Whilst we are all aware, to a lesser or greater extent, of the scientific and engineering feats of the Allies during the Second World War, most notably the nuclear children of the Manhattan Project but also radar and the computing geniuses of Bletchley Park, many of the accomplishments of Nazi Germany remain forgotten or disassociated.
Despite the undeniable desire to erase the Third Reich from our collective memory, these inventions had, and continue to have, a profound impact on modern society and include some of the most-used military and civilian items of today. Here are 20 incredible inventions made by the Nazis that warrant recognition:
20. The Nazi Kolibri was the world’s first mass-produced helicopter
The Flettner Fl 282 Kolibri (“Hummingbird”) was the world’s first mass-produced helicopter, designed by the Nazis in the early 1940s. A single-seat rotor-propelled helicopter, utilizing an intermeshing blade configuration not replicated until after the Second World War, and only requiring servicing every 400 hours as opposed to the industry standard of 25 at the time, the synchropter was initially considered by the German Kriegsmarine as highly advantageous for the aerial identification of enemy submarines; ordering 15 prototypes, and in 1944 a further 1,000 completed models, just 24 Kolibri would see active deployment due to sustained Allied bombing of production plants.
Flight testing of the Kolibri occurred throughout 1941, including take-offs from naval cruisers, before being deployed from 1942 onwards. Primarily employed for reconnaissance and inter-ship transportations, as the prolonged conflict induced a shortage in aircraft the Luftwaffe begun converting the Kolibri for battlefield use; this change saw an additional seat for an observer attached to the rear of the helicopter, and an observation unit for artillery spotting was established in 1945. However, as light aircraft the Kolibri was patently unsuited to this role and were consequently rapidly destroyed by Soviet anti-aircraft fire, with just three surviving the conflict.
19. The Nazis designed and constructed colossal impregnable tanks with naval cannons as weapons
The Panzer VIII Maus (“Mouse”) was the largest fully enclosed armored combat vehicle ever built, weighing approximately 188 tons, and designed for the purpose of breaching fortified enemy defenses. 10 meters in length, 4 meters wide, and 3.5 meters high, the Maus was armed with an arsenal of guns including a 128mm cannon capable of destroying enemy armored vehicles at a range of up to 2.2 miles; designed to achieve maximum speeds of 20 kilometers per hour, field testing could only accomplish a top speed of 13 kph. To combat the issue of transportation, especially over bridges which would collapse under the immense weight, an ingenious solution was devised wherein a snorkel and air filtration system was developed allowing the tank to travel up to 26 feet underwater.
In total, however, just 5 were constructed, with only two deployed in wartime and the remaining prototypes left incomplete after the testing grounds at Kummersdorf was captured by the Soviets. Both finished tanks were ordered to defend the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (High Command of the Wehrmacht) in 1945; one did not reach WÃ¼nsdorf and was destroyed en route, whilst the second was disabled outside the Maybach I bunker by the placing of explosive charges in the engine.
Although the Panzer VIII Maus was the heaviest such vehicle ever built, other even larger and more destructive designs were almost implemented by the Nazis. The Landkreuzer P.1000 Ratte was a super-heavy tank, weighing over five times heavier than the Maus at 1,000 tons, armored by a foot of hardened steel, and armed with naval artillery cannons. Although gaining the personal support of Hitler, the project was canceled by Minister of Armaments Albert Speer in early 1943 after it was deemed impractical due to slow-moving speeds and the logistical difficulties of transportation.
18. JÃ¤germeister was named in honor of Herman GÃ¶ring, the Third Reich’s “Hunt Master”, and colloquially called “GÃ¶ring-Schnaps” in Nazi Germany
Whilst it is common knowledge that Hugo Boss built his fashion empire off the back of Nazi military contracts and slave labor, less known is that popular alcoholic liqueur JÃ¤germeister was also created by the Nazis. Composed of 56 herbs, fruits, roots and spices, JÃ¤germeister was invented in 1934 by Curt and William Mast and introduced to German markets from 1935 as a digestif. Curt, politically active from youth, joined the NSDAP (Nazi Party) in May 1933, just three months after the Nazi seizure of power; despite successfully underplaying and even denying his Nazi affiliations post-war, he remained a committed member throughout the 1930s and 1940s, even describing himself in 1944 as a “party comrade”.
