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November 21, 2010

Interesting facts from WWII: Luftwaffe's need for speed (UPDATED)

I've been perusing the online archives of Lone Sentry, where you can find some articles published by U.S. Military Intelligence during the war, evaluating the weapons and tactics of the Axis and Allied forces.

This one caught my eye:

"Stimulants for Members of the German Luftwaffe" from Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 5, August 13, 1942.

A firm in Brussels is reported to be the distributor of the stimulant called "Pervitin" (see page 19, Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 4) used by members of the German Luftwaffe. It is prepared in the form of a pellet or pill. The manufacturer is Temmlerwerke of Berlin. The following ingredients are used in its manufacture:

1 - phenyl - 2 - methylaminopropane hydrocloric 0.003
Saccharin lactis 0.045
Amylum 0.012

COMMENT: In this country, "Pervitin" is believed to be similar in chemical structure to our drug Benzedrine. The British consider Benzedrine and also Methedrine to be helpful in temporarily increasing physical vigor, relieving fatigue and preventing sleep.

When I drove a submarine, we had nothing stronger than Navy coffee to get us through Midwatch, which was a particularly rough one when submerged at or near periscope depth, as the controlroom was rigged for black -- pitch dark, but for the subdued lighting on the control panels. Add fatigue from too little sleep and stale air from hours (or days) submerged, and it was a struggle to stay alert.

Apparently the Luftwaffe -- as well as the Brits and the Amis -- recognized that the demands of war necessitated a little boost for the troops ... even Aryan supermen.


I found another entry -- published after the one above -- on the military use of stimulants, this one from the Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 11, Nov. 5, 1942.

Benzedrine (also called Amphetamine) and Methedrine (German equivalent Pervitin) are substances belonging to the group called analeptics (restoratives). For practical purposes the actions of these drugs are the same, but 1 dose of Methedrine is as potent as 1 1/2 doses of Benzedrine, weight for weight.

Their chief action is to stimulate the higher activities of the brain, showing itself especially in decreased sensations of tiredness and fatigue, and in a disinclination and inability to sleep. The administration of Benzedrine does not increase the mental or physical efficiency of a man who is not tired, and Benzedrine should not be taken with this object.

Mention may be made here of the trend of German reports on the use of analeptics. In the latter half of 1941, these reports were enthusiastic, but toward the end of the year warnings commenced to appear, and in the early months of 1942 reports tended to be definitely against their use except under rigid control. The substance in use was Pervitin. (See Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 5, p. 32.)

The effect of these substances on troops has now been studied in the laboratory and in the field, and the following conclusions have been drawn by British medical authorities.

(a) The valuable effect of Benzedrine* to individuals engaged in war operations is to reduce the desire for sleep, and the fatigue which results in loss of efficiency and makes difficult the continuation of essential duties.

(b) Circumstances may thus arise in which the administration of Benzedrine may be advantageous for skilled personnel when they are severely fatigued and unable to continue at a reasonable level of efficiency without an additional stimulus.

The use of Benzedrine should be confined to emergencies or crises, and it should not be taken regularly.

The decision to give Benzedrine must only be made in circumstances when there is reasonable expectation that the emergency will be at an end within 12 hours.

(c) No person whose duties involve the making of difficult decisions, should be permitted to take Benzedrine in a crisis unless he has tested his reactions to it previously.

(d) Benzedrine must not be given indiscriminately to large bodies of troops.

(e) A single dose should not exceed 10 milligrams. A dose of 5 mg may be repeated once or even twice at intervals of 4 to 6 hours.

If an individual is of the opinion that a dose of 10 mg does not produce appreciable effects upon him, the use of the drug should be given up.

(f) The administration of Benzedrine should be under the control of a medical officer.

*Where "Benzedrine" is written, "Methedrine in equivalent dosage" may be substituted except where this is obviously inappropriate.

I'm not the only one who finds it interesting that all sides were giving their troops speed during the war; the use of amphetamine by the military during WWII plays an important part in a recent Jack Reacher novel by Lee Childs, 61 Hours.

Posted by Mike Lief at November 21, 2010 07:58 PM