Twelve


SECRETS BY THE THOUSANDS

THE MAJORITY OF FEDDEN’S TEAM members flew back to Northolt on Sunday 1 July 1945, leaving just Stern and Flight Lieutenant Beeton still in Germany. Together with Mr Bruckmann they flew in the remaining Dakota to Salzburg in Austria, but with bad weather grounding the aircraft they were forced to continue their journey by road for the remaining 125 miles (200km) further south to Klagenfurt. On 4 July they were able to fly to Munich in order to make arrangements to conduct engine tests on BMW’s high-altitude test bench and on Tuesday 17 July four members of the mission, including Fedden himself, returned to Germany for a further eight days. While in the country they also made return visits to various sites including Völkenrode, Göttingen, Stuttgart and Kochel, but it was the test bench in Munich that was of greatest interest. Codenamed Herbitus, construction had been completed in May 1944 but because of the Allied bombing raids it hadn’t become operational until October that year. From then until the fall of Germany the Herbitus plant had mostly been employed on calibration tests for the BMW and Jumo jet engines, as well as some initial high-altitude trials on the BMW 801 piston engine. The man responsible for the design and direction of Herbitus was Christoph Soestmeyer who had been engaged on engine test plant design for a number of years. He informed the Fedden team that the RLM had also planned for four similar high-capacity test plants at Rechlin, Berlin, Stuttgart and Dessau.

At BMW’s works in Munich the Herbitus plant was located in a separate building roughly 250ft (76m) square and 70ft (21m) high. At its heart was the altitude chamber, a steel cylinder about 12ft (3.6m) in diameter and 30ft (9m) long. Its rear end was detachable, allowing for engine units under test to be wheeled in and out on a trolley. A special cylindrical nose piece was positioned over the engine’s air intake nozzle and a complicated system of pumps and cooling units created the air density and temperature conditions corresponding to those encountered in flight at any altitude up to 36,000ft (11,000m) and wind speeds up to 560mph (900km/h). Additional systems maintained engine temperature and ventilation, and dealt with the engine exhaust. Fedden reports that the plant was surprisingly quiet in operation and, thanks to the automatic control system developed by Siemens, easy to operate:

    The Herbitus plant is quite unique and has possibilities far in advance of any engine testing plant in England or America. It is the only test bench of sufficiently large capacity to test existing jet engines under altitude conditions.

During their initial visit to BMW Munich in June the Fedden Mission witnessed and participated in tests with the BMW 003/A1 which was the only German turbojet available for testing at the time. This engine had already undergone a series of fifty-four calibration runs, totalling about thirty hours, under the direction of the American authorities. A further set of nine calibration runs were carried out by the British team on 19 July, but the state of the BMW engine was such that it was not considered safe to run it for any length of time. With the Americans anxious to ship the jet engine back to the USA in running order, the subsequent tests carried out by the Mission were limited to thrusts of 200 to 500lb (90 to 227kg) and three of the runs were limited to below 100lb (45kg) thrust. As Fedden ruefully commented, they were in the nature of nothing more than token runs to demonstrate the working of the test bed. Undaunted, he managed to arrange with the Americans a loan of the Herbitus plant and the main purpose of the Mission’s supplementary trip was to test two British jet engines, the Rolls-Royce Derwent V and a de Havilland Goblin, under high-altitude conditions.

Fedden lodged a strong recommendation with his bosses at the Ministry of Aircraft Production that arrangements should be made with the Americans for the transfer of the Herbitus plant to England at the end of the year, but without any success. Munich was within the American Control Zone and the plant was subsequently moved to the USA where, Fedden later observed, it was the model for the manufacture of larger high-altitude test equipment. In his opinion this ‘undoubtedly played a major part in America’s post-war gas-turbine development’.