Initially working with his brother after taking over the family business in 1934, collaboratively creating a half-bitter liqueur with the name “Hubertusbitter”, in 1935 Curt forced his brother to flee to South America with his Jewish lover and renamed the beverage “JÃ¤germeister“; Curt Mast also exploited the sufferings of other Jewish residents of Germany, unscrupulously purchasing real estate throughout the 1940s from lands confiscated by the Reich. The name JÃ¤germeister, deriving from the traditional German title of “Hunt Master” and referring to the state official responsible for hunting, was selected in honor of prominent Nazi Herman GÃ¶ring who had been appointed ReichsjÃ¤germeister in 1934. GÃ¶ring, who enjoyed hunting in the forests near Mast’s home, was unquestionably consulted on the choice of name and the drink became an instant favorite among the military due to its association with the popular Reichsmarschall, becoming affectionately known as “GÃ¶ring-Schnaps” during the 1930s and 1940s.
17. The V-3 Supergun was designed to obliterate London in a barrage of artillery fired from over 100km away in France
The Vergeltungswaffe 3 (also known as the “V-3” or “Retribution Weapon 3”) was a supergun developed by the Nazis to bombard London. Employing the multi-charge principle, wherein several propellant charges are placed along the length of a barrel and timed to detonate as a projectile passes to provide an additional explosive impetus, the V-3 was theoretically capable of hitting targets up to 165 kilometers away; each shell weighed approximately 140 kilograms, containing an explosive charge of 25 kilograms, and the weapon had a projected rate of fire of 300 shells per hour.
Extrapolated from incomplete French plans during World War I, Hitler consented to the construction of the supergun as an act of retribution in the aftermath of the Allied bombing of the PeenemÃ¼nde rocket center on August 17, 1943. Trials held during May and June 1944 demonstrated proficiency at ranges of up to 88km, and preparations began for the weapon to be deployed in the Pas-de-Calais region of France to target London; during the construction of an immense mountain fortress to house the supergun, RAF Bomber Command’s 617 Squadron – also known as the “Dambusters” – attacked the site using deep-penetration bombs. Eventually deployed at Lampaden, Germany, in range of the city of Luxembourg, the V-3 begun firing on January 11, 1945. In total 183 rounds were fired, with only 44 confirmed hits in the targeted urban area and causing minimal casualties. The guns were dismantled in February due to advancing Allied forces, before being later captured by the U.S. Army.
16. The Nazis designed one of the first spaceplanes in an attempt to create a bomber capable of reaching the U.S. mainland
The Silbervogel (“Silverbird”) was a sub-orbital bomber designed by Eugen SÃ¤nger and Irene Bredt on behalf of Nazi Germany as part of the Amerika Bomber mission: the plan to initiate a strategic bombing campaign against the mainland United States. Employing the combined combustive might of liquid propellant and rocketry, the Silbervogel was intended to be accelerated along a fixed track by a rocket-powered sled to speeds of 800 km/h before being released into the air and igniting its own rocket engine to climb to an altitude of 145 kilometers. Once in the stratosphere, the aircraft would exploit the increasing air density to generate lift and repeatedly bounce to maintain sufficient altitude to cross the Atlantic, release a 4,000 kilogram bomb over the U.S., and subsequently land in Japanese territory in the Pacific; the total planned journey for the Silbervogel via this method was between 19,000 and 24,000 kilometers.
Ultimately considered too complex and expensive when taking into account existing technology and time constraints, remaining only a theoretical design, the SÃ¤nger-Bredt design is utilized by almost all modern rocket engines and the fundamental principles of the Silbervogel were later incorporated into the X-20 Dyna-Soar spaceplane designed by the United States Air Force in the 1960s; SÃ¤nger also faced considerable post-war efforts by the Soviets to recruit him to recreate his design for Stalin, including a failed attempt by Stalin’s son, Vasily, to kidnap both SÃ¤nger and Bredt in 1946.
