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 Laterally thought-out weaponry

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nordmann
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PostSubject: Laterally thought-out weaponry   Thu 30 Aug 2012, 23:37

If war could ever be said to have had a "good" side it might be that it tends to encourage inventiveness, especially in matters of bringing death and destruction down upon as numerous targets as quickly as possible as a result of this application of human ingenuity. We are all familiar with obvious examples such as the acceleration of aerotechnology and propulsion during World War Two or, perhaps more infamously, the invention of income tax during the Napoleonic wars. But sometimes this inventiveness is applied quite brilliantly to meet specific conditions in the course of a conflict and the resultant "solution" has been so effective that one is left wondering not only why no one ever thought of it before but why on earth it hasn't been replicated since - given that our history sadly seems to point to a species which can never boast of any sustainable period in which someone somewhere isn't engaged in belligerence.

Hannibal's use of catapulted snakes against the Pergamenes in a naval battle off Bithynia in 184BCE is sometimes cited as early biological warfare and there is no doubt that the exploding pots filled with the creatures which rained down on King Eumenes's larger fleet achieved the desired effect, at least from a Carthaginian point of view. However an even earlier occurrence of imaginatively employing animals in one's artillery is recounted by Polyaenus and Aelian when they described the Siege of Megara in 266BCE. The city's inhabitants, intended to be dismayed by the sight of Antigonus's war elephants approaching their defences, hit upon the brilliant (if horrendously cruel) notion of unleashing pigs coated with tar and then set alight in amongst the pachydermian ranks. This spectacular countermeasure turned the elephants into gibbering panic-stricken wrecks in an instant and effectively into the Megarans' allies as they stampeded and crushed so many of Antigonus's soldiers that he was forced to surrender.

In more recent times some apparently daft, but probably totally feasible inventions, have been suggested and almost adopted by belligerent forces engaged in conflict. The UK alone can proudly boast in this category of such great applications of lateral thought as warships made from ice (against Germany in WWII) as well as cyanide cigarettes (against Ottomans in WWI), amongst some even more hairbrained schemes to gain an upper hand in war. None of these were ultimately put to the test in actual combat however so we will never know whether they were silly or actually might well have worked.

But were there more such inventions which were actually deployed in combat and which did indeed reward their inventors' faith in their effectiveness, even if only the once? I can think of Barnes Wallis's "bouncing bomb" as fitting the bill. Any others?


Last edited by nordmann on Fri 31 Aug 2012, 14:27; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Laterally thought-out weaponry   Fri 31 Aug 2012, 08:01

Your mention of of the flaming pigs reminded me of the Battle of Thymbra 547 BC when a Lydian army under Croesus with a 2 to 1 numerical advantage tried to engulf the smaller Persian army under Cyrus the Great. However on the advice of his general Harpagus, Cyrus deployed all his camel troops, and even his baggage camels, in the front rank of his army. The smell of the camels so terrified the enemy horses that the Lydian cavalry was disrupted and the battle ended as a victory for the Persians.

The details escape me but in a similar vein I seem to recall another ancient battle when one army disrupted the others' cavalry by the simple expedient of deploying a mare in heat, to the great consternation of all the enemy's stallions. Simple but very effective.
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PostSubject: Re: Laterally thought-out weaponry   Fri 31 Aug 2012, 12:09

I think the Roman corvus is quite a good example of successful lateral thinking. When Rome decided to take on Carthage it had a bit of a problem. Rome's military experience was almost entirely land-based, while the forthcoming war was going to involve a lot of naval operations, and Carthage was the foremost naval power in the Mediterranean. At the outset Rome could not hope to match the quality of Punic ships and seamanship.

So they came up with the corvus: basically a shipborne drawbridge with a hook on the end which could be dropped onto an enemy ship, locking the vessels together and basically allowing a hand-to-hand, land-based style of fighting to be done at sea. It was more of a hindrance than a help in anything but a calm sea but it proved it's worth in several engagements early in the First Punic War, until Rome's navy became more proficient sailors and it's use could be abandoned.
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PostSubject: Re: Laterally thought-out weaponry   Fri 31 Aug 2012, 12:27

The corvus was lateral in almost every sense of the word, MM!

