We continue to expose some examples of the German Wunderwaffen from World War II. As with the ones we saw in the previous post, many of these new exponents were never built, or only reached the test phase at the most. Even so, they are still fabulous and impressive. If the reader has already been impressed before, his surprise will now reach unimaginable heights
It is well known the World War II episode called “Blitz”: the constant and indefatigable siege by means of missiles and bombers that the Nazis carried out on London between 1940 and 1941. Londoners woke up almost daily startled by a nearby explosion. The sirens became the soundtrack of an entire country. However, it is rarely mentioned that these attacks were retaliation. In this exchange of rockets and bombs, England was the first who started because in May 1940 the bombers of the RAF (Royal Air Force) began to destroy factories, refineries and other industries (in addition to urban centers, causing multiple civilian casualties) to weaken the Germans. Actually, the number of bombs dropped by Germany and the Allies is not comparable. While the sons of the Reich dropped, according to some estimates, 75000 tons of explosives on the United Kingdom, the Allies would have dropped 135000 tons on Germany and its annexed territories by 1945. So much so that the Allied bombardments caused a disturbance in nature, but the German bombardments did not.
Two researchers from the University of Reading, Christopher J. Scott and Patrick Major, discovered by studying the history of radio pulse emissions launched from the Radio Research Station in Slough, a research centre inaugurated in 1933 to study the composition of the ionosphere, that the ionospheric composition had been altered in the skies of the German regions between 1943 and 1945, specifically on the days when Germany and its territories had been most violently bombed. Due to overheating of the exaggerated energies released from the explosions, the ionosphere would have lost part of its electron density, an effect that fortunately was undone the next day. Even so, it is striking that this effect was detected in Slough, which is almost 1000 km away from Berlin. Until this study it was not very clear that humans could alter the ionosphere, a capacity attributed solely to violent natural phenomena such as earthquakes or storms. Be that as it may, the absence of these effects by German bombardments could be explained, since their planes did not have the capacity to carry large explosive charges, unlike those of the Allies, and that the German bombardment of London was very continuous, making it difficult to distinguish any anthropogenic effect on the ionosphere.
The fact is that the Germans took both the British bombings and the defeat in the Battle of England as a very personal affront and began to devise new weapons to complement or replace their bombers. Their aim was to retaliate against enemies, and hence their name: “Vergeltungswaffen”, retaliatory or revenge weapons. These were undoubtedly the most successful Wunderwaffen: they managed to get out of the blueprints, meet the requirements and be mass-produced and used.
Their identification was very simple: they were labelled with a V and a number, although they have not always been called in that way. Their father preferred to call them “Aggregat” (whose diminutive is an A accompanied by a number). The ideologue of these weapons was not only recognized for developing this kind of technology, with not only war possibilities but also scientific. Because thanks to these rockets the United States and the Soviet Union achieved unsuspected goals during the space race.
Wernher von Braun (1912-1977) was the mastermind behind retaliatory weapons and one of the fathers of the Cold War space race. Already at a young age he showed a great interest in rockets, engineering and mathematics. Together with several colleagues and their teacher and eventually colleague Hermann Oberth join the Society for Space Travel (“Verein für Raumschiffahrt” or VfR), a group of intellectuals who were fond of rockets and space enigmas that end up settling in a field of Reinickendorf, on the outskirts of Berlin, in a place they called “Raketenflugplatz” (“rocket airport” in German), where they built and tested sophisticated homemade rockets while dreaming of reaching the procelose outer space. The results obtained (VfR was able to launch a Repulsor rocket at an altitude of almost two kilometres) attracted the attention of the German Army in 1932, which was interested in rockets and missiles based on liquid propellant, which fortunately did not appear among the prohibitions of the Treaty of Versailles. Moreover, at that time liquid fuels were taking their first steps and von Braun was the ideal person to apply these novel fuels to the rocket industry. From then on, von Braun worked with Captain Walter Dornberger first in Kummersdorf and then in the Baltic, at the famous Peenemünde research centre. He gladly accepted this as he got paid and took another step closer to his longed-for space travel. Unfortunately, his motivation was ruined when he had to devote his ingenuity exclusively to the war production of rockets.
In his first stage in Kummersdorf is when von Braun gives birth to the Aggregat project. In 1933 and 1934 he designs and tests respectively the A-1 and A-2 rockets, which used liquid propergol as fuel. The ones that really caught the attention of the German generals were the couple of A-2, Max and Moritz, whose test flights exalted their expectations and were decisive to continue building more advanced versions. Actually, these first two versions had no use beyond tests. None reached 1.70 metres in length and 150 kg in weight, so they could barely carry enough explosive charge to cause significant damage. However, A-2 managed to reach 3.5 km in height in their tests, not bad at all. Due to these results and the fact that the German high command saw the war potential of this technology, they decided to move the team integrated by the German engineer to Peenemünde, where future tests would be carried out.
In 1935 the A-3 would arrive, a rocket with more serious dimensions: 6.74 meters long and 740 kg weight. It was the first large rocket designed by von Braun. However, only four test flights were made in December 1937, all of them failed mainly due to engine and parachute failures. They barely reached the kilometer of height, so it became necessary to resize it, giving birth to the model A-5, slightly smaller and subjected to various test flights between 1938 and 1942. Some variants of the A-5 without an engine were conceived simply to test its aerodynamics by launching them from Heinkel planes. We will see later that all these tests, models and failures had their raison d’être and were simply preparing the testing ground for an extremely sophisticated weapon that was to come, one of the few Wunderwaffen that was close to fulfilling its mission.