15. Methadone was invented by Nazi Germany as a solution to a shortage of painkillers, before being stolen by the United States and remarketed
Methadone is a synthetic opioid commonly used today in substitutional therapy as a medical assistance for people tapering from an existing opioid dependency; the effects of methadone are similar to that of morphine, providing pain relief for between 8 and 36 hours depending on the frequency of usage and retaining similar side effects to other opioids. In 2013 approximately 41,400 kilograms of methadone was manufactured, with the drug responsible in 2015 for 3,300 deaths in the United States alone.
Facing an opium shortage in Germany, scientists working for I.G. Farbenindustrie AG developed methadone in 1937 as a synthetic solution to the nation’s problem. Patented in 1941 under the name “Polamidon”, methadone entered the pharmaceutical market in 1943 and became widely used by the German armed forces throughout World War II. In the aftermath of the war all German patents were expropriated by the Western Allies, namely the United States, and the work of I.G. Farbenkonzern was confiscated by the U.S. Department of Commerce Intelligence; renamed “Methadone” in 1947 by the Council on Pharmacy and Chemistry of the American Medical Association, the drug was introduced to the United States later the same year by Eli Lily and Company under the trade name “Dolophine”.
14. The Nazis invented and constructed a piloted interceptor rocket designed to attack Allied bombers with a barrage of rockets
Over a decade before the United States developed the fully autonomous Nike Zeus anti-ballistic missile, the Nazis designed the first defensive interceptor rocket: the Bachem Ba 349. With German air superiority under assault by the Allies, the Third Reich encouraged several proposals to counteract aerial losses; whilst surface-to-air missiles, such as the “Wasserfall”, were considered and ultimately found to be unachievable, a piloted guided interceptor rocket was selected for active development.
Designed by Erich Bachem, the “Bachem Ba 349 (known colloquially as the “Natter” or “grass snake”) would be guided by autopilot to the proximity of an enemy bomber in a manner similar to a V-2, whereupon control would be granted to a pilot situated in the nose of the missile. The pilot would then aim and fire the payload, proposed to comprise a barrage of 28 55mm caliber R4M rockets, at the target; the pilot would then glide to an altitude of approximately 3,000 feet, before ejecting and landing safely via parachute. Allowing for a verticle-takeoff, eliminating the need for an airfield and removing the requirement to land, thus similarly expanding the operational range and preventing easy Allied targeting on the ground, the weapon was widely regarded as a possible game-changer to obstruct the devastating Allied bombing campaign.
Despite the immense potential of the rocket, the first and only test took place on March 1, 1945; due to an unknown malfunction, the rocket reached an altitude of approximately 5,000 feet before nose-diving into the ground and killing the accompanying pilot, Lothar Sieber. Although plans were made to launch the contingent rockets on Hitler’s birthday, April 20, further testing had not yet verified the competency of the weapon and the war ended without any of the 36 completed Natters ever being deployed in combat.
13. The Fliergerfaust was a prototype portable anti-aircraft rocket launcher designed by Nazi Germany
The Fliegerfaust (or “plane fist”, also known as the “Luftfaust” or “air fist”) was a prototype weapon designed as an unguided and portable ground-to-air rocket launcher capable of targeting and eliminating enemy attack planes. Designed by Hugo Schneider AG in 1944, two separate versions of the Fliegerfaust were created. The first, Fliegerfaust A, possessed four 20 mm caliber barrels, each firing 90g rocket-propelled projectiles containing 19g of explosives; the second, Fliegerfaust B, added an additional 5 barrels to the 6.5-kilogram weapon but ingeniously timed the firing sequence to avoid the projectiles colliding with a delay of 0.1s.
Despite its somewhat ineffective range, designed only to hit targets at up to 500 meters, orders were placed for 10,000 Fliegerfaust launchers in 1945 along with 4 million rockets for ammunition. It is unknown how many of these were completed prior to the conclusion of the war, with only 80 known to have been used in military trials. However, historical consensus that few were delivered has been questioned by the discovery of a photograph from 1945 of the Hotel Adlon in Berlin, opposite the Brandenburg Gate and a focal point during the last days of the Battle of Berlin, showing a Fliegerfaust B lying amidst the rubble; this picture suggests that at least some were operationally deployed, and were most probably used in the final days of the Third Reich as an anti-infantry cannon.
