Chapter Four - The Hidden Bomb
"Ardenne worked on some sort of atomic project approved at the highest level, his villa was visited on several occasions by Hitler during the latter's periods of residence in Berlin."xcvii
Dr. David Picking
from his book Hitler's Tabletalk
Ardenne's technology "had clear similarities to the tracks at Oak Ridge,"xcviii
The German Atomic Bomb
On 13 March, 1945, one and a half months before the end of the war, Adolf Hitler addressed the officers and generals of the German 9th Army. The English and Americans were closing in from the west and south; the Wehrmacht was in shreds in front of them and falling back. The Russians were just outside Berlin and closing from the east; in three weeks the German capital would be surrounded. The Luftwaffe was decimated; it could barely get aircraft off the ground. Germany had all but lost. Yet Hitler stood before his soldiers and announced, "we still have things that need to be finished, and when they are finished, they will turn the tide."xcix
Their Fuehrer was intent on buying time until he could thrust his newest, most secret weapon into battle.c Scores of later observers and historians would attribute his "miracle weapon" rhetoric to dementia that had set in under the influence of drugs and duress. Or they suggested it was a vain and empty promise meant to buttress German military resolve to buy time while the Fuehrer tried to negotiate with the Allies - or break them up, depending on who one listens to. But Hitler's visionary prediction now appears to have been more than war-wearied wishing or drug-induced hallucinations.
In fact, according to none other than Hitler's top lieutenant, Martin Bormann, in all things the consummate realist, Hitler was neither wishing nor hallucinating. With the end of the war closing in, Bormann had told Gauleiter Hellmuth that a secret weapon soon would be forthcoming even as Germany was being defeated.ci Party bigwigs were being told by Bormann, and firmly believed, that a most-secret miracle weapon was about to be unleashed,cii wrote Jochen von Lang. SS General Karl Wolff, who, it will be learned, probably had special knowledge of the secret weapon, revealed in post-war interrogations that he had spoken privately with Hitler about the secret weapon.ciii According to Lang, Bormann focused "all his energy" on making sure the miracle weapon would happen.civ
Bormann insisted a miracle weapon was coming because, in all likelihood, Bormann had seen it - or at least he had seen its most integral and difficult to obtain component - while touring with Hitler the laboratory where it was created. As was his fashion, Bormann followed Hitler almost everywhere and wrote down on small white cards almost every word that fell from Hitler's lips and nearly all his comings and goings. From these references Dr. Henry Picking wrote his book Hitler's Tabletalk. And using those references Picking affirms that Hitler (probably accompanied by Bormann - author's note) made a habit of visiting the private laboratory of nuclear physicist Manfred von Ardenne.
"Ardenne worked on some sort of atomic project approved at the highest level," wrote Picking, "his villa was visited on several occasions by Hitler during the latter's periods of residence in Berlin"cv (emphasis the author's).
Such singular attention by the leader of the Third Reich, whose time was in great demand and who during this period thought and worked only on important issues relating to the war, bespeaks a man fully supporting a program upon whose success he was counting. Hitler by these repeated visits, despite later assertions otherwise, appears to have understood the importance of the von Ardenne nuclear program in the world wide military/political arena. If anything, his visits to the laboratory show Hitler was aware, knowledgeable, involved and supportive of nuclear weapons and that, interpreting the reason for his successive visits, the program must have been progressing. So if Hitler believed a miracle weapon was forthcoming when he addressed the 9th Army, having been an eye witness to Ardenne's developments, he probably had good reason for that conviction; as did Bormann.
Bormann, in fact, had already focused a considerable amount of energy on making the "miracle weapon" happen.cvi He had actively resisted Armaments Minister Albert Speer's attempts to induct almost 15,000 scientists and technicians into the military - 5,000 of whom had already been inducted were released - so they could continue their research efforts on weapons development. Among them were several atomic scientists saved from conscription into Bormann's own Volksturm Army. He then issued a decree that protected all scientific personnel from any future combat operations other than as required for defensive operations in the regions of their own homes.
But evidence exists that Martin Bormann had a more direct connection to nuclear development than establishing and enforcing broad policies about scientific personnel and their relationships with the military, and irregular tours through nuclear laboratories. In his book Inside The Third Reich, Albert Speer related how Hitler received an update about the development of nuclear weapons from Bormann's old friend Dr. Richard Ohnesorge. Speer gives a brief accounting of Ohnesorge and his chief physicist, the young Manfred von Ardenne.cvii
Bormann had worked closely with Dr. Ohnesorge, the mathematician and physicist who was Minister of Posts, on deciphering the intercepted messages between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, and had arbitrated a deal between the postal ministry and Hitler on the usage of Hitler's likeness. Now Ohnesorge was in Hitler's presence again reporting on the nuclear program, an achievement not possible without Bormann's approval at the very least, and most probable only with his wholehearted support.
The possibility seems worth considering that Bormann was not only Ohnesorge's champion and intermediary in Hitler's court, based on their previous success decrypting the Roosevelt-Churchill hotline and the fact that almost nothing was presented to Hitler without having received Bormann's support first, but Bormann appears to have been involved with nuclear development on a broader level as well. For example, whenever the miracle weapon was mentioned at the end of the war, Bormann's name was always tied to it, as Speer reported in the case of Gauleiter Hellmuth having been told about the weapon by Bormann, and Jochen von Lang documented that "Bormann's commissars" revealed the existence of the weapon.
