Secret Weapons of Nazi Germany

With the rise of Adolf Hitler and National Socialist Party, every aspect of life in the Third Reich was devoted to the aim of Aryan world domination. There was much to do to achieve Hitler’s vision of the Master Race; the German economy was in recession, there was high unemployment and a shortage of raw materials. The currency was weak and devaluation had ruined what little of the economy that was left.

The country had been humbled by defeat in 1918 and the victorious allies had imposed restrictions on the size and power of any military rearmament, as well as demanding the surrender of all German colonies as League of Nations mandates, the return of Alsace-Lorraine to France, plus the return of other sequestered territories to Lithuania, Belgium and Czechoslovakia.

The treaty, which was signed on the 28th of June 1919, restricted the size of the German army to 100,000 men. It was banned from having an air force or a submarine force and the German navy was restricted to just six ships, all of which were to conform to a given size and firepower. The restrictions in the treaty were widely hated by the population who saw them as a sell out by the government. In reality the German government had little alternative but to concede to the Allied Power’s demands under the terms of the Armistice.

The German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, abdicated in 1919 and the country was then ruled by the Social Democratic Party and the Independent Social Democratic Party. The Weimar Republic was named after the town of the same name where its first constitutional assembly took place.

Following various mutinies by the German army and navy, the country settled into this uneasy coalition, but with clashes between the rival factions of Communists, Fascists and ex soldiers (Stalhelm), plus economic depression, the country descended into chaos.

It was during this unrest that Adolf Hitler first joined the Deutsche Arbeiterpartie (DAP). In 1920, the name was later changed to the Nationalsozialistiche Deutsche Arbeiterpartie (NSDP), which became known as the Nazis. The party soon became a force to be reckoned with, and with Hitler in command it soon overtook its rivals, either by promising better things to come, or by breaking up rival meetings with his own force of so-called bodyguards, the Sturmabteilung or SA. By 1933, Hitler had forced the German President von Hindenberg to resign and he himself took over as Chancellor of the country.

He promised to make Germany great again, strengthen the economy, bring down unemployment and to regain the territories lost at the end of World War One.

In spite of Hitler’s lack of knowledge and scientific understanding, he understood the need for scientists to develop technologically advanced products to aid him in his aim to make Germany a powerful nation again. He then poured money into all kinds of research ideas, some of which would prove remarkably successful. The Germany of 1933 had very few raw materials and was greatly dependent on imports for resources, forcing the Nazis to seek alternative sources of fuel and energy however bizarre, causing German science to develop in ways completely different from the rest of the world.

Hitler ordered his industrialists and engineers to identify and create alternative or synthetic forms of oils, fats, metals and rubber. One of their first results was the creation of “Buna” a synthetic rubber that proved particularly successful. The drive for self sufficiency in raw materials was relentless, as was also the invention of new, more powerful military weapons. This led to them to explore unorthodox scientific ideas and experiments that were not thought worthy of attention by Western powers.

Before the outbreak of WWII, this work was carried out by paid employees, but once war broke out, the emphasis turned to the production of bigger and better armaments and slave labour from conquered countries was increasingly used for manpower. These unfortunate people suffered the most harrowing and brutal conditions and died in their thousands, being worked, starved and beaten until they dropped.

Ironically, it was a Jewish scientist who discovered one of the most destructive chemicals ever developed and which was eventually responsible for the deaths of millions of his people. His name was Fritz Haber and in the early 1900s he worked for the Germans on the problems of feeding a growing population. Hitherto, the supplies of nitrogen necessary to grow greater amounts of food had been imported by ships from South America loaded with guano, (bird excrement) or nitrates.

Haber discovered a way of synthesising ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen, producing an excellent and cheap form of fertiliser, which became known as the Haber-Bodch process. This was considered a major breakthrough and was hailed as a way to “make bread from air”. Haber then extended his research and at the start of WWI, he began work for the German military. He used his Haber Bosch process to produce explosives and new forms of poison gas. He worked with chlorine and developed an effective chlorine gas that was first used in the WWI Battle of Ypres where many British and Allied were blinded, maimed or killed by its effects. The Germans were so pleased with his work that they appointed him a Captain in the army.

When the Nazi party seized power in 1933, Haber was banned from his laboratory, being told by a door guard, reading from a document, that, “The Jew Haber is not permitted to enter”. He went into exile and died a year later, never knowing that his invention of the gas, now known as Zyklon B, was to be instrumental in the deaths of millions of Jews in the gas chambers.

In 1929, a German scientist named Herman Oberth, came up with a plan to build a space station with a concave mirror that could reflect sunlight back to earth. This, he argued, could be focussed at any location on earth and would obliterate any target. His plan was never fully explored, but in 1933, building on Oberth’s idea, German engineers began working on a “Sun Gun” that would be fitted into a space station circling the earth at 5,000 miles high. The reflector would be made from sodium and was planned to be 9 square kilometres wide. It was believed that the focussed heat would be sufficient to completely destroy a city or could make the ocean boil. Their inability to build the space station proved to be the limiting factor and the world would have to wait until 1971 before the successful Russian attempt.

Early in WWI, German scientists began work on a Super Gun, which the Krupps factory called “The Paris Gun” which was powerful enough to bombard Paris from German positions some 78 miles distant. The Allies christened the weapon “Big Bertha”. The effect of the weapon was serious enough to prompt the French to embark on their own version, but this never got passed the blueprint stage by the war’s end.

When the Germans again invaded France in 1940, the plans were discovered and a German engineer by the name of August Conders began work on reviving the shelved Project, calling it the V3. To hide its true purpose, he called the experiment “Hochduckpumpe” or high-pressure pump and after many false starts, he produced some scaled down models to demonstrate to the German High Command who saw this Super Cannon as a way of bombarding England into surrender. Permission was granted to build the cannon on the island of Wolin in the Baltic and after many setbacks, the gun was considered ready for deployment.

Construction of the main launch site at Minoyecquese near Cap Griz Nez began in 1943, with the intention of siting some 50 of these weapons on the French coast. Tunnels were dug and rail lines laid and bomb proof doors fitted to the tunnels. The project was planned to begin operations in 1944, but the plan was beset by technical problems. An undercover agent reported the site to British authorities, describing it as “a rocket launching cannon” but this claim was dismissed by the Allies as scaremongering, believing the site to be another launching platform for V2 rockets.

Following further reports on the site, it became clear that something big was happening and several bombing raids took place, but without effect and, during which, Joe Kennedy Junior, the brother of JFK was killed on the mission. At this point, the British inventor Barnes Wallace, inventor of the “Bouncing Bomb” brought forward another of his inventions, the deep penetration Tallboy bomb. Housed in an armour piercing casing, it contained 3 tons of high explosive and could penetrate 16 feet of re-enforced concrete.

On the 6th of July 1944, 19 Lancasters from 617 Squadron (The Dambusters) dropped 35 tons of the Tallboy bombs. It was not known if the site had been destroyed, but enough damage had been caused as to make the site unusable. German engineers, inspecting the site on the 8th of July, reported that the raid had destroyed all chances of the complex being used.

Jim Keys
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Jim Keys

Since his retirement Jim Keys has indulged his passion for history, writing two books on Britain’s past: The Dark Ages and The Bloody Crown. He is currently writing the last of the trilogy, Fighting Brits which covers Britain’s military struggles from the Armada to Afghanistan.