They were called Wunderwaffe, which is German for “Wonder Weapons.” In World War II, the Nazi Germany propaganda ministry coined the term to basically refer to their super weapons, which were technologically advanced and revolutionary in terms of warfare. Most of these weapons never got out of the prototype phase. Those weapons that did either never reached combat or were implemented too late or too small in numbers to have a significant impact on the war.
As the war began to deteriorate for Germany after about 1942, claims about these Wunderwaffe became a prominent part of the propaganda ministry’s efforts. However, in reality, developing advanced weaponry, barring any unforeseen technological leap, would require many years of testing and development. There was no pragmatic hope of Germany being able to perfect these weapons before the end of the war. Those that were rushed into production at the first hint of success proved disappointing to the German military.
What is remarkable, and terrifying, is that the Nazis actually had the technological know-how to develop many of their Wunderwaffe! If the war had drawn out much longer, it is entirely possible that more of these weapons would either be perfected and or put into production, changing the course of the war. The Axis powers could have won the war. Luckily for the Allies, Germany wasn’t able to capitalize on their technological advancements. Here, we take a look at the top fifteen of Hitler’s most fearsome “Wonder Weapons” of World War II.
15. The Goliath Tracked Mine
They were nicknamed “doodlebugs” by the Allies. Officially, they were designated SdKfz 302 Sonderkraftfahrzeug, “Special-purpose Vehicle,” but they were mostly referred to as the Goliath Tracked Mine. They began to see action about 1942, and were used in all fronts. Basically a remote-controlled demolition device; a remote-controlled car with a bomb strapped to it. They were rather small and carried 165 lbs of high explosives at a top speed of about 6 miles per hour; not bad considering the load they carried. Their weakness was that they were controlled by a joystick control, connected by 2000 feet of triple-strand cable. The Allies quickly realized all they had to do to neutralize these things was to cut the wire. This rendered the Goliath useless.
Prior to that Allied revelation, the Germans utilized the Goliath to attack tanks, infantry formations, bridges, buildings, and encampments. Over 4,600 of these were produced, including a slightly larger model that carried a 200 lb explosive charge. Though way ahead of its time, they were too slow and too hard to control to be an effective weapon for the Germans. Many examples of these demolition vehicles survived the war and today can be found in museum exhibits throughout Europe, Scandinavia, as well as the United States.
14. V-3 Cannon
Like its precursor, the V-1 cruise missile and V-2 rocket, the Vergeltungswaffe 3, or “Retaliatory Weapon,” was another of Germany’s “Vengeance Weapons,” meant to inflict retaliatory damage on targets such as London and Antwerp. Sometimes referred to as an “England Cannon,” it was an enormous chambered cannon that was built directly into a hillside and capable of firing large artillery shells across the English Channel from France to London, or other location, depending on where it’s built. The V-3 worked using a multi-charge theory in which after the initial firing of the cannon, secondary propellant charges were fired to progressively accelerate the projective as it journeyed along the barrel of the cannon. During testing in May 1944, the V-3 was able to achieve a range of up to 55 miles; subsequent tests saw shells reach a distance of 58 miles.
Only two of these V-3’s were constructed, with only the second cannon actually being utilized. From January 11, to February 22, 1945, the cannon fired 183 times in the direction of the recently liberated city of Luxembourg (in the nation of Luxembourg). The cannon ultimately proved unsuccessful. Out of the 183 shells fired, only 142 actually landed, inflicting only 10 casualties, while wounding another 35. The cannon’s counterpart, aimed at London, was never fired.
13. Henschel HS 293 Radio-controlled Glide Bomb
This anti-ship missile was probably the most effective guided weapon the war. These destroyed numerous naval destroyers and merchant ships. At 13 feet long and weighing about 2,000 lbs, about 1,000 of these were manufactured for use by the German Luftwaffe, “Air Force.” They were basically a radio-controlled glider with a rocket engine attached underneath, and, of course, 650 lbs of explosive in its warhead. They were intended to be used against unarmored naval vessels. The sturdier Fritx X was manufactured for use with armored ships (more on this later). After being dropped by a bomber, its rocket would ignite and fire for about 10 seconds, leaving it to glide to its target for the rest of the journey. It featured tail lights in its rear so that the gunner could observe its progress.
