*** war and social upheaval: World War II air campaign -- German secret weapons

World War II Air Campaign: German Secret Weapons

German secret weapons
Figure 1.--Here a British girl is pictured in the ruins of her devestated Battersea home (January 1945). Germany thanks to the pre-NAZI research and university establishment and the NAZI rearmament funding had the most innovative weapns reserarch programs. Thanks to Hitler's system of appointing Party loyalists rather than competent technocrats, development of war-winning weapon failed. The V-2 was a technical triumph. It had, however, no impavt on the War. Destroying Britih homes wasof no militry value. And because the huge resources lavished on the prigrm were wasted, actually negatively affected the war effort.

" ... if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science."

-- Winston Churchill, House of Commons, June 18, 1941

Hitler by late 1944 no longer spoke to the German people in sharp contrast to earlier years when he ws a constant presence on German radio. His deteriorating physical condition, relentlessly depressing reports from the fronts, and the destructon of German cities by Allied bombing were all factors. Hitler's mouth piece Josef Goebbels became his spokesman. Goebbels raged about vengenance and secrt weapons. There were indeed secret weapons. The world's first combat jet, the ME-262, was introduced in 1944. It was an inovative extremely effective fighter and if properly used could have severely impaired the Allied air campaign. Hitler's interference, however, prevented it from being effectively used. The V1 begining June 13 were used to target London and other British cities after the D-Day landings in June 1944. The V1 could be shot down, but there was no defense against the V-2 balistic missles which soon followed. There were many other projects under development or on the drawingboards. Some like the ME-163B Komet were futuristic concepts. Especially significant, however, was a new generation of jet fighters which would have been ready in 1946. Only the Allied bombing camapign prevented some from actually being built.

Weimar Republic

The Versailles Treaty severly limited Germany's military capability. Violation of the Trety invited Allied invasion. Even so, the Germany military developed a variety of projects yto circumvenbt ythose restrictions. Some were not viloations. Others were clear violations and thus conducted secretly. Glider clubs provided training for future Luftwaffe pilots. Limits on artillery enduced the Wehrmact to experiment with rocketry which was not covered by 6the Treaty. Here a young Werner Van Braun found financial support for his experiments. German companies set up aircraft production and development facilities in the Netherlands. Tank development took place sureptiously in the Soviet Unoin.

NAZI Rearmament

The relatively limited weapons development porogram were rapidly expanded after Hitler and the NAZIs seized power in 1933. Substantial Government funds were directed toward the military and new weapons productions. The highest prioities were airplanes and tanks. The Germans had fought World War I without an effective tank and with a smaller air fleet. They thus knew how effective these weapons were and were determined not to caught behind the llies a econd time. The NAZI weapons development pogram, however, was much more involved. It was the largest and most creative of any country participatong in World War II. The prototypes for moder weapons including jet aircraft, cruise missles, smart bomb, guided mussles, and other systems were devloped by the NAZIs. Many of these weapon systems were developed and used during World War II. Unfortunastely for the NAZIs, many were just prototypes which still had bugs. And just as they were being perfected, Allied nombers were tearing the heart out of the country's industrial capacity. Thus by the time that the weapons were coming on line, Germany was rapidly losing its ability to manufacture them in the nimbers needed to have a significant military impact.

Hitler's Public Image

Once the War began, Hitler made fewer public speeches. This was especially true as the War began to go aginst the Germans. Hitler by late 1944 no longer spoke to the German people in sharp contrast to earlier years when he was a constant presence on German radio. His deteriorating physical condition, relentlessly depressing reports from the fronts, and the destructon of German cities by Allied bombing were all factors. Hitler's mouth piece Josef Goebbels became his spokesman. Goebbels raged about vengenance and secret weapons. This was no idle boast, German industry

Weapons Systems

There were indeed secret weapons a Goebbels constantly threatened to us. In fact several were actually deployed by the NAZIs. There were many other projects under development or on the drawingboards. It is clear that the Allied bombing impeded the development and production of some of these weapons systems. The use of these weapons was compromised by the fact that the Germans lost air superority. This not only made it difficult to use the wepons, but made others vulnerabkle to Allied attack. Allied air superority, for example, may have also been a factor in the German's decission not to use poison gas.

