The Nazi Bomb


Verified Military
Sep 7, 2006
Drawing uncovered of 'Nazi nuke'


Historians working in Germany and the US claim to have found a 60-year-old diagram showing a Nazi nuclear bomb.
It is the only known drawing of a "nuke" made by Nazi experts and appears in a report held by a private archive.

The researchers who brought it to light say the drawing is a rough schematic and does not imply the Nazis built, or were close to building, an atomic bomb.

But a detail in the report hints some Nazi scientists may have been closer to that goal than was previously believed.

The report containing the diagram is undated, but the researchers claim the evidence points to it being produced immediately after the end of the war in Europe. It deals with the work of German nuclear scientists during the war and lacks a title page, so there is no evidence of who composed it.

One historian behind the discovery, Rainer Karlsch, caused a storm of controversy earlier this year when he claimed to have uncovered evidence that the Nazis successfully tested a primitive nuclear device in the last days of WWII. A number of historians rejected the claim.

The drawing is published in an article written for Physics World magazine by Karlsch and Mark Walker, professor of history at Union College in Schenectady, US.


The newly uncovered document was discovered after the publication of Karlsch's book, Hitlers Bombe (Hitler's Bomb), in which he made the nuclear test claim.

"The Nazis were far away from a 'classic' atomic bomb. But they hoped to combine a 'mini-nuke' with a rocket," Dr Karlsch told the BBC News website.

"The military believed they needed around six months more to bring the new weapon into action. But the scientists knew better how difficult it was to get the enriched uranium required."

The head of Nazi Germany's nuclear energy programme was the physicist Werner Heisenberg. Though he was highly accomplished in other areas of physics, Heisenberg failed to understand a key aspect of nuclear fission chain reactions.

Heisenberg's uncertainty

Some researchers say this led him to overestimate the amount of uranium - the so-called fissile material - required to build a nuclear bomb.

However, the German report contains an estimate of slightly more than 5kg for the critical mass of a plutonium bomb. This is comparatively close to the real figure and may suggest some Nazi scientists had a better grasp of nuclear fission than Heisenberg.

Professor Paul Lawrence Rose, of Pennsylvania State University, US, and author of a 1998 book about the German uranium programme, said he had no reason to believe the report was not genuine, but was dubious about the significance of the critical mass detail.

"Though it's wonderful to find the 5kg figure written on the document, one has to be sceptical about the rationale for it. Even if it's true and [some scientists] did understand it, Heisenberg's group wouldn't have accepted it," Rose told the BBC News website.

He further speculated it was possible the author arrived at this figure by reading the Smyth Report into the development of the US atomic bomb, which was published in July 1945. But Karlsch and Walker reject this claim.

Bombshell claim

In Hitlers Bombe, Dr Karlsch suggests a team of scientists directed by the physicist Kurt Diebner, which was in competition with Heisenberg's group, tested a primitive nuclear device in Thuringia, eastern Germany, in March 1945.

Rose says that this is unlikely. Transcripts of conversations taped by MI6 when the scientists were held captive in England after the war showed Diebner lacked the knowledge to have done this, he says.

"Karlsch revealed some very important details in his book, but I can't go along with the picture he constructs with those details - of a Nazi nuclear test," said Professor Dieter Hoffmann, of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, in Berlin.

But in their Physics World article, Karlsch and Walker point to evidence of innovations made by Diebner's team, including a nuclear reactor design superior to that produced by Heisenberg's group.

"[Diebner] got the research papers from all other groups and he could control the information flux. Only a few scientists around Diebner knew about his bomb project. Heisenberg was not aware of it," Dr Karlsch explained.

The Nazi Bomb

Failures of the German Nuclear program
(download microsoft Word version)
By: John Amacher“

Though the work will not lead in a short time towards the practical use of engines or explosives, it gives on the other hand the certainty that in this field the enemy powers can not have any surprise in store for us.”[1] This is an excerpt from a July 1943 letter from Rudolph Mentzel, the head of war research in Germany during World War II, to Reichsmarshal Goering about the state of the German atomic weapons program. The letter shows the most significant problem the Germans faced in their development of a nuclear weapon: themselves. This letter was sent six months after Enrico Fermi produced a stable chain reaction at the University of Chicago. The German physicists had to deal with a regime that cared little for their research, and never made a concerted effort to centralize it. Coupled with poor management, the overconfidence of the Germans involved slowed research to a snail’s pace in Germany, while the fear of a Nazi nuclear weapon pushed research into high gear in the United States.[2] The German scientists would not learn how much they had underestimated their enemy until August 6, 1945, when the BBC announced that the United States had dropped an atomic bomb on Japan.
German Science was viewed as the most advanced in the world before and during World War II. The German Chemist Otto Hahn discovered nuclear fission in 1938, leading the rest of the world to believe that the Germans would stay ahead of them in this field. It stood to reason therefore that the Germans not only had a head start in nuclear research, but also were better equipped to deal with the problem. An Allied mission called Operation Alsos proved this untrue.

Operation Alsos, which was headed on the scientific side by physicist Samuel Goudsmit, sent a team of researchers to Europe in June of 1944 to determine how far Germany had progressed in the building of a nuclear weapon. By late November 1944 it became clear to the scientists and soldiers assigned to Alsos that the German nuclear scientists were nowhere near reaching their goal of an atomic bomb. The German physicists under Werner Heisenberg’s command had been evacuated from Berlin to a small village named Hechingen. There they continued their attempt to build a nuclear reactor in the wine cellar of their new home.[3] The reasons behind the German failure have been hypothesized and debated by scientists and historians since shortly after the discovery was made. The debate continues today with new evidence being found on a regular basis. While scientific failures are usually not debated with such intensity, the issue of the German atomic bomb has led to the publication of a large amount of scholarly work.

