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German Secret Weapons of WWII in the CegeSoma Library

German Secret Weapons in the CegeSoma library ... Under this title, we invite you to discover the second theme of our series 'The Librarian's talks'. Each theme will be the occasion to dive into our collections and will be illustrated by a video and a text to complete the information contained therein.

Watch the second episode of our video series 'The Librarian's Talks: 2. German Secret Weapons in the CegeSoma Library'.

World War II enthusiasts, or at least lovers of militaria, often find research into "German secret weapons" very attractive, whether it be their technical development, their entry into the battlefield during the last phase of the conflict... or speculation of a rather uchronic type: what would have happened if they had been deployed earlier? And the imagination to run, inventing less promising futures for the Allied armies and - who knows - even envisaging the survival of the Reich beyond the fateful date of May '45.…

This approach, which often betrays, in a somewhat naive way, a good dose of fascination with German technical-scientific expertise (Nazi? ) is not new: for a good part of the war, Anglo-Saxon politicians and scholars feared some Nazi treachery with the sudden arrival in action of a weapon as new as it was decisive, coming out of German brains and Krupp's foundries... And even if this did not happen, the deployment by the Wehrmacht, in '44-'45, of certain weaponry reflecting an undeniable qualitative leap made the risk plausible, at first sight.

At the risk of limiting imaginations, this contribution, within its limited framework, will attempt to put the church back in the middle of the village. In addition to the fact that these dreamlike weapons, which were to reverse the tide of history, intervened "too late and too few in number" in the course of the conflict (generally AFTER June 1944, that is to say after the Normandy landings and following the final elimination of the last Nazi armies from the Soviet Union), in any case, the last word would have been spoken in August 1945, with the American atomic bomb coming into action, the Nazis having abandoned the field of nuclear research to bet on other horses... These delays, these trial and error, these limited deployments in the field were due to the particular nature of the Hitlerian system: rivalries between design offices and builders, weaknesses in technical coordination, friction between Nazi baronies (Wehrmacht, SS, Luftwaffe, ...), wastage of resources, inadequate mobilization of manpower. And above all: weaknesses in standardized and centralized production, unlike in Anglo-Saxon countries. Thus, in 1943, over a year after his appointment, Albert Speer, Reich Minister of Industry and Armament, although pragmatic and good planner, still had to manage in the Luftwaffe no less than 425 different types and versions of aircrafts...

As for results, the figures speak for themselves...  If we are willing to use the data on German secret weapons given by Wikipedia –  a large market place for elementary and factual knowledge –   we can just review the list of some 118 entries on the page dedicated to "Wunderwaffe" ("miracle weapon"). Out of these, 41.5% of the weapons mentioned NEVER made it past the drawing board stage, 28.8% reached the prototype stage, 7.6% made it to factory production...but there was no time to use them because of the German collapse in March-April 1945...and only 22% could actually be used in combat, up to a certain point, and with...mixed success.

In fact, we should always bear in mind that only half a dozen truly innovative weapons had time to be deployed on a large scale: Hugo Schmeisser's Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifle (426. 000 units produced, the ancestor of the "Kalashnikov"); the Messerschmitt Me-262 jet fighter (1430 units built); the Fritz X and Henschel Hs-293 guided anti-ship bombs; the Fieseler Fi-103 (the V-1, about 30,000 units built) and Aggregat A4 (the V-2, 5,200 units built) missiles. This picture needs to be qualified, however. Although the Me-262 was produced in fairly large numbers, it was poorly deployed due to « teething » problems with its engines, likely to catch fire or stop abruptly. In spring 1945,  Germany was barely capable of throwing about forty of them simultaneously against incoming raids of Allied four-engine bombers, and their achievements were very limited.  As for the V-1 and V-2s, their inaccuracy limited their capacity for strategic nuisance, even if their psychological impact was not negligible…

Other " secret weapons " of the Reich in the field of aviation were only used anecdotally: whether the Messerschmitt 163-A " Komet " - which was not really developed and caused the death of more German pilots than Allied airmen -..., the Arado Ar-234 - a highly valuable light bomber but which only saw very limited use -, or the Heinkel He-162. The Kriegsmarine was in the same boat: the type XXI submarine could have been the most successful new-generation weapon for its underwater capability and its armament. However, the first one of its kind was only commssioned on June 27, 1944, and out of the 1170 programmed, just 4 were operational on May 8, 1945.

