Larry Slawson received his Master's Degree from UNC Charlotte in 2018. He specializes in European History.
Nazi War Machine
During the Second World War, Nazi Germany’s war effort included the development of a variety of “Super-Weapons” capable of inflicting serious damage on the Allied forces. Although many of these weapons proved to be unfeasible (due to time constraints, the scarcity of resources, or their tremendous cost), their potential for massive destruction was unparalleled during this era of history. This article examines the top 10 Nazi Super-Weapons of World War II. It provides a primary analysis of each weapon’s characteristics, destructive capabilities, and battlefield effectiveness. Understanding the technology and military developments of Nazi Germany is important to consider, as their advancements could have easily changed the course of WWII in their favor.
The 10 Most Powerful Weapons of Nazi Germany
- Messerschmitt Me-163 Komet
- V-3 Cannon
- Schwerer Gustav
- Panzer VIII Maus
- Messerschmitt Me-262
- Karl-Gerat Mortar
- V-2 Rocket
- Horten Ho 229 Bomber
The Amerikabomber was a long-range strategic bomber developed by Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Designed for the Luftwaffe, the bomber was developed as a means to strike the East Coast of the United States (a nearly 6,400-mile round trip mission). Although the project was later deemed unsuitable due to the tremendous costs involved in striking American urban centers, such as New York City, the Germans are believed to have developed several prototypes for the Amerika Bomber, including the Ju-390 and Me-264, respectively.
Amerikabomber's Combat Effectiveness
Following the war, numerous testimonies of the Amerikabomber were provided to Allied interrogators by former pilots and German officers that attested to the power of their long-range bombers. In one account, a Nazi officer even suggested that a Ju-390 plane had made a 6,400-mile round trip to New York City, where it supposedly took reconnaissance photos of Long Island (historynet.com). Other testimonies, including former pilot, Hans Joachim Pancherz, suggest that Me-264s were completing nonstop flights between Berlin and Tokyo (5,700-miles) as early as 1944. To this day, however, none of these accounts can be substantiated with documented evidence. If true though, the Amerikabomber represented an extraordinary feat in aviation, and could have had devastating effects on the Allies had the war lasted beyond 1945.
9. Messerschmitt Me-163 Komet
The Messerschmitt Me-163 was the first rocket-powered fighter “to enter operational service” during the Second World War. Developed by Nazi scientists in 1941, the Me-163 was incredibly fast and capable of reaching speeds of 624 miles per hour. Compared to other aircraft during this time period that were capable of reaching upwards of 350 miles per hour, the Me-163 was an aircraft truly ahead of its time.
Me-163's Combat Effectiveness
The concept, which was first proposed by Alexander Lippisch, first went into production in 1941 with approximately 370 Komets being produced by the end of the war. Despite its incredible speed, however, the Komet often proved unreliable, with numerous crashes reported during both training and combat. As an “interceptor” aircraft, the Komet also performed poorly against Allied aircraft; scoring an estimated 9 kills (possibly as many as 18) against the aircraft’s 10 losses. This was largely due to the aircraft’s short flight time (approximately eight minutes), as the powerful rocket-based engines consumed fuel at an alarming rate. The fighter’s light armor and weight also made the aircraft vulnerable to attack; a feature exploited by Allied pilots, who would often shoot down Me-163s on their downward descent to base.
Nevertheless, the Me-163 was a remarkable aircraft for its time. With more time at their disposal, German scientists might have perfected the shortcomings of this machine; possibly turning the tide of the war in favor of Nazi Germany.
8. V-3 Cannon
The V-3 Cannon, also known as the Vergeltungswaffe 3 or “Retribution Weapon 3,” was a large-caliber gun developed by Nazi Germany in 1942. Entering combat service in December 1944, the weapon relied on a “multi-charge principle” to deliver maximum distance to its projectiles (estimated at nearly 165 kilometers). Capable of launching nearly 300 shells per hour with a shell velocity of approximately 1,500 meters per second, the V-3 Cannon offered Nazi Germany unparalleled opportunities to bombard targets from extreme distances with ease.
In contrast to traditional artillery weapons that use a single propellant charge to fire their shell, the V-3 Cannon relied on multiple propellant charges that were placed alongside its barrel’s length. As the weapon’s projectile fired from its base, a series of solid-fuel rocket boosters (arranged in symmetrical pairs) were timed to systematically fire as the shell passed between them. This, in turn, added additional thrust to the projectile, allowing it to exit the cannon’s barrel at maximum velocity. In total, these massive guns were constructed in lengths reaching approximately 50 meters (160 feet), with a series of 12 side chambers (boosters) that propelled the gun’s shell.
