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The German bomb

While doing some research on my previous news item, I ran across this fascinating article on the WWII German nuclear weapons program.

Much of it was shrouded in mystery and misrepresentation prior to the declassification of the “Farm Hall Reports” discussed in the aforementioned link. Werner Heisenberg was caught out by statements he made in a bugged room when first told of the American bombs. It is quite apparent he was indeed committed to building a German nuclear weapon and might have if not for an egregious theoretical error.

Sometimes the gods do smile on us.

3 comments to The German bomb

  • A lot of folks think that Heisenberg actually stayed specifically to sabotage the german war effort: he knew what they would do with the bomb, and that his probable replacements would complete the project successfully, so he stayed put and fowled things up.

    Heisenberg’s War is a good book about it.

  • Dale Amon

    However the premise of the book is wrong. Many things were written before these materials were declassified and became known. I would give as an example of how little they are known even now that I had never heard about it until today.

    It’s no fault of the authors. They wrote based on the information available to them. No one can guess what deeply classified primary source material exists. This is a case where the release of those material absolutely clarifies a situation which had been nebulous for (at the time) over 40 years

    The key thing is, regardless of Heisenberg’s later attempts to claim basically what you just said, his own secretely taped words during the post-war security debriefing damn him and show otherwise.

  • markm

    Whatever Heisenberg’s intentions, Germany was much poorer than the US, and did not have the _resources_ available for A-bomb development on anything like the scale of the Manhattan Project. Not to mention that any large R&D facility would soon have been known to Allied intelligence, at least to the extent that there’s _something_ there the Germans desperately wanted kept secret and secure, and hence subject to frequent bombing raids (as happened to the rocket development center at Peenemunde), which certainly doesn’t help the scientists concentrate. Aside from bombing, Allied commandos took out a major heavy-water production facility, presumably setting back the German program.

    And if in spite of all this, they had progressed exactly as fast as the Manhattan project, and had the foresight to place their bomb assembly site in the very last place to be overrun by Allied armies, they could just possibly have had one bomb ready at the end. So, Americans or Russians might have lost one army corps, out of dozens. Not a big deal compared to the losses already endured, but a good reason for many more death penalties imposed at Nuremberg.

    Or maybe they’d have made a final suicide run at London??? Probably that aircraft would have been shot down before it even left German soil. Or maybe load it on a U-boat and hit one of the coastal cities – but it would have to be exploded from rather far out, I think, and those first-generation bombs weren’t _that_ powerful.