Nazi Mega Weapons

Suggested by Brad Nelson • The Nazis built some of the biggest and deadliest pieces of military hardware in history. Follow a group of experts on a dark journey through Europe’s mountains, forests and beaches to uncover engineering secrets that have lain hidden for decades. • Suggest a video • (179 views)

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60 Responses to Nazi Mega Weapons

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    This is currently available for streaming on Neftflix. You can also find the DVD’s here.

    Although historic features such as The Atlantic Wall has hardly “lain hidden for decades,” usually there are some interesting facts revealed about each that are uncommon. And most of the shows take you around, into, inside, and below many of the remaining artifacts. I’ve watched most of this series and will give some comments about the highlights:

    Atlantic Wall: This is a good one to start with. Combined with the other programs you’re left with the impression of how inept the Germans really were. Their sheer brutality made up for a lack of planning and efficiency in many cases. But the entire “Atlantic Wall” comes across as a lesson in hubris. Only when Rommel was put in charge did it begin to resemble something that had the possibility of acting as a strong defense. Rommel had noted that no one with a good military background had directed the wall until he took it over.

    Even then, the viewer is left with the impression (unfortunately, there’s not much expert commentary in this regard) that had those resources been put into several more mobile Panzer divisions, the Germans would have been better off. Of course, they ill-used the ones they did have. Also note that most of the programs don’t restrict themselves to talking about the particular “mega weapon” but include the overall story of the war, and mostly to good effect.

    U-Boat Pens: I’d certainly heard of the great U-Boat pens of Lorient. (Some nice photos here.) But this show provides plenty of background details I had never heard of before. It was interesting to see, even if in summary, how the U-Boats got started under Karl Dönitz. At first there were a few. They worked hard to justify themselves which they eventually did. Some pens were built in France and gradually expanded. When the ball really got going, the need for larger pens was needed. It’s fascinating to see how these pens were built untouched by the British…until it was too late. But at one point the British did build some special Yuge bombs and did score a direct hit. The damage was contained and made trivial by the special double-roof design.

    Again, although the U-Boats had their day, their success seemed predicated on the Allies’ neglect of them. Once the Allies started fighting them in a sustained and efficient way, the U-Boats became easy targets.

    Another theme that ties this series together — and, again, unfortunately not really tied together strategically by the experts in this series — is how all these “mega weapons” seemed to be a waste of resources. What they needed to build was an effective air force with trained pilots. In one program (the one about the V-2’s), the “experts” do make note of the ineffectiveness (at least cost-wise) of this particularly mega weapon. Something like 1.5 billion (or more) Marks were spent on it to average out like something to $3000.00 per kill. And even then, those killed were random civilians.

    U-Boat Pens: A pretty good look at these rockets. What I found quite interesting was the huge amount of money invested in these things as well as the secret location at Peenemunda. But it didn’t stay secret forever and when the Allies found out about it, they obliterated with bombing. It’s interesting how long they were having technical difficulties with these things. They could go quite a ways and then go off track. There was no easy way to figure out what was going on. Werner von Braun finally visited a launch with binoculars in hand (apparently nearly getting killed when the V-2 fell back to earth) and noticed that the cowling was flexing. Once this was reinforced, they had an effective (if not cost effective) weapon.

    Super Tanks: The weakest one I’ve seen so far. Nothing really new hear about the German tanks. I’ve seen this done so much better in many other programs.

    Fortress Berlin: This is a general look at the defenses ringing Berlin near the end of the war. Most fascinating of all are the huge flak towers. I don’t remember that feature. It’s an interesting story of what, in particular, the Soviets had to face. But aside from the flack towers, there’s not a lot of detail here.

    V1: Hitler’s Vengeance Missile: This is actually a pretty good history of the V-1 weapon along with at least a cursory overview of the technology. Most fascinating off all was the spelunking around France to the sites of old bunkers and launching ramps and the story behind them. The Germans began building hundreds of launch sites. The Allies started noticing some strange construction (the ramps) but didn’t know what they were for. An areal photo from Peenemunde caught a V-1 in position on a ramp. The game was up and the Allies destroy the launching ramp.

    But the Germans will not be deterred. The game of cat-and-mouse the Germans are willing to play in fascinating. At some point (again..if only they had an air force) they go with a plan for ramps that can be assembled quickly on-the-spot and be disassembled when finished.

    The technology of these V-1’s is very straightforward: Spray some fuel into a combustion chamber. Ignite it. Repeat. In order that the force of the explosion does not dissipate through the air intakes, there are shutters that open and close. During ignition, they close and thus all the pressure of the explosion is channeled as thrust. The shutters open again and let in air. This happens something like fifty times a second, thus the “buzz” of the buzz-bomb. Although the Germans got off to a slow start, they eventually launched 1000’s at London. But the ramping up of the V-1 came right on the heals of Normandy, so the Germans fairly quickly lost their ability to strike at London because of the relatively short range of the V-1.

    V1: Hitler’s Vengeance Missile: Fascinating fact: I had no idea this line was created by Hitler. I thought it was a historic German defense line. But this was one of Hitler’s first and largest public works projects, if you will. (It didn’t turn out to be of much actual military use…again.) He built it and just in time to leave his Western flank protected in order to invade Poland.

    After France fell, another interesting fact is that the Siegfried Line was plundered of nearly all useful material and moved to France to be applied to building the Atlantic Wall. By the time the Germans were pushed out of France, they did reinforce the Siegfried Line. But according this documentary, there were just not enough soldiers available to man in properly.