Mention of it put me in mind immediately of Archimedes's Claw from the same conflict, which of course merits a mention also as a great one-off weapon. We're left guessing as to its actual design but the principal of a giant lever used to "tip over" and sink enemy ships approaching a city's litoral defences was pure genius - both in terms of effectiveness and in terms of how a besieged city with limited resources to work with could manufacture, deploy and use it in such short shrift and with minimal materials used.

I'm not too sure about his weapon which allegedly set ships on fire through concentration of reflected sunlight. Mythbusters on TV demonstrated that the principal was sound but whether it was achievable in Archimedes's time is very debatable.
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PostSubject: Re: Laterally thought-out weaponry   Fri 31 Aug 2012, 13:54

'Greek Fire', especially with the use of siphons to squirt it, was pretty lateral too. Had it still been around to deploy during the 1203 siege, might it have changed the outcome?
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PostSubject: Re: Laterally thought-out weaponry   Fri 31 Aug 2012, 16:17

Back in 1812, Thomas Cochrane suggested using ships filled with sulphur to be set alight then drifted into French ports, the resulting hydrogen sulphide would create a "suffocating smoke" which would overcome the defenders. The idea was revived in the Crimean War for use against Sebastopol and was again rejected. Another Crimean War idea was put forward by Sir Lyon Playfair,who suggested using cyanide filled shells against the Sebastopol defences. this was regarded by the military authorities as the same as poisoning water supplies and was also rejected. As Playfair remarked at the time it was all right to blow soldiers to pieces but not poison them.Then in 1862, a New York schoolteacher, John Doughty, put forward a proposal to use chlorine filled shells against the Confederate entrenchments in Virginia.
All of these were precursors to the actual use of chemical weapons in World War One.

"Greek Fire" the siphon powered version, re-emerged in 1901 with Richard Fiedler's development of the modern flamethrower for the German Army.
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PostSubject: Re: Laterally thought-out weaponry   Fri 31 Aug 2012, 17:35

Didn't the Romans use chemical weapons at Dura Europos? Some sort of gas bombs, if I remember. I must look it up when I've finished cooking dinner.
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PostSubject: Re: Laterally thought-out weaponry   Fri 31 Aug 2012, 17:44

According to the 15/16th century historian David Hume of Godscroft, in Henry III's reign the English navy once thwarted a French fleet by releasing clouds of powdered quicklime onto the enemy ships thus blinding the crews. And this was no spur of the moment thing, as the lime had been prepared in advance specifically to use in this manner. I guess the idea never caught on since it suffers from the same problems as poison gas... if the wind changes one is likely to get ones own back.
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PostSubject: Re: Laterally thought-out weaponry   Fri 31 Aug 2012, 20:34

Oops, got that the wrong way round. It was the Sassanids who may have used toxic fumes from sulphur and bitumen to overcome the Romans.
http://www.livescience.com/13113-ancient-chemical-warfare-romans-persians.html

There's a better account here but it needs a log in.
http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.3764/aja.115.1.0069?uid=3738032&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&sid=21101014648473
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PostSubject: Re: Laterally thought-out weaponry   Fri 31 Aug 2012, 21:23


Another example of good lateral thinking might be the millitary use of barbed wire.

The idea for barbed wire was patented in 1867, but it took until 1874 for a cheap production method to be patented. The agricultural use of barbed wire rapidly took off, especially in the US (where both patents had been registered) for fencing vast tracts of land. As an effective fencing material it was cheap, readily available, and could be quickly and easily put up to delineate land and control the movements of livestock.

However it took some 20 years before anyone saw its military possibilities. Its first recorded military use was in the Spanish-American war of 1898 during the seige of Santiago. It was then used by the British in the 2nd Boer War (1899-1902) and extensively deployed by both sides in the Russo-Japanese war (1904-1905). And of course it really came into its element during WW1.