Let’s make a parenthesis. Aggregat rockets would end up becoming the Vergeltungswaffen, but it is a common mistake to attribute the authorship of the V1 flying bomb to Wernher von Braun. The V1, forerunner of the cruise missiles with its almost 8.5 metres in length and 2150 kg in weight, of which 830 kg belonged to the explosive head of amatol, was created by two men: Fritz Gosslau and Robert Lusser, although it is true that the flight tests were managed by Peenemünde’s team.
The V1 did not begin to be mass produced until late 1943, when hopes for Germany were already dwindling. The regular bombardments and the destruction of the industrial complexes prevented to use the V1 before. Until then, all the launches carried out from bases such as Peenemünde were tests.
In addition, they failed to carry out the program in the most absolute of secrets. The British government began to suspect a novel German “unmanned aircraft” earlier that year thanks to the prospecting of British pilots and spies. However, final confirmation came from the invaluable work of a French mechanic, one of those war heroes whose biography is assiduously hidden behind the intricacies of history. Michel Hollard was a French patriot dissatisfied with the Nazi invasion of his country to the point of deciding to collaborate on his own with the British without joining any group of the French Resistance, as he believed they were too disorganized to achieve significant results.
His resistance was inhuman. On several occasions and in order to avoid leaving tracks that could be followed by the Germans, he was forced to travel dozens of kilometers daily by bicycle or walk through dense forests in the middle of winter. His mechanical skills allowed him to infiltrate the German industries without too much difficulty and to obtain useful information and plans that he transmitted to his English superiors. Finally, with British support, he managed to set up his own espionage network, the Agir network (“act” in French), which ended up being indispensable for bringing to light the German retaliatory weapons.
At first, Hollard and his contacts began to realise that, in towns close to the English Channel, mysterious concrete walls were being erected at an incline of about 15º and that workers were working day and night without ceasing, spread over three shifts of 8 hours in the mysterious project. Suspicion grew when Hollard discovered that these ramps were pointing towards London, as if something were to be thrown from them to reduce the capital of the United Kingdom to dust. Indeed, these findings allowed British intelligence to settle its conjectures. Now all that was left to be sure was what the Germans were going to throw at them. Therefore, in November 1943 they sent Hollard to the French region of Auffray, to a hangar where the Germans were going to receive one of those unmanned planes. After infiltrating, Hollard feared the worst: inside a leaky box were stored the parts of a flying bomb, a rocket with a radius of action not negligible, and Peenemünde was where it had been investigated and tested. In December of the same year, the RAF (Royal Air Force) initiated Operation Crossbow and bombed those launch ramps near the English Channel. But some of them were saved because the Germans manage to camouflage them or move them to other locations. On June 13, 1944, the first hits on British soil by the V1s begin. The Führer’s plan was to have started in December of the previous year by dropping a whopping 5000 monthly bombs to destroy London and other locations, but fortunately this was not the case. Between June and August 1944, 9200 rockets were launched, of which only 1000 reached their target, causing significant damage. Many were shot down before touching the ground: reaching a speed similar to that of some Allied fighters (between 500 and 600 Km/h), they were able to shoot some V1 with relative ease. Another more risky and unusual tactic was to destabilize the course of the V1 by giving them a little touch on one of their wings with the planes to unbalance the gyroscopic system. On the other hand, many flying bombs were destroyed before they even flew, while they were still on the launch ramps. By the end of the war, the Germans had launched about 10000 V1, of which almost 2500 reached their targets. 6000 dead and almost 18000 wounded constituted the balance of casualties on British soil by the insidious V1.
Flying bombs, however, were not always intended to be dropped from the ground. At first, in fact, air tests were carried out launching the V1 from German planes, but finally the other alternative was chosen. After all, the radius of action of the explosions was about 15 meters, reaching 70 meters if we take into account the damage caused to buildings by the expansive waves, so they were more useful on the ground than in the air.
Michel Hollard’s fate almost ended in tragedy. In February 1944, agents of the German special service arrested him and sentenced him to death. However, his sentence was commuted to a stay in the Neuengamme concentration camp, where he remained until, near the end of the war, prisoners began to be deported en masse to Sweden in ships. Very few manage to save themselves, because the RAF or the SS sank prisoner ships, the former believing that they were convoys of a different nature and the latter for fun. Among the few who manage to survive was Michel Hollard, who since then will be distinguished war hero, decorated with the Distinguished Service Order cross and labeled by the Queen Elizabeth II as the hero who saved London.
See below a V1 and the peculiar roar that anticipated its lethal arrival:
In 1944, while the V1 bombarded London, Wernher von Braun and his engineers learned from their mistakes and perfected the Aggregat rockets until they reached the definitive version: the Aggregat-4 (A-4), better known as V2. It had little to do with the V1 flying bomb. First of all, it almost doubled the V1 in size with its 14 meters in length. It weighed about 13500 Kg, although ironically the explosive head was approximately the same weight as that of the V1. The extra weight was contributed among other things by the powerful engine that allowed it to reach the whopping speed of 5200 Km/h and between 320-360 Km of distance. It was, in short, an unstoppable weapon, as there was no plane that could intercept it, in fact no V2 was shot down. It was also very unexpected because, unlike the V1, its engine did not announce its arrival with a thunderous noise and thanks to the height and speed reached, they became invisible to radars.
It is ironic the reason for the delay in their production. It is obvious that the Allied bombing raids on Peenemünde had something to do, such as the one carried out by the RAF on August 16 and 17, 1943 in the framework of Operation Hydra, significantly damaging the base and forcing a transfer of part of the personnel and laboratories to Dora, in central Germany, but curiously the blame was also Adolf Hitler. The Führer was not always convinced about the effectiveness of retaliatory weapons. He thought he wouldn’t need them. Severe mistake, because at least the V2 could have given him some advantage in the first years of the war. This is something he acknowledged in an interview with Dornberger in 1943, regretting his naivety and his lack of confidence in Dr. Wernher von Braun’s team. Thus, in July of that year he gave absolute priority to the development of the V2 missiles.