    I’ve left out a couple episodes. There was one on the Yamato. That was actually pretty good. But the best of the bunch by far I thought was:

    Hitler’s Island Megafortress: This was particularly interesting if only because I’ve heard almost nothing about it. The British had quickly decided after the Nazi invasion of France that the Channel Islands were indefensible, so they pulled out. Hitler than did the oddest thing. He treated them as some special personal project. I think he just loved having a piece of Great Britain. But he ordered the island to be turned into a fortress. The existing bunkers (never bombed, never touched, never used) are actually fascinating. Islanders have dubbed on of the the “Odeon” because it looks so much like an art deco movie theatre. Tremendous resources went into these strategically insignificant islands. On D-Day, the Germans had a front-row seat to the invasion of Normandy. All they could do was watch.

    One of the best parts of all these episodes is the on-site evaluation of the remnants of old bunkers, etc. It’s all very well done for what it is but often lack a unifying theme. Still, I guess you can work some of it out for yourself: Thank goodness the Germans were so inept regarding grand strategies. Hitler’s obsession with “bigness” thankfully wasted a lot of their resources. For example, as imposing as the Tiger tank was, what did the Americans do in response? They put a bigger gun on existing Shermans….a gun big enough to take out a Tiger. The Third Reich at this point was doomed by Hitler, something that was likely the cast years ago. But it was all coming into fruition.

    Instead of supporting an effective air force, the Germans gave up and basically dug in, at least in the West. The only “mega weapon” that seem particularly useful was the U-Boat. Even then, they were no match for air power. The Yamato found that out.

  2. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    What they needed to build was an effective air force with trained pilots.

    Had they put their money and efforts into improving jet engines, I believe the war might have been extended by another year. The Me262 was too little too late.

    There was one on the Yamato.

    What did Hitler have to do with the Yamato?

    Most fascinating of all are the huge flak towers.

    These were built in other cities as well. (I saw one of these while studying in Vienna and it was big.) They were so well built that after trying to demolish them and damaging surrounding buildings, the authorities decided to leave them in place.

  3. Timothy Lane says:

    I’ve read books about German fortifications, so little of that is new to me. Rommel was effective because he was an energetic commander who, as a former infantryman (he only switched to armor in 1940) was a capable fortifier. One problem the Westwall had by 1944 was that it was designed for 1939 weapons — such as the 37mm “doorknocker” anti-tank gun instead of the 75mm they used in 1944.

    The U-boats remained effective until mid-1943. March 1943 was one of their best months, largely because 2 large convoys came together in mid-ocean and then ran into a large, effective wolfpack.

    I’m not sure which super-tanks you’re talking about. The more advanced Tigers (the Tiger II or King Tiger, and the Jagdtigher with its long 128mm main gun) probably qualified. They also built at least one prototype of the gigantic Maus, a 155-ton tank (about twice the Jagdtiger) with a 150mm main gun and a coaxial 75mm. It was basically a moving fort.

    In addition to their armament and durability, the flak towers were also useful late in the war as shelters.

    The V-1 (originally the Fi-103) was capable of air-launch as well, and they actually made a piloted version. Speer thought it was better to build them than to build the V-2 (originally the A-4) because the British could fight back against the V-1 and thus had to devote considerable resources to that (including their first jet fighters, the Meteor 5). They could do nothing with the supersonic V-2 but endure it.

    I knew the Germans occupied the Channel Islands, but not that they fortified them so heavily. The division holding them was nicknamed “the King’s German Legion”.

    One problem the Germans had as the war went on was training new pilots. Their school planes were Ju-52s that did double duty as transports, and suffered heavy losses in the Netherlands campaign, on Crete (at least until the British were forced out of range of Maleme airfield), and at Demiansk and Stalingrad. They could build lots of planes (almost 4000 in September 1944, their best month), but green pilots wasted most of them. With their tanks, they used up a lot of scarce resources producing them (and a lot of industrial effort building them) — and then they had to crew and supply them. They bit off far more than they could chew in going to war with Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      In addition to their armament and durability, the flak towers were also useful late in the war as shelters.

      The series does mention that. And there were quite a few people inside who committed suicide rather than be capture by the Russians.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Had they put their money and efforts into improving jet engines

    Hindsight being 20-20 and all that, but clearly that is one mega-weapon that might have paid off proportionately.

    There was a program on the Yamato. The series morphs into “Axis Mega Weapons” or something. The story of the Yamato is interesting if only in the conclusion about the ship: It was so potent in symbology that the Japanese didn’t dare risk it. She sat around in harbors (Truk, for instance) as a floating command office for Yamamoto. Eventually she was called into to help protect Okinawa. The irony here is that before reaching the island (no traveling by night, I guess) it was caught by a swarm of American fighters and sunk.

    An interesting detail here is that the series said the Americans had figured out to strike just one side of a ship. That way it’s automatic righting system (wherein certain compartments would be flooded to compensate for listing) couldn’t work. This was glossed over why this worked but it must have. The Yamato did go over. And then what an explosion when her magazines went off. Here’s an amazing photo that caught the explosion. It looks like a small nuke went off.

    There series is full of little details that tend to pay off. One was a sheet of the armor plating from (I think) the Yamato’s sister ship, the plating covering the guns. The Navy had run a test on it. Yes, at point blank you can blast through it. But not in normal battles.

    They visit a site where the Yamato’s 18 inch guns were tested. Extraordinary care had to be take to protect various instruments and such from the tremendous concussion of the guns. Some of the on-site artifacts from the Japanese secret testing facility were fascinating to see.

    They were so well built that after trying to demolish them and damaging surrounding buildings, the authorities decided to leave them in place.

    There are apparently a lot of concrete structures built by the Nazis that fit that description.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Yamato sortied on a number of occasions. It was part of the main fleet at Midway, ready just in case (and Yamamoto went hunting for Spruance the night after his careers were hit, hoping to use his battle fleet to hit the Americans, and especially their careers), and probably at the Philippine Sea (aka “the great Marianas turkey shoot”). It actually fought at Leyte Gulf in the battle off Samar, against a bunch of escort carriers and destroyer escorts. And then it made its final foredoomed sortie against the US fleet at Okinawa.