V-3 Cannon's Combat Effectiveness
Due to the cannon’s power (and need for secrecy), Hitler placed the V-3 Cannon under the control of SS General Hans Kammler. By December 1944, the V-3 Cannon was officially put into military service and was used to bombard the liberated city of Luxembourg (nearly 27 miles away). Using 150-mm shells, nearly 183 rounds were fired into the city with 44 confirmed hits. In total, 10 individuals were killed by the blasts, with an additional 35 people wounded. The fate of the V-3 Cannon was sealed, however, with the rapid advance of Allied troops in 1945; preventing the Nazis from erecting additional gun sites. Given the weapon’s power (and potential), the V-3 Cannon could have had tremendous impacts on the Allied advance if the Nazis had been afforded additional time to establish defensive positions in Europe.
The Fritz-X was an anti-ship bomb developed by Nazi Germany during the Second World War and is considered the world’s first precision-guided weapon in history. Also referred to as the “Ruhurtahl SD 1400 X or Kramer X-1, the Fritz-X was a powerful weapon capable of sinking naval vessels with a single blast. This armor-piercing, high-explosive bomb was first put into development in 1943. Weighing approximately 3,003 pounds, with an overall length of 10.9-feet, the Fritz-X was a massive weapon for its time and was a testament to German ingenuity during the war. In total, nearly 1,400 of these devices were produced by the Nazis before 1945.
Designed with an aerodynamic nose, four wings, and a box-shaped tail, the Fritz-X’s design allowed for tremendous maneuverability through its Kehl-Strasbourg radio control link in its tailfin areas. As with most bombs, the Fritz-X was delivered via bomber-aircraft, where it would then be dropped at a minimum height of approximately 13,000 feet. After releasing their payload, bombardiers would then use their radio transmitters to guide their package onto Allied targets below.
Fritz-X's Combat Effectiveness
One of the main flaws with the Fritz-X’s design was the fact that bomber pilots were forced to maintain constant visual contact with the bomb in order to guide it to its target. To accomplish this, pilots were forced to rapidly decelerate, and remain within 1,600 feet of the bomb at all times to maintain a radio connection. This placed bomber pilots in considerable danger from anti-aircraft fire, or fighter attack.
Despite these issues, the Fritz-X was a powerful bomb, capable of penetrating nearly 5.1 inches of armor with ease. Although its first deployment in Sicily’s “Augusta Harbor” on 21 July 1943 proved uneventful, further tests of the weapon on 9 September 1943 showed the weapon’s true capabilities when Luftwaffe bombers successfully sunk the Italian battleships Roma and Italia to prevent them from falling into Allied hands. A few days later, a Fritz-X guided bomb delivered serious damage to the American light cruiser known as the USS Savannah (resulting in nearly eight months of repair).
The early success of the Fritz-X was soon countered by the Allies, however, with the development of radio-jamming technology. Although additional Fritz-X bombs met their targets in the months that followed September 1943, their success and impact were greatly limited by Allied countermeasures and were not economically feasible to continue war production. Nevertheless, these bombs represented a tremendous leap forward in military technology, with devastating potential had the war continued any longer.
6. Schwerer Gustav
The Schwerer Gustav was a massive railway gun developed by Nazi Germany in the late 1930s. First developed by Krupp, the weapon possessed a 31.5-inch barrel (approximately 80 centimeters), and weighed nearly 1,350 tons. Capable of delivering shells in excess of seven tons to targets nearly 29 miles away (47 kilometers), the Gustav was a device designed to inflict both terror and destruction on the Allied forces. To date, the weapon was the largest caliber weapon (rifled) to ever be used in combat, as well as the heaviest artillery piece (mobile) to see action in warfare.
First developed as a siege weapon for Germany’s war against France and its Maginot Line, the rapid surrender of the French Army allowed Germany to deploy the Gustav to the Eastern Front against Soviet forces. Requiring over 250 crew members, along with 2,500 personnel to dig embankments and lay track, the Gustav first saw action at the Battle of Sevastapol during Operation Barbarossa, with later action at the Siege of Leningrad. Firing nearly 300 rounds at the Siege of Sevastapol, several ammunition depots, and forts (Fort Siberia and Maxim Gorky Fortress) were successfully taken out of action by the gun, along with numerous Soviet personnel. However, after being delivered to support troops near Leningrad, the Gustav was later camouflaged and placed on standby status; never to be used again due to the remarkable manpower needed to operate it.
