10 of the Worst-Designed Weapons Ever Made

From multi-barreled guns, the world's smallest pistol, and anti-tank dogs, we take a look at 10 of history's strangest, and most ill-conceived weapons.
  • Weapons manufacturers are always looking for new an innovative ways to keep soldiers and law enforcement safe. But even the road to better and deadlier weapons is paved with a few stumbling blocks. To celebrate Memorial Day we decided to take a look at 10 poorly-designed weapons that we should all be glad our veterans aren't using.

    We could probably have included plenty of fictional weapons (like Kylo Ren's awful lightsaber) but we thought it would be even better to stick to real life. All of the weapons shown here were actually deployed in the field or tested at some point.

    Click through to see 10 of history's greatest failures at weapon design.

  • The Sticky Bomb

    If you've played a few first person shooter video games lately you know few things are as satisfying and killing any enemy with a well thrown sticky bomb. The British military thought the same thing would be true decades ago, but it turns out sticky bombs are better in theory than in actual practice.

    To be fair to the British military, it initially rejected the sticky bomb when it was first developed during WW2. But Winston Churchill liked them anyway and about 2.5 million of them went into production between 1940 and 1943. The initial design consisted of a glass sphere, containing semi-liquid nitroglycerin, covered with a knitted fabric shell. The bomb was coated with birdlime, a plant-based adhesive made from holly bark that was usually used for illegally trapping birds.

    The adhesive worked great on fowl, not so much on the tanks that the sticky bombs were designed to combat. Soldiers found out the bombs wouldn't stick reliably to any vertical surface and it didn't stick to tanks that were dirty or wet (so essentially no tanks on the battlefield). To work around this soldiers were encouraged to get up close and personal with the tanks and plant (not throw) the bombs on top of the tanks, where they would hold. Factor in these suicidal tactics, add in that the glass bombs were prone to leaks, that the adhesive made them prone to sticking to soldier's uniforms, and top it all off with a 5-second fuse and you've got a powerful index for disaster.

    (Image source: Navy Department. Bureau of Ordnance. Washington DC [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

  • 2mm Kolibri

    No, your eyes are not deceiving you. You're looking at the smallest centerfire cartridge pistol ever built. And before you go thinking the 2mm Kolibri packed a hidden wallop like the Noisey Cricket from Men in Black, be assured it was the opposite case.

    First introduced in 1914, the Kolibri (named after the colibri or hummingbird) was marketed for personal defense. Measuring about 2 inches in length and carrying a 5.3 g cartridge, the gun was a semi-automatic with a six-round magazine. The upside to the Kolibri was it was easy to conceal and had virtually no recoil. Unfortunately the good ends there. The gun's size was its best and worst quality. It was so small that it was very difficult to handle and reload. Also since the barrel was so small there was no rifling to spin the bullets to help improve accuracy. What you end up with after all that is a gun that is tiny, inaccurate, and has next to no stopping power. The series was discontinued in 1938, likely after it failed to prevent a number of muggings.

    (Image source: Vintage Semi-Automatic Sporting Rifles)

  • The Gun Shield

    On paper the idea of the Gun Shield makes sense – a weapon that allows for shooting while also shielding from enemy fire. Created in the 1500s by an Italian gunsmith named Giovanni Battista the weapon featured a matchlock gun with a body armor shield around the barrel. King Henry VIII was so impressed by the design that he ordered 100 of them to be made for his personal bodyguards. However the Gun Shield proved to be too heavy and cumbersome to be fired without resting on some sort of support. This was likely not something that bestowed a lot of confidence on the king being protected by these things and the Gun Shield was removed from service.

    (Image source: Walters Art Museum [Public domain, CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons)

  • The Duck Foot Pistol 

    While it looks like a prop from a Steampunk novel, the Duck Foot Pistol was very much real. It follows a long lineage of so-called volley guns that can trace their development all the way back to the 15th century. The premise is simple – if you want a gun that can kill multiple targets why not put multiple barrels on it? Most attempts at a volley gun were artillery-sized, but some time in the 19th century handheld versions started to appear. Called the Duck Foot because its four barrels resembled a duck's feet, the gun was popular with sailors who wanted to deter pirates from boarding their ships during battle. Its alleged efficacy in cramped quarters also made it popular with bank guards, prison wardens, and seamen who worried about having to fight of mutineers.

    The guns were pretty powerful, able to fire all four barrels at once or in rapid succession and fired a .45 caliber or larger ball shot.

    But one look at the Duck Foot Pistol and you can likely spot its most glaring design flaw...no one bothered to point any of those four barrels straight ahead. If your target was standing in front of you at a proper distance, the bullets would just sail around him.

    (Image source: Christie's)

  • The Krummlauf

    Wouldn't it be nice to be able to shoot around corners? The Germans thought so during WW2, and thus the Krummlauf was born. First developed in 1943, the Krummlauf is a curved device that could be clamped onto the barrel of a StG 44 (or Mp-44) rifle. The idea was to let soldiers shoot while safely in cover or while inside of tanks. It actually came in four versions -- 30 degrees, 45 degrees, 60 degrees, and 90 degrees (for those really hard to shoot places).

    There's probably dozens of Looney Tunes cartoons that would demonstrate why a gun with a bent barrel is a bad idea, but some people learn the hard way. The Krummlauf's curved design turned into its fatal flaw. Having the bullets travel around a bend made them prone to shattering and damaging the barrel in the process. Even when designers made modifications, adding vent holes to reduce pressure and recoil, the Krummlauf still took a beating whenever it was fired. A typical unit only lasted for about 100-300 rounds of firing, depending on the angle it took.