      Its sister ship Musashi was hit by 19 bombs and 17 torpedoes in the Sibuyan Sea on the way to Leyte Gulf (which none of them ever reached). But they hit both sides equally, so it settled gradually. Learning from this, they hit Yamato on only one side, so it capsized after being hit a lot less.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        This series does mention that the Yamato was at Midway….but instead of it being the anvil against which any nearby American ships would be crushed, it was pretty much (once again) a non-combatant.

        The series didn’t specifically say (it should have) that experience with sinking the Musushi led to the hit-on-side tactic.

        Watching this series (I just finished the episode for the Type XXI U-Boat at lunch), you can’t help but be impressed by the fact that the Nazis poured a lot of concrete. A lot. This series showed the existing Valentin Submarine Pens in Bremen.

        It was planned that final assembly of Type XXI boats would eventually be performed in the Valentin submarine pens, a massive, bomb–hardened concrete bunker built at the small port of Farge, near Bremen.[7] Construction of the pens was between 1943 and 1945, using about 10,000 concentration camp prisoners and prisoners of war as forced labour.[8] The facility was 90% completed when, during March 1945, it was damaged badly by Allied bombing with Grand Slam “earthquake” bombs and abandoned. A few weeks later, the area was captured by the British Army.[9]

        One of the series’ presenters walks us through these pens. He takes you right to the very ceiling that you can see was pierced by the earthquake bomb. Even more incredibly so, part of the thick metal casing of that bomb is on the floor under the hole. The way they present this stuff so often puts you there as if the events had just happened. Here’s a satellite view. And here’s a view from closer to the ground. I wonder what those blue things are on the one section of the roof? They look like solar panels as if that part of the building is being used for something….if only as a platform for the panels.

        If you zoom in a little more on that satellite image you can definitely see what appear to be bomb holes.

        It seems as if it was easier for the Allies to up their bombs than it was for the Germans to thicken the concrete. In the episode regarding the Yamato, it noted that armor plated of the time of the ship building took into account TNT, not Torpex. A torpedo or bomb with a Torpex charge was much more powerful than the original hull designers had planned on.

        Here’s the Wiki article on Britain’s earthquake bomb.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Note that the Grand Slam, at 10 tons, was almost as big as the Mother of All Bombs that we used last year. It was probably the biggest conventional bomb before that. Wallis was a lot of why 617 Squadron was so effective.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      It was so potent in symbology that the Japanese didn’t dare risk it.

      Hitler had a similar feeling about the Tirpitz. After the Bismarck was sunk, the Tirpitz generally stayed around Norwegian waters. I don’t believe it ever ventured into the Atlantic.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        As far as I know, there were 3 offensive actions by the Tirpitz in all. The first, in 1941, came when it assisted German forces in occupying the islands at the entrance to the Gulf of Riga (Dago and Osel, as I recall). The second came when it sortied with a number of ships to go after convoy PQ-17. The convoy scattered, and they went back to port while airplanes and U-boats sank 23 of 35 convoy ships. In addition, it sortied to bombard Spitzbergen, I think in 1943. Of especial interest, it was not used on the final sortie (December, 1943) of the Scharnhorst, which ended off the North Cape when Murphy’s Law struck.

        One can also note that the first “pocket battleship” was the Deutschland. But Hitler didn’t want to lose a ship with that name, and in 1940 renamed it Lützow.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        It may have been from the Tirpitz that some main guns were removed an mounted on the Norwegian coast as part of the Atlantic Wall. That emplacement still exists. See it here.

        Further reading says that the gun is a variant on a naval heavy cruiser turret as used in Gneisenau-class battleships. This particular gun was meant for use for a 1500 ton super tank (the P1000 Rat) that Speer canceled as impractical.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          Pretty neat.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          The Tirpitz had 38 cm main guns, so it wasn’t from that ship (which at the time was still theoretically an active ship). The battlecruiser main turrets had 3 283 mm guns, and there were plans to remove them and upgrade the firepower to 2 38 cm guns. This may have begun with Gneisenau, in which the guns could have come from her. But they may also have been separately constructed as other such heavy guns were. (At Sevastopol, they had some siege guns that dwarfed any gun ever used at sea.)

        • Timothy Lane says:

          I checked out the post-Tiger supertanks designed by the Germans. A couple, including the P1000, were never more than designs, or even just concepts. The E-100 had one prototype partially built. The Maus (ironic name) had one completed tank and one chassis. That was it, and it was more than they were worth. (Now, if they had put their effort into perfecting wire-guided anti-tank guns — they actually tested some prototypes near the end of the war — they might actually have accomplished something.)

          I might note that the Maus was bigger than I thought, at 188 tons (I remember reading that the turret was 50 tons, the weight of a Panther), the E-100 140 tons, and the P-1ooo was 1000 tons (I’ve seen it referred to as a land battleship). The main gun of the Maus was the same 128 mm gun used by the Jagdtiger.

          Incidentally, crew quality was very relevant with tanks, too. A top German tank commander who led a Jagdtiger company in the Ruhr pocket lost some of them to bad crews (they failed to keep their invincible frontal army facing the enemy — and their side and rear armor could be penetrated far more easily).

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            That program notes that Hitler and his penchant for “bigger is better” just kept getting nuttier and nuttier. Still, most of the concepts were good and just lacked the necessary time and funds. Had they had nuclear weapons to put on those V-2’s. Had they built enough Me 262’s. And the Type XXI sub was way ahead of its time and, like a lot of German stuff, was used to further U.S./Allied weaponry. Apparently the U.S. Nautilus was based on it.

            The almost humorous irony is that von Braun’s V-2 culminated in the Saturn V — which actually took men to the moon as von Braun had always dreamed of. The Nazis were also ahead in regards to racial views. Today we do little but parse things in terms of the skin color of the speaker. Thankfully we do not yet have concentration camps. But I think the ground has been laid for things like that.