12. The “Jerrycan” was invented by the Nazis, before being copied by the Allies and playing a critical part in winning the war
The iconic Wehrmacht-Einheitskanister (or “Jerrycan”) is a staple of modern life, used by both militaries and civilians across the world as a handy container for liquid, typically gasoline. Lesser known, however, is that the jerrycan in its current form was invented by the MÃ¼ller engineering company on behalf of the Wehrmacht in 1937; it is from this origin the name derives, with “Jerry” being wartime pejorative slang for a German. An improvement on existing designs by removing the requirement for additional tools such as funnels, as well as allowing for the contraction or expansion of the contained liquid depending on hot or cold conditions and optimizing surface area space, by 1939 the German armed forces possessed hundreds of thousands in preparation for the invasion of Poland; without the jerrycan as a means of rapid refueling, the German military tactic of “Blitzkrieg” would have been significantly less effective.
Reverse engineered by the Allies after American engineer Paul Pleiss successfully recovered one from Germany by driving from Berlin to Calcutta in 1939, the jerrycan played an understated role in the victory of the Allies. Whilst it might appear melodramatic, President Roosevelt remarked that “without these cans it would have been impossible for our armies to cut their way across France at a lightning pace which exceeded the German Blitzkrieg of 1940”. The ability to resupply was critical to modern warfare, and 1.3 million jerrycans were required each month just to replace combat losses; when a lack of cans was reported in August 1944, combat units were forced to slow their advances and by May 1945 over 19 million jerrycans were being used by U.S. forces in just the European theatre.
11. The Nazis drew up plans for the creation of a “Sun Gun” capable of incinerating targets from space using solar heat
A Sonnengewehr (also known as a Heliobeam or “Sun Gun”) is a theoretical orbital weapon, employing concave mirrors attached to a satellite to concentrate solar rays onto a target surface area of Earth. Although not an exclusively original concept, with Archimedes allegedly using an intricate array of mirrors to burn enemy ships during the Second Punic War, it was not until German physicist Hermann Oberth created detailed plans for a peaceful heliobeam in 1929 that it became an object of serious scientific consideration; Oberth believed the heat produced could thaw rivers and provide illumination among other benign purposes.
Transformed by scientists at the German Army Artillery base at Hillersleben into a conceptual weapon, the Sonnengewehr was designed to be part of a space station orbiting the Earth at an altitude of 5,100 miles. Using an enormous reflector made of metallic sodium, measuring 9 square kilometers in size, the weapon could theoretically have produced and focused enough heat to cause critical damage to ground installations.
Although tempting to write off the weapon as the ramblings of a handful of desperate lunatics the Sonnengewehr was taken sufficiently seriously at the time for the United States to examine in detail the threat posed by such a weapon, with word of these strategic considerations leaking to LIFE magazine in July 1945. Furthermore, the same concept was briefly considered by American strategic defense planners in the 1940s, 1950s, and the 1960s, in the belief such a device would have immense military ramifications including the capability to melt battleships from space; notably, Werner von Braun, the father of rocketry, lobbied for the construction of similar space weaponry. by the U.S.
10. Nazi engineers were responsible for the creation of the world’s first jet-powered fighter plane and bomber
Given the initial supremacy of the Luftwaffe and the technological focus of German military scientists on aviation and rocketry, it is perhaps unsurprising that the Third Reich was the progenitor of the world’s first jet-powered fighter and bomber aircraft: the Messerschmitt Me 262 and the Arado Ar 234 respectively.
