A Brief History
On May 15, 1718, Mr. Puckle patented what could be considered the first machine gun. With “innovative” ideas like a version with square bullets, it was a military and financial flop. This happens, weapons that seem like a good idea that real life proves are not so good. Here are 10 examples of such failures.
10. T-64/T-72/T-80 Tank, USSR, debut 1960‘s.
Mobile, tough armor, and a huge 125 mm gun (when US and allied main tank guns were 105 mm) with an automatic loader, allowing the crew to be reduced by 1 (no need for a loader). What is not to like? Well, the automatic loader requires the ready ammo to be stored around the inside perimeter of the turret instead of in secure blast proof compartments as in the M-60 and M-1 US tanks. In both Gulf wars when the T-72 was hit by anti-tank weapons the ammo inside the T-72 would often explode causing a tremendous morale busting explosion. Additionally, the automatic loader requires the gun return to a certain angle for loading and reduces the range of elevation and depression of the gun, a fatal flaw in mountainous terrain such as Afghanistan.
9. Tail Gun on B-58 Hustler Mach 2 Bomber, 1960.
This US bomber was built to out fly the interceptor and fighter jets of the 1950’s when it was designed and developed, but by 1960 advances in ground to air missiles made the plane almost obsolete. Worse was including a 20 mm “gatling gun” type rotary cannon in the tail for defensive purposes. When the B-58 was zipping along at Mach 2 (1300 mph) the 20 mm rounds fired backwards would have so much forward momentum from the speed of the bomber that they would be totally ineffective as a weapon, seeming to float rearward in slow motion. All the gun did was add weight and hurt aerodynamics. Operational for only 10 years, the B-58 was retired in 1970. Cracked fact: If you are old enough to remember or have been told about them, in the 1960’s when the B-58’s would go on practice missions pretending to bomb US cities and fighters would try to intercept them, the “sonic boom” from the B-58’s would wake up sleeping citizens, get dogs barking and sometimes break windows.
8. Gyrojet, 1960’s.
An entire family of weapons were planned, firing little rockets from the barrel instead of bullets. The result was a very low recoil firearm that launched a gyroscopically controlled rocket projectile at a low initial speed that accelerated to a more respectable 1250 feet per second once it was on the way. Originally made in .51 caliber, the Gun Control Act of 1968 necessitated a change to .49 caliber. Rifles, pistols and other weapons were planned, with calibers up to 20 mm. If you are sitting here thinking, “I bet the ammo would be expensive,” you would be correct, if you call $100 per shot expensive. Obviously, from its inclusion on this list, the Gyrojet was an inaccurate flop.
7. Krag-Jorgensen Rifle, 1894-1904.
The first smokeless powder main battle rifle for the US, this Norwegian rifle was well made and smooth to operate, but when it was used in combat during the Spanish-American War, it was found greatly inferior to the German Mausers used by the Spanish. The Mauser, 1891 Moisin-Nagant, and Lee-Enfield rifles of the day were loaded with stripper clips and could put out considerably more firepower in combat. The Krag was loaded by fumbling around with loose rounds through the side of the rifle, a much slower process in combat. Additionally, the round nose Krag bullet was less powerful and less aerodynamic than the competition, and having the short service life of only 10 years the Krag was replaced by the superb M-1903 Springfield Rifle (a Mauser copy).
6. Anti-tank Dogs, 1940’s.
Never passing up an opportunity to come up with some barbaric plan, the Soviets during World War II hit on the idea of placing an explosive on a dog that was trained to seek shelter under a German tank, where the explosive was triggered by a wand that stuck up above the dog’s back which would hit the bottom of the target tank, blowing up the tank and man’s best friend. Unfortunately for the Reds, the dogs were trained to do their thing using Russian tanks as training aids, so when the system was tried in combat, the dogs were more likely to run under Soviet tanks and blow them up. End of idea.
5. Individual Soldier Jet-Pack, 1940’s-1960’s.
The impracticality of this idea never seems to discourage inventors from trying to perfect it. The problems of making a jet powered (rocket) backpack to fly a soldier around without roasting the back of his legs is hard enough, but running out of the mere seconds of fuel is an unlucky thing if you are up in the air when that happens. Perhaps you have seen demonstrations at a football game where a soldier or airman wearing such a device flies from on end of the field to the other. Kind of nifty, but that is about as far as he can go.
4. The Automatic Revolver, 1900.
This idea is a classic example of a solution to a problem that does not exist. Since a normal double-action revolver can be fired just by repeatedly pulling the trigger anyway, throwing in the extra parts and complexity of making the pistol cycle automatically instead achieves no realistic advantage. The main advantage of a semi-auto pistol over a revolver rests in the ability to rapidly reload, and the ability to create a higher capacity firearm. (If you increase the amount of ammo a revolver can carry, the cylinder becomes ridiculously big.) This bad idea first was produced in Norway in 1900 and followed by the Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver in 1901. French and Spanish manufacturers quickly followed, but the idea seemed to die out with the advent of decent semi-auto pistols. In 1997 the Mateba Company of Italy felt compelled to try it again, and built a modern version in .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, and .454 Casull calibers. Manufacture ended in 2005, and you can expect to pay around $2800-$3000 for one on the used market.@
3. Dropping Troops Without a Parachute, 1930’s.
The image above shows Soviet Paratroopers deploy from a Tupolev TB-3 in 1930. Those Soviets just kept trying, and this time they outdid themselves! Due to a lack of expensive silk for parachutes, the Workers’ Paradise allegedly also dropped airborne soldiers from airplanes, sans parachutes, into deep snow. Now, right off you can figure if the snow is deep enough to cushion their fall, how are they going to be able to climb back up to the top of the incredibly deep snow. Not to mention how much this would hurt in the summertime! This plan would work (no it would not) only if the target area had deep enough snow. (Where did they get volunteers for this experiment?) These humanitarians took things a step further and made “airbus” and “hydrobus” containers to drop troops in, the failure of which prompted Soviet officials to put the inventors in their creation and drop them! (Finally, a good idea.)
2. Flying Tanks, 1930’s-1940’s.
Even today this idea eludes a solution, but it had to be a lot harder back in the 30’s and 40’s when inventors kept trying to find ways to fly tanks into combat. Glider wings, strapping them to the bottom of bomber aircraft, and every other idea tried did not work. In the 1960’s the US came up with a parachute deployable tank, the M551 Sheridan, and the Soviets came up with light tank like air droppable vehicles of their own, but these are aluminum, lightly armored vehicles and not “real” tanks. (See the Antonov A-40 for an example.)
1. The Maginot Line, 1940.
After being invaded by Germany in World War I, France built the Maginot Line, a system of defensive forts along the French border with Germany. A massive undertaking of vast tunnels and bunkers with built in railways to move troops and supplies, with ammo and provisions to keep the French Army fighting for as long as it took to repel the invaders. Of course, this was quite expensive and did not take into account the mobility of modern warfare (tanks, trucks, parachute troops, etc). Plus, the biggest blunder was not continuing the defensive line all the way to the coast, leaving the border with Belgium undefended. Even the Nazi’s could figure that one out, and invaded France through Belgium, by passing the expensive and wasted Maginot Line.
Question for students (and subscribers): Which ones would you add to the list? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Lee, Sidney. James Puckle – First Inventor of the Machine Gun. Shamrock Eden Publishing, 2011.
The featured image in this article, Patent No. 418, for James Puckle’s 1718 revolving firearm, showing various cylinders for use with round and square bullets, is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1925, and if not then due to lack of notice or renewal. See this page for further explanation.
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