World War Speed: PBS documentary looks at cocaine use by German soldiers
Battlefield conditions are brutal- from austere environments to disease and the ever-present threat of being killed by another person, and the collective toll can be a lot for a soldier to bear.
Unfortunately for soldiers, fatigue is often the biggest enemy of all in a high-stakes game that depends on one being alert at all times.
Enter methamphetamines, a family of drugs which became commonly used around the Second World War on both sides of the conflict.
The usage of the drug in World War II has recently been brought back to the surface thanks to the PBS documentary, “Secrets of the Dead: World War Speed.”
Originally used by German forces during the war, Pervitin (a form of methamphetamine) was quite popular amongst Wehrmacht, Kriegsmarine, and Luftwaffe personnel.
Chance and anti-aircraft fire brought a German plane down in the southern part of England, and a search of the aircraft revealed supplies of Pervitin.
Not long after being discovered, the Allies began using the “super drug.”
Despite being effective at keeping warfighters awake and alert for a period of time, Pervitin came with side effects. Troops that used the drug would suffer for days after taking the medicine, exhibiting side-effects similar to hangovers and even attacking people at random.
Not long after side effects became a serious problem, the German military cut back on its usage and reserved it for emergencies only.
British commander Bernard Montgomery was also a fan of the methamphetamine known as Benzedrine, which would give an edge to battle-weary troops. In the documentary, a memo was found that showed Montgomery issued his troops the drug. Amphetamines were also used to suppress fear in combat, giving troops a reckless edge in combat.
Americans also used drugs to empower their troops. U.S. commander Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered approximately half a million amphetamine tablets for use by GIs.
One person particularly infatuated with the drug was German Fuhrer Adolph Hitler, who used amphetamines so often that it ultimately rendered him unable to function.
After World War II, amphetamines were used as diet pills in the civilian sector, and still, exist today as a family of prescription medication used to help people with ADD/ADHD focus.
Amphetamine use is still prevalent in modern militaries, particularly for pilots who fly non-stop sorties into combat zones.
“Secrets of the Dead: World War Speed” aired earlier this week on PBS.
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