The Messerschmitt Me 262 (nicknamed “Schwalbe” or “Swallow”) was a product of “Projekt 1065”, a request by the Reich Ministry of Aviation for a jet aircraft capable of maintaining a speed of at least 850 km/h for a minimum duration of one hour. First tested in 1941, the Messerschmitt Me 262 was not introduced in combat until April 1944 due to mechanical issues and political interference forestalling the project. Faster and more heavily armored than any Allied fighter plane, the Messerschmitt Me 262 was responsible for at least 542 confirmed aerial victories; unable to be effectively countered in the air, the Allies were forced to resort to targeting the jet-fighter whilst still on the ground at German air bases. In total just 1,430 were produced before the end of the war, ultimately reducing the overall impact of the revolutionary design upon the outcome of the conflict; despite this, the engineering behind the Messerschmitt Me 262 would be adapted post-war by several nations into core components of their respective air forces, including the F-86 Sabre and B-47 Stratojet by the USAF.
The Arado Ar 234, despite being the world’s first jet-powered bomber, did little actual bombing during the Second World War. Like the Messerschmitt Me 262, the Arado Ar 234 was a product of the Reich Ministry of Aviation’s request for a bomber with a range of 2,156 kilometers; although the Arado was short of this specification, it was the best offered and thus accepted. Although testing begun in June 1943, issues with the landing gear prevented operational introduction until late 1944 with only 214 entering into service; these few were predominantly used for reconnaissance, not bombing. In spite of this limited use, the bomber proved almost impossible to intercept by the Allies and was the last Luftwaffe aircraft to fly over Britain during the conflict.
9. The “Kugelpanzer” was a spherical tank developed by the Nazis and believed to have been discovered by the Soviets in Manchuria
One of the more bizarre entries on this list is the spherical Kugelpanzer (“ball-tank”), a 5ft by 5.5ft cylindrical tank capable of moving at speeds of up to 8 km/h through the use of two rotating hemispheres and a stabilizing wheel attached to the rear. Lightly armored, with only 5mm of armor at its thickest point, and carrying only a single armament, likely an MG 42, the Krupp manufactured tank was not designed for an offensive purpose.
However, beyond this limited information very little is known about the Kugelpanzer due to a proscription by the Russian Federation on metallurgical analysis of the tank; in fact, almost everything else is contested by rival theories. Even the discovery location of the Kugelpanzer is not agreed, with the most common theory that it was captured in Manchuria in 1945 by the Soviet Red Army after being sent to Japan by Nazi Germany as part of a technology sharing scheme with their wartime allies; alternatively, the Kugelpanzer might have been captured at the Kummersdorf testing grounds alongside the aforementioned Maus.
As for the intended purpose of the Kugelpanzer, in the course of World War One the conditions of No Man’s Land significantly impeded traditional vehicle movement, prompting a slew of post-war responses involving a number of wacky and innovative designs. Among the solutions proposed were rolling tanks: first with the German prototype of the Treffas-Wagen in 1917, and later the so-called “Tumbleweed tank” in 1936 by an American inventor. Although unverifiable, it is widely suspected this was the intended purpose of the Kugelpanzer, either in a reconnaissance or infantry support capacity.
8. The V-1 and V-2 missiles were the first operationally deployed cruise missiles, capable of hitting targets as far away as 200 miles in just 5 minutes
As part of the Vergeltungswaffen (“retaliatory weapons”), including also the already explored V-3 cannon, the V-1 and V-2 were the first operationally deployed cruise missiles in military history. Following the failure of the German bombing campaigns against Britain, and the response of the Allies with their own against Germany, the Vergeltungswaffen was pushed in retribution for the mass bombings suffered by Germans.
The V-1 program was initiated in October 1943, with launch sites constructed along the coastline of Northern France; despite Allied bombing of these locations, the damage proved merely an irritation and the V-1 was ready for action in June 1944. In response to the Normandy Landings, on June 13 the first 10 V-1 missiles were launched, of which only four reached England and resulted in the deaths of just six people; from June 15 onward, the Luftwaffe increased the frequency to about 100 V-1s fired per day. Although initially effective in inducing panic and casualties, by late-1944 “Operation Diver” had significantly impeded their effectiveness. In total 9,251 V-1s were fired at Britain, predominantly the London area, of which 2,515 reached their targets, killing an estimated 6,184 and injuring 17,981.