The miracle weapon program, in its entirety, also follows what had long been the pattern and had all the earmarks of a Bormann intrigue: it was a shadow program composed of people strongly aligned with Bormann, performing tasks outside of the structures one would expect people in those functions to perform. Speer, without mentioning Bormann by name, even complained about amateurism and "Sunday-supplement" reporting of the program, a complaint he often threw at Bormann, but at few others. The production component of the project, as well, appears to have been assembled and controlled by a web of close Bormann cronies at I.G. Farben, Auschwitz and in the Gestapo and SS. In addition, other powerful leaders, led by Speer, resisted the enterprise but were unable to bring it down, another strong sign Bormann was involved and used his power with Hitler and elsewhere to uphold the effort. Speer usually had his way with the Fuehrer on most subjects; except those that Bormann contested.
Hitler's personal and long-standing interest in the project supports widely documentable evidence that Ardenne, with Ohnesorge's backing, was working with commitment and aggressiveness equal to those who were striving to develop an atomic bomb in America. Additional evidence suggests Ardenne achieved far more success in nuclear energy development than any other German research team - including and far surpassing Dr. Werner Heisenberg and his followers, who in the traditional history are summarily held forth as Germany's nuclear leaders.
At his villa in Berlin Lichterfelde, supported by Ohnesorge's massive funding, Ardenne had built his own first-rate underground laboratory safe from the intermittent bombings delivered by Allied airplanes.cviii Despite efforts during and after the war to minimize Ardenne's achievements, he actually succeeded by mid-war in developing an isotope separation technology that "had clear similarities to the tracks at Oak Ridge," according to David Irving, author of The German Atomic Bomb.cix Irving added that "the Ardenne source," as it came to be known, was, in fact, better than those at Oak Ridge and continued to be the ion plasma source of choice globally for decades after the war.cx
What Irving does not say directly is that Ardenne conceived the idea of his magnetic isotope separator in early 1940, at the beginning of the war, not too late in the war to be of service to the German program, as is often inferred in the traditional history. In fact, development of Ardenne's technology occurred at the same time Ernest Lawrence first began toying with the idea of converting his cyclotron into a similar type of device. By then, Ardenne had already drawn up plans for his own isotope separator.cxi Before the year was out, Ohnesorge had underwritten Ardenne's effort and the equipment for the great laboratory had been purchased.
By mid-1942, at the same time the modification of Lawrence's experimental cyclotron in Americacxii was completed, Ardenne's isotope separator had been completed as well,cxiii construction having begun in 1941.cxiv In essence, at mid-war Ardenne was neck and neck with America's leading electro-magnetic isotope separation bomb program. For all intents and purposes, so far, he was in a tie in the race for the atomic bomb, something neither Heisenberg nor any of his German cohorts could claim. And a fact never openly admitted by the United States at the time or during the years since.
Lawrence's machine partially enriched a 100-microgram specimen of uranium after a month in operation. No record of the output of Ardenne's machine has been found by this author for comparison, but given the reports of the quality of Ardenne's enriched uranium, he certainly had processed some material. And considering Ardenne's work during the war has been described as "the most far-reaching work on isotope separation,"cxv based on the success of the Ardenne ion source, Ardenne's isotope separator appears to have been superior to the American calutrons. The evidence certainly indicates that Manfred von Ardenne succeeded in developing a viable technology for enriching uranium both within the applicable time frame and to a level of quality that cannot be minimized. And based on that evidence, it seems possible if not probable the German device outperformed its American counterpart.
When calutron technology had been proven in the American uranium enrichment program, it was handed over to the big industrial combines for transitioning into production methods and models; and subsequently uranium enrichment production on an industrial scale was begun. Because such a course of research and development and then production was, and still is, the normal and expected paradigm of technology development; and because the two nation's programs so closely resembled each other in so many other facets; it seems probable the Germans went into development of a production phase of Ardenne's technology at about the same time the United States' program started building commercial calutrons; perhaps without Ohnesorge's and Ardenne's knowledge or complete inclusion. Once the technology had been created, it would not have been necessary for the developers to participate in its adoption to industrial production processes, though it certainly would have been helpful.
There remains the important questions of what happened to Ardenne and his program between mid-1942, when his machine appears to have been completed and was successfully enriching uranium, and the end of the war; and what happened to any enriched uranium that may have been produced at Ardenne's laboratory? At the end of the war, hundreds of tons of German uranium were missing and unaccounted for, possibly because they had been enriched to the 1/140th of the mass that was U235. At that ratio, many kilograms of enriched uranium could still have been produced. Even tiny amounts of enriched uranium were valuable and important.
The program had been moving with great momentum. Although Ardenne's facility was bombed about a year after his machine was completed,cxvi given the momentum of Ardenne's work, much progress must have been accomplished by then. Ardenne had repaired the isotope separator quickly after the bombing and there is no reason to believe improvements in the laboratory that could be added to the industrial-level production separators did not continue right up to the end of the war. The questions of whether Ardenne continued to operate and improve his enrichment process, and what happened to any enriched product he created are unanswered by the traditional history. Critical Mass proposes answers to these mysteries.
Despite his achievements, significant effort has been made to discredit Ardenne's wartime workcxvii and, in fact, to hide it whenever possible, including by Ardenne himself. Ardenne, who was essentially self-taught in physics and mathematics but whose zeal for the subject matter and his personal connections allowed him to make great strides with his unconventional projects, was belittled personally and professionally by many of his counterparts for not being a true academic, most especially by Heisenberg and another leading German theoretician Carl-Friedrich von Weizsacker, and because of them, Albert Speer.cxviii
Ardenne was supposedly, in turn, mislead by Heisenberg and Weizsacker into thinking a bomb was not possible for technical reasons, even though Heisenberg, along with Hahn, was one of the theoreticians who had revealed to Ardenne the estimated critical mass of an atom bomb.cxix Despite Heisenberg's later alleged disinformation to Ardenne regarding the technical unfeasibility of a weapon, Ardenne, using Heisenberg's previous argument for a bomb, secured Ohnesorge's funding for his project, who in turn used the argument to gain his audience with Hitler - again, most likely through Bormann.
