Among the countless number of firearms designed and built in the last few centuries, a select few lay claim to being the worst. Some are so bizarre that they could have only come from the mind of a madman. Others among the worst weapons were products of necessity, designed and built during desperate times by nations at war. Still a few of the worst firearms in history are new spins on an old product, but just don’t work as well.
Bad guns have many differences, but a few key similarities, no matter if it’s a tiny Kolibri pistol, a nuclear warhead firing Davy Crockett rifle, a futuristic Gyro Jet, or a ludicrous volley gun. They tend to be hard to fire, bulky, inaccurate, and prone to jamming. They’re impractical, often to the point of being pointless. Soldiers they were issued to threw them away, and civilians who bought them demanded their money back. At their very worst, they have a nasty habit of maiming their owners through horrible recoil and flying parts. Whether you’re fending off pirates in the 1800s or target shooting in 2015, these are things you don’t want in a gun.
Here are some of the worst, most impractical, least effective guns ever made.
Cochran Turret Revolver
With the advent of the Colt Revolver in the early 1830s, a number of gun manufacturers tried to develop their own versions of the iconic revolving mechanism. Likely the strangest was the concept of the “turret gun.” The turret was a round disc with holes bored into it that would hold powder and a ball. To fire the next ball, you moved the disc from an empty hole to a loaded one.
It’s not the worst theory, but it winds up with the shooter essentially having a loaded gun pointed at them. If the gun misfired, which it did often, the other chambers could discharge – including the one pointing at the shooter. Needless to say, turret guns did not spark the public’s imagination.
Soldiers in World War I needed light, powerful machine guns that could be easily moved during attacks, and provide copious firepower for defense. Unfortunately for French troops, they had the Chauchatlight machine gun. Its construction was so shoddy that parts weren’t interchangeable, while the distinctive magazine had large holes that easily became caked in mud, making the weapon useless.
It jammed easily, overheated, and was impossible to aim. Troops who were issued Chauchats often threw them away, preferring to use anything else they could get their hands on.
2 mm Kolibri
A tiny pistol that fired a bullet about half an inch long, the Kolibri (German for “hummingbird”) was designed in 1914 by an Austrian watchmaker to be the ultimate concealed self-defense weapon. In practice, it was so small that handling and firing it were next to impossible. If you did manage to get a round off, you probably were better off delivering a swift kick to the shin.
The bullet had no spin, no velocity, and was so weak it could only penetrate about an inch – of pine board. Kolibri pistols are now collectors’ items.
Nambu Type 94 Pistol
While popular with Japanese servicemen, the Nambu Type 94 was plagued with a number of design problems. It was difficult to reload, and had delicate parts that would break easily when being disassembled. The magazine would also fall out if the pistol was jammed in a holster too hard.
But by far the worst problem with the gun was that because of its design, it could accidentally fire without pulling the trigger if tapped on the side too hard. Urban legends abound of Japanese officers shot when they tried to hand over their Nambus, only to have them accidentally go off.
With the looming threat of German invasion, Great Britain needed a cheap and easily produced way to arm Home Guard reservists with weapons that could stop German armor. So, Winston Churchill authorized the production of the Northover Projector, a simple anti-tank gun that fired a two inch projectile. But the Northover was a difficult weapon to use, and was prone to having shells get stuck in its barrel, meaning that when they went off, they injured the weapon’s crew.
It also was heavy and hard to move, and gave off so much smoke when fired that its position was instantly identifiable. 18,000 Northovers were made, but none ever fired a shot in combat.
Glisenti Model 1910
An Italian World War I sidearm, the Glisenti was designed to upgrade turn of the century revolvers used by officers. Instead, it was a mess. It was designed to fire the weak 7.65 millimeter bullet, but higher-ups wanted it to fire the more powerful 9mm. When the bigger bullets were forced into the Glisenti, they would often blow the gun apart, due to its weak frame and poor construction.
The pistols also wore out quickly, jammed frequently, and had little stopping power. Many officers ditched them and secretly hung on to their revolvers.
Duck Foot Pistol
Almost certainly the most impractical firearm ever made, the Duck Foot Pistol suffers from one obvious flaw – none of its four .45 caliber barrels actually point in the direction you’re aiming. Instead, it’s designed to blast out in a wide range, which is great if you’ve got an enemy horde on top of you, but not so useful any other time.
Like most other volley guns, the Duck Foot saw limited use, and now exists mostly as a cool museum piece.
The problem of how to shoot around a corner has plagued soldiers since the invention of the gun. Nazi Germany thought they’d figured out a solution with the Krummlauf, a curved barrel attachment for the StG 44 assault rifle. Theoretically, the attachment could send bullets from a covered position at a high rate, but in practice the bullets often came out at weird angles, shattering the attachment and turning it into a shotgun that could easily kills its user.
The barrels also wore out quickly, often after just a few hundred rounds. They never saw widespread service.
Possibly the world’s first automatic weapon, the Puckle Gun was designed in 1718 by James Puckle, a British lawyer and inventor. Essentially a huge revolver on a tripod, the Puckle was meant to pacify angry native populations. Instead, it was clumsy, difficult to aim and ill-suited for warfare of the time. Likely the strangest thing about the Puckle was its ability to fire a square bullet, designed solely to be fired at Muslim Turks.
Why design a bullet just for shooting at one particular religion? Because square bullets were thought to cause more damage, and would teach the Turks the benefits of living under Christian civilization. Needless to say, the bullets were impossible to aim, and, like the Puckle Gun itself, were a failure written off as a historical oddity.