The V-2, in contrast to the V-1s pulse engine which emitted a recognizable buzzing noise, was liquid-propelled and significantly faster. Launched from The Hague from September 8, 1944, the missile took only 5 minutes to travel at supersonic speeds the 200 miles to London. Although losing some of the psychological effects of the V-1, the V-2 was more deadly, with several strikes killing in excess of 100 people including, for example, a strike on November 25, 1944, at a Woolworth’s store which killed 168 and injured 121. In total 1,115 V-2s were launched, killing an estimated 2,754 Londoners and injuring a further 6,523; in addition, the missiles damaged as many as 20,000 houses per day and 2,917 service personnel were also victims of the V-2 campaign, which ended in March 1945.
7. Nazi scientists were responsible for the discovery of several nerve agents, including Sarin, Soman, and Tabun, which would become staples of now-internationally outlawed chemical weapons
Among the inventions and discoveries by the Nazis, arguably the most destructive were several of the most powerful and horrific nerve agents ever synthesized including Sarin, Soman, and Tabun; all of the so-called G-Series nerve agents were discovered by a team of scientists at IG Farben, led by Dr. Gerhard Schrader who also identified Cyclosarin in 1949.
Tabun, the first nerve agent discovered, was the product of accident when in January 1936 Schrader identified the toxicity of the compound during tests of organophosphates to kill insects via the poison. During World War II, as part of the GrÃ¼n 3 program an estimated 12,500 tons of Tabun was manufactured before the plant at Dyhernfurth was captured by the Soviet Red Army. During the Nuremberg Trial, Albert Speer, Minister of Armaments and War Production, declared he had intended to kill Hitler by introducing tabun into the ventilation system of the FÃ¼hrerbunker.
Sarin, the most toxic nerve agent in the world at the time of discovery, was identified in 1938 in an attempt to create stronger pesticides. Offered to the chemical warfare division of the German Army Weapons Office in mid-1939, mass productions plants were under construction at the end of the war and a total of up to 10 tons of sarin was manufactured between 1939 and 1945. Although incorporated into artillery shells, sarin was never militarily deployed during the Second World War; among its post-war uses, sarin has been responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands during the Iran-Iraq War, in terrorist attacks, most notably by Aum Shinrikyo in 1994, and recently in the ongoing Syrian Civil War.
Despite the attempted proscription of chemical warfare in the Geneva Protocols of 1925, restricting the use of mustard gas, among other chemical weapons, after the casualties of World War I, research into new weaponized chemical substances continued; with the discovery of Tabun and Sarin these efforts accelerated, resulting in the discovery of Soman in the summer of 1944. Even more toxic than sarin, only small quantities were able to be synthesized before the end of the war and it was never militarized by the Nazis.
6. The carbonated drink “Fanta” originated as a Coca-Cola substitute in Nazi Germany to circumvent an embargo on the ingredients of the popular American beverage
As a result of a trade embargo imposed by the United States against Nazi Germany during World War II, the ingredients for Coca-Cola, in particular Coca-Cola syrup, were no longer available in German markets. In response to this adverse commercial position, Max Keith, then-Head of Coca-Cola Deutschland, circumvented this restriction by developing an alternative cola product with available ingredients to replace the popular American classic: Fanta.
A fruit flavored drink made from apple fiber left over from cider pressings and whey, Fanta was the product of “the leftovers of leftovers” in Keith’s own words; the name itself derives from the German word “Fantasie”, meaning imagination, after salesman Joe Knipp was told to “use his imagination” by Keith to produce a marketable name. Due to similar issues as Germany the Netherlands division of Coca-Cola was also provided access to Fanta for their respective markets, albeit electing to use elderberries as one of the leading ingredients.
Cut off from Coca-Cola headquarters during the war, the brand and formula for Fanta became the property of the Coca-Cola Company after the war. Immediately discontinued upon reunification with the parent company, following the launch of several new lines of drinks by rival Pepsi in the 1950s Coca-Cola relaunched Fanta as their own new alternative.
A replica model of an Arado E.555. Wikimedia Commons.
