One of the aspects of the German war effort of the Second World War that has attracted the most interest are the many high tech weapons that were developed during the war. German rocket technology was one of the most advanced of those areas, and the one in which the Germans were most clearly ahead of the Allies. The V-1 and V-2 were the most famous of those weapons, but the Germans weapon program also included a large number of anti-ship, anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles, some of which actually entered service. This book focuses on those weapons that either entered service or reached a relatively late stage of development, thus skipping over the very many projects that stalled at an earlier stage. I rather like this approach – many books on this sort of topic get distracted by the vast array of entirely imaginary weapons that only ever existed as vague outlines or as very basic plans, making it look as if the Third Reich was a technological superpower! (books on Jet aircraft are especially prone to this).
Of the types of weapon examined here, the anti-shipping missiles emerge as by far the most effective. Two missiles, the Hs 293 and the Fritz-X, both entered service in 1943, and both types were successfully used in combat. The single most impressive achievement of the entire programme was the sinking of the Italian battleship Italia by the Fritz-X while it was on its way to surrender to the Allies, but the Hs 293 also claimed a fair few successes. However these successes did come at a high cost to the Luftwaffe, as the controlling aircraft were very vulnerable while controlling a missile, and the Allies were eventually able to jam the control frequencies used by the missiles. By the time of D-Day in 1944 their heyday was over, and they played a very minor role in the attempts to hit the Normandy invasion fleet.
In contrast the flak missile programmes may have looked impressive, but they never got close to producing a viable weapon. Despite a great deal of effort, not of the missiles examined here ever even carried out a test interception of a target aircraft, and perhaps most significantly the Germans failed to develop a working proximity fuse. The anti-tank weapons were even further from entering combat, and in at least one case we don’t even know what they looked like!
This book covers the technical and developmental histories of each of the main weapons, and the service histories of those weapons that actually managed to enter combat. As always the text is supported by a good selection of illustrations, including wartime photographs, modern illustrations and some useful diagrams showing the main variants of different weapons. The result is a very useful account of these technically advanced, but generally ineffective weapons, a description that could be applied to most German weapons programmes of the later war years!
Author: Steven J. Zaloga