10 Secrets of Nazi Scientists Used as Pawns in The Cold War Arms Race

10 Secrets of Nazi Scientists Used as Pawns in The Cold War Arms Race

Larry Holzwarth - December 13, 2017

As World War II drew to an end in Europe, American military planners looked ahead to other conflicts. One was the ongoing war with the Japanese in the Pacific. The other was the growing intransigence of the Russians. Throughout the war the United States, through Lend-Lease, had provided the Soviet Union with all of the necessities of keeping their massive armies in the field. But there had been little coordinated military action and a great deal of distrust simmered between the Allies. It was quickly clear that the Soviets had little intention of surrendering any of the gains they had acquired in Eastern and Central Europe.

The United States was on the verge of detonating an atomic bomb. It was a given among American leaders that the Germans had been working on an atomic weapon of their own. The Germans had demonstrated advances in jet propulsion, rocketry, guided weapons, chemistry, and much more. Any of the scientists, technicians, engineers, and others who fell into the hands of the Soviets would take knowledge with them which would give the Soviets an edge over the United States. Any of the knowledge which came to the US would give that edge to the Americans, as regarded the USSR and Japan.

10 Secrets of Nazi Scientists Used as Pawns in The Cold War Arms Race
A V-2 Rocket test launch at Cape Canaveral in 1950. US Army

Hundreds of Germans who had worked to defeat the Allies in the war were brought to the United States and put to work on top secret projects. It was called Operation Paperclip.

10 Secrets of Nazi Scientists Used as Pawns in The Cold War Arms Race
Churchill, Truman, and Stalin settled the occupation of Germany at Potsdam in 1945. Before the conference ended Churchill was defeated at the polls in England and was replaced. National Archives

The Soviets aggressively recruited many of the same people as the United States

Relations between the United States and the USSR rapidly deteriorated in the weeks following the fall of Berlin. Despite agreements reached at Yalta and later at Potsdam, Soviet troops and agents began to seal off the areas held by their forces. English, French, American, and Soviet agents searched for former Nazi leaders, military leaders, industrialists, scientists, and other persons of interest. Despite security which had prevented even President Truman from being aware of the atomic bomb before taking office, the Soviets, through their spy network, were well aware of American progress.

The Russians were interested in the technology developed around the V-1 and V-2 rockets, rocket propelled aircraft, anti-aircraft missiles, and other advances made by the Germans at the Luftwaffe’s central testing facility and at Mittelwerk Nordhausen, which had been transferred to the Soviet Zone of control in July 1945. Aware of the American’s interest in recruiting the same personnel, the Russians decided to use more forceful means of persuasion to recruit workers.

On the night of October 22 1946, agents of the NKVD, a predecessor of the KGB, and armed Soviet troops rounded up more than 2,000 German specialists and their families, between midnight and three in the morning, at gunpoint. At the same time teams of Soviet technicians gathered material including intact missiles, rockets, aircraft, support equipment, technical manuals and drawings, reports, and anything of significance.

The Germans and their equipment were transported by train to the Soviet Union, where the specialists were offered contracts to work for the Soviets, at pay scales equal to similarly skilled Soviet workers. According to some specialists later released by the Soviets, there was no choice but to sign the contracts, as it was made clear that they would not be returned to Germany.

Over ninety trains were required to transport the Germans, their families, their belongings, and their work materials. Some German employers tried to block the removal of their workers, arguing that they were needed for the economic rebuilding of the country, those objections were for the most part ignored by the Russians. Zeiss tried to prevent the removal of needed machinery for example, but failed to retain more than 25% of their equipment. The Soviets explained that the operation had been necessary as part of the Allies agreements to eliminate German military facilities.

10 Secrets of Nazi Scientists Used as Pawns in The Cold War Arms Race
The ongoing war against Japan created a sense of urgency recruiting German technical specialists. Wikipedia

Identifying the Germans to be recruited

Many German “intellectuals” as they were derisively called before the war were sent to perform mundane tasks with the German army in the East. As the war turned against Germany the value of the specialists became apparent, and they were recalled to work in German industry and scientific development. A list was prepared by the head of the German Defense Research Association, Werner Osenberg, which identified those specialists which were recalled after being persuaded to comply with the regime’s political position.