The Germans were giving free rein to their vengeance and hatred until the last moment. When the invaded France was liberated, the Nazis transferred all the necessary means to persist in the launching of missiles to Holland and the Netherlands, Rhineland, etc. Between September 1944 and the end of the war in 1945, the Germans managed to launch more than 5000 warheads against the Allied territories. If they were to lose the war, they would take several thousand more victims with them.
However, von Braun had ambitions that went far beyond. Satisfied with the results of V2, he began to think of a modified version that would reach higher altitudes (the first V2 reached 88 km) capable of reaching outer space. The yearning to leave and explore the dark space was frequent since the beginning of the 20th century in the main European powers and in the United States and, as we will see later, in the Second World War it was already thought of conquering space in order to win the war. However, von Braun’s project was nourished by a scientific desire rather than a warlike one. The Aggregat-4b or A-9 variant was intended to fulfil this ambition. Actually, both versions were V2 missiles but with ailerons that would allow them to reach greater distances taking advantage of the gliding. Neither went into production, but a prototype of the A-4b managed to pass a flight test in 1945. This was designed to overcome the Mach 5 of speed and to reach distances of 800 Km and the A-9 to surpass the Mach 10 and to cover 5000 Km, in such a way that if it had come to term it would have been the first intercontinental ballistic missile of history. Other versions of the A-9 were intended to be manned (also called A-6). Finally would be the A-9/A-10 version, a gigantic intercontinental missile of two stages and more than 20 meters high. However, this would not be enough to reach orbital height, so von Braun thought of adding two more stages, the A11/A12, forming a four-stage rocket about 70 meters high designed to carry a satellite of half a ton or other types of loads to low Earth orbit. Due to the various limitations of this model, engineers saw it as a reconnaissance or transport vehicle rather than a bomb.
As the end of the war loomed, the Allies started up a series of projects to attract as many German scientists as possible. Having seen the impressive warfare inventions they had created and the bold brains that made up the scientific teams, it was imperative to capture them and use them to achieve post-war scientific and technological supremacy. A competition was therefore started to see who would get the best. In the case of the United States, this operation was called the Paperclip Project.
Wernher von Braun was a smart guy. By the winter of 1944 it was clear to him that Germany was going to lose the war and that he had to find a way out. He preferred to reach the New World to put all his knowledge at the service of the Americans. He was lucky and together with several companions he was captured by the representatives of the bars and stars. Quickly he is named director of the main projects of ballistics and rocketry of the American army. In the years immediately after the war, the United States and the USSR tested the V2 recovered in Dora and other complexes. They are clear that a new war has begun, although this will not take place on the ground or in air, but in space, which will also serve as a subterfuge to test more efficient missiles and totally new surveillance and espionage systems located in the Earth’s orbit. The V2, thanks to its power and efficiency, is proposed as model on which to build new rockets and missiles. Thus, on October 24, 1946, the Americans get the first photograph of our planet from a camera installed precisely in a V2 that had been launched to perform a suborbital flight. Indeed, and to the disgrace of believers of the flat Earth, there are images of the globe long before NASA existed and that show its curvature. And since we’re talking about NASA, the German engineer was appointed director of the Space Flight Center immediately after its inauguration and was in charge of the first American manned space programs Mercury and Gemini, precedents of the Apollo program, in addition to being the main responsible for Explorer 1, the first American satellite sent into space, and the Saturn V rocket, the vehicle that sent man to the Moon.
But the Vergeltungswaffen do not end with V2. In 1943, the Germans built a super canyon, but instead of being installed on some tank they buried it in the subsoil protected by tons of concrete. The V3 was installed in places such as Pas-de-Calais, locations in France close to the English Channel and not far from London, the main target of retaliatory weapons. It was also known as a high-pressure bomb (“Hochdruckpumpe” in German or HDP) alluding to its functioning, which was at least curious. The central rail was surrounded by propelling charges arranged in pairs and diagonally to the central channel. The launch of the shell, which could weigh about 140 kg, was based on the principle of multicharge, so that as it crossed the central rail, the adjacent loads were fired at the passage of the projectile and hit its base obliquely, thus giving it consecutively a greater impulse, enough to travel 165 km to London.
The most representative V3 cannons, and also the largest, reaching 140 meters in length, were built near the French village of Mimoyecques, in the north of France. The concrete walls of the fortress and the first basement, accessible to tourists, still remain there. It was built between 1943 and 1944 by thousands of workers and war prisoners. The place was not chosen at random. German engineers realized that the ideal would be to find a promontory with a solid rocky core to support the heavy cannon, and this was ideally fulfilled by the hill near Mimoyecques, with a calcareous core. This cannon had an almost imperceptible period of life, because shortly after being finished the Allies bombarded it without mercy in 1944, although the damages were scarce. Finally, the British conquered the region without giving the Germans time to fire a single projectile. In Antwerp and Luxembourg, two reduced versions of 45 metres in length were installed, which fired some shots with unknown consequences.
The appetite of the Nazis was unparalleled. Its size was immeasurable, so much so that it escaped the planetary limits. It was not enough for the Germans to conquer the earth, the sky and the sea; they also longed for everything that was outside the impalpable gas limits of our planet. They fervently believed that reaching these unknown regions, they would obtain an invaluable advantage over the Allies, and to that end they devised weapons and vehicles capable of attacking from these unattainable positions.
