Heisenberg’s Dresden story: A wartime atomic mystery

by Alex Wellerstein, published October 11th, 2013

One of the weirdest stories I’ve come across regarding the Nazis and the atomic bomb is the one that the German physicist Werner Heisenberg told at Farm Hall about being asked about an apparent rumor that the United States was planning to use an atomic bomb against Dresden.

The Farm Hall transcripts reports him telling it several times during his internment, and it changed slightly each time he told it. Here’s the first version:

About a year ago, I heard from Segner from the Foreign Office that the Americans had threatened to drop a uranium bomb on Dresden if we didn’t surrender soon. At the time I was asked whether I thought it possible, and, with complete conviction, I replied: “No.

In a later version, he says he replied that it was possible — perhaps a face-saving maneuver, since by the second time Heisenberg tells the story, he has now started to believe that the reports of the atomic attack against Hiroshima were accurate.

My initial inclination is to think of this as strange idle chatter amongst a group of interned German scientists. A little bit of rumor-swapping, bragging about being in-the-know and being someone worth consulting. But I don’t think Heisenberg just made it up. That’s not really his style, I don’t think, and he repeated it several times over the course of their six month stay at Farm Hall.

Physikalische Blaetter, August 1944

Recently, while looking into some other wartime leaks, I came across an interesting follow-up on this story. The leak in question is a weird one and worth sharing. In August 1944, a German science magazine, the Physikalische Blätter (Physical Newspaper/Gazette/Pages), ran a short, anonymous piece titled “Another Utopia“:1

Transocean Service transmits a report cabled to “Stockholm’s Tidnigen” from London: “In the United States scientific research for a new bomb is underway. The material is uranium, and if the forces bound in this element could be liberated, explosive forces of so far unimagined power could be created. A 5-kilogram bomb could made a hole one kilometer deep and with a radius of 40 kilometers. In a circle of 150 kilometers all buildings were be smashed.”2

That’s a pretty weird thing to just appear in a German magazine, no? To save you the effort: their math on the energy release is way off by any measure — the damage radius described is well over 100 megatons, which is around what you’d get if you combined 5 kg of uranium with 5 kg of anti-matter (a pure E=mc2 conversion), much less if it fissioned with perfect efficiency (which would “only” release 85 kilotons).3 Either they’ve carried a few decimal points incorrectly or they’re just really confused. I suspect the latter.

Was this a “legitimate” leak? That is, did it derive from disclosure of confidential information? It’s hard to tell. The fact that it pinpoints the United States as making an atomic bomb out of uranium seems accurate, but everything else seems to be sketchy and confused. It’s true that the plutonium bomb used only around 6 kg of material… but that almost seems like a coincidence given the rest of what they’re talking about here. I’m inclined to file this under “fantastic atomic energy rumors” which were common even before the discovery of fission.

Werner Heisenberg, later in life

Werner Heisenberg, later in life

Anyway. The interesting bit comes 20 years later, in 1964. Physikalische Blätter was (and is) still around, and they ran a story on their wartime leak story. Much of it is repetitive fluff, a by-the-book (for 1964) accounting of Allied and German nuclear research. But along with this, they did attempt to track down the origin of the leak — with no success. But they did decide, thoughtfully, to try and assess the impact of the leak by surveying a few of the Farm Hall physicists to see whether they were aware of the “Another Utopia” story.

Otto Hahn wrote back that he “knew nothing” of the article at the time, and added that while they knew that there were people abroad probably working on the subject of atomic bombs, and that the stopping of all publications about the subject probably indicated the work was secret, that nonetheless they didn’t suspect that the United States would actually be able to produce such weapons in time for use in the war. He then suggested that the Physikalische Blätter should get in touch with Heisenberg, since he was more plugged into such matters than Hahn.4

And they did get in touch with Heisenberg, whose first response was that he hadn’t seen the article, was surprised to hear about it, suspected it was based on “vague rumors,” but said he would love if they sent him a copy so he could evaluate it further.5 They did this, of course, and his second response was the more interesting one. He said that rumors of this sort occurred repeatedly because of articles related to atomic energy that had already been published, and he did not let such rumors occupy him much during the war. But then Heisenberg wrote (my awkward translation — original German is in the footnotes):