Ardenne's practical application of physics was not without the direction of a strong theoretical mind that kept him current and gave him guidance in his quest to unleash the atom. He had hired Professor Fritz Houtermans, a fascinating and brilliant Austrian who while still a student in Germany, like Oppenheimer in America, had worked out the thermonuclear theory of solar energy: what fueled the stars - and later hydrogen bombs. In fact it is Houtermans and astronomer Robert Atkinson who, together, are given credit for first deciphering and articulating the thermonuclear theory; so named because of the immense heat inside the stars that is released when hydrogen atoms collide and fuse together to form helium.cxx Thus an atom bomb is the result of energy released by the fission, or splitting of atoms, while a thermonuclear warhead - or hydrogen bomb -- is the result of energy released by the combining, or fusion, of atoms.
Houtermans' genius was not limited to astrophysics. As early as 1932, the same year the nucleus of the atom was discovered and six years before the atom was first split, Houtermans was the first to recognize and champion the potential for nuclear power from atomic chain reactions. cxxi When Houtermans' Austrian compatriot Hitler came to power in Germany, Houtermans immigrated to the Soviet Union. While there he advanced the theory, in 1937,cxxii of neutron absorption, which would eventually be used to create plutonium, another first. Before the war had even begun, Houtermans' powerful and imaginative mind in Stalin's hands could have placed the Soviet Union as front-runner among the nations in the race for an atomic bomb, had the Russian leaders paid more attention to the unusual physicist and not committed a serious error instead.
For having thus jumped out of Hitler's frying pan and into Stalin's fire, Houtermans was arrested in one of Stalin's paranoia-driven purges in 1937. Houtermans' wife and children escaped to the United States but Houtermans was imprisoned for two years, constantly at threat of death, and tortured in an effort to gain a confession of having been a saboteur. In one 72-hour session all of his teeth were knocked out. In a following interrogation, Houtermans falsely admitted to having spied for Germany by ascertaining Russian aircraft speeds using a device he had "invented."cxxiii
The torture stopped while his "invention" was reviewed. The contrivance turned out to be wholly invalid on scientific grounds, as Houtermans planned it would, and higher officials correctly deduced his confession had been coerced from him by "unscientific" means, all according to Houtermans' plan.
While Houtermans awaited review of his case in 1939, Hitler negotiated what would be a short-lived peace with Stalin, and Houtermans was turned over to the Gestapo as part of a general prisoner exchange. Heinrich Mueller's police force locked him up again for a short time, then freed him on request of Nobel laureate Dr. Max von Laue, with the proviso Houtermans was under Gestapo supervision and the understanding he would not be allowed to work for any state agencies or universities.cxxiv Soon he was employed in the private laboratory - though funded by the Postal Service, a state agency - of the unorthodox Baron Manfred von Ardenne.
The renowned theoretical and experimental mastery of Houtermans - who despite his proven theoretical leadership was actually degreed as an experimental physicist - certainly provided significant contributions to the unappreciated but substantial enthusiasm and experimental genius of Ardenne. For example, although Ardenne had been told an estimate of the required critical mass of a uranium bomb would be "only a few kilos"cxxv by Heisenberg and Hahn, Houtermans actually performed the exact calculations for critical mass while working for Ardenne in 1941,cxxvi thus providing a crucial piece of information needed to create an atomic bomb. For comparison, the United States' program did not deduce its final figure for the amount of enriched uranium to be used in the bomb until four years later, in April 1945. Houtermans also had calculated not only the cross sections of a fast, or exploding, chain reaction, but the cost of various isotope separation methods, as well. In addition, while in Ardenne's employ Houtermans performed serious research on development of a nuclear reactor.
Much has been made in previous histories of Houtermans' covert resistance to the Nazis waging war using the fruits of his mind and the infinite powers of the universe it discovered; and undoubtedly much, if not all, of what is reported about his opposition to Hitler is true, for Houtermans appears to have been a man of quality conscience. This fact, and his contributions to a German bomb, as listed above, notwithstanding, history suggests that his main obstruction to the Nazis coopting his marvelous mind came in the form of steering Ardenne and others away from a bomb and toward the development of nuclear reactors for creating energy for industrial purposes.
Besides Houtermans' research into the subject, there is evidence that Ardenne's laboratory was, in fact, actually building a reactor as well as a magnetic isotope separator.cxxvii The fact, however, that both Ardenne and Ohnesorge understood and promoted the development of a bomb before Houtermans arrived on the scene and that they continued to pursue one after his employment indicates that Houtermans' politics had little effect upon the purposes of the laboratory or upon its achieving those objectives.
In addition, given the Gestapo's close control of Houtermans, it can hardly be expected that he would have effectively tried to thwart Ardenne's, and by extension Ohnesorge's, efforts toward a bomb. Although all German scientists were watched closely, none had his actions so carefully scrutinized as Fritz Houtermans.
In fact, it is entirely possible that Houtermans' working at Ardenne's laboratory was the result of Gestapo Mueller having informed his mentor, Bormann, that the eminent physicist was in Gestapo hands following the prisoner exchange with the Soviets. Upon hearing this, Bormann, in an effort to expand his own nuclear program, may have manipulated his bureaucratic strings, steering Houtermans into "his" program run by Ohnesorge and Ardenne, knowing they could use Houtermans' substantial capabilities.
