This Is the Great Panjandrum
This was an experimental weapon design during WW2, created by the British Admiralty’s Directorate of Miscellaneous Weapons Development(DMWD) it was essentially a rocket propelled cart filled with explosives.
The DMWD had been tasked with with creating a device capable of penetrating the concrete defenses that made up the Atlantic Wall, the German defenses along their coast line. It was also decided that the device would have to be capable of being launched from a landing craft, since any attempts to deploy the device by hand would almost certainly result in death.
The delivery methods for explosives proved a significant problem. Eventually they decided to create a prototype of one of the concepts that they had discussed, this would be the prototype Great Panjandrum.
The concept for the device was comprised of two large wooden wheels with steel treads, these would be joined by a central drum where the explosives would be stored. A set of rockets would be attached to each wheel which would propel the weapon. The final design would have been deployed with a 4,000 pound payload and would achieve speeds exceeding 100km/h, they hoped that and object of this size and speed would simply break through any small obstacles in its way, and then explode when it hit the concrete defenses.
The problem? Well the first time they tested the device, immediately after launch several of the rockets detached and began flying uncontrollably across the beach they were testing on. Another trial would see the right wheel fail and the device would careen off course, it seemed that every trial would result in rockets detaching or the object falling off its course.
The Panjandrum after a failed test
Many more weeks were spent testing different variations, some included more rockets, some had lighter payloads, some included a third wheel, yet with each test the device would continue to fail. After several failures the DMWD was told that the weapon was only required, with some degree of confidence, to be able to travel in the general direction of the enemy.
Confident in their newest prototype the DMWD scheduled a final trial to be performed in January 1944. The final test is actually well described by a BBC journalist who witnessed the test.
“At first all went well. The Panjandrum rolled into the sea and began to head for the shore […] Then a clamp gave first one, then two more rockets broke free: Panjandrum began to lurch ominously. It hit a line of small craters in the sand and began to turn to starboard careering towards Klemantaski, who, viewing events through a telescopic lens, misjudged the distance and continued filming. Hearing the approaching roar he looked up from his viewfinder to see Panjandrum, shedding live rockets in all directions, heading straight for him. As he ran for his life, he glimpsed the assembled admirals and generals diving for cover behind the pebble ridge into barbed-wire entanglements. Panjandrum was now heading back to the sea but crashed on to the sand where it disintegrated in violent explosions, rockets tearing across the beach at great speed.”
Panjandrum before the test
While the device was never deployed in a combat scenario I do think it was one of the strangest designs during the entire war if not in all of history. Despite failure after failure the British continued to test it over and over again. The main problem with the device was that it was completely unguided, and all it took was the failure of one rocket, or a small bump and the device would go completely off course.
Funnily enough on the 65th anniversary of the D-Day Landings, a replica of the Panjandrum was constructed and set off on a beach. This replica was fitted with fireworks and was meant to travel 500 meters and then launch a firework show. Instead much like its predecessors before it the device traveled for 50 meters collapsed and then failed to explode