Perhaps I should mention here an exception. In the summer of 1944 (probably early July), an aide of Göring’s came to me with a message from a German representative in Lisbon that there was a pronounced American threat against the German government, that an atomic bomb would be dropped on Dresden in the next six weeks if the government did not immediately sue for peace. The exact conditions of where the message came from were not communicated to me. I was asked by Göring’s adjutant if I thought it was possible that the Americans had already created an atomic bomb. I was understandably made very uncomfortable by this question, because of the large responsibility connected to my answer. I said that I thought it was extremely unlikely, but not impossible, for the Americans to have such a weapon at this time, and I tried to explain that the production of the weapon would in any case require an enormous industrial effort, and that I could not imagine that the Americans had already done it.6

And so the Dresden atomic bomb rumor raises its head again, no less confounding than before! But here we have a little more information on the source: it is supposedly from an agent in Lisbon, Portugal. Which is interesting.

General Groves not amused

General Groves is not amused by spies or leaks

Because as Stan Norris communicated to me when I wrote about German espionage efforts, there was a Nazi double-agent in Lisbon who was assigned to learning about the Manhattan Project. Stan has since sent me a “note to file” that General Groves had written about a meeting he had with the Military Policy Committee on June 21, 1944, where he describes this incident and his response to it. In his notes, Groves wrote the following:

This refers to the German agents who came to this country through Portugal, and the messages that were sent back to Germany in their behalf. These people were picked up as soon as they got into the United States and the messages were framed by me. There was considerable argument by my creeps as to these messages. I overruled them and did not deny that certain work was being done. It was pinpointed at certain universities and certain people, none of whom had anything to do with the project. The amount of the work was minimized, and an attempt to convince the Germans that it was an academic effort and that nothing would come of it. The creeps wanted to say that nothing was being done and that checks at various places had indicated that all potential personnel was being used on other work — I think radar.7

Ah, so now this gets really interesting, right? Because this coincides very well with the timing of Heisenberg’s supposed query — apparently originating in Nazi agents in Portugal — regarding whether Dresden would be atomic bombed! (And no, I don’t know why he calls whomever he is talking to “creeps.”)

Obviously I don’t have the whole story here, but the geographical and chronological proximity is a rather impressive overlap, is it not? Could something have gone wrong, or gotten scrambled, in Groves’ attempt to manipulate one of the few German atomic espionage attempts? I.e., Groves had wanted to suggest that the American program was small and unimportant; somebody instead reported back that it was massive and almost ready to go. It seems not impossible, though this is admittedly scant evidence. Either way, it’s clear that Groves would have been mighty mad to find out this question was being asked of Heisenberg.

But, here’s the twist. Arguably the exaggerated outcome would have been (and in fact was!) as good an outcome as Groves’ intended minimization, if not a better one! Heisenberg looked at the six-weeks-to-an-atomic-Dresden claim and said, no way — that doesn’t make any sense. He came away from the whole thing convinced it was just ridiculous wartime nonsense. If the report he had gotten was, “do you believe that the only people working on nuclear fission are a bunch of no-names, instead of Bethe and Fermi and Oppenheimer and Wheeler and all of those other physics luminaries we know the Americans have?,” might that not have raised his suspicions even more?

Of course, that doesn’t explain where Dresden, specifically, would have come into the picture. So there’s still something missing here. And it should be noted that Lisbon was a notorious hub of espionage activity for both sides during the war — so it isn’t necessarily the same guy. So some sobriety intrudes.

Dresden after the firebombing, 1945

Dresden after the firebombing, 1945

Lastly, is it possible the Dresden threat could have been real? The Physikalische Blätter story got picked up by the Washington Post, and they got in touch with Richard G. Hewlett, the Atomic Energy Commission’s official historian. He thought Heisenberg’s story was pretty nuts: “I can’t possibly believe there was an actual threat from the U.S. Government.”8 This was, obviously, because the US was still a year away from an atomic bomb at the time, and the idea of it being some kind of legitimate, diplomatic threat seems pretty out of character. Though do remember that Roosevelt asked Groves about using the bomb against Germany in December 1944 — so maybe, somewhere, this kind of idea was kicking around inside the heads of some people who knew about the Manhattan Project work but didn’t know how close it was to completion — maybe even someone who was working some kind of diplomatic/espionage backchannel. I don’t know.