Considering the Gestapo's order for Houtermans not to work at any state program, and then Houtermans ultimately working for a state agency, such a course seems likely. For working at Ardenne's facility, which, though private, was funded by a major government branch that performed important war research on the most secret weapon of all, would almost certainly have been considered a breach of the Gestapo directive. Only with the Gestapo's blessing, and, by extension, Bormann's, is it likely Houtermans would have been allowed to work on the Postal Ministry's nuclear bomb project.
The Gestapo's directive to Houtermans may have been a device to keep Houtermans out of the control of Bormann's nuclear bomb development competitors in the military and the universities, as well. Fritz Houtermans had been the "guest" of one too many state police organizations not to know what was expected of him if he wanted to survive. Besides, he was a physicist at heart - to not pursue his work was the same as not breathing.
On the smoky, ash-covered banks of the Vistula River hulked the miserable Polish town of Oswiecim. The cause of its wretchedness surrounded it: To the southwest one kilometer stood a concentration camp established by the occupying Germans who had overrun Poland. To the west two kilometers stood another, much larger camp with an even more nefarious purpose. From its smokestacks the constant snow of human ash settled upon the town. Between the stacks and the town stood the train station through which humans, like ignoble beasts of the field, were trundled to these abject camps.
To the east six or seven kilometers was a third camp, reserved for prisoners of conscience who dared defy the Nazi regime, as compared to most of those in the other camps who just happened to be unlucky and were born across the wrong boundary line or of arbitrary parentage. A few kilometers north of that stood yet another camp, where the "lucky" prisoners were starved more slowly on slightly higher rations while their military masters in the SS sold their 18-hours-a-day labor for a pittance but kept all of the earnings for themselves. The town had even been severed from using its own Polish appellation and was forced to use the Teutonic version of its name: Auschwitz.
To slap wicked insult on cutting injury, 12,000 residents
of the town had been thrown out of their homes and German scientists, technicians
and factory workers, all employees or contract workers of the world's largest
chemical cartel, Hermann Schmitz's I.G. Farben, moved in.cxxviii
From then until the end of the war nothing would be held back in the effort
to erect and put into operation what would be one of the most, if not the
most, technically advanced processing plants in the world, according to
authors Peter Hayes and Richard Sasuly, who wrote Industry and Ideology
and I.G. Farben, respectively.
The site had been carefully selected for its purpose: it was outside of Germany and far from Allied bombing and the watchful eyes of reconnaissance operations; it was next to a major railroad center allowing easy access for moving equipment and materials from around Europe to and from the site; it had a nearly inexhaustible supply of manual labor from the death camps for building the fences, barracks, offices and other non-technical structures required and for operating equipment that might otherwise be deemed too dangerous for individuals whose lives were valued; and it had quick and ready access to vast stores of coal from the Brzeszcze-Jawiszowice coal mine.cxxix
The purpose of the plant appears to have been hidden behind an illusory wall carefully crafted to camouflage the truth from the world. So much of what went into building and operating the plant, and the paucity of product reported to have been produced from it -virtually nothing - is not congruent with the history of the company that owned and operated it or its alleged purpose: the making of synthetic gasoline and synthetic rubber, known as buna.
First, and most telling, according to many sources the plant consumed more electricity than the entire city of Berlin.cxxx Considering the installation never made a pound of buna, never even went into production, and is alleged to be the biggest failure in the history of I.G. Farben because of that fact, such electrical consumption is incredible if not entirely unbelievable. That such quantities of power were required to build the facility is highly improbable. Certainly Berlin, the eighth-largest city in the world at the time, constantly bombed by the Allies and continually rebuilt to keep the war machine going, had many construction and re-construction projects within its boundaries that individually matched or exceeded the electrical demands of Auschwitz's single buna plant, not to mention the total consumption of all Berlin's construction projects combined. Add to these the electrical consumption of the hundreds of thousands of businesses and residences throughout the sizable city and the electrical consumption discrepancy between the city and the buna installation is massive and unexplainable.
Even had the plant been making buna but it was kept secret after the war for some unexplained reason, the electrical consumption would still have been astronomical given the buna manufacturing process, far exceeding any power usage that could have been expected for the facility. The only explanation, had the plant been making buna, that could begin to explain such a high level of electrical consumption, although this even stretches the bounds of plausibility, is that the plant was designed to be totally powered by electricity, including heating the buna directly with electrical power, which would have been extremely inefficient since electricity at Auschwitz was created by burning coal. Normally, the burning of coal heats water to create steam, which would then efficiently be used for the buna heating processes. To burn coal to create steam to create electricity, which was and is the conventional way to create electricity, which would then be used to heat buna, is fundamentally inefficient - and greatly so. There is no conceivable reason to have done such a thing. But by all accounts, the plant never even went into production of buna, so, having reviewed this process to prove the point, there still is no rationale for the enormous electrical consumption on that basis.
Ed Landry, President and General Manager of Keystone Polymers, Inc. of Houston, Texas and an expert on synthetic rubber production, when he was told about the electrical consumption of the buna plant, responded, "that was not a rubber plant - you can bet your bottom dollar on that." Based on other information provided, as well, Landry believes it is hardly conceivable that the so-called "buna" plant at Auschwitz was primarily designed to make synthetic rubber. When the author contacted another leading expert on buna production, a senior manager with over 25 years of experience in the building and operating of at least three buna plants between the 1960s and the 1990s, this expert supported Mr. Landry's assessment completely.
