How Did Germans Pull Off Such a Miracle?

During the World War II, the Allies fielded eight more or less revolutionary weapons. Nazi Germany developed and deployed twenty-four – three times more. The fundamental question is: How?

How on bloody Earth did German engineers who suffered from an acute shortage of resources (human, material, natural, production capacity, etc.) and often had to work under incessant, round-the-clock bombing by the Allies develop and deploy three times more revolutionary weapons (often substantially more revolutionary) than the Allies?

True, German engineers were better than American, British and especially Soviet – due to a much better education and training system. But they were definitely not that much better. So it was definitely not about professional knowledge or skills.

The answer is actually very simple. One word: drive. German engineers simply had far more powerful drive than their Allied counterparts.

They desperately (really desperately) wanted to win the war. And they knew for a fact that after the failure of the blitzkrieg on the Eastern front in December 1941, only a miracle weapon could win a war. So they were willing to do everything possible (and even seemingly impossible) to develop such wonder weapons – each in his own area of professional competence.

They so desperately wanted to win the war because (thanks to incessant and omnipresent Nazi propaganda) they sincerely believed that they were fighting the existential war.

Consequently, defeat in this war meant certain death for them and the inevitable destruction of Germany. In other words, they were driven by a survival instinct – a very, very powerful drive.

There was, however, another powerful drive. German engineers (weapons designers) were genuinely happy and had no desire to live under any other regime than Nazi Germany. Especially under the occupation regime (whatever it might have been).

They genuinely loved their Führer and their Nazi government who (unlike previous leaders and governments) genuinely cared for them and performed general miracles for them facilitating (in 1933-38) an incredible quantum leap in all areas of life in Germany.

So now they sincerely believed that it was their duty (a matter of honor) to perform a miracle for their Führer, their government and their country (the Nazi Germany). And they did perform genuine miracles – which, however, were not sufficient for a victory in the Second World War.

 

Why Didn’t Germans Win the War?

The astonishing number of truly revolutionary weapons developed and deployed by Nazi Germany during the Second World War begs the natural question: why didn’t it win the war?

The answer to this fundamental question is actually very simple: it is not enough to develop a revolutionary weapon (or even two dozen types of revolutionary weapons).

You must develop and deploy weapons that will provide you with a decisive strategic advantage. Advantage that will either win the war for you outright or to force your adversary to sue for peace.

None of the “wonder weapons” developed by the Nazis provided their armed forces (Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS) with a decisive strategic advantage. And it was not about quantity – it was about quality (i.e. about functionality of these weapons).

True, acute shortage of resources and (let’s be frank) highly inefficient management system for R&D and manufacturing operations prevented Germans from deploying these weapons in large quantities.

Lots of precious resources were wasted on pursuing too many of essentially identical weapons projects – as well as on genuinely insane ones (mega-tanks, H-class battleships, Natter and Me-163 rocket-powered interceptors, V-3 mega-cannon, etc.) or simply totally impractical ones (Graf Zeppelin aircraft carrier).

Not to mentioned non-military projects (Ahnenerbe, quest for Holy Grail and, of course, the Holocaust) that consumed vital resources and thus hindered, not helped, German war effort.

However, even a radically more efficient management system would not have compensated the enormous, overwhelming and ultimately decisive superiority of Allies in all key resources – human and natural – and in their manufacturing capacity.

Plus, none of these weapons had the potential of putting an end to the incessant, round-the-clock Allied bombing of Germany which ultimately made a decisive contribution to their victory in the war.

However, in the next section, I will demonstrate how Nazi Germany could have won World War II (even after it became a war of attrition) by focusing all its efforts and resources on just three Wunderwaffe projects.

 

Nebelwerfer 41 – First Multiple Rocket Launch System

Russland, Laden eines Nebelwerfers

These days, every modern army uses multiple rocket launchers that fire unguided rockets equipped with high-explosive warheads – often with devastating effects. The first such weapon – a 150mm, six-tube Nebelwerfer 41 – was delivered to the troops (German Wehrmacht) in 1940, after the Battle of France (a year before the Red Army fielded their own MLR – the famous Katyusha).

Unlike fin-stabilized (and thus highly inaccurate) Katyusha rockets, NbW 41 used spin-stabilized rockets (as all modern MLR do). The NbW 41 produced a tremendously lethal effect (both physical and psychological) on enemy troops (especially in urban combat) where a target area could be saturated by large-caliber, exploding rockets through indirect fire.

The Wehrmacht fielded several versions of Nebelwerfer, varying in caliber and in transportation method (most were towable, but some were vehicle-mounted, like the Soviet Katyusha). However, Germans mounted their Nebelwerfers not on trucks (as the Soviets did), but on Sd.Kfz. 251 half-trucks.

While their devastating anti-infantry capability was well-documented, the large rockets could also render certain combat tanks useless by injuring exposed crew, damaging hulls, and especially disabling track systems.

By the end of the war, over 5,000 launching units and over half a million rockets have been manufactured – and used extensively on both Eastern and Western fronts and in anti-guerilla operations.

 

First Night Vision Devices for Infantry and Tanks

VampirIn 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.

Panzerfaust

Brückenkopf Memel, Grenadiere mit PanzerfaustPanzerfaust (literally “[anti]tank fist”) was not the first man-portable recoilless anti-tank rocket launcher weapon (the first was the M1 Bazooka fielded by the United States Army). It was not even the first such German weapon – the first was Panzerschreck (Ofenrohr) – an enlarged copy of the American bazooka.

