Anything that’s made to kill another human is to be feared. But not all weapons of war are created equal not feared equally. Some of them were not only designed to merely end lives but to inflict suffering that would make it look like death is the better option.  Weapons also have a psychological effect on the enemy.  Legend has it that Romanian prince, Vlad the Impaler got his monicker by impaling his victims on wooden poles.  He captured an advanced party of Turks that were invading his part of Romania once and had them all impaled in a line that went on for miles.  When the made body of the Turkish Army arrived and saw their comrades skewered like so many shish kabobs, they lost heart for the fight and turned back.

Designing devices meant to inflict suffering on people is not new. For instance, during the medieval era, there were instruments used to make the victims suffer, like the Iron Maiden. Here are other devices that were as frightful, if not more:

Hot Sand/Boiling Water

Defending a castle. Photo from

Contrary to what movies show, the use of hot oil to defend a castle is pretty rare. There wasn’t much supply of it, and it was pretty expensive. Instead, attackers climbing up the wall were poured with scalding water or, sometimes, hot sand. Getting hot sand into your armor and not being able to quickly take it off sure is one heck of an unpleasant experience.


Japanese flamethrower in action.

The fear of burning to death and watching your comrades be consumed in flames is already torture enough. During WWI, Germans used flamethrowers to annihilate adversaries in trenches and destroy fortifications. Other nations also used this, as the US Army, to burn out the Japanese soldiers in caves and canals during WWII. All sides in the conflict employed flamer throwers and they were greatly feared.

Anti-Personnel Mines

German WWII S-Mine or Bouncing Betty.

Mines like the German’s Schrapnellmine were designed to kill or injure people above anything else. What’s evil about this stuff is that the torture from the disfigurement that the victims would get could last for the rest of their lives. The ever present danger of mines also gave troops pause to watch every footstep they took and this may have been their greatest attribute.  A minefield would stop an advance dead in its tracks, until the mines could be cleared.


Napalm strike at Khe Sanh. USMC Archives/Wikimedia Commons/Flickr

Basically, a flying flame thrower.  In the Pacific theater during WWII, the vegetation could be incredibly dense and the effects of bomb blasts and fragmentation would be reduced by the thick jungle.  bombed filled with jellied gasoline inflicted casualties by heat and oxygen deprivation and toxic gas exposure.  It also defoliated the jungle and robbed the enemy of cover. Napalm was a sticky goo that sticks to its target and continues to burn, wiping at it just spreads it more. That’s what napalm is. Not only could it be used as a shower bomb, but it was also effective against dug-in enemies. Its gel consistency meant it could be dropped or sprayed into foxholes, trenches, even irrigation ditches.  Cover was hard to find from this stuff. You might think you’re lucky if you weren’t directly poured over by this goo of death but even being close to it could also cause, asphyxiation, hyperthermia, and carbon monoxide poisoning. It burns at 1,470 to 2,190 °F and burns longer than gasoline. It’s so awful that even brief contact with it can cause second-degree burns.

Atomic Bomb

War Department. U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey. Pacific Survey. Physical Damage Division.

Nuclear weapons are probably the most fearsome weapon ever devised by mankind.  So fearsome that their only use in warfare was not to begin a war, but to end one.  Of course we are talking about when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed in 1945. Aside from the instant deaths of those 200,000 people killed in the two blasts, the after-effect was just as devastating. For all the fear of what an atomic bomb might do, the radiation levels in these two cities were mostly back to normal background levels after a few days.  Radiation poisoning was not fatal in small dose. In fact human beings turn out to be pretty resistant to radiation exposure.  Thousands who received near-lethal doses of radiation did not experience any greater risk of hard cancers like leukemia than the non-exposed. Concerns about birth defects in the children of survivors may have been unfounded as well.  They really haven’t been able to find any in children conceived by parents after surviving the explosions. The fear induced by such weapons can last a very long time.  Survivors of the two bombings were shunned for decades by Japanese society, believing that their bodies retained radiation that would affect them.  It mattered in employment, housing and even marriage.

If you can we have left any fear-inducing weapons off the list, add them in the comments below.