As it was, Dresden was of course catastrophically attacked. Over the course of three days in February 1945, some 1,250 Allied heavy bombers pounded the city with incendiaries and high explosives, killing well over 20,000 people and burning the heart out of a city that until that point had been spared the horrors of area bombing. Could Dresden have been kept “pristine” on the theory that it might have been a good atomic bombing target, in the same way that Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Kokura, and Niigata had been? The Physikalische Blätter speculated that maybe this was the case, though there is no evidence that supports this conclusion.9 I doubt it, personally — the selection of Dresden as a target has its own trajectory that seems independent of any possible atomic narrative, and the idea that it would have been selected as a possible atomic bomb target as early as the summer of 1944 seems rather far-fetched. It should be noted, as well, that the narrative about the atomic bomb in mid-1960s Germany was very much tinged by the Cold War context; it was a common thread of discussion in both the West and the East that the United States would be willing to throw Germany under the bus if it came to a real confrontation with the Soviets.

Still, it’s an interesting constellation of stories: the leak, Heisenberg’s query, and Groves’ attempt at misinformation. If Groves’ misinformation attempt was really did result in the query to Heisenberg, what tremendous irony would abound. Ironic that Groves’ attempt to minimize the effort would result in a exaggerated interpretation; irony that the exaggerated interpretation would lead to total dismissal by the expert.

