Throughout all of recorded human history people have been killing each other. Each and every period of our existence is marked by bloody battles between people whose perceived differences motivate them to continually advance weapons technology in an effort to preserve their way of life and avoid subjugation. This has resulted in some pretty interesting and terrifying tools of destruction being collected over the centuries, and now we’d like to share with you a few of the more unique ones.
12. The Enouy Revolver
Rather than featuring the standard six bullet capacity we’ve all come to associate with revolvers, the Enouy revolver let gunslingers fire an incredible 48 shots without having to reload. The gun was created by Joseph Enouy in England in 1855. Its enlarged revolving chambers earned it the nickname the “Ferris Wheel” and, while its impressive bullet count was revolutionary at the time, its actual functionality was less than impressive. For starters, the handgun was extremely heavy which made aiming much more difficult. And, on top of that, it was more or less impossible to holster which meant if you wanted to take it into action, you pretty much had to carry it wherever you went. Unsurprisingly, the Enouy revolver never went into mass production and was soon forgotten.
11. Gun Shields
Conceived in the 16th century, the idea of housing a gun within a shield is actually rather brilliant and could be considered the predecessor to modern day tanks. Although there was a lot of variability in design, typically gun shields were wooden discs with a barrel poking through the center. Some had reinforced iron shielding on the front and others included metal grates above the gun for the purpose of sight.
After research was conducted by the UK’s Victoria and Albert Museum it was found was that several of the gun shields collected throughout history appeared to have been designed to lock onto a ship’s gunwales where they were likely used as an extra layer of protection in addition to providing antipersonnel fire. However, it’s thought that the gun shield eventually fell into obscurity because forces were more versatile if the gun and shield were kept separate.
10. Axe Guns
In case you thought bladed guns were only found in Japanese role playing games, think again. In fact, nearly every culture has tried their hand at making some sort of gun/blade combination. The bayonets used in conflicts like the American Civil War and the Crimean War are probably the most famous examples, but the trend has actually been around since the 10th century when the Chinese combined spear-like weapons with bamboo tubes containing gunpowder to make fire lances.
However, it was the Germans who came up with the most refined design. Their axe guns were works of art featuring beautiful wheel-lock firearms with heavy battle axes mounted on the barrels. Although some designs needed to have the axe head removed before firing, others could be used to chop and shoot simultaneously making them especially deadly weapons at almost any combat range.
9. Whirlwind Catapults
Most people know catapults as ancient siege weapons that were used for punching holes in castle walls and launching flaming projectiles at enemy forces. But back when they were in widespread use, there was a different type of catapult for every conceivable battle scenario. And there was one design in particular that was able to smash key targets from a distance with pinpoint accuracy.
Developed by the Chinese, the whirlwind catapult was the sniper rifle of catapults. It was small enough to be quickly maneuvered around a battlefield, and it featured a rotating base for increased range from a stationary position. This gave the whirlwind a strategic advantage over other catapults, which were much heavier and required more time and manpower to move around.
Also called a martiobarbalus, the plumbata is one of the lesser-known weapons carried by ancient Greeks and late Romans. The design consisted of a spear or dart head on the end of a small weight, usually made of lead. Attached to a wooden shaft laced with feathers, it became a compact mid-range weapon that could be used in hand or thrown at targets.
According to a military book written in 390 A.D., the plumbata was utilized in many wars and the Emperors Diocletian and Maximian had every soldier carry no less than five of these javelins in the hollow of their shield. For a time, legionary soldiers armed with plumbata replaced archers, as they possessed the capabilities to wound both foot soldiers and calvary before they came within reach of the common missile weapons.
7. Key Guns
Jailers have always had a pretty dangerous job trying to keep violent prisoners in line. Taking into consideration difficulty that can be involved with unlocking a cell door while simultaneously handling a weapon, some 17th century locksmiths thought they could give guards the upper hand by turning the keys themselves into weapons.
Key guns were usable keys that housed a single-shot pistol within their body. Although some designs made use of a flintlock mechanism that enabled them to be quickly fired in a pinch, others were much less practical requiring jailers to light the gunpowder with a match before firing. In addition, the triggers were often located near the key’s handle which meant that jailers had to be especially careful when opening cell doors.
6. Gauntlet Daggers
The trench warfare of World War I placed troops in cramped conditions where they sometimes had to rely on the ruthless killing efficiency of medieval-type weapons just to stay alive. While some of the weapons, such as knives and trench clubs, were standard issue, others were makeshift weapons crafted by soldiers right on the battlefield. One such improvisation was the gauntlet dagger.
Often crudely fashioned out of a piece of light armor and blade or jagged piece of shrapnel, gauntlet daggers could transform a basic punch into one that carries a lethal impact. Even though wearing the gauntlet usually meant you couldn’t grip anything in that hand, it was thought that holding such a weapon inspired fear in the enemy and had the effect of raising a soldier’s morale.
