Wunderwaffen: Nazi Wonder Weapons
Few subjects provoke as much emotion as Nazi Germany, or attract as much attention and speculation. Since the war, we've even attached an occult mythology to Naziism, in an attempt to rationalize it away as having come from outside of our own society. This combination of true military might and mysticism has spawned a whole subculture of study of Nazi Wunderwaffen, the alleged wonder weapons with capabilities that far exceeded those of the Allied forces not only of the 1940s, but even of today. The range of these weapons goes from simple gunsights to ramjet fighter planes, and even all the way to antigravity flying saucers. How much of this mythology is true, and how much is driven more by our fascination with occultifying Naziism?
Like all military industrial complexes, Nazi Germany had military research programs, as did a huge number of civilian contractors. Within all of these scores of programs, serious plans for just about any advanced weapon you can imagine did in fact exist. As Germany's resources and manpower dwindled over the course of the war, fewer and fewer of these projects saw the light of day, but some of those that did were astonishingly advanced for their time.
We know about virtually everything that was under development in Nazi Germany because at the war's end, the Allied forces overran Germany and captured not only all of their technology in the form of operational and prototype designs, but also all of the documentation pertaining to their experiments and plans. In many cases, documentation was destroyed by the Nazis as capture became imminent; but this primarily regarded activities that were likely to be prosecuted as war crimes, such as the human experimentation programs at places like Auschwitz. All of the significant factories and design bureaus were captured relatively intact, and we have a very complete picture of what the Nazis did and did not develop.
Real weapons that the Nazis did actually build and deploy included jet powered fighters such as the Messerschmitt Me-262 and Heinkel He-162, and even a rocket powered fighter, the Me-163. There were also a number of variants and derivatives of these and similar aircraft. Toward the end of the war, some troops were armed with the Zielgerät ZG-1229 Vampir infrared gun sight, giving them night vision years before most Americans had ever dreamed of such a thing. Perhaps the pinnacle of Nazi military might was the pulsejet powered V-1 guided cruise missile, and the suborbital V-2 long-range ballistic missile, three thousand of which entered space fifteen years before Sputnik 1.
Other designs, while seemingly even more fanciful, did in fact exist, in either prototype form or completed (and perfectly sound) blueprints. Aircraft included the Horten Ho-229 jet powered flying wing, the Mach 2.2 Lippisch P13a delta winged ramjet-powered fighter, a high altitude spyplane similar to the later American U-2 called the DFS-228, even a variable geometry swing-wing jet, the Messerschmitt P.1101, which became the precursor to the later American Bell X-5. They also had designs for a number of vertical takeoff and landing jets.
The Nazis also aggressively pursued their Amerika Bomber program, hoping to create a system with the range to bomb the United States from Germany. These included variants of the Arado E.555 jet powered flying wing, and even a suborbital spaceplane called the Silbervogel which went as far as a glide test mockup. There were many, many other candidates for Amerika Bombers as well.
On land, the Nazis had plans for a pair of staggeringly gigantic tanks, the Landkreuzer P.1000 Ratte and P.1500 Monster, crewed with over 40 and 100 men respectively. They would have fired the largest artillery projectiles ever designed, the 800mm railroad gun.
At sea, the Nazis planned to equip a new type of U-Boat to fire their V-2 missiles into the United States, called the Rocket U-Boat. Three were ordered, and one was actually built, thought its testing was not completed before the war's end. And what would it have carried?
Nazi atomic warheads atop V-2 missiles were nearer to a reality than most people realize. While the Manhattan Project was happening in the United States, it had a twin hard at work in Germany: the Uranverein, or Uranium Club. The Uranium Club had just as strong a start as the Manhattan Project, perhaps even stronger; but Germany's rapidly diminishing resources over the course of the war meant that it couldn't be as fully staffed or funded as was the Manhattan Project. The operation of Germany's reactors for the breeding of plutonium required heavy water, which came from the Vemork hydroelectric plant in Norway, originally built to produce nitrogen for agriculture. The final nail in the Uranium Club's coffin came from perhaps the most important sabotage job in history: Operation Gunnerside, in which a small team of Norwegian commandos were airdropped and skied to Vemork. They climbed the cliffs surrounding the plant, entered through a utility duct, and planted explosives around the electrolysis chambers. The resulting explosions destroyed Germany's entire supply of heavy water and most of the equipment needed to produce it. 3,000 troops were sent after them, but the Norwegian commandos all escaped.
