Supersoldaten: The Nazi Meth Soldiers

August, 1939: The Third Reich, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, is beginning to mobilize its military for an invasion of Poland. Previously, Hitler had expanded Germany’s borders to its old, pre-World War I borders with little repercussions from the Allied powers. This policy of “living space,” or Lebensraum, was used to unite Germany with Austria and annex the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia in 1938, and then annex the rest of Czechoslovakia in 1939. But the future German Lebensraum would need more, and so German troops were called to the Polish border that August.1

Pervitin, the market name of Methamphetamine. The drug was widely used by both the German people and the military before and during World War II | Courtesy of Google Images

As the troops prepared for the opening of the Blitzkrieg on Poland, the Wehrmacht physiologist Otto Ranke had realized the possible benefits of a popular medical stimulant called Pervitin for use in the army. Pervitin, marketed as a powerful stimulant, was an early form of crystal methamphetamine, and the drug’s ability to promote “wakefulness and alertness,” as well as induce a slight euphoria in its users, had caught the attention of the military. Ranke had authorized its deployment to the field troop’s ration kits as a small-scale test run of the drug’s effects on the soldiers poised to invade Poland.2

Reports from officers in the field on the drug’s effects were glowing. The quick conquering of Poland with minor losses was partly accredited to Pervitin. However, as the drug made the troops powerful fighters unlike any others ever faced, the side effects were also very noticeable. As the drug high wore off, heavy fatigue and withdrawal would set in, taking some troops out of the lines for up to two days. Profuse sweating, irritability, heightened aggression, and impaired judgement were just some of the side effects troops had to deal with. Regardless, the Reich viewed the drug’s positive attributes outweighed the side effects.3

Adolf Hitler, flanked on his left by Reichsminister of the Luftwaffe Herman Goering saluting a crowd | Date unknown | Courtesy of the Washington Post

With the successful invasion and annexation of Poland complete, Hitler had now crossed the line in the sand placed by the Allied powers. France and Great Britain officially declared war on September 3, 1939. The Western Front had now opened, and a complete naval blockade against Germany was in effect. With the medical reports from Poland being so good, the Wehrmacht decided to roll out Pervitin to the whole military, especially to the Luftwaffe, Germany’s Air Force.4

In April of 1940, the invasion of the Nordic States began in order to secure iron for the Reich and cut off an allied landing zone to Germany’s north. A month later, the Blitzkrieg would commence on the western front. Hitler simultaneously launched an offensive against France, Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The incredibly short campaigns and low number of German casualties were, again, credited to the miracle pill Pervitin. However, the side effects of Pervitin and reports of soldiers abusing it were much more prevalent. Reichsminister of the Luftwaffe Herman Goering, and coincidentally one of Pervitin’s chief advocates, ordered the drug’s use to end in the military.5

In July of 1940, the beginning of the brutal air campaign by the Germans on the British commenced, known as the Battle of Britain. With the last major player of the allies being bombarded constantly by German sorties, a German victory in Europe seemed ensured. Despite Goering’s orders to cease use of Pervitin, Luftwaffe pilots used the drug completely unhindered by their superiors. The same applied to the Wehrmacht, who would find ways to get hold of the drug. By the end of 1940, it could be argued that Hitler’s war machine was hooked on meth.6

German Health Fuhrer Leo Conti, seeing Pervitin beginning to undo the ranks of the army and increasing dependence and abuse of the drug among the civilian population, made the drug illegal under the Reich Opium Law, effectively outlawing it—on paper, that is.7 Prohibition of Pervitin was sparsely enforced. Only the most fanatical Nazis would enforce the laws. With the outbreak of the war with Russia and the opening of the eastern front, use of Pervitin had actually increased among the soldiers as they marched towards Moscow. Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi plan for the invasion of the Soviet Union, would end up being a tremendous failure for Hitler, and it arguably assured an allied victory by surrounding the Germans on two sides, a mistake made before by Hitler’s predecessors in World War I.8

An officer of the Luftwaffe addressing pilots. The Luftwaffe used Pervitin heavily to insure alertness during back to back sorties | 1940 | Courtesy of the Daily Mail

As supplies dried up and the Germans were pushed back further into Germany, use of Pervitin became sporadic. With German industrial locations made explicit targets of the Allied air campaign, simply producing anything in Germany on a large scale was neigh impossible. Troops would use it if they could find any, but in the same breath, finding any was very unlikely. It wouldn’t be until the end of the war that Pervitin would see wide scale production again.9

Methamphetamine is one of the most dangerous drugs ever created by man. With the lack of information and little understanding of side effects in drugs during the twentieth century, it was no wonder the drug caught on like wild fire. Couple that with the racial superiority complex of the Nazis and the search for anything to promote that image, Pervitin was exactly the tool needed to fuel the war, and a catalyst to bring it to an end.

