German Military Toys and the Road to WWII
by Andrew H. Lipps
In Nuremburg’s heyday prior to World War I, the name of the German city’s was synonymous with fine toys, much in the same way “Solingen” referred to a fine blade. Bing, Arnold, Fleischmann, Bubb, Fischer, Carette, Gunthermann, Tippco, Hess, and other companies made Nuremburg, “The City of Toys”. But the destruction of the Great War, postwar depression, and punitive trade restrictions put in place by the United States and England reduced these famed toy makers to bankruptcy.
As Germany began to secretly re-arm in the early 1930s, Nazi party leaders recognized the potential of militarizing the nation’s youth through toys. Realistic vehicles and airplanes rolled out of factories again and into the homes of impressionable German children.
When German firms such as Märklin and Tippco returned to producing military toys in the 1930s, they paralleled Germany’s secret rearmament program and open defiance of the Treaty of Versaille. Tippco and Hausser vehicles were modeled on period tanks and fought aside the popular toy soldiers made by Elastolin and Lineol.
Aside from the traditional toy soldiers, there were also figures depicting the SS, SA, NSKK, RAD, and German Youth. The toy makers included figures depicting prominent Third Reich leaders. Miniature Hitler rode in his Tippco Führerwagen beside the tanks and half tracks. Examples of these toys illustrate the role of the toy in propagandizing a nation on the road to war.
The Lehmann Company developed two accurate and colorful tin lithographed toy airplanes that were modeled on the country’s new aircraft designs: The 1932 high-speed, all-metal, elliptical wing, single-engine Heinkel He-70 “Blitz” (Lightning) and the 1935 twin-engine Heinkel He-111.
The actual Heinkel aircraft entered service as civilian air transports in Lufthansa. But a close look at either plane would reveal that both were advanced, combat style planes. The He-70 could serve as a reconnaissance craft or as a light bomber. The He-111, marketed as a mail or transport aircraft, had bomb-bay style doors and adding bomb racks for combat was an easy task. Both were far from ideal for carrying passengers or cargo.
Lehmann’s two aircraft toys were technically accurate representations in miniature. The toy He-70, with a wingspan 5-5⁄8 inches and the He-111 with its 7-1⁄4-inch wingspan came out in the mid 1930s adorned with Germany’s symbol of the Third Reich, the swastika. Each airplane toy was colorfully packaged with an information sheet relating to the actual aircraft, a metal ring, and a string and fuselage attachment device allowing the toy to be flown in circles while metal propellers spun realistically. Both toys were equipped as were the originals with advanced retractable landing gear.
The early Lehmann He-70 was marked with an unusual German civilian registration: D-UDET. This was in honor of Ernst Udet, who, at that time, was in command of the Reich Air Ministry’s development wing and a national hero. The designation was removed after his suicide over disillusionment with Göring and the Nazi Party.
As camouflage designs were added to aircraft in combat service, Lehmann, issued camouflage variants of its two toys. The early civilian Heinkel’s He-111—and Lehmann’s miniature of it— had a raised cockpit. But in 1938, the Heinkel firm modified the aircraft’s cockpit. The Lehmann firm followed with a new, accurate version. In addition, Lehmann no longer issued the plane in civilian Lufthansa markings.
Just as the Wehrmacht developed a myriad of war machines for various tasks, the firms of Hausser, Tippco, Märklin, Gescha, Gama, Kellermann, and Lineol built a powerful army of vehicles, some closely modeled on the real thing and some that were rather fanciful products of imagination. There were cannons and cannon-towing trucks, searchlights and searchlight trucks, field kitchens, motorcycles, and more. If it rolled or clanked across Germany’s soil in training and later across Europe’s battlefields, it did so in the homes of German children as well.
The earliest German tanks were lightly armed fast attack tracked vehicles that were the training ground for the Blitzkreig (“lightning war”) model of warfare. Like the Lufthansa transport, the original design was hidden from Versailles Treaty observers. These early “Panzers” were listed as “Agricultural Tractors.”
The first tank, the Panzerkampfwagen I (“Panzer I”), rolled off the assembly lines in 1934. It was a highly mobile, light tank more suited to training than to combat. It had eye-appeal, though, and Panzer I toys quickly rolled of the toy makers’ assembly lines. The three tin wind-up tanks shown here include the highly detailed camouflage finish Lineol, the more simplistic Gescha version and the massive Tippco model.
The scarce, early Märklin toy tank measures only 5-1/2 inches was more of a fantasy than a model of a real tank. But the detail and workmanship on Märklin products are outstanding. It is shown with a smaller Lineol toy soldier. Far rarer than the 7-cm composition toys one usually finds, they were unpopular at the time and are little-known today by collectors.
Perhaps the backbone of the German offensive in 1939 wasn’t the Panzer tank but the half-tracked transport vehicles of Krupp and Demag. Krupp built thousands of the rugged “Protze” to be used throughout the war as troop transports, staff cars, and to tow field artillery. The formidable workhorse, Sonderkraftfahrzeug (Sd.Kfz.—“special purpose vehicle”) ferried cannons, munitions, as well as German troops across Poland and France. As with the Panzers, the initial design a was developed during the inter-war period under the guise of agricultural equipment.
Again, the toy manufacturers closely followed the detail and design of the originals. The Sd.Kfz. was accurately modeled by both Hausser and Tippco. The Tippco version shown here is accompanied by Elastolin composition Wehrmacht troops.
TOYS SHAPED BY HISTORY
Just as wartime restrictions limited toy manufacture in the United States, limitations curbed production in Germany as the war continued. Therefore, most of the vehicles found today are models of vehicles that were in production from the 1930s to very early in the war. That explains the absence of many versions of Wehrmacht tanks and airplanes of the more modern wartime designs. It is difficult to find, for example, a tank with the single barrel 88mm cannon.
A nation’s toys often reflect the times and mood of the nation. The launch of Sputnik and the subsequent moon missions saw a wave of Space toys worldwide. The popularity and fall from favor of the full sized G.I. Joe in America can be directly correlated to our involvement in Vietnam. Perhaps playing Santa Claus in the Mid-East might do more than “boots on the ground” in our current conflict?