Panzerfaust was the first disposable (and thus very cheap) such weapon (currently in use in just about every army) that could be operated by any soldier without practically no training whatsoever.

Thus transforming literally every soldier into a powerful anti-tank weapon capable of knocking out every armored vehicle (tank, assault gun, tank destroyer, etc.) fielded by the Allies.

It was actually even more efficient than either Bazooka or Panzerschreck – especially in its beyond-armor effect. Compared to the Bazooka and the Panzerschreck, it made a larger hole and produced massive spalling that killed the crew and destroyed equipment.

Hence it is no surprise that the American paratroopers of the famous 82nd division held onto captured Panzerfausts and used them during the later stages of the French campaign, even dropping with them into the Netherlands during Operation Market Garden.

They captured an ammunition dump near Nijmegen, and used them through the Ardennes Offensive toward the end of the war. The Soviets followed suit – use of captured Panzerfausts was recommended in a directive by Marshall Georgiy Zhukov.

Germany produced 6.7 million Panzerfaust units so it is no surprise that this weapon accounted for a significant portion of Allied tanks destroyed by Wehrmacht.

On the battlefield, 34% of British tanks were taken out by Panzerfaust, while in urban combat the Allies lost a whopping 70% of their tanks to this primitive but highly efficient weapon

Sturmgewehr 44 – First Mass-Produced Assault Rifle

Sturmgewehr_44Sturmgewehr 44 (also known under the designations StG 44, MP 43 and MP 44) was the first successful and mass-produced assault rifle – now a standard infantry weapon in just about every army in the world.

Three distinctive features of the assault rifle are (1) intermediate cartridge – intermediate between rifle and pistol cartridges; (2) detachable magazine – typically for 30 or so cartridges and (3) – selective fire (ability to switch between semi-automatic and fully automatic fire). StG 44 had all three features – it was chambered for a new 7.92x33mm Kurz cartridge and had a 30-round detachable box magazine.

Interestingly enough, the term “assault rifle” was coined by no other than Adolf Hitler, who for propaganda purposes used the German word “Sturmgewehr” (which translates as “assault rifle”), as the new name for the MP 43, which thus became known as the Sturmgewehr 44.

Developed from the Mkb 42(H) “machine carbine”, the StG 44 combined the best characteristics of a carbine, submachine gun, and automatic rifle – which made it a highly efficient infantry weapon – far superior to any of “the above”.

By all accounts, the StG 44 fulfilled its role very effectively, particularly on the Eastern Front, offering a greatly increased volume of fire compared to standard infantry rifles.
It would go on to provide a significant influence on the famous AK-47 in the immediate post-WW2 years. Its lasting effect was its major influence on modern infantry small arms development, giving rise to an entire new class of infantry weapons using the name assault rifle (as well as to a radically different infantry tactics).

The key principle of StG 44 — the reduction of muzzle impulse to get useful automatic fire within actual ranges of combat (up to 400m) — was probably the most important revolution in small arms since the invention of smokeless powder.

 

MG-34 – First Universal Machine Gun

MG34Technically, Maschinengewehr 34 (MG-34) was not a Nazi Wunderwaffe, because it was first tested in 1929 – well before Nazis came to power. However, it was officially introduced in 1934, and issued to Reichswehr units in 1936 (after the Nazis came to power), so I found it appropriate to include this remarkable weapon in this list.

MG 34 was a genuinely revolutionary weapon, because it introduced a radically new concept in automatic firepower – the Universal Machine Gun (currently pretty much standard worldwide).

And thus is generally considered the world’s first general-purpose machine gun (GPMG) which can be mounted on bipods, tripods, and vehicles as infantry support weapons. In other words, to serve as both light- and medium machine gun.

MG 34 was arguably the most advanced machine gun in the world at the time of its deployment. Its combination of exceptional mobility – being light enough to be carried by one man – and high rate of fire (of up to 900 rounds per minute) was unmatched (and fearsome).

The MG 34 was the mainstay of German Army support weapons from the time of its first issue in 1936 until 1942, when it was supplanted by the next generation Maschinengewehr 42 (MG 42) – essentially a cheaper and simplified version of MG 34.

MG 42 was far better suited for mass production and was more reliable and easier to operate than its predecessor. It is most notable for its very high cyclic rate for a gun using full power service cartridges, averaging about 1,200 rounds per minute compared to around 850 for the MG 34, and perhaps 450 to 600 for other common machine guns like the American M1919 Browning or British Bren.

This rate of fire made it extremely effective in providing suppressive fire, and its unique sound led to it being nicknamed “Hitler’s buzzsaw“.

The German tactical infantry doctrine based a squad’s firepower on the general-purpose machine gun in the light machine gun role so that the role of the rifleman (armed with bolt-action Mauser carbine) was largely to carry ammunition and provide covering fire for the machine gunners.

The advantage of the general purpose machine gun concept was that it added greatly to the overall volume of fire that could be put out by a squad-sized unit. With predictable (and devastating) consequences for their opponents on a battlefield.

The MG 42’s lineage continued well past Nazi Germany’s defeat, forming the basis for the nearly identical MG1 (MG 42/59), chambered in 7.62×51mm NATO cartridge Which subsequently evolved into the MG1A3, and later the MG 3 (standard GPMG of German Bundeswehr).

It also spawned the Yugoslav nearly identical Zastava M53, Swiss MG 51 and SIG MG 710-3, Austrian MG 74, and the Spanish 5.56×45mm NATO Ameli light machine gun, and lent many design elements to the American M60 and Belgian MAG – two standard NATO GPMG.