One drawback was the bomber had to maintain a straight and level trajectory with a stable speed and altitude parallel to the target in order to maintain a remote line of sight with the missile. This meant the bomber could not take evasive action if approaching enemy fighters were attempting to intercept it. To do so would basically abort the bombing run. These were first deployed in August 1943, and one was used to sink the British sloop HMS Egret, the first ship ever to be sunk by a guided missile. It wasn’t long before the Allies had a way to tap into the missile’s radio frequency, allowing them to hamper their controls. Needless to say this significantly reduced their effectiveness for the rest of the war.
12. The Silbervogel
Initially designed in the late 1930s, the Silbervogel, German for “Silver Bird,” was to be a liquid-propellant rocket-powered sub-orbital bomber for Nazi Germany. Basically, an intercontinental space plane that could be used as an extreme long-range bomber, hence its consideration for the “Amerika Bomber” mission. It was designed to carry an 8,000 lb bomb, with a unique surveillance system, believed to make it immune to detection. Sounds like the ultimate weapon, right? Well, it was way too advanced for the period and engineers ran into all kinds of technical difficulties. Prototypes kept overheating and eventually the whole project was put on hold in 1942. Money and resources were subsequently diverted to other projects.
The whole project was the brainchild of aerospace engineer Eugen Sänger and engineer-physicist Irene Bredt. Interestingly enough, after the war Sänger and Bredt were highly sought after aerospace experts and assisted the French space program. Their Silbervogel winged-spacecraft design was later implemented into America’s space shuttle, and its regenerative engine cooling design, now referred to as the “Sänger-Bredt design,” is now used on all modern rockets. So, a failed Nazi attempt to create a long-range bomber to attack the United States ultimately contributed to the successful space programs of numerous nations. A better legacy, I would say.
11. StG 44
Many consider Germany’s Sturmgewehr 44, or StG 44, the world’s first assault rifle. Its design was so successful that modern assault rifles, such as the M-16 and the AK-47, were derived from it. Legend has it that Hitler himself, being so impressed, dubbed the weapon Sturmgewehr, or “Storm Rifle.” It was a unique design that blended the characteristics of a carbine, automatic rifle, and submachine gun. The weapon sported some of the most innovative accessories of the time. First, there’s the Zielgerät 1229 infrared vision scope, codename “Vampir.” It weighed about 5 lbs and was connected to a 30 lb battery pack strapped to the user’s back. I know not as compact as today’s night-vision, but hey, this was the 1940s! Then there was the Krummlauf, “curved barrel,” attachment that allowed the weapon to shoot around corners. Nazi Germany was the first to attempt to implement this long-existing idea! There were different versions: 30°, 45°, 60° and 90° bends. However, these curved barrels didn’t have much a lifespan. After firing a certain number of rounds, 300 for the 30° version and 160 rounds for the 45°, the barrel would likely fail from the stress. As revolutionary as the concept was, the StG 44’s arrival was much too late to have any real impact on the war in Europe.
10. Schwerer Gustav
“The Great Gustav,” the single largest cannon every built and used in history! Designed by Krupp Industries, this was one of two super-heavy railway guns designed; the other was “Dora,” which was built but never used. Gustav weighed around 1350 tons, and could fire a 7-ton projectile up to a range of 28 miles. Do you know what a 7-ton projectile looks like? Think of a bullet the size of two oil drums! This thing was big! Why didn’t the Allies simple give up and accept defeat once this monster came online? Well, think about it: railway gun. It took 2500 men, and three days, to lay all twin rail tracks to be able to maneuver this thing around. It had to be shipped in several large pieces, assembled, and then mounted. The gun assembly alone was a massive 800 mm gun, that’s a 31.5-inch caliber, and heck, it took half an hour just to load it. Reportedly, Germany assigned an entire Luftwaffe squadron to provide cover for the assembly, along with another unit to protect against a ground assault.
