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If there’s one thing you know about me, folks, it’s that I love wind. It’s true. Starting on D in overtime shows confidence. When you’ve got the wind, how can you feel anything but confidence? I’ll take the wind, ten times out of ten. People ask me if I regretted that decision when I coached the Lions – and I can say with complete certainty that I do not. Not for a single second. The fact that we lost isn’t important – that day we took steps towards harnessing how to use the wind for all subsequent future victories. This is why I have to applaud this week’s Wacky Weapon – if you, too, take the wind, eventually good things will happen. I’m sure of it! It probably just requires a little bit more patience, I bet.
Country of origin: Germany
Purpose built: To shoot down Allied aircraft without using projectiles
Years used: 1945
What is it? As Allied forces poured into Germany in the spring of 1945, they discovered multitudes of abandoned military bases, factories, laboratories, and more, leading to a thorough perusal of discarded equipment and blueprints. One of the most fascinating – and strange – finds of their German campaign was the discovery of a test site in Hillersleben, about 12 miles northwest of Magdeburg. At this site, a strange 35 feet long, 3 feet wide L-shaped tube, mounted on railway cars, was left abandoned, leaving soldiers initially baffled as to its purpose and function. As it turns out, this discovery was, in fact, a very unusual weapon. It was initially designed at a factory in Stuttgart, and later did see actual combat action defending a bridge on the river Elbe – but on the whole, it was highly unsuccessful, if not to mention extremely confusing. Americans briefly studied the weapon, but ended up sending it away to be scrapped shortly after seizing the base.
The design took a principle used on much smaller devices – think similar to those little ping-pong ball blasters from the dollar store that you gave your kids on a rainy weekend afternoon, then promptly took away five minutes later because they managed to shoot directly in each others’ eyes and started unbearably screaming and crying – and super-sized the physics behind it.
These vortex cannon weapons, large and small, create something called a torus – essentially a compressed ring of air, that shoots out and causes disturbances to objects nearby. The Windkanone, a gigantic version of a fairly simple design, used compressed pure hydrogen and oxygen, mixed at a molecular level, in order to achieve the substantial pressure build-up and subsequent release.
In testing at Hillersleben, Nazi scientists noted that 1-inch-thick plywood boards were broken at a distance of up to 200 meters away, showing that compressed air absolutely had some notable destructive power. That said, there’s been no record of the Windkanone having any actual success in combat whatsoever.
Why didn’t it work? The main issue, really, is that the Wehrmacht wanted to use this Windkanone as an anti-aircraft defense mechanism. This was a poorly-conceived plan for a variety of reasons:
- The cannon’s range was extremely limited – it would have required a target within that likely 200-meter range. Airplanes, as a general rule, never fly this low.
- The cannon was only ever tested on stationary targets – even with the compressed air calculated as having a release velocity of roughly 280 miles per hour, it still would have been incredibly difficult to time it properly to actually take down an aircraft of any variety, as planes of this era were already flying much faster.
- Without the radar systems like what the British possessed during the war, predicting the direction the planes would have been flying from – not to mention getting the weapon aimed at the proper spot – would have been almost impossible, rendering the weapon even more ineffective. Considering the problems facing the Schwerer Gustav, you’d have thought the Wehrmacht would’ve considered the logistics behind railway guns a bit more – but apparently not, for some reason.
What could make it better?
Don’t use it as an anti-aircraft weapon. Shrink it down! Make it handheld, just like what the kids have! But – here’s my take – add some fart spray to the thing if you really want some impact. That’s awesome stuff for close-range combat… if you have a gas mask, I guess.
Despire the failure of the Windkanone, vortex cannons have been used in a number of other methods. Not only are children’s toys one possibility of the technology, but hail cannons, used to create strong updrafts of wind in order to dissipate hail nuggets raining down on crops in Europe, are very much a popular thing – even into today. Additionally, the idea of sound, as opposed to compressed air, is another popular take on wind weapons – Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADs) are found in police departments across the world. Ships have also deployed LRADs as a means of stopping piracy attacks in the Red Sea, off the coast of Somalia.
All I can say is that a culture of wind lovers is alive and well in the world, folks. I think next week I’ll get my high schoolers to dismantle the stovepipe from the auto shop roof and get to work on building one of these bad boys. We’ll practise kickoff defenses all week long once we have one of our own!