Among the sources I used for this article were a variety of books and articles such as Samuel Goudsmit’s Alsos (1947) and Robert Jungk’s Brighter than a Thousand Suns (1956). I also examined letters written between two influential physicists, the Danish Niels Bohr and the German Werner Heisenberg. In addition, I used a book by Jeremy Bernstein called Hitler’s Uranium Club (1996), which includes the edited transcripts of tape-recorded conversations between the German scientists who were captured in operation Alsos. These were called the Farm Hall transcripts, after the house in Great Britain where they were held captive for six months in 1945. Alsos is an excellent book that was written shortly after the events took place, by the leading scientist in Operation Alsos. One must however, take into account Goudsmit’s negative feelings towards Germans. Goudsmit was a Dutch Jew who “had received a farewell letter from [his] mother and father bearing the address of a Nazi concentration camp.”[4] Jungk tends to argue for the German physicists’ claims that they deliberately failed in building a bomb. Walker’s German National Socialism and the Quest for Nuclear Power, and Bernstein’s Hitler’s Uranium Club are less partial and give a more objective view.

While there are other important reasons for the failure of the Nazi nuclear program, I believe the most important has to do with the attitudes of the regime and the scientists themselves. I believe the Nazi sense of superiority could be seen in every aspect of German life. This attitude made the government discount the importance of nuclear research, and kept the scientists from trying as hard as they might have. I believe most other reasons for the failure are directly related to this reason. It can be seen by advances made in cancer research, rocket science, and jet engine science along with other so-called “Aryan Sciences,” that when the regime took an interest, science flourished under Nazi rule.[5] This did not hold true for nuclear physics. The regime did not see its value until it was too late, and the scientists did not lobby for their science because they thought any advances were too far off to be interesting to the government. In the end, because of the lack of interest, Hitler lost a chance to build one of his much sought after super-weapons that could have won his war with ease.

A Brief History
The path of discovery that led to fission and nuclear weapons started in the early twentieth century when Ernest Rutherford discovered the composition of the atom. In 1932, Rutherford’s disciple James Chadwick hypothesized that the phantom third particle in an atom was a separate elementary particle with a neutral charge that he called a neutron. In 1934 Enrico Fermi had the idea to bombard elements using neutrons, which because of their neutral charge would not be repelled by the elements. When he reached uranium, he viewed a change in the element, and thought he had produced a transuranic (an element more massive than uranium). Unknowingly he actually fissioned or split the element.[6]

Fermi continued this research and in October of 1934 put paraffin wax between the uranium and the neutrons. He discovered that the paraffin acted as a moderator, slowing the oncoming neutrons, and changing the rate at which the nuclear reaction took place. Because he used aluminum shielding to protect from radiation, Fermi was still unable to observe the fission he was creating. The theorist Niels Bohr found Fermi’s results interesting and used them to invent a model of the atom. He theorized that the atom acted like a drop of water, and if something interacted with it the atom could lose its shape or even break apart. Bohr’s theory was published in 1937, giving physicists a blueprint to explain the fission of an atom.[7]

In 1938 Germany, radiochemist Otto Hahn was working with Lise Meitner, a physicist, on irradiating uranium with slow neutrons. When Hitler annexed Meitner’s homeland, Austria, she was forced to flee because of her Jewish descent. Hahn continued his work with Fritz Strassmann and kept Meitner informed of their discoveries. Hahn expected to find that when uranium was irradiated the product would be an element close to it on the periodic table, such as radium. But time after time his experiments yielded a substance that was chemically indistinguishable from barium which is nearly half as massive as uranium. Hahn revealed his findings to Meitner in December of 1938, and she, along with her Nephew Otto Frisch began to hypothesize that perhaps this fit in with Bohr’s water droplet theory of the atom. She wrote to Hahn with their ideas, and together they came up with a working theory.[8]

If their theories were true, the energy released from a single uranium atom fissioning would be massive. They calculated that 2.2 pounds of uranium completely fissioned would release energy equivalent to ten thousand tons of TNT. Bohr was told of their results and realized from Hahn’s experiments that only the rare isotope uranium 235 underwent the fissioning process. For that reason it became clear that in order to create a weapon, or a reliable reactor, one would have to separate the uranium isotopes. American Physicist Leo Szilard had theorized that in order for a chain reaction to be sustained, each uranium atom must release at least two neutrons. His theory was proven correct in March of 1939 when it was found that on average, 2.42 neutrons were released from each uranium atom. These latest theoretical findings made the possibility of building an atomic weapon a feasible goal.[9]

At nearly the same time in the United States and Germany, physicists alerted their governments to the possibility of producing a bomb from uranium. Some sort of state-sponsored research was started in both nations. It was believed by both nations that because fission was discovered in Germany, the Germans had a head start.[10] This belief was not unfounded, and it led to both nations making false assumptions. The Americans perceived a need to catch up and develop the first bomb. Albert Einstein’s famous letter in August of 1939, urged Franklin Roosevelt start the Americans building a bomb quickly in order to beat the Germans to the punch.

I understand Germany has actually stopped the sale of uranium from the Czechoslovakia mines which she has taken over. That she should have taken such early action might perhaps be understood on the ground that the son of the German Under-Secretary of State, von Weizsäcker, is attached to the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institut in Berlin, where some of the American work on uranium is being repeated.[11]

The same belief that threw the United States headlong into nuclear research gave the German physicists a sense of security. The Americans quickly caught up and passed the German effort.

