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Five Things Germany Invented During World War II

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Kschang is interested in historical topics ranging from military engagements to weapons and tactics.

Here are five things Germany developed or perfected during WWII you may have never learned about.

Here are five things Germany developed or perfected during WWII you may have never learned about.

Nazi Germany Military Inventions

Germany during World War II was absolutely amazing when it came to technology. Its scientists created the first deployed jet fighter (the Me-262), rocket fighter (the Me-163), ballistic missile (V-2), and cruise missile (V-1), as well as the first assault rifle (StG-44) and much more.

Additionally, they also had plans for super long-range and orbital bombers, as well as items that ended up just being pipe dreams, including death rays, sonic cannons and other impractical research.

The end of World War II was so traumatic that much of the knowledge and research was lost, but rumors have persisted Germany developed a flying saucer (named "Dora") and either had a secret Antarctic base (supplied by a secret U-boat fleet) or a base on the moon (much like the lampoon film Iron Sky).

Here are the inventions we'll look at in this article:

  1. Night Vision
  2. Helicopter Gunships
  3. Audio Tape
  4. Counterfeit Money
  5. Amphetamines (i.e., speed)

Many of these didn't actually change the course of the war because they either didn't make a big enough difference or weren't fully implemented. They are presented in no particular order.

Model of a Wermacht or "night hunter." The StG-44 assault rifle is combined with the ZG 1229 night vision device.

Model of a Wermacht or "night hunter." The StG-44 assault rifle is combined with the ZG 1229 night vision device.

1. Night Vision

While Germany was not the first nation to invent night vision, it was the first to deploy a portable version of a night vision device. Its codename was "vampir" (vampire) and real name was Zielgerät 1229 or ZG 1229. It was basically a giant backpack battery powering an infra-red searchlight and a special infra-red scope mounted on the gun, usually an StG-44 assault rifle.

The backpack battery powered a searchlight with an infra-red filter and a scope sensitive to infrared (IR) light. The searchlight's filter emitted only high IR, which had very little heat. Some of the power went to the scope, which amplified the IR light. It did not pick up body heat and was not thermal vision; it was basically "invisible light." It could, however, be picked up by another Vampir user.

Usually issued to sturmgrenadiers, the unit that received these were known as the "nichtjaeger" (night hunters). Over 300 units were deployed in 1945, which was too late to make a difference in the war, but there were reports for a while that German snipers were picking off people at night.

There were some devices mounted to tanks earlier than 1945, but those were largely experimental as well.

Anton Flettner was arguably the best helicopter designer of World War II.

Anton Flettner was arguably the best helicopter designer of World War II.

2. Helicopter Gunship

Most people can name Bell and maybe Sikorsky when it comes to helicopters. Those really dedicated to helicopter history may remember Focke, but few can name Anton Flettner and his contributions to the rotary flight.

Flettner actually created his first rotorcraft in 1932, long before World War II. However, his prototypes kept getting destroyed in test flights or bad weather. By 1937 he'd come up with a radical design—an intermeshed rotor system. It culminated in the Fl 282 "Kolibri" (Hummingbird) shown below.

Fl 282 Kolibri, a two seater helicopter during WWII.

Fl 282 Kolibri, a two seater helicopter during WWII.

What appears to be a four-bladed rotor is actually two separate two-blade rotors at an angle to one other and synchronized, so they can't hit. It generated a very impressive lift from the small engine at the time (150 hp engine is normal) and gave the craft respectable range and maneuverability, even while carrying a crew of two and small amounts of equipment.

The Best Helicopter of Its Time

The helicopter was so advanced, and the German navy was so impressed by its abilities that they ordered a thousand of them. However, before they could be built, the Allied force's bombing campaign began, and only a few were finished.

What really made the Fl 282 special was its ability to mount weapons and the "gunner/observer" in the back.

In 1945, a squadron of five armed Fl 282s made an aerial attack on a group of American tanks and took out two of them before losing two of their own. A nearby Spitfire fighter shot one down; a concentrated small arms fire shot down the other. It marked the first time ever that armed helicopters conducted an aerial attack against tanks and other ground forces. Before then, helicopters were unarmed recon vehicles, and this fundamentally changed how they would be used in war.

