In just about every modern army, practically every armored fighting vehicle (tank, self-propelled gun, armored personnel carrier, etc.) is equipped with a night vision device. As are many individual soldiers – infantrymen, paratroopers, etc.
It is surprisingly little known, however, that the first nation that began to equip its military with such devices was Nazi Germany. Which was a genuine revolution in warfare and in military technologies – no doubt about that.
The first operationally deployed infantry night vision device was Zielgerät (“Target”) 1229 or ZG 1229 better known by its codename Vampir. It was an active infrared device initially developed for the Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifle (which itself was very much a Wunderwaffe) but later was attached also to Mauser 98(k) sniper rifles and MG 34 and MG 42 machine guns.
The Vampir weighed in at 2.25 kilograms and was fitted with lugs on the StG 44 at C.G. Haenel at Suhl, the weapons production facility. The grenadier carrying this was known as a Nachtjäger (night-hunter).
Only about 310 Vampir units were delivered to the Wehrmacht (to Waffen SS, actually) during the final stages of the war (the first combat use of Vampir took place in February 1945 on the Western front).
Nazi Germany was also the first nation to put an infrared night vision device (Sperber FG 1250) on an armored fighting vehicle (more precisely, on a Panther medium tank).
Sperber (“Sparrow Hawk”) device was installed on tank commander’s cupola in place of the standard MG 42 machine gun. The device consisted of a 300mm Infrared Searchlight) connected to a “Biwa” (image converter) and a device that sensed the elevation of the main gun.
Only the tank commander could see the infrared spectrum; he had to give directions to his crew. A further development gave infrared searchlights and imagers to the driver and gunner as well.
Six Panthers with Sperber would work with one SdKfz.251/20 Uhu (Owl) half-track with 600mm infrared searchlight, which extended the visibility range to 700 meters.
Up to fifty Panthers were equipped by Sperbers by Maschinenfabrik Niedersachsen-Hannover between September and December 1944. They were subsequently used on the Eastern front – in Hungary.