Perhaps the bomber “Silbervogel”, i.e. “silver bird”, was the one most considered. We could say that, apart from science fiction, the Silbervogel was the first prototype of a potentially space shuttle. Its parents, the couple formed by Eugen Sänger and Irene Brendt, imagined at the end of the 1930s a manned airplane that, propelled by rockets and taking advantage of its convex and aerodynamic fuselage, would be able to cross the oceans going through the Earth’s low orbit and hit its distant target with one or two bombs of two or three tons or with a sort of dirty bomb composed of radioactive silicon oxide to release a radioactive toxic cloud. One of their fundamental objectives was the industries the United States, and like so many other prototypes, the Silbervogel would have been part of the Amerika Bomber operation which, as we explained in the previous post, its goal was to build a fighter-bomber capable of travelling from Germany to the United States on a round trip with complete autonomy and without the need to refuel along the way. In this case, the Silbervogel would complete its return without redoing the journey, that is to say, it would choose to go across the terrestrial circumference.
Its engine (hypothetically a Sänger-Brendt of 145700 Kg) and the driving sled that would help in its take-off by means of a push of 5000 Km/h alone would not be sufficient to complete the enormous distances for which the Silbervogel was destined. Therefore, both the fuselage and the shape and arrangement of its wings were essential elements. That is to say, the anatomy of the plane was destined to function as an engine by itself. Its operation would be as follows: once propelled towards stratospheric heights (it had to take off from a 3 km monorail supported by 36 rocket engines to reach a speed between 2000 and 5000 km/h before take-off and thus reach a height of 130 km), the plane would depend on its constitution. There would be no mechanism to keep the plane at a constant height, but it would be destined to fall. However, that’s when its fuselage would come into action. When descending tangencially to 40 Km of altitude, the mattress of more dense air would be used as trampoline by the plane thanks to its aerodynamism, recovering again height and preparing for the following jump. Like a flat stone bouncing off a lake, the silver bird would then slide over the mass of air towards its target to bombard it mercilessly.
A process not without risks, however. Like the stone jumping over the water, the plane would progressively lose energy with each rebound, and it would have to use again the rocket engine to complete its journey and return to Germany orbiting the Earth. Indeed, the Nazi commanders believed it was a complex and expensive project, so they cancelled the suborbital bomber project. But we must not see it as an alienation of unbalanced minds. The Silbervogel project interested the victorious powers during the post-war period, and among them, obviously, the United States.
USAF (United States Air Force) worked on a Silbervogel-based spacecraft project with multiple objectives: from repairing satellites and stratospheric reconnaissance missions to sabotaging and bombing enemy satellites. It was christened Boeing X-20 Dyna-Soar and did not pass the flight tests, but not because it was useless but since its objectives were not clearly determined and because the budgets were unmanageable. In fact, the time that the project lasted, from 1957 to 1963, it cost 410 million dollars. Be that as it may, the Dyna-Soar was presented as one of the most advanced aeronautical projects of the time and so many hopes were placed on it that several astronauts were trained to pilot it, among them the first man to set foot on the Moon: Neil Armstrong.
The German Death Star
As it could not be any other way, some of these inventions arose from minds that were not cloistered in the limits imposed by terrestrial gravity or by the simplicity of some, in brains that imagined the future of humanity outside the Earth. One of those illustrious minds was of Hermann Oberth (1894-1989), a Romanian mathematician who never stopped thinking about astronaut suits, space stations and space rockets, and for that he was branded a dreamer and naïve by some of his colleagues, who never suspected that Oberth would go down in history as one of the fathers of astronautics. In fact, some of his treatises influenced other astronautical aces, such as Wernher von Braun, who on the other hand was Oberth’s pupil and with whom he collaborated for a short period of time in the elaboration of the V-2 missiles in Peenemünde (after the war the roles would be inverted and von Braun would become Oberth’s leader in the construction of rockets).
Indeed, Oberth imagined a space station called “Raumstation” with many features that decades later would include the International Space Station, with the peculiarity that it would be equipped with a very unique element: a gigantic concave mirror 100 meters in diameter. In the context in which Oberth described it, the huge mirror would not have any destructive or warlike function, on the contrary his ideas were exclusively destined to scientific progress. But as expected, the Germans were soon attracted by this invention and ardently imagined its destructive potential. In 1945, a hundred and a half German engineers and scientists set to work in the research and development centres in the wooded village of Hillersleben. The project was called “Sonnengewehr” (“sun gun” in German). Persisting in their obsession to make everything immense, they calculated that a reflecting surface of 3 km in diameter would be enough for this sun gun to be able to burn an entire city from space concentrating on it the infernal solar rays. They even estimated the time they would need to fine-tune the Sonnengewehr, approximately 50 years, an estimate very optimistic. It should be noted that the project only began when they were defeated.
The Allied media reported this news. Thus, the edition of The Ottawa Journal of June 28, 1945, a few months after the end of World War II on Europel, echoed the words of Lieutenant Colonel John A. Keck, who reported the frustrated intention of the Germans to erect a platform at 8000 meters altitude equipped with a large mirror capable of concentrating solar heat at any point on the Earth’s surface to burn certain areas or evaporate bodies of water for strategic purposes. Keck was not just anyone, since he was in charge of interrogating a great number of German scientists, obviously to recruit some of them and requisition their inventions, among them the Sonnengewehr.
The July 1945 issue of the prestigious magazine Life also included a brief report about what the American military and interrogators had brought from Europe and gave more details about the mirror and the space station. Embracing Oberth’s ideas, the Germans planned to install the mirror about 8 km high. However, the construction phase already seemed very complicated, as they wanted to carry it out at the same altitude. First they had to have rockets with enough power to reach that distance carrying the prefabricated modules that would compose the sun gun. Secondly, the amount of rockets, materials and fuel they would need to build a mirror 3 km in diameter cannot be ignored. Be that as it may, and avoiding these difficulties, the sun gun would work at the same time as a sort of space station. The personnel and the supplies necessary for its survival would arrive on board of rockets that would be embedded in the disk through an orifice that would function as a lock. Its interior would be full of pumpkin crops, as they are impulsive oxygen producers. Their maintenance would work thanks to fluorescent lights fed by generators that would acquire in turn the necessary energy through diverse solar plates arranged in the surface of the disk. To cope with microgravity, German astronauts would be equipped with magnetic boots. The operation of the sun gun would depend on codes sent to the space from the Earth. After being decoded, a computer would activate a series of rockets arranged on the outer face of the disk to direct this peculiar death ray to the ordered location to wipe out everything.