The Osenberg list was found, incomplete as it had been partially shredded and crammed into a commode, as Germany was collapsing in the spring of 1945. It was forwarded via Britain’s MI6 to the Americans, who used it as the basis of identifying German specialists to be interviewed after the war. At the time there were no plans to recruit any of the Germans to come to the United States. The Americans only wanted to determine what technical and scientific advances had been made during the war.

Initially the operation was known as Overcast, and as the German specialists were interviewed by the Americans it became evident that they would be able to make significant contributions to successfully completing the war against Japan. Nearly all of the specialists identified by the remnants of the Osenberg list had worked at the German V-2 base at Peenemunde. Once they were located and taken into custody the Americans held them at Landshut, with their families.

During the spring of 1945 American and British agencies concentrated in the areas of Germany which would be transferred to Soviet control in July of that year. Many of the specialists identified on the Osenberg list voluntarily came forward to the Americans, others tried to avoid capture, especially those who could be named as being members of the Nazi Party or involved in activities which could be considered to have supported war crimes.

Attempts at secrecy regarding the specialists were thwarted by the press, and Operation Overcast was renamed Operation Paperclip, under increased security, in the fall of 1945. The United States created secret organizations to take into custody – a form of legalized kidnapping – specialists to prevent their emigration to another nation. A high priority was assigned to those specialists which could provide immediate support to the Pacific war effort.

10 Secrets of Nazi Scientists Used as Pawns in The Cold War Arms Race
Allied bombing of facilities caused the Germans to scatter research areas across the countryside in small villages. Daily Mail

The Evacuation of Saxony and Thuringia

During the war the Allied bombing of Berlin and other German cities caused many research operations to be relocated to small villages not targeted by the American and British air forces. The then German provinces of Saxony and Thuringia, where many of the research facilities and their personnel had been sent, were slated to be transferred to the control of the Soviets in July 1945. American and British intelligence acted to remove as many of the German specialists as they could before they came under the Soviet’s influence.

After the specialists were identified and located, the Office of the Military Government of the United States (OMGUS) ordered them to report to a specific location, leaving behind possessions which could not be readily carried. They were then transported by military vehicles to the nearest operational train station and sent to Berlin. Once under the control of US authorities they were resettled in the American Zone of control. Most were not provided with research work, and were essentially under house arrest, with limited movement privileges.

More than 1,800 German technical specialists were removed from Saxony and Thuringia along with their families. Those few with information deemed to be of immediate necessity regarding the war with Japan were sent to interrogation camps, the rest were scattered in the countryside, where they were required to report to Military Police periodically to keep their whereabouts known to OMGUS.

The United States provided the specialists with a small payment to cover their living expenses. Reimbursement for losses of property and income became an issue of debate among the detainees and the Americans. During the period of detention various US agencies and research facilities recruited among the detainees, who were ordered to be held until all relevant information had been gleaned by interviewers.

Since most of the detainees were prevented from doing research during the period of their detention, by 1948 the information to be derived from them was largely out of date. The US government eventually paid them a settlement of almost 70 million Reichsmarks, which quickly lost most of its value as a result of West German currency reform.

10 Secrets of Nazi Scientists Used as Pawns in The Cold War Arms Race
Operation Paperclip was supposed to deny entry to known Nazis and SS members. Von Braun was both. Wikipedia

Wernher Von Braun

Wernher Von Braun is perhaps the most well-known of the German scientists and technical specialists to come to the United States as a result of Operation Paperclip. Von Braun is widely regarded as the Father of American Rocketry, his contributions to technology led to the success of the American space program and intercontinental ballistic missiles. In Germany the V-2 rockets of which he spurred the development and deployment rained terror on the British during the war, and much of his history in Nazi Germany was covered up with the complicity of the American government.