Other variants were on the books; some could be armed with bombs and other weaponry, but those never went beyond the planning stages.

Remember the compact cassette? You have the Germans to thank for that.

Remember the compact cassette? You have the Germans to thank for that.

3. Audio Tape

By the 2020s, people have largely forgotten about CDs and MP3s and moved on to streaming devices. And audio tapes are now nothing but a distant memory. But for those who remember the cassette, the Sony Walkman and similar technology, did you realize the Germans invented the audio tape recorder in the 1930s, then perfected it during the war?

Since the late 1800s, scientists had been researching a medium that allowed simple and high-fidelity sound recording, playback and copying. The earliest "dictaphone" used wax cylinders, which evolved into the "wax record," which then became vinyl records or long-playing (LP) 33 RPM records. Though early on, records were 78 RPM, and thus recording length was limited.

In 1898, Valdemar Poulsen invented the "wire recorder," which used a length of piano wire as the recording medium. It was very low fidelity, but due to the size of its medium, the spools of wires could be made very small and therefore, were quite reliable and hard to break. Thus, that technology survived well into the 1960s.

The Germans, on the other hand, took a completely different route. In 1928, one of their scientists, Fritz Pfleumer, created a way to coat paper with metal strips. He realized this could be a recording medium that was easier to make. It had the potential for much longer lengths and better fidelity. He created his first prototype in 1931, then licensed the technology the following year to the German company AEG, who created the first magnetic tape recorder, the Magnetophon, in 1935.

Perfected in Time for the Invasions

Soon after, Frederich Matthias, Eduard Schuller and Walter Weber contributed new improvements. These included the "flat" recording head, the improved audio tape material and better electrical techniques for converting audio signals into magnetic recordings ("AC Bias"). The audio tape recorder was perfected just in time for Nazi Germany to start invading other European countries.

The Allies intercepted many radio transmissions from occupied Europe in World War II. These often featured identical transmissions sent out almost simultaneously across multiple time zones. Radio technology did not have the range during the war that it has now, so this was not a "relayed" signal.

Recording mediums on the Allied side at the time—wire and wax recordings—did not allow the same length of the speech or the fidelity of the sound, which led some analysts to believe these were re-readings by different persons in different areas. However, spectrogram analysis indicated the recordings were not just similar; they were identical.

Magnetophon K1, by AEG. This was captured from a European radio station by Allied forces in WWII.

Magnetophon K1, by AEG. This was captured from a European radio station by Allied forces in WWII.

It was not until near the end of the war—when Allied forces began liberating Europe—that they recovered the audio tape recorder from Radio Luxembourg shown above.

The technology was sent back to the U.S., analyzed by American scientists and eventually declassified for civilian use. It led to an explosion of audio tape usage some two decades later. AMPEX was arguable founded on this captured technology.

Adolf Burger at the 2008 premiere of "The Counterfeiters." He's holding up one of the fake banknotes.

Adolf Burger at the 2008 premiere of "The Counterfeiters." He's holding up one of the fake banknotes.

4. Counterfeit Money

German strategists had all sorts of plans to disrupt Allied forces in WWII and turn the tide of the war. One of the more elaborate plans was "Operation Bernhard," a massive counterfeiting operation that involved creating vast amounts of fake British (and possibly American) currency to be introduced into England by undercover agents.

The intention was to ruin the trust of the people in the British government. Unfortunately for the Germans, they took too long, and the counterfeit money was never distributed.

The wartime economy in Great Britain meant the Bank of England had to take some shortcuts when creating the British Pound notes. While it had most of the anti-counterfeiting features still used today—like special paper and watermarks—it lacked detailed engraving and special ink, which were not then available.

Implementing the Plan

In 1942, SS Major Bernhard Kruger was ordered to implement this plan, which came to bear his name. He recruited 142 counterfeiters from the Jewish artisans in various concentration camps, and they created some of the most impressive counterfeit currencies the world had ever seen.

It's said the counterfeit money could have fooled most of the creators of the British currency. By early 1945 they had created 182 million British pounds in various denominations. They had just finished the plates to counterfeit the American dollar when they were ordered to move the operation to Austria ahead of the Allies' offensive.