But how would this mirror channel sunlight without scorching the staff inside? It seems that its surface would be perfectly polished and covered with sodium, an effective reflector to prevent overheating of the internal rooms and to intensify the reflection of sunlight.
This idea, although curious, was by no means new. It is said that the Greek sage Archimedes devised a very similar defence system to repel the Roman siege of Syracuse by means of a palisade of mirrors that would concentrate the sun’s rays on enemy ships until they burned. There are many experiments that try to replicate this technology, like the one below:
However, if it had been built, the Sonnengewehr would have been useless with the estimates we have described here. With more time, it is possible that the Nazis would have realized and backed down. The lens was too far from the Earth’s surface, so the image it projected would have been too wide and too cold to cause any significant damage. Thus, the German Death Star was stored in the already bulky trunk of unfinished projects.
The dream of flying is a constant in history. Only recently have we achieved it with an assured success, although for some time now the list of inventions to cross the skies has been gradually increasing. Some have not yet emerged from science fiction or films, but this does not mean that we have not gone further.
The Germans wanted to give wings to their stormtroopers. A device that would allow overcoming any orographic obstacle quickly would allow the troops to advance much more quickly towards their objectives or to flee from their enemies and to reorganize themselves with great efficiency. Some engineers would have worked for a while on such device from 1944. An ingenuity which, thanks to films such as Star Wars, is extremely familiar to us, but which is decades older. The idea was to create an elite division that would carry these devices on the back, a sort of propelling jetpack that would allow jumps between 50 and 70 meters thanks to two tubes located at its bottom. The thrusters would be miniature pulse reactors similar to those of the V1 flying bomb.
For proper operation and maintenance of stability, engineers had to ensure that both thrusters were activated and deactivated at the same time when landing. The fuel consumption was to be high: 100 grams per second and per thruster, so these portable rockets were not intended to operate for an extended period of time. Even so, it would not have been pleasant for the Allies. Imagine for a moment hundreds of “Himmelstürmer” jumping over enemy lines with breathtaking ease, or standing at unreachable and strategic heights, or firing imperceptible gusts from the air, or saving casualties by avoiding minefields. In short, the fact is that we can only perform an exercise of imagination, because these machines never came into service, like many others because the early defeat of Nazis. Other authors directly deny their existence and attribute them to the hot mind of writers and Internet users. For the sake of completeness, it is said that the Americans managed to acquire some prototype and that they tried to replicate it without much success. The most related devices to these jetpacks today are the different variants of “FlyBoard®”, a sophisticated device that has become fashionable in water sports and that allows the user to float in the air by means of a hydropropulsion system.
In search of the hammer of Thor
The relationship of Nazism with occultism and esotericism is a topic for an entire post. Some more than others became obsessed with their ethnic origin. As a mixture of political propaganda and firm personal beliefs, the Nazi gerifalts persistently divulged their presumed Aryan origin. They belonged to the perfect race, or so they wanted to believe. A sickly racial supremacy that led to one of the most barbaric tragedies in history, leaving a trail of tens of millions of deaths.
We insist, for some Nazis this matter became a real obsession, to the point of directing expeditions to different parts of the world to look for traces and evidence of the existence of their Aryan ancestors, which already says much about them. It is as if they needed a physical and palpable proof to cement their aryosophy, as if they did not believe in it at all. Be that as it may, Iran, Tibet, Iceland, Spain, Denmark and other nations witnessed the passage of the “scientists” of the Ahnenerbe, the German Ancestral Heritage—Society led by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler. Relics, treasures, archaeological sites, physiognomic traits… anything fulfilled the necessary precepts to be presented as irrefutable evidence of the inheritance of the lost Aryan culture. In this context, the presumed weapon that Heinrich Himmler searched for is circumscribed.
It is true that behind the legend often hides a story with a real basis conveniently adorned with metaphors and moralizing allegories. This is what the Reichsführer-SS believed about the famous “Mjolnir”, the hammer of Thor, the Nordic god of thunder, which can be contrasted with a missive signed by him. According to Himmler, behind Thor’s inseparable weapon, the same one he used to defeat the snake of the world in Rägnarök, would be a real artifact of immeasurable power, capable of killing entire troops of enemies and manipulating the atmospheric composition to transmute it into destructive electricity. Like the hammer, its divine owner would also have been a real character, perhaps an Aryan hero who handled a very advanced technology unfit for his time.
Authors such as Heather Pringle, Eric Kurlander or Akbar Ahmed defend in some of their works that the leader of the fearsome SS assigned the task of deciphering the functioning of the Mjolnir ant to apply it on the battlefield to the firm Elemag-Hildesheim in November 1944. Himmler thought that the secret technology of the mythical Mjolnir, accessible only to the Aesir Aryan elite (actually, the divine elite related to Odin in Nordic mythology), made it possible to concentrate and redirect the electromagnetic energy of the atmosphere. Like a kind of PEM (electromagnetic pulse) grenade, the Mjolnir would emit electromagnetic fluxes capable of disabling the Allies’ electronic devices, from airplanes to radios and radars, leaving them totally incommunicado and defenceless. But the news he received from the SS technicians and later from the Reich Research Council were not flattering: such a weapon was impossible with the materials and technology of the time, and even more so considering that the Nazi forces were in retreat on several fronts. Clearly Himmler was not worthy of possessing the Mjolnir.
