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Thread: German Nuclear Weapon Program

  1. #1
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    Default German Nuclear Weapon Program

    Some days ago I saw a documentation on N24. According to the author the Germans made big advances until the bombing of a heavy water plant in Norway stopped them. That is complete nonsense. To make it short: there was no German nuclear weapon program at all.
    But there is a really fascinating question: "Why was there no such program ?". Otto Hahn discovered the fission of Uranium in 1938 and a few month later another German scientist wrote: "give me one ton of Uranium and I send the Wannsee (a large lake in the outskirts of Berlin) into the orbit". The Germans knew the principles of fission and chain reaction before the outbreak of war.
    The second thing you have to take into account is: The Americans did not develop THE A-Bomb. No, they developed two totally different types of A-Bombs and they used both types, the one in Hiroshima and the other one in Nagasaki. So the Germans could have one of the two types with probably less than half of the overall effort of the Manhattan Project.
    The Nagasaki-bomb was based on Plutonium. This metal is "easy" to obtain (you can "breed" it in a reactor), but difficult to handle. For the Germans "too difficult to handle", they simply thought it would be impossible to make an A-Bomb out of Plutonium. The Hiroshima-bomb was based on Uranium-235. This metal is easy to handle, but it's extremely difficult to separate it from the other isotopes. You need huge plants with thousands of centrifuges (but no reactor and no heavy water, therefore the "bomb the plant in Norway and it's over"-theory is nonsense). The German scientists knew this would work, but no one with reputation made an attempt to convince Hitler. On the contrary, Heisenberg -in real desparation- asked his danish college Nils Bohr, what he would do in such a situation. You can imagine the answer. So Heisenberg decided to direct the effort towards a nuclear power plant (and for this, it's true, you need a reactor and heavy water as mediator). But even that failed. He never suceeded in establishing a self-sustaining chain reaction (Enrico Fermi achieved this in 1942 in the USA). So there was really no danger of Hitler getting an A-bomb into his hands.

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    Default Re: German Nuclear Weapon Program

    1) I'd be VERY cautious of any reports of the Heisenberg-Bohr meeting - the two men completely disagree with what was said, and although Bohr is probably substantially more truthful having less of an axe to grind I suspect we'll never have an accurate description of what was said.
    2) You're missing a fundamental point - Heisenberg made a massive cock-up in calculating critical mass of U-235, calculating it to be several hundred tonnes. This is well documented, and we know from the Farm Hall transcripts that initially Heisenberg didn't believe that the Hiroshima bomb was a nuclear one. Additionally they never got any plausible isotope separation project going - and the allies had two working ones.
    3) The Germans did know that a Plutonium bomb was possible, they just didn't have any means to make Plutonium. Of the two possible moderators, Heavy Water was sabotaged by the British and Norwegians while the German experiments with Graphite failed completely to notice that their graphite samples were contaminated with Boron (actually very common - the Manhattan Project had the same problem, but Fermi spotted something was wrong and tried again with ultra-pure graphite from Petroleum Coke which worked).

    Oddly, the Japanese atom bomb project was more advanced than the German one (not hard - they did at least calculate critical mass correctly). However, ultimately it was going nowhere due to a complete lack of understanding of needs and priorities - IIRC when the guy running it asked for funding to make either U-235 of Plutonium he was told to use a different, more easily available metal instead. In the end, the lab was burnt down in a B-29 raid and that was the end of the programme.
    I have neither the time nor the inclination to differentiate between the incompetent and the merely unfortunate - Curtis E LeMay

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    Default Re: German Nuclear Weapon Program

    The research of prof. Karlsh and the well documented books of the journalist Romersa (witness) now demonstrate quite undoubtufully that the Germans had a sort of tactical atomic bomb but with unsolved problems of ignition. Read here:

    http://www.ww2incolor.com/forum/show...secret-weapons

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    Default Re: German Nuclear Weapon Program

    Speer's book also mentions certain aspects of these developments..
    .. including depleted uranium as armour penetrator projectiles..

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    Default Re: German Nuclear Weapon Program

    Hitler was susceptible about the chemical warfare because he's injured a gas attack in ww1 and he's denied the chemical weapons use in the german army
    "The consciousness that I am alive, makes me wild dreams every day"
    (Helmut Wolff lieutenant colonel, one who survived the breakout of Budapest)

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    Default Re: German Nuclear Weapon Program

    I highly doubt the Germans had any sort of nuclear bomb, as their theories were way off and any bomb would have been enormous...

    pdf27 might be one to weigh in on this...

