One of the great accomplishments of Nazi Germany's war machine was a jetpack that propelled their soldiers into the sky. It was a fantastical device whose story has been told many times on the web and it would be even more impressive if it weren't the propaganda of a Holocaust denier disguised as history.
I recently wrote The Great American Jet Pack which chronicles the history of the “Individual Lift Device.” You know: The thing James Bond flew in the opening of Thunderball.
As you might imagine, I got to run down all sorts of crazy stories and wild rumours about things that flew or might have flown during the Cold War. One story that cropped up too often for me to ignore involved — well, let me just give you the headline from Gizmodo because Gizmodo always does the best headlines: Real Bloody Flying Nazi Soldiers with Jet Packs.
According to the common story, (and we can’t blame Gizmodo, this story has a good amount of traction on the internet), the Germans developed a primitive man-rocket by strapping pulse jet engines (plural) to a soldier and saw successful tests where a soldier cleared 180 feet at a height of 50 feet. The dual pulse jet arrangement “consumed very little fuel, never ran hot, and didn’t require special clothing.” And oh, American scientists at Bell stole the idea, which led to the development of the Bell rocket belt. All of it is nonsense.
Despite Wendell Moore’s well-documented invention of the rocket belt, stories and folklore abound of inventors whose roles in the creation of jet pack technology were somehow overlooked or suppressed. According to the Nazi jet pack story, the Germans experimented by strapping pulse-jet engines onto soldiers and launching them over obstacles on the battlefield. The pulse-jet was the same engine that powered the V-1 “Buzz bomb,” and seems a highly unlikely thing to strap to anyone if you expected them to survive the experience. No one has any photographs of the Himmel Stürmer — German for Sky Stormer — and the story is shrouded in mystery.
It is said that Americans captured the technology along with some other secret weapons and brought some of the devices back to America. Some websites go so far as to say that Bell Aerospace obtained one of the devices and Wendell Moore dissected it before coming up with his own rocket belt which he would eventually patent. A book called The Rocketbelt Caper devoted two pages to the mythical device with the caveat, “a lack of evidence suggests the Nazi rocket packs may have been pure propaganda.”
“Propaganda” implied that the Germans said they had one, which is something that was also not supported by any evidence.
Websites that described the Nazi jet packs cite each other for support and when pressed, the creators of some of the sites admitted they had no evidence that any such device ever existed. One site sold dolls — “action figures” — made up to look like storm troopers wearing little jet packs and photographs of the dolls appeared on another website as evidence that the Himmel Stürmer was real. One writer claimed that the lack of evidence on the device proved its existence; if it wasn’t real, why had the US government hidden the evidence?
People familiar with jet belt and pulse jet technology point out that the Himmel Stürmer could not have possibly been real. The engine in a V-1, known as an Argus As 014, was 13 feet long. Presumably, that would be a rather difficult thing to strap to one’s back. Of course, the engine could be down-sized, but then the resulting engine would have been much less powerful. Could this have been done?
Disproving negatives can be a difficult thing. In this instance, it makes more sense to try and track down the “Himmel Stürmer” story to its source. Where did the story start? A writer using the name Christof Friedrich first wrote about Nazi jet packs in a book called German Secret Weapons and Wonder Weapons of World War Two in 1976. He also wrote a book called The Hitler We Loved & Why.
His real name was Ernst Zündel and he ran his own publishing company in Toronto. At first, many of his books — written under the pen name Christof Friedrich — were about UFOs and how the Germans had developed advanced technology during World War II which was kept secret from the general populace. Zündel explained how Hitler ran Secret Nazi Polar Explorations, in a book by that title in 1978, and about Hitler at the South Pole, in 1979. Somehow, a few readers who didn’t see the lack of credibility in Zündel’s writing saw his German secret weapons book and believed it to be true. It wasn’t. One writer summarized Zündel’s theories:
Some hollow Earth believers exhibit not just fascination with but open sympathy for Nazi Germany. The chief figure in the Nazi hollow-Earth movement is a Toronto man named Ernst Zündel, who writes under the name Christof Friedrich. Zündel operates a clearinghouse for Nazi materials and contends, as do other neo-Nazis, that the Holocaust never took place. In UFOs — Nazi Secret Weapons? (1976) he claimed that when World War II ended, Hitler and his Last Battalion boarded a submarine and escaped to Argentina; they then established a base for advanced saucer-shaped aircraft inside the hole at the South Pole. When the Allies learned what had happened, they dispatched Adm. Richard E. Byrd and a “scientific expedition” — in fact an army — to attack the Nazi base, but they were no match for the superior Nazi weapons.
We do not know if the Nazi soldiers defending Antarctica after World War II flew Himmel Stürmers or not during their epic battle; Zündel didn’t mention the devices in that story. Perhaps a bigger concern was that Zündel had an ulterior motive for spinning his crazy UFO stories. He was a rabidly anti-Semitic Holocaust denier who used the UFO theories as a platform from which to preach his theories on what “really” happened during World War II.
Maybe his book The Hitler We Loved & Why should have tipped off his readers but the other titles he published certainly should have, such as Auschwitz, Dachau, Buchenwald: The Greatest Fraud in History, and Did Six Million Really Die? Zündel was a bizarre character in that he openly spoke about his beliefs and granted interviews to almost any journalist or reporter who approached him. One such writer named Frank Miele interviewed Zündel in 1993 and later wrote an article that included excerpts in Skeptic magazine. The article focused on Zündel’s revisionist statements regarding the Holocaust and Miele asked him about his UFO literature. Zündel told him that it was the people who believed in UFOs — not the Holocaust deniers — who were the “real lunatic fringe.”
In a later phone conversation, Zündel told me that the UFO book was in fact a ploy. “I realised that North Americans were not interested in being educated. They want to be entertained. The book was for fun. With a picture of the Fuhrer on the cover and flying saucers coming out of Antarctica it was a chance to get on radio and TV talk shows. For about 15 minutes of an hour program I’d talk about that esoteric stuff. Then I would start talking about all those Jewish scientists in concentration camps, working on these secret weapons. And that was my chance to talk about what I wanted to talk about.”
The “UFO book” he was talking about was UFOs — Nazi Secret Weapons? Clearly, Zündel has no credibility regarding anything he wrote about these topics. He wrote the books because they sold and he used them as an entrée to talk shows because the topics were so popular. He had no evidence of UFOs, South Pole Nazi submarine bases, or of the Himmel Stürmer. He made them all up. The Himmel Stürmer was a figment of his imagination.
So, no: There never were Real Bloody Flying Nazi Soldiers with Jet Packs. But try telling that to Wikipedia. (Next time when we have a few minutes, I'll tell you about the crazy Romanian who has his whole country convinced that he invented the jet pack, and the Americans stole it from him.)
Steve Lehto wrote Chrysler's Turbine Car: The Rise and Fall of Detroit's Coolest Creation and The Great American Jet Pack: The Quest for the Ultimate Individual Lift Device both published by Chicago Review Press