The German “electric hammer” could be included in a list along with a series of other devices that would have in common the manipulation of the environment and natural phenomena for war purposes. These “clean weapons” would not use any type of typical ammunition. Their raw material would be thermal energy, sound, air.
This would be the case, for example, of the sonic cannon devised by Dr Richard Wallauschek in the early 1940s, an absolutely terrifying device which, if it had come into service, would have been able to murder a person 50 metres away in half a minute, practically liquefying his nervous and auditory systems, while a person 250 metres away would have unbearable hearing pain.
A pair of parabolic reflectors (one of them about 3 metres in diameter) possibly mounted on an armoured chassis would constitute, in general terms, its external appearance. In its interior there would be a chamber formed by diverse tubes and prepared to lodge cyclical explosions produced thanks to a combination of oxygen and methane. These would be magnified thanks to the reflectors, which would emit a devastating sonic pulse with the subsequent consequences for the unfortunate ones that were in their trajectory.
There’s not much more information about this weapon. It is said that the Germans were only able to test it in laboratory and with animals, so its effects on human physiology belong to the realm of speculation.
At the end of the war, as early as 1945, at the Experimental Institute in Lofer, the Austrian Tyrol, an eccentric scientist was working on an anti-aircraft Wunderwaffen, a very peculiar kind of mortar. Dr. Mario Zippermeyer was entrusted with the mission of building a device that would knock down the Allied bombers with relative ease, for which he devised this mortar. Buried in the subsoil, the cannon fired howitzers into the air. Its objective was not to hit directly to the airplanes, but to point to their flight routes. The shells were loaded with pulverized coal and also possessed a slow action explosive. When they reached a certain height, the howitzer exploded and released the coal dust. The energy released in the explosion would provoke a whirlwind or vortex that would generate powerful turbulences that would destabilize the aircraft, with a radius of action of 100 meters. That’s why it was called vortex cannon. According to an apocryphal story, a series of derivations arose from this project. One of them would be an adaptation for light artillery that was used during the Warsaw ghetto uprising.
Dr. Zippermeyer was also the inventor of the wind cannon, another desperate attempt to face the Allied air forces in the rales of war. A mixture of hydrogen and highly compressed oxygen was expelled from a long cannon arranged at an angle, like an invisible projectile. In the tests at Hillersleben, the most it could do was shatter wooden boards 180 metres away. The great failure of Dr. Zippermeyer’s machines was their low power. They were too weak to reach the altitudes at which Allied aircraft flew. In addition, the short time remaining before the arrival of the Allies did not allow them to sufficiently improve these “clean Wunderwaffen” to achieve the required effectiveness. That is why they never entered service.
However, the most extraordinary and destructive climatic weapon, although its existence can hardly be assured, would be the endothermic bomb. This explosive would be the nemesis of traditional exothermic bombs, which release heat and energy. On the other hand, an endothermic reaction would consist in the consumption of heat from the surroundings. Something similar happens in our atmosphere with the formation of clouds from the hot air rising from the Earth’s surface. When the hot air reaches certain altitudes where the pressure decreases, it tends to expand and, consequently, the temperature of the areas it colonises decreases. This almost miraculous technology would be based on a similar principle. It is said that this device was intended to be launched from bombers and that it would have a radius of action of 1 km. By means of an evaporated reagent called azote, a mixture formed mainly by liquid nitrogen, any form of life located within those limits would be frozen instantly, while buildings and constructions would be practically unscathed, except for some cables and pipes. In some webs is assured that this weapon was real and that the Americans got it, although all information about it is extremely doubtful and can only be speculated. Likewise, there would have been another variant destined to explode in the air to freeze the wings of enemy bombers and make them fall.
Die Glocke, the mysterious bell
We’ve reached the limit of warlike extravagance. All the strange and mysterious weapons and gadgets that we have described so far in the two posts pale with what we will see below. An absolutely science fiction artifact, whose existence, functioning and purpose are much debated. For some it is a mere fraud, for others it really existed and some tests were made with it. The fact is that this story has some points that can be confirmed.
It is known by the eclectic name of “Die Glocke” (“the bell” in German) and would be part of the “Der Riese” (“the giant” in German) project, led by the abject general Hans Kammler (known for being the director of the SS division in charge of setting up concentration camps), which sought to build huge weapons depots and underground industrial complexes somewhere in Poland.
The two main characters in this story are Igor Witkowski and Nick Cook. In reality, all of this originates in a book written by the first, published in 2000 and entitled Prawda o Wunderwaffen (“The truth about the Wunderwaffen” in Polish). It appears to be another title about the miracle weapons of the Germans and it is true that it describes some of them, but the central argument of the work is this strange bell. The Polish writer states in his book that all the information to which he has had access has been thanks to a colleague of the Polish intelligence services. In turn, this alleged contact obtained all the references from transcripts of a post-war interrogation of a German SS officer, Jakob Sporrenberg (1902-1952), who was executed in 1952 as a war criminal. This officer existed, was Gruppenführer of the SS in Poland and Belarus and was sentenced to death in 1950. Witkowski, as a result of the information to which he had access and to which, to this day, presumably no one else has had access, links this German general with the Die Glocke project.
As we said, the other main character in this fascinating story is Nick Cook, of whom we have already spoken. He was editor of the prestigious military magazine Jane’s Defence Weekly and a military advisor on climate change issues. Cook tells Witkowski’s story in his book The Hunt for Zero Point, in which he tracks several antigravity and zero-point energy-based contraptions projected by the Nazis during World War II and compiled and tested by the victorious powers confidentially. In fact, both end up investigating together the existence of the bell. Cook, for his part, may also have access to confidential sources because of his trade, more likely even than his colleague.
