Nazis – building atom bomb

Why didn’t Germany build an atom bomb?  In 5698/1938, Lise Meitner, an Austrian Jewess, discovered  the principles of nuclear fission. At the time, she had  been thrown out of Germany, and her German colleagues  stole credit for the discovery.

“She worked out that the two nuclei formed by the division  of a uranium nucleus would be lighter than the original  uranium nucleus by about one-fifth the mass of a proton,”  her nephew explained. “Now, whenever mass disappears,  energy is created according to Einsteins’s formula  E=mc2 (energy produced equals mass times the speed of  light squared).”
Since the speed of light is 186,000 miles a second, that  means converting mass into energy at a ration of  450,000,000,000,000,000:1. The atom bomb had thus been  conceived. The only question was – who would build the  first one and put it to use?

Five years earlier, in 5693/1933, Albert Einstein fled  Germany to America, where he received a prestigious position  at the new Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton,  New Jersey. Einstein, who had been a pacifist all his life,  protested violently against Germany’s aggression in World  War I and, even in 5689/1929, he publicly declared that, if  a war broke out, he would “unconditionally refuse to do  war service, direct or indirect… regardless of how the  cause of the war should be judged.”

Nevertheless now, in the shadow of Nazi Germany,  physicists in America were anxious that Germany might  develop an atom bomb first. In 5699/1939 they sent the following  warning to the White House, with Einstein’s signature:  “F.D. Roosevelt, President of the United States, White  House, Washington D.C.

“Sir:  “Some recent work… which has been communicated to  me in manuscript, leads me to suspect that the element uranium  may be turned into a new and important source of  energy in the immediate future. Certain aspects of the situation  which have arisen seem to call for watchfulness and,  if necessary, quick action on the part of the administration.  “The new phenomenon would… lead to the construction  of bombs and it is conceivable, though much less certain,  that extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus be  constructed. Asingle bomb of this type, carried by boat and  exploded in a port, might well destroy the whole port  together with some of the surrounding territory…  “Yours very truly, Albert Einstein.

Thus, through his discovery of Relativity and his  encouragement of the White House, Einstein the pacifist  unintentionally unleashed one of the most destructive  forces in history.

Back in Germany, Werner Heisenberg, discoverer of the  “uncertainty principle” of quantum physics, delivered the  first part of a comprehensive paper on how to construct a  workable atom bomb to the German military. By February  5700/1940 he had finished his report and began building an  experimental nuclear reactor in Berlin. To warn curious  people away, the structure was named “The Virus House.”  It took America a little longer to get started, but once  things got rolling, everything was done on a truly gigantic  scale. Starting in mid 5702/1942,  two massive factories were set up,  employing over 100,000 people. The  “Manhattan Project,” as it was  called, was headed by Robert  Oppenheimer, a Jew who is generally  known as “the father of the atom  bomb.” Money was no object. At  one stage when it was suggested  that the bomb might work better  with a solid gold casing to help  bounce escaping neutrons back  into an exploding bomb, a small  package was sent in from Fort Knox.  Inside was a six inch sphere of solid  gold.

After three years of unremitting  labor, the first plutonium bomb was  tested in the New Mexico desert on  July 16, 5705/1945, releasing energy  equivalent to 20,000 tons of TNT.

“We knew the world would not be  the same,” Oppenheimer said afterwards.  “A few people laughed, a few  people cried, most people were  silent.”

According to his brother, all Oppenheimer said at the  time was, “It worked!”

Ironically, Einstein barely participated in the project at  all, and only contributed two days towards solving a certain  problem in December 5702/1941. Apparently, he was  not trusted to keep things under wraps. As one project  coordinator wrote at the time, “I am not at all sure… (Einstein)  would not discuss it in a way that it should not be  discussed.”

Five years before his death in 5714/1954, Einstein  expressed his regret that the bomb had ever been constructed:  “I made one great mistake in my life… when I  signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that  atom bombs be made. But there was some justification –  the danger that the Germans would make them.

