Was Hitler Closer to Nuclear Weapons Than We Thought?
|Werner Karl Heisenberg (1901 - 1976), leader of the German nuclear weapons program in the Third Reich.|
The storyline for the past 70 years has been that the Germans during World War II made only a few preliminary gestures toward the basic science underpinning nuclear power. They did not have the brainpower to get very far after Albert Einstein in March 1933 and other top researchers became émigrés working for the United States government.
In September 1939, Heisenberg joined together with other leading scientists under military orders to create Uranverein ("Uranium Club"). The goal of the "club" was to develop nuclear energy as a weapon. Just as in Great Britain at the same time with the MAUD Committee, the goal was to determine the feasibility of nuclear weapons. The club made some good progress. In 1940, for instance, C. F. von Weizsacker suggested Neptunium, element 93, as the foundation of a nuclear explosive. Further research suggested that Plutonium, element 94 and Neptium's decay product, was better suited. Heisenberg went to work and calculated that several tons of U-235 would be required as the critical mass to create a nuclear weapon. Germany had nowhere near the ability to produce this amount of U-235. This calculation turned out to be erroneous - Heisenberg later realized that it was about 15-60 kilograms - but this false finding was enough to end the Wehrmacht's interest in atomic bombs. The lack of uranium caused the Germans to abandon their nuclear program by the end of 1941 in order to focus on more promising technologies such as jet fighters and ballistic missiles.
In addition, targeted Allied interventions such as at Vemork Norsk Hydro plant in the town of Rjukan in the county of Telemark, Norway, played a role. There, a barge full of heavy water supposedly was sunk on 20 February 1944 by British commandos and local citizens. This ended any lingering possibility that German atomic research could be restarted.
|Advanced weapons facilities were not only plausible during World War II, but reality. This is the main control room at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where the Americans developed the atomic bomb.|
BackgroundThis is a story of a major war criminal who got away. General Dr. Ing. Hans (Heinz) Friedrich Karl Franz Kammler was one of the chief architects of German 'special projects.' He was in charge of the ballistic missile and jet aircraft programs. More chillingly, he was in charge of the concentration camps. The infamous gas chambers and crematoria at the camps were as much his doing as anybody. He was in charge of designing and building camps across Europe. Many Germans gained notoriety after the war when their crimes were exposed, but Kammler remains largely unknown to this day. And, from some perspectives, Kammler was the biggest fish of them all. Had he been brought to trial, he almost certainly would have received the death sentence at the first Nuremberg tribunal, and it would have been carried out.
|Underground facilities under Hans Kammler's jurisdiction, constructing the He 162 Salamander jet fighter|
|Entrance to the Mittelwerk facility, where they built the ME 262 jet fighter.|
|Sankt Georgen an der Gusen|
|The German experimental nuclear pile at Haigerloch|
The New DiscoveryIt always has been known that the Germans had a major underground weapons production facility at B8 Bergkristall. It churned out the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter plane, which was operational by late 1944 and proved better in various performance categories than any Allied fighter. It could not turn the tide of the war, but the Me 262 was cutting edge technology and a giant leap beyond what the Allies were fielding at the time (yes, the Allies did have some jets of their own such as the British Gloster Meteor, but no Allied jet saw any action beyond patrolling against V-1 buzz bombs). There was a lot going on just behind the surface of the placid alpine town named Sankt Georgen an der Gusen.
|The Mauthausen concentration camp garage gate.|
|Gusen I and II.|
|An intersection in the BergKristall complex (Federal Archive).|
|The 11th Armored Division liberated the Mauthausen camp. This photo was staged the next day, 6 May 1945, to celebrate the liberation.|
|Andreas Sulzer is the researcher who thinks he is on to something at Mauthausen.|
|A Waffen SS helmet found by the Sulzer team in preliminary digging at the St Georgen site.|
There may be nothing there. But why not have a look?