The Nazis’ 5 Most Ingenious Weapons

Working behind the scenes, Hitler’s scientists and inventors pioneered new ways to bring destruction on their enemies.

Hitler plane

THE V-2 ROCKET

The brainchild of Wernher von Braun, the greatest rocket scientist ever to set pen to paper, the V-2 was a weapon which slaughtered thousands. Yet it was also a landmark moment in technology which set us the on course to the Moon landing. The world's first guided ballistic missile, the V-2 was launched as part of Hitler's last ditch attempt to turn the war around, and its speed and velocity did strike fear into the lives of ordinary citizens.

The Allies were daunted and mystified by the mechanism of the V-2 - at one point they tried to jam its radio guidance system, not realising no such guidance system existed. As well as being a lethal instrument, the V-2 also became the first object to enter space. This was a hint of things to come, as Wernher von Braun and his fellow scientists were eventually taken to the United States and set to work on what would eventually become the space programme. Von Braun's reputation has been controversial ever since, partly because slave labour was used to create his V-2 rockets.

THE GUSTAV GUN

Before war even began, Hitler knew he had to deal with a literal obstacle in his path. This was the French Maginot Line, a system of tank barriers, machine gun nests and fortifications designed to stop an invading army in its tracks. The solution? To create a gun massive enough to blow a hole right through this barrier. This was the Gustav Gun, one of the biggest of its kind ever built. The weapon weighed almost 1,400 tonnes, and the barrel alone was more than 30 metres long. The shells weighed seven tonnes each.

The thing was so vast, it had to be transported in pieces and then assembled by a legion of men, taking several days to bolt together. As it turned out, the Gustav Gun never served its original purpose, as Hitler circumvented the Maginot Line in his conquest of France. It did see action on the eastern front, but the gun's very might made it too impractical and cumbersome to be put to proper use.

THE MAUS TANK

Bestowed with the most inappropriate name imaginable ("mouse"), this super-tank remains the largest enclosed, armoured combat vehicle ever conceived. It only reached the prototype stage, but its attributes were certainly impressive. One tank weighed almost 200 tonnes, and was equipped with a gun powerful enough to lay waste to all Allied armoured vehicles in operation at that time.

The super-tank was dreamt up by Ferdinand Porsche - the man behind the Porsche car company, and the Volkswagen Beetle. It appealed to Hitler's vanity and vision of an all-powerful army of the Reich. Ferdinand Porsche was a devoted Nazi, holding a position in the SS, and even serving time in prison for war crimes after the Nazis were defeated.

THE HORTEN HO 229

In the middle of the war, Luftwaffe boss Hermann Goering demanded a new plane which could carry 1,000 kg of bombs over 1,000 km of land, flying at 1,000 km/h. This was the inspiration behind the Horten Ho 229, a sleek "flying wing" which resembled something out of science fiction. It was the brainchild of Reimer and Walter Horten, two brothers who were passionate about all things airborne. One of them was even an ace pilot who'd downed Allied planes in the Battle of Britain.

They realised that creating a narrow plane without a tail would reduce drag and wind resistance, enabling it to fly faster while consuming less fuel. The shape and materials used would also potentially make it harder to spot on radar. While it only reached the prototype stage, a non-flying replica was created in 2008, and tests showed it was indeed less visible on radar, meaning it had the potential to have become a Nazi stealth bomber.

THE FRITZ X

Hard as it may be to believe today, Nazi Germany deployed its own "smart bomb". This was the Fritz X, a radio-guided explosive which could penetrate thick armour to deploy its devastating payload. Essentially a winged, flying bomb, its aerodynamic nose and tail arrangement meant it could be guided with deadly accuracy by a bombardier.

The bomb even had a flare in the tail so the bombardier could see it and control it using a joystick from afar. After Italy surrendered in 1943, the Fritz X was used to sink the Italian battleship Roma, killing close to 1,400 men.