  1. Noch eine Utopie,” Physikalische Blätter 1, No. 8 (1944), 118. I was surprised to find all of PB online and without a paywall. This particular article is appended to a longer report on “Science and War.” []
  2. “Transozean-Innendienst verbreitet eine Nachricht, die sich “Stockholms Tidningen” aus London melden läßt: “In den Vereinigten Staaten werden wissenschaftliche Versuche mit einer neuen Bombe ausgeführt. Als Material dient Uran, und wenn die gebundenen Kräfte in diesem Element frei würden, dann könnten Sprengwirkungen· von bisher nicht geahnter Kraft erzeugt werden. Eine 5-kg-Bombe könnte dann ein Loch von 1 km Tiefe und 40 km Radius hervorbringen. In einem Umkreis von 150 km würden alle festen Gebäude in Trümmer gehen.” []
  3. The rule of thumb is that the completely fissioning of a kilogram of fissile material produces about 17 kilotons of yield. []
  4. “Ich wußte gar nichts von dem Inhalt des Artikels im Augustheft 1944 der Physikalischen Blätter, und so möchte ich daraus schließen, daß er mir auch damals nicht bekannt war. Wir alle waren natürlich während des Krieges der Meinung, daß man im Ausland, vor allem in Amerika, wohl an einer Herstellung von Atombomben arbeiten wird, denn es wurden ja auch in Deutschland Vorversuche darüber gemacht mit dem Versuch der Aufstellung eines Atomreaktors. Und da nach Kriegsanfang alle Publikationen aus dem Gebiete aufhörten, schlossen wir natürlich, daß im Ausland geheime Arbeiten gemacht würden. Andererseits glaubte keiner von uns, daß während der Kriegszeit eine Atombombe fertiggestellt werden könnte. Ich erinnere mich an das Erstaunen, das wir alle hatten, als wir von der Bombe im August 1945 in englischer Gefangenschaft erfuhren. Da Prof. Heisenberg der Vorsitzende des sogen. Uran-Vereins war, also die Arbeiten zur Herstellung eines Kernreaktors geleitet hat, ist wohl Herr Heisenberg die beste Quelle, zu erfahren, ob jemand von uns die Mitteilung in den Phys. Blättern kennt.” Otto Hahn, quoted in E. Brüche, “Was wußte man 1943/44 in Deutschland von der Atombombe?Physikalische Blätter 20, No. 5 (1964), 220-225, on 222. []
  5. “Sie schreiben davon, daß in den Phys. Blättern bereits 1944 eine Notiz über die amerikanischen Versuche mit Atombomben erschienen sei. Dies ist mir völlig neu, aber zugleich interessant und unbegreiflich; denn die ersten amerikanischen Atombombenversuche haben ja bekanntlich im Frühjahr 1945 stattgefunden. Es kann sich also eigentlich nur um ziemlich vage Vermutungen gehandelt haben. Ich wäre Ihnen sehr dankbar, wenn Sie mir eine Kopie jenes Artikels in den Phys. Blättern zukommen lassen könnten; dann kann ich besser beurteilen, ob ich diesen Artikel jemals gesehen habe und wie ich darauf reagiert habe.” Werner Heisenberg, quoted in E. Brüche, “Was wußte man 1943/44 in Deutschland von der Atombombe?” Physikalische Blätter 20, No. 5 (1964), 220-225, on 222. []
  6. “An die von Ihnen erwähnte Notiz in den Phys. Blättern aus dem Jahr 1944 konnte ich mich nicht mehr erinnern, aber Gerüchte dieser Art sind – schon aufgrund des Flüggeschen Artikels in den “Naturwissenschaften” – immer wieder aufgetreten und haben mich daher nicht allzu sehr beschäftigt. Vielleicht sollte ich hier eine Ausnahme erwähnen. Im Sommer 1944 (wahrscheinlich Anfang Juli) kam einmal der Adjutant von Göring zu mir mit der Mitteilung, es sei über die deutsche Vertretung in Lissabon eine amerikanische Drohung gegen die deutsche Regierung ausgesprochen worden, es werde innerhalb der nächsten sechs Wochen eine Atombombe über Dresden abgeworfen werden, wenn die Regierung nicht in irgendeiner Art um Frieden bäte. über den genauen Inhalt der Bedingungen wurde mir nichts mitgeteilt. Ich wurde von dem Adjutanten Görings gefragt, ob ich es für möglich hielte, daß die Amerikaner bereits über eine Atombombe verfügten. Mir war diese Frage begreiflicherweise sehr unangenehm, weil mit der Antwort auf jeden Fall eine große Verantwortung verbunden war. Ich habe dann gesagt, daß ich es zwar für außerordentlich unwahrscheinlich, aber nicht für völlig unmöglich hielte, daß die Amerikaner zu diesem Zeitpunkt über eine solche Waffe verfügten, und habe versucht zu erklären, daß die Herstellung der Waffe auf jeden Fall einen enormen industriellen Aufwand erfordern müßte, von dem ich mir nicht denken könnte, daß die Amerikaner ihn schon geleistet hätten.” Ibid. An article on uranium fission by Siegfried Flügge appeared in Die Naturwissenschaften in June 1939; Heisenberg cites this as the reason for all of the speculation. Flügge himself was asked about the “Another Utopia” article as well and he responded with a diatribe about how nobody credits him for anything. []
  7. Leslie Groves, Notes on the Military Policy Committee of June 21, 1944 (undated, but prior to 1964), Leslie R. Groves Papers, National Archives and Records Administration, RG 200, Entry 7530M, Box 4, “Working Papers.” Courtesy of Robert S. Norris. []
  8. Howard Simons, “Were We Vulnerable: Swedish Report in World War II Tipped U.S. A-Bomb Hand,” Washington Post (27 December 1964), E3. Simons’ story butchers many of the facts, including getting the nationality of Physikalische Blätter wrong (which PB took issue with in its reprinting of it), and even misspells Hewlett’s name. []
  9. “Dresden – Schicksal und Warnung,” Physikalische Blätter 21, no. 4 (1965), 196. []

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33 Responses to “Heisenberg’s Dresden story: A wartime atomic mystery”

  1. Where do you FIND these stories? Do you maybe prowl around in attics and think, “Oh, Ann will like this one?” Because I swear, your stories are like personal gifts. Now, please, will you put them together into a book?

    • There is an amazing serendipity to research, as you know — I start off looking for one thing, find instead another, follow that a little further, and end up with this. Ironically, I put these stories here because they won’t fit into the actual book (or articles) that originally led me to them!

  2. Naaman says:

    There was an opinion after the war that German scientists deliberately slowed down the Geman nuclear project because of their opposition to the Nazi regime. Was it true? or just an attempt by the scientists to “improve” their image?

    • There isn’t much evidence at all that the Germans purposefully sabotaged their own project. The more plausible case is that they didn’t think an atomic bomb was something worth worrying about during World War II, and were focused mostly on reactor development. Even if they had focused on making a bomb, it isn’t clear they would have been able to pull it off under the resource constraints, heavy bombing, and lack of sufficient scientific expertise that they were under during World War II. A great, readable book on German physics under the Nazi regime is Mark Walker’s Nazi Science: Myth, Truth, And The German Atomic Bomb.