            The West is going crazy. It makes sense for the Russian people to back someone such as Putin who, at the very least, hasn’t shown himself to be a destructive nut such as Merkel. I have no man-crush on Putin but the Russians are wise not to go down the path we are going.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              Von Braun was seeking space capability. The V-2 was the A-4 in their rocket line, and they were already doing some work on the A-9/A-10 double stage system. He may not have cared about “the widows and cripples in old London town, who owe their large pensions to Wernher von Braun” — but that wasn’t really his goal, either.

  5. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    The latest program I watch was on the Kamikaze. We all know about semi-trained pilots learning just enough how to fly a Zero into an enemy ship. I wasn’t so aware of the two other alternative methods.

    The Okha airplane-launched flying bomb (with solid rocket booster assist) is almost comical in its conception. I mean, if you’re going to put all that time, effort, and technology into it, how about a guidance system?

    I wonder how much of the Kamikaze stuff was necessary and how much it was a psychological need to go down in flames as Hitler had planned for this short-live Third Reich? The main problem with this method of suicide bomber was that it had to be launched by another plane which itself was vulnerable to being shot down, especially because it would not have been a fast one.

    Another bizarre method was the Kaiten. This is something surely designed by the bizarre mind of Terry Gilliam. Take an existing torpedo and put a section in it for a human to drive it turning the whole thing into a kind of submarine.

    Again, one wonders if a simple tweaking of the guidance system would have worked. Or had they heard of the concept of PT boats or something similar? And if you’re delivering via sub, why not just cut out the middle man? Again, the problem was these was that they were generally launched by being secured to the outside of a submarine….which made the subs slow and vulnerable.

    Again again, you wonder how practical these devices were and how much it was just the expression of a suicidal cult of going up in Wagnerian flames. Later they launched the Kaiten from the shore without need of a sub. The show notes one successful sinking of a tanker by one of these things. But the program gives you little idea how effective they were.

    Apparently there were between 3000 and 4000 suicide missions. About 47 Allied vessels were sunk and 300 damaged. About 14% of Kamikazi attacks managed to hit a ship. Apparently off all these, only one was a carrier of any type.

    This Wiki page offers some other facts and figures, including info on the Shinyo suicide boat.

    Also, the series notes there was a very small-scale Nazi suicide effort (last minute effort to take out some bridges, among other things). I’d never heard of that.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      By the fall of 1944, conventional Japanese planes were badly outclassed (the Zero was no match for the Hellcat, for example), and their aircrews even more so. So conventional air attacks (and defenses) were useless. Since kamikaze attacks included observers who usually made it back, their loss rates were no worse than the conventional attacks at the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot (though they were at least trying to make it back to their carriers). The kamikazes probably hit more than 1 carrier; I think they struck a few escort carriers, and sank the light carrier Princeton. But most of their targets ended up being destroyers and other escort ships. (At Okinawa, one helpful and aggravated destroyer crew put up a sign pointing their way to the carriers.)

      It should be noted the various forms of mini-submarines with 1 or 2 crew were used all over the place. An Italian version (called human torpedoes) was used to sink the battleships Queen Elizabeth and Valiant in Alexandria harbor in December 1941. The first combat between Americans and Japanese at the beginning of the war involved a destroyer sinking one of these at the entrance to Pearl Harbor (and one may have actually gotten off a shot during the raid). (Kimmel’s main concern was a submarine attack, and he wasn’t exactly wrong about that.)

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Taking at look at the list, it does seem an inordinate number of destroyers were hit. Surely that was, in part, because their role was literally as a screening ship.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          The pilots wanted to take someone with them as they died, but a destroyer would do as well as a carrier in that respect, and a destroyer was likely the first ship they encountered, and thus the easiest to strike.

          In preparation for the landing on Kyushu (they didn’t have intelligence of it, but could figure out very roughly where the first landing was to be), the Japanese not only had lots of suicide weapons available, but planned to make sure they knew that transports and landing craft were the best targets. Losing Okinawa and Iwo was bad; losing Kyushu would be far worse.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            but could figure out very roughly where the first landing was to be), the Japanese not only had lots of suicide weapons available, but planned to make sure they knew that transports and landing craft were the best targets.

            This is where the episode gets a big “fail” because it didn’t go into that.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      The Kamikazes had a very powerful psychological effect, which the U.S. top brass were so worried about that reporters were restricted on writing about them.

      A Kamikaze pilot was told that he was one of those who had been chosen to fly a mission the next day. Knowing he would not be returning from the mission, he went on a bender that night.

      Not surprisingly, he had a terrible hangover the next morning and was not 100%. As he was standing in formation with the other chosen pilots, the commander came out and walked down the line congratulating those “about to die.” When the commander got to the pilot in question, he noted the red eyes, sickly skin and less-than-steady stance. The commander immediately told the pilot that he did not look up to the job and should not fly such an important mission. The pilot was dismissed, while the others flew off to their fates.

      It dawned on the pilot that he had just missed a terrible fate due to his drunkeness. So he decided to get drunk every night from that day on. As a result, he never flew again and lived to tell about it.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I doubt many Japanese pilots would have done that, given their peculiar culture with its heavy focus on death and duty (which they often linked together). After all, “death is lighter than a feather.”

        The story I mentioned about the destroyer probably is a good indicator of how the crews of small ships felt about the Divine Wind. They were the main targets, and far more vulnerable to boot. It seems some kamikazes hit British carriers which were providing assistance near the end. They would simply push the debris off their heavily armored flight decks.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          I doubt many Japanese pilots would have done that, given their peculiar culture with its heavy focus on death and duty

          The story was told me by my old boss who lived in Japan from 1950 or so, until he died about eight years ago. He was told it by the “pilot” who got drunk.

          While the Japanese like to imagine everyone lives by the Bushido ethic, it is simply not the case.