Most modern barbed wire is still essentially the same as the original 1874 "humane" stock-control wire. Modern razor wire is actually closer in concept to the earlier 1867 patent.
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PostSubject: Re: Laterally thought-out weaponry   Sat 01 Sep 2012, 11:10

Our little arsenal of lateral thought destruction is building up nicely. I suppose this is the point to throw in the Soviets' exploding dogs, used in tank warfare against Germany during WWII. The little mites were trained to associate a tank's vulnerable underbelly with food and then despatched with powerful bombs strapped to their backs into the enemy's ranks. Their use was brief, just one recorded instance, and not very successful. The Germans realised that flame throwers provided a perfectly adequate and effective defence. Moreover the surviving doggies from such a tactic were then inclined to retreat rather hurriedly and find refuge under the tanks of their masters. So maybe on reflection they should not be included here, as they were crap.
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PostSubject: Re: Laterally thought-out weaponry   Sat 01 Sep 2012, 11:45

Using animals to carry or detect weapons has a considerable and thoroughly disreputable history.

In the American Civil War at least one attempt to use mules in the same way as the Russian dogs had the same outcome, they kept coming back to the people they knew.

I'm sure I can recall talk of experiments with attaching bombs to pigeons and possibly bats during WW 2 but I've no idea if they were ever used.

The US military dolphin project was well known, is it still going on?

The Russian version was abandoned and the dolphins sold on to the Iranians, I believe.

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PostSubject: Re: Laterally thought-out weaponry   Sat 01 Sep 2012, 16:28

Along with anti-tank dogs and naval dolphins there was also a plan in the First World War to train seagulls to detect submarines.
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PostSubject: Re: Laterally thought-out weaponry   Sat 01 Sep 2012, 16:56

Not an unusual thing in war to foul an enemies water supply and the Moguls were no different using disease infected animal carcasses to achieve the desired result and even going so far as to catapult disease infected corpses into besieged cities.

Corpses infected with plague where also used by the Russians when attacking the Swedes at Reval in 1710. But that would all come under biological warfare I suppose, probably not what you are looking for Nordmann.
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PostSubject: Re: Laterally thought-out weaponry   Sat 01 Sep 2012, 17:09

The list of intended animal recruits into the ranks in human wars, normally as unknowing purveyors of death, seems about as long as the number of species humans are aware of - however what we require in our arsenal are ingenious devices, be they animal vegetable or mineral, which have been tested, employed and proven effective, at least once.

The use of pigeons as navigation aids on board missiles during WWII was seriously investigated by the US Navy and a method was found whereby it could work - again training the animal to associate something with food, in the pigeon's case a projected image of the target as the bird sat strapped into the nose cone of a Pelican missile upon which it tapped its beak, the tapping being picked up by sensors and used to calculate how off-beam the trajectory might have become so that the flight could be trimmed accordingly. In this way as long as the pigeon kepped tapping the Pelican remained on target and the pigeon's expected reward turned out to be a heavenly one (come to think of it, I suppose it was anyway, regardless of whether the missile hit the target or not).

It was abandoned as a system for imparting death directly on the foe (too time consuming training-wise) but did however become a success in another way. The same technique, this time training pigeons to tap on orange spots on glass screens, proved very effective a method of sighting life craft at sea when the glass was a window in an observation craft, thereby saving otherwise drowned aircraft crew and allowing them rejoin the fray. What's more, the pigeons could be re-used too. Happy smiles all round, except on Japanese faces.
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PostSubject: Re: Laterally thought-out weaponry   Sun 02 Sep 2012, 17:31

Not weaponry innovation but rather tactics and personnel, this article suggests that the Krypteia were the original guerilla fighters and speculates that they may have been deployed in mainstream Spartan military operations as 'special forces'.

http://scholarworks.gvsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1025&context=gvjh
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PostSubject: Re: Laterally thought-out weaponry   Sun 02 Sep 2012, 18:37

This ship, really a steam powered floating battery, was finished too late to be employed in the War of 1812. How effective it would have been,no-one knows, though the Royal Navy knew all about it and were preparing their ships to fire red hot shot if it did appear.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_floating_battery_Demologos
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PostSubject: Re: Laterally thought-out weaponry   Sun 02 Sep 2012, 19:10

Another near miss, then. What the Res Historica Arsenal of Innovative Weaponry wants is stuff that has proven its mettle, or even its metal.