      • Also Jeremy Bernstein’s Hitler’s Uranium Club, with evidence from the Farm Hall transcripts of the Germans’ confusion about exactly how to build an atomic bomb.

      • Robert Pascual says:

        It would be rather difficult for the Germans to develop the bomb quickly seeing that they just decimated their physics and mathematics infrastructure when they hauled Jews to the concentration camps.

    • etudiant says:

      If that were true, one could even name the individual who did it.
      Germany had plenty of uranium and could easily have built graphite moderated reactors, rather than wasting time with the heavy water moderated designs. They did not do so because their experiments to determine the moderating properties of graphite showed that graphite was too neutron absorbent and therefore unsuitable for use as a moderator. This was well before the Chicago pile was built, afaik.
      The problem was the measurement of the graphite was wrong, because the samples used were contaminated with boron, an outstanding neutron absorber that is still used for reactor control rods today. It is an error that seems incomprehensible, as any spectroscope would show the presence of boron in the graphite. So if there was deliberate sabotage, this would be the smoking gun.

  3. phuzz says:

    Spies and informants often seem to be quite emotionally damaged people. It’s possible that one of the German informants sent to Portugal with the false information about the US nuclear project decided to make themselves look more useful to their handlers by ‘sexing up’ their information, and making it appear that the US was a lot further along in their attempts to build a bomb than they had been told.
    As it happened the information they made up turned out to be close to the truth.

    Of course, this is all just conjecture.

  4. RLBH says:

    Until 1945, Dresden hadn’t been bombed, despite being the 7th largest city in Germany and a 1942 intelligence report identifying it as one of the most important industrial cities in the country. That’s a pretty unlikely state of affairs, and it’s possible that it was a ‘reserved’ target for the atomic bomb.

    This is pretty circumstantial evidence, especially considering how deep Dresden is from bomber bases in the UK – it probably escaped bombing simply because losses would be unacceptably high – but it does suggest a possible origin for the rumour.

    • The notion that they would have wanted to keep it pristine as a specifically atomic target, years and years before they were thinking the atomic bomb would be ready to go, is what seems unlikely to me. My understanding is that what made Dresden, Chemnitz, and the other “Operation Thunderclap” targets attractive at that point was the gaining of air superiority which allowed Allied bombers to penetrate so deeply into Germany territory. But I am not in any means an expert on the European theatre.

      • Bradley Laing says:

        —How about: “Enemy Politician will spare our city aerial bombing because he wants our (red light district, art treasure, amusement park, family of his mistress, etc.) for after the war” rumors? There fore, *some* people would believe a city was being kept “Pristine”, but not as a future target?

        • Bradley Laing says:

          –Two points: Nikita Khurschev was denied a visit to Disney Land in 1959, for security reasons, and openly complained. Therefore, suggesting that “the enemy politician wants our things for himself” idea has at least a peacetime example.

          Second, I read that in Hiroshima, rumors spread that President Harry Truman had relatives there, and thus Hiroshima was not bombed, for that reason. The survivors of the first atomic bombing remembered to tell this to the author of a book about it.

      • Peter Solem says:

        There is an argument that both the large-scale civilian bombings that took place at the end of the war, including the incendiary attacks in Tokyo and Dresden as well as the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were essentially ‘psychological’ operations rather than tactical military operations, aimed at “breaking the spirit” of the opposing side, not at disrupting military operations.

        I tend to think that this is a valid historical argument about motivations, but it also underlines a fatally flawed and ultimately suicidal viewpoint that informed much of 1950s Cold War logic as well as the following 1960s-1980s expansion of nuclear weapons production around the world. Lump all that under “strategic tactics”, if you like.

        As far as the technological war, Germany could have been defeated far earlier if Allied forces had focused more on disrupting their fuel supply. For supporting evidence, see Daniel Yergin, “The Prize”:

        “On May 12, 1944, a combat force involving 935 bombers, plus the fighter escorts, bombed a number of synthetic fuels factories, including the giant I. G. Farben plant at Leuna. As soon as Albert Speer realized what had happened, he rushed by plane to Leuna to see the damage for himself. “I shall never forget the date May 12,” he later wrote. “On that day, the technological war was decided.””

