Idiotic or Inspired?

Panjandrums and Other Nonsense


So she went into the garden to cut a cabbage-leaf to make an apple-pie; and at the same time a great she-bear, coming up the street, pops its head into the shop. “What! No soap?” So he died, and she very imprudently married the barber; and there were present the Picninnies, and the Joblillies, and the Garyulies, and the grand Panjandrum himself, with the little round button at top, and they all fell to playing the game of catch-as-catch-can till the gunpowder ran out at the heels of their boots.

That quote from Samuel Foote was a test of his rival Charles Macklin’s assertion that he could memorize any text after hearing it only once. It also was the inspiration for the naming of a two-ton spinning wheel of Nazi death during WWII.


The Admiralty’s Directorate of Miscellaneous Weapons Development (DMWD) — seriously, how awesome is that name — was asked to develop a weapon that could breach Hitler’s Atlantic Wall. It had to be able to be launched from a landing craft. Basically, this was a lead-up to D Day and the Brits were not too keen on losing a ton of men to the machine guns and cannon of the Nazis. Sub-Lieutenant Nevil Shute was given the job of developing this miscellaneous weapon and calculated that a minimum of one long ton would be required to create a tank-size hole in the sea wall. He developed a weapon that included a center barrel with the explosives riding between two ten-foot diameter wooden wheels with 12-inch wide steel treads. Propulsion was by means of cordite rockets attached to each wheel. Shute figured it would hit 60 mph.

Things didn’t go well. During nearly every test, the rockets either would fail asymmetrically (as rockets have a tendency to do) or break free of their clamps. Either failure caused the same problem: the Panjandrum would careen off course and crash. A third wheel was added for stability to no avail. Adding steel cables to the wheels just meant there were flying steel cables during tests. The requirement was clarified to be that it just had to go in the general direction of the enemy.

Then, the day of the final test came. The generals and their attendants were standing on a pebble ridge overlooking the beach in Devon that was used for testing. The landing craft floated up, dropped its doors and let loose its nonsensical payload. At first, it looked like it might actually be a successful test. Then one clamp gave way, and another. Rockets broke free. The Panjandrum went out of control, at first trying to run down a cameraman before setting its aim on the pebble ridge. Military muckity mucks dove for cover as the Panjandrum steered away at the last minute before flipping back into the sea.

The project was cancelled within days. Some believe this was never really intended to be a real weapon. Instead, it could have been a part of Operation Fortitude and part of the

  • "During nearly every test, the rockets either would fail asymmetrically (as rockets have a tendency to do)…."

    Yup. Been there, done that.

    [youtube veF5eOP4ouE youtube]

    • Vairship

      I also can't help but notice that the parachute wasn't very parachutey…

  • Number_Six


    Incidentally, Sub-Lt Nevil Shute is the talented fellow who would later write the chilling Cold War novel, On the Beach. Highly recommended reading for 'toasterese.

    • skitter


      Tangentially, these need to be in a movie.

  • booniefez
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