Hitler’s Super Weapons
From V2 rockets to Tiger tanks, discover the truth about Nazi Germany’s cutting-edge wunderwaffen programme
On 9 December 9 1965, a massive fireball streaked across the eastern United States, sparking reports of UFO sightings. In the tiny town of Kecksburg, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, several residents claimed that the fireball had crashed in the adjacent woods. Members of the local volunteer fire department reported that they had found an acorn-shaped object as large as a Volkswagen Beetle inscribed with Egyptianstyle hieroglyphics, an object the US military supposedly removed under cover of darkness. Many explanations have been proposed, including the crash of a spy satellite, but most scientists concluded that the object was nothing more than a meteor.
The legend of the Kecksburg UFO might have remained the type of interesting but unconvincing local colour that makes up American folklore, except it was cited as evidence for Adolf Hitler’s wunderwaffen. Meaning ‘wonder weapons’, the Nazi regime hoped this arsenal – which ranged from cutting-edge V2 rockets and the world’s first fighter jet to the more outlandish, including giant guns built into cliff faces – would give Adolf Hitler’s forces the tactical advantage needed to win World War II. In the hands of a small group of obsessive researchers into the Nazis’ supposed ability to manipulate time, space, and magic, the Kecksburg UFO transformed into a Nazi time machine, the first successful test of an astonishing technology that could catapult members of the Third Reich out of their collapsing regime at the war’s end to new lives in the postwar US. This technology, the story goes, is now in the hands of the American military to be used for their own nefarious purposes.
But to understand how a minor UFO report grew into a massive conspiracy for which no real evidence exists, we have to pull apart the threads that have tied together Hitler’s actual weapons programmes, a widespread belief in Himmler’s mastery of the occult, and the popular depiction of Nazis as ruthlessly efficient technocrats for whom the line between science and science fiction had completely blurred.
flying into the future
The story of the wonder weapons actually began before World War II broke out, when the Führer began making plans for world conquest. Hitler had long fancied himself an artist and a visionary, and his war planning took on a similar air of the theatrical. One ongoing obsession was the desire to see New York City burn, turning the largest American city into what he called “towers of flame,” almost like the great fire that strikes the set and consumes Valhalla and the gods themselves at the end of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, which Hitler may have attended just days before the outbreak of war. Those around Hitler were only too happy to help bring his vision to life – at least as long as the money was good.
“instead, Hitler saw a mock-up that wasn’t capable of leaving the ground”
In 1937, on a visit to the Messerschmitt aircraft factory in Augsburg, in south-eastern Germany, the company proudly displayed for Hitler the prototype of the Messerschmitt Me 264, a four-engine long-range bomber that they said would be capable of reaching New York City from Europe. Hitler was suitably impressed at this so-called ‘Amerika bomber’ and excitedly fantasised about the ruination of the United States. But the more practical men of the Messerschmitt company were in actuality pulling the wool over the Führer’s eyes. Willy Messerschmitt, the designer of the plane, did not actually have a working prototype when Hitler visited. Instead, Hitler saw a mock-up – a fake plane – that wasn’t capable of leaving the ground.
The theatrical subterfuge was designed to help the company win a lucrative contract from the Nazi government. No one at Messerschmitt actually had any idea how long it would take to develop a working prototype. It would take an additional five years, until 1942, before the Me 264 took to the skies. The plane took its first flight in December of that
Tanks on parade in 1935 during Nazi Germany’s rapid rearmament V2 rockets at an Army Research Centre in Peenemünde, northern Germany, c. 1942