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    Default Re: German Nuclear Weapon Program

    Quote Originally Posted by pdf27 View Post
    1) Oddly, the Japanese atom bomb project was more advanced than the German one (not hard - they did at least calculate critical mass correctly). However, ultimately it was going nowhere due to a complete lack of understanding of needs and priorities - IIRC when the guy running it asked for funding to make either U-235 of Plutonium he was told to use a different, more easily available metal instead. In the end, the lab was burnt down in a B-29 raid and that was the end of the programme.
    Japanese "atom bomb project" or, I would suggest, more accurately "Japanese research related to a possible atomic weapon"?

    Compared with the Manhattan Project and the resources and talent devoted to it, the Japanese didn't even get out of the blocks.

    My understanding underscores yours, which is that at various levels there was a failure to appreciate the potential of such research and a failure to devote necessary resources to it.

    However, even had there been higher recognition of the potential worth of such research, the absence of resources was inevitably a consequence of the larger problem facing Japan from late 1942 onwards, which was that it exhausted human, natural and military resources of all kinds a lot faster than it could replace them. The converse was true for the Allies, notably the US.

    And even had there been higher recognition of such research, what resources did Japan have available to it and what resources could it have exploited to achieve an atomic weapon when, from 1943-44 onwards, it was being steadily strangled by the Allies, and predominantly by the American advance on its home islands?
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    Default Re: German Nuclear Weapon Program

    Oh, I don't think the Japanese could have built a nuclear weapon - the industrial base wasn't there, and nor was the large number of physicists and engineers needed (at least, not once other programmes had been provided for). The point is that they realised it was possible and roughly what needed to be done. The Germans didn't even get that far.
    I have neither the time nor the inclination to differentiate between the incompetent and the merely unfortunate - Curtis E LeMay

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    Default Re: German Nuclear Weapon Program

    Quote Originally Posted by pdf27 View Post
    The point is that they realised it was possible and roughly what needed to be done. The Germans didn't even get that far.
    Does this represent a failure of strategists to grasp scientific possibilities in Japan, while German scientists and strategists recognised the potential but lacked the ability to realise it?
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    Default Re: German Nuclear Weapon Program

    Yes for Japan on a fairly grand scale - they got themselves into a naval war with the largest industrial power on the planet, and tried to kid themselves that bravery/martial spirit would be enough to overcome this.
    In the specific case of Germany and nuclear weapons, they didn't even recognise the potential let alone do anything about realising it.
    I have neither the time nor the inclination to differentiate between the incompetent and the merely unfortunate - Curtis E LeMay

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    Default Re: German Nuclear Weapon Program

    Quote Originally Posted by pdf27 View Post
    Yes for Japan on a fairly grand scale - they got themselves into a naval war with the largest industrial power on the planet, and tried to kid themselves that bravery/martial spirit would be enough to overcome this.
    In the specific case of Germany and nuclear weapons, they didn't even recognise the potential let alone do anything about realising it.
    To be fair, the Japanese thought they'd be splitting responsibilities with the Germans against the resources of the U.S. (and Britain) and believed the "Third Force", the the martial spiritual superiority innate in all Japanese samurai warriors , would be enough to overcome U.S. ground forces and their inherent superiority in mobility and firepower - both hindered by the geography of Pacific atolls. Hitler was no less delusional in his belief that the Imperial Japanese Navy would largely negate U.S. naval assets in a global war as the Ostheer ground itself down into a battle of attrition with the Soviet Red Army...

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    Default Re: German Nuclear Weapon Program

    Quote Originally Posted by Nickdfresh View Post
    To be fair, the Japanese thought they'd be splitting responsibilities with the Germans against the resources of the U.S. (and Britain)
    The Pacific war was basically a naval war once they got the US involved. If they genuinely thought that the Kriegsmarine (bottled up as it was by geography and the second most powerful navy on the planet) would enable them to beat the most powerful navy about, they're even dumber than I thought.