5. Steam Cannons
In 215 B.C., Italy was under heavy siege from the Roman Republic and it was during this time that the brilliant inventor Archimedes was said to have devised a weapon so destructive that it could melt ships from up to 150 meters aways. The device, which became known as the steam cannon, was surprisingly simple. It was basically just a large copper tube with a hollow clay clay projectile set over a bed of heated coals. When the copper tube was sufficiently heated, a small amount of water was injected into the barrel below the projectile. The pressure from the built up steam would then blast the projectile out of the tube towards advancing ships. On impact, the clay missile would explode, spraying boiling hot chemicals onto the wooden ships and causing severe damage.
The general effectiveness of the steam cannon has been a matter of great debate. When Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman tested the design on the TV show Mythbusters, it seemed relatively ineffective and was given a bust. But a team at MIT was actually able to build a highly effective steam cannon using Archimedes’ original description.
4. Lantern Shields
Serving as both a defensive and offensive weapon, the lantern shield was like a giant medieval swiss army knife combining a buckler with various blades as well as a lantern and iron gauntlet. The longer primary blade attached to the shield was meant to be used for offensive strikes, while the two serrated blades attached to the gauntlet could be used to snap an attackers’ sword or spear if wielded properly. But the most notable feature—and the one that give the weapon its name—was the small leather flap on the front of the shield that could be lifted up to reveal a lit lantern behind it. The idea was that if someone attacked you, you could open the flap and momentarily blind them with a flash of bright light that would afford you the opportunity to either strike first or escape. Whether or not this technique was actually effective is still up for debate.
In the winter of 1585, Antwerp was under attack by the Spanish army who had constructed an eight-hundred-meter-long ship blockade to cut off incoming supplies to the region and starve the population. Antwerp retaliated by sending out flaming ships in the hopes that the fire would spread to blockade and burn it down. This plan failed, however, as the Spanish army simply pushed the vessels away with pikes until they burned themselves into the river. However, the Spanish didn’t know that the Dutch had a trick up their sleeve in the form of Italian weapon designer Federigo Giambelli. Giambelli asked the city council for 60 ships, assuring them he could break the blockade. But the city only provided him with two. Undeterred, Giambelli worked with what he was given. He gutted the holds of each ship and built a cement chamber inside with five foot thick walls. Next, he loaded them both with about 7,000 pounds of gunpowder. He then proceeded to stock each ship with all sorts of deadly projectiles. Finally, the most ingenious part of his work was a clockwork mechanism he constructed to ignite the whole load at a predetermined time. The two ships became known as “hellburners” but they were actually the world’s first remotely detonated time bombs.
On April 5, Giambelli sent 32 fire ships ahead of the hellburners to distract the Spanish army. As men were called in to push the flaming ships away, the hellburners approached. Although one of the ships had a problem with its igniter, the second hellburner exploded, blowing a 200 foot hole in the blockade and killing 1,000 Spanish soldiers as huge cement blocks and piercing projectiles rained from the sky. The blast had succeeded in reopening the waterway to resupply the city.
2. The Hwacha
As the pioneers of gunpowder, the Chinese were very protective of their weapons during the 14th and 15th centuries. In particular, the country imposed especially strict embargoes on gunpowder exports to Korea, which meant that Korean engineers needed to devise their own methods for dealing with the seemingly endless incursion of Japanese invaders. This resulted in Korea developing its own gunpowder weapons including the hwacha—a rocket launcher that could fire well over 100 missiles with the strike of a single match.
Hwachas provided an excellent counter to the Japanese samurai warriors, whose deadly form of close quarters combat was effectively neutralized by long-range ballistic attacks. Perhaps the greatest testament to the hwacha’s power came during the Battle of Haengju in 1593. Barely 3,000 Korean soldiers, civilians and monks stood to defend the Haengju hilltop fortress against 30,000 Japanese troops. But as the Japanese forces confidently advanced, they were unaware of the 40 hwachas stationed on the outer walls of the fortress.
After being repelled again and again by salvo after salvo, more than 10,000 Japanese were killed before the siege was called off. This marked one of the first major victories by Korea in the Japanese invasion.
1. Rocket Cats
This bizarre and highly unorthodox form of weaponry was only recently rediscovered in 2014. It was found in a military guide to siege warfare written by German artillery master Franz Helm roughly 500 years ago.
In the mid 1500s, gunpowder was beginning to change the face of war and this prompted the development of detailed instructions for the most effective uses of the explosive compound. Helm’s manual contained descriptions and colorful illustrations of nearly every type of bomb imaginable. There was also a notable section where he advised siege armies to capture a cat from the city being targeted for attack and then strap a bomb to it. The idea was that the cat would then run home and explode, causing damage and starting fires to areas behind enemy lines.
Although it’s unclear whether or not this tactic was ever actually employed, according to Mitch Fraas, the researcher at the University of Pennsylvania who first translated the text, there isn’t any historical evidence to prove that anyone tried what Helm suggested. According to Fraas, such a scheme would likely only result in an army setting fire to their own camp.