The Bizarre Sewing Needle Bomb Of World War II

By Nolan Moore on Friday, April 18, 2014
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“Creativity arises out of the tension between spontaneity and limitations, the latter (like the river banks) forcing the spontaneity into the various forms which are essential to the work of art or poem.” —Rollo May, The Courage to Create

In A Nutshell

The military scientists of World War II were quite creative . . . in a scary sort of way. One of their weirdest inventions was the deadly sewing needle bomb, a device meant to drop poisonous darts on Nazi troops. And while the bomb never saw any action, it did kill quite a few sheep.

The Whole Bushel

World War II was an exciting time . . . if you were a military scientist. In their quest to defeat the Axis Powers, Allied researchers had a field day dreaming up weird weapons to kill and maim the enemy. Of course, not all their plans made it past the prototype phase, but that was probably a good thing. Take the deadly sewing needle bomb for example.

Developed by British researchers at the Porton Down base in Wiltshire, the idea was simple enough: Make a bomb that would spray the Nazis with thousands of poisonous needles. Teaming up with American and Canadian scientists, the Brits created hollowed-out needles just perfect for holding small amounts of poison. At one end was a knife-like blade, sealed off with cotton and wax. On the other end was a paper tail that would guide the needle as it fell at 76 meters (250 ft) per second. Once the needle hit its victim, a special “inertia ball” would slam forward, driving the poison into the bloodstream.

The sewing needle bomb actually had a successful trial run in Suffield, Alberta, Canada. Several patriotic sheep were drafted to serve as Nazi stand-ins. Quite a few of the ewes were wrapped in double layers of clothing, and some were even placed in actual trenches. When everything was ready, a plane dropped a canister holding up to 30,000 needles. While sources disagree on the kind of poison they were carrying (it might’ve been mustard gas compounds, sarin, or ricin), they all agree it had its intended effects. The sheep keeled over, their blood pressure dropped, their muscles started twitching, and then they went to the great big pasture in the sky. After the tests, the scientists concluded it’d take just one poison-filled dart about five minutes to drop a man and a further 30 minutes to kill him.

However, there were some glaring problems with the sewing needle bomb. First, the needles themselves weren’t that strong. Once the Nazis figured out how the weapons worked, they only needed to duck under a tree or jump inside a car, and they’d be safe. And then there was the problem of finding enough pins. For the bombs to work effectively, scientists needed 30 million needles, so they asked the Singer Sewing Machine Company for a few specialty items. But when they received a request for knife-tipped, hollow needles, the business responded with a letter saying, “We are afraid we do not quite understand your requirements. From your remarks, it would seem the needles are required for some other purpose, other than sewing machines.”

Eventually, the entire program was scrapped for being “highly uneconomical” which is just as well. The world has enough insane weapons without a sewing needle bomb. And as it turns out, the Allies didn’t need all 30 million needles anyway. They went on to win the war without any powerful poisons or wacky weapons. Of course, they ended up inventing something even worse.

Show Me The Proof

WIRED: Revealed: WWII’s Secret Sewing Needle Bomb
Telegraph: Poison dart ‘bombs’ developed by Second World War scientists
BBC News: WWII poison darts secret emerges
The Independent: The weapon Britain hoped would defeat the Nazis…