Von Braun was a member of the Nazi Party, which he joined in 1937, later telling American interrogators that he was forced to join in order to continue his work. Von Braun told the Americans that he joined in 1939. He also joined the SS in 1940, though he claimed that this too was to allow him to continue his work. He explained a photograph of himself with Heinrich Himmler while wearing the SS uniform as being the only time he ever wore it, but fellow workers at Peenemunde testified that Von Braun routinely wore the SS uniform at work. He held the rank of Lieutenant when he joined and rose to the rank of Major.

Building the V-2 rocket was a dangerous job, and Von Braun approved of the use of slave labor in the assembly plants. Von Braun later claimed to have visited the Mittelwerk assembly facility but never observed any harsh conditions or mistreatment of any workers there; numerous workers claimed that Von Braun was the source of the harsh conditions and participated in cruel treatments of the workers which contributed to the dangers of assembly. One of the cruel ironies of the German rocket program was that the V-2 killed more people building it than it did when fired at an enemy.

Von Braun was later arrested by Himmler, who was trying to consolidate his power in a deteriorating Germany, and released under the specific order of Hitler, who also ordered his continued protection as long as the V-2 program moved forward. In the general collapse at the end of the war Von Braun and other members of the V-2 program surrendered to American troops in Austria. By June of 1945 Von Braun’s transfer to the United States was approved.

Von Braun was one of the first group of seven Peenemunde rocket scientists who arrived in the United States bearing credentials which had been created for them by US intelligence agents falsifying much of their past. Allegiance to the Nazi Party and SS were outright denied or presented as having been forced on the engineers. During his long career in the United States the background created for him during Operation Paperclip held up in the public eye, despite early opposition to his freedom and presence in America by other German scientists.

10 Secrets of Nazi Scientists Used as Pawns in The Cold War Arms Race
An underground V-2 assembly chamber at Mittelbau-Dora. Wikipedia

Georg Rickhey

One of the German engineers brought to the United States was the Director of the German company which manufactured the V-1 and V-2 rockets, Mittelwerk GmbH. Mittelwerk was located in Mittelbau-Dora, a concentration camp which operated as a sub-camp of Buchenwald. Mittelwerk used slave labor from the camp to build the weapons which would later be launched against the allies. Approximately one third of the prisoners sent to Mittelbau-Dora died there.

Rickhey joined the Nazi Party in 1931. He held several different engineering positions in pre-war Germany, rising in both his career and in the Nazi hierarchy. During the war he worked in the Reich Ministry for Armament and Munitions. Rickhey became one of Germany’s leading technical experts in the construction of underground bunkers.

Rickhey became the Director of Mittelwerk in 1944, as production of the V-2 rocket was increasing. Using the slave labor provided by the concentration camp he introduced draconian measures to increase production. His work led to his being awarded the Knight’s Cross of the War Merit Cross – an award which was available to both civilian and military personnel. Hermann Goering requested that Hitler grant him the same award, as its rarity gave it a special panache in German society. Hitler refused.

Rickhey was taken into custody by the Americans in 1945 and due to his expertise in setting up and operating the production lines for rockets he was transferred under Operation Paperclip to Wright Field in Ohio in 1945. The United States meanwhile established the Dachau Trials – which were held by the United States Military rather than by an International Tribunal as at Nuremberg – which included trials of defendants from Mittelbau-Dora. As a result of testimony given there Rickhey was indicted and returned to Germany under arrest in 1947.

Rickhey was charged with creating the appalling working conditions at Mittelwerk, the use of slave labor, and the witnessing of Gestapo and SS executions of laborers. At the end of December 1947 he was acquitted of all charges and following his release he opted to remain in Germany.

10 Secrets of Nazi Scientists Used as Pawns in The Cold War Arms Race
Arthur Rudolph with a model of the Saturn V booster and Apollo Capsule. Wikipedia

Arthur Rudolph

The Saturn 5 rocket was developed in the 1960s to carry American astronauts to the moon. The Saturn 5 program was managed by Arthur Rudolph, who had previously worked on smaller US rockets developed for the space program and for the US Army. Prior to that he worked on V-2 rocket research for the United States in White Sands, assigned there by the US Army after being brought to the United States under the purview of Operation Paperclip.

