10 Secret Nazi Technologies and Innovations that Changed Warfare Forever
10 Secret Nazi Technologies and Innovations that Changed Warfare Forever

10 Secret Nazi Technologies and Innovations that Changed Warfare Forever

Khalid Elhassan - January 9, 2018

10 Secret Nazi Technologies and Innovations that Changed Warfare Forever
Focke-Wulf FW-190. Aviation Art Hangar

Attained the Peak of Radial Engine Fighter Designs

The Nazis brought radial engine fighter designs to their peak with the Focke-Wulf FW-190. It was a low wing fighter, powered by a BWW air cooled radial engine, first ordered in 1937. It had been intended as backup and insurance against possible shortages in the liquid cooled Daimler engines that powered the Luftwaffe’s mainstay fighter, the Bf 109. However, once it was introduced in late 1941, the backup stole the show.

The FW-190 turned out to be more rugged than the 109. The huge radial engine, mounted up front, acted as extra shielding for the pilot, and could absorb far more damage than the Bf 109’s liquid cooled engine and still keep working. It also proved superior to the 109 in most tasks, except high altitude dog fighting. So the FW-190 ended up replacing the Messerschmitt as Germany’s main fighter, with over 20,000 produced by war’s end.

The FW-190 was maneuverable, and heavily armed with a standard configuration of four 20mm cannon, plus two machine guns. It proved itself an excellent fighter airplane, and during the middle war years, was the best air to air fighter. It gained an ascendancy over enemy fighters that lasted until the Spitfire IX restored parity in July of 1942.

However, the Spitfire lacked the range to penetrate deep into Reich territory. Thus, when American bombers began conducting daylight raids into Germany, the FW-190s’ heavy armaments made it an excellent bomber destroyer. Wading into the bomber formations, FW-190s inflicted heavy losses and established an ascendancy over German skies. That lasted until long range American fighter escorts finally became available to shepherd US bombers in 1944.

In addition to its fighter role, the FW-190 platform was well suited to a variety of other missions, such as reconnaissance and ground attack. It was also an effective fast light bomber, capable of carrying a respectable 4000 bomb load. And when it was equipped with 37mm cannons, it proved itself an exceptional tank buster. That kind of versatility is what made the FW-190 one of the war’s best airplanes.

The FW-190s supremacy over Germany’s skies was first challenged by the appearance of American P-38 Lightnings and P-47 Thunderbolts. Their range, already good, was extended even further by the use of drop tanks. That allowed them to escort American bombers to targets in Germany that fell within their enhanced range, and at least part of the way to those targets deeper inside Germany that lay beyond.

The FW-190’s radial engine could not hope to match the turbo supercharged engines of American fighters at high altitudes. As a result, FW-190s were forced to retreat deeper into Germany, effectively giving Allied bombers free reign over the territory that lay within Allied escort fighter range. Alternatively, FW-190s would shadow the bomber formations and wait until the escorting Thunderbolts or Lightnings reached their maximum range. When the escorting fighters had to turn back, FW-190s pounced on the now undefended bombers.

The appearance of the P-51 Mustang, which had the range to escort US bombers to targets anywhere inside German held territory, put the FW-190 at a permanent disadvantage, and ended its ascendancy as a bomber destroyer. The introduction of the liquid cooled FW-190D variant in September of 1944 restored some degree of parity, but by then it was too late. German factories did not produce enough FW-190Ds to go around, and by the time they came out, the Luftwaffe had suffered severe pilot attrition. Thus, even when there were enough FW-190Ds, there was a shortage of experienced flyers capable of taking full advantage of their capabilities.

10 Secret Nazi Technologies and Innovations that Changed Warfare Forever
V-2 rocket launch. Quora

Ballistic Missiles and Space Rockets

Today’s ballistic missiles, the carriers of terrifying payloads with the potential to end all life on earth, are the direct descendants of Nazi technology. And since space rockets are basically ballistic missiles, they are also the direct descendants of Nazi technology. Indeed, both America’s NASA space program, and that of Russia via its Soviet predecessor, were built on the back of pioneering Nazi rocket technology.

After Germany’s defeat in WW2, and even earlier, during the chaotic weeks preceding the collapse, the victors scrambled to secure Nazi missile technology. The Americans and Soviets in particular raced each other to seize as much Nazi rocket research, facilities, and equipment, as they could. They also competed to capture or coopt all the German rocket scientists and technicians they could get their hands on.

The reason was simple: at war’s end, German rocket technology was the most advanced in the world, standing leagues ahead of that of any other country. Germany’s V2 rocket, or “Vengeance Weapon 2”, was the world’s first ballistic missile. It carried a ton of explosives to the edge of space, then descended at unstoppable supersonic speeds to detonate upon impact. It was a brilliant, advanced, and revolutionary feat of technology.

