WW2 – The Nazis and the Bomb

That the scientists of the Third Reich were working on the development of a nuclear reactor for the production of electricity is well known. There is a museum in a cavern under Haigerloch Castle near the Black Forest  in southern Germany where you can read all about this research.

What is not so well known is that, from 1939, the Nazis ran a top-secret project to build an atomic bomb. There have been various suggestions as to where this research was located, but what is certain is that Werner Heisenberg, who was awarded the 1932 Nobel Prize in Physics for the creation of Quantum Mechanics, was intimately involved.

Heisenberg was appointed director-in-residence of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics (KWIP) in Dahlem, Berlin from 1942 to the end of the war, and under his guidance the physicists there worked on the bomb.

Using forced labour, pitchblende, the raw material for uranium, was extracted from various mines, notably the silver mines in the Ore Mountains close to the border with Czechoslovakia. The uranium was enriched in a metal alloy factory, Auergesellschaft in Oranienburg, near Berlin. 

Following a review of the project in 1942, the Germany military command abandoned it to concentrate their efforts on other war projects such as the V2 rocket under development in Peenemunde. However, eyewitness reports of a massive explosion in 1944 on the Baltic Island of Rugen led to speculation of a successful atomic test detonation and was followed by a heavy bombing raid by the Allies.

In 1943 and 1944 the KWIP was to relocated to Haigerloch.

After the war Heisenberg and many of his fellow-scientists were flown to England for interrogation and debriefing. When he was released he was appointed director of the KWIP and remained there until 1958

Here’s a picture of the KWIP in Berlin taken in 1945. The white circular building on the left housed a particle accelerator.

6 thoughts on “WW2 – The Nazis and the Bomb

  1. David Prosser says:

    It doesn’t bear thinking about just how different life might have been in Europe/The World if the Nazi’s had been a little more successful.
    Great research as always.

  2. JJ Toner says:

    Hi Andrew. The sequel to The Black Orchestra deals with this subject – in an entirely fictional way. Watch out for “The Wings of the Eagle” which should appear on a kindle near you early January 2014.

  3. John Dee says:

    The Germans had some advanced technology, which, if improved, could have changed the outcome of the war. The V2 is a good example. Had the guidance system been improved and a submarine launch pad perfected, the V2 would have killed many more.

  4. JJ Toner says:

    Hi John. I haven’t researched the V2, but I’m sure you are right. I imagine that the V2 was expensive, though. It would have scored low on kills per Reichsmark. If the war hadn’t ended when it did it might have been used infrequently for its shock value. The same was probably true of the V1 doodlebug.

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