Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Saturday, March 19, 2021

Author Rainer Karlsch has come out with a new book that posits a chilling scenario for the final days of World War II in Europe: Nazi Germany had developed a prototype tactical nuclear weapon, and had tested it in March 1945.

Hitler’s efforts to produce atomic weapons was no secret; the American atomic program at Oak Ridge and Alamogordo, staffed with expatriate German scientists, knew they were in a race with the Nazis to build a bomb. Werner Heisenberg’s team was hampered more by limited resources than by ability to pull it off; Michael Frayn’s play “Copenhagen” presents a compelling (if fictionalized) account of the Germans’ efforts.

Still, the idea that they got as far as making a limited-range fission bomb (perhaps no more effective than a modern-day “dirty bomb”) is disquieting, and not without skepticism:

“The eyewitnesses [Karlsch] puts forward are either unreliable or they are not reporting first-hand information; allegedly key documents can be interpreted in various ways,” said the influential news weekly Der Spiegel.

“Karlsch displays a catastrophic lack of understanding of physics,” wrote physicist Michael Schaaf, author of a previous book about Nazi atomic experiments, in the Berliner Zeitung newspaper.

“Karlsch has done us a service in showing that German research into uranium went further than we’d thought up till now, but there was not a German atom bomb,” he added.

It has also been pointed out that the United States employed thousands of scientists and invested billions of dollars in the Manhattan Project, while Germany’s “dirty bomb” was allegedly the work of a few dozen top scientists who wanted to change the course of the war.

Karlsch himself acknowledged that he lacked absolute proof for his claims, and said he hoped his book would provoke further research.

But in a press statement for the book launch, he is defiant.

“It’s clear there was no master plan for developing atom bombs. But it’s also clear the Germans were the first to make atomic energy useable, and that at the end of this development was a successful test of a tactical nuclear weapon.”

In my mind, the idea that something like this could remain undercover for more than half a century gives me pause. Plus, some measurable fallout should remain in the Thuringia region to this day. I’m not sure what the alternative explanation could be, though (assuming the eyewitness accounts are accurate).

What if Hitler had the use of an arsenal of tactical bombs, even a few months earlier? The Nazis probably couldn’t have won — it was far too late by 1944 for the outcome to have changed — but they could have done considerable damage on the way out:

- A desperate elimination bombing of concentration camps, both to destroy evidence of the Holocaust and to provide a true “Final Solution”;

- Indiscriminate targeting of advancing Allied troops, more for terror purposes than to turn the tide;

- Mounting of a few warheads onto remaining V-2 rockets, and launching them toward London, Paris and Moscow — a last-gasp bid to freeze the Allies’ momentum.

- Costa Tsiokos, Sat 03/19/2005 08:21:37 PM
Category: Science, History | Permalink |

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