torsdag, december 2

Top Ten Most Bloated (and Awesome!) Military Stuff Ever

As we'll later learn from this post, the one who invests the most in military technology and tools almost always wins. Yet, once this paradigm is adopted, it can easily go waaay to far. A prime example of this was the nazis, who were so overly enthusiastic about superweapons that they even gave birth to the nazi super science-trope. And that's really the whole point, fuck strategic and economic considerations; superweapons are awesome. I give you - the most blatantly bloated, advanced and pricey (often vastly overrated, sometimes actually rather efficient) military stuff in history:

10. The Maginot Line

Like basically everyone else, the french managed to die a whole lot in World War 1. Actually, they died so much that the whole country got a manpower shortage in the decades to come. This was seen as a strategic problem, for the french were not stupid - they realized that Germany would come back with a vengeance. Oh, wait, they might have been stupid after all, given how they choose to mitigate this problem. The defense minister André Maginot got the "great" idea to build a giant line, several kilometers deep, of fortresses, turrets, artillery, tank stops and stuff along the borders to Germany and Italy. This would allow the relatively small french army to withstand an attack, and buy time to draft older men into the army. In practice, it might have been one of the dumbest investments in history, as a): static defenses would turn out to be rather worthless with the new doctrines and technologies, b) the line didn't cover the border to fucking Belgium. You all know what happend next.

So, was the maginot line awesome? Well, a bit I guess. Expensive; definitely. Bloated? God yes.

9. M50 Ontos

This is a tank destroyer that was used in the Vietnam War. The US Army originally decided it was too absurd to be built, and cancelled the order. This was after firing all the guns at once during prototype testing knocked bricks out of nearby walls. The Marine Corps, though, realized this tool was to cool not to have, and ordered 297 of them. They apparently turned out to be rather useful during the war, even though they were used for infantry support rather than their original puporse (tank-raping), but the awesome design did have some disadvantages of course, otherwise it couldn't justifiably be called "bloated" - in this case, the thing had to be loaded from the outside, making the crew vulnerable to snipers.

So why was it awesome? Just look at it. It had not one, not two, not three...not four...not five...but six 106 mm recoilless rifles. Lest you not be confused by the word "rifle" here, we're talking about stuff so big that stuff a third of its size has to be mounted on turrents and wheels when infantry use it (for example the Bofors 37 mm). And again; six of them.

8. Schwerer Gustav

Ok, if the french has the Maginot Line, the germans needs something to blast their way through it with, right? That's where this baby came in. Except, the nazis didn't actually need to blast through the Maginot Line, as they could just walk around it. So yes; unnecessary technology; check.

The Schwerer Gustav was a gun so absurdly big that it had to be mounted on a train. The various european powers had constructed such cannons before, so of course the nazis, true to form, had to beat them all. The result was the largest calibre rifled weapon in history ever to see actual combat. On the receiving end was, of course, the poor, poor russians. We're talking shells this big. And still, for all its awesomeness, Schwerer Gustav was only actually used during the Siege of Sevastopol, spending the rest of the war being moved back and forth to places where someone thought it could be of use, yet it never was. I can imagine the talk at headquarters:

"Ok, so where do we need the absurdly gigantic railway gun?"
"Err...I dunno...maybe you can blast Leningrad with it?"
"When we managed to actually get it there, the siege would be long over"
"Oh, alright...use it against Stalingrad then?"
"Isn't that a wee bit overkill? We don't need that kind of firepower there"

7. Lun-class Ekranoplan

Next to the nazis in terms of superweapon fetisch, the soviets put their vast resource base to good use in constructing some of the wierdest shit ever. Ekranoplans are pretty bizzare to begin with, being "flying boats" somewhere halfway between a hovercraft and an aircraft, vehicles that uses the so-called ground effect to basically float a few meters above the ground. That's awesome by itself, but the MD-160, the only Lun-class Ekranoplan actually built, was also very large (73 m, rivalling modern jumbo jets) and equipped with six missile launchers, pretty much silos really, carrying these babies for ground attacks. It's still around; rotting away in a town at the Caspian shores that's bleak, run-down and god-forsaken in that particularly depressing way only post-sovietic stuff can be. It's not pretty, but still, one really should look at these pictures (and this video, it appears about 4:40 minutes in) just to realize the awesome. A huge object similar to it was spotted in the Caspian Sea area by US reconaissance sattelites in the 60's and dubbed "The Caspian Sea Monster", but it seems they could never find out exactly what it was, making for some intriguing and awesome possibilities.

