War While on Drugs: Drug Usage in WWII
WWII also saw the introduction of a form of warfare that has be overlooked for many years: the use of drugs.
In 2015, German author Norman Ohler wrote the book “Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich” and tells in extreme detail about drug abuse within the Wehrmacht and even Adolf Hitler’s fascination with methamphetamines during his reign of power.
Stimulants and depressants have been used on the battlefield far before the outbreak of WWII; morphine was first introduced during the Civil War and was used by medics to quickly relieve extreme pain from their wounded comrades. In WWI, soldiers had access to cigarettes and coffee for their nicotine and caffeine fix to distract themselves from the horrors they went through on a daily basis.
But WWII would see the rise of methamphetamines, a drug so powerful that it almost lead to a German victory.
Synthesized in the late 1800’s, the drug wouldn’t see any pharmaceutical use until the 1930’s for nasal congestion. It was until the late 30’s that “Pervitin” (the modern day equivalent to crystal meth) was introduced as over-the-counter medicine and was used by a handful of German troops during the invasion of Poland. The troops reported that the drug was helpful on the battlefield as it reduced fear and made them more alert, along with overwhelming sense of euphoria.
Once the German army and Adolf Hitler were aware of the effects of Pervitin on their troops, they organized a shipment of over 35 million prescriptions to be given to soldiers for the coming attack on France, known as the “Blitzkrieg.” The attack was a resounding success as the German army managed to push through Belgium and the Maginot Line with such speed and ferocity because most of the soldiers didn’t even need to sleep and kept pushing forward until their objective was complete.
Nazi Germany weren’t the only ones to have used these powerful drugs. The Allies had their fair share of providing amphetamines to their troops known as “Benzedrine.”
Also used for nasal congestion in the 30’s, Benzedrine was a favorite among soldiers and just as in Germany, their higher-ups caught on and began issuing more prescriptions to the front lines. Though not used as much as the German army, the drug was mostly given to pilots to keep them awake during long flight missions and to boost their awareness.
This part of history is only a footnote in the modern education system but by digging deeper, it’s clear it had a large impact on the war.