Atomic bomb

It was German physicists that first demonstrated nuclear fission only jyst before World war II began. Fear of the poosibility of a NAZI bomb enduced the United States to launch the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb. The NAZIs had an atmomic weapons program. After seizing Czechoslvakia in March 1939, the NAZIs prohibited the export of uranium. After seizing Norway in 1940, priority was given to the production of heavy water. , but it was not well funded. Hitler had his mind fixed on the War and a hugely expensive weapons system that would take years to develop was not appeling to him, especially one that he could not understand. In addition the German physics academic establishment, perhaps the strongest in the world, was devestated by the NAZI anti-Semetic campaign. Many of the scientits driven from Germany played key roles in the Manhattan Project. Soviet, British, and Amnerican officials scoured Germany for information on their nuclear program after the NAZIs surrendered. They found that the German nuclear efforthad made little real progress. Before the NAZI surrender in May 1945, U-boats were dispatched to Japan with uranium ocide. It is not known what the purpoe of these shipments was.

Biological wapons

The Germans reported outbreaks of typhus after they invaded the Soviet Union (1941). Large numbers of internees in NAZI concentration camps died of typhus, but the horrendouds conditions in the camps, especially lack of food, mean the victims were in poor health and thus suspectable to disease. Anne Frank and her sister Margot were two of the victims. We notice Russian interest postings claiming that the Germans tuned lose concentration camp inmates infected with thyphus in an effort to infect Red Army soldiers. We can not yet confirm this charge.


The Germans began developing smart bombings, decaded before they were first used in Vietnam. The Germans developed the Rastow X-1 guided bomb. It was first used during September 1943 to punish the talians for sihning an armistace with the Allies. The Germans used it to sink the battleship Roma. Later in Italy the Germans used it on the British battleship Warspite.

Chemical weapons

One of the unanswered questions about World War II is why poison gas was not used. Germany had chemical weapons. The weapons were outlawed by the Versailles Treaty following World War I (1919). The German military had a range of programs to evade the Versailles limitations. I am not sure to what extent they worked on gas weapons during the Weimar era. After the NAZIs seized power (1933) the Germans launched a chenical warfare program and by the start of the War (1939) had substantial stockpiles. Unlike other weapons system, however, Hitler who had been gassed during World War I did not look favorably on gas weapons. I have no information at this time on German policy discussions concerning gas weapons. One German source indicates that military and chemical experts discussed the possible usd of chemical weapons in great deail, especially the use of gas in aerial warfare. The Germans seemed to have concluded that it wa not a very effective military weapon. 【Rumpf, p. 173.】 The conventional wisdom is that Germany did not need chemical weapons at the beginning of the War and was afaid to use them once the Allies gained air supremecy. The military in Germany was issued gas masks. The Luftwaffe's superority at the beginning of the War made bombing attacks of less concern to civilians. G�ring assured the public that it was not possible for the Allies to bomb Berlin. I'm not sure about the extent to which German civilians were prepared for gas attacks. We note photographs of Hitler Youth boys and other civilians training to use gas masks.


The Nadaer BA349 was a rocket powered glider.

Guided missles

The Germans developed a number of sophisticated guided missle weapons. These weapons have received very little attention by World War II historians, presumably because they were not manufactured and used in numbers. They were, however, substantial technological aschievements that had Germany not lost air superority could have played an important role in the War. These were different than the more well-known surface to surface variants (V-1 fixed-wing ramjets--a kind of early cruise missle--and the V-2 balistic missle) because they could be guided to the target by remote operators after launch. All of these weapons except the V-1 employed rocket engines. Many of these German guided missles systems had bugs, but if the Germans had had more time, and here we are talking about months, not years, they could have become very effective weapons systems. The Allies had nothing like these weapons. The Soviets and Allies both had rocket weapons, but not guided missle weapons. The Americans wwere experimenting with remotely guiding planes into targets, but not with any guided rocket weapons. There was a complele panomply in the German aresnal. There were 1) surface to air, 2) air to surfce, 3) air to air, and 4) anti-ship missles. These weapons if they could have been produced in numbers could have devestated Allied air fleets. The loss of air superority, however, made it difficult for the Germans to both produce and use these weapons. Had they done so, when cmbined with jet aircraft, the Germans could have regained air superiority. The breathing room the Allies had proved to be a very narrow one indeed.