The only time the Nazis successfully staged this mammoth weapon for combat was when they used it during the siege of Sevastopol in 1942. It fired a total of 42 shells, nine of which were fired at the very fortified “Ammunition Mountain” undersea weapons depot, which was utterly destroyed despite being protected by 100 ft of rock! This behemoth was a technological wonder but ultimately was just too impractical. The Gustav and the Dora were blown up in 1945, to prevent them from falling into Allied hands. Soviet forces still were able to recover the ruins of the Gustav and it disappeared into the Soviet Union.
9. Ruhustahl SD 1400 “Fritz X” Radio-controlled Bomb
It was called the Fritz X, an air-launched radio-controlled bomb. Similar to the above HS 293, but with a primary function to destroy heavily armored naval vessels. It had superior aerodynamics, four small wings extending out about 4 ft, and a tail. The Fritz X was highly formidable in the eyes of the Allies. The ancestor of the modern smart bomb carried over 700 lbs of explosives. It used a joystick radio-command signal system, making it one of world’s first precision guided weapons.
These weapons were deployed near the islands of Malta and Sicily in 1943, and were highly effective. On September 9, 1943, Germans dropped several of these on the Italian battleship Roma, claiming the lives of all 1,455 men on board. These were also used to sink the British cruiser HMS Spartan, destroyer HMS Janus, cruiser HMS Uganda, and a Newfoundland hospital ship. Just one of these bombs put the American light cruiser USS Savannah out of commission for an entire year. Over 2,000 Fritz X bombs were constructed, but only 200 were ever dropped on targets. The difficulty with the bombs was that once dropped they could not change direction abruptly. The bombers would have to fly directly over the target, which would leave them easily susceptible to enemy attack, causing the German bomber groups to suffer heavy losses.
8. Panzer VIII Maus
Its full name was the Panzerkampfwagen VIII Maus, or “Mouse,” and it was the heaviest fully-enclosed armored vehicle ever built! This German super-heavy tank weighed an astounding 188 tons! This massive size was ultimately the reason why it wasn’t pushed into production. There was just no engine powerful enough to push this beast around at useful speeds. Design specifications said it would travel at a maximum speed of about 12 mph. However, the prototype could attain speeds of 8 mph. That’s not very impressive. Also, it was just too heavy to ever be able to get across a bridge, but it could just go underwater in some instances. Its primary goal was to simply push through enemy defenses without fear of suffering any damage. In the end, the Maus was too impractical and costly to produce.
One prototype was completed; another started but never finished by the time the war ended. The two prototypes destroyed by the Germans to prevent them from falling into Allied hands; however the Soviet army was able to salvage the wreckage of both. They transported the pieces, using six of the largest half-track vehicles they possessed, back to Russia where they remains were reassembled into one working tank. It now resides on display at the Kubinka Tank Museum, just west of Moscow.
7. The Landkreuzer P. 1000 Ratte
You thought the Panzer VIII Maus was big? That was just a small children’s toy compared to the designs for the Landkreuzer P. 1000 Ratte! This super-mega-tank was the largest, heaviest tank designed by Nazi Germany, if not the world! The plans called for it to be a whopping 1,000 metric tons, equipped with artillery that previously had only been used on naval warships. Imagine a tank over 115 ft long, 46 ft wide, and 36 ft tall! It would have been maintained by a crew of at least 20 personnel. Its immense size gave engineers headaches. It was too impractical as it would have been too heavy for bridges and indeed most roadways would’ve crumbled under its weight. Its top speed was only 25 mph.
Albert Speer, who was in charge of bringing life to these designs, believed them to be ridiculous. Building this monstrosity would have been an incredible burden on steel supplies and other resources, not even taking into account the skilled labor involved and the huge production costs. If he did divert the resources necessary to bring this project to fruition, everyone but Hitler was doubtful that it could actually fulfill its operational goals. Not to mention they would have been huge sitting targets for Allied bombings. No, Speer, being one of the few who could reign in Hitler’s fantasies of land battleships and high-tech armaments, cancelled the program in 1943, leaving the designs on the drawing board. Hitler was satisfied relying rather on the quick attacks of his Blitzkrieg operations. No prototype was ever built. Interesting enough, at the time of its cancellation, preliminary plans were being drawn up for even larger Landkreuzer P. 1500 Monster, which would have sported the largest gun in the world, the 800 mm cannon from the Schwerer Gustav!