  1. Gale Encyclopedia of World History: Governments, Vol 1, 2008, s.v. “Nazi Germany.”
  2. UXL Encyclopedia of Drugs and Addictive Substances, 2006, s.v. “Methamphetamine,” by Barbara C. Bigelow.
  3. Gale Encyclopedia of World History: Governments, Vol 1, 2008, s.v. “Nazi Germany”; Norman Ohler, Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany (U.K.:Penguin Random House), 48, 50, 63.
  4. The Encyclopedia of the Third Reich, 1991, s.v. by Christian Zentner and Friedemann Bedürftig.
  5. The Encyclopedia of the Third Reich, 1991, s.v. by Christian Zentner and Friedemann Bedürftig.
  6. Norman Ohler, Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany (U.K.: Penguin Random House), 96, 100, 106.
  7. Norman Ohler, Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany (U.K.:Penguin Random House), 269, 273.
  8.  The Encyclopedia of the Third Reich, 1991, s.v. by Christian Zentner and Friedemann Bedürftig.
  9. Norman Ohler, Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany (U.K.: Penguin Random House), 296, 300.

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This Post Has 48 Comments

  1. Avatar

    This article was fascinating. I have never heard of this in my history classes, it is hard to believe that the Nazi army was on Pervitin. It is sad that people are willing to do whatever it takes to win a war. It is true that when war comes, no one wins. I also find it interesting that the initial goal for Pervitin was to give the soldiers an extra boost in the war, but little did they know that it would ultimately be the reason for their defeat due to the harsh side effects.

  2. Avatar

    I have never heard of anything about this. It kind of made me relate it to today with athletes when the use drugs to enhance their performance in their chosen fields. The Nazi’s did it to get an advantage over their enemies. Good informative article I enjoyed reading it. It makes me wonder though if they thought the soldiers were going to make it past the high because after the high they would have the crash so it just make you wonder if the people that were making these decisions knew what the outcome was going to be.

  3. Avatar

    I believe that this article is important in that it brings to light the brutal and desperate nature of nations during war. The willingness to compromise multiple citizens lives and well-being just to gain an edge in combat shows the true state of what “world wars” were actually like. The articles closing really summarizes what exactly the drug did, fueled the war yet catalyzed the end.

  4. Avatar

    Really interesting article and detail about the story. So they used crystal methamphetamine to invade Poland and considered to use it on the military. Drugs can help win 1 battle, but in the long term, it causes more danger than benefit. And it also was a really bad idea to use a drug with little information about it. Continuous use of drugs in an army deteriorates soldiers’ skills, makes an army dependent on it and its production, and makes you forget about strategy.

  5. Avatar

    I had heard of the Germans using chemicals to get the upper hand on their enemies, but using a drug to increase their soldiers’ abilities just seems insane. You would think that a military unit wouldn’t want their men to have such terrible crashes like the first set of men did, yet that didn’t deter them? If users were put out of line for two days because of a drug, that is probably a sign that they shouldn’t be using them.

  6. Avatar

    It is very interesting that nobody talks about this important part of the war. I never knew that almost the entire Nazi army was hooked on meth throughout the World War I. This seemed to have served a advantage and disadvantage to the war. The disadvantage was that due to the drugs the Nazi soldiers were at a high and no one could stop them. The advantage was that it sped up the war and helped it end sooner.

  7. Avatar

    I’ve never heard of meth being used by the Nazi’s during they’re eastern and western front campaigns. I found it really interesting that the soldiers would use these drugs and gain an upper hand on their opposition by doing so. Eventually, the side effects of Pervitin would come back to haunt the Nazi’s as they would not be able to fight in the days that followed and would need to recover. This is for sure an interesting tactic that would eventually come back to bite the Nazi’s.

  8. Avatar

    Now this is something I never heard of in any history book or Nazi article. The Nazi army used crystal methamphetamine to have the “upper hand” as alert fighters during battle. However, they did not consider the side effects that would keep these same “powerful fighters” from fighting the days following the crash of their high. Truly a strange tactic of war but it was enough to lead to the Nazi army’s rise, and fall, in war.

  9. Avatar

    I consider that what I just read, only augmented my deprecation for Nazis. Even more, if once I thought they were inhumane, I now think they were just purely evil. Surprisingly, the Nazis gave their soldiers an early form of crystal methamphetamine, Pervitin, to enhance their fighting skills. I cannot believe that Nazis were indoctrinated to kill and harm others, but actually also harm themselves in order to become these “super soldiers” in order to aid themselves to cause more damage on others. I cannot think of something more inhumane than that.

  10. Avatar

    The amount of research that was required in order to even write this article is astonishing. I have great respect for this article because I thought I had a pretty good idea of what kind of horrible acts the Nazis committed. However, this article shed new light on issues I hadn’t even heard about. This sort of explains why the German soldiers never questioned or revolted against the orders that they were told to carry out.

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