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Hermann Göring, the head of the Luftwaffe, is surrounded by reporters shortly after his capture on 6 May 1945. (NARA)

Among the German equipment that the Fedden Mission brought back to England was an array of jet engines and rocket motors, various components including turbine blades plus a large quantity of drawings and documents. The main items were put on display at the offices of the Ministry of Aircraft Production and politicians as well as major figures within the aircraft industry were invited to inspect this storehouse of aeronautical riches. With the notable exceptions of Sir Stafford Cripps and Winston Churchill, most visitors to Stratton Street were determinedly unimpressed by what they saw. Fedden later wrote about their reactions:

    Many senior authorities came to look at this exhibition, but my colleagues and myself, who had had a stimulating and exciting time collecting all these exhibits together, were shocked by the lack of enthusiasm. ‘What are you so excited about? We’ve won the war, haven’t we?’ was the general attitude.

With an end to the war the new era of peace brought many sudden and sometimes unexpected changes to the political landscape, not just in mainland Europe but also closer to home. Sir Stafford Cripps resigned from MAP at the end of May 1945 (just before the Fedden Mission left for Germany) to concentrate on the forthcoming general election and MAP itself wasn’t to survive for much longer anyway. In August 1945 a minister was appointed with responsibility for both aircraft production as well as the Ministry of Supply, and by April the following year the MAP was fully merged into the new joint ministry.

To some extent the departure of Stafford Cripps might be seen as having robbed Fedden of the official support he had been receiving. Indeed, the justification of the entire mission to Germany may have been questioned in certain official circles. Having said that, Fedden still had the personal support of Stafford Cripps who took up a new post in Clement Attlee’s government following the Labour party’s surprise victory in the elections. Cripps was appointed as President of the Board of Trade. A staunch socialist and Marxist, he had previously been Churchill’s Ambassador to the Soviet Union, from 1940 until he moved to the MAP in 1942. In this capacity he had played a key role in persuading Joseph Stalin to abandon his alliance with Nazi Germany and to enter the war on the British side. At one time there had even been suggestions that Stafford Cripps might succeed Churchill as prime minister once the war was over. Incidentally, in 1946 it was Cripps and the Labour government that agreed to hand over technical information on the Rolls-Royce Nene jet engine to the Soviets. Designed by Frank Whittle, in the hands of the Soviet engineers the engine was reproduced, albeit in a modified form, as the Klimov VK-1 engine used in the MiG-15 in the Korean conflict which started in 1950.

The political changes unfolding in Germany and Eastern Europe had even greater repercussions. Within days of the conclusion of the main part of the Fedden Mission to Germany, the Russians occupied the parts of their control zone previously held by the Americans and British. These included a number of key aircraft and jet engine facilities as well as the notorious Mittelwerk underground rocket factory at Nordhausen. While in the region Fedden had been acutely aware of the need for haste in advance of the approaching red tide:

    Our visits to various establishments at Dessau, Magdeburg, Stassfurt, Nordhausen and Eisenach had to be curtailed so that we should be away before the Russian troops arrived. Many other targets on our itinerary had to be abandoned as the Russians had taken over and no facilities were available for the British investigators.

The implementation of the changes to the Allied Control Zones was part of the process instigated at the Yalta Conference in February 1944, and ratified at the immediate post-war gathering of the ‘Big Three’ at the Potsdam Conference which began on 17 July 1945. This was at the epicentre of change on an unprecedented scale. Not only was the Europe that emerged from the Second World War deeply scarred by events, it was also divided and forever transformed; not least by the influence of the weaponry and technology that came out of the ruins of Nazi Germany. In terms of industrial and military might the USA emerged as the most powerful nation in the history of the planet. The Russians, who had suffered hardship and loss of life on an almost industrial scale, regarded the west with renewed suspicion and insecurity. The result was a new arms race and fortunately for the Soviet Union it benefited more than any other nation from the influx of captured German hardware and expertise. Previously their aircraft had lagged behind those of the west; now they quickly caught up and the Soviet’s jet fighters and nuclear arsenal would were soon on a par with those of its new enemies.