In May 1945, they retreated to a village high in the mountains of Austria. By then, it was clear the Germans had lost the war, so most of the equipment was dumped in the mountain's lake. Guards were told to kill the counterfeiters, but their reluctance and a near revolt by the prisoners convinced them to flee instead. The U.S. army arrived in the village soon after.

Adolf Burger, one of the counterfeiters, was there to greet the liberators. He later wrote a memoir called The Devil's Workshop, contributed to the film The Counterfeiters based on his book and even appeared at the film's premiere holding one of the notes he had helped counterfeit.

Pervitin and the original container it was distributed to German soldiers in during WWII.

Pervitin and the original container it was distributed to German soldiers in during WWII.

5. Amphetamines (i.e. Speed)

Germany was not widely known as a war machine before World War II, so the speed (pun intended) with which its forces conquered Poland, dubbed "Blitzkrieg" or lightning war, really took a lot of people by surprise. What few people know was the German soldiers were literally on speed at the time. They called it Pervitin.

Pervitin was first marketed by Temmler Pharmaceuticals in Germany to the civilian market and was very well received. Acting similar to adrenaline—amphetamine, the primary ingredient of Previtin—gave the user increased confidence and courage, as well as increased concentration and willingness to take risks.

This, coupled with reduced sensitivity to pain, fatigue, hunger and thirst, brought it to the attention of the German army, and a batch was quickly issued to drivers of vehicles invading Poland. The results were tremendous. There was at least one documented letter home by a German soldier asking for some Pervitin in the mail.

The formula was nationalized quickly. A variant, called Isophan, along with Pervitin, was put into full production by Bayer and other large pharmaceutical companies and distributed to all German soldiers. It is documented that 35 million tablets of Pervitin and Isophan were distributed between April and July of 1940.

Only when the doctors expressed concerns over side effects, and withdrawal symptoms was production curtailed—though not eliminated. Over 10 million tablets were shipped in 1941. At the time, they usually came in small tubes not too dissimilar to modern candies.

Speed for Teens

Teenagers were fielded during the war's final months when Germany was increasingly desperate to bring in soldiers. Drugs such as Pervitin were used more and more. Most of the young soldiers had little experience with combat and relied on the drugs for any sort of effectiveness.

Scientists also created even more dangerous concoctions, such as combining Pervitin with cocaine and other narcotics. Fortunately, before those could be mass-produced, World War II ended.

Unparalleled Scientific Advancement

Germany's scientific prowess during World War II is nearly unquestionable, but not all of their creations were as famous as the jet fighter or ballistic missile.

I hope I have brought you a slice of history that you may not have known. It was a lot of fun researching this topic.


© 2013 kschang


kschang (author) from San Francisco, CA, USA on February 13, 2020:

Got it from here.

Sn1per01 on February 27, 2017:

Please cite your sources for the FI 282 raid please, I have found no evidence to support the mission listed even happened.

Peter Geekie from Sittingbourne on September 15, 2016:

Dear kschang,

Thank you for an interesting article covering many lesser known subjects of ww2.

Kind regards Peter

Connie120 on January 30, 2016:

This is a very interesting article! Actually, not all the knowledge and research was lost when Germany got defeated, because the US imported most of the top Nazi scientists. So probably they deserve credit for a lot of the inventions that made the US so famous.

Randy on August 25, 2015:

Germany didn't invent crystal meth, they got the formula from Japan in 1938. Germany started manufacturing of it first for consumer use, then the military looked in to it.

Robert Sacchi on November 23, 2014:

Thank you. I found what you wrote about the Fl 282 most interesting.

Ed Palumbo from Tualatin, OR on September 07, 2014:

Thank you for an informative Hub article. I was unaware of much of this. I think this is well researched and photo-illustrated. I look forward to reading more of your material!

Graham Lee from Lancashire. England. on August 28, 2013:

Hi kschang. You have indeed brought me a slice of history I did not know. I had never heard of Pervitin, let alone it being issued to German troops. A brilliantly researched hub. Well done.

Voted up and all.