
Also, it was literally a Death Star.
The Fatal Flaw:
Like the Death Star, the Castle Fortress of Almeida was thrown into the dumpster of history by a single, well-placed shot from a random French artilleryman.
"Use Le Force, Jean-Luc."
The working theory is that a lone shell ignited a trail of gunpowder leading from the castle's courtyard straight into the main powder magazine inside, causing a powder keg to explode. That first powder keg set off a second powder keg, which in turn triggered a Rube Goldberg machine of calamity until the entire fortress was leveled in a Domino Rally chain reaction that returned the castle to the earth, forcing the British to surrender.
"That's impossible, even for a computer!"
M. Storino is a freelance writer from Chicago with an affinity for old hats, the obscure, and the peculiar. Find more of his oddball writings here.
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