Hitler had a fetish for weird weapons, and his collection of outlandish arsenals resulted from his desperation to turn the tide of war. The Wunderwaffe (wonder weapons) was how the Nazi propaganda ministry named these projects aimed at developing state-of-the-art hardware. Indeed, some that came out were ahead of their times and revolutionized future technologies.
Space travel wouldn’t be possible without the V2 rockets, while observers noted that the modern cruise missiles and war drones were the descendants of the V1 Buzz Bombs. And the flying wing jet powered fighters had an eerie resemblance to stealth bombers. On the ground, Tiger tanks almost gained a reputation for invincibility, and the Nazi Germany even produced electric subs.
Nevertheless, Hitler’s fondness for exotic toys leads to unwise usage of resources. These weapons required time, money and manpower to mature, and they cannot be fielded in time. The Nazi Germany should have spent more on additional tanks, aircrafts, ships, U-boats and soldiers rather than rely on these untested, expensive and over-engineered monsters.
Overall, Wonder Weapons failed to turn the tide of war, and those that barely met the expected performance went into obscurity. And a good example was an early man-portable ground to air rocket launcher. It looked like a non-rotating Gatling gun and was meant to shoot down low flying aircraft. Yet, this imposing-looking weapon barely managed to shoot down any warplanes.
The Multi-Barreled Launcher
It started with a metal goods manufacturer HASAG (Hugo Schneider Aktiengesellschaft Metallwarenfabrik), which turned into a Nazi arms-manufacturer during the Second World War. To save money, it utilized slaves (Polish Jews) to make its products, resulting in massive, forced labor deaths. And yes, women workers were preferred as SS charged less for women, while ladies worked quicker and were more adaptable. And suddenly, HASAG had a new product in 1944.
There was a need to destroy low-flying planes meant for ground targets; hence a rocket launcher was made to do just that. And not just any rocket launchers, but a multi-barreled one. No need for rotating barrels, though; hence the Fliegerfaust was born.
Its name was as colorful as other German World War II weaponry (their tanks, in fact, were named after big cats). Fliegerfaust meant "pilot fist," "plane fist," or "aviator fist." It was also known as "Luftfaust," which meant "air fist." And for munition, it used non-guided rockets.
And a multi-barreled rocket launcher fired from the shoulder was a very exotic and imposing weapon to look at.
It looked more like video games and action movie props than a real Second World War weapon. Again, one will be reminded of the multiple barrels of a Gatling gun upon seeing it, although there were no mechanisms to make it revolve. In terms of overall structure, mechanism and operation, it's basically a multi-barreled bazooka.
The weapon has two grips, the main and the front grip, to hold on to while firing.
To begin with, there are two versions of the Fliegerfaust. The Fliegerfaust A has four barrels of 20mm (about 0.79 in) caliber. The projectiles were propelled by small rockets and weighed only 90 grams. It carries 19 grams of explosives. The Fliegerfaust B has more barrels, 9 of which enabled higher round capacity. It was heavier and larger, with a length of 150cm (about 4.92 ft) and a 6.5kg weight.
For an exotic anti-aircraft ManPAD of World War Two, it operated the same way as a single-shot bazooka. Yet there were disagreements on how the rockets fired. Sources claimed that the rockets flew in sequences, while others said they fired in a volley. In the case of Fliegerfaust B, the first four rounds fired immediately, while the rest had a 0.1-second delay.
At the same time, some accounts stated that rockets fired individually with a 2-second delay. The purpose of the delay was to prevent the previous rocket’s exhaust fumes from affecting the succeeding ones, which could damage the projectiles and interfere with their course. Overall, the weapon could be likened to a shoulder-fired soviet Katyusha. There were also models with larger calibers (30mm) and six barrels, but they stayed in the prototype stage
Then, there were the projectiles themselves.
In the case of the bazooka, the projectiles were stabilized with fins. But the Fliegerfaust projectile had angled holes near the exhaust, which caused spin, stabilizing its flight.
We could say that the weapon design is a triumph in terms of function and from a technical standpoint. Simply, it could fire rockets. But performing its intended use was a different story.
In 1945, Berlin needed to be defended; hence 100 were produced to shoot low-flying aircraft. This is quite a small amount, considering that 10000 launchers and 4 million rocket-powered projectiles were ordered.
But the results were underwhelming.
The weapon’s projectile was expected to attain a range of half a kilometer or 500 meters (about 1640.42 ft) which was the expected altitude of a low-flying fighter or bomber. Unfortunately, the expected range was never reached, and it fell short of hitting its airborne targets. The short range wasn’t the only problem. When the rockets were fired, they dispersed too much, reducing the chance of hitting any moving aircraft. However, three expended Fliegerfaust B launchers were seen in the rubble of Berlin, which meant that at least it saw combat usage.
The traditional air defense and anti-aircraft guns seemed more practical and effective than these untested toys. Given more development time, it could improve its shortcomings, but it was the classic example of failed wonder weapon plagued by the usual problems. It looked amazing and terrifying, but it required development time and resources and was fielded too soon. Hitler should have spent his money reinforcing Berlin with traditional means than indulging himself with exciting and outlandish projects.
Similar, Unrelated Weapons
This was not the end of multi-barreled rocket launcher technology. Similar but unrelated weapons were seen later in history. They weren’t meant for anti-aircraft defense but for a different purpose.
Fans of the 80s action movies fondly remember the four-barreled rocket launcher wielded by a bodybuilder-actor of German descent. It turns out there is a real version that was tested in the Vietnam war. The four-barreled M202 FLASH was an incendiary weapon that replaced the flame thrower (it fired incendiary rockets). China, on the other hand, has the FHJ-84 and also an incendiary rocket launcher. But it only has two barrels.
1. Fitzsimons, Bernard (1978). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of 20th Century Weapons and Warfare. Columbia House.
2. Nardi, Tom (9 March 2022). "THE FLIEGERFAUST ROARS BACK TO LIFE AFTER 77 YEARS". Hackaday.
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.