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Amphetamine use in the German army

Discussion in 'Western Europe 1943 - 1945' started by KodiakBeer, Nov 21, 2012.

  1. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    The German army issued an amphetamine (technically, a methamphetamine) called Pervitin. What I don't know is how common that use was. Der Speigel did an article on Pervitin and the German army a while back and that story has been picked up and let's just say "elaborated on" by a number of newspapers and magazines. No reference that I can find really tells you how common that use was. Was it issued to everyone prior to certain battles, or was it something that was only issued in a controlled manner by German doctors and medics?

    The reason this interests me is because I'm currently gathering data for a book on the US 30th Division (Old Hickory) and have come across an almost inexplicable change between the actions of the 1st/2nd SS (Leibstandarte and Das Reich) in Mortain in August 44 vs actions in Belgium (Malmedy/Stavelot/Parfondruy/La Gleize) in December of 44 when Leibstandarte was again fighting the 30th Division.

    In Mortain, the Waffen SS acted very honorably towards American prisoners and French civilians alike. I could cite a host of examples here, but let's just say their actions were above reproach. Like a southern sheriff, they were "tough but fair."

    However, in December of 44 there were a number of jarring incidents involving Leibstandarte units. In the main, they still fought with honor but it's evident that in a number of cases people and small units went off the rails. When you dig into this you find some very strange and paranoid claims. SS troopers seemed to believe that local Belgian civilians were calling in artillery strikes on them. They claimed that Belgian civilians in Stavelot were shooting at them. Reprisals were carried out - civilians massacred.
    In Stavelot, the 117th was sickened by an attack across the Ambleve river. Hundreds of SS troopers charged into the chest-deep river to assault the American position on the other side while screaming Nazi slogans. That American position was on a high bank overlooking the river and the GI's were in stone houses heavily armed with machine guns. They simply slaughtered the SS in the water. GI's who witnessed this claimed the SS were "hopped up" on something and it's hard to disagree. The attack was insane from any tactical viewpoint and completely inexplicable when you consider how experienced and battle hardened the Leibstandarte was.

    Anyway, I can't help but wonder if Leibstandarte wasn't issued Pervitin in large quantities for operation Wacht am Rhein? Amphetamine use will eventually lead to delusions and paranioa and by the time the 4 Kampfgruppes making up Leibstandarte reached this area they had not slept for 4, 5, 6 days. If they were using Pervitin that whole time, it would explain much.
     
  2. brndirt1

    brndirt1 Saddle Tramp

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  3. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    There's nothing in that thread that I didn't already know. All military forces both then and now, use amphetamines in specific (controlled) circumstances.

    What I'm curious about is if on this occasion (Operation Wacht Am Rhein), the Waffen SS just distributed Pervitin in a general way to all the troops. Pervitin came in a little tube with ten or a dozen tablets. If they handed out a tube or two to each soldier it might explain a lot of the craziness that occurred. I just touched on a few incidents in the opening post, but there were many very bizarre episodes that are hard to explain unless they were truly "hopped up" as the GI's maintained.
     
  4. steverodgers801

    steverodgers801 Member

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    That behavior was no different in WW1 when the Germans also screamed about Belgians commiting acts against the German army and retalliation took place. The town of Louvain was completely destroyed.
     
  5. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    I don´t know for sure about other countries but in Finland post-war many soldiers were having problems after getting loads of Pervitin in the army, and after the war, not getting much anything at all. I would not be surprised if the problem was the same for many countires. Many soldiers were turned into "junkies" and were not helped post-war to get rid of the problem.
     
  6. Martin Bull

    Martin Bull Acting Wg. Cdr Patron  

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    The atrocities/incidents in which the Leibstandarte were undoubtedly involved during the Ardennes offensive had many underlying resons : their combat history (especially on the Eastern Front ), the ethos of the unit generally, and the extreme pressure they felt at the need for speed : they felt themselves to be the 'point' with the full attention of the Reich and the Fuhrer upon them.

    Certainly, I have read many, many accounts concerning the Ardennes in general and KG Peiper in particular and I have found no specific reference to any unusual or excessive usage of drugs ( and as has been mentioned elsewhere, by this stage of the war use of 'wakey-wakey' pills was fairly widespread - RAF Bomber Command comes to mind, for instance ).

    I think allowance must be made also for the state of mind of the US units involved ; 'Nazi fanaticism' was very much in the mind of Allied troops, in much the same way that every single tank encountered in the Ardennes was, as we know, a 'Tiger tank'.

    None of the above should be seen as excusing German troops, or patronizing US ones. The Ardennes was a desperate, murderous throw of the dice in very inhospitable terrain and weather : a searing experience for combat troops on either side who were probably hepped-up enough with fear and adrenalin not to need chemical enhancement.
     
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  7. Cas

    Cas Member

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    In 1940 Amphetamine was given tot the Fallschirm Jäger who did the raid on the fortress of Eben-Emael (Belgium, between Liege and Maastricht Netherlands)
     
  8. brndirt1

    brndirt1 Saddle Tramp

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    As the drugs were used from the invasion of Poland until the war's end, I see no way for you to pick out a specific battle. The likely hood is that it was so common as to be a "non-event" as far as records of its use. And yes, it was a commercial product and a picture of the little silver tube is included on one of those threads, complete with a letter from a soldier to his family back in Germany asking for his Mom to send him more of the Previtin so he didn't run out. You might find NO mention of this specifically for a specific battle.
     