6. Horten Ho 229
Now referred to as the world’s first stealth bomber, Ho 229 was the first flying wing powered by a jet engine. Germany was in desperate need for an aircraft solution to its “3×1000” problem: an aircraft that could carry 1,000 kg of bombs a distance of 1,000 km at a speed of 1,000 kmh. A jet was the logical answer but presumably one with a lower drag as to reach the range requirement. Walter and Reimar Horten, two German aviation enthusiasts, without any formal aeronautical training, provided the solution. They proposed the Horten Ho 229. It was a sleek fixed-wing tailless aircraft resembling a glider outfitted with two Jumo 004C jet engines. The Horten brothers said they mixed in charcoal dust with the wood glue assembly to absorb electromagnetic waves effectively making their creation the first in stealth technology. With no unneeded surface area, sleek design, and the Horten’s “charcoal solution,” the Ho 229 was harder to detect and track on radar.
Test flights proved successful in 1944, and an order was placed for twenty of the jets to be produced. However, by the time the war ended only the prototype and an unfinished production model were discovered by the Allies. Reimar Horten fled to Argentina where continued his aviation work until his death in 1994. Walter Horten became a general in the West German Air Force, and died in 1998. The lone remaining Horten Ho 229 was brought to America where it was studied and used as a model for today’s stealth bombers. The original resides in the National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C.
5. The Sonic Cannon
German scientists were trying to think outside of the box on this one. During the early 1940s, engineers had developed a sonic cannon that they believed would literally vibrate a person apart from the inside out. The project was the brainchild of Dr. Richard Wallauschek. It was made up of a methane gas combustion chamber leading to two large parabolic reflectors, which had a diameter of almost 10 feet (3 m). These reflectors were pulse detonated at around 44 Hz and were connected to another chamber consisting of several sub-unit firing tubes. These tubes would allow a mixture of the methane gas and oxygen in the combustion chamber. This would then ignite and turn the gases into noise that would cause vertigo and nausea at 900 feet (300 yards) by vibrating the middle ear bones and shaking the cochlear fluid within the inner ear. The pressure caused by these sound waves would be fatal at 164 feet (50 m) in less than a minute!
I’m no scientist so I have no idea how of any of that works, but I’m not convinced. Apparently, it was only tested on laboratory animals. Regardless, a large apparatus such as this would be an easy target for enemy fire. So, it seems like if there was any damage to the sensitive parabolic reflectors, it would make the entire thing ineffective. It appears as if Hitler agreed and the project was never put into use.
4. The Whirlwind Cannon
Aerodynamics researcher, Dr. Mario Zippermayr, was an Austrian inventor and a member of the Austrian Nazi Party. As such he worked on numerous futuristic anti-aircraft weapons for the Nazi war effort. Through his research he concluded that heavily pressurized whirlwinds potentially have the capability to destroying enemy aircraft. His design worked by generating explosions in a combustion chamber, which would be released through nozzles, directed towards a target aircraft. He built a scale model of this Whirlwind Cannon and tested it against 4-inch wooden planks at a distance of about 600 feet. His weapon was successful and he was approved to begin work on a full-size weapon capable of destroying Allied fighters.
Dr. Zippermayr and his team built two anti-aircraft Whirlwind Cannons. The first tests conducted were less than positive. The whirlwinds produced failed to reach the necessary altitudes to be effective against a fighter. He tried to increase the cannon’s range but the war ended before he had completed his work. Allied forces found one of the cannons rusted and abandoned on the Artillery Proving Grounds at Hillersleben. The second had been destroyed at the end of the war. After World War II, Dr. Zippermayr remained in Austria where he continued his research, choosing to remain in Europe rather than going to work for either the Americans or the Soviets, like many of his contemporaries.