On September 16, 1939, a group of prominent German physicists who would be called the Uranverein or “Uranium Club,” met at the war office in Berlin to calculate the possibility of building a nuclear reactor and an atomic weapon. They agreed it would be difficult and virtually unattainable in the near future, given the amount of government support they predicted. They decided that they must proceed with their study anyway, in the words of Hans Geiger, “Gentlemen…there is a chance that nuclear energy could be released by fission…if there is only a trace of a chance…then we have to do it. We can’t avoid it.”[12] It was decided that the physicists would work on the problem for the government.[13]

After this meeting, Heisenberg produced two technical reports on the problem of nuclear fission. His December 6, 1939 report assessed the feasibility of a stable reactor using uranium 235, and the explosive power of a uranium bomb. Using Heisenberg’s calculations, in January of 1941 Walther Bothe experimented with making a reactor with graphite as the moderator. He did not realize that the industrial grade graphite he used was not pure enough to be used as a moderator, because of this his experiment failed. For the remainder of the war the Germans were forced to use the much more scarce heavy water as a moderator.[14] Heisenberg’s second, more detailed report followed on February 29, 1940. It incorrectly stated that graphite would not work as a moderator. With his two reports, Heisenberg became Germany’s authority on nuclear fission and his findings became the blueprint for the German nuclear project. He judged that for a stable reaction, one metric ton of graphite must be assembled with two to three tons of uranium 235 and 600 liters of heavy water. His estimate about the amount of uranium needed was way off (one needs only about 50 kilos of uranium), as was his supposition that graphite could not be used as a moderator.[15] Unfortunately for German physics, his contemporaries did not disprove Heisenberg’s theories.

The Regime
With a few miscalculations, Heisenberg inadvertently perpetuated the belief that an atomic bomb was out of reach for Germany’s near future, while in the United States this belief fell by the wayside. One main reason Heisenberg’s theories perpetuated was lack of central leadership. Thomas Powers explains the situation in Germany well:

For convenience we may speak of ‘the German bomb program’ as if it were a coherent organization marching to a single drummer, but ‘Uranium Club’ comes closer to defining the unruly mailing list of competing [German] scientists whose only shared hope was to survive the war.[16]

While in America the government took control and made a concerted effort, in Germany control was passed between many different institutions, and at times was under the control of more than one government agency.[17]

The Nazi regime made it difficult for nuclear physics to thrive in Germany. Goudsmit argues that science has trouble surviving in a fascist regime; “The failure of German nuclear physics can in large measure be attributed to the totalitarian climate in which it lived.”[18] His argument has merit, but he overlooks the early success of nuclear physics in Germany, as well as that of other sciences. A few tendencies and policies did a large amount of the damage to the German nuclear effort. The Nazi State deported numerous Jews and “undesirables” from the universities. Theoretical physics was labeled as “Jewish Science,” which dropped its funding, and made it less popular to new students. Few replacements among new students arose to account for the purge of Jewish academics. The Nazis’ steadfast belief in a short war, combined with its managed economy, created a negative environment for scientific study. On top of this, the scientists themselves gave no reason for the state to believe nuclear weapons were possible. Goudsmit Wrote: “They forgot that they themselves had not been very convinced of their own chances of success.”[19] Together these reasons created an atmosphere that led to a lack of progress in nuclear physics.

The Nazi persecution of Jews reached into every aspect of society, and Physics was not exempt. “By 1935 one out of four physicists had been driven from their posts,”[20] forcing “nearly 2,000 academics (most of them Jewish) to emigrate.”[21] These losses hurt nuclear physics tremendously, as many of Germany’s top minds left the country. National Socialism created a belief in the uselessness of theoretical sciences.[22] “The Nazi Nobel laureate in physics Philipp Lenard claimed that Einstein's work was ‘peculiar physics,’ and that Einstein and other Jewish scientists were overly concerned with theory.”[23] It was believed by the Nazi Regime that there was no promise of weapons from theoretical physics. As historian Jonathan Harwood writes,

Campaigns for an "Aryan" or "German" science were much stronger in some disciplines than others has generally been attributed to the extent of a discipline's perceived utility to industry or the military. Thus, theoretical physics was suspect, not just because of its many Jewish practitioners, but also because of its apparent lack of utility.[24]

Theoretical physics was not welcomed by National Socialism for some time. The State only started to see prospects of nuclear physics in the middle of World War II.

In addition to the lack of respect came a lack of necessity. Even though it had been assumed early on that uranium could provide a power source and perhaps a weapon, the regime felt it had the weapons it needed. Jungk writes, “On the outbreak of war the German leaders erroneously believed that they could achieve final victory with the weapons they already had.”[25] Weapons research was not a necessity in the Reich until the Germans started losing the war. Jungk points out that “It was not until 1942 that the development of new weapons attracted any attention in the Reich.”[26]

The changes made by the Nazis to the German economy managed to bring Germany out of the depression, but they did not rework it into a war economy. It was acceptable for a short war, but a long drawn-out conflict showed its limitations. In addition, “the ‘managed economy’ (gelenkte Wirtschaft) that emerged in Germany in the late 1930s introduced layer upon layer of economic bureaucracy.”[27] The bureaucracy of the Nazi economy worked to slow industry and scientific research. The Regime “stifled initiatives from industry and science and created a slow and cumbersome apparatus of control without any clear central authority.”[28] The German scientists decided that their primary goal in the National Socialist state was to guard their science and themselves from destruction by the State or the war.