The Germans also developed effective helicpters and were beginning to use them in operations. The FA-330 autogyroi was deployed on u-boats. About 200 u-boats were equipped. They appear to have been observation plaforms, but the purposes are not completely known. The Germans developed both autogyros and true helicoptors. The FA223 was developed as a trnsport helicopter, but production facilities were destroyed in air raids. The most sophisticxated helicopter waas the FL-282. It was a high-perdormance helicopter with some of the capabilities of a modern attack hlicopter. The Germans ordered 1,000, but the production facilities were heavily damaged in air raids.

Planes--Long Range Bombers

Germany's limited industrial capacity and failure to puts it economy on a war footing early in the war prevented it from building long-range heavy (four engine) bombers. Building heavy bombers in quantity required an enormous industrial capacity. Germany with its limited industrial capacity had to chose between a tactical or a strategic force. The Luftwaffe compsed primarily of officers transferred from the Heer decided on a tactical force with fifghters and light/medium bombers. The Luftwaffe, however, developed protoypes such as the Amerika bomber that were capable of reaching New York and other Atlantic-coast cities. These planes could have been constructed in 1944, but the Allied bombing made it impossible. The Germans also developed plans for a giant wing jet bomber.


The Germans developed an effective combat jet, but mismanagement by Hitler meant that it had little impact on the War. Jet propulsion was one of the many weapons systems that the German s were working on. The first successful jet plane was built by Heinkel and flew in August 1939, a few days before the German invasion of Poland. The Germans were so sucessful in 1939-40 that military production was scaled back, especially futuristic weapons that could no immediately help the War effort. In part this reflected Hitler's fear that shortages on the home-front would affect morale and public support for the War effort. Only after the invasion of the Soviet Union and the first major reverses were ome of the new weapn's system given priority. One of the most successful was the ME-262 jet. Both the British and Americans were working on jet planes, but the Germans were several years ahead. The world's first combat jet, the ME-262, was introduced in 1944. There were 1,400 ME-262s built. The Allied bombing did not prevent the the construction of the ME-262, but according to one Messerschmitt enginner, "The bombing slowed us down." If Hitler hadn't delayed development, it could have been available to twart the Normandy Invasion. If it had been used in a coordinated fashion as a fighter, it could have ravaged the Allied bombing campaign. Clearly defending German civilians was not high on Hitler's priorities. Hitler's interference, however, prevented it from being effectively used. Hitler wanted it used as a fast bomber. 【Pest, p. 670.】 He wanted revenge which meant a bomber. Large numbers of ME-262s were used a tactical bombers rather than fighters. This not only diluted the impact on the Allied air campaign, but it gave the Allies time to develop tactics to use against them. The ME-262 was more sluggish on turns and vulnerable on tackeoffs and landings. American fighters targetted airfiekds where thge ME-262s were based. In addition the air campaign was drastically reducing the supply of aviation fuel. This restricted both operations and pilot training.


Some weapons like the ME-163B Komet were futuristic concepts. One of the secret German weapons was the Messerschmitt (ME) 163B rocket plane, the first combat rocket plane. The plane was not ready for comat use as the Allies poured into Germany. The Luftwaffe was, however, desperate and pushed by the NAZIs, deployed it against Allied bombers. The ME-163B Komet was the only operational rocket-powered aircraft of World War II. The plane was capable of spectacular performance, it had higher climb rates and speeds than any other plane deployed in the War. It was also the most dangerous.


The Germans built some of the best tanks of the War. The Wehrmacht was, however, shocked when the Soviets introduced the legendary T-34. The Germans than adopted some of the T-34 features such as sloping armor. Their primary weaknesses was that they could not build enough tanks and they were complicated and difficult to maintain in battklefield conditions. The German answer to superior numbers was to build larger tanks, but this of course further reduced the number of tanks they could produce. The Germans reflecting Hitler's penchant for giantism developed the Tiger and Super-Tiger. They had powerful guns and thick armor, but the size and weight limited mobility and required large quantities of fuel--fuel the Germans did nit have. The small numbers limited their effectiveness. At the end of the War vthey were planning to build even larger super tanks. They were of limited utility. The prototype was so heavy that it was unable to cross bridges or be configured into an amphibious craft. Its fire power, however, was astounding. They also could be easily attacked by Allied air power.