  9. Martin Bull

    Martin Bull Acting Wg. Cdr Patron  

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    Actually, it's quite interesting to delve into the incident mentioned, which I reckon to be the assault across the Ambleve River at 04:00hrs on 20/12/44. It was carried out by two battalions believed to be from KG Sandig. The Ambleve at the time and place ( adjacent to the road bridge ) was swiftly flowing but approximately knee-deep ( even after torrential rainfall - not a factor at that time - it rarely reaches chest-depth here ). The Germans were indeed forced back with severe casualties but the American forces were also forced back from the first line of stone houses on the Northern bank due to direct tank fire from the Southern bank.

    A desperate undertaking, but not entirely exceptional - a frontal river assault at dawn, supported by direct tank fire at near point-blank range in an effort to force a passage to a cut-off unit ( in this case, KG Peiper at La Gleize/Stoumont ).

    Tha above information is taken from the combat reports of Rudolf Sandig and also Captain F Ferriss, Historical Officer of the US 30th Division ( both quoted in Cooke/Evans, 'Kampfgruppe Peiper At The Battle Of The Bulge'. Michael Reynolds uses similiar information in 'The Devil's Adjutant - Jochen Peiper'.

    Neither source makes any mention of abnormal drug usage being a factor.
     
  10. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    Here's a reference:

    Curlew History: The story of the first battalion, 117th, William J. Lyman

    Page 68: "The first attack that day came early in the morning from across the river in the vicinity of the bridge, Droves of brave, but foolish SS infantrymen, apparently "hopped up" with drugs, attempted to assault the first platoons of A and B by swimming the Ambleve. As might be expected, the exposed Germans proved ideal targets and were literally slaughtered."

    Now, that's a pretty subjective statement that proves nothing, but (I'm sure) that it is drawn from the general belief going around among the GI's that the SS were were "hopped up." Remember, this is the 30th Division, specifically the 1st Battalion, 117th, who have already fought (and defeated) the Leibstandarte and Das Reich at Mortain/St. Barthelemy. They have no awe of the Waffen SS. By this point in the war, German propaganda has already labeled them as "Roosevelt's SS" because of their stormtrooper status as the lead element in most of the big campaigns thus far.

    The 'reprisal' actions of Leibstandarte against Belgian civilians were not the sort of deliberate actions one reads about from time to time. I don't believe they were ordered by Peiper, Knittel or Sandig, etc,. Instead, they seem to come from individuals or small groups that just "snapped" and each of these seem to be colored with very unnatural paranoia - the civilians are "calling in artillery strikes" or "civilians were shooting at us" and this is particularly surprising since this are is along the edge of the "German Kantons" of Belgium. Most of the people speak German, are pro-German and many of the young men are off in the German army.
     
  11. Cas

    Cas Member

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    Some say that Peiper did order these executions, not only of Belgium citizens but also at Malmedy. I've read somewhere that Peipers words at Malmedy were:

    Take what you need and do what you have the do and get back on track. This can be interpreted as an (indirect) order to shoot the American POW's
     
  12. scipio

    scipio Member

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    KodiakBeer
    I suggest that you examine SSLAH's actions from the start of the War. Second day into Poland they were already shooting civilians and surrendering soldiers. The Heer had higher standards at that time and wanted to courtmarshall the Bandmaster but Himmler intervened and got Hitler to exempt the SS from Army jurisdiction. Needless to say no SS man was brought to trial.

    At Wormhout 28th May 1940 where the British rearguard took a tough toll on SSLAH who suffered many casualties again caused by rash frontal attack. This combined with the humiliation of Sep Dietrich and Max Wunsche pinned down for 3 hours in a pig slurry filled ditch after their car had been ambushed and Schutzek, the 2nd Battalion Commander had been seriously wounded, led to over 80 British soldiers who had surrendered being confined and murdered in a "hut" on the orders of Mohnke, who took command after Dietrich and Schutzek were hors de combat.

    I suggest you will find a theme here but it has little to do with an amphetamine high.

    Whenever the SSLAH suffered a serious setback and casualties, good sports that they were, indulged themselves in a massacre (not all I grant you as there were a few who seemed fairly decent - eg Trabandt).
     
  13. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    It "could" be interpreted that way. What happened after the order is that the prisoners were then handed off to a pioneer (engineer) company who as support troops would be exactly the people you'd use to escort prisoners to the rear. The pioneer company CO designated his penal platoon (his bad apples) to take them. After that, for reasons which will never be known, the shooting began.

    One thing to keep in mind is that the pioneers who had the prisoners in charge were just loosely mustered at one end of the long rough line of prisoners who were just standing along the road. I don't want to defend the SS in this matter, but that's not how you'd set up an execution. After the first shots were fired, it was in fact the passing SPW's (who had no idea what was going on) who did most of the shooting.

