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Third Reich Day by Day

The rise of the Third Reich as it happened from its beginnings to the start of World War II in September 1939.

Weapons & Technology

Aircraft

Messerschmitt Bf 110

Messerschmitt Bf 110
Messerschmitt Bf 110

During the 1930s air strategists believed twin-engine “heavy fighters” to be essential to offensive air operations. As was happening elsewhere at the same time, in 1934 the Reichsluftfahrtministerium issued a requirement for a machine capable of tackling aircraft, including single-seat fighters, sent up to intercept the bombers; it was to make up in firepower what it lacked in manoeuvrability and was dubbed Zerstörer (destroyer). Messerschmitt’s prototype Bf 110V1 first flew in May 1936 and the production Bf 110 entered service as the Bf 110B with two 700hp (522kW) Junkers Jumo 210 engines. Only 45 were built before the advent of the Bf 110C with two Daimler-Benz DB 601 engines, which had seven sub-variants, and the Bf 110D, built in three.

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Artillery

Kanone 44

Kanone 44
Kanone 44

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.

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Ships

Tirpitz

Tirpitz
Tirpitz

The mighty battleship Tirpitz was laid down in October 1936 and was originally known as Schlachtschiff G or Ersatz Schleswig-Holstein (Replacement Schleswig-Holstein). She was launched on 1 April 1939 and completed in February 1941. From early 1942 she was based at various locations in Norway, and on 8 September 1943 she sailed from Altenfjord to bombard shore installations on Spitzbergen – the only time she fired her guns in anger against a surface target. On 22 September she was damaged in an attack by British midget submarines, and on 3 April 1944 she was further damaged in an attack by carrier aircraft of the British Fleet Air Arm, sustaining 14 bomb hits and suffering 122 dead. She was subjected to further attacks by the Fleet Air Arm in August 1944, but sustained only minor bomb hits.

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Small Arms

MG 34

MG 34
MG 34

The Maschinengewehr 34 was designed by engineers at the Mauser factory at Obendorff, and major features of this superb machine gun included a quick-change barrel, connection of major components by bayonet catches, high-impact plastic stock, combined recoil booster and flash hider, straight-through design, and a system in which pressure on the upper and lower parts of the trigger produced semi-automatic and automatic fire respectively.

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Tracked Vehicles

PaK 40 (SF)

PaK 40 (SF)
PaK 40 (SF)

With the capture of so many vehicles following the fall of France in June 1940, the Germans set about converting them for their own use. This was not an immediate decision, as the army was flushed with victory and few believed that large numbers of non-German armoured fighting vehicles would be needed. It was only with the huge losses experienced on the Eastern Front, plus the appearance of the Soviet T-34, that prompted the necessity for large numbers of antitank platforms. One such vehicle was the PaK40 (SF), a self-propelled antitank gun on a light tank chassis. The conversion was unusual in that the engine was left in the rear.

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Hitler and Mackenesen
Hitler and Mackenesen

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Commanders

Commanders

Erich von Manstein

Erich von Manstein
Erich von Manstein

One of the greatest generals of World War II was born in 1887 in Berlin. He fought and was wounded in World War I, and commanded the 18th Division in Silesia after the war. He first came to prominence in early 1940, when his plan for an armoured attack through the Ardennes caught Hitler’s attention. The Führer liked the plan, which he adopted and launched with great success. However, Manstein had upset the General Staff and so he was “banished” to Silesia to help form the new XXXVIII Corps.

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