How close were the Germans to making a bomb?  Although the Allies were concerned that Germany was  on the verge of making a bomb, Germany never got close  to it. It has been claimed that the Allies spent as much  money trying to prevent Germany from producing a bomb  as Germany spent trying to make one.

There were two theories why Germany made so little  progress. First of all, unlike the Allies, Germany split her  energies and had two rival teams working on the bomb,  one working for the military, and a second team  coordinated by the German Post Office. In addition,  after the war, Werner Heisenberg, the mastermind  behind the German efforts cultivated a story that he  could have built a bomb all along if he wanted to,  and that he deliberately held up the project because  of his anti-Nazi sentiments.

This version was repudiated in 5752/1992 when  Britain declassified secret tape recordings produced  soon after the war.

After the war, fifteen German scientists, including  Heisenberg, had been captured by the Allies and  kept under surveillance in Farm Hall, England.  Their secretly recorded conversations strongly indicate  that Heisenberg did not have the requisite  knowledge to build a bomb. For example, upon  hearing about the Hiroshima blast he blurted out  that such a bomb was impossible. One of his greatest  blunders was his calculation that it would  require 13,000 kilograms of uranium to construct a  bomb. This was more than a thousand times larger  than the true figure of about ten kilograms.  Heisenberg’s estimate discouraged the German  High Command and held them back from throwing  everything they had into bomb-building.  Heisenberg more or less admitted this in a  5727/1967 interview:

“The official slogan of the government was: ‘We  must make use of physics for warfare.’ We turned it  around for our slogan: ‘We must make use of warfare  for physics…’We felt already in the beginning  that if it were possible at all to actually make explosives,  it would take such a long time and require  such an enormous effort that there was a very good  chance the war would be over before that could be  accomplished…

“Now let’s talk seriously about this: If we wanted to  make the necessary heavy water it would take one to three  years to get a sufficient amount. To make enough plutonium  would also take another three years. So with the best  conscience in the world, we could tell our government, ‘It  will not be possible to make a bomb within five years or  so.’ We knew already that they would forbid any new  developments which couldn’t be used within the next year  or so. It was then quite clear that they would say, ‘No, no!  No effort for the atomic bomb.’ That was what happened…”

Heisenberg went on to quote Albert Speer, the Nazi  Armaments Minister who  said in an interview, ‘We listened when they told us that,  in principle, atomic bombs could be made, but they also  emphasized that it would take a number of  years; certainly not before five years or so… Therefore,  I didn’t report the whole thing to the Fuehrer until two  weeks later or so, and then in a very casual way because I  did not want the Fuehrer to get so interested that he would  order great efforts immediately to make the atomic bomb.’  “Speer felt it was better that the whole thing should be  dropped,” Heisenberg concluded, “and the Fuehrer also  reacted that way.”

The Allies knew nothing of this during the war and  made desperate attempts to ensure that Germany lost the  race for the bomb.

For example, in February 5704/1944, the Norwegian  resistance reported that Germany was planning to move  Norway’s entire stock of heavy water (a special water used  to produce atomic isotopes) back to Germany.

The Allies had to make an agonized decision. Should  they sink the train carrying the heavy water as it was being  ferried across a deep lake, even though there were civilians  aboard? And what about Germans reprisals?  Nonetheless, a decision was made and London radioed  the Norway command:

“Matter has been considered stop It is thought very  important that the heavy water shall be destroyed stop  Hope it can be done without too disastrous results stop.”  Two Norwegian saboteurs smuggled explosives on  board the ferry and the explosives erupted at 10:45 a.m.  Heavy water, as its name suggest, is heavier than normal  water, so the barrels containing the precious substance  sank in 1,300 feet of water, together with over a dozen passengers.

In the end, the Allies’ efforts turned out to be unnecessary.  Germany was nowhere near to making an atom bomb  and, as time goes on, it becomes more evident that Japan,  too, could have been conclusively defeated without the  Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. However, the longer time  needed to defeat the Japanese would have cost the allies  many more deaths.

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