The Scientists
Power’s argument that the German physicists were mainly interested in surviving the war seems correct. Many of the scientists who were truly capable in the field of nuclear physics were not members of the Nazi party. Of those who were, many joined to keep their job, not for love of the party. Most did not fight against the regime, however, most also did not follow the party line. Only a few physicists joined the party, and fewer still believed. The regime that was hostile to nuclear physics never gained the support of most German nuclear physicists (with good reason). Jonathan Harwood points out “that the great majority of scientists were neither ideologically committed Nazis nor political opponents,” in fact they were “politically indifferent individuals whose primary concern was the well-being of their discipline.”[29] There was negligible resistance from academia to the Nazi takeover. The only opposition came when the scientist own research was threatened, lending credence to the belief that the scientists’ loyalties were to their limited branches of science and not even academia as a whole.[30]

Once the Allies invaded the European continent in June 1944, the Alsos team captured locations and individuals deemed important to German science. The evidence gathered on the state of the Nazi Nuclear program showed how far behind the German physicists had been. The attitudes of the German scientists made for an amusing and ironic situation for the investigators. Goudsmit wrote:

They (German physicists) ascribed our special interest in them to their supposed vastly important work in nuclear physics…The situation was indeed ironic, but we were to meet again and again in our encounters with German scientists. To the very end they remained serenely confident of the superiority of German Science.[31]

The scientists continued to believe in their own superiority and importance when they were taken to Britain for internment. Even the Germans’ internment perpetuated their belief in their superiority--Why else would the Allies want them? Although they were not in the top of their class any longer, these men were still extremely intelligent physicists. One reason was to keep them out of other nations’ hands, such as Russia and France. Another reason was that the Allies were looking for scientists to help German science proceed past the Nazi era. Hahn and von Laue, because of their anti-Nazi wartime activity, were interned because Goudsmit and others in Allied circles would have liked to place them in charge of German science.

I strongly recommend that they [Hahn and von Laue] be given an early

opportunity to confer with…Allied colleagues on the…state of science in Germany before and during the war…If any small-scale revival of German scientific education occurs…it would be desirable to have these men in key positions.[32]

The Germans, oblivious to the real reasons for their internment, continued believing in their superiority. There are many instances in the Farm Hall transcripts when the scientists show just how important they considered themselves, and how incorrect they were about many scientific matters. In one instance Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker says, “These people have ‘detained’ us firstly because they think we are dangerous; that we have really done a lot with uranium.”[33] Throughout the text, the Germans discussed ideas and theories as if they were new while in reality they had been known to the Allies for years.

In conversations between the scientists interned at Farm Hall a great deal can be learned about the extent of their knowledge of nuclear physics. Although they seemed to have many of the right ideas, they still debated and fumbled with theories that Allied scientists had already proven correct or incorrect. Two of the physicists interned, Erich Bagge and Horst Korsching discussed the progress made in isotope separation, but did not know yet how to do it. They end their discussion assuming that the Allies would want the apparatus they were using to attempt separation, even though they were unsuccessful.[34] In another segment Bagge, Otto Hahn, and Max von Laue discussed how Plutonium is formed. While Bagge was on the right track, the other two find fault in his logic. When they were in captivity, it became clear that the German scientists had not discovered the very first steps to building a nuclear weapon.[35]

During their captivity in Farm Hall, the scientists made many references to the conferences between the “Big Three” (Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt). The scientists seemed to believe that they were so important that their future was being discussed in the conferences. Kurt Diebner and Weizsäcker among others, made remarks such as “I imagine that they will decide at the ‘Big Three’ conference which scientists are to go to Russia.”[36] And “I would say we must wait for the ‘Big Three’. The whole thing is connected with that.”[37] Statements like this show the continued high opinion in which the German physicists held themselves. The news of an atomic bomb being dropped by the United States brought reality crashing down on the German physicists interned at Farm Hall.

Rewriting Failure
“Shortly before dinner on the sixth of August I informed Professor Hahn that an announcement had been made by the BBC that an atomic bomb had been dropped.”[38] At this point came a period of disbelief at Farm Hall. The scientists simply would not believe that the Americans had succeeded where they had failed. After dinner they crowded around the radio and heard a full report. At this point, the full data of the bomb was released and there was no doubt among the scientists that the Americans had succeeded. In the following two days there were a great many conversations between the Germans about the logistics and their reasons for failure. It was still very apparent that they did not understand the complete workings of the bomb or a reactor, but they were piecing things together.[39]

Of the men who were there all but von Laue were in the “Uranium Club.” Of those in the “Uranium Club,” Otto Hahn (the discoverer of fission) was the only one to show definite reservations about building a bomb in their first meeting September 16, 1939.[40] After reluctantly agreeing to join the club, he said to Weizsäcker, “but if my work should lead to a nuclear weapon, I would kill myself.”[41] Proven by their own recorded words, the other members of the “Uranium Club” definitely participated in the German bomb project in an effort to build a weapon.

Later Heisenberg refuted his role in the bomb project. In a 1965 interview with historian David Irving, Heisenberg said: “In Germany it was different: Everyone here had to be convinced that it would be horrible to put something like that into Hitler’s hands.”[42] The revisionist history given by the German scientists who worked on the German bomb project told of physicists sabotaging research to prevent a bomb from being built. While this would be a noble goal if it were true, it seems apparent that it is not. The Farm Hall documents, and letters drafted in the 1950s and 1960s by Niels Bohr about his 1941 meeting with Heisenberg and Weizsäcker give evidence that the Germans did indeed try to build an atomic weapon.

In 1941 Heisenberg went to Denmark to meet his longtime friend and mentor Niels Bohr. When he was there they discussed nuclear research and the war, and on both accounts Heisenberg was optimistic.[43] After the Danish publication of Jungk’s book Brighter than a Thousand Suns in 1957, Bohr wrote him discussing his memory of the meeting. Bohr wrote: “You and Weizsäcker expressed your definite conviction that Germany would win and that it was therefore quite foolish for us to maintain the hope of a different outcome of the war.”[44] On the subject of nuclear weapons research, Bohr said:

I also remember quite clearly our conversation in my room at the Institute, where in vague terms you spoke in a manner that could only give me the firm impression that, under your leadership, everything was being done in Germany to develop atomic weapons[45]