6. Timurid War Elephants

In 1398, When Tamerlane went, very literally, medieval* on the Sultanate of Delhi, he captured a host of indian war elephants that he seems to have appreciated to an almost fetischistic degree. Tamerlane had already combined horse archers, siege artillery and heavy tarkhan cavalry into steppe warfare's grande finale in history, so naturally, he just had to add the only thing (except chariots) that was missing among the most awesome stuff of pre-modern war. Accordingly, he had the elephants dragged all the way back to Samarkand, and later deployed them in the epic Battle of Angora against the Ottoman Turks and their sultan Bayazid, together with Tamerlane considered the greatest general of the age. Historians seem to disagree about how many the elephants were (but it's known that Tamerlane's army faced and defeated about a hundred elephants when they invaded Delhi) and to what degree they were actually useful in the battle, but that doesn't matter. In any case, the Ottomans were crushed, and how could they not be? They were facing mongol hordes with knights, and cannons, and armored fucking elephants! If not by superior tactics and/or numbers, Tamerlane would still have won on sheer awesome.

*"The killing and wanton destruction that characterized the Delhi campaign may be unsurpassed in history" - Vernon O. Egger

5. The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall had its origins in several different systems of defensive earthen walls between the Warring States of antiquity. Once the king of Qin had defeated the other states, he declared himself emperor and embarked on extending and joining together the different walls into a single, giant one. The human toil and misery this caused in the laborers became stuff of legends in China, and later chronicles echoes with hatred against the Qin emperor. A common myth is that the bones of dead builders became filling stuff in the Great Wall. More than a thousand years later, the wall had fallen into ruin and was barely a heap of earth, and was reconstruced by the Ming dynasty, in stone and brick, but spanning over a somewhat different area than the original wall. Both incarnations of the wall were of absolutely epic lengths and is generally considered among the greatest achievements of human civilisation, yet it can be debated how effective they were. The traditional view is that the walls were built to ward off the barbarians of the northern steppes; if that's the case, they were epic fail. While they might have discouraged lesser war bands, China has been successfully invaded by nomads from the north so many times it's almost absurd - Xiongnu, Jurchens, Tanguts, Mongols, Khitans, Turks, the list goes on and on. The wall thus stand solidly on the list of the most worthless defensive structures ever built.

A less common but interesting viewpoint is the theory that the wall were never intended to keep barbarians out, but the chinese in. With this line of reasoning, the idea is that the ruler's wanted to keep the peasant population of China from getting dangerous influences and ideas from the nomadic population of the steppes. Restrictions on free mobility has been a common feature in despotic regimes throughout history, so it's an interesting possibilty.

In any case, the wall is the very definition of epic, expensive, bloated, and awesome.

4. Korean Turtle Ships

The Turtle Ships were used by the Korean navy from the 15th century, and are especially known for their role in the Imjin War with Japan, where japanese warlord Hideyoshi tried to use Korea as a launching board for an epic assault on China. He failed.

Some role in his failure played this ship design, supposedly perfected by legendary korean admiral Yi Sun-sin. The whole design stemmed from the idea that, by covering the deck of the ship with walls and a roof, the enemy wouldn't be able to board it, but the awesomeness was soon increased by gunpowder; Yi Sun-sins ships had five different types of cannons, one of which was hidden in a dragon head at the bow, spewing fire from its mouth. Another variant of the dragon's head could launch a cloud of toxic smoke created from a mixture of sulphur and salpeter. Tradition has it that the turtle ships were iron-plated, but the evidence for this is weak, though they did have a shitload of iron spikes to further discourage boarding.

Yi's ships were intended as close-assault vessels; using sails and/or oars, they would speed towards the enemy ship, ramming it, and unleash a broadside of cannon shots at close range. Korean commander's especially favored targeting the enemy's command ship with this tactic; the Turtle Ships' resilience allowed them to plow through an enemy fleet straight for the command ship, and upon sinking this, would severely damage the enemy's morale.

Unlike most of the stuff on this list, Turtle Ships were actually really useful. Still, they were apparently exotic, advanced and awesome enough to become stuff of legends.

