Could Nazi Secret Weapons Have Changed the Course of War?

National Geographic explores Adolf Hitler's top secret bombs, tanks, rockets.

April 1, 2010— -- A fleet of long-range bombers meant to destroy the New York City skyline. A 1,000-ton tank said to be the largest ever designed. A radio-guided bomb with a success rate 80 times higher than that of its rivals.

Those weapons in Adolf Hitler's fantasy arsenal were never fully brought to light, but a National Geographic program airing tonight explores what might have happened if they were.

In "Nazi Secret Weapons," a team of military historians and aviation experts use unearthed blueprints and reconstructed Third Reich technology to determine whether some of Hitler's top-secret armaments might have changed the course of war.

Under Hitler's heavy hand, the German military developed some of the world's most destructive technology during World War II. But it might have paled in comparison to one of his more shrouded projects, the Messerschmidt 264 bomber, also known as the "Amerikabomber."

While no aircraft at the time could cross the Atlantic Ocean without a re-fueling stopover, Hitler wanted to leapfrog aviation technology of his time with the proposed plane.

Historian: Hitler Wanted to Fly Over Atlantic to Bomb N.Y.

The four-engine bomber was designed to carry a 6.5-ton bomb load that Hitler hoped could unleash a strike against the continental United States.

"The general plan from the Germans was to start in France to fly 4,000 miles over the Atlantic to bomb New York and to fly back to France," Sonke Neitzel, a military historian, told National Geographic.

Historians said Hitler became consumed with the project as three prototypes of the bomber were built. Though the German air force targeted factories along the East Coast of the U.S. starting in April 1942, by July 1944 Allied air raids successfully destroyed all the Messerschmidt prototypes.

"It was not really a realistic plan," Nietzel said. "It was just a war game in the year '42, and the only person who was really interested to put this forward was Hitler."

In the same year, Hitler also reportedly gave orders to construct a tank code-named "The Mouse."

Despite its humble name, the tank weighed about 190 tons. And it was dwarfed in comparison to another one of Hitler's pet projects -- the Landcruiser P-1000, code-named "The Rat."

Engineer: The Rat Tank Would Have Had 'Tremendous Killing Power'

Considered by some to be the largest tank ever designed, the Rat was supposed to weigh 1,000 tons and extend 114 feet in length.

"The Ratte-tank had such a large diameter projectile that its destructive force would have been absolutely enormous: many, many feet of concrete, tremendous blast, tremendous killing power," engineer Peter Robbins told National Geographic.

But the mega-sized marvel had one mega-sized drawback: mobility.

"You can't go down roads with it, and you can't go over bridges with it," Robbins said. "And it might be able to go through a river, but who knows if it had enough displacement, positive displacement, positive buoyancy to stay on the surface and get across the river without becoming a submarine, so I think in reality it was more of a dream than everything else."

Germany's minister of armaments at the time reportedly put an end to that dream, deciding it wasn't the best way to use dwindling resources.

But some of Hitler's dream technology did actually find its way into reality. And some think that one of his most powerful bombs, the Fritz X bomber, might actually have had history-changing potential.

The Fritz X precision bomber, which, according to prototype testing, had a success rate 80 times higher than other free-falling bombs of the time, was first used in combat in 1943.

Could Fritz X Bomber Changed Course of War?

In September of 1943, the radio-guided bomb was used against one of the biggest battleships in the Italian navy, the Roma. In just 35 minutes, after two direct hits, the ship sank, bringing 1,200 sailors down with it.

A couple of days later, Hitler turned his attention to the U.S. Navy, targeting the USS Savannah, a cruiser used for U.S. landings in Southern Italy. But instead of downing the ship, the bomb did something else.

"The Fritz X actually came down and penetrated the roof of the number three gun turret," Steve Wiper, a naval historian, told National Geographic, "and actually glanced off the breach of the centre gun of that turret, and continued down through the handling spaces, and actually exploded in the magazine as it exited the bottom of the warship, which was actually a very lucky thing for Savannah, because had it been contained within the magazine and the magazine completely detonated, this definitely would have broken the ship in half."

In subsequent documented cases, the bomber's power was so extreme that it rammed right through the ship, exploding only upon exit or in the water.

The phenomenon led some military historians to wonder if the bomber suffered from a technical imperfection or if was truly too powerful for its time.

Team Tests Fritz X Bomb in Calif. Desert

In an attempt to resolve the debate, Holger Bull, a model maker of life-size World War II weaponry who lives in Germany, partnered with American aviation experts to reconstruct the Fritz X bomber and test it in a privately owned, unoccupied part of California's desert.

After reconstructing the Fritz X, including the bomber's internal electronics, Bull and Wiper teamed up with Chino, Calif.-based Aero Trader, which owns several World War II aircraft.

After Bull and Wiper transported two Fritz X replicas to their airfield, the German-American team figured out how to load them onto a B-25 aircraft.

Though the Fritz X warhead was not filled with explosives, the team designed an experiment to figure out the ballistics and destructive power of the reconstructed Nazi bomb.

They drew an outline in the desert of the Roma battleship, which was more than 780 feet long and more than 100 feet wide, and then tried to drop the Fritz X replicas on to the target, one at a time.

Though the crew missed their target by a few dozen yards, the experiment was hailed as a success. The force of the bomb's impact suggested that the destructive power of the Fritz X was too much for the battleships of World War II, National Geographic said.

According to one team member's calculations, the bomb hit the ground traveling about 290 mph. After the collision, seven feet of the bomb's total length of 11 feet were buried underground.

"When the bombs dropped from the aircraft, they performed exactly as the originals did, and as they came down in their arch, it was like watching a movie of the real thing -- except we were there to live it ourselves, and that was just fantastic," said Wiper.

National Geographic Channel's "Nazi Secret Weapons" premieres Thursday, April 1, 2010 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. For more information, .