        This is an energy-centric viewpoint, but a valid one. Germany had been locked out of all the lucrative oil and energy deals in the Middle East that the British and Russians and Americans had been pursuing, after all, and were heavily reliant on their domestic coal-to-gasoline technology for everything from tank fuel to airplane fuel. Without those coal-to-gasoline factories, German military advances would have been impossible – and Leuna was the most heavily guarded factory in the German empire. For more on the scientific background, see “The Alchemy of Air: A Jewish Genius, a Doomed Tycoon, and the Scientific
        Discovery That Fed the World but Fueled the Rise of Hitler” by Thomas Hager – as well as “Hell’s Cartel: IG Farben and the Making of Hitler’s War Machine” by Diarmuid Jeffreys. Bombing Dresden was, by comparison, useless for tactical purposes.

        The sense I get is that Germany and Japan were both already practically defeated at the time of the Dresden and Hiroshima bombings – and that the central goal of the bombings was to force the Germans and Japanese into a rapid surrender, for various reasons (certainly, on the Japanese side, the U.S. did not want to see Japan occupied by Soviet forces . . . and it could be that the Soviet declaration of war against Japan had more to do with the decision, by the Japanese leadership, to surrender to American forces than the atomic bombing did.)

    • Matt Penfold says:

      Dresden was a long way from the bomber bases in the UK. It would not have been possible for the RAF to bomb it during the summer as there simply were not enough hours of darkness. The distance also meant that the bomb load would have been reduced due to the need to carry more fuel. Plus, as you mention, the losses would probably have been high. When Harris tried bombing Berlin the results were poor, and the losses unsustainable.

      Basically Dresden seems to have been left alone because the cost was not worth the benefit.

  5. Bradley Laing says:

    —two requests:

    —read the book “Bat Bomb” for the claim that the promoter of “Project x-ray” was told about atomic bomb project by accident.

    —Find the cleaveland press columinists 1945 reaction to Hiroshima. Did he admit to getting the story wrong with the mystery engine-stopping ray that never was?

    —I read in a book that after a neighborhood in japan was bombed by us planes, one house was spared from fire, and it contained pet fish.

    —people began buying both real, and toy, fish as lucky rabbit feet to avoid being bombed.

    —my thought: people who keep track of rumors must have a file folder of “the enemy has a terrible new super weapon, worse than bombing planes!” rumors, to go with, “man was spared aerial bombing by buying good luck charm” rumors.

    —And I include, The Blitz, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Japan, and “We didn’t ask to become a target” occupied areas.

  6. Bradley Laing says:

    —page 41: “the germans had a secret weapon that would destroy the entire invasion force.”

  7. Bradley Laing says:

    –Pages 47-48 about “secret weapons,” including the engine-stalling beam.

  8. Bradley Laing says:

    —Suggestion: find a “quick fix” source in the form of a jet aircraft expert, and ask…

    The U.S. had a “secret weapon” in the form of the A-Bomb project. Germany did not. The US had leaks about the project, Germany had rumors about a foreign A-bomb project.

    Germany had a “secret weapon” in the form of jet aircraft projects. The UK had a “secret weapon” in the form of jet aircraft projects. Did either the UK, or Germany, have leaks about their respective jet aircraft projects? Did either the UK, or Germany have rumors about foreign jet aircraft projects?

    —In drug studies, the “control group” is used to provide a comparison and contrast with the subjects having a drug tested on them. Can the fact that two countries, one axis, the other allied, had jet aircraft “secret weapons” be used as a comparison and contrast between the US and Germany?

    —In the A-bomb example, one country has a nuclear program, and the other does not. In the jet aircraft example, two countries have jet aircraft programs, hidden behind official secrecy.

  9. Bradley Laing says:

    -note: on page 47, it mention a rumored “secret weapon” story that was spread by the British government among the British population. What the book does not say is that the “secret weapon” of pipes beneath the English channel that would release an oil slick sounds to me like what actually was made: a temporary series of pipelines for pumping fuel oil across the English Channel for the allied armies to use, laid out for the 1944 D-Day invasion. Although, why a “secret weapon” rumor would sound like an actual logistic tool of war that was later used, I do not know.