Several months later production resumed, but was hampered by severe allied bombing. Germany attempted to deliver what heavy water it had, and put the casks on a ferry. One of the commandos, Knut Haukelid, was in the area and managed to plant a bomb on board the ferry, which sank in deep water. This marked the end of Nazi Germany's atomic weapons program.
Several authors have alleged that Uranium Club scientists did, on several occasions, actually test atomic bombs. These were either hollow cores — meaning the shaped charge was in place to implode the plutonium core, but there was no plutonium — or a paraffin or silver core seeded with deuterium. But science historians have doubted the at-best controversial evidence supporting these claims, and Germany's Federal Physical and Technical Institute performed soil tests in 2006 where the tests are said to have happened and failed to find any chemical signatures.
And all of this brings us to the final, and most incredible, of the Nazi Wunderwaffen, known as Die Glocke, which means the Bell. The Bell is said to have been a saucer shaped aircraft, usually powered by a pair of rotating drums containing a mysterious iridescent purple liquid. It is this family of Nazi flying saucers, known by various nicknames and designations, that most of the Wunderwaffe mythology certers around. In all of the data and materials captured by the occupying forces, nothing remotely like the Bell was ever discovered, alluded to, or even imagined. There is, quite simply, no record indicating that anything like it existed, outside of the undocumented claims made by a number of authors and individuals decades later.
The inspiration of nearly everything found on the Internet today about Nazi flying saucers is a book, written in the year 2000 by Polish military historian Igor Witkowski called The Truth About The Wunderwaffe. Witkowski told an amazing tale: He was given access to (but not allowed to copy) the classified transcript of an interrogation by Polish agents of the Nazi SS officer Jakob Sporrenberg. Through this transcript, Witkowski claimed to have learned about Die Glocke. This account became popular in the West when aviation writer Nick Cook included it in his popular 2002 book The Hunt for Zero Point, a tale of the cranks and colorful characters who have tried to invent anti-gravity machines. Since that time, you've been able to find all you want on the Internet about Nazi flying saucers.
Whether Witkowski actually saw such a transcript, or just made it up, is unknown. He offered no evidence of its existence and nobody else, inside or outside of Poland, has ever reported seeing such a thing. But what is known is that the SS officer Sporrenberg can't corroborate Witkowski's claim. Sporrenberg was executed as a war criminal in 1952. He'd been a field officer fighting partisans, and had never had any connection with science or aviation branches of the Nazi military.
But there had been an existing mythos to anchor Witkowski's Glocke. Mythology has always surrounded the Nazis. Perhaps because of how incomprehensible was the Holocaust, post-war fascination with Naziism has tried to explain it away as the result of some demonic influence stemming from mysticism and occultism. The Nazi regime has always been a magnet for occult theories. This was born mainly in 1960 when two French authors wrote a fanciful work called The Morning of the Magicians in which they speculated about many mystical communities in Germany, among which was one inside pre-war Berlin called the Vril Society. The secretive Vril Society was said to be an inner circle among inner circles of various mystical, New Age, and occult orders. The book claimed the Vril Society formed the nucleus of the Nazi party. No reference to a Vril Society has been found documented prior to this book.
But the mysterious substance Vril was itself already embedded in popular consciousness. It had been since 1870 when the popular English writer Edward Bulwer-Lytton published a science fiction novel called The Power of the Coming Race. In this story, the population of Atlantis escaped their sinking nation by fleeing to the hollow center of the Earth. They possessed a magical fluid called Vril, which served as a limitless power source and the elixir of life.
I've been able to find only one thread linking Bulwer-Lytton's fanciful novel to the Nazis. In 1935, German astronomer and rocket scientist Willy Ley emigrated to the United States, as did many of his countrymen. Ley was also a prolific writer, and mixed science fiction in with his science writing. For Astounding Science Fiction he wrote an article called "Pseudoscience in Naziland" in which he described a group that was:
And so we have a more-or-less complete timeline of the genesis of the Nazi UFOs. They are entirely the invention of authors outside of Germany, leveraging the public's hunger for strangeness associated with the Nazis. Today, any Internet search for some of these terms will yield a tsunami of hoaxed black-and-white photographs, conspiracy theories of coverups, interviews with cranks claiming to have some insider knowledge, and endless lists of model numbers and designations of Nazi flying saucers that never existed. Within aviation and military history, no reference exists to flying saucers powered by drums of Vril or antigravity technologies.
It is the very nature of our perception of the Nazis that drives these tall tales of Wunderwaffen, not actual history. It's another case where the real wonder is in why the legend exists, not the legend itself. The Bell might never have flown, but it still offers us a fascinating lesson on why we believe.
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