    Quote Originally Posted by Nickdfresh View Post
    and believed the "Third Force", the the martial spiritual superiority innate in all Japanese samurai warriors , would be enough to overcome U.S. ground forces and their inherent superiority in mobility and firepower - both hindered by the geography of Pacific atolls.
    The US didn't really need to fight very many places on land - they just had to capture enough land for some airfields. Had it come to an invasion of Japan then maybe they would have been right, but IMHO even without nuclear weapons Operation Starvation was always more likely to be decisively implemented than Operation Downfall. That should have been obvious to the Japanese High Command - and they decided to ignore it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Nickdfresh View Post
    Hitler was no less delusional in his belief that the Imperial Japanese Navy would largely negate U.S. naval assets in a global war as the Ostheer ground itself down into a battle of attrition with the Soviet Red Army...
    Or indeed his belief that the USN was anything but an irrelevance to the Eastern Front...
    I have neither the time nor the inclination to differentiate between the incompetent and the merely unfortunate - Curtis E LeMay

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    Default Re: German Nuclear Weapon Program

    Quote Originally Posted by pdf27 View Post
    The Pacific war was basically a naval war once they got the US involved. If they genuinely thought that the Kriegsmarine (bottled up as it was by geography and the second most powerful navy on the planet) would enable them to beat the most powerful navy about, they're even dumber than I thought.
    I don't disagree, though I would use hopeful, irrational, or desperate in place of "dumb." But I don't think they necessarily thought the Kriegsmarine would tie down the U.S. Navy, more that the United States projection of power would essentially draw it into a costly two-front war and minimize resources a bit. I concur that they clearly underestimated the capacity of U.S. industry and engaged in wishful thinking...


    The US didn't really need to fight very many places on land - they just had to capture enough land for some airfields. Had it come to an invasion of Japan then maybe they would have been right, but IMHO even without nuclear weapons Operation Starvation was always more likely to be decisively implemented than Operation Downfall. That should have been obvious to the Japanese High Command - and they decided to ignore it.
    That's assuming the Japanese believed the U.S. population would have the stomach to continue the war after successive defeats and the crippling of Pearl Harbor...

    Or indeed his belief that the USN was anything but an irrelevance to the Eastern Front...
    But they were, as was the Royal Navy. Germany was undergoing severe shortages even at the high water mark of the Third Reich after the defeat of France. Blockades and the lack of access of resources is what drove the Nazi invasion of Soviet Russia. It wasn't going to get better with direct U.S. involvement on the side of the British...

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    Default Re: German Nuclear Weapon Program

    Didn't German forces inflict more casualties on U.S. forces than the Japanese did?

    The PTO was 'small beer' in overall logistical terms..

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    Default Re: German Nuclear Weapon Program

    Quote Originally Posted by J.A.W. View Post
    Didn't German forces inflict more casualties on U.S. forces than the Japanese did?
    Yes. Europe:Japan ratio was about 3:1 for American casualties on bare numbers. I don't know which area of operations had the greater rate of casualties, i.e. number of casualties as a percentage of total forces committed, which is a more accurate measure of the intensity of fighting in each theatre. I'd be interested to know those rates.

    However, the ETO required the Americans in their western and southern approaches to Germany to fight every German soldier every inch of the way, with the fighting intensifying as they approached Germany. In the PTO and especially the SWPA the Americans did not have to do this as they bypassed large enemy forces in New Guinea, Bougainville, Timor and the NEI, as well as avoiding what would have been a hugely costly land invasion of the Japanese home islands.

    There are also other aspects which make comparisons difficult, such as the SWPA / PTO being very much a naval war where hundreds of people could be lost in the sinking of a single ship while the American involvement in the ETO was primarily an air and land war where losses in quick single events were much smaller, at least on land. Losses in massive air raids were probably on a similar scale at times. Again, we'd need to know the rates of casualties for a reasonable comparison.

    Regardless of all that, there is no question that the fighting in the SWPA / PTO involved savagery and 'give no quarter' fighting which ETO American troops never experienced, and was much harder fighting than in the ETO.


    Quote Originally Posted by J.A.W. View Post
    The PTO was 'small beer' in overall logistical terms..
    PTO /SWPA never occupied more than about 15% of total US resources, but that probably distorts the level of commitment of some forces, e.g:

    1. The USMC fought almost exclusively in PTO /SWPA. Man for man, and no disrespect to the US Army soldiers who fought there, the USMC was worth a lot more than the US Army in the island assaults which were a feature of the PTO.

    2. I expect I'm going to be corrected by someone who actually knows something about Atlantic and Mediterranean aircraft carrier actions as distinct from my complete lack of knowledge of those USN operations, but I suspect that USN aircraft carriers were predominantly deployed in the PTO /SWPA with the relevant screen of battleships, cruisers, and destroyers, whereas Britain was the aircraft carrier for the USAAF in its campaign against Europe.

    3. There is also the division of responsibility between Britain and the US which left the PTO to the Americans and the SWPA to the Americans, Australians, and almost always overlooked Dutch, although the British made major contributions outside those theatres in the Burma / Indian Ocean areas against the Japanese.
    Last edited by Rising Sun*; 05-20-2013 at 07:57 AM.
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