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PostSubject: Re: Laterally thought-out weaponry   Sun 02 Sep 2012, 19:16

Some of "Hobart's Funnies" perhaps. Flail tanks for mine clearing, Crocodile tanks for flamethrowers, Petard tanks firing demolition charges,Tanks with bridges for crossing gaps etc
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PostSubject: Re: Laterally thought-out weaponry   Sun 02 Sep 2012, 19:34

And of course the US "foam gun", to date used only in Somalia in the 1990s. Gluing your enemies instead of punching holes in them is a great way of (to quote US military spiel) "maximizing information harvest in post conflict phase".
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PostSubject: Re: Laterally thought-out weaponry   Sun 02 Sep 2012, 20:01

It is possible,this one has been used somewhere as both the Israelis and the Americans have examples of it;



The Germans worked on a round the corner firing gun in WW2
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PostSubject: Re: Laterally thought-out weaponry   Mon 03 Sep 2012, 13:11

This story might be apochryphal, but it runs something like this.

Considering means to defend the British Isles in the 1930s, the Air Ministry asked leading scientists if it was possible to build a death-ray using radio emissions to destroy enemy planes. Watson Watt wrote back that a death-ray was unlikely but there were promising developments in using radio waves to detect aircraft, and so began the development of what became a nationwide chain of radar stations
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PostSubject: Re: Laterally thought-out weaponry   Mon 03 Sep 2012, 13:20

The bats were seriously considered - attaching incendiaries to them and releasing them over Japanese cities, where they would roost in the flimsy roof of buildings and set them alight. Napalm proved an effective alternative.
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PostSubject: Re: Laterally thought-out weaponry   Mon 03 Sep 2012, 14:31

Another Ancient Roman naval weapon;

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harpax
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PostSubject: Re: Laterally thought-out weaponry   Mon 03 Sep 2012, 16:18

The Long Range Acoustic Device has been used in anger, if not precisely militarily - although I assume it was the military who had charge of it here,
"It was confirmed by the Ministry of Defence on May 11 2012 that the LRAD will be deployed in London during the Olympics. It had been spotted fixed to a landing craft on the Thames."
I would have thought that Mr McCartney's performance, suitably amplified, would have been sufficient deterrent.



http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_range_acoustic_device
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PostSubject: Re: Laterally thought-out weaponry   Tue 11 Sep 2012, 11:39

@Triceratops wrote:
The Germans worked on a round the corner firing gun in WW2

The Krummlauf. It was not a gun in itself, but a barrel adaptor and periscopic sight that allowed a standard SG44 Assault Rifle to be adapted for firing round corners. It was intended to be used in street fighting and for tank crews to cover blind spots when defending themselves, and did see some success in service. However, it had many problems (not least the fact it wore out very quickly) and at the time it was introduced the Germans didn't really have the resources to expend on such novelties.

It would be fascinating to know if the 'Polybolus', invented by Dionysius of Alexandria and described by Philon c. 225BC, saw much in the way of active service. In essence it was version of the standard katapulta (the torsion-spring powered arrow-shooter better known from its Roman descendents, the scorpio and ballista) that loaded and fired automatically. Replicas have suggested, IIRC, the rate of fire was increased from about 3 shots per minute to as many as 11! However Philon observes that its accuracy was a limitation, which modern experiments have backed up; basically for siege work (which is what the Greeks used artillery for) the shots kept falling in the same place too often. Philon says "it was not applied to any use worthy of notice", which suggests it did not have a glorious career, but may have seen active service. The fact that the Romans did not bother to adapt it for their own use (at least their are no references in literature and no apparent depictions or obvious archaeological remains), despite being impressed by other Greek artillery pieces, suggests it was not a success.
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