Robert writes about interesting and lesser known historical events and unusual places and people.
Nazi Wonder Weapons
As Nazi Germany faced defeat in the face of overwhelming Allied troop strength and production capacity, its leadership sought to stave off defeat by developing so called Wonder Weapons (Wunderwaffe) that it hoped would turn the tide of war.
Nazi scientists and military engineers came perilously close to achieving their goals. They developed the first operational jet fighters and bombers, which outclassed all Allied aircraft, as well as the first ballistic missiles (the V-2) and cruise missiles (the V-1). Fortunately all of these breakthroughs came at the end of the war, when German war production had already been crippled, and there were shortages of parts and fuel, which meant that these super weapons were too little too late.
Many of the Nazi super weapon projects were extremely audacious, even visionary and represented science twisted for dark purposes. As Winston Churchill once commented in a wartime speech:
...if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties,...
Churchill was certainly correct about the consequences of a Nazi victory, but he likely did not realize at the time just how sinister and deadly Nazi scientific research actually was.
Futuristic World War 2 Super Weapons
When the war ended, many Nazi scientists as well as their scientific research and prototypes were captured. It was only then that the Allies learned the true extent of the Nazis' mad ambitions and the weapons that they were attempting to build before the Reich was brought down.
It soon became apparent that the jet planes and rockets were only a small portion of the Nazis arsenal of potential super weapons.
The Nazis also been working on even more exotic weapons. There were plans for saucer shaped aircraft capable of vertical lift off and landing, giant tanks that would be the equivalent of a land battleship, an Amerika Bomber capable of crossing the Atlantic to strike back at the United States, and even an atomic bomb of their own. Most of these designs never made it past the prototype stage; in the case of the atomic bomb, there is some suggestion that the Nazis managed to detonate a small tactical nuclear device, just weeks before the fall of Berlin, but it was never used operationally.
One of the more bizarre and ambitious super weapons being designed was the Sun Gun (also called the Heliobeam), which would have given the Nazis mastery over the entire world, by giving them the power to burn cities and lay waste to entire countries.
The concept of the Sun Gun was devilishly simple in its conception: it would concentrate the power of the sun into a narrow beam of brilliant light and heat, and bring death down from orbit. Its basic operating principle is well known to anyone who has ever used a magnifying glass to light a fire.
If you hold a magnifying glass at the correct angle so as to catch the rays of the sun, the lens will concentrate the sunlight into a narrow and very hot beam. The Nazi innovation involved designing an orbital platform which would collect the Sun's rays and focus them on a target below. The orbiting space station would be re-positioned in Earth orbit to allow it to incinerate any target on the ground. London, Moscow, New York, would all have been incinerated at will.
There would be no defense against this weapon. The orbiting killer, a Nazi death star, would be far above the reach of any Allied artillery, and by tapping into the energy of the sun, its ammunition would be inexhaustible.
The idea of using the Sun as a weapon is an old one. Archimedes is reputed to have mirrors to set fire to Roman ships attacking his city of Syracuse. In 1596, the Scottish mathematician, John Napier, proposed using mirrors to fire heat beams as weapons, in a form of ground-based Sun Gun (Sonnengewehr) . In 1929, a German physicist named Hermann Oberth developed plans for a space station which would use a concave mirror to reflect sunlight onto a concentrated point on Earth, burning the point of contact.
Oberth's idea was mere speculation. In 1923, no one had developed rockets capable of reaching orbit. But the Nazis made remarkable progress in rocket designs; their relatively primitive V-2 rockets were capable of reaching the edge of space; and there were plans to built multi-stage rockets which would have even longer ranges, and be able to reach earth orbit.
With space beckoning as a new frontier of war, Nazi scientists resurrected Oberth's old idea and began seriously designing an orbital weapon platform using the Sun.
During World War 2, German scientists began developing plans for a space station. They theorized that the station would have to be over 8,000 kilometers above the surface of the Earth and deploy a gigantic reflector over 9 square kilometers in diameter. The reflector would be made of metallic sodium. Small rocket motors mounted on the mirror would allow the crew of the Nazi space station to aim its deadly beam.
Could It Have Worked?
The Germans were far ahead of the rest of the world when it came to rocket technology; so much so that after War the United States and the USSR both recruited Nazi scientists to help them jump start their space programs. However, despite their relative superiority in this area, even the Germans lacked the capability to build a space station of this magnitude in Earth orbit. The later Russian Soyuz and American Skylab stations were tiny in comparison to the monstrosity envisioned by Hitler's scientists. The Nazis would not have been able to build this weapon any time soon; in fact planning it may have diverted resources from more realistic goals.
But what if they had built the Sun Gun? Could it have vaporized cities on the ground?
An article in the July 23, 1945 issue of LIFE Magazine speculated at page 31, that such a mirror would have lacked the focal length required to concentrate sufficient light from the Sun to heat the surface to the point of burning targets below.
Let us hope that no one ever builds a Sun Gun and proves the skeptics wrong.
© 2019 Robert P
Robert P (author) from Canada on March 11, 2019:
Thanks @Marjs Radic. It is amazing just how advanced the Nazi weapons program was. Some of these prototypes are still more advanced than what we have today.
Marja Radic from Split, Croatia on March 11, 2019:
Wow! Didn't know this. It's terrible. Well, and interesting at the same time...