“German historian Rainer Karlsch says in a new book, Hitlers Bomb, that the Nazis successfully tested tactical nukes. While I havent seen his book and I dont speak German, Im frankly very skeptical,” says Military.com analyst Joe Buff.
Not only does Dr. Karlsch publicly admit that he lacks definitive proof. But long-known facts, and his newly-revealed facts, in my mind just dont add up to anything like a working nuclear weapon.
One supposed eye witness to the test describes two huge explosions on one night in March, 1945. Others describe the same event in terms of just one long, slim pillar of light. This pillar swelled at the top so that it gained the appearance of a crown of branches and leaves atop a tree trunk. To me, in modern terms, this does sound like a mushroom cloud. People living nearby said that afterward they experienced nose-bleeds, nausea, fatigue, and headache symptoms. One man who was involved said that authorities asked his building company to cremate hundreds of corpses that were burned and dismembered, and then afterward destroy their own clothes — he said the bodies were obviously those of concentration camp or forced-labor inmates.
To me this reads a lot more like a disaster at a factory handling toxic chemicals, which might or might not have been intended for use as chemical weapons. Here are nine reasons why:
1. Any large explosion creates a mushroom cloud.
2. Any above-ground nuclear detonation, even a small tactical-yield one, begins with a blinding flash across the entire sky. Vision is especially impaired at night, when most peoples pupils are dilated due to the dark. The atomic mushroom cloud only results a few seconds after this initial flash. And in war-time 1945, in the remote area where these tests supposedly took place, between blackouts and chronic power shortages and such, at night it would have been really, really dark. One eye witness says they were looking out a window and then saw the mushroom cloud. OK, but it werent no nuke.
3. Acute radiation sickness severe enough to cause widespread nose-bleeds would cause other subcutaneous hemorrhaging too — like bruises all over the body — and both vomit and diarrhea would be bloody as well. Yet these symptoms are not mentioned, and they wouldve seriously stuck in peoples memories if theyd occurred, I think.
4. Its extremely unlikely, especially the way Nazi weapon scientists worked in general, for them to have conducted two nuclear tests at the same place in one night, as one witness claims. A test early in any countrys nuclear weapons program is an incredibly important event. Huge amounts of data are collected and need to be analyzed before it makes any sense to expend additional fissile metal on another test.
5. The Nazis did use slave labor in many of their industrial and weapons plants. Any victim killed in a series of explosions at a chemical factory would likely have been burned and dismembered — you dont need a tactical nuke for that. And recovery-worker clothing would indeed get contaminated by whatever chemicals caused the original disaster, so youd certainly want to dispose of them once you disposed of the corpses.
6. References in some of the media coverage to a Nazi dirty bomb seems muddled up with an actual fission device. Hitler is stated to have been relying on these dirty bombs to repulse the Soviet Armys advance on the Eastern Front. But its well known now, and it would have been understood by German physicists in 1945, that dirty bombs are largely psychological weapons — and they wouldnt have dented the psyche of Stalins revved-up minions marching on Berlin. The toxic effects of true dirty bombs are much more likely to be cancers years down the road, not immediate and total incapacitation and/or death such as occurred to victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To halt a few million Russkie foot-soldiers on a front across hundreds and hundreds of miles, the idea of using radiological bombs is just delusional — but then, I admit, toward the end Hitler was completely delusional.
7. The actual supposed A-bomb test is described as having a yield much lower than that of the bombs the U.S. used on Japan. The German test, its said, was maybe about a kiloton. But in reality its actually a much more difficult engineering problem to cause an atomic blast of just one KT instead of 20 KTs. Sure, in theory the smaller yield can be obtained with less fissile fuel, which would seem to make it an easier and quicker thing to do, but again theres a very big but. Achieving super-criticality at all with the amount of uranium or plutonium needed to produce a yield of exactly 1 KT is very, very hard, especially with W.W.II-era technology from any nation. Unless, that is, you willing design the weapon to use 20 KTs worth of bomb fuel and waste it in an intentionally inefficient blast — which would make no sense at all, even to a crazy Nazi.
8. Ah, you say, but maybe Hitler was going for 20KT and a bad design made the weapon fizzle, so it only yielded 1 KT. Sorry, that still doesnt answer the other objections above.
9. Dr. Karlsch relies on analysis of modern soil samples to say that the Germans operated a nuclear reactor near Berlin for perhaps some days or weeks. Its been well known since 1945 that the Nazis were working on what was quaintly called in those days an atomic pile. The design was dreadfully flawed and its uranium was nowhere near purified enough even to mere reactor grade — the pile would never have achieved a sustained critical chain reaction. The flawed design, running at its best sub-critical activity level, would indeed leave behind traces to show up in soil samples and get people excited sixty years later, if they enjoy getting excited by this sort of thing.
The book says that the nukes were never used against the Allies because the Nazis didnt have enough of them. With this part I agree: not enough, as in having exactly zero.