Although for a time the Nazi war machine seemed virtually unstoppable, by 1942 the future of the “thousand-year Reich” was suddenly in doubt. With the bulk of the Wehrmacht bogged down in Russia and the full might of America finally being brought to bear against the Axis, Germany’s prospects for victory (or even just survival) seemed bleak indeed. Outnumbered, surrounded and now largely on the defensive, military planners in Berlin increasingly believed that Germany’s best and maybe only hope lay in the development of super-weapons or wunderwaffe.
While a number of game changing breakthroughs like the V-1 rocket, the Me-262 fighter jet and Schweer Gustav gun had surprised and even amazed the Allies, these technological marvels were only the beginning of what the Nazi regime was planning to unleash. Right up to the very end of the war in Europe, German engineers were racing against the clock to field next generation of fighting ships, warplanes, and missiles — technology that Hitler hoped would not only stave off defeat but even guarantee an Axis triumph. While most of these proposed war machines never left the drawing board, they still manage to fascinate, even 70 years later.
Ballistic Missile Subs
Long before the Second World War began, Adolf Hitler dreamed about striking at the United States. But by 1944, even as Nazi missiles were raining down on London, the Fuhrer’s rocket scientists had yet to devise a weapon that could reach North America. Instead, they looked for ways to transport warheads across the Atlantic and launch them from American waters. With the Allies largely in control of the ocean surface, this task would fall to Germany’s U-boats.
In 1943, scientists at the Peenemunde research centre had developed submarine technology that could fire V-2 missiles from the sea. The plan, codenamed Prufstand XII, involved special watertight silos, each containing one of the infamous short-ranged ballistic missiles. Type XXI subs, which could cruise submerged for vast distances, would tow the canisters undetected across the ocean. Once in position off the coast of New York, Boston or Washington, the U-boats would release their tethered silos. The pods would float to the surface, turn upright and automatically launch the missile. Fortunately, the plan for sea-launched V-2s was never realized largely because the engineers at Peenemunde were too busy working on other projects. Despite this, three of the towed missile containers were ordered and one was even delivered in late 1944. Allied intelligence was aware of the weapons and prepared to meet this new threat. The U.S. Navy ordered four escort carrier groups to scour the western Atlantic for snorkeling subs that might be towing missile pods.