Unfortunately, due to employment requirements, the expert is not allowed to reveal his identity. He furnished considerable details, however, about the construction, costs of construction and development of buna facilities that have been confirmed by the author using current trade journals, and the author has used this information to substantiate his evidence. The information on the development of buna plants is easily available to anybody who cares to pick up almost any journal on synthetic rubber production and review the project construction forums.
Second, the plant had cost over 900 million reichsmarks, over 250 millioncxxxi 1945 United States dollars based on the initial currency exchange of marks for dollars following the war. The value of the mark, however, had already begun spiraling before the end of the war. Using the conservative $250 million figure adjusted for inflation to today's dollars, nonetheless, the buna plant would have cost $2 billion.cxxxii
"That's a hell of a lot of money for a buna plant," asserts Mr.Landry, again questioning the assertion that buna was, in fact, what the facility was built to produce.
The average buna plant that produces 150,000 tons of buna annually costs approximately $80 million to build - in 1999 dollars. That is $10.5 million adjusted to 1945 dollars. The expenditure of $250 million 1945 dollars reported to build the buna plant at Auschwitz is not just twice the amount expected, or even three or four times the sum one would anticipate the plant would have cost, but twenty-five times that of the average buna plant of the day. And today's costs are greatly inflated in comparison with 1945, in order to meet the higher costs of environmental restrictions that doing business on the cusp of the 21st Century entails. In addition, a plant that produces 150,000 tons of buna per year is producing the same amount of buna that the Auschwitz plant and the two other existing plants of the time at Schopau and Huens, cxxxiii Germany (each produced 12,000 tons per year) and one additional plant (capacity equal to Auschwitz) that was planned to be built at the same time as the buna plant at Auschwitz, were all intended to produce, combined.cxxxiv
That being the case, in essence, the alleged buna plant at Auschwitz would have cost about half as much to build as the 1945 $10.5 million estimate; in other words, $5.25 million - about one-fiftieth the cost of the Auschwitz construction. Ultimately, it his hard to conceive of a buna plant producing product that must, of necessity, cost 50 times that of similar product created at other facilities.
Third, the suggestion that I.G. Farben in the four years between the beginning of construction of the plant in early 1941 and the plant's shutdown at the end of 1944, completed only one installation in the buna plant and was still unable to produce bunacxxxv runs counter to the commission given to Farben regarding the construction of the plant; counter to the priority given by both the Nazis and Farben to the building of the plant; and counter to the history of the company and its experience building buna facilities and its proven capabilities as the largest chemical concern on earth.
Considering its great investment, cxxxvi the 25,000 inmates and 12,000 German employees and contractors who worked on the project; cxxxvii and the intense interest and pressure put on the project by Hitler and his SS, it seems doubtful if not inconceivable I.G. Farben would have come up empty on such an important venture. Especially since buna technology had already been developed two decades earlier and buna product was allegedly needed so badly.
I.G. Farben's reputation had been made on technological achievements. The forerunner to the I.G. Farben company was BASF, whose founder, Carl Bosch, had been one half of the two-man team that first developed synthetic nitrates for fertilizers and explosivescxxxviii - called the Haber-Bosch process. The new process, with another Farben-developed technology, the Bergius synthetic oil and rubber process with which buna is made, was the first production-level technology that required extremely high pressures;cxxxix a challenge Bosch met with great success and for which he was the first engineer to earn a Nobel Prize.
In 1921, BASF's synthetic nitrate plant in Oppau, Germany exploded, killing 600 and wounding 2,000.cxl BASF needed to rebuild the facility fast but required 10,000 skilled workers to do so. The problem was solved by hiring entire companies, paying them so well that they dropped all other business and went to work concentrating only on Oppau's reconstruction and operation. As a result the plant, previously estimated to require a year in reconstruction, was rebuilt and operating within three months; a testament to the acumen and boldness of Carl Krauch, who had been assigned by BASF's Hermann Schmitz, to rebuild Oppau.
Twenty years later, Krauch now wearing the duel hats of chief operations officer of I.G. Farben and plenipotentiary general for special chemical production for the Third Reich,cxli had been assigned, once again by Martin Bormann's old business buddy Hermann Schmitz, to a task that required similar handling, the buna plant at Auschwitz.
"In the new arrangement of priority stages ordered by Field Marshal Keitel, your building project (the buna plant) has first priority," wrote Krauch to Otto Ambros, who headed the day-to-day building of the buna facility.cxlii General Keitel, with whom Krauch liaised, was Hitler's chief military advisor, and eventual co-chairman with Martin Bormann on what would come to be known as the highest seat of Nazi power, subservient only to Adolf Hitler himself - The Committee of Three.
Ambros was an interesting choice for the assignment. He was considered the leader in the field of high-pressure and synthetic rubber technology and he was the man who oversaw the construction and operation of BASF's first large-scale buna plant at Schopau in 1935.cxliii He was also, oddly, Farben's leading expert on poison gas. Ambros dabbled in physics as well, having pioneered theory in magnetic tape technology in 1932; and he studied under Nobel Prize-winning organic biologist Richard Willstaeter. On all fronts, Ambros had special qualities for the special project at Auschwitz.
Given Farben's experience with the Oppau reconstruction and the priority placed by the highest powers in the land - political, commercial and military - on building the buna plant, there appears to be little reason for the installation's construction having taken four years, and yet to not have been completed at all. The buna process had been invented two decades earliercxliv and was, by now, old hat so to speak; two large production plants were already built and operating successfully. Manpower, both skilled and unskilled, was massively available at Auschwitz. Even though efforts were supposedly being made to update buna technology, there seems to have been little to hinder Farben from repeating Krauch's success at Oppau when constructing the buna plant at Auschwitz.