As a technological feat, it was outstanding. Luckily for mankind, as a war winning weapon, it was a bust. The V2 was one of history’s most wastefully expensive weapons, inflicting relatively little damage upon Germany’s enemies. Not enough to justify the vast expenditure of resources that went into the missile’s production. The Allies benefitted, and the Nazis did not, from the diversion of resources to the rocket from more effective weapons programs or other uses that could have better served the German war effort.

V2 rockets were first launched against enemy targets in September of 1944. By the time Germany surrendered, nine months later, about 3000 V2s had been fired. Many did not reach their targets, but even if all had, at one ton of explosives per V2 warhead, that would have been a total of 3000 tons of explosives dropped on enemy cities, spread out over a nine month period. By contrast, during the same period, Britain’s RAF often dropped over 3000 tons of explosives on a German city in a single nighttime bombing raid. The US Air Force also frequently exceeded that 3000 ton total in single bombing raids during the daytime. And the Allied explosive delivery tools were reusable and thus more economical. Most Allied bombers returned to base, reloaded, returned to again drop more than 3000 tons of explosives on German cities, and repeated the process dozens of times.

Also, during its nine months of operational deployment, the 3000 tons of explosives dropped by V-2s killed 2754 people. The majority were not soldiers, but civilians whose deaths, while tragic, did not impede the Allied war effort by much. On the other hand, over 20,000 workers – mostly slave laborers – died while manufacturing the V2. That gave the missile the tragic distinction of being perhaps the only weapons system in history whose production cost more lives than did its actual use. Thus, when contrasting the cost with the results, the V2 literally produced little bang for the buck.

In the hands of the Americans and Soviets after the war, that Nazi technology bore bigger fruit. Both for ill, with the missiles and ICBMs that might contribute to wiping out humanity, and for good, in space rockets that set humanity on the path to exploring the cosmos – a path that might prove the species’ salvation, someday. Of course, the Nazis had not poured all those resources into the V2 rocket program in order to pave the way for humanity’s future exploration of the cosmos. Nor had they intended the program and its scientists to seed the space programs of their American and Soviet enemies after the war. The Nazis had intended the V-2 as a war winning weapons program, so from that perspective it was a spectacular bust for them.

10 Secret Nazi Technologies and Innovations that Changed Warfare Forever
V-3 cannon. History Net

Super Guns

In May of 1943, Albert Speer, the Reich Minister for Armaments and War Production, informed Hitler that work had begun on new super guns, capable of firing hundreds of rounds an hour over an extremely long distance. An underground complex was dug in the Pas de Calais in northern France, across the narrowest stretch of the English Channel separating Nazi occupied Europe from England, to house the Vergetlungswaffe 3 (“Vengeance Weapon 3”). The super guns, whose name was shortened to the V-3 Cannon, were to be aimed at London, which the Nazis hoped to destroy.

The underground V-3 complex was to include over 165 kilometers of tunnels, dug by German workers and slave laborers. The network of tunnels was to be linked to 5 inclined shafts, in which 25 huge gun tubes were to be laid, all aimed at central London. As designed, the V-3s were to fire 10 explosive projectiles a minute, 600 rounds per hour, 24 hours a day, raining devastation down upon and wrecking London. As Winston Churchill later commented, if the Nazis had managed to pull it off, it would have been history’s most destructive conventional attack ever launched against a city.

The Allies were completely in the dark about the V-3 program. Reconnaissance flights did spot the activity surrounding the Pas de Calais complex, but analysts assumed the photos depicted a potential launching base for the V-2 rockets. V-2s were worrisome in of themselves, however, so the site was subjected to frequent Allied bombing from late 1943 onwards.

The raids seriously disrupted construction, and forced the Germans to abandon parts of the complex. The remainder of the site was seriously damaged in July of 1944, in a raid that used heavy ground penetrating bombs, which burrowed deep beneath the surface before detonating. The underground explosions wrecked and collapsed the tunnel system, and buried hundreds of workers and technicians. Construction was halted as the Allies advanced up the coast from Normandy to the Pas de Calais, and the abandoned V-3 complex fell to advancing Canadian troops in September of 1944. It was only then that the Allies discovered just how big a threat the complex had actually posed, and just how lucky London had been to dodge that menace.

10 Secret Nazi Technologies and Innovations that Changed Warfare Forever
Messerschmitt Me 262. Airplane Pictures

Jet Fighters

The Messerschmitt Me 262 was the most innovative and revolutionary fighter airplane of WWII. Flying at 540 miles per hour, and armed with four 30 mm cannon, it was faster and better armed than any other fighter of the conflict. Its arrival ushered the dawn of the jet age, and forever transformed aerial warfare. It came too late to stave off Germany’s defeat, but it was nonetheless a marvel of design and engineering.

The Me 262 was first flown in 1942, but its deployment was delayed until 1944 because of technical difficulties, plus inadequate support or understanding of its potential by high ranking German leaders. For example, Goering thought the war would be won with the planes Germany already possessed, so investing in projects like the Me 262 was unnecessary. Hitler, in turn, gummed up the works by supporting the development of the jet as a fast bomber instead of a fighter.