  10. Bradley Laing says:

    Governing the grapevine: the study of rumor during World War II.

    Faye C.


    Department of Psychology, York University, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto, ON, Canada.


    Throughout the early 1940s, a host of rumors relating to the Second World War began to circulate, leading the government to establish various committees and undertake multiple projects intended to counteract rumors that were believed to threaten civilian morale and compromise national security. Simultaneously, social scientists also began taking measures to study and combat rumor. Such efforts included the institution of several community groups, deemed “rumor clinics,” that aimed to decrease the prevalence of wartime rumor by educating the general public. This article outlines the rise and fall of rumor clinics, focusing specifically on the shifting boundaries and the mounting tensions between the United States government and social scientists in the study of rumor during World War II.

  11. Bradley Laing says:

    —Page 61 of “Bat Bomb: WW II’s Other Secret Weapon” contains the claim that Lytle S. Adams, the promoter of the idea of using napalm carrying bats as a weapon against Japan, told the men under him that a General in the Pentagon had mistaken Adams for an advocate of the atomic bomb. The author, Jack Couffer, claimed this took place in 1942.

    —I think I should note that one claim about the American Revolution, was that after the British surrendered, the British troops walked away singing a satirical song called “The World Turned Upside Down.” Unfortunately, the first time this claim appeared in print, was 28 years after the surender.

    —Couffer’s book was written around 1992, 50 years after Adams told this to Couffer. That *might* give reason to wonder about the reliability of the account of Adams being accidentally being told of the Manhattan Project. But I advocate further research into the Adams related claim.

    • Bradley Laing says:

      Thought: there was at least one general who is quoted a lot as saying the atomic bomb would not work. But in 1942, how many Generals were there, in the Pentagon at desks, who had doubts about the atomic bomb. Should we assume that Adams ran into the one general who became famous for complaining that the atomic bomb would not work, or were there multiple people in the building who would have complained the same thing?

  12. Allen Thomson says:


    It was not until much later in 1943 that a reorientation in the counterintelligence operations of the War Department made it impossible to rely any longer on the centralized organization. The next course of action for the MED [Manhattan Engineer District] was to set up a complete security staff. When it became necessary to move this activity into the MED a special counterintelligence group was formed, adding to the existing security force. Later a few additions were made to this, but in the main it was kept as it was originally formed. By the end of the war the MED’s force of “creeps,” as they became known, numbered 485.

    • Bill Higgins says:

      Denise Kiernan covers Oak Ridge’s “creeps” in a chapter of The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II, part of which is visible in Google Books.

      The word also appears in a footnote in Groves’s memoir Now It Can Be Told.

      • FAlphaXII says:

        The Army used “creep” as slang for CI until MI and ASA merged into INSCOM. INSCOM doesn’t use it now however, and it has generally fallen out of use. Since MED was an Army organization it makes sense for the Army Staff to use Army slang. Its sort of like how the Navy calls anyone with a CT* rating a Spook.

  13. Cthippo says:

    Hey Alex, did you see this?

    Apparently the polytechnic institute in Moscow is closing for renovations and so they sent their replica RDS-1 casing to storage…on a towtruck!

  14. Niklas D says:

    Stockholms-Tidningen was in fact a swedish liberal morning-delivered newspaper. Not sure how that fits into the story, except that Sweden was often a kind of crossroads for classified information.

    • Bradley Laing says:

      —How likely is it that the original “Stockholms-Tidningen” article said something completely different than the german-language news article?

      —Or mostly different, not completely different? Leaving out the “why”, double check the “what” in the swedish langauge original article.

      • Niklas D says:

        I do not know, I’m just saying.
        The full run of the original Stockholms-Tidningen will be at the Swedish Royal Library, Kungliga Biblioteket, if anyone would be interested in that end.

  15. Puncheex says:

    Bomb damage: One useful thumb-rule for the damage possible by large scale thermonukes is that the estimated released energy from the meteorite which created the Barringer crater in Arizona clusters around 6.5 megatons, ranging from 2.5 to 10..

  16. […] areas of uncertainty with regards to these programs. I have written on here in the past on a few of the questions I’ve stumbled into with regards to the German program, for example. We don’t know […]