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Operation Paperclip

A Deal With the Devil

Arnold’s assessment was seconded by his counterparts in the British Air Ministry and the Royal Air Force. An Air Ministry intelligence summary dated Jan. 26, 1945, acknowledged, “Owing to high speed, the enemy has been able to use his jet fighters in a fighter-bomber role successfully and with comparative immunity from Allied fighters. The Me-262 is equally excellent as an interceptor.” Another memo to Churchill acknowledged, “The United States and Britain are outstripped technologically by the Germans.” British Air Marshal Charles Portal ominously wrote on Jan. 26, 1945, “If Germany has not been beaten before July 1945, she will have dominance in the air war over Germany and above the armies during the period of good flying weather.”

Meanwhile in the field, astonishing reports from more than 200 OSS secret agents already in Germany were pouring in telling of the locations of caches of scientific and technology secrets; of hidden test sites, underground factories. Combined Intelligence Objectives Subcommittee (CIOS) teams tasked with seeking out and assessing such locations found themselves overwhelmed with the staggering scope of sites and materials.

V-2 Rocket Intelligence

Allied intelligence conception of V-2 storage and launching operations. U.S. Air Force photo

An example of the extent of the treasure trove being uncovered occurred in early April 1945, when elements of the U.S. First Army captured a large complex at Volkenrode in northern Germany. The complex contained workshops, laboratories, parts of airplanes, engines, and wind tunnels larger than anything existing in Great Britain or the United States. Normal Army G-2 and specialized Consolidated Advance Field Teams (CAFT) quickly investigated the find. But it was not until early May when Col. Donald Putt, leader of the Air Force’s “Operation Lusty,” arrived that the American find was fully comprehended. The complex was the Hermann Goering Aeronautical Research Institute, the most sophisticated and advanced of its kind in the world. It was established in 1935, operational when the war started, and was totally unknown to the Allies.

Putt’s discovery proved mind-boggling. In the aerodynamic section alone there were low-speed, subsonic, supersonic, and transonic wind tunnels. There was a camera designed to record jet engine performance that could take many pictures a second. The center had a section that could simulate altitude conditions up to 50,000 feet. In the armament area, there were two firing tunnels, 400 meters long, built to analyze the effect of crosswinds as strong as 500 miles per hour on missiles in flight. One of Putt’s most important finds was German scientist Adolph Busemann, the inventor of the swept wing, who eagerly recounted the work done at the center.

But Volkenrode was not the only place where sophisticated wind tunnels existed. Dr. Fritz Zwicky of the California Institute of Technology was at the same time exploring a wind tunnel complex at Kochel near Munich. He reported that the Germans were “many years ahead of all other countries.”

And along with the material, American troops and agents were finding the men. The list included Wernher von Braun and Walter Dornberger, scientists and technicians who worked for the top German aviation corporations, for the I.G. Farben chemical giant, for the steel maker Krupp, and others. Almost all were tainted with Nazi party association. Determining whether the motives of these scientists and technicians were guided by genuine conviction, calculated opportunism, or political extortion would take time.

Dr. Wernher von Braun

German rocket scientist Dr. Wernher von Braun (arm in cast) surrenders to U.S. Army counterintelligence personnel of the 44th Infantry Division in Ruette, Bavaria, in May 1945. Von Braun later played an integral role in the U.S. space and rocket programs. NASA Marshall Space Flight Center photo

With the national security of the United States at stake, time was a prohibitive luxury. While the U.S. government officially wrestled with the issues of what to do with the scientists and technicians living in the section of Germany administered by the Americans, the Soviet Union was moving fast and offering powerful monetary and career inducements to lure scientists to its side, no questions asked. France was also turning a blind eye to scientists with tainted pasts. The dilemma wracked the government, and offered no safe and easy answer. If the United States adhered to its stated anti-Nazi policy, it risked losing the services of every noteworthy German scientist and technician available.

This possibility was noted by a Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) memorandum that stated, “Unless the migration of important German scientists and technicians into the Soviet zone is immediately stopped, we believe that the Soviet Union with a relatively short time may equal the United States developments in the fields of atomic research and guided missiles and may be ahead of U.S. development in other fields of great military importance, including infra red, television and jet propulsion. In the field of atomic research, for example, we estimate that German assistance already has cut substantially, probably by several years, the time needed for the USSR to achieve practical results.”

The JIC made three recommendations: that German scientists and technicians should be prevented from falling into the hands of the Soviet Union or being interrogated by that nation; that the American army in Germany should give the scientists and their families all the provisions they needed; and that the American military governor in Germany immediately compile a list of 1,000 scientists and technicians qualified in the fields of aerospace and other strategically important fields useful for the United States.

Putt, who worked on both Paperclip and its predecessor, Overcast, urged swift action in getting the scientists to the United States. In a letter to the Pentagon, he wrote, “The American zone is literally crawling with French and Russian agents whose work has become rather fruitful and facilitated by the sorry fact that German scientists have received no clear-cut, positive offers from this country.” Offers from French and Russian agents guaranteed the scientists generous financial and professional inducements as well as the care and comfort of their families.

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


    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-50715">

    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 (www.dtic.mil). 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.

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