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The Nazis on trial at Nuremberg. Sentenced to death, Göring evaded the hangman’s noose by swallowing a concealed cyanide capsule. (NARA)

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At the Potsdam Conference in July 1945 Clement Atlee replaced Churchill following a shock defeat at the hands of the British electorate, President Truman took Roosevelt’s place following his sudden death, leaving only Joseph Stalin still in power. (LoC)

Aside from the redistribution of Germany’s territories, the Allied leaders meeting at Potsdam also had to come to an agreement on how to proceed with the prosecution of Nazi war criminals. The leading figures in the Nazi party, or at least those who had not evaded capture, were put on trial at the Nüremburg trials which began in November 1945. Several of the accused had been important players in the story of Germany’s aircraft and weapons programme. The first and most important of these was the former head of the Luftwaffe, Hermann Göring, who was subsequently found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to death. He managed to cheat the gallows by swallowing a concealed cyanide capsule in his prison cell on 15 October 1946. Albert Speer, Hitler’s minister of armaments and war production from 1942 onwards, narrowly escaped the death penalty and was instead sentenced to twenty years’ imprisonment. After displaying his contrition at the tribunal Speer was often referred to as the Nazi who said sorry, and it was Speer who had countermanded the Führer’s most excessive orders in the face of Germany’s defeat. In mitigation the court’s judgement stated that:

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Britain’s twin-engined wartime jet, the Gloster Meteor, never saw combat against enemy aircraft. (NARA)

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V-2 rocket being transported by the 1st Air Disarmament Wing in Wirsberg. (NARA)

    … in the closing stages of the war [Speer] was one of the few men who had the courage to tell Hitler that the war was lost and to take steps to prevent the senseless destruction of production facilities, both in occupied territories and in Germany. He carried out his opposition to Hitler’s scorched earth program … by deliberately sabotaging it at considerable personal risk.

Erhard Milch, the man who had overseen the development of the Luftwaffe and had been the founder director of Deutsche Luft Hansa, was convicted on two counts of crimes against humanity in connection with the ill-treatment and death of enforced labour and prisoners of war, and sentenced to life imprisonment; later commuted to fifteen years. Milch had shown Fedden around the various German aircraft establishments just before the outbreak of the war. Among the prominent aeronautical industrialists, Ernst Heinkel and Willy Messerschmitt were both charged with using slave labour in their factories. While Heinkel was acquitted, because of evidence outlining his anti-Hitler activities, Messerschmitt was found guilty by the tribunal and served two years in prison. Two notable absentees from the courtrooms were the rocketmen Wernher von Braun and Arthur Rudolph. Many believe that they should have faced justice because of their implicit involvement in the appalling treatment of the slave workers at the Mittelwerk underground weapons factory at Nordhausen.

THE NUCLEAR AGE

Following the terrible destruction unleashed during the war, with the coming of peace the world suddenly found itself on the brink of self-destruction. On 16 July 1945, the day before Fedden’s return to Germany for the second leg of his mission, the first full-scale test of a nuclear device, codename Trinity, took place at Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range near Los Alamos, New Mexico. At precisely 5.30 a.m. the world entered the nuclear age as the equivalent of around 20 kilotons of TNT sent a boiling mushroom cloud towering 7.5 miles (12.1km) above the New Mexico desert. J. Robert Oppenheimer, scientific director of the USA’s Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb, uttered these words from the Bhagavad Gita:

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Jumo 004 scrutinised at the US Aircraft Research Laboratory of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in 1946. (Nasa)

    If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendour of the mighty one. Now I am become Death, destroyer of worlds.