3. The Sun Gun
Alright, so we’ve heard about the Sonic Cannon and the Whirlwind Cannon, you should be prepared for the Sun Gun! They were really reaching when they came up with this one. Theoretically, it would have been an orbital weapon capable of concentrating a beam of sunlight onto a point on Earth. The idea was first conceived in 1929, by German physicist Hermann Oberth. His design was for a space station with a 100 meter-wide concave mirror that would be used to catch the sunlight and concentrate back to Earth as a weapon. During the war, Nazi scientists picked up on Oberth’s concept and began to update its design for implementation. They believed that the heat generated through this mirror would be sufficient to boil oceans and flash burn entire cities into ash. An experimental model of the Sun Gun was captured by the advancing American army in 1945. When questioned by interrogators about the nature of the device and its capabilities, the Germans admitted that it was a failed project, with the technology still too many years out of reach.
2. V-2 Rocket
Not as futuristic or sci-fi as some of the other weapons closer to the #1 spot, but the V-2 Rocket was one “wonder weapon” that proved its worth. One of the “V-Weapons,” or “Vengeance Weapons,” these were developed early on and were deployed quite considerably, and successfully, especially against London. Designs began as early as 1930, but there wouldn’t be a successful run until 1942. Hitler was initially unimpressed, calling it, “merely an artillery shell with a longer range and much higher cost.” In reality, the V-2 was the world’s first long-range guided ballistic missile. Quite an innovation, using an extremely powerful liquid ethanol fuel, the V-2 would launch and fly six miles vertically in the sky before proceeding on an arced course, regulating its fuel on its own as-needed. This made it practically impossible to intercept without knowing the intended target. Upon beginning its descent down onto the target, the missile would travel at speeds of 4,000 mph, not detonating until it had penetrated several feet below ground. When these weapons were finally unleashed upon London in 1944, they rained down death and destruction, causing nearly 10,000 casualties. The V-2 Rockets were designed at the Peenemϋnde Army Research Center, and manufactured at the Mittelwerk underground factory, both under the control of project head, Dr. Wernher von Braun. Mittelwerk utilized forced slave labor from the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp to work in the factory. After the war, both the Americans and the Soviets scrambled to capture as many V-2 Rockets as possible. Dr. von Braun surrendered to the United States and subsequently was instrumental in building their space program. In effect, Dr. von Braun’s V-2 Rocket launched the space age.
1. Die Glocke, The Nazi Bell
It was called Die Glocke, German for “The Bell.” Reportedly this project’s code name was Chronos and it was given the highest classification. This is one weapon that we have no proof actually existed. It was said to resemble a giant metallic bell, approximately 2.7 meters wide and 4 meters high. It was composed of an unknown metal and based out of Der Riese, a facility near the Wenceslaus mine in Poland, near the Czech border. The Bell contained two counter-rotating cylinders said to contain a metallic liquid called Zerum-525. Through an unknown process, when activated, The Bell would emit an effect zone of approximately 200 meters. Within this zone, crystals would form in animal tissue; blood would coagulate and separate, while plants would rapidly decompose. Reportedly, many of the original scientists died horribly during the initial tests. The weapon was also able to rise off the ground and hover in the air and was meant to be launched over the Northern Hemisphere, detonating in the jet stream releasing its deadly radioisotopes causing the death of millions.
The main source for this claim is a Polish journalist named Igor Witkowski, who says he read about the weapon in KGB transcripts of the interrogation of SS officer Jakob Sporrenberg. Sporrenberg reported that the project was under the direction of SS General Hans Kammler, an engineer who disappeared after the war. Many believe Kammler was secreted into the United States, possibly with his prototype of The Bell. The only physical trace of the project is the ruins of a concrete framework, called “The Henge,” about 3 km from the main complex of Der Riese, that may have been a test rig for anti-gravity and propulsion experiments with The Bell. We may never know if this terrifying weapon was ever really completed.