Schwerer Gustav's Combat Effectiveness
Aside from the tremendous manpower needed for the Gustav, one of the biggest drawbacks of the gun was its slow fire rate. The gun was capable of shooting only 14 rounds a day due to calibration difficulties and the time it took to load a single shell. This made the Gustav effective against stationary targets, but not mobile units. Other issues included the weapon’s sheer size, which made it an easy target for Allied aircraft in its vicinity. As a result, special attention and care were needed to not only hide the weapon from plain sight (when not in use) but to conceal it from enemy aircraft when being prepped for combat operations in the open.
Despite its impressive firepower and devastating impact on Soviet targets, the Gustav was far too large to be implemented effectively in the field. As a result, the weapon is believed to have been destroyed on 22 April 1945 by the Germans to prevent it from falling into Soviet hands.
5. Panzer VIII Maus
The Panzer VIII Maus, also known as the Panzerkampfwagen, was a German super-heavy tank that entered production in 1944. Weighing nearly 188 tons, it was (and remains) the heaviest armored vehicle to have been built for warfare. Designed by Ferdinand Porsche, five prototypes were ordered by the German high command, with only two of the units reaching full completion before the war’s end. The massive tank required a total of six crewmen, and had a recorded length (and width) of 33.5 feet and 12.2 feet, respectively. Powering the vehicle was a massive V12 diesel engine with nearly 1,200 horsepower; a device capable of propelling the tank at a maximum speed of just 12 miles per hour. The Maus made up for its lack of speed, however, with a 128-millimeter gun (main armament), a 75-millimeter short-barreled howitzer (secondary armament), and a 7.92-millimeter (MG-34) machine gun.
Panzer VIII Maus' Combat Effectiveness
Due to its massive gun, the Maus possessed the firepower to destroy any Allied vehicle or tank that crossed its path. Likewise, the tank was well-protected from enemy fire by nearly 8-inches of armor on all sides. Nazi officials hoped to use the Maus as a “breaching” tank capable of cutting through enemy defensive positions unscathed by small-arms fire, or to set up an impenetrable defensive line against Allied attacks along the Western Front.
Although two separate prototypes of the Maus were completed by 1944, the pair never saw military action due to performance issues during testing. Due to its tremendous size and weight, it was determined that the tank would have tremendous difficulties in navigating rough terrain, and would be easy targets for aircraft due to its slow speed. At a time when resources were needed elsewhere, the sheer volume of steel and supplies needed to construct a single Maus were also deemed by the German high command as unfeasible for the war effort at large. For these reasons, the Maus project was officially scrapped by the end of 1944 in favor of other cost-effective options.
As with all of the weaponry discussed in this article, the Maus was a remarkable feat in engineering and design. Given more time to fix its engine difficulties (speed) and maneuverability, the Maus could have potentially tipped the balance of World War II in favor of the Nazis.
4. Messerschmitt Me-262
The Messerschmitt Me-262, or Schalbe, was a German fighter aircraft first developed in the early 1940s. The Me-262 is recognized as the first jet-powered aircraft in history and was capable of reaching speeds in excess of 541 miles per hour. Powered by twin Junker Jumo-004B turbojet engines (each capable of 1,984 pounds of thrust), the Me-262 was an aircraft truly ahead of its time and could be adapted for a variety of roles including fighter missions, escort, reconnaissance, interception, or bombing. In total, Messerschmitt produced 1,400 of these remarkable aircraft by the mid-1940s with high-success rates against Allied aircraft (downing an estimated 542 Allied planes before the end of the war).
Me-262's Combat Effectiveness
Armed with four 30-millimeter MK-108 cannons, the Me-262 not only outpaced Allied aircraft with its remarkable speed but could also down bomber-sized aircraft with a single pass as the powerful cannons tore through armor with ease. Despite these clear advantages, however, the Me-262 was plagued from the beginning by mechanical issues, a lack of trained pilots who could fly the aircraft, and issues with production (a result of the lack of resources facing Germany at this time). Mechanical issues, in particular, proved detrimental to the Me-262 project as engine failures were extremely common in its early stages of development (a common issue with inchoate phases of technology). Moreover, the aircraft’s late entry into the war (1944) was too little and too late for the German military, as Allied gains far outweighed the advantages brought by the Me-262.
It is widely accepted by scholars that many of these issues could have been corrected by the German high command through an allocation of the necessary funds and resources to the Me-262 project. The failure of Hitler and the Nazi regime to recognize this fighter aircraft's potential, however, left its future bleak from the onset. The decision to funnel resources into other research would later prove catastrophic for Hitler and the Nazi regime. Had adequate attention to its issues been given during its early stages of development (along with a push for combat service prior to 1944), historians have long argued that the Me-262 could have changed the course of the war for Germany.