Me 262s finally saw combat with an experimental trial unit in July of 1944. However, it was not until November of 1944 that Me 262 first attacked one of the bomber formations that were roaming Germany’s skies at will by then. Results were mixed, with two escorting P-51s shot down but no bombers, for the loss of one jet fighter and the death of its pilot, an irreplaceable Luftwaffe ace with over 250 kills.

The first Me 262 fighter wing was formed in January of 1945, but by then, Allied armies were already on German home soil in both the Eastern and Western fronts. The Me 262 units’ effectiveness was hampered by organizational flaws, and a shortage of experienced pilots capable of taking full advantage of the plane’s capabilities. Lack of fuel for adequate training, plus frequent Allied attacks on their airfields, further capped the Me 262’s effectiveness.

It was not until March of 1945 that a glimpse of what might have been was seen, when Luftwaffe general Adolf Galland formed an Me 262 unit comprised of elite and highly experienced pilots. Mounting coordinated large scale jet attacks on bomber formations, the results were impressive – but too little and too late. In the first such attack, 37 Me 262s took on a formation of over 1000 bombers, protected by over 600 fighter escorts. They shot down twelve bombers and one fighter, for the loss of only 3 jets.

While such a 4:1 kill ratio was impressive, it was a pinprick, and Germany went down to total defeat a few weeks later. But if more Me 262s had been available a year earlier, and had been organized into units staffed with experienced pilots rather than novices as was too often the case, it might have made a difference. A 4:1 kill rate could have seriously complicated matters for the Allies, and the course of the war, if not its final outcome, might have gone differently.

The Allies, aware of the Me 262’s disruptive potential, devoted considerable resources to contain it. Allied fighters were at a severe disadvantage in taking on the jets at high altitude, since the Me 262s were much faster than any piston driven plane. However, the Me 262s were vulnerable at takeoff and landing, and parked on their airfields they were sitting ducks. So Allied fighters patrolled the vicinity of Me 262 airfields to try and catch them taking off or landing, and bombed them with mounting frequency. Shooting them down might have been difficult, but destroying them on the ground and wrecking the infrastructure needed to send them up in the first place was well within Allied capabilities.

10 Secret Nazi Technologies and Innovations that Changed Warfare Forever
Panzer VIII Maus. Tank Encyclopedia

The World’s Most Ridiculously Big Tanks

The Nazis were obsessed with building absurdly big things, and if they’d had their druthers, they would have built some mind bogglingly giant tanks. One such was the Ratte, which would have weighed 1000 tons, and another was the even bigger Monster tank, which would have clocked in at 1500 tons. Those behemoths never got off the drawing board, but the Nazis did get around to manufacturing history’s heaviest production tank, the Panzer VIII Maus.

The Maus was the biggest operational tank ever manufactured, measuring about 33 feet long, 12 feet wide, 12 feet high, and weighing nearly 200 tons. While normal tanks usually use machine guns as secondary armament, the Maus’ secondary armament was a 75 mm coaxial gun. Its main gun was a 128 mm monster capable of destroying any Allied tank at ranges of up to 2.2 miles. That gun was upgraded and increased at Hitler’s insistence, who thought the 128 mm looked like a pop gun on the Panzer VIII, to a 150 mm cannon.

However, the Maus’ huge size and heavy weight came at a heavy price that made it nearly useless. The tank was too heavy for most bridges, so it had to cross rivers either by wading through fords where available, or driving over the river’s bottom while using a snorkel for ventilation. Even the task of simply getting the Maus moving was a problem, because it was difficult to develop an engine and drive train powerful enough to propel 200 tons of metal on the ground at any appreciable speed, yet small enough to fit inside the tank. In the end, the maximum speed achieved during trials was 8 m.p.h. on hard surfaces.

Panzer VIIIs were intended to spearhead German attacks by smashing through any opposition and destroying all enemy armor they came across, while remaining invulnerable to damage from any opposing tanks. With 9.4 inches of turret armor, 8 inches of hull front armor, 7 inches of hull side armor, and 6 inches of rear armor, a Maus was quite immune from Allied tanks, whose shells would simply bounce off the behemoth. However, it was built in 1944, and by then the Allies not only had aerial superiority on both the Western and Eastern front, but well nigh complete aerial supremacy over the battlefield. The Maus did not have enough armor up top to protect it from armor piercing bombs or rockets dropped or fired from above.

Ultimately, the Maus was symptomatic of the Nazis’ and Hitler’s irrational obsession with big things and super weapons. That mindset reflected indifference to or inability to understand their relative cost effectiveness compared to other “normal” weapons that could accomplish the same task at a fraction of the cost. Using such weapons instead would have freed up scarce resources for other uses that could have better served the German war effort. Humanity is thus indebted to that Nazi and Hitlerian psychological shortcoming and blind spot.

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