In the Farm Hall transcripts Heisenberg said that the first time large funds “were made available in Germany was in the spring of 1942 after the meeting with Rust when we convinced him that we had absolutely definite proof that it could be done.”[46] In another section, Weizsäcker and Hahn were speaking about the German project, “I think the reason we didn’t do it was because all the physicists didn’t want to do it, on principle. If we had all wanted Germany to win the war we would have succeeded.” To this statement Hahn replied, “I don’t believe that but I am thankful we didn’t succeed.”[47] The reality of the situation was then summarized by Heisenberg:

The point is that the whole structure of the relationship between the scientists and the state in Germany was such that although we were not 100% anxious to do it, on the other hand we were so little trusted by the state that even if we wanted to do it it would not have been easy to get it through.[48]

It is clear that the Germans did try to build a nuclear weapon, and that they failed in doing so. It would seem that some of the scientists may have had some reservations about the project, but it did not stop it from proceeding. Their later argument that they were deliberately trying to sabotage the project is unlikely. There were already undertones of this argument during their last days at Farm Hall. After the war there were obvious reasons for claiming to work against the Nazis, and it is understandable that these scientists made their claims.

Without a historical context, it is difficult to understand the debate over the lack of a Nazi nuclear weapon. But when one looks at Germany in the 1920’s and 1930’s, one sees a scientific powerhouse. “Nazism, it is important to remember, took root in the world's most powerful scientific culture, one that boasted nearly a third of the world's Nobel prizes in science.”[49] Academics flocked to Germany before and during the early Nazi years. Germans held a large percentage of the world's patents. German science and medicine were the envy of the world long before the Nazis came to power.[50] It could therefore be reasoned that the decline in science in general, and nuclear physics in particular, was due to the Nazi regime’s assumption of power.

The Nazi regime’s relationship to scientific research was not as simple as the above decline might imply. During the Nazi era:

Certain kinds of science flourished, while others were destroyed…Sciences of an applied, practical nature were particularly encouraged, as were the hands-on disciplines, including medicine…At the same time, many of the most abstract scientific fields were condemned--much to the benefit, as it turned out, of the Allies.[51]

This dichotomy between what the Nazis found important and what they did not, led to the delay of their nuclear bomb project. The German physicists refused to see this shortcoming, and remained extremely confident in their superiority. The Nazi society that gave the world jet engines, guided missiles, and advances in the television and electronic computers, failed in producing a stable nuclear reaction.[52] The issue of the German nuclear bomb continues to be a disputed topic among historians regardless of how close the German effort came. Historians are looking at what might have been if German nuclear physics was successful in their task. What if the Germans had managed to build a nuclear weapon? Do we want to imagine a world in which Hitler was a nuclear power?


Bernstein, Jeremy, Hitler’s Uranium Club: The Secret Recordings

at Farm Hall (Copernicus Books, New York, 2001). This is an excellent source for examining what the scientist knew. Also contains a good bibliography.

Goudsmit, Samuel, Alsos (Henry Schuman Inc., New York, 1947). A

good text, written by a man who was there during the first discoveries of the Nazis’ atomic bomb progress. Goudsmit is a Jew, and tends to write harshly about most of the German scientists.

Jungk, Robert, Brighter than a Thousand Suns: A Personal History

of the Atomic Scientists (Harcourt Brace & Co. Orlando, FL., 1958). Jungk takes the side that the Germans sabotaged the production of nuclear weapons. Includes a good history.

Irving, David, The German Atomic Bomb: The History of Nuclear

Research in Nazi Germany (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1967). Revisionist history, used only as background reading, when facts could be backed-up from other sources.

MacPherson, Malcolm C., Time Bomb: Fermi, Heisenberg, and the

Race for the Atomic Bomb (E. P. Dutton, New York, 1986). Also only used as background reading.

Macrakis, Kristie, Surviving the Swastika: Scientific Research

in Nazi Germany (Oxford University Press, New York, 1993). I could not find this book in time, looks to be good for a comparison of the sciences.

Powers, Thomas, Heisenberg’s War: The Secret history of the

German Bomb (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, 1993). Like Jungk, takes the position that Heisenberg may have sabotaged. Contains good sources.

Walker, Mark, German National Socialism and the Quest for

Nuclear Power (Cambridge University Press, New York, 1989). Another good history of the German project, well written.

Essays and articles:

Harwood, Jonathan, “German Science and Technology under National

Socialism.” Perspectives on Science, vol.5, no.1 (Spring, 1997):128.

Overy, Richard, “The Nazi Economy; Was it Geared for War?”

History Review, no.31, (September, 1998):4. Cited only a small amount from this article. Good review of the Nazi economy.

Proctor, Robert N., “Bitter Pill, Nazi Research on Cancer and

Public Health.” Sciences, v39, n3 (May, 1999):14. Proctor gives a good argument for the success of certain types of Nazi science.

Proctor, Robert N., “Nazi Science and Nazi Medical Ethics: Some

Myths and Misconceptions.” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, vol.43, no.3 (Spring, 2000):335.

Rose, Paul Lawrence, “Did Heisenberg Misconceive A-Bomb?”

Physics Today 45, (February), 126 (1992).


Aaserud, Finn, “Niels Bohr Archive, released 2/6/02,” Release of

documents relating to 1941 Bohr-Heisenberg meeting, February, 2002 <> (February 12, 2002).

World Government Documents Archive, Declassified Documents

Reference System-US <> (February 18, 2002). This site contains CIA biographies of many of the top German scientists, and their usefulness as scientists to other nations.


[1] Letter from Rudolph Mentzel to the office of Hermann Goering. July 8, 1943. Goudsmit, Samuel, Alsos (Henry Schuman Inc., New York, 1947). p.5.

[2] Goudsmit, Alsos, 1947, p.5-13.

[3] Goudsmit, Alsos, 1947, pp.66-70.

[4] Goudsmit, Alsos, 1947, p.48.