    (Image source: By Joe Loong (originally posted to Flickr as DSCF3826) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

  • 'The Apache Revolver 

    Designed in 1860, this nasty looking little implement gets its name from the French gangs of the early 20th century that popularized its use. It's easy to see why street thugs would love it – the gun is a double-action, six shot revolver, knife, and brass knuckles all rolled into one. It's the gun James Bond would have used...if James Bond was a lunatic.

    But like oil and water, some things just aren't meant to be mixed. To make room for the folding triangular blade, the gun's barrel had to be removed, resulting in a very inaccurate, and difficult-to-aim weapon. In order to reload it, the entire cartridge cylinder had to be removed and replaced, not ideal in a gun fight. While deadly at very close range the Apache Revolver also had no trigger guard or safety, so it was probably a good idea to keep it empty while concealing it if you didn't want to shoot yourself. The gun was manufactured until the late 1800s, likely around the time when people realized a gun, knife, or brass knuckles by themselves offered more protection.

    (Image source: By Latente Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

  • “Who Me?” Stink Spray

    An attempt at non-violent, psychological warfare, Who Me was a strink spray developed by the US for the French Resistance during WW2. The chemical, which was delivered via pocket-sized atomizers, was a combination of sulphur compounds and reportedly smelled like rotten food and feces. The idea was to sneak up on enemy soldiers and spray them. While the spray wasn't lethal the hope was that the stench would humiliate and demoralize the Nazis. But the compounds that made up the spray proved volatile and difficult to control. Often any soldier using it would end up smelling just as bad as their target. After only two weeks in the field Who Me was ruled a failure.

  • The Sizaire-Berwick Armoured Car (Wind Wagon)

    Sizaire-Berwick was French automobile manufacturer that was active between 1913 and 1927. In 1915 the UK's Royal Naval Air Service modified a Sizaire-Berwick in an attempt to design an all-terrain combat vehicle. The Wind Wagon, as it was dubbed, had a propeller attached to a 110hp Sunbeam aircraft engine mounted in the back and was armored with steel. It had enough room for two passengers and had a 7.71mm Vickers machine gun mounted on the front.

    But for all it had going on under the hood the Wind Wagon proved to be a very easy target. All the enemy needed to do was come at it from any direction other than directly in front of it and the Wind Wagon was a sitting duck. And this says nothing of the fact that the aero engine was fully exposed and the radiator was unprotected. Thankfully, only one Wind Wagon was ever produced and it never saw testing outside of England, let alone the battlefield.

    (Image source: Reddit / B. T. White's "Tanks and other Armoured Fighting Vehicles 1900 to 1918")

  • The Light Emitting Diode (LED) Incapacitator

    Not all poor weapon designs are ancient history. In 2007 the US Department of Homeland Security awarded a contract to a private company, Intelligent Optical Systems (IOS), to design a non-lethal weapon for possible use by TSA agents and border crossing guards. The result of was the LED Incapacitator, more colloquially known as the Puke Gun. The flashlight-like weapon rapidly emits extremely bright, focused random pulses of color. When the human eye attempts to focus on this it causes visual impairment, headaches, disorientation, and even nausea and vomiting.

    The LED Incapacitor actually works in testing according to IOS. However it does have one major Achille's Heel. To thwart the weapon all a target has to do is close their eyes.

    (Image source: DESiegel at en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

  • Anti-Tank Dogs

    Fair warning. If you're a dog lover this one will make you mad, if not for its inhumanity but its ridiculousness. Taking down tanks is a difficult task and during WW2 the Soviet Russian Army thought that maybe man's best friend might be up to the task. Since 1924 the Soviet Union had been training dogs for rescue, first aid delivery, communications, tracking, and transport. But in the period between 1941 and 1942 the Soviet Army had its dog training schools shift their focus to training anti-tank dogs.

    The idea was to use dogs as kamikaze, loading them with a payload of explosive that they would then run under a tank and detonate, destroying the tank (and killing the dog in the process).

    But the dogs weren't so willing to go along with the idea. The noise of the tanks in battle often frightened them, making them easy targets or meaning they would run back to their own trenches, killing Soviet soldiers instead. The Soviets also made a serious error in training the dogs. The dogs were trained using Soviet tanks rather than German ones and because of their acute sense of smell this had the unforeseen consequence of having the dogs recognize the diesel engines of the Soviet tanks rather than the gasoline engines of the German tanks. Once deployed on the field the dogs would then seek out friendly tanks instead of the enemy.

    There was an outcry against the use of anti-tank dogs with critics of the program saying that the army had grown so desperate it was willing to sacrifice animals. Starting in 1942 use of anti-tank dogs declined and military dogs were shifted to more suitable and humane tasks like sniffing out landmines and delivering supplies. Still, the training of anti-tank dogs continued until 1996.


    (Image source: http://dogs-in-history.blogspot.com/2016/07/anti-tank-dogs-sent-on-suicide-missions.html)


Atlantic Design & Manufacturing, New York, 3D Printing, Additive Manufacturing, IoT, IIoT, cyber security, smart manufacturing, smart factorySmart Manufacturing Innovation Summit at Atlantic Design & Manufacturing. Designed for industry professionals looking to overcome plant and enterprise-level manufacturing challenges using IT-based solutions. Immerse yourself in the latest developments during the two-day, expert-led Smart Manufacturing Innovation Summit. You'll get the latest on the factory of future including insights into Industrial IoT and IIoT applications, predictive maintenance, intelligent sensors, security, and harmonizing IT/OT. June 13-15, 2017. Register Today! 

Chris Wiltz is the Managing Editor of Design News.

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