We know that the Nazis had the weirdest concepts and ideas when it came to creating weapons of destruction during times of war. They had curved rifles, bouncing bombs, and even ball tanks. You name it. They probably have tried it. Some of their weapons like the first jet fighters, ballistic missiles and submarines running submerged on hydrogen peroxide were startling innovations, while others were duds. Perhaps it was Hitler’s fascination and hunger for technological advancement, or maybe it was his desire to reign over the world and mass murder people. Whichever it was, it led to the creation of one of their most daring, ambitious, and unorthodox weapon ideas: The Sun Gun. Kind of like the Death Star, but not quite. It uses the heat of the sun to aim and fry any place or country that they wish to fry.

Nazis’ Attempt at Technological Advancement

The Third Reich was the height of many amazing scientific feats that proved to be great inventions and ideas. Fritz X, for instance, is often referred to as the first type of smart bomb to be ever made, with its radio-guided technology that could carry explosives up to 700 pounds. It could drop the bombs at an altitude of 20,000 feet, and it could accurately hit moving targets like enemy warships. It was Fritz X that sank the HMS Warspite, HMS Spartan, and the HMHS Newfoundland.

Fritz-X at RAF Museum Cosford. (Arjun SarupCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

There was also the Messerschmitt 163 Komet that saw action late in the war but was still able to cause devastating effects as the first rocket-propelled plane. Komet could reach speeds of about 700 mph in a vertical drive, close to the sound barrier, which was around 767 mph. This, however, was slightly impractical because it could only run for about 20 miles before running out of fuel. Regardless, it was still an impressive weapon during its time.

These were just two of the many successful “firsts” of the Nazis in terms of weapons, proof that the Fuhrer really meant business when it came to exploring the limits of technology.

Supposed to be Harmless

In an article published by Life Magazine for their July 23, 1945 issue called “The German Space Mirror,” they reported that the “US Army technology experts came up with the astonishing fact that German scientists had seriously planned to build a ‘sun gun.'” According to it, the Nazis planned to construct a device consisting of a reflective, slightly concave disk that was about one mile in diameter. They could use it to focus solar rays virtually anywhere in the world.

The article came with illustrations that showed how the sun gun was supposed to work. The large mirror was “located 22,300 miles above the equator.”

Hermann Oberth. (Unknown (Mondadori Publishers), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The space mirror idea, according to NASA, came from German rocket scientist Hermann Oberth in 1923. It was originally intended for non-aggressive purposes like illuminating dim ports or thawing frozen rivers, you know, because one couldn’t do all those things while on the earth. The concept took a quick turn and became a weapon of destruction in the 1930s when Nazism rose.

Sourcing from the Moon

The magazine explained that the giant orbital mirror was made to “focus the sun’s rays to a scorching point on the earth’s surface” and could be used to burn the enemy cities to ashes and maybe boil parts of the ocean where enemy ships were.

Oberth wrote, “My space mirror” he wrote, “is like the hand mirrors that schoolboys use to flash circles of sunlight on the ceiling of their classroom. A sudden beam flashed on the teacher’s face may bring unpleasant reactions.” The German physicist who was born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire was regarded as one of the founding fathers of rocket science and astronautics, and he was one of those who helped develop the V2 rocket.

No one really knew for sure how the mirror was to be built, but Life Magazine suggested that it would be brought to space preassembled, along with a small crew who lived inside the mirror. They would breathe air produced by, wait for it, thousands of pumpkin plants. They would also wear shoes with magnets, so they didn’t float around with the lack of gravity. They didn’t also want them accidentally crashing their head into the ceiling, so they were required to wear helmets.

In 1961, Oberth was interviewed, and he suggested that the materials for the space construction could be provided a thousand times cheaper if they were sourced from the moon, believing that it has the same metals as the earth. The Germans meant serious business, as they were willing to shell out a budget of $3 billion for the weapon that Oberth calculated would take 15 years to construct.

Contrary to how the editors of Life Magazine imagined, building the mirror would start by launching a single unmanned rocket that, once in orbit, would unreel six 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches thick cables that would span 90 miles. The astronauts would use these cables as the foundation to connect a network of hexagonal cells that would be several kilometers across each. Each of these cells would contain a movable circular mirror made of sodium-metal foil.

The Allied forces did not discover this solar cannon idea until 1945, and the sun gun would for sure solidify the Germans as the superpower of the world had they managed to pull off the sun gun idea. Imagine pissing off the Nazis, and they got back at you by diverting the sunbeam to your city, burning and evaporating it to nothing.

Life Magazine probably missed the central difficulty in building the space mirror, getting it into space in the first place.  That would prove to be a daunting task for the US and USSR in the 1950s and 1960s, the enormous expense and difficulty of just getting an object in orbit with people aboard.

Photos of the Life Magazine article. (LIFE Magazine)