Given the directive of high priority and the quick results the directive demanded,cxlv certainly the buna plant would have come to fruition within four years had buna been the project's true objective. But after four years in construction, at the end of 1944 when it was dismantled and carried away in the face of the approaching Soviet Army, the buna plant at Auschwitz still had not produced a drop of buna.
Certainly there is something wrong with this picture. A compilation of the three central and readily known facts just outlined - electrical consumption, construction costs, and I.G. Farben's previous record - does not easily form a picture that a buna processing plant was the type of project being constructed at Auschwitz. Such a compilation does sketch a picture, however, of another important wartime production process, though secret at the time. The process is uranium enrichment.
First, while buna requires almost no electricity to produce, electro-magnetic isotope separation requires staggering amounts of electricity to power the immense magnets used to separate the ionized uranium particles. As documented, the buna plant at Auschwitz devoured as much electricity as the entire city of Berlin, the eighth-largest city in the world in the 1940s. Few things, even today, consume as much energy as the buna plant did given its small relative size. The fact that I.G. Farben had built an electrical plant next to the buna operation, a very rare occurrence in those days of inexpensive electricity,cxlvi is stark testimony of the plant's voracious appetite for voltage.
Second, although 25 times the cost of a buna installation, the cost of construction of the Auschwitz plant is strikingly in line with what one would expect to see for an isotope separation plant. For comparison, the United States calutrons program at Oak Ridge spent $20 million on research, $6 million on engineering, $204 million on construction, and $10 million on operations, for a total of $240 million, according to General Groves' own figures.cxlvii This compares to $250 million for the "buna" plant at Auschwitz. The harmony of the German and American figures is striking if not compelling.
Third, while Farben had a strong reputation for quick construction of its priority projects, the delays of the "buna" facility and the problems that caused those delays mirrored to a significant degree the chief difficulties experienced at Oak Ridge. The buna plant enjoyed top-priority status over all other projects in the Reich, "even at the expense of other important building projects or plans which are essential to the war economy,"cxlviii Krauch had declared.
Thus, priority-wise, the "buna" plant held a position roughly equal to that enjoyed by the Manhattan Project in the United States. But even early in the war, before shortages became prevalent, the "buna" plant at Auschwitz suffered continual delays caused by malfunctioning equipment and material shortages.cxlix
Such setbacks were totally out of character for the technically advanced and highly efficient (even for a German company) I.G. Farben that was supposed to be installing buna technology already well-developed; and that was supposedly being led by managers who were the leading experts in their fields, and, personally, had already successfully overseen similar projects. In addition, due to the vast numbers of people required for the installation, there were difficulties providing housing and transportation as well as the other essentials of daily life, again paralleling similar challenges within the Manhattan Project.cl
The obvious clues and history of the facility strongly indicate an installation much more like that of isotope separation than buna processing. Add to this the requirement for absolute secrecy about uranium enrichment during wartime and the fact that isotope separation was such a unique and costly process at the time, unlike any other, and it becomes hard to imagine the so-called buna installation being anything but a cover for a uranium enrichment facility.
Other clues, while not conclusive individually, dovetail so alarmingly hand-in-glove with the premise that the buna plant was actually a uranium enrichment plant as to place a collective exclamation mark after the conclusion. A few examples:
First, despite the reported drastic and ongoing setbacks, the I.G. Farben leaders, Nazi bigwigs and the SS command at Auschwitz appear to not only have worked amicably hand-in-hand throughout to resolve the problems, but they even cordially wined and dined one another throughout the duration of the project, without allowing their supposedly dismal failures to get in the way of their personal relationships.cli
Such relaxed accord could not have been expected within the Nazi regime - nor, indeed, within many other regimes - had the challenge been as high priority, essential and yet as familiar and as easily expected to bring to productivity as the construction of a buna installation. If the challenge, however, was pioneering unknown science with the hope of creating a decisive miracle weapon, certainly an atmosphere of teamwork and esprit d'corp would have prevailed, as was the case within the Manhattan Project, and as seems to have been the case of the leadership at Auschwitz.
Second, I.G. Farben, traditionally known as a chemical concern, on the heels of developing synthetic nitrates shortly after the turn of the century actually had built an explosives empire unequaled in Europe by gaining controlling interests of the other major munitions manufacturers on the continent. Farben then aligned the operations to create Europe's largest broad-based vertical explosives manufacturing empire, causing author Joseph Borkin to write that Farben "had focused a portion of its strategy on the waging of war."clii
Would it not have been the natural next step in that strategy to be the manufacturer of the next generation of weapons - nuclear weapons? And would it not have been the Nazi's most logical next step to ask the leading munitions provider to undertake this endeavor; especially when the relationship was as close as that of I.G. Farben and the Nazi Party?
Once again, the German and American nuclear programs appear to have followed similar paths on this front; chemical companies led the key industrial concerns that produced the American atomic bombs: DuPont and Tennessee Eastman among the largest. Such institutions were the only organizations that worked with the high-pressure and high temperature technologies that most closely resembled nuclear technologies. Even combined, however, America's largest four chemical companies did not equal the size, stature, capabilities or expertise of I.G. Farben.
And at least one such American company, DuPont, participated only for the sake of patriotism and to ensure the conservation of democracy. The leaders of DuPont not only intentionally precluded nuclear weapons development from its business strategy, but they accepted only one dollar over and above its expenses for the entire wartime project, as a showing of their refusal to profit from war. After the war, DuPont withdrew from nuclear weapons development altogether. Presumably, a company like Farben that had integrated war production into its business plan as a basic tenet of its growth, would be the first to jump on such a potentially profitable market as nuclear weapons.