3. Tsar Bomba

Tsar Bomba is the nickname for AN602, a hydrogen bomb that the Soviet Union detonated in Novaya Zemlya archipelago in 1961. As the russians really liked big stuff, it was originally designed to have a payload of 100 megatons of TNT, which eventually had to be reduced to half once they realized that the fallout from the explosion would be a bit much too handle. To put this into perspective: the bomb actually detonated was still the most physically powerful device ever utilized by mankind, and shattered windows in Finland. The blast could have caused third-degree burns a hundred kilometers away, the mushroom cloud was seven times the height of Mt Everest, and the seismic shock from the blast could be measured even on its third passage around the earth. Getting the plane that dropped the bomb away in time not to be destroyed by the shockwave was actually an issue.

The Tsar Bomba was the culmination of a paradigm where precise bomb targeting was not assured, and bomb blasts accordingly should be large enough to destroy a target even if dropped five to ten kilometers away. The development of more precise ICBMs would soon make this paradigm obsolete, but even before that, Tsar Bomba might have been overdoing it just a little. At 1,4% the energy output of the sun.

2. The Cannon That Destroyed Byzantium

Absurdly huge bombards, great cannons designed to shatter walls, were very much in vogue in the 15th century. Especially enthusiastic about such stuff was the "Gunpowder Empires", one of which was the Ottoman Turks. In 1452, they stood ready to conquer Constantinople, something they had a history of failing with - despite that they had taken all surrounding lands, the city itself had defied them for a century. Constantinople's walls were stuff of legends, and it seemed they simply couldn't be breached.

At this time lived a little hungarian gunsmith called Orban. He had thought up a design for the biggest, baddest cannon the world had yet seen, and presented the idea for the emperor in Constantinople, who quickly decided he could neither afford nor needed such a thing.

Not very discouraged, Orban instead went to the turks, claiming that his cannon could "Blast the walls of Babylon itself". The sultan was all like: "Sure, but...can you make it...bigger?"

Forever proving that bigger is better and that military investment pays off, the Ottomans employed Orban and had him construct a cannon so absurdly big that 60 oxen had to drag it to Constantinople, where it blasted the epic walls to bits. The thousand year old Roman Empire thus came to an end, and while the Ottoman fascination for big fucking guns continued well into the 19th century, when they used the then ancient Dardanelles Gun to take a shot at a british fleet, Orban himself died a karmic death when one of his superguns exploded.

(No picture of the cannon remains; depicted is the russian Tsar Cannon, which is another gigantic bombard. Note the girl in the lower right corner for scale).

1. Battleship Yamato

Battleships were, in essence, gigantic floating platforms with equally gigantic guns that could be fired simultaneously, backed up by a vast host of smaller guns, mines, torpedoes, etc. Add to this the nice bow shape and sleek yet brutal look of a really large ship, a small nations' steel production's worth of armour, a couple of catapult-launched seaplanes and a crew counted in the thousands, and we have the closest to a Star Destroyer that humanity has gotten thus far. The faith in and prestige associated with battleships were immense in the early 20th century, despite the absurd amounts of time, cash and manpower that had to be invested in order to build even a single one. Yet, despite all this, and despite their sheer awesomeness, historians argue that battleships were never really useful; everything they could do, smaller ships and airplanes could do much more cost-efficiently. This view is further strengthened by the fact that there only was two real confrontations between battleships ever; the Battle of Tsushima and the Battle of Jutland. Battleships never accomplished much, other than wasting steel, lives, and money.

So yes, they were both unneccessary and overrated, a money-sink of epic proportions. And the most egregious of them all was the Yamato, the pride and flagship of Japan. She and her sister ship Musashi was designed with the philosophy that, as the americans had more than a 3:1 advantage on the japanese in number of battleships, Japan simply had to build two huge enough to compensate for that all by themselves. That's the spirit of awesome!

Yamato was pathetically sunk by american aircraft in 1945, and only got to fire her absurdly huge cannons on surface targets one single time. Yet, german battleship Bismarcks brutal destruction of british battlecruiser Hood a few years before had demonstrated what a battleship could do, and Yamato was bigger, better, and stronger than her. While the American Iowa-class of battleships was almost as large and much more technically advanced, the Yamato class was much heavier, and had 46 cm main guns, compared to Iowas puny 40 cm. With a great name, epic size and looks, and the biggest fucking guns ever mounted on a ship, Yamato stands out as the king of all battleships, and battleships were in themselves the epitome of expensive, advanced and uneccessary, being so awesome that they crossed the spectrum from worthless to great and all the way back to worthless. This gives them a firm place in history among the coolest of humanity's achievements.