3. Karl-Gerat Mortar
The Karl-Gerat Mortar was a self-propelled mortar weapon designed by Rheinmetall in 1937 for Nazi Germany’s war effort. In total, seven guns were produced for the war, with six of these mortars seeing combat in the years that followed production. Weighing nearly 124 tons, and measuring nearly 36.7 feet (length) by 10.4 feet (wide), this massive mortar could shoot shells in excess of 4,780 pounds over 2.62 miles away. Powering these massive projectiles was a 13-foot, 9-inch barrel, along with a 21-man crew that assisted with loading, calibrating, and firing the mortar at targets.
Accompanying each Karl-Gerat was a built-in crane used to position the weapon’s massive shells into position. Despite their tremendous size, experienced gun crews were capable of firing the mortar at a rate of six rounds per hour with devastating results against enemy forces. As a self-propelled mortar weapon, the Karl-Gerat also came equipped with a 580-horsepower diesel engine that could propel the siege weapon forward at a speed of 6.2 miles per hour. Despite its massive fuel tank (320 gallons), the Karl-Gerat had a limited operational range of only 26 miles before it had to be refueled.
Karl-Gerat Mortar's Combat Effectiveness
The Karl-Gerat saw combat on both the Eastern and Western Fronts. One of its most notable series of engagements involved the battles for Sevastapol and Brest-Litovsk, as well as its engagements with resistance fighters living within Warsaw. Other Karl-Gerats took place in the Battle of the Bulge; in particular, the German assault on Ludendorff Bridge.
Despite its devastating effect on Allied forces, the Karl-Gerat suffered from a number of issues. For one, its tremendous weight made transporting the siege weapon a logistical nightmare for the German military, as specially designed railroad cars were needed to ship the weapon to the various fronts. Due to this reliance on railroad transportation, the Germans were greatly limited in their placement of the weapon.
Once on the ground, weight also factored into the Karl-Gerat's limitations on the battlefield, as the bulky weapon was unable to traverse rough terrain or cross bridges (due to their inability to support its weight). Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the sheer size of the Karl-Gerat also limited the weapon’s speed to a snail-like pace; making it an ideal target for Allied aircraft. For these reasons, the Karl-Gerat’s limitations greatly outnumbered its benefits on the battlefield.
2. V-2 Rocket
The V-2 Rocket, also known as the “Vengeance Weapon” or “Retribution Weapon 2,” was a long-range, guided ballistic missile developed by Nazi scientists in the 1940s. The missile was the first long-range ballistic missile developed in history, with an estimated range of 200 miles (320 kilometers).
Assembled underground by concentration camp prisoners, the Nazis succeeded in constructing thousands of the V-2 Rockets before the end of the war. Shaped for supersonic flight, the rocket was designed with a cylindrical shape along with four rectangular fins to give it greater aerodynamics. Powering the 45-foot tall weapon (weighing nearly 27,600 pounds) was a combustion chamber that relied on liquid oxygen (the oxidizer), and a 75-percent alcohol/water source as the fuel. Reaching internal temperatures of approximately 4,900 degrees Fahrenheit, the fuel source helped propel the V-2 with approximately 56,000 pounds of thrust at speeds of nearly 3,400 miles per hour (guided by various electrical and radio systems). Upon detonating, the rocket’s warhead (a 2,200-pound impact-based explosive) was capable of massive damage and was known to cause impact craters in excess of 40 feet upon detonation.
V-2 Rocket's Combat Effectiveness
It is estimated that nearly 3,600 V-2 Rockets were fired at Allied targets during the Second World War, with nearly half of these targeting areas in London, Southampton, and Bristol. In regard to the weapon’s effectiveness, it is estimated that nearly 25 percent of the rockets suffered from airbursts before hitting their targets. Of the remaining rockets that made it to their destination, it is estimated that approximately 5,500 people were killed, with an additional 6,500 individuals wounded by the blasts. In addition, the weapons are believed to have destroyed more than 33,700 buildings/houses.
Despite these figures, the V-2 Rocket suffered from a number of setbacks, including high costs (approximately 100,000 Reichmarks for each rocket), as well as tremendous amounts of man-hours (approximately 10,000 to 20,000 man-hours to produce). Combined with the scarcity of special resources (namely, fuel and aluminum), and the nearly 25-percent failure rate of the weapon, the V-2’s costs far outweighed its effectiveness on the battlefield. Despite killing over 5,500 people, it is also estimated that nearly 20,000 people (mostly prisoners) died during the manufacturing of these rockets. As a result, more individuals died producing the weapon than from its use on the battlefield.