The German U-boats were vulnerable to air attack. As the Allies ectended their air cover, it became virtually impossible to operste on the surface. This limited their effectiveness. The Germans worked feaverishly on devices such as the snorkle to allow the run their diesel engines uinder water. They also worked on improved U-boat types. especially as the llies developed improved anti-submarine tactics and weapons by 1943. The Germans also worked on midget sunmarines. The Negan was a sunmersible torpedo, but did not prove very effective, The Beaver was a midgit sunmarine. The real achievement was the Type-21 U-boat. It was the first real submarine with ground-breaking technology. They were, however, dangerous to operate because the Germans were going down some dead end solutions to the problem of sloving the range and duration problem. The Germans were, however, to build many, in large part because of the strategic bombing camapign.

Cruise and balistic missles--Vergeltungswaffe

The NAZIs in 1944 launched a revolutionary campaign against Britain--using cruise (V-1) and balistic (V-2) missles. The V stood for Vergeltungswaffe--vegence. Te vegence was retaliatin for the Aliied strategic bombing campaign. The Germans wre the firt to build and deply these weapons. These were extremely innovative weapons system and are today key components of modern militaries. The V-1 or buzz-bomb was a realitively simple weapon, a flying bomb using a ram jet engine. The V-2 balistic missle was very different. It was a technological achievement of the first order. Intelligence played a key role in the Allied response to these weapons. 【Keegan】 Both weapons are generally dismissed as of little importance and introduced too late to have any real impact on the War. This is not entirely accurate. This was true of the V-2. It was so costly and time-consuming to build that it was not an effective weapon with the conventinal war heads the Germans used. The V-1 was, however, a different matter. It was a simple system that could be easily mass-produced in large numbers. A massive attack on the English Channel ports could have delayed or seriously hampered the D-Day landings.

Surface to air missles: Waterfall (SAMs)

Less well known than the "V" weapons was a surface to air missle (SAM) developed by the Germans. The work was largely completed by 1942. It is not well known because it was not given the priority for mass production. The Germans referred to it as a 'rocket missle'. The code name was Waterfall and the designation was C-2. It was in fact the first SAM. It homed in on enemy planes by tracking the heat signature of their engines. There was no defense against it. Escort aircraft could not have protected the bombers from it. Waterfall was not perfected and mass produced because Hitler ordered that Germany's dwindling industrial strength be focused on the V-2 project (July 1943). He had dreams of leveling London after Von Braun showed him an impressive color film of a V-2 launch. Armaments Minister Albert Speer had been a big supporter of Von Brawn and even got him out of jail when the Gestapo arrested him and his aides. Speer after the War described his support for the V-2 project as one of his 'most serious mistakes'. He says that Waterfall was ready for mass producrion in 1942 even though the project got only a small fraction of the resources made available to Von Braun for the V-2. He points out that in comparison to the 2,210 scientists and engineers working on the V-2, only 220 were assigned to Waterfall. Even so, Waterfall was ready for production before the V-2. The German Waterfall SAM missle was 25 feet long and carried 660 pound warhead, more than enough to destrioy a B-17 or B-24. It could hit bombers up to 50,000 feet with great accuracy. It could be fired during the day or night and even when heavy clouds obscured visual sightings. Speer estimates that given V-2 production of 900 a month that they could have turned out several thousand of the smaller, less complicated Waterfall C-2 missles monthly. He writes, "To this day I think that the rocket, in conjunction with the jet fighters, would have beaten back the Western Allies' air offensive against our industry from the Spring of 1944 on. Instead, gigantic effert and expense went into developing amd manufacturing long-range rockets which proved to be, when they were at last ready for use in the autumn of 1944, an almost total failure." 【Speer, p. 468.】