[5] Proctor, Robert N., “Nazi Science and Nazi Medical Ethics: Some

Myths and Misconceptions.” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, vol.43, no.3 (Spring, 2000):335.p.338.

[6] Much of the historical facts are taken from Bernstein’s book. The footnotes at the end of each paragraph represent the relative location of each part of the history within Bernstein’s work. Bernstein, Jeremy, Hitler’s Uranium Club: The Secret Recordings at Farm Hall (Copernicus Books, New York, 2001). pp.4-7.

[7] Bernstein, Hitler’s Uranium Club, 2001. pp.7-8.

[8] Bernstein, Hitler’s Uranium Club, 2001. pp.8-11.

[9] Bernstein, Hitler’s Uranium Club, 2001. pp.9-14.

[10] Bernstein, Hitler’s Uranium Club, 2001. p.14.

[11] Letter from Einstein to Roosevelt, August 2, 1939. Bernstein, Hitler’s Uranium Club, 2001. p.16.

[12] Powers, Thomas, Heisenberg’s War: The Secret history of the German Bomb (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, 1993).p.16.

[13] Powers, Heisenberg’s War, 1993, p.15-17.

[14] Bernstein, Hitler’s Uranium Club, 2001. p.26.

[15] Bernstein, Hitler’s Uranium Club, 2001. p.xxiii-xxv.

[16] Powers, Heisenberg’s War, 1993, p.79.

[17] For example, the Reich Post Office and German Army Ordnance were overseeing separate projects in 1941-1942. Bernstein, Hitler’s Uranium Club, 2001. p.30-32.

[18] Goudsmit, Alsos, 1947, p.xxvii.

[19] Goudsmit, Alsos, 1947, p.136.

[20] Walker, Mark, German National Socialism and the Quest for Nuclear Power (Cambridge University Press, New York, 1989). p.9.

[21] Harwood, Jonathan, “German Science and Technology under National

Socialism.” Perspectives on Science vol.5, no.1 (Spring, 1997). p.130.

[22] Proctor, Robert N., “Bitter Pill, Nazi Research on Cancer and Public Health.” Sciences, v39, n3 (May, 1999):14.p.16-18.

[23] Proctor, “Bitter Pill”, 1999, p.18.

[24] Harwood, “German Science,” 1997, p.134.

[25] Jungk, Robert, Brighter than a Thousand Suns: A Personal History of the Atomic Scientists (Harcourt Brace & Co. Orlando, FL., 1958). p.87.

[26] Jungk, Brighter than a Thousand Suns, 1958, p.87.

[27] Overy, Richard, “The Nazi Economy; Was it Geared for War?” History Review, no.31, (September, 1998):4.p.8.

[28] Overy, “The Nazi Economy,” 1998, p.9.

[29] Harwood, “German Science,” 1997, p.136.

[30] Harwood, “German Science,” 1997, p.135-138.

[31] Goudsmit, Alsos, 1947, p.72.

[32] Goudsmit, Alsos, 1947, p.106.

[33] Weizsäcker, July 7, 1945. Bernstein, Hitler’s Uranium Club, 2001. p.81.

[34] Conversation between Bagge and Korsching, July 8, 1945. Bernstein, Hitler’s Uranium Club, 2001.pp.82-84.

[35] Conversation between Bagge, Hahn and von Laue, July Hitler’s Uranium Club, 2001.pp.84-85.

[36] Diebner, July 16, 1945. Bernstein, Hitler’s Uranium Club, 2001. p.82.

[37] Weizsäcker, July 18, 1945. Bernstein, Hitler’s Uranium Club, 2001. p.89.

[38] Report from Major Rittner(British officer in charge of Farm Hall) to General Groves(American in charge of the United States nuclear bomb project), Bernstein, Hitler’s Uranium Club, 2001. p.115.

[39] Bernstein, Hitler’s Uranium Club, 2001. p.115-140.

[40] See footnote# 13.

[41] Powers, Heisenberg’s War, 1993, p.16.

[42] Irving interview with Heisenberg, October 23, 1965. Cited in Powers’ book only as the date of the interview. Powers, Heisenberg’s War, 1993, p.115.

[43] Document 1, this is a draft of letter from Bohr to Heisenberg that was never sent. It is in the handwriting of Niels Bohr's assistant, Aage Petersen. It is undated, but written after the first publication, in 1957, of the Danish translation of Robert Jungk, Heller als Tausend Sonnen (Brighter that a Thousand Suns), the first edition of Jungk's book to contain Heisenberg's letter. Three numbered pages. Aaserud, Finn, “Niels Bohr Archive,” released 2/6/02, Release of documents relating to 1941 Bohr-Heisenberg meeting, February, 2002 <> (February 12, 2002).p.1.

[44] Letter to Heisenberg, Niels Bohr Archive Document 1, p.1

[45] Letter to Heisenberg, Niels Bohr Archive Document 1, p.1

[46] Heisenberg speaking on August 6, 1945 “it” is definitely the atomic bomb. The meeting was on February 26, 1942. Bernhard Rust was cabinet minister in charge of the Reich Ministry of Research, Bernstein, Hitler’s Uranium Club, 2001. p.121.

[47] Conversation between Weizsäcker and Hahn August 6, 1945, Bernstein, Hitler’s Uranium Club, 2001. p.122.

[48] Heisenberg, August 6, 1945, Bernstein, Hitler’s Uranium Club, 2001. p.123.

[49] Proctor, “Bitter Pill”, 1999, p.16.

[50] Proctor, “Bitter Pill”, 1999, p.16.

[51] Proctor, “Bitter Pill”, 1999, p.18.

[52] Proctor, “Bitter Pill”, 1999, p.19.


