Defense Media Network

Operation Paperclip

A Deal With the Devil

“In summary, we have here [in the Soviet Union] a political force committed fanatically to the belief that with [the] U.S. there can be no permanent modus vivendi, that it is desirable and necessary that the internal harmony of our society be disrupted, our traditional way of life be destroyed, the international authority of our state be broken, if Soviet power is to be secure.”

-U.S. diplomat and political analyst George Kennan, February 1946

Nazi Germany was the enemy, and its defeat was the goal of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union. The first signs of divorce in the marriage of convenience that had made them allies appeared during the Yalta Conference in February 1945, where President Franklin Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Premier Josef Stalin met at the Crimean resort city to plan not only the war’s end, but the foundation for the postwar world.

Yalta Conference

Front row from left, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Soviet Premier Josef Stalin are seen at the Yalta Conference in February 1945. As the Allied leaders were meeting to plan an end to World War II, some in the United States and Great Britain were beginning to recognize that the political differences between the Soviet Union and both the United States and Great Britain were too severe to be reconciled. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command photo

In the final days of World War II, a small group of individuals presciently recognized that in the case of the Soviet Union, the axiom “today’s ally is tomorrow’s enemy” was a rapidly approaching reality. The political differences between the Soviet Union on the one hand and the United States and Great Britain on the other were too severe to be reconciled. Sooner or later, there would be a falling out with enormous consequences. That falling out would be called the Cold War. In its early days, before it got its name, when Germany was collapsing in defeat, an opportunity unlike any other occurred. It was also an opportunity not without moral cost, a “deal with the devil.” But with national security at issue, a special operations mission was authorized. It was called “Paperclip.”

Operation Paperclip, named after the use of the ordinary paperclip attached to the personnel files of select German scientists, was a special operation of breathtaking scope. Instead of highly trained teams tasked for important combat missions, these teams were hunters and gatherers sifting and searching through the wreckage and ruin of a devastated Germany. Theirs was a high-stakes contest against an equally determined Russia and other less malevolent former allies. German scientists and technologies were the pawns, and the prize was nothing less than national security and preeminence as a world power. When it was concluded, hundreds of German scientists and their families, tons of documents, hardware, weapon systems, and technologies would be transferred from Germany to the United States.

As 1945 opened, the shooting war was clearly being won by the Allies. But just as clearly to those capable of looking past national pride, German science was dominating the technological war. Allied blockades and advances shut off one after another the pipelines of essential minerals, chemical, and petroleum products to Germany. And around-the-clock bombing of industrial centers was crippling the enemy’s war-making infrastructure. At least, that’s what the public was told, and also what many in the military believed.

V-2 Rocket

German technicians prepare a V-2 rocket for launch in this undated photograph. The V-2 represented one of a number of advanced weapon systems that Germany alone was able to develop during World War II, leaving a technological gap between itself and the Allies. NASA Marshall Space Flight Center photo

Though the Allied juggernaut was so strong as to be irresistible, there were important technological gaps and weaknesses that did not go unnoticed by the high command. Amazingly, and frighteningly, Germany was able to field a wide array of new and technologically advanced weapons and weapon systems. These included the first operational combat jet, rocket-powered aircraft, air-to-air missiles, superior anti-tank weapons, tanks and tank armor, and other weapon systems both simple and sophisticated. Synthetic products of all kinds were created as well, ranging from the much-maligned ersatz coffee to synthetic fuels and lubricants.

Maj. Gen. Hugh Knerr, deputy commander for administration, U.S. Strategic Air Forces Europe, acknowledged to his boss, Gen. Carl “Tooey” Spaatz, “Occupation of German scientific and industrial establishments has revealed the fact that we have been alarmingly backward in many fields of research.” He then went on to state, “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.”

Gen. Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, the Air Force Chief of Staff, threw down the post-war gauntlet when he wrote to the secretary of war that in the next war, “The United States must be the world’s first power in military aviation.” What prompted Arnold was a damning incident in the dying days of World War II over Germany. A group of B-17 Flying Fortresses on a mission to Berlin were attacked by six Me-262 jet fighter-bombers, each armed with 60 R4/M missiles. Within a few minutes, 14 B-17s had been shot down. While this isolated victory itself was too little, too late to save Germany from defeat, its technological importance was not lost on Arnold. The R4/M had been used 18 months earlier against Air Force bombers in the catastrophic Schweinfurt raid. Since then, the Allies had not put into production a similar weapon.

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DWIGHT JON ZIMMERMAN is a bestselling and award-winning author, radio host, and president of the...

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    The Scientific and Technical Information (STI) swept up in Germany by U.S. and U.K. Intelligence at the close of WWII Germany lives on at the Defense Technical Information Center ( DTIC has an ongoing backfile conversion program to digitize the ATI card catalog records and their corresponding microform and hard-copy documents. To date, DTIC has digitized 15,623 of the 150,00 ATI documents. Unfortunately, the controlling DoD successor agencies have not responded to DTIC’s request for document review and the majority of the information, dating from the 1920’s through 1950, is still marked classified or controlled unclassified releaseable to DoD only.