Stories about drug use by Hitler and German forces during World War II have been widely told. What’s less well known is the Allied commanders’ embraced pharmacological “force enhancers” as well. By 1941, rumors about Nazi soldiers using a “super-drug” identified as the methamphetamine Pervitin were confirmed, and Allied commanders launched their own classified program to find the perfect war-fighting drug.

During the war, one in three Allied soldiers were incapacitated without any physical injuries. Modern weapons and warfare proved so terrifying that almost as many men were shredded by combat fatigue and shell shock — now known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) — as by bullets and shrapnel. Allied commanders believed Benzedrine, an amphetamine similar to Pervitin, was the answer, hoping the amphetamine would defeat not just the need for sleep, but anxiety and fear among troops. How this drug affected the course of World War II is an ongoing controversy.

In Secrets of the Dead: World War Speed, historian James Holland begins his quest to understand how the use of amphetamines affected the course of World War II and unleashed “the world’s first pharmacological arms race.”

Watch the full episode here.

Answering your questions from u/SecretsPBS today is:

Historian and WWII expert featured in Secrets of the Dead: World War Speed, James Holland.

Holland is a fellow at Swansea University. He has had nearly 20 years of experience of researching World War II – visiting battle grounds, visiting archives, interviewing veterans, writing 26 subject-specific non-fiction books and appearing in countless TV programs like PBS’s Secrets of the Dead: World War Speed, BBC’s Battle of Britain: The Real Story, and HISTORY’s Hunting Hitler.

You can find James Holland on:


EDIT: Thanks to everyone for your questions! To learn more about this investigation, watch World War Speed on the Secrets of the Dead website, and follow us on Facebook Twitter for updates on our upcoming films!

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