Nock Volley Gun
What’s better than one shotgun firing seven times? One seven-barreled shotgun firing once! At least that’s the theory behind the Nock Volley Gun, a massive flintlock rifle used by the Royal Navy in the early days of the Napoleonic Wars. The gun was to be used at close range against enemy ships preparing to board you, with the thought that seven barrels firing at the same time would cut a devastating swath through boarding troops.
In practice, the Nock was almost impossible to aim, and recoiled so hard that it would badly injure the shooter. It also had a tendency to set anything around it on fire – including the sails of British ships. It was discarded quickly, but found a second life in movies and TV many decades later.
A two-man flamethrower used by the German Empire in World War I, the Grossflammenwerfer was fairly effective the first time it was used, in July 1915. But once British and French troops figured out the weapon’s weakness, carrying it became a death sentence. Riflemen would simply pour fire into areas where German flame troops were operating, and one hit could made its gas tank explode, killing both operators.
Captured operators were often executed, due to the barbarity of the weapons, and it was too heavy to keep pace with advancing forces. It was soon replaced with a lighter model.
"Ring of Fire" Guns
Not so much one model of pistol as much as a type, “ring of fire” guns were also known as “junk guns” or as a “Saturday night special.” They were cheaply made, fragile, and inexpensive pistols meant for concealed carry – but often suffered from jams, poor accuracy, lack of durability, and accidental discharges.
They were used in a number of robberies and shootings, most notibly the attempted assassination of President Reagan in 1981. The cadre of gunmakers who cranked out these pistols were mostly based in the Los Angeles area, and are all out of business thanks to a series of lawsuits and new restrictions.
The Gyrojet was a solution in search of a problem. A family of pistols and light rifles developed in the early ’60s, the Gyrojet didn’t fire bullets, but instead small rockets that theoretically would increase in velocity after being shot. In practice, while being light and having little recoil, the weapons fouled easily, were inaccurate, and almost impossible to load quickly.
The Army explored everything from Gyrojet pistols to machine guns, but ditched the design after making just 1,000 pistols. A few were used in Vietnam, and later appeared in a variety of spy movies.
Developed in Canada in 1903, the Ross Rifle was a sturdy, bolt-action rifle good for target shooting and hunting. What it was not good for was close-quarters combat in filthy trenches, due to an almost pathological tendency to jam if it got the slightest bit dirty.
The rifle’s bolt also had a nasty habit of not locking when reassembled after cleaning, but because of a design flaw, the weapon could still fire even with a loose bolt. So it would fly backwards off the rifle when firing a live round – and right into the face of the shooter, causing horrible injuries. It was so bad that Canadian troops would often discard their Ross Rifles for British Lee-Enfield rifles taken from casualties. The Ross was retired soon after the Battle of the Somme, but still used by snipers because of its accuracy.
The theory behind the Liberator was a noble one. It was designed to be a cheap, one-shot pistol that could be dropped in huge numbers behind enemy lines to be used by partisans and resistance fighters, who could sneak up on an enemy soldier, kill them, and take their (presumably) better weapon. In practice though, the Liberator was unpopular with high-ranking military brass, who authorized only a few thousand of the million guns that were made to be distributed.
The weapon proved clumsy, inaccurate, and was so hard to reload that users were meant to throw it away rather than try. No records exist of a Liberator actually being used in combat.
While this gun looks like an April Fools’ joke from a gun magazine, it’s a real firearm. Made by Arsenal Firearms, it’s basically two 1911 style pistols welded together for extra firepower and coolness. Released in 2015, the AF2011 didn’t win any points with gun enthusiasts, who felt the bulky weapon was virtually impossible to shoot, hard to use, awkward, inaccurate, and hugely overpriced.
The gun got some time in the public eye in late 2015 when it was used in SPECTRE by henchman character Mr. Hinx.
The Czech CZ-38 pistol entered service in 1938, and virtually all of them were snapped up by Nazi Germany. The weapon never saw extensive service for a very good reason – it wasn’t any good. While it was easy to disassemble and reassemble, it also was too heavy and bulky for infantry use, firing a 9mm bullet with little stopping power.
They were given mostly to police and second line forces, and production stopped on them as soon as the war was over.
New Orleans gunsmith Jean LeMat cooked up the LeMat Revolver for the Confederacy to use in the Civil War. It was a regular old revolver, except for one special feature: a 20 gauge shotgun slapped underneath it. LeMat and several Confederate generals envisioned the revolver as a close-quarters cavalry weapon, but a variety of factors led to the weapon never seeing extensive use.
It was expensive to make, and the Union blockade of New Orleans meant not many made it the front lines. It also used non-standard ammunition, was extremely inaccurate, and difficult to reload. About 2,900 were made in total.
Boys Anti-Tank Rifle
The M14 was designed as an upgrade of the beloved M1 Garand battle rifle, beloved by US troops in the Second World War for its accuracy, power, and durability. But despite being based off that design, the M14 proved to be almost totally unsuited to combat in the Vietnam War. It was introduced into the US military in 1957, with the aim of replacing the hodgepodge of weapons that had been used in the post-war armed forces.
But when jungle combat started, it was found that the rifle swelled and rusted, jammed easily, and was totally uncontrollable when used in automatic mode. The Army quickly switched to the new M16 (which had its own share of problems) and the M14 was discontinued. But it found a second life as a sniper rifle, and was founded to be well suited to long range desert combat. It’s still used in limited quantities today.