History is full of odd items and events that make us modern humans marvel at their sheer weirdness…and firearms history is no exception.
You’ve probably heard of your fair share of weird, but well-known firearms, from pocket knife pistols to guns built into walking canes to rifles with curved barrels intended to allow the user to shoot around corners.
Today, however, we’re going to talk about some firearms you probably haven’t heard about. The following guns are not just weird. Rather, they are so strange that they never even made it past the prototype stage. In some cases, the gun’s lack of success was due to design flaws. In other cases, the gun was just too unconventional for consumers at the time to get behind.
Now that I’ve caught your interest, let’s take a look at these weird firearms.
Take a moment to appreciate the convenience of cartridge-based ammunition. Before cartridges were invented, loading a firearm was a much longer process and shooters were limited to a single shot at a time. Superimposed firearms were intended to solve that problem in the pre-cartridge era.
Superimposed firearms require the same steps for loading, but are intended to have multiple rounds loaded at the same time. Each round was supposed to act as a seal to prevent the consecutive ones from firing each time ignition occurred. They also used a series of touch holes to prevent the powder from mixing.
Some firearms used a sliding lock that could be used for each charge, while others had multiple locks with one for each charge.
Various gunsmiths and inventors created designs for superimposed firearms from the 1600s through the 1800s, but only a few isolated pistols made it past prototyping. The most notable of these inventors is the American Joseph Belton, who tried without success to license his Belton Flintlock to the Continental Congress, British Army, and East India Trading Company.
The problem with this design is exactly what you might expect. These guns were one mistake, misshapen round, or dirty barrel away from a small explosion. Unsurprisingly, no one seemed to think these firearms were novel or convenient enough to risk losing a hand.
The triangularly shaped round was initially invented post-World War II by United States military researchers looking for a more space effective round for use in machine guns. While triangularly shaped rounds took up 50% less space in the magazine, they were never adopted by the military.
Later, in the mid to late 1950s, David Dardick adopted this kind of ammunition, which he dubbed “trounds,” to fire from his Dardick Revolver, which was available in the Model 1100, Model 1500, and the Model 2000.
The strange appearance of Dardick’s ammunition was enhanced by their color. Dardick’s trounds were all encased in blue, green, or white polymer.
The Dardick Revolver was magazine fed, an odd feature which was permitted due to the revolver’s open barrel design. This allowed the Dardick Revolver to have an incredibly high capacity compared to other revolvers. The Model 1100 had a 10 round capacity, the Model 1500 could be configured to hold either 11 or 15 rounds, and the Model 2000 had a 20 round capacity.
Unlike contemporary firearms with removable magazines, the Dardick Revolver’s magazine was fixed and internal. It was fed through a door on the side of the gun.
The Model 1500, in particular, had another strange design feature. Similar to the CZ-455, the Dardick Model 1500 featured an interchangeable barrel. This allowed for the use of .38, .32, or .22 trounds, fired from either a 4 or 6-inch barrel.
Despite these innovative design features, or perhaps because of them, the Dardick Revolver never achieved public acceptance.
Gyrojet Family of Firearms
Like the Dardick Revolver, Gyrojet firearms, available in both pistol and rifle configurations, are most notable because of their odd ammunition.
Rather than typical bullets, Gyrojet firearms, created in the 1960s, fired 13mm rockets called microjets, which were able to actually increase speed as they got farther away from the point of fire, up to a certain distance.
This led to firearms with very little recoil and with lighter weight barrels, as they didn’t need to stand up to as much force from combustion gases as a typical firearm.
In theory, this sounds great, but in practice was a different story. Tests found Gyrojet firearms to be inaccurate, unreliable, cumbersome, and slow to load.
Even the most generous estimates suggested a failure rate of, at the very least, 1%. Microjets typically stopped accelerating at around 60 feet.
While these guns did see more success than others on this list in that some models were produced for commercial sale and military use, very few were sold and even fewer saw action. The technology of the time was simply unable to rectify the issues of the design, and the design went out of style long before the necessary technology became available.
However, this does mean that you can actually get your hands on a Gyrojet gun. That is if you can find one and are willing to spend, at a minimum, $1000 for one of the more common models. Of course, that price may not seem so bad until you consider that, if you want to actually be able to shoot it, you can expect to spend at least $100 per jet.
Davy Crockett Nuclear Rifle
You probably know that the US put a lot of time and resources into nuclear weapons development during the Cold War with varying levels of success. One of these weapons was the Davy Crockett nuclear rifle.
One of the smallest nuclear weapons systems ever created, the Davy Crockett nuclear rifle fired the M-388 nuclear projectile which had a yield equivalent to between 10 and 20 tons of TNT.
In terms of nukes, that is really small. Basically as small as it gets in fact. To put it in perspective, the two bombs the USA used against the Empire of Japan in WWII had a nuclear yield between 15 and 20 kilotons (15,000 – 20,000 tons of TNT).
However, considering the size – that’s a huge explosion from a 76 lb projectile fired from a gun shorter than the average man.
The Davy Crockett was intended to be the first line of defense against Soviet tanks and heavy artillery. However, there were a few problems.
They were difficult to use and inaccurate, and there was no way to stop the M-388 projectile from exploding in the event of an accidental discharge. These problems are unsettling enough, especially when you consider the extreme power of the projectile, but they seem manageable in comparison to a couple other issues with the Davy Crockett nuclear rifle.
One of these issues was the devices range. The M28 version had a range of one and a quarter miles. That’s well beyond the M-388’s immediately fatal range of a quarter mile, but still well within the fallout range of five or more miles. Even the follow-up attempt, the M29, which doubled the M28’s range, still failed to exceed the fallout range.
Understandably, no one wanted to shoot a firearm that has pretty good odds of killing the user as well as the target. Despite this, over 2,000 Davy Crockett nuclear rifles were manufactured and deployed between 1961 and 1971, which brings us to the second issue.
NATO, the military alliance the United States has belonged to since the end of World War II, refused to even entertain the idea of using the Davy Crockett nuclear system, and for good reason. As you probably remember from your history classes, the only thing that kept the (sort of) peace between the USSR and United States during the Cold War was that each knew the other had nuclear weapons as well as that if one side used their own nukes, the other would respond in kind (i.e., Mutually Assured Destruction – M.A.D.).
NATO leadership also knew that and was concerned that using the Davy Crockett system would lead the Soviets to use their own nuclear weapons, leading to an all-out nuclear war and probably the destruction of hundreds of millions of people, including innocents, and more than a few countries.
Probably a good call on the part of the NATO leadership.
Some Final Thoughts
Looking back at weird guns is a great reminder of the wildness of human creativity and innovation. Though these guns never got to be widely used, their designers deserve kudos and respect for their out of the box thinking, even if it didn’t always lead to the highest quality firearm.
Granted, some ideas are clearly worse than others.
Now, as always, I want you to hear your thoughts!
What are your favorite weird guns? Are there any modern guns you think people in the future will look at with the same amusement that we look at these guns? Do you have any unusual firearms in your own collection? Let me know in the comments below.