WW2 Nachtjäger tank
WW2 Nachtjäger tank

In the European theater of World War 2, as early as 1943, the German Army deployed a small number of special Panther tanks into the field. These Nachtjäger or “night fighter” tanks had been equipped with powerful search lights, however these lights did not cast light in the visible spectrum. They emitted invisible infrared light, with beams stretching about 600 meters. Inside the tank, operators viewed the scene from outside via a small monochrome cathode ray tube (CRT) that was fed through an image intensifier, which converted the infrared spectrum into visible light. In this way, operators of the Nachtjäger Panther tanks had a crude system to see outside when in complete darkness⁠—essentially the first practical night vision apparatus. Some 50 to 60 such night vision tanks were deployed throughout the war.

Toward the very end of the war, some German soldiers were similarly outfitted with the new “Vampir” variant of the Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifle. The Vampir was equipped with a miniaturized, backpack-powered night-vision scope for nighttime sniping. Advanced as they were for the time, whether or not these weapons contributed to any battlefield victories is uncertain.