Welcome to the new German War Machine, a non-political website home to a wealth of free content on the German Armed Forces in World War II. With authoritative text supported by videos, photographs and maps, German War Machine provides insight and information on every aspect of Germany’s military forces – land, sea and air – between 1939 and 1945. It is also home to a unique series of handy Rapid Reads ebooks.
The Bf 109 was the standard Luftwaffe fighter of the war, with more than 30,500 examples built before and during it. Willy Messerschmitt began work on this classic machine in 1935, in response to Germany’s requirement for its first “modern” monoplane fighter (see Heinkel He 112). It was revealed in September 1935, when the first of 13 prototypes flew. The Bf 109B entered service in April 1937 and was followed by the Bf 109C with extra guns. Both saw service in the Spanish Civil War. They were followed by the Bf 109D and the Bf 109E (“Emil”), which entered service at the end of 1938 and was Germany’s standard single-seat fighter at the start of World War II – instrumental in Luftwaffe successes over Poland, Scandinavia and the Low Countries.
When they invaded the USSR in June 1941, the Germans made rapid and very extensive gains against Soviet forces that were poorly trained, badly led and often equipped with obsolescent if not obsolete weapons. One exception, though, was Soviet medium artillery which, as the Germans rapidly found, was technically excellent in many respects.
The battlecruiser Gneisenau was launched in December 1936 and completed in May 1938. She was upgraded in the following year and made her first Atlantic sortie, with her sister ship, Scharnhorst, in November 1939, sinking the British auxiliary cruiser Rawalpindi. She was damaged by gunfire from the British battlecruiser Renown off Norway on 9 April 1940, but on 8 June she and Scharnhorst sank the British aircraft carrier Glorious and her escorting destroyers Ardent and Acasta. On 20 June 1940 she was torpedoed by the Royal Navy submarine HMS Clyde off Trondheim. In January 1941, again with the Scharnhorst, she made another sortie into the Atlantic, the two sinking 22 merchant ships – a moderately successful action.
The MP 38 was a technical and tactical success, but was also expensive to manufacture in terms of materials and time. The MP 38 was therefore re-designed as the Maschinenpistole 40 that was generally similar to the MP 38 but far easier to manufacture, as machining was reduced to a minimum and the use of welding and pressed components was maximized. As well as speeding production, these changes also made it possible for the MP 40 to be made by a larger number of companies drawing on the efforts of a pool of subcontractors delivering subassemblies. The MP 40 thus inaugurated the era of the swift and cheap manufacture of basic small arms, and was one of the most important submachine guns of World War II.
Designed by the company MAN, the Panzer II fulfilled a light tank requirement for the German Army. The first 25 pre-production machines were built in 1935, the basic design having a rear engine and front drive. During the initial stages the tank underwent a number of minor changes, such as turret modifications and work on the front superstructure. The main production versions were the Ausf B and C models, which had an angled nose, and splash plates on the top and bottom of the mantlet.
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It is a little-known fact that the Minister of Propaganda was opposed to a European war. He realized that Germany would be taking unnecessary risks and that her position of power would be weakened. Despite the victories of 1940 Goebbels said: “We must not fool ourselves. It will be a long and difficult war. Its outcome will not depend on boisterous victory parties but on a determination to do one’s daily duty.” He was probably the only Nazi leader to correctly judge the length and gravity of the war.