American Intelligence Effort

Hitker and Göring announced the creation of the Luftwaffe (1935). It had actually been secretly ctreated earlier, soon after Hitler was appointed chancellor. New advanced aircraft were on display when Hitler sentvair units to support Franco's Nationalistrs in the Spanish Civil War (1936). American Army Air Corps commanders were concerned anout Herman techological advabces, bith real an imagined. President Roosevelt asked famed American aviator Charles Lindberg to acceot a German invitation and report on the German aircraft. Linberg was impressed and would become a major isolationist voice to keep America out of the War. One the Japanese carrier strike on Pearl Harbor propelled america into the War, the american air chieds were desperate to learn about the technology and capabilities of the Lufrwaff and for good reason. American figters were not up to the performance of Japanese fighters, let alone the German fighters. And the B-17 while a robust long-range bombers did not, as expected have the capability of fighting its way into the rEich and back without escorts. Obtaining information on the Luftwaffe proved difficult, especially as the air war shifted to the skies over occupied Europe. This mean thar aircraft shot down did not fall into Allied hands. And the americans learned very little about secet Luftwaffe wepons. Fortunately the Allies learned about the V-1 and V-2 program, al least German plans if not the technology in time to diseupt the air offenses planned. Even before the German surrender, America as well as British and Soviet teans were scourring the Reich to find German air weapons, esprcially the jets and missles as well as to find trhe scientists responsible for them. These German technologies would be the foundation for American and Soviet air power during the Cold war. 【Johnsen】

Failure of the German Secret Weapon Program

An assessment of the extensive German secret weapon program reverals that it failed to play a decisive role in World War II. There were a variety of reasons that the NAZIs failed. Surely the single most importabt one was Hitler's mismanagment of the weapon's program and fixation on terror and vengence. Armament's Minister Speer maintains that there were too many such projects and that they would have been better off concentrating on only a few of the weapons. 【Speer, p. 467.】 Only the ME-262 jet plane emerged as a potent military weapon and mismanagement of the program, primarily because of Hitler's interference, prevented the plane from having a significant impact. He was an firstvunuinterested uinn jets and then after the development of the ME-262, insisted it be used as a light bomber rather than a fighter. It was totally unsuited for use as a bomber and perfectly suited to be used as a fighter. The huge resources poured into the V-2 project in oparticuklar proved to be an utter waist. A potentially vital weapon in the Air War, the Waterfall SAM, was virtually ignored. Surprisingly it was the American secret weapon program, the Manhattan Project, that was to succeed in developing a decisive war ending weapon--the atomic bomb. In one of the great ironies of history, the NAZIs who wanted desperately to create terrible weapons and had a scientific establishment capable of doing so failed. And America, the great power most reluctant to go to war, suceeded in creating a weapon which because of its destructive power ushered in a whole new era--the Atomic Age.

Early victories

early German victories in World War II gave the NAZIs in essence command of te continent of Europe with emense industrial and sciebntific potential. Remember that until after World War II, Europe commanded scientific fields. This is reflected in Nobel prizes and many other measures. Hitler could have used this potential to intensify the development of new weapon's systems. Instead, after the fall of France (1940), many weapon's systems were cut back, most notably the jet aircrafft program. The decession was to focus on weapns that were of immediate use.

Impact of the Bombing Campaign

The Allied bombing clearly had a negative impact on the NAZI war industries. The overall impact of the bombing impaired industrial activity. But the impact on weapons development and production program was not just a general one. There are who weapons programs that were estroyed by bombing. The V-1 prpgram at Peenem�nde was delayed when that center was bombed. Especially significant was a new generation of jet fighters which would have been ready in 1946. Only the Allied bombing camapign prevented some from actually being built.

Weakening of German scientific establishment


Fest, Joachim C. Hitler (Vintage Books: New York, 1974), 844p.

Johnsen, Frederick A. Captured Eagles: Secrets of the Luftwaffe (2014), 304p.

Keegan, John. Intelligence in War: Knowledge of the Enemy from Napoleon to al-Qaeda (Knopf, 2004), 387p.

Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich (Avon, New York, 1970), 734p.


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Created: August 22, 2002
Last updated: 7:28 AM 6/12/2015