The conclusion is self-evident: for the reasons mentioned above, German "secret weapons" were above all an excellent propaganda weapon for Dr. Goebbels' services, and their development was mainly aimed at the German people, in order to maintain their faith in the final victory, despite an increasingly desperate geostrategic situation.

More than three-quarters of a century after the demise of Nazi Germany, with its pomp and its poisonous works, the average citizen is allowed to contemplate with detachment these "feats" of Nazi technology, staged by Josef Goebbels, and taken up ‘con amore’ by the naive and the curious, drunk with a certain type of journalistic literature - or worse. 

And in the CegeSoma Library?

The researcher or the curious person wishing to go "further" will undoubtedly find, with certain limits, additional information on these wonderful "German secret weapons" in the CegeSoma Library. The limits evoked  obviously result from the "Mission Statement" of our institution, which was not, by purpose, specifically "connected" to military history, but rather had to examine the effects of the « war phenomenon » on Belgian civil society, primarily from political, economic, social and cultural points of view.

For a long time, the acquisition of works related to the field we are dealing with has been peripheral, even if, as we can guess, titles on this theme have always been welcomed as donations or legacies from private collectors. This has allowed us to accumulate a few dozen interesting books on the subject, with, here and there, some striking gaps in the view of specialists.

As far as Belgium is concerned, work and studies on German secret weapons are almost exclusively limited to V-1 and V-2s, but it is true that our country was especially affected by the entry into action of these two types of rockets, both in Liege and in Antwerp. We thus have in our collections ‘Bilan V1-V2-Omdat ge het niet zoudt vergeten-Lest we forget-Pour que vous l'oublierez (sic!) jamais’, Antwerpen, Internationaal * [coquille dans texte français] Propaganda Kantoor, 1945 and also, in the Dutch-speaking field, the most recent contribution of R. PATTEET, ‘160 dagen van V-1 liegende V-2 ergelding: studie van de V-bommen in de gemeenten Beerzel, Berlaar, Booischot, Hallar, Heist, Hulshout, Liegem, Putte, Schriek,...Heist’, Die Swane, 1994. Then in French-speaking Belgium, in addition to the classic ‘Belgique sous les bombes’ published in 1945 by the Haut-Commissariat à la Protection Civile, we obviously have the excellent research of Lambert GRAILET, ‘Liège sous les V-1 et V-2 : un rajustement de l'importance réelle du drame’ (1996). However, works in English on this topic, are sometimes conspicuous by their absence. We can hardly mention the French translation of a book by David IRVING (‘A bout portant sur Londres : la vérité sur les armes secrètes allemandes’ (1967)), originally published in 1964 under the title : ‘The Mare's Nest’. And even if this author, now very controversial because of negationism, was still producing at the time writings of good historical quality, it is rather poor... Fortunately, the same cannot be said of German studies, which are substantial and erudite (you still need to know German...).

We will thus highlight those of : Edgar MAYER & Thomas MEHNER, ‘Die Lügen der Alliierten und die deutschen Wunderwaffen ; das Dritte Reich, die Atombombe und der 6 August 1945’, (2010) ; Fritz HAHN, ‘Waffen und Geheim Waffen des deutschen Heeres 1933-1945’ (1986) ; Ralf SCHABEL, ‘Die illusion der Wunderwaffen : die Rolle des Düsenflugzeuge und Flugabwehrraketen in der Rüstungspolitik des Dritten Reiches’ (1994).

Alongside these productions from across the Rhine, of which we have given a brief overview, one could say that we have a rather good range of titles on this subject, it being understood that they are sometimes a little "dated", and thus a bit outdated. Let us mention in this register Albert DUCROCQ, ‘Les armes secrètes allemandes’ (1947), the inevitable and prolific Colonel REMY (with "... et l'Angleterre sera détruite. "(1969)), Victor Debuchy, ‘L'étrange histoire des armes secrètes allemandes’ (1978), Max DUTILLEUX, ‘Le camp des armes secrètes: Dora-Mittelbau ‘(1993), etc, etc... And we will abstain here from mentioning articles in contemporary history journals, simply pointing out, by the way, that a rather fine set of journals specialized in the history of armaments and oriented on this theme will soon be introduced into our collections.

Being understood that we will always welcome, but after preliminary examination, any new contribution of books on this subject, since there is apparently a demand for this field of research too long neglected by CegeSoma!  But as the French proverb says: « A sin confessed is half forgiven ».

Alain Colignon, Librarian