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‘Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich’

August 1st, 2018 · No Comments · Books, Germany

World War II ended more than 70 years ago, and it is rare to find a new analysis of key events.

But a German journalist named Norman Ohler has managed it, in his 2016 book Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich — which I have finally gotten around to reading.

Ohler generally prefers the blunderbuss mode of analysis — hoping to secure hits on multiple targets/topics with one shot.

His talking points all revolve around rampant drug use inside Nazi Germany — generally, among soldiers, and particularly, by the regime’s head, Adolf Hitler.

Some of it works. Some of it works really well — and that is the bit about the importance of spearhead units, in the Battle of France, in which nearly every soldier apparently was hopped up on a substance called Pervitin — a close relative of methamphetamine.

It was the wired soldiery of Germany’s best units, including most of the army’s tank units, that was able to pierce the French front near the fortress of Sedan and then race across northern France to the North Sea, cutting off France’s mobile units and the British Expeditionary Force in Belgium, essentially deciding — in a week — the outcome of the war in the west of Europe.

This is the one part of the war in which the main theme of the author, widespread German drug use, seems to have led to a particularly important outcome.

“Blitzkrieg” (lightning war) was how it is generally remembered now — a German tactic that called for a strong push in a single place and, following breakthrough, sending in armored units to wreak havoc in the enemy’s rear, breaking communications and causing panic and the collapse of the French army.

The author demonstrates how important German chemists were, for more than a century ahead of World War II, in the development of substances with potential medical use, and Pervitin was seen to be of enormous benefit, because it allowed the invaders to attack without sleeping/resting for two full days, and sometimes three or four.

Throughout the 1940 Battle of France, as it is generally known to history, the French and English consistently underestimated the speed of the German advance and could never find their equilibrium. That was due, in what seems to be a tide-turning degree, to the drugs the German troops were taking.

The author does well in documenting how the German military was provided with tens of millions of Pervitin pills before the Battle of France began. The German destruction of the French military generally has been ascribed to the concept of Blitzkrieg without making clear how it would work, if the German army had slept. At all.

The invasion of Poland in 1939 started the European part of World War II, but the Germans didn’t need Pervitin to defeat the Poles, and it was not necessarily clear that the invasion fits the definition of “blitzkrieg”.

Afterward, when the Germans invaded Russia in 1941, the conditions for a drug-fueled blitzkrieg were not auspicious, because the Russians had enormous areas they could slowly retreat into, and stretching a German army that could not be for months on end.

The beauty of blitzkrieg and being blitzed of a meth-like substance worked out almost perfectly in France and Belgium because by the time the leading elements of the German invasion actually needed to rest … most of the damage had been done. The French were beaten, and the remains of the English army retreated to Dunkirk and waited for ships from home to pick them up.

Most of “Blitzed” focuses on Hitler, and his growing dependence on drugs of all sorts as the war went on, and especially after it became clear Germany was losing it.

Hitler’s personal physician was constantly whipping up a new batch of probably useless drugs and sera, but it appears that injections of Eukodal, which is chemically related to heroin, was the most significant prop Hitler leaned on to continue the war into 1945,

The author spends most of the book detailing almost on a daily basis, what substances Hitler was taking, up to and including cocaine.

However, once we concede Hitler was a junkie by no later than 1943 … his daily regimen thereafter is something we do not need to know, especially at the length Ohler gives to it.

My takeaway is that the vital victory of the Battle of France, securing German dominance from Poland to the North Sea, is the greatest example of how drugs helped the Third Reich win battles.

Without the Battle of France, Germany would not have been able to attack Russia in sufficient strength to drive the Russians nearly (nearly) to ruin. (And German soldiers could not continue to take Pervitin around the clock, as they nearly had in France and Belgium, due to a battery of negative psychological effects.)

The author’s study of drugs and battle rings particularly (and crucially) true in the battles of 1940, and for that alone it is worth reading, for those who are interested in military history.

Hitler’s descent into addiction … interesting, a bit self-indulgent, but ultimately not crucial to the outcome of the war pitting a Germany without the population or industry to stand up to Russia, Britain and the United States.

It is a new take on the biggest war in world history, one late in coming, one that rings true in many cases.


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