A fatigued German soldier during World War II. Large doses of methamphetamine were given to troops to combat fatigue. Source: AdelaideNow
ITLER’S propaganda stressed the importance of keeping fit but in reality his soldiers were taking drugs. The troops were taking addictive and damaging chemicals to make them fight longer and more fiercely.
The Daily Mail reports a study of medicines used by the Third Reich exposes how Nazi doctors and officers issued recruits with pills to help them fight longer without rest.
The German army’s drug of choice as it overran Poland, Holland, Belgium and France was Pervitin – pills made of methamphetamine, known today as crystal meth.
Thousands of Nazi soldiers were using the drug by the time the Soviet Union was invaded in 1941.
About 200 million Pervitin pills were given to Nazi troops between 1939 and 1945, research by the German Doctors’ Association revealed.
A pharmacologist from the GDA said this week: “The blitzkrieg was fuelled by Pervitin. The idea was to turn ordinary soldiers, sailors and airmen into automatons capable of superhuman performance.”
The downside to the scheme was that many soldiers became addicted to the drug and of no use in any theatre of war.
The Nazi doctor behind the plan to prescribe Pervitin was Otto Ranke, the director of the Institute for General and Defence Physiology at Berlin’s Academy of Military Medicine.
He found that the drug gave users heightened self-confidence and self-awareness. On the eastern front, where the fighting was the most savage of the war, soldiers used it in massive quantities against an enemy that showed no mercy.
In January 1942, a group of 500 troops surrounded by the Red Army was attempting to escape in temperatures of -30C.
The unit’s medical officer wrote: “I decided to give them Pervitin as they began to lie down in the snow wanting to die. After half an hour the men began spontaneously reporting that they felt better.
“They began marching in orderly fashion again, their spirits improved, and they became more alert.”
Towards the end of the war the Nazis developed a cocaine-based stimulant for front-line troops to keep them fighting despite intense fatigue.
The drug, codenamed D-IX, was tested at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp north of Berlin, where prisoners loaded with 20kg packs were reported to have marched 112km without rest.
“It was Hitler’s last secret weapon to win a war he had already lost long ago,” said criminologist Wolf Kemper, author of the German language book Nazis on Speed.
The plan was to give all soldiers in the crumbling Reich the wonder drug – but the D-Day invasion of Normandy in June 1944, coupled with crippling Allied bombing, scotched the scheme.
The Nazis, however, were far from the first soldiers to take chemicals to help them during battle. Chinese writings from 5000 years ago describe how taking ephedrine makes “warriors fearless in combat”.
The assassins, the medieval warrior order who were the terror of crusaders, were called the hashishin – after their fondness for hashish.
The 20,000 Zulu warriors who nearly wiped out the forces of the British army in South Africa in January 1879 were aided with a powerful marijuana-based snuff to take during battle.
Analysis of the snuff has revealed that it contained extremely high levels of THC, a hallucinogen, but with no detectable levels of the chemicals that cause the sedative effects of marijuana.
Many soldiers became addicted to morphine in World War I to take away the horrors of trench warfare.
And in World War II the Nazis were not alone in seeking courage in pharmaceuticals. Battle of Britain pilots were known to take stimulants to stay awake to fight the invaders overhead.