The 5 Most Overrated Weapons of War

These weapons—among the most expensive weapons of all-time—have mythic reputations. Careful analysis suggests otherwise. 

Throughout history, mankind has developed new and often deadly weapons for waging war. Some systems have proven to be effective in battle and have justifiably developed fearsome reputations for their brutal efficiency. Other times, weapons acquire fearsome reputations that are not wholly justified due to their high cost and lack of effectiveness. And some weapons fall into a strange category—holding a reputation completely out of proportion to their actual usefulness on the battlefield and are entirely overrated. Sometimes, these reputations rise to the level of mythology—but hide underlying weaknesses.

Here are five such weapons—some of the most overrated of all-time—from the past century:

The Battleship:

The battleship as we imagine it today emerged with the HMS Dreadnought when it entered service with the British Royal Navy in 1906. At the time, her design was revolutionary. Unlike previous generations of battleships, Dreadnought was armed with an all big-gun armament of ten 12 inch guns. The design rendered all previous battleships obsolete.

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But the next-generation battleships were expensive white elephants—their most useful function during peacetime was simply to demonstrate national power. Even going back to the age of sail, massive so-called first-rate ships of the line were rarely the most useful battleships in combat due to their ponderous nature and poor sea-keeping qualities. Like their later counterparts, they were mostly useful for show.

The only time dreadnoughts ever engaged in the massive fleet on fleet duels that they were intended for was at Jutland during the First World War. Even there, the fear of losing one of these expensive behemoths proved to be a huge concern—for both the German and the British fleets.

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Subsequently, during the Second World War, many battleships were destroyed from the air never having engaged another warship. Toward the end of the war, with carrier airpower becoming dominant, the massive vessels were mostly used to pound shore targets.

Arguably, the largest battleships ever built actually hampered Japan’s war efforts more than they helped by sucking up resources better used elsewhere. The same could be said for Germany’s Bismarck and Tirpitz—the later of which ended up capsized in a Norwegian fjord after being pounded from the air by British Lancaster bombers. Both the massive 72,000-ton Japanese super battleship Yamato and sister ship Musashi were sunk by carrier-based airpower without ever sinking another warship.

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Tiger I Tank:

Nazi Germany’s Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger Ausf.E, usually called the Tiger, was one of the most feared tanks in the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS arsenal. It was a monster of a tank with thick frontal armor that was virtually impenetrable to allied anti-tank weapons from most ranges when it was first introduced. It also had a massive 88mm gun. Deployed in heavy independent tank battalions, the Tiger developed a fearsome reputation.

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However, the Tiger was already obsolete by the time it was fielded in 1942 because it lacked features such as sloped armor. It was also massively over-engineered and expensive. It guzzled fuel and frequently broke down. The Nazis managed to build only 1,347 Tigers during its production run—for more than twice the price of the Panther, which was arguably a much better tank. By comparison, the Soviets built well over 60,000 T-34 tanks.

The Panther was smaller, faster, and more maneuverable, while its 75mm gun—which had a much higher muzzle velocity— had better armour penetration performance than the Tiger’s 88mm gun. The Panther was also better protected from the front with its 80mm of sloped armour, which offered superior performance compared to the Tiger’s 100mm of flat armor plate. More importantly, the Panther cost less than half as much to build as the Tiger and could be produced much faster.

Il-2:

The Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik ground attack aircraft attained nearly mythological status within the Soviet military during the Second World War. The Soviets built over 36,000 of the warplanes during what is still referred to as the Great Patriotic War in Russia. While the Il-2 certainly boosted the moral of the Red Army’s ground forces, how effective it actually was is questionable.

Soviet aircrew flying the Sturmovik suffered horrendous losses against the Luftwaffe over the Eastern Front. It was not particularly maneuverable and proved to be easy prey in many cases. It also didn’t carry a huge bomb load—especially when compared to the P-47 Thunderbolt and the Hawker Typhoon, which are its closest western equivalents. Moreover, it wasn’t particularly accurate when delivering its weapons.

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