Death-Ray? Where’s the

Joke sometimes used in reference to [Lack of] Enablement as in “how does the death-ray work.” The origin of the reference is an incident during World War II involving a British Admiralty department called the Department of Miscellaneous Weapons Development (DMWD) otherwise known as the “wheezers and dodgers.” This was a formidable group that developed various anti-submarine weapons still in use today, counters to magnetic mines and a wide array of anti-aircraft technologies. The department was headed by a noted physicist, Charles Goodeve, (later Sir Charles Goodeve, F.R.S., OBE.)

As DMWD became a recognised agency they were visited with various people bearing somewhat incomplete ideas and inventions – one occasion is related in the a history of the organization (Gerald Pawle, The Secret War (Harrap 1956), recently republished as The Wheezers and Dodgers):

“Already a man had found his way into Penney’s room with plans for a death-ray. This, he suggested, could be mounted in one of the Navy’s balloons, and he gave detailed specifications of what the operator in the basket would need in the way of provisions, protective clothing, and signaling devices.

This is all very well,’ said Penney, ‘but what about the death-ray apparatus?’

Oh you don’t want to worry about that,’ replied the inventor; ‘the Admiralty have access to the Secret Archives … there are bound to be several death-rays there, and you can take your choice.'”

The Secret War continues to describe a series of similar proposals, e.g., using “solidifying search light beams” which similarly lacked the key detail of how the beams were to be solidified.

Related Terms