A US background investigation in 1954 – after nine years in the United States – noted Rudolph’s fervor for the Nazi Party and its beliefs. He had the joined the party in 1930. Rudolph worked in production of the V-2 as operations director at Mittelwerk. During production Rudolph and the rest of the production team witnessed the public execution of workers accused of sabotage; Rudolph later claimed that they were forced by the SS to observe the hanging of up to 12 prisoners.

Rudolph surrendered to the US Army and after briefly working with the British was returned to US custody and with his family brought to the United States. He became a US citizen in 1954. His work on rockets for the army and later NASA was often in highly classified areas. He received numerous awards for his work from NASA from which he retired in January 1969, six months before the rocket he had played a leading role in developing launched men to the moon.

Ten years later investigators with the Department of Justice uncovered the link between Rudolph and forced labor at Mittelbau-Dora. A series of interrogations was scheduled with the Department’s Office of Special Investigations, these revealed Rudolph’s activities at the Mittelwerk facility, including his use of forced labor to speed production of the V-2. Rudolph entered into negotiations to avoid prosecution by the United States for war crimes, which included his renunciation of American citizenship (although he retained his pension and Social Security benefits), and deportation.

Upon Rudolph’s return to West Germany on a pretext he renounced his American citizenship as agreed and applied for West German citizenship. The revelation of the reasons for his actions started an international investigation, with public demands that he be tried as a war criminal. The West German government decided that since the Statute of Limitations for any crimes connected to Rudolph had expired he would not be charged and he was granted West German citizenship. Before he died in 1996 Rudolph sued to recover American citizenship, claiming he had been coerced, but the case was dismissed.

10 Secrets of Nazi Scientists Used as Pawns in The Cold War Arms Race
The Pentagon under construction in 1942, By 1944 the Offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were there. Wikipedia

The Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency (JIOA)

The United States Joint Chiefs of Staff initiated what became Operation Paperclip in the late spring of 1945, and late that summer formed the JIOA to oversee the program. It was formed as a subcommittee of the already extant Joint Intelligence Committee and was approved by President Harry Truman with the caveat that those who had been active members of the Nazi Party were not to be included in the program. As the identification process evolved the JIOA realized that many of the leading scientific specialists targeted by Paperclip were Party members of long standing.

The JIOA and the military intelligence agencies whose officers manned it created dossiers which either denied Nazi membership or mitigated it by designating it to have been forced. Membership in the SS by several of the German recruits was simply stricken from the records whenever possible, or acknowledged and falsely explained if there was photographic evidence of recruits appearing in SS uniform.

Participation in war crimes, either passively or actively, was also eliminated from the dossiers prepared by the JIOA for the desired recruits. The JIOA was abetted in this work by British Intelligence, who conducted many of the initial interviews and assisted in creating fictional histories, thereby keeping American hands clean.

In addition to the day to day oversight of Paperclip, the JIOA was responsible for the collection of data as it was uncovered in Germany, again working alongside their British counterparts. Scientific and industrial information from German companies was collected, analyzed, classified, and distributed according to JIOA directives.

The JIOA remained in operation until it was finally shutdown by the Pentagon during the Kennedy administration. Nearly all of the dossiers collected on the German recruits during Operation Paperclip were transferred to the National Archives, with some notable exceptions. The dossier for Wernher Von Braun was not released.

10 Secrets of Nazi Scientists Used as Pawns in The Cold War Arms Race
This landing pass bears the signature of Bernhard Tessmann along with a listing of some of his former positions including Chief Designer at Peenemunde. Wikipedia

Bernhard Tessmann

Bernhard Tessmann worked on the German V-2 program at Peenemunde from 1936 to 1943. His interest in the program was not driven by an interest in spaceflight as Von Braun’s was. Tessmann was interested in the development of guided missiles as weapons. His specialties were engine development, thrust measurement, and flight control systems.

Tessmann relocated to Austria after Peenemunde was bombed in 1943. From there he worked on the design of mobile launchers for the V-2, and in the development of underground assembly and launching systems, the precursor of today’s missile silos.