Ten days later, on 26 July 1945, the Potsdam Declaration issued the terms for the unconditional surrender of Japan. (The declaration was not signed by Josef Stalin as the Soviet Union was not at war with Japan.) The ultimatum stated that if the Japanese did not surrender they would suffer ‘prompt and utter destruction’. In response the Japanese rejection was couched in terms of ‘Mokusatsu’, a policy meaning to ignore or treat with silent contempt. On 6 August the Little Boy atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, and three days later, on 9 August, Fat Man fell on Nagasaki. The extent and scale of the death and devastation was staggering, almost beyond comprehension, and on 15 August 1945 (Japanese time) Emperor Hirohito announced the acceptance of the terms of surrender. The official ceremony took place on 2 September and this date marks VJ-Day and the end of the Second World War. The war of science and technology.

PROFITS AND LOSSES

How do you draw up a balance sheet for an event as widespread as a world war? The cost in terms of the loss of life and the destruction of property was self-evident. But what of the other side of the balance sheet; who benefited most from Germany’s defeat and the looting of its technology? The author of a news report published in the Daily Express on 9 October 1946 attempted to provide an answer:

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Taken to the USA under Operation Paperclip, a group of 104 German rocket scientists, including von Braun and Arthur Rudolph, photographed at Fort Bliss, Texas.

    When all profits and losses of victory, and of the occupation of Germany, come to be weighed up there is one item which will deny an estimate. That is knowledge. The secrets of German industry and science. I put it at £100,000,000.

The amount of loot, in terms of war prizes, was immense. The US 9th Air Force Service Command’s Record of Accomplishment of Air Disarmament confirmed that almost 2,000 tons of secret German air force equipment had been shipped to the USA, including the V-1 and V-2 missiles, the jet and rocket aircraft, as well as more exotic items such as the Horten flying wings. It stated:

    These and other similar items returned for study are contributing greatly to the advancement of Air Force research in new and improved aircraft for civilian and military uses as well as other weapons of war.

Fedden, on the other hand, was of no doubt that Britain had failed to get its fair share of the booty. While he was in Germany he had seen the Americans removing ‘drawings, reports, test records, and experimental prototypes by the truckload’.

Quantifying the amount of material removed from Germany can be difficult depending on the category. This was not the case with the aircraft, however. Taking into account a degree of inaccuracy due to duplication of data, misidentification or examples spirited away covertly, it is possible to deduce the following approximate figures for the jet and rocket aircraft: at least twenty-four Messerschmitt Me 262s, fourteen Arado Ar 234s, thirteen Heinkel He 162s and almost thirty of the rocket-powered Messerschmitt Me 163Bs. Then there were the various experimental aircraft such as the Lippisch Darmstadt-München DM-1 delta wing, two Dornier Do 335s, the Horten Ho II, IV and 229V-3 (Go 229V-3) flying wings, the Junkers Ju 287 bomber with forward-swept wings and the Messerschmitt Me P.1101 from Oberammergau (Chapter 11 provides more detail).

There were the missiles and the rockets. Starting with the V-1 flying-bomb: France, the Soviet Union and the USA all continued with the development and testing of the V-1 and derivatives after the war. The French produced their own version for use as target drones. Known as the CT-10, this was a little smaller than the V-1, had twin tails and could be either ground-launched by means of a rocket booster, or air-launched from an aircraft.

The Russians captured a number of V-1s, mostly from the Blizna test range in Poland, but also a quantity of missiles found in various stages of completion at the Mittelwerk. From these they produced the Izdeliye 10 and testing began as early as March 1945 at a firing range in Tashkent. The Russians also continued development of the pulsejet-powered Junkers EF 126 Lilli manned aircraft, but abandoned the concept in 1946 after a test pilot was killed in a crash.

The Americans had reverse-engineered the V-1 from parts recovered in England since the summer of 1944. Thirteen prototypes of the Republic-Ford JB-2 Loons were completed; these closely resembled the V-2 although were slightly longer. A naval version, known as the KGW-1, was also produced. The intention was to use the missiles in the anticipated Allied invasion of Japan, which obviously became unnecessary following the dropping of the atomic bombs. The KGW-1 was test launched from the American submarine USS Cusak in 1951 and both versions of the missile influenced the development of later surface-to-surface missile systems.