5. The Nazis inadvertently designed a prototype long-range stealth strategic bomber, elements of which were replicated in the American B-2 over 40 years later
The Arado E.555 was a long-range strategic jet-powered bomber proposed in 1942 in response to the “Amerikabomber” project seeking to target the continental United States. Whilst a variety of designs were considered, the engineers behind the Arado E.555, in their attempt to mix the requirements for both speed and range, settled upon a unique angular wing construction; unbeknownst to the engineers, this design would be later replicated in the B-2 Stealth Bomber decades later due to its remarkably imperceptible nature.
The Arado E.555 was followed by the Horten Ho 229, intended to be the first flying wing aircraft to be powered by jet engines; a response to GÃ¶ring’s desire for light bombers capable of meeting the “3×1000 requirement”: being able to carry 1,000 kilograms of bombs a distance of 1,000 kilometers, at a speed of 1,000 kilometers per hour. Only three were ever manufactured, and none flown within an operational capacity, with the only surviving Horten Ho 229 secretly shipped to the United States as part of “Operation Seahorse” and the scientists recruited under “Operation Paperclip”. An object of curiosity by the engineers responsible for the B-2 Stealth Bomber in the 1980s, it has been alleged the Horten Ho 229 utilized mixed charcoal woven into the wing spans as the means to achieve rudimentary stealth technology to disguise the aircraft’s presence from early radar; in spite of serving as a piece of immense inspiration for the B-2 project, modern testing has cast doubt on the veracity of this claim.
4. The Fritz X, a guided anti-ship glide bomb developed by the Nazis, was the first precision guided weapon to be deployed in combat
The “Fritz X” (a nickname given by both the Allies and Germans, with the official designation the Ruhrstahl SD 1400 X) was an anti-ship bomb designed to pierce armor and deliver a high-explosive charge. Recognizing the difficulty of hitting moving enemy ships during the Spanish Civil War, the Luftwaffe began experimentation in 1938 with radio-controlled spoilers attached to free-falling bombs; guided by this radio link, the minimum launch height of the Fritz X was 13,000 feet and a range of 3.1 miles, with the requirement for maintaining direct sight exposing the control aircraft to enemy attack.
Entering active service on July 21, 1943, in a bombing raid on Augusta habor in Sicily, the bomb’s initial usage was so inaccurate the Allies did not realize they were being targeted by guided weapons. Despite this initial setback, on September 9 a pair of Fritz X bombs were responsible for sinking the Italian battleship Roma to prevent it falling into enemy hands after the Italian armistice with the Allies, killing 1,393 men including Admiral Carlo Bergamini; similar successes occurred against the USS Savannah on September 11 during the invasion of Salerno, killing 197 and forcing it to return to the United States for eight months to repair, and against the Royal Navy’s HMS Uganda on September 13, killing 16 men and disabling the ship.
However, by early-1944 the Allies had developed electronic countermeasures capable of rendering the radio-controlled bombs ineffective, an ability soundly demonstrated during the Battle of Anzio on January 22 wherein the British-designed Type 650 transmitter blocked the Nazi receiving frequency; by the time of the Normandy Landings in June 1944, the preponderance of Allied ships had such systems installed and the guided bombs fell out of usage by the remnants of the Luftwaffe.
3. The world’s first freely-programmable computer was invented in Nazi Germany, before being destroyed in an Allied bombing
The Z-series computers, comprising the Z1, Z2, Z3, and Z4, were a series of mechanical computers designed by Konrad Zuse between 1935 and 1943. The Z1, originally called “VersuchsModell 1” (Experimental Model 1) but changed post-war due to confusion with the aforementioned V1 flying bomb, was designed between 1935-1936 and constructed from 1936-1938 in the living room of Zuse’s parent’s apartment. Weighing approximately 1000 kilograms and consisting of roughly 20,000 working parts, the Z1 contained almost all the components of a modern computer including memory, a control unit, and logic devices; this made the Z1 freely programmable via punched tape with pre-programmable memory downloaded onto the internal memory of the machine. Unfortunately, the landmark invention was destroyed during an Allied bombing raid on Berlin in December 1943 along with the plans; despite this, over forty years later Zuse successfully rebuilt his machine in 1989 from memory for the purpose of historical preservation.
