The Nazis Were Blitzed While Carrying out the Blitzkrieg
In 1938, a German pharmaceutical company, Temmler, began marketing methamphetamine pills under the brand name Pervitin. A high ranking army doctor, Otto Freidrich Ranke, saw the newly discovered drug’s potential as a miraculous means to keep tired troops and pilots alert, and to keep the entire German military euphoric. Ranke tested Temmler’s new product on university students, who exhibited a sudden spike in alertness and productivity, despite being short on sleep. Elated, and as ignorant as the rest of Germany’s medical community of narcotics’ harmful side effects, Ranke saw to it that Pervitin was approved for issue to the armed forces, and ordered into mass production.
During the Second World War, Germany’s military issued its men millions of packets of Pervitin – a pill whose effectiveness in keeping the troops alert was compared to drinking strong coffee by the gallon. On top of that, the pill made the worries of Germany’s fighting men disappear, and infused them with feelings of happiness and euphoria. Or at least it did so for a few hours, before the effects wore or the soldiers popped more pills to keep the high going on for as long as possible. In other words, what with Pervitin basically being crystal meth, the German military spent WWII tweaking.
In the war’s first year, the Germans swept through Poland, Denmark and Norway, the Lowland Countries, and France. The astonishing speed and fury of the blitzkrieg, and reports of “Nazi Super Soldiers”, alarmed observers. The pace and ferocity of the German advance owed much to innovative tactics, that integrated infantry, armor, and air, into a seemingly irresistible juggernaut. However, the Allies could not figure out the inexplicable energy and tirelessness of the German soldiers, who seemed indefatigable, advancing and fighting day and night, with little or no rest.
The reason was crystal meth, or Pervitin, which German troops were encouraged to pop in order to fight fatigue. The packaging read “Alertness Aid”, to be taken “to maintain wakefulness“. It was accompanied by a warning that it should only be used “from time to time“. However, once people start using a drug, it is hard to limit themselves to taking it only “from time to time”. Things got worse when medical authorities realized that the effects of cocaine overlap substantially with those of amphetamines, with the added “benefit” that cocaine produces greater euphoria. So cocaine was added to Pervitin.
The result was an even more addictive drug cocktail. Millions in the German military could not get enough of their crystal meth, and especially not enough of their crystal meth after it got laced with cocaine. Many wrote home, requesting their loved ones to send them Pervitin via the military mail. One such was Heinrich Boll, a German postwar author who won the 1972 Nobel Prize for literature. In a May 20th, 1940 letter to his parents, 22 year old Boll begged them to send him some Pervitin, which he said not only kept him alert, but also chased away his worries.