Term Paper: Nazi Germany and the Atomic Bomb Abstract

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Nazi Germany and the Atomic Bomb

Abstract/Overview- With all the power in the Nazi regime, why were they unable to produce a successful nuclear program? Fortunately for the Allied forces, German efforts were a huge failure, as the United States was the first nation to drop an atomic bomb. Germany could have been successful; they had both the resources and the personnel, but instead put too much energy and resources into their rocket project and evicted some of the greatest scientific minds out of Germany into Allied hands.

There is a great body of research to lend information on such an examination. The current body of resources was acquired through the use of the online scholarly databases, Questia and JSTOR. The main key words used included Nazi, Germany, atomic power, and nuclear power. Utilizing these key words produced an interesting body of research that helped shape the environment of the Nazi nuclear program.

The Nazi regime had an impressive set of researchers and experts within the scientific world to lead their wartime programs. Yet, first-hand accounts of the Nazi nuclear program seem unimpressive in the scope of creating and pushing a strong nuclear program. Overall, based on the lack of motivation and commitment to a strong nuclear program, Germany was unable to compete. Yet, there are still many questions involved in the exploration of this topic. For instance, what the German scientists at the time thought of the lack of commitment to a strong Nazi nuclear program? The review of the literature provided little information to answer this question. Additionally, there are little primary accounts of what German scientists did after they fled Nazi Germany in fear of persecution of war crimes. Although it is known that many Nazi scientists fled to South America, where some were said to have a hand in the creation of South American nuclear programs, such as the one in Argentina in the 1950s, there is little historical evidence to back it up. Thus, even almost half a century later, there are still major questions involved in the failure of the Nazi party to acquire nuclear power.

The Nazi Uranium Project -- One of the major unanswered questions from World War II revolves around the question of whether Nazi Germany could have triumphed and won the War. Of course, there are a number of details and suppositions that come into play with such a complex question. Hitler, despite his megalomaniacal tendencies, was a skilled politician and strategist. His strength and public speaking abilities allowed him to lead a downtrodden population and failing economy into one of the most rapidly advanced militarization the world has ever known. In addition, one can certainly never deny the strategic skills it took to gain power, then channel it, then invade two countries without firing a shot.

Indeed, Hitler's strategy through mid-1940 was almost flawless. He isolated and absorbed state after state in Europe, gained the Soviet Union as a willing ally, destroyed France's military power, threw the British off the Continent, and was left with only weak and vulnerable obstacles to an empire covering most of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. This empire not only would have been unassailable from the outside, but would have put him into the position, in time, to conquer the world.

That this did not happen, some believe, was a testament to chance, luck, and the workings of a sociopathic personality. Instead of concentrating on the strengths of his armies and technological advancement, Hitler believed the French and British problems were solved, and so turned his attention to ridding the German State from all undesirables and focusing on the idea of conquering the Soviet Union. Hitler did not believe the United States would enter the war, and did not believe his supply chains in Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa would run into problems. Instead, then, of using resources appropriately, he squandered them on political and social paranoia. However, the question remains, if Hitler had nuclear weapons in his arsenal -- would he have used them? First, yes -- it is likely he would have used every means at his disposal to retain power -- whether that be nuclear or otherwise. Second, it is still important to categorize that there was a clear difference between the "Manhattan Project" and the "Uranium Project." While likely that Nazi scientists, as early as 1942, had solved some of the conceptual problems regarding a nuclear bomb, their research, and testing was of a device far different that those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In fact, while sketches have been found for mini-nuclear missiles, the only actual test that can be forensically verified is of what we might call a "dirty" bomb -- an explosive that would spread radiation and certainly damage a city, but not the harnessing of atomic energy to the level of "Fat Man" or "Little Boy." Too, we must remember that there is a great deal of difference from the development of theoretical nuclear energy, sketches for proposed weapons, and an actual usable weapon -- in fact, scientists in Los Alamos were unsure whether their devices would work as planned.

Primary documents from the Nazi era, though, show the scientists involved in the German Uranium Project were some of the major physicists of the time.

Part of the fission process necessary within the creation of an atomic bomb is using a heavy water source. Germany itself did not have a heavy water source. However, in the regime's heyday, their empire stretched to areas where cultivation of heavy water was possible. With a Nazi station in Norway, heavy water was readily available until heavy Allied bombing destroyed the plant later in the war.

Additionally, the Nazi party did have impressive minds involved in the acquisition of nuclear power. The Nazi regime initially had a lead in the race to capitalize on the domination of holding nuclear weapons.

It was German and Austrian scientists who first discovered fission in 1938.

Research regarding the power of the atom began under the control of Werner Heisenberg at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute.

Later, when the first team provides less than stellar results within the short time scheme demanded by the Nazi regime, a second program was formed under Professor Kurt Diebner.

Second hand accounts of primary sources show how German scientists were initially quite optimistic in regards to the potential of the Nazi regime to acquire nuclear power.

However, it also suggested that the seminal problem was that Nazi paranoia caused scientific research to be fragmented -- a negative approach to uncovering the secrets a very complex and demanding problem. Overall, however, the research states that the German minds new quite well how to actually make the bomb, but were not so properly allowed to flourish.

Scholars, however, have confirmed that the project, called Uranverein (the Uranium Club) began officially in April 1939, just months after the discovery of nuclear fission in January of that year. This first effort, badly disorganized and without a true leader, ended in months. Understanding the potential, though a second effort began anew in September 1939, on the exact day Germany invaded Poland. This program had three major thrusts, none of them weapons based: a working nuclear reactor, heavy water production, and the separation of uranium isotopes. Somehow, by 1942, the expense and lack of focus convinced some of the Party bureaucracy that nuclear fission was not the answer necessary to end the war. At that time, the Army turned the program over to the Reich Research Council, which was split between nine major institutions whose individual directors controlled their own objectives. Too, the number of scientists working on applied nuclear fission began to diminish as Germany required them to deal with problems of fuel, food, utilities, and congenital weaponry.

The Historiography of the Nazi Bomb -- in December 1938, chemists Otto Han and Fritz Strassman sent a manuscript to a German scientific journal announcing the had detected barium after bombarding uranium with neutrons. They also communicated these results to Lisa Meitner, who had fled to Sweden because of her Jewish heritage. She and her nephew, Otto Frisch, interpreted the Hahn/Strassman results as nuclear fission, confirmed by Frisch with additional experiments in January 1939.

Archival research shows that the Director of Physical Chemistry at the University of Hamburg, upon hearing of these results, sent word to the RKM (Reich Ministry of War) to suggest that there were a number of potential military applications of nuclear chain reactions. By the end of April, a group of physicists, organized by Abraham Esau, met and began preliminary work at the University of Gottingen. Oddly, the three principal scientists were called to military training, and their work discontinued.

The entire first Uranverein lasted from April 24, 1939 to August 1939.

The second Uranverein was formed on September 1, 1929 under military, not academic, control. This was a robust group, centered at the Max Planck Institute for Physics in Berlin, Kurt Diebner administrator. The focus was… [END OF PREVIEW]

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