The Z2 was only a minor improvement on the Z1, using the same mechanical memory setup but introducing electrical relay circuitry; all existing plans for the Z2 were destroyed during the war. The Z3 was completed in 1941 as the first digital computer in the modern sense, but was not considered sufficiently important to the war effort to be put into operation; in fact, Zuse’s request to replace the computer’s relays with fully electronic switches was denied by the Reich on the grounds it was “not war-important”. Destroyed on December 21, 1943, also during an Allied bombing raid, a replica reproduced in the 1960s demonstrated the machine to be Turing-complete – the first computer to achieve this status.
Unlike his other creations, Zuse was able to rescue one Z4 from the bombings, being evacuated from Berlin in February 1945 to safety in the alpine village of Hinterstein with the machine; it would become the world’s first commercial digital computer in the 1950s. It is also worth noting that in addition to his creation of some of the first modern computers, Zuse was also responsible for the design of the first high-level non-von Neumann programming language: PlankalkÃ¼l. Developed for his doctoral dissertation, but only published in 1948 due to the fall of Nazi Germany impeding his PhD progress, Zuse developed a system of notation for algorithms during his downtime as he was unable to continue work on the Z4 from remote Hinterstein.
2. The Nazis created homing acoustic torpedoes, which almost changed the outcome of the Battle of the Atlantic
An acoustic torpedo, in contrast to a conventional torpedo, is defined by its ability to independently aim itself at a target either by listing to the vessel’s background noise to using sonar. Developed almost simultaneously by both the Allies and Germans during World War II, the Nazis edged out their Western scientific rivals when they created the G7e/T4 Falke, first deployed in March 1943; however, this model was ineffective, and was only used in combat by three U-Boats. Not deterred, in August 1943 the G7es T-5 ZaunkÃ¶nig torpedo was rolled out and was extensively used throughout September 1943, in particular in attacks on merchant ship convoys during the Battle of the Atlantic.
The initial effects of the introduction of acoustic torpedoes by the Nazis in the campaign was enormous. The summer of 1943 saw significant setbacks for the U-boat campaign, facing impressive anti-submarine efforts by the Allies, the defensive convoy system, and a dedicated team of hunter-killer escorts; the acoustic torpedo turned the tide for the Axis in late-1943, providing the German U-Boats with a “fire and forget” weapon allowing for speedy getaways after identifying itself through attack. In the wake of the introduction of acoustic torpedoes Nazi submarine kills dramatically increased, rising from a near-insignificant total in the summer of 1943. In spite of this considerable impact, the usefulness of the acoustic torpedo was short-lived, as the Allies swiftly produced the “Foxer”: an electronic countermeasure towed several hundred meters behind the ship and designed to produce acoustic noise as a decoy target.
An alleged UFO photographed flying over New Jersey in 1952. Could it be a secret Nazi reconnaissance flight….this author says definitely no. Wikimedia Commons.
1. From Moon Bases to UFOs, Anti-Gravity Technology to Time Travel, the Nazis have become the focal point of several technological conspiracy theories
In addition to the verifiable and detailed inventions of Nazi Germany listed above, far more fanciful creations have been widely ascribed to the Third Reich by a litany of conspiracy theorists. Among the most common, and indeed absurd in this author’s opinion, are the Nazi space conspiracies. Contending, without evidence, that Germany recovered a crashed alien spaceship in Antarctica in the final days of the war, these spacecrafts were used to transport leading members of the Reich to a secret Moon base to prepare for the future resumption of war under the identity of the Fourth Reich. The evidence provided for this alleged base on the dark side of the Moon is sketchy, with claims that distorted pixels on NASA images are deliberately censored images showing the hidden Nazi structures; just as to why NASA is supposedly protecting the impending Nazi space invaders is less clear.
Whilst categorically untrue, and ranging from the belief fluoride was stolen Nazi technology capable of mind control and pacifying docile civilian populations to Hitler escaping into the past via time travel, they are well worth a read for sheer absurdity and hilarity.
Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources: