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.
Although the German air force’s 8.8cm anti-aircraft guns were to prove highly capable weapons, both against aircraft and against armoured vehicles, it became clear in the early 1930s that larger-calibre weapons with a higher muzzle velocity would be needed for the engagement of the high-flying aircraft that were becoming feasible. In 1933 Krupp and Rheinmetall were each tasked with the construction of a pair of prototypes for competitive evaluation in 1935. Rheinmetall’s Gerät 38 was selected in 1936 and ordered as the 10.5cm Fliegerabwehrkanone 38.
Officially classed as a Panzerschiff (Armoured Ship), but more popularly known as a “pocket battleship”, the Admiral Graf Spee and her two sisters, the Admiral Scheer and Deutschland, were designed as commerce raiders with a large radius of action and complied with the restrictions imposed on Germany by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles (which was detested by the Nazi Party). The “pocket battleship” nickname derived from the fact that, although they were too small to be classed as battleships, they were more powerful and faster than most other warships then afloat. Their hulls were electrically welded, and armour protection was sacrificed to produce a higher speed.
A semi-automatic pistol that was first delivered in 1929, the Walther Model PP had been designed for police use as indicated by its full designation, Polizei Pistole (police pistol). The pistol used the Walther double-action trigger mechanism that was also used on the later P 38, and other features included a lightweight receiver and, next to the hammer, a signal button that protruded when the weapon was loaded. In overall terms the design was light and slim.
The Sturmgeschütz (assault gun) - an armoured self-propelled gun to support infantry assaults - was first requested in 1936. The chassis of the Panzer III was selected for the assault gun, with the first gun being the 75mm StuK37 L/24. In the quest for a low silhouette an all-round traverse was abandoned. Fitted low in the hull front plate, the gun had a 12-degree traverse to the left and right, and an elevation of 10 degrees and a depression of 10 degrees.
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The Prinz Eugen was an Admiral-Hipper class heavy cruiser, one of five such vessels. She was launched in 1938 and entered service in 1940. The origin of her name was Prince Eugene of Savoy, a celebrated Austrian general of the early 18th century who won a string of victories against French and Turkish armies when commanding Habsburg forces. Prinz Eugen had a top speed of 33 knots and displaced 16,970 tonnes. Her crew consisted 1,380 officers and men, and she carried three Arado reconnaissance aircraft that were launched by catapult.
No discussion of the German Army’s performance in North Africa can exclude an analysis of Erwin Rommel, the “Desert Fox.” The war in North Africa made his reputation. On February 12, 1941, Hitler dispatched Rommel by air to Tripoli in response to the major defeat that the Italian units had just suffered at the hands of British and Commonwealth forces. The new commander had with him just a small mobile force to stiffen Italian resolve and to assist them in reversing the possibility of total defeat at the hands of the British-led forces advancing from Egypt. Hitler did not, however, envisage the Africa Corps making spectacular successes, lest the need to protect these accomplishments from British ripostes led to the diversion of precious German reserves away from the impending Barbarossa invasion of the Soviet Union to the North Africa theater.