Among the horrors and heroism of World War II, there were also some downright bizarre weapons. It seems that’s just what happens when the economies and imaginations of the world powers are forced to focus solely on creating offensive arsenals.
Indeed, some of the examples are pretty mind-boggling. There was the Nazi Sun Gun, which was a deadly serious plan to place a mirror in space to focus the light of the Sun and use it as a weapon. And there was the Krummlauf, which let soldiers fire around corners.
Then there was the Goliath, a tiny remote-controlled tank that was designed to roll under American tanks and blow them up. Amazingly, almost 7,500 of these predecessors to today’s drones were built during the course of the war.
However, there’s a good chance that this weapon might just be the strangest. It looks as innocuous as one of the improbable gadgets that James Bond would use, and it was intended to be just as deadly. But just what actually is it?
In fact, this is the SS-Waffenakademie Koppelschloßpistole, or “Belt Castle Gun.” Essentially, it’s a small caliber pistol hidden in a belt buckle. And it’s got a history that’s almost as fascinating as its design.
The concept for the pistol came to its inventor, Louis Marquis, when he was in a prisoner-of-war camp during the First World War. Marquis worked on the idea for a number of years, and in 1943 he received an order for five of the devices for use by the SS. It’s possible, though, that just 12 of the devices were made during the entirety of the war, with none of them making it past the prototype stage. Yet, even so, there was real ingenuity in their design.
The idea was that the buckles would be used as a last line of defense against capture. For example, some models would fire automatically when opened. Others still each had a piece of string attached to them – so that when the officer was told to put their hands in the air, the device would open up, ready to fire.
Several models were considered for use during the war. One had four barrels designed for use with .22 cal or 5.6mm bullets. Another had two barrels and fired 7.65mm ammunition. But it’s highly unlikely that they were ever used in combat situations.
To fire most versions of the gun you first needed to open the spring-loaded casing. With this done, the barrels would also move into position. Then you’d just need to pull the triggers to open fire. The four barrel version had four separate triggers, one for each barrel.
One prototype featured a single barrel that could fire a 9 x 19mm round. This is the simplest model of the gun that has been discovered, but it used the same basic hardware as the more complex versions that came with additional barrels. However, there is some doubt as to the authenticity of some of the examples of the gun that remain today.
And while the story about Himmler requesting a small run of the guns for the SS does appear to be true, what can’t be proven is that the devices left today are in fact the guns that Marquis was commissioned to build. There’s a slightly darker twist in the tale, too.
In the 1960s Marquis’ widow was asked about her husband’s work during the war. She stated that after the first run of five weapons had been created, the factory where the belt buckle guns were being built was destroyed by Allied bombing.
After the apparent destruction of the factory, then, the weapons never went into production. Indeed, estimates suggest that only a handful – somewhere between five and 12 – ever came into being. And there’s a story behind the examples that have been found as well.
According to one account, a U.S. soldier stationed in Germany in the early 1990s was offered one of the pistols by the owner of a shooting range that he frequented. The owner claimed he’d found the gun after helping Marquis’ widow clear out her attic.
Strangely, though, after the soldier showed interest in the first weapon he was offered, the gun range owner came back with another three, all of which the soldier purchased. And, eventually, he brought them back to the U.S. in his luggage.
But whether or not the examples of the guns on the market today are real, the legacy of the belt buckle pistols is an intriguing addition to the history of World War II. Especially if you’re interested in the strange weaponry of the period.
Interestingly, the soldier who bought the guns in Germany has also spoken about how they performed as weapons. And, let’s put it this way, it’s unlikely that they would have turned the tide of the war in the Nazis’ favor.
Often the bullets wouldn’t stay in place, he claimed, and they slid out of the chambers. Of course, this meant that you couldn’t fire them. There was also a very real chance that the firing pin would get jammed into the cartridge, which would then have to be carefully pried out.
The soldier also reckoned that the guns would only fire about a quarter of the time. Which doesn’t make them the most useful concealed weapons if you’re about to get taken in for questioning. In fact, you might be able to do more damage with a standard belt buckle.
Either way, the weapons stand as an intriguing reminder of the ingenuity of the industrial war machines of the last world war. In equal parts, it was a brilliant design and a terrifying method for ending human life. Plus, it was pretty far from perfect.