UCSB Oral History Project Homepage > Research and Teaching Homepage > Pro-Seminar Papers > The Nazi Bomb
Text written June 2002 by John Amacher
Last Updated January 1, 2003
This Page Part of the UCSB Oral History Project
Created and Maintained by H. Marcuse and Associates
Japanese Nuclear Weapons Program


In the fall of 1940, the Japanese army concluded that constructing an atomic bomb was indeed feasible. The Institute of Physical and Chemical Research, or Rikken, was assigned the project under the direction of Yoshio Nishina. The Japanese Navy was also diligently working to create its own "superbomb" under a project was dubbed F-Go, headed by Bunsaku Arakatsu at the end of World War II. The F-Go program [or No. F, for fission] began at Kyoto in 1942. However, the military commitment wasn't backed with adequate resources, and the Japanese effort to an atomic bomb had made little progress by the end of the war.

Japan's nuclear efforts were disrupted in April 1945 when a B-29 raid damaged Nishina's thermal diffusion separation apparatus. Some reports claim the Japanese subsequently moved their atomic operations Konan [Hungnam, now part of North Korea]. The Japanese may have used this facility at for making small quantities of heavy water. The Japanese plant was captured by Soviet troops at war's end, and some reports claim that the output of the Hungnam plant was collected every other month by Soviet submarines.

There are indications that Japan had a more sizable program than is commonly understood, and that there was close cooperation among the Axis powers, including a secretive exchange of war materiel. The German submarine U-234, which surrendered to US forces in May 1945, was found to be carrying 560 kilograms of Uranium oxide destined for Japan's own atomic program. The oxide contained about 3.5 kilograms of the isotope U-235, which would have been about a fifth of the total U-235 needed to make one bomb. After Japan surrendered on 15 August 1945, the occupying US Army found five Japanese cyclotrons, which could be used to separate fissionable material from ordinary uranium. The Americans smashed the cyclotrons and dumped them into Tokyo Harbor.
Although possession of nuclear weapons is not forbidden in the constitution, Japan, as the only nation to experience the devastation of atomic attack, early expressed its abhorrence of nuclear arms and determined never to acquire them. The Basic Atomic Energy Law of 1956 limits research, development, and utilization of nuclear power to peaceful uses, and beginning in 1956, national policy has embodied "three non-nuclear principles"--forbidding the nation to possess or manufacture nuclear weapons or to allow them to be introduced into the nation. Prime Minister Eisaku Sato made this pledge - known as the Three Non-Nuclear Principles - on February 5, 1968. The notion was formalized by the Japanese Diet on November 24, 1971. In 1976 Japan ratified the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (adopted by the United Nations Security Council in 1968) and reiterated its intention never to "develop, use, or allow the transportation of nuclear weapons through its territory."

Japan lacks significant domestic sources of energy except coal and must import substantial amounts of crude oil, natural gas, and other energy resources, including uranium. Japan's nuclear output nearly doubled between 1985 and 1996, as Japan attempted to move away from dependence on oil following the 1973 Arab oil embargo. The Japanese Government is committed to nuclear power development, but several accidents in recent years have aroused public concern. During the past few years, public opposition to Japan's nuclear power program has increased in reaction to a series of accidents at Japanese nuclear plants, including a March 1997 fire and explosion at the Tokai-mura reprocessing plant. Other problems for Japan's nuclear power program have included rising costs of nuclear reactors and fuel, the huge investments necessary for fuel enrichment and reprocessing plants, several reactor failures, and the question of nuclear waste disposal. Regardless, Japan plans to increase the proportion of electricity generated from nuclear to 42% by 2010. Japan ranks third worldwide in installed nuclear capacity, behind the United States and France.

To enhance its energy security, the government advocates uranium and plutonium recovery through reprocessing of spent fuel. The Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corporation (PNC) operates a reprocessing plant with an annual capacity of 90 tons but a larger reprocessing plant, Rokkasho-Mura, with a capacity of 800 tons per year, planned for 2003, is under construction. Reprocessing is expensive and costs can quickly rise with new safety requirements and the development of new technologies. Estimated in 1993 to cost about $8 billion, a more recent estimate for Rokkasho-Mura places the total at $15 billion. Japan also is interested in recycling recovered plutonium. In 1999, Japan began, in two prefectures, a controversial mixed-oxide utilization plan, which involves burning a highly toxic mix of plutonium and uranium on a commercial scale.

The reprocessing plant at Tokai in Ibaragi has been reprocessing spent fuel since 1981, though its operation was temporarily halted by a fire and explosion in March 1997. A commercial-size reprocessing plant has been under construction since 1993 at Rokkasho in Aomori prefecture. The Recycle Equipment Test Facility [RETF] is designed to reprocess plutonium produced in Monju and Joyo, Japan's two fast breeder reactors. Approval for construction was given by the Science and Technology Agency and announced on 13 December 1994. Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. (JNFL) has announced that initial operation of the reprocessing plant currently being constructed in Rokkasho-mura, Aomori Prefecture has been delayed to July 2005. The previous plan called for operations to begin in January 2003. With a large store of plutonium, Japan mainly relies on Britain and France to recover plutonium from nuclear waste.

Weapon-grade plutonium is nearly pure plutonium 239, whereas the plutonium in commercial fuel is much lower in plutonium 239 and higher in the isotopes that are undesirable for weapons use. This, however, is not a crucial difference, since all plutonium can be used in weapons. The US nuclear weapons arsenal does not utilize commercial (reactor grade) plutonium from spent fuel. Tests were completed, however, to confirm that reactor grade plutonium could be used in a nuclear explosive and is therefore a nonproliferation concern.
Tokyo pledged in 1991 that it would adhere to the principle of not retaining surplus plutonium. Since 1994 the Japanese Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) has published annual inventories of separated plutonium. As of December 1995, the total inventory of separated plutonium managed by Japan was 16.1 tons, with 4.7 tons in Japan and 11.4 tons in Europe. By 2010, the amount of plutonium being stockpiled in Europe will have mounted to 45 tons. A nuclear bomb similar to the one exploded in Nagasaki can be made with seven to eight kg of plutonium.