Third, even the backgrounds of the chief men involved at Farben all appear, to one degree or another, to lend themselves to atomic involvement. Ambros' association and apparent willingness to lead the development of weapons of indiscriminate mass-destruction, as illustrated by his expertise with poisonous gases; combined with his interest and knowledge of theoretical and experimental physics, as shown by his pioneering work with magnetic tape technology; and his ultimate vocation as the chief high-pressure expert and construction project manager at Farben, combine to provide a man singularly prepared to be the chief architect of a uranium enrichment mass-production facility.
Martin Bormann's relationship with Schmitz, and through Schmitz, Krauch and Ambros, as well as Bormann's relationship with General Keitel, who has already been connected militarily with the buna plant, and Auschwitz commandant Hoess, SS Reichsleiter Heinrich Himmler, and even Himmler's adjutant and liaison with both Hitler and I.G.Farben, SS General Karl Wolff, can all be connected - through Bormann - to the German atomic bomb. Wolff, in fact, had been Himmler's liaison to the buna plant.
Fourth, construction on the plant had started some time in or shortly after February 1941. The time frame is interesting because it was a year after Ohnesorge's first atomic conference with Hitler and about the same time that Ardenne started building his isotope separation machine. German and United States atomic programs often paralleled each other. Both the Oak Ridge and the Hanford facilities' construction were begun while the technologies for each were still in developmental stages. Perhaps Germany mirrored the United States' policy of starting to build facilities for technologies that were only still on the drawing board, in order to gain an advantage in time.
As in America, time constraints were a chief issue, and with the risks of failure being geo-political, economic and military oblivion, it would be expected that the German program, too, had initiated projects before the technology had been proven - on the confidence the cogent piece of the puzzle would be ready when the required time arrived. To fail to initiate concurrent design, engineering and construction would have consumed additional months, or even years, in construction when time was so crucially wanting. Or, more probable, perhaps the installation was originally intended to be a buna facility and its design was modified only after the project was begun.
Speer in his recounting of history, perhaps believing a nuclear program under Bormann never could have succeeded, holds the post-war party line that Germany had not pursued a nuclear initiative with any conviction; a party line readily employed to hide the fact that Germany had, in fact, vigorously pursued an atomic bomb but hid that effort, with help from the Americans, after the war.
Speer castigates Ohnesorge's and Ardenne's efforts and minimizes Hitler's conviction to nuclear weapons and even his ability to comprehend their usefulness. He admits to having been disabused by his own scientific staff by this time of the validity of an atomic bomb within the time-frame of the war, and particularly of the expertise of Ohnesorge, Ardenne and their team. He was also an unsworn enemy of Martin Bormann. He rails on those who supported the Ardenne bomb as "unreliable and incompetent informants (who gave Hitler) a Sunday-supplement account," an accusation he often threw at Bormann in other matters. Speer considered Bormann to be all of the above: unreliable, incompetent and amateurish in his approach to politics, power and leadership.
Speer states, in a bizarre sort of argument, that Hitler resisted development of a bomb out of a moral sense. He then falls back on the work of Dr. Heisenberg as the unquestioned leader in German nuclear physics to substantiate his position that Germany never gave atomic weapons serious consideration. But in his diatribe Speer totally fails to address the idea that it was common political wisdom by then - even if the potential for a bomb was known only within very high national leadership and scientific circles - that whoever obtained the bomb first would control the world, which was the essence of Adolf Hitler's life, the Nazi cause, and the reason for the war Hitler had begun and continued to execute. Roosevelt, Churchill, Hirohito and Stalin all understood this precept. To think Hitler did not is folly.
Ohnesorge's first great contribution to Hitler's cause was the decryption of the Roosevelt-Churchill hotline, which presumably revealed the American-English nuclear weapons alliance, since the two Allied leaders are almost certain to have discussed it in their hotline conversations.cliii If an enemy achieved nuclear weapons before Germany, Hitler would have lost his life's task by default whether he liked the idea of having or using a bomb or not. His "moral sense" did not stop him from committing a plethora of the most heinous atrocities experienced in this world.
The imminence of a nuclear weapon being created by one of his enemies - there was little he could do to stop it - could only be countered by his developing and using one of his own first, and thus winning the war and ruling Europe, and, with the help of the Japanese, possibly the world. Can anyone really believe that the man who introduced to the world Blitzkrieg, terror bombing, Auschwitz and the "scorched earth" policy, so gallantly rejected a nuclear weapon at the cost of his own life's work and his nation's final fulfillment of what he believed to be its supreme purpose, based on moral grounds?
Speer's argument that the Fuehrer was too dull to understand the abstract physics of a nuclear bomb seems most strained, too. Hitler had been capable of understanding and visualizing the benefits of such cutting edge technology as jet propulsion and rocketry, both of which Germany first introduced to the battlefield, not to mention some of the politically ingenious advances he executed in his rise to power and European domination. It sounds a hollow claim that Hitler had not the intellect to "grasp the revolutionary nature of nuclear physics," as Speer suggests.
The time frame of Speer's reference to the Ohnesorge report is mid-1942, the middle of the war. Ohnesorge had first approached the Fuehrer eighteen months earlier, at the end of 1940, with his nuclear proposal.cliv Hitler is said to have scoffed at the suggestion at that time, and joked that while his other leaders "were worrying about how to win the war, it was his Minister of Posts who had to bring him the solution."clv
One must ask if following the first meeting and Hitler's reputed rejection, Ohnesorge would have gone forward with nuclear weapons research in the face of Hitler's supposed jeering? Possibly. But if he had, he probably would not have done it openly and with disregard for the Fuehrer's feelings about it. One did not expect to be smiled upon by Hitler if one were openly questioning, by his own actions, the Fuehrer's judgment.