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Walt and Wernher, an unlikely pairing. In 1959 von Braun took part in a Walt Disney film entitled Man in Space(Nasa)

The big prize was Germany’s Aggregate family of rocket designs, the V-2 (A4) in particular as these offered the potential to deliver an atomic payload to a far distant enemy. The first post-war tests were conducted within Germany. In October 1945, the British Operation Backfire saw the test launch of three, possibly four, V-2s from a site at Arensch near Cuxhaven in the north of the country. This was done with assistance of the German technicians.

The Russians also conducted test firings in Germany before transferring their rocket research programme to Kapstun Yar in the Soviet Union in 1946. This was part of their Operation Osoaviakhim which also saw the transference of personnel, as discussed later. The Soviets first missile, the R-1, was a clone of the V-2, but it also led to the development of the larger R-2 and R-5 rockets. There are suggestions that some test launches may have taken place at Peenemünde, giving rise to a number of sightings of ‘ghost’ rockets over Sweden and Finland at the time.

It was the Americans who grabbed the lion’s share of the V-2s. Around 300 rail-car loads of complete missiles and parts were shipped to the USA. Between April 1946 and September 1952 sixty-seven V-2s were launched from the White Sands Proving Ground, New Mexico, and two from the Joint Long Range Proving Grounds, better known as Cape Canaveral, in Florida. The US Navy attempted launches at sea from the aircraft carrier USS Midway in September 1947.

Then there was the value of the intellectual material. An article published in Harper’s Magazine in October 1946 openly refers to the ‘mountain’ of documents involved. In Secrets by the Thousands, journalist C. Lester Walker explained that the ‘captured’ material was being handled at three main locations; Wright Field in Ohio, the Library of Congress and by the Department of Commerce:

    Wright Field is working on the mother lode of fifteen hundred tons. In Washington, the Office of Technical Services (which has absorbed the Office of the Publication Board, the government agency originally set up to handle the collection) reports that tens of thousands of tons of material are involved. It is estimated that over a million separate items must be handled, and that they, very likely, contain practically all the scientific, industrial and military secrets of Germany. One Washington official has called it the greatest single source of this type of material in the world, the first orderly exploitation of an entire country’s brainpower.

Practically all the scientific, industrial and military secrets of Germany? The language of this mainstream article is staggering, almost beyond comprehension. At the time this back-door form of reparations was regarded as simply the spoils of war going to the victors; regardless of the effect on Germany’s attempts to rebuild its own post-war industrial economy. In less civilised times a conquering army might pillage and loot a vanquished enemy for money or goods. Following the conclusion of the twentieth-century’s most devastating conflict the greatest plunder was the enemy’s secrets, not just the military ones, as you might expect, but just about every industrial or technological secret that might possibly offer commercial benefit or reward. This store-house of information covered textiles, chemicals, plastics, synthetic rubber, medicines, dyes, food, fuels, magnetic recording tape, infra-red sighting devices, miniaturised electrical vacuum tubes, you name it. Under the instruction of President Truman, the Office of Technical Services was tasked with processing the documents and, unless classified, making them available through a network of depository libraries throughout the USA. Customers queued up for the latest releases which cost just a few dollars each. Examples mentioned in the article included the Bendix company seeking the German patent on a record player changer, Pillsbury Mills wanting to study flour and bread production, Pacific Mills requesting I.G. Farbenindustrie’s water-repellent crease-resistant finish for spun rayon, and the Polaroid company wishing to exploit the latest developments in German photography and optics.