Japan's small size, its geographically concentrated industry, and the close proximity of potentially hostile powers all render the country vulnerable to a nuclear strike. North Korea's attempts to develop nuclear weapons coupled with its capability to target Japan with any weapon that it developed, is a matter of great concern to Japanese military strategists. Events on the Asian mainland could also affect Japan. From the early 1970s, China possessed a nuclear force capable of striking Japan.

Having renounced war, the possession of war potential, the right of belligerency, and the possession of nuclear weaponry, it held the view that it should possess only the minimum defense necessary to face external threats. The Japanese government values its close relations with the United States, and it remains dependent on the United States nuclear umbrella.

During the Sato cabinet in the 1960's, it is reported that Japan secretly studied the development of nuclear weapons. On 17 June 1974, Japanese Prime Minister Tsutomu Hata told reporters that "it's certainly the case that Japan has the capability to possess nuclear weapons but has not made them." This remark aroused widespread concern in the international media at that time.

Japan's nuclear power program based on reprocessed plutonium has aroused widespread suspicion that Japan is secretly planning to develop nuclear weapons. Japan's nuclear technology and ambiguous nuclear inclinations have provided a considerable nuclear potential, becoming a "paranuclear state." Japan would not have material or technological difficulties in making nuclear weapons. Japan has the raw materials, technology, and capital for developing nuclear weapons. Japan could possibly produce functional nuclear weapons in as little as a year's time. On the strength of its nuclear industry, and its stockpile of weapons-useable plutonium, Japan in some respects considers itself, and is treated by others as, as a virtual nuclear weapons state.
The Nuclear Dimension of the U.S.-Japan Alliance Morton H. Halperin July 9, 1999
Japan's Nuclear Future The Plutonium Debate and East Asian Security Selig S. Harrison, Editor 120 pp. / 1996
Japan's Plutonium Policy: Consequences for Nonproliferation by Eiichi Katahara The Nonproliferation Review Fall 1997, Volume 5 • Number 1, y Monterey Institute of International Studies
Reprocessing in Japan by Jinzaburo Takagi IEER ENERGY & SECURITY No. 2
"Nuclear Armored Train for Japan" by Vasiliy Golovin Moscow EKHO PLANETY No 8, February 1994 (signed to press 16 Feb 94) pp 18-23 -- Possibility of Japan's Developing Nuclear Weapons Weighed.
"A Plan To Deploy Nuclear Warheads in Japan" by Nisohachi Hyodo, critic and author Tokyo SHOKUN , Oct 96 pp 202-213

Robert K. Wilcox Japan's Secret War: Japan's Race Against Time to Build Its Own Atomic Bomb (Marlowe & Co., New York, 1995, $12.95)
M.L.Low, "Japan's Secret War? 'Instant Scientific Manpower and Japan's World War II Atomic Bomb Project" Annals of Science, July 1, 1990, Volume 47, Number 4, page 347.
Deborah Shapley, "Nuclear Weapons History: Japan's Wartime Bomb Projects Revealed" Science, 1978.
Did the Nazis inadvertently fuel U.S. atom bombs? By William J. Broad, Fort Worth Star-Telegram 1995
New evidence tracks Japan's efforts to create atomic bomb," Richard Benke ASSOCIATED PRESS 01-Jun-1997


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Updated Sunday, April 16, 2000 9:52:36 AM
That was the longest post on this board I think. :)

There is a somewhat fanciful book, Reich of the Black Sun, that theorizes that Nazi Germany had a nuke and tested it. To try to sum up a whole book in a brief post:

- Background radiation in two areas of Germany are much higher than anything in Europe and coincide with the previously suspected test areas.

- JU-390's were to be used to drop a device on New York.

- Research on the bomb was carried out by the SS and the Heisenberg group was a front.

- Japan received her uranium from German U-boats towards the end of the war.

- Other points I'm sure I'm missing.

I take issue with certain asapects of the book.

- If a nuke existed why wasn't it used? Hitler would gas people so why didn't he use a suitcase nuke on London?

- A thermobaric device was used against the Russians. If it was used why don't we have more press about it, why weren't more of them made?

Some other points can be refuted as well I'm sure.

Several weeks have passed since I read the book and my memory isn't what it used to be (and the book isn't the easiest read with physics and the occult wrapped into messes with the flow of information) so I know I've missed key points. However, I thought WRT the Nazi atomic program some good arguments were made, but the problem is that when you pile on (like the author did) UFO's and secret Nazi bases in Antarctica it tends to lose credibility.

Not a bad book, just very tedious at times. I don't know if the Nazis had the bomb, but I think they were more advanced than we gave them credit.
but I think they were more advanced than we gave them credit.
They were way more advanced than us.:2c:

Especially in military tech. They had jet fighters, but too late. They were the first to use ballistic missiles. The only reason we got so advanced, so quick is because of the technology that we aquired because of being victorious.

Hell, we didn't even build our bombs. It was people from other country's brought together for that purpose.
To try to sum up a whole book in a brief post:

Summaries are not allowed in this thread only long assed posts!

but I think they were more advanced than we gave them credit.

True, as Luna says they were ahead of us in almost everyway, tanks, guided missiles, assault rifles, helmets, aircraft etc...

Boiled down it was natural resources that decided WW2.
Summaries are not allowed in this thread only long assed posts!

True, as Luna says they were ahead of us in almost everyway, tanks, guided missiles, assault rifles, helmets, aircraft etc...

Boiled down it was natural resources that decided WW2.
Not to mention their Navy. Eventhough the Bismark was sunk early on, it was the most advanced ship to sail during the entire war. Way more advanced than anything we ever put to sea during the entire war.