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.
Originally planned as a heavy tank and troop transport glider, and first flown on 25 February 1941, the Me 321 V1 prototype had a single-crew member and a substantial cargo hold that could accommodate some 200 troops or 20,000kg (44,092lb) of freight. The Me 321A-1 entered service in late in 1941, followed by the Me 321B-1 with a crew of three and two defensive machine-guns. Luftwaffe transport pilots found that the Me 321 handled adequately in the air, but lacked a suitably powerful tug (even the extraordinary five-engined Heinkel He 111Z proved inadequate). This led to further development as the Me 323 with multi-wheel landing gear, structural strengthening and six Gnome-Rhòne radial engines from captured French stocks.
The 2cm Flakvierling 38 quadruple 20mm mounting was highly respected by Allied airmen operating at low level. Designed by Mauser for German naval use, the Flakvierling 38 entered production for the army and air force during 1940. The Flakvierling 38 combined four FlaK 38 barrels on an adapted version of the FlaK 38’s carriage, and while the standard sight was the Flakvisier 40 or improved Flakvisier 40A, provision was being made for radar direction by the end of World War II.
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.
When they evaluated the Tokarev semi-automatic rifle, of which they captured numerous examples in 1941 and 1942, the Germans quickly appreciated that the Soviet gas-operated system offered several advantages over the modified Bang system used in their Gewehr 41 weapons. It was seen that the Russian gas-operated mechanism had many advantages over the system used on the Gew 41. The Gew 41(W) was already in production, but the Germans now modified the action to a system modelled closely on that of the Soviet self-loading rifle to create the Gewehr 43 firing the German Army’s standard 7.92mm cartridge.
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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Born in 1885, Kleist saw service in World War I with the hussars. A corps commander during the invasion of Poland in 1939, he led a panzer group during the fall of France in May-June 1940. Although initially inexperienced in the proper use of armoured forces, he learnt quickly and had able subordinates such as Guderian and Zeitzler. Thus, by the spring of 1941 he was equipped to command mobile forces, and his First Panzer Group achieved rapid success in the Balkans campaign. During Barbarossa, his panzer group was attached to Army Group South, taking part in the great Uman and Kiev encirclements, before being ordered north to close the southern part of the Vyazma encirclement. On October 6, 1941, his panzer group became the First Panzer Army; it had taken Rostov by November, but was then forced to withdraw from the city and spend the winter of 1941-42 on the defensive.