Perhaps the most valuable war prize wasn’t the hardware or the intellectual property; it was about the intellectuals themselves. The British, Americans and the Russians were all at it. Under a plethora of operational codenames they vied with one other to persuade the cream of Germany’s scientists, engineers and technicians to come and work for them, either through persuasion or inducement. Fedden later wrote of his own frustrated efforts at recruitment:

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Bell’s rocket-powered X-1E being loaded under a B-50 Superfortress at Dryden Flight Research Center in 1951. (Nasa)

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The Americans Hermes rocket programme saw continued testing of the V-2 (A4) and the A9/A4B Aggregat. (Nasa)

    I collected a team of German jet engine specialists, who I felt would be invaluable to our country, but the delays after I had flown home to consult with the authorities about their disposition in Britain made them impatient. When I got back I found that some strings had been pulled in my absence. The German specialists had been whisked away somewhere else, and were lost to us. Only Britain of the wartime ‘Big Three’ victors could not be bothered to appreciate the implications of the new aeronautical technique which Germany had assimilated in such a remarkable way.

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A full scale model of the Northrop MX-334 flying wing in the wind tunnel at Langley Research Center, 1943. (Nasa)

I think that it is safe to assume that when he says they were whisked away ‘somewhere else’ Fedden is referring to the USA and Soviets. Regardless of Fedden’s attempts, under Operation Surgeon the British authorities had drawn up a list of 1,500 experts they proposed extracting from Germany ‘whether they like it or not’. No small part of the motivation in this action was to deny their skills to the Soviet Union, but of those removed between 1946 and 1947 only around 100 chose to stay in the UK. In contrast, the Soviet policy had been more robust. In some cases entire workforces and their families had been evacuated from particular establishments and taken back to Russia. It is estimated that in October 1946 Operation Osoaviakhim saw the transportation of between 10,000 and 15,000 Germans along with their belongings. It is unlikely that they had much say in the matter, but in fairness the level of pay offered was generally not unattractive compared to the equivalent wages Soviet workers or those in Germany might earn.

The USA also had its eyes on the intellectual capital; if nothing else to deny it to the Soviets and the British. However, many Americans had qualms about dealing with individuals connected with the Nazi regime, let alone taking them back to the USA. In July 1945 the US Joint Chiefs of Staff had issued guidelines for the identification and seizing of key enemy nationals, in particular those who had worked on the V-2 rocket at the German army research centre at Peenemünde. Known as Overcast – the name was changed to Operation Paperclip in March 1946 – it was run by the Office of Strategic Services, the OSS. To circumvent President Truman’s explicit instructions excluding anyone found to have been a member of the Nazi Party, or ‘more than a nominal participant in its activities, or an active supporter of Nazi militarism’, the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency (JIOA) created false employment and political biographies of the scientists, and expunged the records of their Nazi party membership or affiliations. By this means hundreds of scientists arrived in the USA as ‘War Department special employees’. Of the rocketmen among these were Wernher von Braun and Arthur Rudolph, who had been operations director in charge of V-2 production, while the aeronautical experts included several familiar names; Alexander Lippisch, Hans von Ohain, Kurt Tank and Adolf Busemann.

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The flying wing concept lives on in the shape of the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber. (USAF)

NASA came into existence in October 1958, and when the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville opened in 1960 von Braun was appointed as the centre’s first director. He went on to lead the team developing the Saturn 1B and the Saturn V rocket which sent man on the way to the moon. Whenever pressed about his wartime activities Wernher von Braun always denied any involvement in the atrocities at the Mittelwerk. He died at the age of sixty-five in June 1977. Arthur Rudolph was investigated for possible war crimes and in 1984 he agreed to leave the USA and renounce his citizenship.

Justification of the Allied plunder of Germany in the aftermath of the war was unashamed and came readily enough, as illustrated in this excerpt from the Control Commission for Germany in January 1947:

    The right of the Allies to use information collected by Allied investigating agencies is one of the consequences of Germany losing the war. The Allies are entitled to use this information as they see fit …

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the war, there can be no doubt that the influence of the Nazis’ research and technology permeates our modern world. The legacy of Hitler’s X-planes – the jet, rockets and aerodynamic innovations – survives within the DNA of the aircraft and missiles of the twenty-first century.

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