The iconic Volkswagen Beetle played a minor but crucial role in the German war effort in WWII, as the “People’s Car”, as it was known to millions, had its genesis in Nazi Germany, according to a story that was originally published by the Warfare History Network.
The VW Beetle first entered automotive markets as legendary automaker Ferdinand Porsche was commissioned by Adolf Hitler to build an affordable car for German citizens, later dubbed “Volkswagen” or “People's Car” in German.
Although initially intended for use as a civilian recreational vehicle, it was quickly transformed into three basic military iterations: the Kommandeurswagen (commander’s car), Kubelwagen (bucket car), and Schwimmwagen (amphibious car).
Porsche had no control over the VW’s rapid transformation into a military vehicle.
When Hitler took power, Porsche announced his concept of an inexpensive car, Kleinauto (small car), at the 1933 Berlin Auto Show.
It was there that Hitler promised to transform Germany into a truly motorised nation.
Porsche and Hitler met in May 1934 to discuss plans for the “People’s Car”.
Hitler gave Porsche only 10 months to build a prototype, in a garage at the automaker’s home near Stuttgart.
Militarising the Volkswagen
Volkswagen was to be Hitler’s “brainchild”, and nobody except Porsche and his team were to have a hand in its development, as Hitler used the “People’s Car” to his utmost political advantage.
Hitler was given the very first convertible Beetle built in 1938, with photographs of the vehicle published in Der Adler.
By the time World War II began, as the Führer pushed for the military adaptation of the VW, the Porsche team reluctantly started redesigning their model for its new military roles.
Off-road capabilities were improved, larger off-road tires were used and ground clearance was increased.
The giant Wolfsburg factory was converted in 1940 to build war materiél.
Although VWs in military guise were built in relatively small numbers, they had a noticeable impact during World War II, proving the versatility of the original design.
Following the end of the war, Ferdinand Porsche was arrested by the French military and accused of war crimes.
However, he was found to be not personally responsible for the use of slave labour, and through the efforts of his family was released.
He and his son subsequently finished development of the Porsche sports car, in line with the prototype built before the war.
In 1947, civilian VW Beetle production resumed. It was essentially the same Type 60 that had been configured before the war.
Once the war was over, the civilian, rear-engine, air-cooled VW was a great success for another half-century; it was assembled and exported around the world.
Following Nazi Germany's defeat in WWII, allied forces recommissioned the company into the brand known to millions, with the first vehicle reaching the US in 1949.
However, Americans caught the “love bug” for the VW Beetle after the movie Herbie The Love Bug was released in 1968.
The end of the road
German automaker Volkswagen announced in September 2018 that it would no longer produce its iconic VW Beetle..
Production was set to end precisely seventy years after the legendary vehicle arrived on American shores in 1949, a company press statement said.
The company produced commemorative Final Edition models throughout 2019 before ending production at its North American plant based in Puebla, Mexico.
"The loss of the Beetle after three generations, over nearly seven decades, will evoke a host of emotions from the Beetle's many devoted fans," stated Hinrich J. Woebcken, CEO and president of Volkswagen Group of America, when announcing the decision in 2018.