          My first job in Tokyo was for an international company which had only Japanese in the Japan office. I went there for a few months and the manager claimed to have taught those pilots what it meant to be “Kamikaze.” As far as I know, this was the case, and you would never have thought the guy would had it in him. But you could believe he was willing to send others to their deaths.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            They obeyed, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t plenty less than pleased with their orders. I think it was the Ohka bomb that Brad mentioned that was called by the Japanese pilots the Baka bomb — Baka meaning fool. But if ordered, they no doubt would have gotten into one and done their best. Note that at the Suicide Cliffs of Saipan, some of the women dropped voluntarily and some had to be pushed off (murder, not suicide — but the soldiers who pushed them off then jumped themselves).

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        An interesting story of the drunken would-be Kamikaze pilot.

        This particular episodes ends with a note of the Kamikaze commander who, with the war coming to an end (the Emperor may have just surrendered), decides he can’t live and becomes a Kamikaze. But not a pilot. The guy doesn’t fly. So he hitches a ride with another zealot and they both take off for a one-way mission. They are promptly shot down before getting anywhere near a ship.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Apt way to die. I seem to recall reading that Admiral Ugaki, who proposed the idea initially, committed seppuku. But he probably wasn’t the commander.

          Incidentally, in the novel You Only Live Twice, Tiger Tanaka was a former Kamikaze volunteer. Evidently the war ended before he could fulfill his duty. I think this was left out of the movie, as was the Suicide Gardens of Dr. Shatterhand (which disappointed me).

          And while I’m at it, there was a class of Japanese destroyers named after the first destroyer in the class — Kamikaze (from “kami” meaning “divine” and “kaze” meaning “wind”).

  6. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    The latest episode I watched was about the Wolf’s Lair. It’s doubtful this site is a “mega weapon” but it does carry on the show’s theme of light archeological discovery.

    Hitler spent more time here (800 days) than anywhere else during the war. And I think the series (in a conglomerate) makes a case for the true “bunker mentality” infecting Hitler. They kept building onto the site, but Hitler’s latest bunker is said to have had enough concrete in it to build 3.5 Empire State Buildings. And this was built very late in the war and certainly when the Russian campaign was going badly and when material was needed elsewhere desperately.

    And yet apparently Hitler only spent 12 days in it. Meglomania doesn’t begin to describe the situation, although we should keep in in context to the voluminous resources uses by today’s Western leaders, particularly American presidents. They’re not cheap either.

    The show presents the situation as this: Ever since the successes in Poland and France, where Hitler directed things from advanced command posts, he’s become to think of himself as a military genius. I can’t comment on the campaigns in Poland and Western Europe. I don’t know if he provided any strategy or just a lot of bluster and pointed the sword in the direction he wanted to go.

    But by Operation Barbarossa, the man was wholly deluded about his abilities as a commander. Despite the Wolf’s Lair (and other command posts behind the eastern front), Hitler was out of touch with the situation.

    They blew it all up, to the extent it could be blown up, in the face of the Russian advance. Because this was a very swampy area, most of the bunkers were made from building above ground. And the Nazis were apparently able to keep this headquarters a secret for much of the war. There was a cover story for it (something about building a power station) and quite extensive use of camouflage netting.

    Hermann Göring had a huge bunker at the Wolf’s Lair (which had three anti-aircraft positions on the roof). It’s in relative good shape: “Although the roof of Göring’s bunker was cracked by the demolition charges, it did not collapse in pieces like the other bunker roofs.” Unfortunately, little was said about what remained inside any of these bunkers. Perhaps no one has thought it worthwhile to dig in there to see what could be seen…or they did a good job blowing up at least the internals. But the program glosses over this. Here’s a page that has lots of photos.

    This episode starts with into on Hitler’s bunker built on the Western front from which the invasion of France and the low countries was directed. It’s portrayed as an idyllic setting with Hitler taking regular walks in the beautiful countryside. Little is said about day-to-day activities at the Wolf’s Lair, but it couldn’t have been a very pleasant place surrounded by swamps, although that page with all the photos shows a dinning hall with the red star cut from a downed Russian aircraft mounted on the wall. Concrete and brick luxuries, I guess. There is a apparently “A shooting range for tourists has been installed in Jodl’s bunker today.” Wouldn’t doubt there’s a zip line in there somewhere now as well.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      This is where von Stauffenberg attempted to assassinate Hitler. He failed due to a series of unforeseeable decisions made by others.

      As to the invasions of Poland and France, I guess the main point which Hitler could claim was his audacity. He pushed the Wehrmacht to do things the generals would never have done on their own. The invasion of France through the Ardennes was a master-stroke.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        The conference that Stauffenberg bombed was in a wooden bunker, allowing much of the blast to be dissipated on smashing the walls. If it had been held in a concrete bunker, the blast would have rebounded back into the room. There were other factors, which were covered in a Discover channel special. So many ways Hitler could have been killed, but somehow he escaped them all, as he did so many times before.

        Hitler certainly pushed the Ardennes plan, but it was originated by the brilliant Erich von Manstein, then chief of staff to Army Group A (von Rundstedt).

        As for Brad’s blog, note that the Western bunker was located in . . . the Wiesenthal. How nice. There was also an Eastern bunker in Vinnitsa, and the various residences around the Berghof above Berchtesgaden. (I remember Hogan’s Heroes once had some official seeking donations for a “Beautify Berchtesgaden” charity.) And, of course, there was the Führerbunker underneath the Chancellery in Berlin. That’s where Hitler spent his final weeks.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          Hitler certainly pushed the Ardennes plan, but it was originated by the brilliant Erich von Manstein, then chief of staff to Army Group A (von Rundstedt).

          True enough, but the rest of the General Staff were against von Manstein’s plan, as I recall.

          Unfortunately for the Germans, Hitler would not listen to von Manstein’s recommendations regarding what to do an the Eastern Front.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            The next program I watched was on the Blitzkrieg. It credits Heinz Guderian with the strategic military planning. He wrote the book, Achtung Panzer!