    It was still a war crime by any definition. Whether planned or spontaneous, it was still murder. Most of the prisoners simply dropped to the ground and there was no excuse to continue shooting.
     
  14. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    Yes, I'm well aware of Waffen SS atrocities, yet most of that occurred in the east where atrocities and civilian reprisals were carried out on both sides. In the west, they largely behaved themselves. There are exceptions, but they largely behaved on par with American and British troops who also executed prisoners. General Taylor instructed the 101st to take no prisoners during the Normandy drop which was quite simply a matter of expediency for the Airborne in that operation.

    Largely though, I'm drawing on a comparison of Mortain vs the Ardennes. For example, at Mortain, the 2nd SS blundered into an American convoy of wounded. They took their own wounded from the convoy and some of the lightly wounded Americans and then allowed them to continue. This, in spite of the fact that they badly needed those trucks. There were several instances at Mortain where they halted operations to let civilians clear the area. German medics treated American wounded and allowed them to head back to American lines.

    One of the most interesting anecdotes involved an American medic with the 117th at St. Barthelemy. He was shot through the upper arm and a moment later was joined by an SS trooper who upon realizing he had just shot a medic began to apologize profusely for shooting him.

    Anyway, in digging through so many accounts from the 30th Division you get the impression that after Mortain they respected and even admired the Waffen SS. That view changes after the Ardennes when accounts begin to show that they now hate and despise the SS. That change in viewpoint is because the SS actions were very different in those two engagements.
     
  15. scipio

    scipio Member

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    Absolute rubbish.

    The survivors of the Wormhout massacre and that Le Paradis were not initially believed and it took a newspaper campaign to get the authorities to look at the Le Paradis Massacre where again the 2nd Norfolk had given the Waffen SS a very bloody nose - the reason. "The German Army does not do that sort of thing" This was of course before the Allies realised that the WW2 German Army had a different morality to that of the Kaiser's.

    Name me one instance where a British Officer of any seniority "ordered" killing of surrendering German troops. I can give you a thousand where ordinary British soldiers were prevented form exacting revenge by an NCO or Officer.

    Simply a totally different World.

    The Waffen SS only started to "behave" at the ordinary soldier level when they knew that there was a good chance the War would be lost and they would face investigation.
     
  16. KodiakBeer

    KodiakBeer Member

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    If you do any research at all, you'll find many examples of both British and American troops executing German prisoners. No doubt the Germans, and in particular the Waffen SS, had a much worse record than the British/Americans, but it happened on both sides and not always in the heat of battle or the immediate aftermath of battle.

    I'm just trying to get a feel or opinions on whether the rather notorious actions in Belgium by the Liebstandarte might have been partly due to amphetamine abuse. Doubtless there are other reasons as well - by this point in the war the allies had cracked the westwall and were fighting in Germany itself. The bombings of German cities were in full swing. The 1st SS had also been largely decimated at Mortain and the escape through Faliase and then rebuilt with new troopers of doubtful quality.

    By any measurement, their behavior was far worse in Belgium than it had been the previous summer in France.
     
  17. von Poop

    von Poop Waspish WW2|ORG Editor

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    Putting aside my suspicions of attempts to strike 'the atrocity balance', as that's a different subject, and thinking of the varied motivations of friends who became overenthusiastic 'Amphetamine abusers' (in so many ways, one of the more addictive substances), it would be exceptionally hard (impossible even) to separate the cause from the symptoms, particularly if supply was limitless and official (instead of relying on some Hells Angel's dustbin...).

    Which came first; the stresses of fighting a losing battle for a crumbling regime (or any kind of battle), or increasing reliance on a solid source of Pervatin? Likely unanswerable I suspect - so many variables.

    [video=youtube;TEANapksXlY]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TEANapksXlY[/video]

    ~A
     
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  18. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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  19. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    I also believe that the death of so many relatives, wives and children made some soldiers perhaps even looking for a way of revenge. Also one of the reasons the front held: hate.

    November 1944;Peiper commented on his troops:

    "A good deal of them had lost their parents, their sisters and brothers during the bombing...Their hatred for the enemy was such, I swear it, I could not always keep it under control."
     
  20. Martin Bull

    Martin Bull Acting Wg. Cdr Patron  

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    This is patently incorrect in the case of Stavelot. One of the striking things about the Ardennes even today is that, as you correctly point out, the 'German cantons' are almost more German than Germany - they were, and belive it or not, still are very pro-German and the locals can appear quite unfriendly toward English-speakers. But ghis changes from one village to the next, eg St Vith and Recht are 'German', while the next habitation literally three miles away are Walloon Belgian. Stavelot is most certainly not Germanic in any way. I am unaware of any 'atrocities' occurring in places such as St Vith but random machine-gun shooting becomes apparent very soon afterward - it can be seen at surrounding many windows to this day. Any 'suspicious' movement came under fire - the well-known incident of the group of women by the bridge below La Gleize offering a good example.

    Anyhow, if the Waffen-SS can swim a swiftly-flowing river which is no more than a two-feet deep - I'd like some of those drugs ! ;)
     

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