When it comes to drone warfare, the Nazis were early innovators.
In World War II, the Germans had an arsenal of technological weapons systems that were used against the Allies, but one of their most surprising ideas was the Goliath Tracked Mine, sometimes referred to as the Nazi midget demolition tank.
In 1940, the Wehrmacht Ordnance Bureau asked Carl F.W. Borgward, a visionary automaker who made miniature mail-delivery cars, to develop a similar vehicle capable of transporting more than 100 pounds of high explosives to a target.
The unmanned vehicle had a 2,145-foot cable spool on its rear, which limited its range to less than half a mile on flat surfaces. Operators generally had to maintain line of sight while using a joystick controller to steer it onto targets, and having to maintain close proximity was less than ideal. Eventually, the high cost of the early design of the beetle tank led to its discontinuance.
The initial design was powered by batteries and an electric motor. In late 1942, Borgward upgraded his previous model with the SdKfz. 303a, which replaced the electric motor with a two-cylinder gasoline engine, vastly expanding its range to more than 7 miles and making it more reliable when operating in the field. The final model called the SdKfz. 303b was introduced to the battlefield in 1944. With a max payload of more than 220 pounds of explosives, it was the largest and most advanced Goliath.
The Allies captured a handful of what they called the “beetle tank” or the “doodle bug” in Italy and France. The Americans sat on top of these doodle bugs and rode them around for fun, but for one sailor, his first experience was on the receiving end at Utah Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Dennis Shryock, a 21-year-old US Naval Combat Demolition Unit (NCDU) frogman, the precursor to modern day Navy SEALs, was among the first troops to hit the beach around 5 a.m. The frogmen’s job was to clear obstacles with explosives ahead of the rest of the amphibious assault force.
“There was stuff blowing up all over the place,” Dennis Shryock told Stars and Stripes. The Germans were so close that he could hear their voices as he moved to the next obstacle to emplace more demolitions. Then he paused in the middle of the chaos to watch one of the doodle bugs roll through the sand like a remote-controlled toy ready to detonate.
The Germans used them against obstacles and threats, including barbed wire, bunkers, landmines, tanks, and antipersonnel. The hesitation on the beach nearly cost Shryock his life, yet somehow through all of the violence and bloodshed, he only suffered a chipped tooth from flying shrapnel.