            The same techniques were applied to Russia. The program noted that the Germans had allotted just six weeks or so for the campaign. And yet they had fewer German tanks (they lost 300 in the Western campaign), the same number of Stuka (about 300), and a mish-mash of captured or borrowed vehicles and tanks (British, French, Czechoslovakian). And (as the program tells it), when Guderian met with Hitler to tell him the soldiers needed equipment (not least of all winter gear), Hitler dismissed this pleading as irrelevant. Megalomania definitely has a shelf life and the Germans really had no plan other than Blitzkrieg….which was very successful for the very short time the Germans had the spare parts, oil, weather, etc., to make it work…which wasn’t very long.

            An interesting note was a French blockhouse in the Ardennes that held up one of the southern German groups for 4 hours. I hadn’t heard that story. It’s very interesting to see that blockhouse. It had a lot of bullet holes but was otherwise in one piece.

            The program said that the French spotter planes saw the Germans coming through the Ardennes but the brass just didn’t believe it. The Germans could have been rather blasted at this point had somebody acted.

            Which was a crucial item of Blitzkrieg. One of the presenters noted that the Germans instilled (particularly in their tank commanders) the need to be aggressive. It was taught that even a wrong decision was better than making no decision at all.

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              Remember the secret pact between Germany and the USSR which allowed German troops to war game in the USSR? Guderian was one of those commanders who practiced tactics in the Soviet Union during the 1920’s-1930’s.

              Guderian was one of the few German commanders who would fight Hitler. They had knock-down fights behind closed doors. Nevertheless, anyone around heard them yelling at each other. Hitler “retired” Guderian once or twice saying he was not well and needed a rest.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                Guderian got into disputes with the more cautious von Kluge, who then took over Army Group Mitte and managed to get Guderian fired. He came back in 1943 as Inspector General of Armored Troops, and was promoted to Chief of the General Staff after July 20, 1944 (though the top staff had nothing to do with the assassination plots once General Halder had been removed in 1942). Ironically, Kluge ended up committing suicide over his hesitant semi-involvement. In April 1945, Hitler sent him to rest for his health — saying he would need him back at some point.

                Hitler would indeed have been better off listening to Guderian more. He opposed Kursk from the start (as did Manstein by the time it finally went off).

                One of the problems the Germans faced in the Soviet Union was supply. Paved roads were almost non-existent, and non-paved roads were useless much of the time. The railway lines were limited, and their gauge was larger so that they had to be adjusted. Hanson Baldwin once noted that most of the German supplies for the Stalingrad campaign crossed the Dnieper on a single railroad bridge (at Zaporozhe as I recall; there was also one nearby at Dniepropetrovsk which no doubt carried the rest of the load).

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                One of the problems the Germans faced in the Soviet Union was supply.

                Particularly for the battle of Stalingrad, Goering had promised that the Luftwaffe would be able to supply the Wehrmacht, but the Luftwaffe failed miserably.

                The Germans also lacked long-range heavy bombers such as the Allies had. Without them, they could do nothing to hamper production of war materials east of the Urals.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                The Germans did work on heavy bombers, and completed one (the He-177). But Ernst Udet insisted that all bombers have dive bomber capability. Theory said a bomber with more than 2 engines couldn’t dive, and heavy bombers have 4. So they would group the engines in pairs, thereby sort of making it 2-engined. This worked as well as saying a dog has 5 legs — if you call the tail a leg. (Cousin Abe pointed out that calling the tail a leg doesn’t make it one.)

                Meanwhile, the paired engines tended to catch fire. So it never was any good, thanks to Udet. (He committed suicide in late 1941, and this might have been a good time to reverse a few of his worse decisions.)

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          There were other factors, which were covered in a Discover channel special.

          The big oak table leg that the bomb got moved behind, and the fact that apparently Stauffenberg had time to arm only one of the two bombs.

          The program said that Stauffenberg believed he was guided by God to do what he did. Ooops. I *think* the point of the coup was to put the military in charge, de-Nazify Germany, and cut some kind of deal with the Western Allies.

  7. Timothy Lane says:

    I checked out the wikipedia articles on kamikaze, Admiral Ugaki, and Admiral Onishi (often considered the father of the kamikazes). It turns out that Ugaki was the commander who went on the last mission with 9 other planes (3 came back because they were unable to complete the mission). The founder who committed seppuku was Onishi. I need to confirm my memory more often.

    Among the ships sunk by kamikazes were 3 escort carriers and 14 destroyers, as well as several others hit. (The first big attack at Leyte Gulf hit 7 escort carriers, sinking the St. Lo.) They confirmed that British carriers with their armored flight decks suffered little damage from kamikaze hits, unlike US carriers. It turns out that Princeton was sunk by a single dive bomber with one lucky bomb hit. Most of the casualties actually came on a destroyer trying unsuccessfully to save it.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Thanks for the info.

      I didn’t know that the British light carriers were that well armored. Good for them. That certainly was valuable.

      But the American carriers were certainly not defenseless. One thing they did was to pump an inert gas (nitrogen?) into all fuel lines before battle commenced. Japanese carriers, on the other hand, apparently had no such innovation so they were basically fuel tanks waiting to explode. The program also noted that the Japanese Zero had this same problem. They were easy to torch. Some of the American planes (the Jugs, for instance) were big, ugly, relatively slow, but brought most of their pilots back alive.

      Apparently the P-47 Thunderbolt (D) was the first to use a bubble canopy which gave pilots excellent visibility.