Here is the first problem, the scarcity of original sources available. So far, the only person who would have spoken about the bell is Jakob Sporrenberg, and always according to Witkoswki, who in turn is the only person who has acceded to the alleged confessions of the ex-SS. Be that as it may, let us continue with the narration. As with most Wunderwaffen, the bell began to develop late, in mid-1944. It began in what is now Lubia, in the Polish region of Lower Silesia. However, the Allied advance gave no respite to the Germans, so they had to move all the pieces and personnel to another location, Ksiaz, 45 kilometers to the south, another base that had to be abandoned soon after. Finally, the village of Ludwikowice was the last host of the Der Riese project, formerly called Ludwigsdorf. These rugged grasslands of Lower Silesia, close to the border with the Czech Republic, in the heart of the Owl Mountains Park, are hollow inside, abundantly perforated by dozens of extensive galleries that make up the Wenceslas mines. In these entrails would have hidden the exclusive team of scientists with the strange bell of Allied bombardments, in a complex built entirely by prisoners of the concentration camp Gross-Rosen in deplorable conditions. The entire operation was guarded by a sinister special command formed by SS officers led by Sporrenberg and Karl Hanke, Gauleiter or leader of the Lower Silesia area.
Witkowski also provides various data on the anatomy of the contraption. It would have the form of a peculiar bell of 5 meters high by 3 of diameter in its widest part. A swastika engraved on one of its front faces left no room for doubt as to who owned it. A disturbing fact is that it had to be anchored to the ground, like an indomitable beast that threatens to get out of control. Its coating was thick and very resistant, formed by an unknown and heavy metal. Related to this contraption is a mysterious substance, a kind of liquid metal similar to mercury but violet in color that had to be stored safely in thermal lead cylinders of 3 centimeters thick and 1 meter long and whose code name was Xerum-525. Completing a mixture of great danger were thorium peroxide and beryllium peroxide, which would provide some clues of the real function of the bell, since both thorium and beryllium are used in nuclear reactors … Was Die Glocke therefore a nuclear reactor, or worse still, a nuclear weapon? Be that as it may, it would not be an anomaly, because the Nazis were interested in nuclear energy, a subject that we will talk about profusely in the future.
The bell would have two cylinders that rotated at high speed in opposite directions, perhaps to provoke some kind of reaction with the aforementioned compounds. Some unknown fear gripped the scientists and SS officers, and not just the fear that the Allies might discover their project. Otherwise there would be no explanation as to why they performed most of the tests in a 30 m2 chamber located at great depth and with ceramic walls and a very thick rubber insulation that had to be changed every two or three tests and destroyed in ovens, presumably for prevention or because it degraded rapidly during experiments. Perhaps because the bell emitted radiation? It could be, because according to sources Nick Cook would have checked, German scientists were at a prudential distance of 150 or 200 metres when the device was set in motion. These tests lasted just over a minute. Even so, in that short period of time the bell emitted a mysterious blue fluorescence which, speculating, could be attributed to the Cherenkov phenomenon, which was also described in the tragic Chernobyl accident when reactor number 4 was exposed. The speed of light reaches its maximum speed in vacuum and this is insurmountable, therefore in all other media is lower and can be surpassed. When electrically charged particles exceed the speed of light of a medium other than vacuum, such as our atmosphere, they emit these luminous emanations. From all that has been said, it seems that the bell was a kind of nuclear reactor and, consequently, a truly dangerous contraption. It could therefore have been a branch of the Nazi Uranium nuclear Project. In fact, physicist Walter Gerlach, a member of the Uranium Project, would also have led one of the teams of scientists who worked with Die Glocke.
Cook and Witkowski also state that the electromagnetic radiation generated by the bell during its brief activation caused interference and breakdowns in electronic devices located less than 200 metres away and worrying symptoms in people who were nearby and who, although dressed in protective suits, suffered from dizziness, sleep disorders, loss of memory and balance, spasms and noticed a metallic taste in their mouths. It seems therefore that the bell emitted a more powerful radiation than the scientists had foreseen. To cool the alleged reactor, the Germans forced prisoners of the Gross-Rosen concentration camp to impregnate the contraption with a brine-like substance for 45 minutes. It is said that several animals (snails, mice, reptiles and amphibians), plants and various tissues and organic substances (blood, milk, meat, eggs) were exposed under the influence of the bell and did not end up too well: living organisms died and a crystalline substance emanated from the nucleus of the tissues. The blood coagulated fast, becoming a kind of gelatine. Plants lost all their chlorophyll 4 or 5 hours after exposure, acquiring an albino aspect. At 14 hours they began to decompose, quickly and without emitting any smell, until they became a puddle of an oily substance. It seems that by January 1945, scientists were able to reduce the damage in the study subjects by 12-15%.
The project had to be dismantled for major reasons. Of the first team of seven scientists led by physicist Walter Gerlach, only two people survived. The rest died of unknown causes, although we can guess something. And if this was so, we can only imagine the number of prisoners who also died poisoned by working so close to the bell. In fact, it has been suggested that human beings were used as guinea pigs to study the effects of that radiation on human physiology, something that was already too common at the time. Moreover, in the transcripts of Sporrenberg’s interrogations, the name of Dr. Ernst Grawitz, master of the infamous Dr. Mengele, would appear, which would increase the probability of this point.
