Historians have long known that the Nazis spoon-fed their soldiers methamphetamines to enhance their performance on the battlefield.
But a new documentary is revealing that the ‘super-drug’ that fueled German victories on the battlefield led the Allies to search for their own secret formula as part of a ‘pharmaceutical arms race’ during the Second World War.
After it was learned in the early 1940s that the Nazis were being given the methamphetamine Pervitin, the Allies decided to dose their own troops with a similar amphetamine, Benzedrine.
The effort by Allied commanders to find ‘force enhancers’ is revealed in a new PBS documentary, Secrets of the Dead: World War Speed, which airs on Tuesday evening.
Allied paratroopers land in Holland in 1944. A new documentary set to air Tuesday on PBS reveals that the Allies gave their soldiers amphetamines to enhance their performance on the battlefield
The documentary reveals that the German Wehrmacht managed to conquer Poland in May 1940 while largely under the influence of Pervitin.
Pervitin, a stimulant that makes one intensely alert by flooding them with a sense of euphoria, was created a decade earlier by a German pharmacologist and manufactured by Temmler Pharmaceutical.
An early version of what is known today as crystal meth, Pervitin was given to Luftwaffe pilots to give them a boost of energy and prevent them from getting tired if their plane was shot down.
During the successful Polish campaign, Wehrmacht soldiers were able to fight and march for 10 days straight at an average pace of 22 miles per day with Pervitin in their systems.
The Nazi victory over British troops at Dunkirk was also enabled by the widespread use of Pervitin.
By the time the invasion of the Soviet Union was launched in 1941, hundreds of thousands of soldiers were doped up on it.
The Allies learned of a secret Nazi ‘super drug’, Pervitin, which gave soldiers intense states of alertness and energy. Pervitin was an early version of what is today known as crystal meth
Records of the Wehrmacht show that some 200 million Pervitin pills were doled out to the troops between 1939 and 1945.
Research by the German Doctors’ Association also showed the Nazis developed a cocaine-based stimulant for its front-line fighters that was tested on concentration camp inmates.
The Allied forces, who until then had relied mostly on caffeine, learned of the Nazi secret weapon after British forces downed a German plane in the south of England.
A search of the plane led to the discovery of Pervitin.
The Allies decided that they were going to provide their troops with a similar stimulant – the amphetamine Benzedrine.
Benzedrine, which created a similar effect as Pervitin, was used by the Allies on the orders of its top commanders
It was hoped that not only would Benzedrine improve the soldiers’ performance on the battlefield, but that it would also mitigate the widespread post-traumatic stress disorder that had taken hold among one in three Allied soldiers.
American troops who fought the Nazis in North Africa in 1942 were given packs of Benzedrine on the orders of General Dwight Eisenhower, the supreme commander of the Allied forces.
British forces under the command of Bernard Montgomery were also given Benzedrine during the initial stages of the successful El Alamein campaign.
After the war, Benzedrine and Pervitin were marketed as diet pills and mood enhancers.
Their use was promoted by celebrities, including Marilyn Monroe and Jack Kerouac.