      The P-47 gradually became the USAAF’s best fighter-bomber, normally carrying 500 lb (227 kg) bombs, M8 4.5 in (115 mm) or 5 in (127 mm) High velocity aircraft rockets (HVARs, also known as “Holy Moses”). From D-Day until VE day, Thunderbolt pilots claimed to have destroyed 86,000 railroad cars, 9,000 locomotives, 6,000 armored fighting vehicles, and 68,000 trucks

      And we all know that the American/Allied system of rotating pilots back to train other pilots (instead of making constant fodder of your best pilots) was decisive. There would have been no Mariana turkey shoot but for this fact.

      Both the Nazis and Japanese had plenty of great equipment. But at some point their zealousness overcame their military common sense….and/or their diminishing industrial capacity left them with no better option than to make due and pretend that the pile of dung was evidence that Santa had brought them a pony.

      But the American and British, although late to the militaristic party, were excellent practical innovators. (The Germans were probably unrivaled impractical innovators, at least later in the war.)

      Love this bit from the Wiki article about the Jugs:

      P-47 pilots frequently carried two 500 lb (227 kg) bombs, using skip bombing techniques for difficult targets (skipping bombs into railroad tunnels to destroy hidden enemy trains was a favorite tactic).

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Those weren’t light carriers, they were fleet carriers. One result of being well armored is that they carried a lot fewer planes than a comparably sized American carrier (such as the Essex class).

        Even the F4F, which was outclassed by the Zero until they came up with the Thach Weave at Midway, was much sturdier and more durable than the Zero. Some descriptions of the Japanese Betty bomber, which had very large fuel tanks (and long range), have said that “anything more penetrating than a dirty look” would set them ablaze. (Yamamoto was flying in a Betty on his last flight, to Bougainville.)

        Yes, it was nitrogen they would put in their fuel lines. They had learned a hard lesson from Coral Sea, where the Lexington was sunk by flames from the fuel lines. The most spectacular example of fuel fume explosion was probably the Taiho, hit by a single torpedo at the Philippine Sea (another torpedo was taken out by a Japanese pilot who saw it and dived into it). A damage-control officer decided to to vent the fumes through the ship. All it took was a single spark anywhere to detonate the floating bomb.

        Not just pilots were rotated (and sometimes rotated back, which is how Richard Bong was killed) — or not. In a single month in the spring of 1941, the 3 top German U-boat aces had their boats sunk. Otto Kretschmer, the top U-boat ace of the war, abandoned ship and survived though his boat sank. But Gunther Prien (the only U-boat commander in either war to penetrate Scapa Flow, sinking the battleship Royal Oak) and another (Schepke, as I recall) both disappeared (i.e., went to the bottom with their boats).

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        I didn’t know that the British light carriers were that well armored.

        After some study of the question, the U.S. Navy decided to go with wooden decks on their aircraft carriers, while the Brits used steel decks. I can’t remember why. It might have had something to do with the time it took to repair steel decks as opposed wooden decks.

        American planes had self-sealing fuel tanks which would not only stop leaking, but also lessened the chance of fire and explosion if hit. American planes also had armored tanks/tubs and seat backs around the pilot which would stop smaller caliber bullets. The Zero had neither.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          The Japanese fighter pilots often didn’t bother to carry parachutes. Their planes needed all the performance they could get from their engines, and that meant keeping weight as low as they could. And if they ended up dying in a crash — well, they might have anyway, and “death is lighter than a feather.”

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            Thus the Japanese lost most of their experienced pilots. Had their planes been similarly constructed as American planes, one wonders how many more pilots would have survived to fight another day.

            I heard one old WWII navy ace talk about the carrier planes and he was very clear that if he had a choice, he would pick the Hellcat over every other plane, including the Corsair. His reason was that the Hellcat could take a huge beating and still get the pilot back to the carrier.

            My old friend who was a navigator/bomber in the Eighth Air Force in 1944-45 loved the B-17 for the same reason. It could take a beating and get back home. The B-24, not so much apparently.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              Something similar happened in Israeli tank construction. The Merkava, their standard battle tank (at least back a few decades ago, as in the Yom Kippur War and later), was heavily armored — and one reason was because the designers knew people who would be in them, and wanted as many of them as possible to survive.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                I think the idea of sacrificing lives as a good unto itself had been so ingrained in the Japanese during the war that the practicality of things such as armor probably mattered very little to them. But, geez, you’re better off keeping your highly-trained pilots alive with a little armor.

                But the soldiers are fodder for the generals. Hitler had no care for his own soldiers, especially on the Russian front. It’s a lesson we need to learn. The demagogues and politicians will promise you glory (or free stuff, or whatever) but generally these people care only about the enrichment of themselves.

                You could say the German people were scammed by Hitler, but the Nazis hardly were shy about telling everyone exactly who they were. Same with Obama, Merkel, or any of these people who would wreck our own civilizations for reasons that sound nice to the barely-engaged.

                Obviously the Jews in Israel do not share this suicide cult sickness. Yeah, soldiers will be killed but you don’t have to throw lives away.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              Here’s a good article on the F6F Hellcat. A great plane indeed.

              Consider that the Germans did manage a couple hundred Me 262’s or so. In two years America built 12,275 of just this one type of airplane, the Grumman Hellcat. That’s remarkable. This “Nazi Mega Weapon” program noted that the Germans never even barely approached the mass production methods of the Allies. And certainly Detroit (and other plane-making areas) excelled at this. Indeed, if the V-2 and such were “mega” weapons then there perhaps is no word to describe just one of these gigantic aircraft factories in America. And with a steady stream of skilled pilots…no wonder the Turkey Shoot.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                Well, they did produce 4000 planes in September 1944 despite all the bombing (it took a while to recover from Doolittle’s Big Week in February 1944). The Germans also built large numbers of FW-190s and Me-109s (as I recall, more of the latter than any other fighter in history). Of course, the US had a lot of different fighter types.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                Here’s an interesting list of the most warbirds produced in WWII. Obviously the Germans and Russians poured a lot into a couple very nice designs. The Americans, on the other hand, probably had more metal in just the tail of all B-29 bombers produced than all the German planes put together. Which is to say, the Allies had a vast number of different aircraft and produced a lot of each one.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                Interesting list of planes. The Soviets had a number of fighters as well as the Yak-3, including the MiG-3, the Yak-9, and several different LaGG or La models. The Il-2 was their main tactical bomber. (The letters came from their designers — Yakovlev, Mikoyan and Guryev, and Lavochkin.)