Der Riese project would end up being discovered by some of the victorious powers and moved to some unknown location at the end of the war to continue its development. At this point Cook and Witkowski diverge, since the former thinks that the bell was taken to the United States while the Polish writer assures that it was guarded in South America. According to Witkowski, the evacuation route of the Der Riese project passed through Norway and was directed by Sporrenberg’s special command. It’s curious, because on the basis of the information the writer allegedly had access to, Sporrenberg would barely have had access to Die Glocke, and it’s even doubtful that he would even have seen it. The SS officer was fundamentally in charge of ensuring that the evacuation of tons of reports, technology and personnel through Norway went smoothly, so it is to be assumed that he heard about the mysterious bell very superficially, mainly through third parties. Even so, the report obtained from his confessions (and which, we insist, has only been seen by Witkowski) is extensive in technical details, as almost everything we have told about Die Glocke would come from there.
Its true function, like its entire biography, is a true mystery. The possibilities are extremely disturbing and Internet users have given free rein to their imagination. Whether it was a nuclear reactor or a dirty bomb with radioactive components, whether an engine capable of reaching lightning speeds or an antigravity generator as Witkowski argued… However, there are a couple more data that provide clues about the function of the bell, and they are very disturbing. Always according to the cited authors, Die Glocke had two code names: “Latenentrager” and “Kronos”. The second, which in Greek means time, is the most suggestive. Because Nick Cook was able to contact a certain Dan Marckus, in all probability a pseudonym, and of which he only comments that he is a physicist of the department of physics of one of the best known British universities. This scientist claimed to have confidential information about Der Riese project. The bell was neither a weapon nor a reactor. Its true aim was to reach an energetic level capable of generating a torsion field with the aim of deforming space-time, of curving it to the point of creating a tunnel that would allow to travel through it to other places and other times. That’s why the Nazis called it Kronos, because Die Glocke would be a time machine! But as Cook’s book progresses, Marckus proposes other more extraordinary applications if possible. This torsion field would not only serve to deform space-time, but also, and perhaps more importantly, to extract its essence, its soul: the zero-point energy.
This mysterious energy was conceptualized by Albert Einstein and Otto Stern, who called it residual energy because it would be the lowest and inextinguishable energy state of a quantum-mechanical system from which the rest of the energies have been extracted. In other words, it is the only energy left in a system exposed to 0º Kelvin or -273.15ºC, the absolute zero.
There are those who think that the void of space is not as empty as it may seem, but that it is full of this fluctuating energy, and the best of all is that it could be accessed, thus obtaining a clean and inexhaustible source of energy. Dan Marckus argues precisely that: if someone could somehow match the vibrational state of that minimum energy, it could be accessed and exploited and, he argues, Die Glocke had that mission through the genesis of a torsion field.
In addition to nuclear reactor, time machine or zero point power extractor, the other function usually associated with Die Glocke is that of antigravity generator. Witkowski says that in the secret documents he consulted, Sporrenberg mentions issues such as the separation of electromagnetic fields, perhaps something related to superconductors and diamagnetic materials, which can be used for electromagnetic levitation, a phenomenon that could be related to antigravity. Maybe that’s why the contraption was chained. Perhaps that’s why its operation consisted of the opposite rotation of two cylinders, to generate what is known as magnetic levitation stabilized by rotation.
Admittedly, this is a very weird story, although it would not be strange if some exalted Nazi had thought of such a project. A lot of data cannot be corroborated. However, many of the characters we have mentioned are real. Sporrenberg, Gerlach, Hanke, Kammler, all of them existed (in fact, around Kammler’s last days there is also mystery, as it is assumed that he committed suicide in 1945 but his body has never been recovered, so some suggest that he was moved along with the remains of the Der Riese project in secret).
But what happens with the facilities of the Der Riese project? Are they real? We said that Die Glocke was guarded in underground chambers near the village of Ludwikowice, taking advantage of the abandoned Wenceslas mines. Well, it seems that the contraption was tested on the surface for some time and again in a place where it could be tied with thick chains. That place is on the outskirts of the village and is currently guarded by the Molke Museum. It is a decagonal concrete structure 30 meters in diameter and 10 meters high, completely diaphanous and without much to show except for several powerful columns 12 meters thick and timid traces of green paint that would possibly have served to hide the complex. It is supposed that the peculiar radioactive bell (or perhaps some very sophisticated aircraft) was once placed in its centre, strongly attached to the concrete pillars to avoid its escape during its antigravity flights, in which, by the way, there would still remain some steel hooks in which the chains would have been hooked. This area is also home to the kilometric galleries that once protected the numerous chambers and industrial complexes that served to build some Wunderwaffen, including allegedly Die Glocke, and a pre-war electricity station that could be fed by tons of coal each day possibly extracted from the close mines according to Witkowski, which would justify the establishment of the bell in these areas, as its operation would require enormous amounts of electricity. Little is known about this abandoned complex and hardly anything can be made clear, as the Nazis destroyed everything before abandoning it.
To conclude, and as a simple curiosity, the relationship between Die Glocke and a controversial UFO incident on December 9, 1965 in the forest of Kecksburg, Pennsylvania, has been suggested in various Internet forums. Several people were able to see the evolution of the unidentified illuminated object in the skies, which was moving in several directions shortly before it crashed into the middle of the forest, an accident that provoked the immediate mobilization of the American military, who soon recovered whatever collided there (first they said it was a meteorite and 40 years later they retracted claiming that it was really a Russian satellite). There were several witnesses who saw a bluish smoke coming out of the place of impact, such as the color emitted by Die Glocke when it was put into operation. But the most spectacular coincidence lies in the shape of the alleged Kecksburg UFO. Those who saw it emphasise its bell-shaped and the strange characters engraved on its base, that is, an object very similar to the Nazi bell. Was it a prototype of the fantastic contraption? We do not know, but what is certain is that a bell that opens space-time portals and generates antigravity gives for much.
Many are the weird Wunderwaffen or German miracle weapons and we’are left many unsaid. Here we have only given a small sample, but if you want to expand your knowledge on this topic we recommend you visit the first part:
Nazi secret weapons (part 1). The UFOs of the Third Reich
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