In World War 2, Germany had a significant advantage in several fields of weapons technology. The German advantage was particularly noticeable at the beginning of the war, and towards the end of the war, with a diverse series of innovative weapons, commonly referred to as German secret weapons by The Allies, and Wonder Weapons by the Germans.
The German advantage in weapons technology was not a coincidence. It was the result of three main factors:
- Germany was one of the most scientifically advanced nations. It had a history of military innovation, and in the decades before World War 2 its science and technology leadership in many fields was at its peak.
- Since 1933, when Adolf Hitler became dictator of Germany, with a firm and declared intention to go to war, Germany was making a maximum national effort to re-prepare to a major war. The German military industry, already a leader in many fields, was given enormous budgets and other national resources, in a major national effort to equip the German military with the most advanced weapons possible. Such an effort was bound to produce results, and did.
At those same pre-war years, the western technology leaders were led by nationwide post-WWI pacifism which preferred to ignore the rapidly rising threat, and their defense budgets were miserably low. Stalin's Russia was also preparing to war, but had a bigger gap to close, and Stalin's centralist terror regime almost eliminated free innovation. So there's no wonder that in 1933-1939 Germany achieved a significant advantage in military technology over its future enemies, an advantage it partially lost during the war.
- When the war began, the over-confident Hitler ordered to slow down German weapons development projects which were not expected to become operational within an 18 months time frame. But towards the end of the war, outnumbered and facing defeat, Germany did the opposite, and desparately invested in highly advanced new weapons development, with impressive results, but mostly at the expense of greatly needed mass production of available mature weapons, and too late to save Germany from defeat.
German Secret Weapons
Jet and rocket aircraft
- Arado 234 - the world's first jet bomber, the Arado 234 was a highly advanced single-seat bomber with automatic pilot, eject seat, pilot-aimed rear guns, and with its two jet engines and streamlined shape it was too fast to intercept.
- Messerschmitt 262 - the world's first jet fighter, it was an excellent bomber interceptor. ( read full Messerschmitt 262 essay ).
- Messerschmitt 163 - the world's first rocket-powered fighter, the Messerschmitt 163 was an incredibly fast AND highly agile short range point defense bomber interceptor, like a manned and reusable anti aircraft missile. Once the incoming bombers formation appeared, it could take off, climb at them at an incredible rate, close in at 600mph, a speed that made the heavy bombers and their escort fighters almost sitting ducks in comparison, attack, then disengage, run out of rocket fuel, dive down unpowered but still too fast for any other fighter to chase, and then easily glide back to landing at base. In the hands of a capable pilot it was a formidable weapon, even if short ranged, and indeed one German ace once shot down three B-17 bombers one after the other in one sortie with it.
- Heinkel 162 - a jet fighter designed to be mass-produced by minimally trained workers, using available non-strategic materials, and to be flown by minimally trained pilots. Just 69 days after being given the contract, Heinkel successfully flew the new jet fighter, and production started.
Other advanced aircraft
- Dornier 335 - the world's first fighter with eject seat, the Dornier 335 was a fast and powerful bomber interceptor which could fly and climb faster than its opponents, the American P-51 Mustang escort fighters. Unlike typical twin-engine aircraft with one propeller on each wing, the Dornier 335 had one propeller in the nose and one propeller in the tail.
- Junkers 87 "Stuka" - the world's first real precision bomber, the Stuka played key role in the German Blitzkrieg victories in the first half of the war, and remained the best dive bomber of World War 2. ( read full Stuka Dive Bomber essay ).
- Helicopters - the world's first operational military helicopters were the Flettner 282, a small maritime reconnaissance helicopter used mostly in the Mediterranean, and the Focke Achgelis 223, a utility helicopter. Production numbers were low due to the destruction of the factories by Allied air bombardment.
- Henschel Hs-293 - the world's first operational guided missile. On its first operational use, on Aug. 27, 1943, it sank a British warship. The Hs-293 was a radio-controlled missile with a 500kg warhead, guided by the launching bomber's bombardier. At least 2300 were fired until the end of the war.
- Ruhrstahl Fritz-X - the world's first guided bomb. On its first operational use, on Sept. 9, 1943, two Fritz-X bombs dropped from a German bomber hit the Italian 45,000 ton battleship Roma so hard that it exploded. Like a modern 'bunker buster' bomb, the big radio-controlled Fritz-X was built to penetrate the thickest armor. It weighed 3460lb : 20% explosives, the rest hard metal.
