by Andrew Walker
21 November 2005
Sixty years ago the US hired Nazi
scientists to lead pioneering projects, such as the race to conquer
space. These men provided the US with cutting-edge technology which
still leads the way today, but at a cost.
The end of World War II saw an intense scramble for Nazi Germany's many
technological secrets. The Allies vied to plunder as much equipment and
expertise as possible from the rubble of the Thousand Year Reich for
themselves, while preventing others from doing the same.
The range of Germany's technical achievement astounded Allied scientific
intelligence experts accompanying the invading forces in 1945.
Wernher von Braun
Nasa icon and former SS
Supersonic rockets, nerve gas, jet aircraft,
guided missiles, stealth technology and hardened armor were just some of the
groundbreaking technologies developed in Nazi laboratories, workshops and
factories, even as Germany was losing the war.
And it was the US and the Soviet Union which, in the first days of the Cold
War, found themselves in a race against time to uncover Hitler's scientific
In May 1945, Stalin's legions secured the atomic research labs at the
prestigious Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in the suburbs of Berlin, giving their
master the kernel of what would become the vast Soviet nuclear arsenal.
US forces removed V-2 missiles from the vast Nordhausen complex, built under
the Harz Mountains in central Germany, just before the Soviets took over the
factory, in what would become their area of occupation.
And the team which
had built the V-2, led by Wernher von Braun, also fell into American
Shortly afterwards Major-General Hugh Knerr, deputy commander of the
US Air Force in Europe, wrote:
"Occupation of German scientific and
industrial establishments has revealed the fact that we have been
alarmingly backward in many fields of research.
"If we do not take the opportunity to seize
the apparatus and the brains that developed it and put the combination
back to work promptly, we will remain several years behind while we
attempt to cover a field already exploited."
Thus began Project Paperclip, the US
operation which saw von Braun and more than 700 others spirited out of
Germany from under the noses of the US's allies.
Its aim was simple:
"To exploit German scientists for American
research and to deny these intellectual resources to the Soviet Union."
Arthur Rudolph: "100% Nazi"
Events moved rapidly. President Truman
authorized Paperclip in August 1945 and, on 18 November, the first Germans
There was, though, one major problem. Truman had expressly ordered that
"to have been a member of the Nazi party and
more than a nominal participant in its activities, or an active
supporter of Nazism militarism" would be excluded.
Under this criterion even von Braun himself, the
man who masterminded the Moon shots, would have been ineligible to serve the
US. A member of numerous Nazi organizations, he also held rank in the SS.
His initial intelligence file described him as "a security risk".
And von Braun's associates included:
Arthur Rudolph, chief operations
director at Nordhausen, where 20,000 slave laborers died producing V-2
missiles. Led the team which built the Saturn V rocket. Described as
"100 per cent Nazi, dangerous type".
Kurt Debus, rocket launch specialist,
another SS officer. His report stated: "He should be interned as a
menace to the security of the Allied Forces."
Hubertus Strughold, later called "the
father of space medicine", designed NASA's on-board life-support
systems. Some of his subordinates conducted human "experiments" at
Dachau and Auschwitz, where inmates were frozen and put into
low-pressure chambers, often dying in the process.
All of these men were cleared to work for the US, their alleged crimes
covered up and their backgrounds bleached by a military which saw
winning the Cold War, and not upholding justice, as its first priority.
And the paperclip which secured their new
details in their personnel files gave the whole operation its name. Sixty
years on, the legacy of Paperclip remains as vital as ever.
With its radar-absorbing carbon impregnated plywood skin and swept-back
single wing, the 1944 Horten Ho 229 was arguably the first stealth aircraft.
The Stealth bomber: Based on
a 1944 German design
The US military made one available to Northrop Aviation, the company which
would produce the $2bn B-2 Stealth bomber - to all intents and purposes a
modern clone of the Horten - a generation later.
Cruise missiles are still based on the design of the V-1 missile and the
scramjets powering NASA's state-of-the-art X-43 hypersonic aircraft owe much
to German jet pioneers.
Added to this, the large number of still-secret Paperclip documents has led
many people, including Nick Cook, Aerospace Consultant at Jane's
Defence Weekly, to speculate that the US may have developed even more
advanced Nazi technology, including anti-gravity devices, a potential source
of vast amounts of free energy.
Cook says that such technology,
"could be so destructive that it would
endanger world peace and the US decided to keep it secret for a long
But, while celebrating the undoubted success of
Project Paperclip, many will prefer to remember the thousands who
died to send mankind into space.