Tessmann was responsible for saving much of the V-2 documentation near the end of the war, as it became evident that Hitler would not surrender until Germany was all but destroyed by the oncoming American and Russian Armies. A disused iron mine was selected as a suitable storage facility for the entire library of V-2 documents and papers. After the war Tessmann informed the Americans of the cache, leading to its recovery.

When Tessmann entered the United States he was initially sent to Fort Bliss in Texas, where he continued his work on thrust measurement and control. He remained in the employ of the United States at Fort Bliss, White Sands, the Redstone Arsenal, and finally NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

While living in Huntsville Tessmann and his wife were avid supporters of the arts, and they devoted time and money to foster new programs in music and the humanities. Today, the Ilse and Bernhard Tessmann Music Scholarship offers a junior or senior at the University of Alabama Huntsville majoring in music a one year scholarship.

10 Secrets of Nazi Scientists Used as Pawns in The Cold War Arms Race
Hubertus Strughold in full Luftwaffe uniform during the Second World War. Herb Museum

Hubertus Strughold

Hubertus Strughold was known as the Father of Space Medicine for his contributions to that emerging field, and was instrumental in the design and development of space suits used in both the Gemini and Apollo space programs. He was brought to the United States during Operation Paperclip in 1947, professing at the time to have known nothing regarding the Nazi sponsored medical experiments on humans conducted at Dachau.

Although the Nuremberg Trials had listed Strughold as a person implicated in medical experiments, American authorities accepted his denial. In 1935 Strughold had accepted the Directorship of the Research Institute for Aviation Medicine, which later became absorbed into the Luftwaffe. He received the rank of Colonel in the Luftwaffe and in that capacity attended a conference held in Nuremberg in which medical studies on prisoners in Dachau, including invasive surgeries sans anesthesia were discussed in detail.

Throughout his career in the United States, which began in 1947, Strughold worked on medical aspects of the space program, rising to become Chief Scientist of NASAs Aerospace Medical Division in 1962. He retired in 1968. During his lifetime he was the subject of three investigations into his possible involvement in war crimes stemming from medical experimentation on humans.

The first investigation found he was not culpable, the second was dropped for lack of evidence and the third was called off after his death in 1986. Still, rumors of his criminal activities for the Nazis had persisted throughout his career and continued following his death.

When Army documents from 1945 were declassified it was revealed that Strughold had been sought by the US Army as a war criminal at the end of the war, and later evidence surfaced that he had not only been aware of medical experiments, but had actively participated in them, although all of the patients on which the experiments were conducted survived. The experiments had been conducted on six epileptic children. Further investigation into Strughold’s war activities continues to this day.

10 Secrets of Nazi Scientists Used as Pawns in The Cold War Arms Race
Kurt Debus built the Kennedy Space Center into the World’s first and only launch site to send men to the moon. Wikipedia

Kurt Debus

Kurt Debus served the Third Reich as Director of Flight Tests for the V-1 and V-2. He was a member of the Nazi Party and the SS, and before the war a member of the SA, the paramilitary arm of the Nazi Party which preceded the SS.

Debus was one of the German rocket specialists who surrendered to the Americans in Austria at the end of World War II and was sent to the United States as part of Operation Paperclip with his Party membership and longstanding service to the Nazis carefully excised from his record.

After time at Fort Bliss and the Redstone arsenal Debus was based in Cape Canaveral, Florida, where he designed the launch facilities for numerous Army rockets before the team he oversaw was transferred to NASA. He later designed the launch facilities for the Saturn rockets.

When the Cape Canaveral facilities were named as NASAs Launch Operations Center Debus was named as its first director, a position he held until his retirement in 1974. Throughout his career he published numerous papers, won many honors and distinction, and held many honorary posts and degrees.

But when Kurt Debus was first interrogated by the US Army prior to his being approved for entry to the United States via Operation Paperclip, the report read, in part. “He should be interned as a menace to the security of the Allied Forces.” The end of the World War and the birth of the Cold War in the dawn of the atomic age created the need for Operation Paperclip, the full truth of which is still being revealed.