So why would Ohnesorge expose himself to Hitler's reproach, as Speer's later account suggests, by giving him an update on the project, especially if it showed the lack of promise Speer insinuates, which would have confirmed Hitler's supposed reservations about nuclear weapons? The fact that Ohnesorge was discussing nuclear arms with the Fuehrer again and Hitler was intermittently visiting Ardenne's laboratory, probably means either Ohnesorge and Ardenne had in fact achieved a significant level of success that validated the program, or Hitler was not actually averse to the program in the first place, as so many interpretations of history, including and often based on Speer's assertions, have tried to make us believe.
xcvii Dr. David Picking, Hitler's Tabletalk, (as quoted by Brooks, Hirschfeld in Hirschfeld: The Story of a U-Boat NCO, 1940-1946 p. 230
xcviii David Irving, The German Atomic Bomb, p. 235
xcix Jochen von Lang, The Secretary, p. 316
c Paul Manning, Nazi In Exile, p. 113
ci Albert Speer, Inside The Third Reich, p. 531
cii Jochen von Lang, The Secretary, p. 313
ciii U.S. National Archives II, War Crimes Records, Interrogation Summary #4476, 1 December, 1947, RG 238 M1019, Roll 80; also Interrogation Summary #4453, 16 December, 1947, RG 238 M1019, Roll 80
civ Jochen von Lang, The Secretary, p. 315
cv Dr. David Picking, Hitler's Tabletalk, (as quoted by Brooks, Hirschfeld in Hirschfeld: The Story of a U-Boat NCO, 1940-1946 p. 230
cvi David Irving, The German Atomic Bomb, pp. 256, 258
cvii Albert Speer, Inside The Third Reich, p. 271
cviii David Irving, The German Atomic Bomb, pp. 78, 290
cix David Irving, The German Atomic Bomb, p. 235
cx David Irving, The German Atomic Bomb, p. 235
cxi David Irving, The German Atomic Bomb, pp. 77, 116; Richard Rhodes, The Making Of The Atomic Bomb, p. 360
cxii Richard Rhodes, The Making Of The Atomic Bomb, p. 488
cxiii David Irving, The German Atomic Bomb, p. 76 - 78, 116; Richard Rhodes, The Making Of The Atomic Bomb, p. 487
cxiv Richard Rhodes, The Making Of The Atomic Bomb, p. 371
cxv David Irving, The German Atomic Bomb, p. 235
cxvi David Irving, The German Atomic Bomb, p. 290
cxvii Brooks and Wolfgang Hirschfeld in Hirschfeld: The Story of a U-Boat NCO, 1940-1946 p. 230
cxviii David Irving, The German Atomic Bomb, p. 78
cxix David Irving, The German Atomic Bomb, p. 77
cxx Robert Jungk, Brighter Than A Thousand Suns, pp. 27, 28, 93; Richard Rhodes, The Making Of The Atomic Bomb, p. 370
cxxi Robert Jungk, Brighter Than A Thousand Suns, pp. 48, 94
cxxii Robert Jungk, Brighter Than A Thousand Suns, p. 94
cxxiii Robert Jungk, Brighter Than A Thousand Suns, p. 93, 94
cxxiv Robert Jungk, Brighter Than A Thousand Suns, p. 94
cxxv David Irving, The German Atomic Bomb, p. 77
cxxvi David Irving, The German Atomic Bomb, p. 92
cxxvii Brooks and Wolfgang Hirschfeld in Hirschfeld: The Story of a U-Boat NCO, 1940-1946 p.
cxxviii Peter Hayes, Industry and Ideology, p. 349
cxxix Peter Hayes, Industry and Ideology, p. 349; Yisrael Gutman and Michael Berenbaum, Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp, p. 38
cxxx Paul Manning, Nazi In Exile, p. 153; Joseph Borkin, The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben, pp. 3, 116;
cxxxi Joseph Borkin, The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben, p. 116
cxxxii Forbes, For Your Information, 25 November 1991 (the exchange rate was US$1.00 to Deutschmark 7.56)
cxxxiii Joseph Borkin, The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben, p. 63, 114
cxxxiv Joseph Borkin, The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben, p. 114
cxxxv Peter Hayes, Quest For Economic Empire, p. 63
cxxxvi Joseph Borkin, The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben, p. 116
cxxxvii Joseph Borkin, The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben, p. 3; Paul Manning, Nazi In Exile, p. 153; Peter Hayes, Industry and Ideology, p. 349
cxxxviii Joseph Borkin, The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben, p. 8,9
cxxxix Joseph Borkin, The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben, pp. 45,46
cxl Joseph Borkin, The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben, p. 37
cxli Joseph Borkin, The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben, p. 115
cxlii Joseph Borkin, The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben, p. 116
cxliii Joseph Borkin, The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben, p. 115
cxliv Joseph Borkin, The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben, p. 50
cxlv Joseph Borkin, The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben, p. 114
cxlvi Primo Levi, Survival In Auschwitz: The Nazi Assault On Humanity, p. 123
cxlvii Leslie Groves, Now It Can Be Told, p. 97
cxlviii Joseph Borkin, The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben, p. 116
cxlix Joseph Borkin, The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben, p. 118
cl Joseph Borkin, The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben, p. 119
cli Joseph Borkin, The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben, p. 119
clii Joseph Borkin, The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben, p. 43
cliii David Irving, The German Atomic Bomb, p. 150
cliv David Irving, The German Atomic Bomb, p. 77
clv David Irving, The German Atomic Bomb, p. 77
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