'Secrets Of The Dead: World War Speed'
(DVD / NR / 2019 / PBS)
Overview: It's long been known that German soldiers used a methamphetamine called Pervitin in the Second World War. But have tales of Nazis on speed obscured the other side of the story: the massive use of stimulants by British and American troops?
Did total war unleash the world's first pharmacological arms race? Historian James Holland quests to dig deeper and unearth the truth behind World War Speed.
DVD Verdict: By 1941, after rumors swirling about Nazi soldiers on a 'super-drug' were confirmed and the drug was identified as methamphetamine, Allied commanders launched their own classified program to find the perfect war-fighting drug.
They thought Benzedrine was the answer, and its intended purpose went far beyond helping soldiers stay awake.
Medical officers on both sides distributed these stimulants — and others, such as cocaine — to keep weary soldiers awake for days at a time; to enable troops to perform longer under punishing conditions; and to deaden the horrific and debilitating effects of shell shock and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
As this officially sanctioned "pharmaceutical arms race" unfolded, soldiers who took these drugs were pushed beyond the limits of their normal capabilities; but the long-term impacts of drug use were largely ignored by military medical officials.
Modern weapons and total war proved so terrifying that almost as many men were shredded by shell shock and combat exhaustion as by bullets and shrapnel. During the Second World War, one in three casualties were incapacitated without a scratch on them.
It was known by a variety of names, but today we call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Speed, it was hoped, might help defeat not just the need for sleep, but anxiety and fear.
By war's end, America alone would dish out as many as 500 million tablets of amphetamines to US servicemen. Just how this drug affected the course of World War Two is an ongoing controversy.
In this episode of 'SECRETS OF THE DEAD', historian James Holland launches into a compelling journey that takes him from German bombers pulled from the depths of Norwegian fjords and obscure European museums, to a modern British military demolitions range and into the belly of a restored Sherman tank.
At each stop, Jim works to connect the dots from both sides, Allied and Axis, and discover the truth behind what one historian calls, the world's 'first pharmacological arms race'. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.