Given additional time, the V-2 program could have potentially altered the course of World War Two in favor of the Nazis. This is particularly true when one considers German interest in the Atomic Bomb. Had the Nazis perfected an atomic device (outfitting it for use on the V-2), the Allies would have suffered devastating losses, with the fate of Europe sealed in favor of the Nazis.
1. Horten Ho 229 Bomber (Horten H.IX)
The Horten H.IX, also known as the Horten Ho 229, was a prototype bomber designed by Reimar and Walter Horten in the latter half of World War II. In response to Hermann Goering’s need for a fast bomber that could carry high-caliber bombs over long distances, the Horten brothers went to work designing a “flying wing” concept that embodied a tailless, fixed-wing appearance. The result of their efforts was a prototype fighter aircraft (later tested in glider form) known as the Horten Ho 229.
Designed to reach a maximum altitude of 49,000 feet, the H.IX was to be designed using a combination of wood and welded steel to reduce its overall weight. Although originally designed for a BMW 003 jet engine, it was later decided that the Junker Jumo 004 engine was more suitable for the project; a decision that would have given the H.IX remarkable speed given its light weight. In total, the Horten brothers successfully produced three H.IX aircraft prototypes before the conclusion of the war, with none of the aircraft seeing combat.
Horten Ho 229 Bomber's Combat Effectiveness (Expected)
Although never fully completed (or tested in battlefield conditions), the Horten Ho 229 represented a remarkable feat in engineering. Due to its awkward design, the aircraft would have been capable of tremendous speed, with the ability to bomb long-range targets with relative ease. In addition, the Horten Ho 229 contained an unexpected (and unanticipated) advancement; the ability to remain relatively undetected by radar. Due to the aircraft’s natural curvature and wing-like design (followed by its absence of propellers and lack of vertical surfaces), the aircraft is largely considered to be the world’s first stealth fighter.
Despite these remarkable advancements, the Horten Ho 229’s never reached full production (beyond its prototypes). Given the rapid advance of Allied forces on the Eastern and Western fronts, Hitler’s grand scheme for a series of “Wonder Weapons” capable of turning the tide of the war never reached fruition in the Third Reich. Nevertheless, it is terrifying to imagine what could have occurred with the Horten H.IX project if Nazi Germany had been given more time to develop this amazing aircraft. Given its sleek design and tremendous speeds, this stealth fighter would have provided the Nazis with unparalleled opportunities to bomb long-range targets unscathed. For these reasons, the Horten H.IX rightfully deserves the number one spot on this list due to its capabilities and potential for widespread destruction.
Chan, Amy. “Amerika Bombers.” HistoryNet. HistoryNet, December 19, 2017. https://www.historynet.com/extremes-amerika-bombers.htm.
“Horten Ho 229 V3.” National Air and Space Museum, October 17, 2019. https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/horten-ho-229-v3.
“Messerschmitt Me 163B-1a Komet.” National Air and Space Museum, October 17, 2019. https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/messerschmitt-me-163b-1a-komet.
“Messerschmitt Me 262 (Schwalbe / Sturmvogel) Single-Seat Jet-Powered Fighter / Fighter-Bomber Aircraft - Nazi Germany.” Military Weapons. Accessed January 15, 2020. https://www.militaryfactory.com/aircraft/detail.asp?aircraft_id=108.
“Missile, Surface-to-Surface, V-2 (A-4).” National Air and Space Museum, October 17, 2019. https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/missile-surface-surface-v-2-4.
Nieuwint, Joris. “The MASSIVE 60cm German Siege Mortar Karl.” WAR HISTORY ONLINE, October 12, 2016. https://www.warhistoryonline.com/military-vehicle-news/german-siege-mortar-karl.html.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Larry Slawson
Larry Slawson (author) from North Carolina on March 31, 2020:
Thank you, Kelley! I completely agree, 100-percent. Its scary that Nazi Germany had so many different projects in the works that could have changed the course of history.
Kelley Marks from Sacramento, California on March 31, 2020:
Very cool article—if cool is the right word to use! Nazi Germany certainly didn't lose the war because they had a shortage of good engineers; logistics defeated them and Hitler's critical errors, the most damaging of which was attacking Russia, as you probably know. Thanks!...
femi from Nigeria on January 18, 2020:
Amazing yet frightening weapons,war has a way of accelerating technoloy
MG Singh from UAE on January 16, 2020:
Very exhaustive and informative. You have put in a lot of work but all these weapons came either too late or delayed. Also the A-Bomb? Germany was thus sure to lose the war.