                The Germans had some other bombers besides the Ju-88, which was also used frequently as a night fighter. There were also several twin-engined fighters, most notably the Me-110 and Me-410. The US had plenty of other planes as well, both fighters (such as the F4F, F6F, F4U, P-38, P-39, P-40, P-61, and P-80) and bombers (A-20, A-26, B-25, B-26, SBD, and TBF).

                There were also non-combat planes for each nation.

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                I have seen a P-51, B-17, B-24, B-29, Spitfire and numerous other WWII and later military planes at various museums and air shows. But maybe the strangest was the Ilyushin II-2 which I saw over forty years ago in a museum somewhere in Europe. To say the plane was armored doesn’t begin to describe it. Instead of aluminum skin, it had steel skin. I doubt a 7.62mm slug would pierce the surface. But the thing must have guzzled gas like a drunken sailor.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                The Il-2 (designer Ilyushin) was a ground-attack plane, and that armor was no doubt designed especially to protect it from below.

                Martin Caidin in Flying Forts pointed out that the B-17 wasn’t armored at all, and thus could easily be penetrated — but it had a very sturdy frame. One made it back with a wing nearly shot off.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          According to this info:

          Teak decks:
          • Lighter, thus more allowance for the weight of additional aircraft, fuel, etc.
          • Armored decks are more difficult to repair.
          • Movement of the armor to the hanger deck resulted in a flight deck that facilitated features the USN wanted, including an open hanger deck.

          For instance, the Essex carrier was, on average, 33,000 tons in displacement, and could carry up to 100 aircraft. Her British counterpart in the Pacific, the Illustrious class carrier, had a displacement of 23,000 tons but could carry, at most, 53 aircraft. The difference is stark when you crunch some numbers….

          The Essex had a only a 30% greater displacement but could carry almost twice as many aircraft.

          Another answer from that page:

          The armored flight deck provided significantly more protection than the hangar deck against one weapon, kamikazes, that was not anticipated at the start of the war. It is not clear that it provided significantly improved protection against other weapons.

          It should also be noted, as this article said, American carriers could take a lot of punishment. Another page shows how complicated these design decisions were.

          I’d also heard that teak decks (particularly aboard the U.S.S. Missouri) — which is an entirely different situation because it was likely just a veneer over heavy armor plating — was used to reduce the ricochet of bullets. Such teak is rare to find. But if you know an admiral who had been given pieces of the original deck when repairs were made (during the Reagan administration) then you could have one of these rare pens made from the original teak deck of the U.S.S. Missouri:

          Just Testing

          My father’s name is engraved on the other side of it.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            Lucky dog!

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Neat. Our family got to meet LBJ after my father was killed in Vietnam. I don’t know what if anything they got since I didn’t go after having read Haley’s A Texas Looks at Lyndon.

            I suspect the British armored flight decks were more resistant to bombs. After all, that’s basically what a kamikaze was. The 3 later carriers of the class were able to handle more planes, though still far less than the Essex class.

  8. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Streaming on Netflix right now is a series called Plane Resurrection. The first episode is about Maurice Hammond’s meticulous refurbishment of a rough Mustang project he found in New Zealand.

    Hammond is a pilot (has flown Mustangs) and is some type of aircraft manufacturer. What he did is somewhere between refurbishing and rebuilding. But he fabricated the parts he needed precisely according to legacy plans. And putting the plane together required learning how to do rivets as Rosie the Riveter did back in the 1940’s when one plane per hour left the production line. This refurb took Hammond five years.

    And that’s probably fast. He not only meticulously did the plane but he built an engine as well. I wasn’t sure from the program how much of this he did from scratch. But he was so good at it, he has become (at least at the time) the go-to guy for Merlin engine refurbishment, doing two engines a year. Not only does he rebuild the engines but modifies them according to official Merlin guidelines to compensate for some original flaws or weaknesses in the engine design.

    These types of programs will always gloss over the technical work. I wanted to see much more of it. But you get at least a little. And you get some of the back story of the Mustang including this Mustang. When completed, he introduced the plane to is pilot from the war. They took a ride together, the pilot reliving the route he would take from his mission to his original airfield….where they both landed and then had other ceremonies. It’s a pretty neat thing.

    Tragically, while seeing if Mr. Hammond had a web site, I ran across this article from 2016. A crosswind caused Hammond to lose control of his P-51. The passenger was killed, Hammond was severely injured, and the plane appears to be a loss. Yikes. How tragic.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I visited the museum below some years back and recall the beautiful Spitfire there. As I recall, to restore it to its full glory, they had to remove and replace every rivet which held the skin in place. I believe they were magnesium rivets and had to be custom-made as they were no longer in production.

      It looks like they have expanded a lot since I was there.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        That’s a nice site with lots of info.

        That reminds me, I still need to watch (I’ve got a copy in hand) David Niven’s “The First of the Few” which is about the development of the Spitfire.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I once visited the Flying Tigers Warbird Air Museum in Orlando, but that was a quarter century ago and I don’t remember what they had. I’ve also visited the Air Museum in Dayton a few times (including once when they had the surviving Doolittle raiders), and remember a few of the planes they had (and other exhibits, such as Medal of Honor winners). We also visited the Smithsonian around 1961, but the only plane I remember from that is the Spirit of St. Louis.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          I remember the Spirit of St. Louis and the Mercury capsule. I also seem to recall the first Wright plane. But that was something like forty years ago.

          I recall Dali’s Crucifixion in the National Gallery more clearly than anything in the Smithsonian.

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