- V-1 - the world's first cruise missile. The jet-powered V-1 delivered a 1875lb warhead to a range of 125 miles. It was launched mostly from fixed ground launchers, but also air-launched from bombers. A manned version for suicide attack was developed and became operational, but never used for attack.
- V-2 - the world's first long range ballistic missile. The rocket-powered V-2 delivered a 2150lb warhead to a range of 200 miles, and since it reached the target from above at a speed of 2500mph, there was no early warning, and it was launched from mobile launchers, which were hard to detect before and after launch.
- Schrage Musik - upward firing guns installed in night fighters and automatically triggered by a photoelectric sensor when flying under the target bomber's night shadow. This was a very efficient weapon which enabled swift and lethal surprise attacks from below.
- Sondergerate - downward firing recoilless anti-tank guns installed in ground attack aircraft and triggered automatically by a photoelectric sensor when the attacking aircraft passed over the target tank.
- Type 21 submarine - the world's first submarine built to stay submerged during its entire patrol, not just during combat as earlier submarines did. Type 21 was a superior submarine in every sense. It was faster when submerged than when surfaced. It had a battery-powered range of over 300 miles between battery recharges, which did not require surfacing, just raising a schnorkel to water level. It was the first submarine with advanced SONAR capable of targeting enemy ships while submerged without having to use the periscope. It had a secondary electric motor especially for silent combat running, fast torpedo reload mechanism, air conditioning, and more. Type 21 was a highly advanced attack submarine that was much harder to detect by anti-submarine aircraft and vessels.
- Type 23 submarine - was the small sister of Type 21. A very small attack submarine (250 tons) with a crew of just 14, it was optimized for attack and survival in coastal and shallow waters, and in addition to the advanced features of Type 21, it was also capable of incredibly fast crash dive, in less than 10 seconds.
- Electric-powered torpedoes - the world's first electric powered torpedoes were used by the German submarines. They did not leave a trail of bubbles in the water, and therefore did not reveal the direction to the attacking submarine, greatly improving its chance of avoiding a counter attack.
- Stealth - the world's first stealth coating. It made surfaced German submarines invisible to night detection by airborne Infra-Red searchlights. This stealth technology was decades ahead of its time, based on the same science principles used in the RADAR-absorbing coating of modern stealth aircraft.
- Nerve Gas - the world's first three types of "Nerve Gas" chemical weapons were developed in Germany: Tabun (1936), Sarin (1938), Soman (1944), all many times more lethal than earlier chemical weapons. Unlike chemical weapons like Mustard Gas which injure and kill by burning skin and tissue, Nerve Agents, like the venom of Cobra snakes and scorpions, quickly causes a total and excruciating muscle paralysis that kills by paralising the muscles invloved in breathing.
The Allies knew nothing of this horrible secret German weapon, or the fact that the German artillery was already equipped with it, until after the war's end. The Germans on the other hand, didn't know that The Allies did NOT have any nerve gases, but assumed that they did, and therefore feared massive retaliation with similar weapons if they used their nerve gases, as Winston Churchill declared that if the Germans will use chemical weapons, he will order to "rain" the entire British stockpile of chemical weapons in retaliation. It was a "Balance of Terror" like the nuclear Balance of Terror during the post-WWII Cold War.
- Sturmgewehr 44 - the world's first assault rifle. Assault rifles (like the modern M-16 and AK-47) are an optimized compromise between the rifle and the sub-machine gun, combining the advantages of both to a superior weapon.
- Synthetic Fuel - the world's first synthetic fuel. Before and during World War 2, Germany built many large production plants, solely for wartime purposes, as the produced fuel was much more expensive than petroleum based fuels. The synthetic fuel, produced from coal, was critically important to Germany during the entire war to overcome its dependence on imported petroleum.
The above list of German weapons does not include many other innovative weapons development projects which did not become operational before World War 2 ended, but which greatly influenced the post-war East-West arms race. It also does not include many other advanced German weapons which did participate in World War 2, but to which The Allies had equivalent weapons.
- Radio Navigation - Since the beginning of World War 2, German night bombers could efficiently navigate to their targets using systems of fixed radio transmitters, and receivers installed in the bombers. This was the forefather of GPS. In the first 2 1/2 years of the war, Allied night bombers had no equivalent systems, and were terribly inaccurate.
World War 2 Bombers
Infantry Weapons Of World War 2
Luftwaffe Bomber Wing KG 200
World War 2 Submarines