WW2 – The Nazis and the Bomb

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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.

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