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.
In 1937 the Luftfahrtministerium (German Air Ministry) issued a requirement for a single-engined three-seat tactical reconnaissance aeroplane, drawing submissions from Focke Wulf in the form of its Fw 189, and Blohm und Voss’s Bv 141 design. Much emphasis was placed on the need for good visibility, and in response the Bv 141 had a highly unusual asymmetric layout with the fully glazed crew nacelle offset to starboard of the centreline and a boom (carrying the engine at its front and a tail unit at its rear) offset to port.
The 8.8cm Panzerabwehrkanone 43 was a Krupp development of the proposed PaK 42. Entering service late in 1943, this equipment proved itself to be the best anti-tank gun of World War II. The weapon possessed a low silhouette and was also protected by a well-sloped shield, and its potency was revealed by the fact that the PaK 43 was the only German weapon able to penetrate the thick and well-sloped armour of the Soviet IS heavy tanks, and then at ranges well in excess of those offered by smaller-calibre guns.
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.
Given the fact that far-sighted submachine guns such as the MP 38 and MP 40, with their all-metal construction and features to facilitate mass production, had clearly indicated the most practical line of development for such weapons under wartime conditions, the Maschinenpistole 41 could be seen only as something of an anachronism demanding somewhat greater manufacturing resources for a weapon that offered little operational advantage, something that Germany really could not afford given the industrial power of the enemies ranged against her.
The Panzer 35(t) was a Czech-designed tank in the 10-ton class. As well as being rugged, much thought had gone into ease of operation. Thus, a 12-speed gearbox combined with a a pneumatic-servo-mechanical steering unit to make the tank easy to drive. In addition, the suspension system, consisting of two sets of four-wheel bogie units each side, was very hard wearing.
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Operation Rheinübung, the break out by Bismarck and Prinz Eugen into the Atlantic, had been planned for late April 1941, but on 23 April Prinz Eugen was damaged by a magnetic mine dropped by British aircraft. Damage was extensive to fuel tanks and propeller shafts, for example, but repairs were made in short order and on 22 May Prinz Eugen escorted Bismarck towards the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland, looking to head for the north Atlantic to prey on Allied merchant shipping. It was during this manoeuvre that Prinz Eugen’s radio-intercept team realised that they had been detected by the Royal Navy and were being shadowed. They were attacked by the Royal Navy battlecruiser Hood and battleship Prince of Wales. Prinz Eugen scored hits on Hood, and then on Price of Wales. Bismarck herself was hit, however, and Prinz Eugen was now ordered to head back to France.
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.