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Posted Saturday, March 5, 2005

Saturday, March 5, 2005

Hitler won atomic bomb race, but couldn't drop it

By Ernest Gill in Hamburg

ADOLF Hitler had the atom bomb first but it was too primitive and ungainly for aerial deployment, says a new book that indicates the race to split the atom was much closer than is believed.

Nazi scientists carried out tests of what would now be called a dirty nuclear device in the waning days of World War II, writes Rainer Karlsch, a German historian, in his book Hitler's Bomb, to be be published this month.

click for originDavid Irving comments:

LET US marvel once again at the ability of your average broadsheet journalist to write a story like this without once consulting the author who alone interviewed all the Nazi atomic scientists and nuclear physicists (and of course Reich armaments minister Albert Speer, without whom such a project would have been impossible) in writing his book The Virus House (The German Atomic Bomb, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1967): namely, myself.

click for book

By the time Prof Mark Walker came along, these scientists were dead, and he relied heavily on my 1967 book and documents while at the same time lashing out at me as a -- guess what -- "Holocaust denier". The biography of Werner Heisenberg by Thomas Powers is more discerning.
   That Walker can be a professor at a New York college and spout these views is disturbing (unless he is doing so for a fee). That a reputable firm like Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt published the book -- they are after all Germany's quasi-official history publishers -- is equally astonishing. My book was published in Germany, and Der Spiegel serialised it for several weeks. What were these new folks all smoking, one wonders?

NOW to the claims which this new author makes: they are rubbish, from the Rudolf-Hess- wasn't-really- Rudolf Hess school of history.
   Here is a brief synopsis of the real German atomic research story. There were two rival teams working towards getting an atomic pile critical -- one of theoretical scientists and academics under Nobel prize winner Werner Heisenberg, the other a more empirical team under army scientist Dr Kurt Diebner.
   Both teams had wrongly been informed by mathematician Professor Bothe that graphite could not be used as a moderator in an atomic pile (now called a nuclear reactor); this left only "heavy water" (deuterium oxide) as a choice, and this substance dribbled forth from the much-attacked heavy water plant in Norway at such a painfully slow rate that they still did not have enough when the war ended.
   Heisenberg's men nevertheless began building a rudimentary pile in a cave at Haigerloch in southern Germany (see my picture below), with which they experimented until they were captured by the ALSOS mission headed by US colonel Boris Pash and his MI6 colleague Michael Perrin.
   Diebner's army team did actually attempt to create a fusion reaction by imploding conventional explosives on deuterium (heavy water), in one rudimentary experiment.
   The German war economy lacked all the basic resources to build an atomic fission bomb, once Speer had assigned top priority to the V2 rocket project. It had no means whatever to build a "dirty" bomb.
   The suggestion that the Germans lacked "pure-grade uranium" is absurd, unless this refers to the enriched U235, bomb making ("weapons-grade") material; the Germans had captured the Belgian uranium-ore stockpiles in 1940, and Degussa had no problems refining it. The ALSOS teams found hundreds of cubes of solid uranium, as photographs in my book show.
   Nor is the 1941 "plutonium" patent news: Carl-Friedrich von Weizsäcker, scientist brother of the later German president Richard von W., was a member of the Heisenberg team, and in the Oak Ridge, Tennessee archives of the US Atomic Energy Authority I found the original proposal made by him to the Heereswaffenamt (German Army Ordnance Dept) on July 1, 1940, for the production of plutonium from a nuclear reactor -- once they had got it critical. They never did.

Concentration camp inmates were used as human guinea pigs and "several hundred" died in the tests, conducted on the Baltic Sea island of Rügen and at an inland test in wooded hill country about 100 kilometres south of Berlin in 1944 and early 1945.

Karlsch, 47, author of a number of books on Cold War espionage and the nuclear arms race, supports his findings on what his publishers call hitherto unpublished documents, scientific reports and blueprints.

A US historian, Mark Walker, an expert on the Third Reich's atomic weapons program, lent his support to Karlsch's claims on Thursday. "I consider the arguments very convincing," he said.

However, Hitler's atomic weapon did not approach the devastating potential of the US bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, said Professor Walker, a history professor at Union College in Schenectady, New York state.

He said the weapon secretly developed and tested by Nazi scientists was more comparable to a dirty bomb, nuclear material encased in explosives.

Professor Walker praised Karlsch for writing "a whole new chapter" on Hitler's search for the "wonder weapon".

Hitler's claims that his scientists were working on the "wonder weapon" have been dismissed as the rantings of a desperate and deranged man. But Karlsch's book lends credence to the possibility that Hitler may have been closer to getting his hands on that weapon than anyone has previously believed.

It was known that German scientists had carried out heavy-water experiments in an attempt to split the atom, using research facilities in Norway and elsewhere. But it was widely believed that Nazi scientists had been hampered by a lack of pure-grade uranium, which was almost non-existent outside North America and Africa.

It was also surmised that Hitler had favoured conventional weapons over nuclear arms because his limited grasp of strategic warfare prevented him from seeing the ramifications of nuclear capability. It was believed that he had discouraged development of the atom bomb.

But Karlsch says he found documented proof of the existence of a nuclear reactor and nuclear weapons testing sites.

His publishers, Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, said his work was based on four years of painstaking research and interviews with independent historians.

Among the most compelling pieces of evidence is a 1941 patent draft for a plutonium bomb, said Markus Desaga, a spokesman for the publisher.

"He also based his research on contemporary research reports, construction blueprints, aerial surveillance photos, notebooks of some of the scientists involved as well as espionage reports by US and Soviet agents," Mr Desaga said.

"He also based his findings on radiation measurements and soil analysis." 

Deutsche Presse-Agentur


 Haigerloch atomic pile

British and American Intelligence experts of the ALSOS team dismantle the German experimental reactor at Haigerloch in May 1945. Photo from David Irving, The Virus House (provided by Michael Perrin).


David Irving's Hitler's War (free download)
David Irving's The German Atomic Bomb (The Virus House) (free download)
The Times report on the same story

Haigerloch zieht Dankesworte an den Rechtsausleger David Irving nun doch sofort zurück (in German: in 2001, after protests from the usual quarters, the Haigerloch museum removed all references and thanks to Mr Irving who had provided them with all photographs on display).

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