WW2: Hitler’s true nuclear capacity exposed in secret sabotage mission that ‘saved world’ | World | News
The German nuclear weapons programme was an unsuccessful scientific effort to research and develop atomic weapons during World War 2. It went through several phases but was ultimately “frozen at the laboratory level” with historians and scholars alike generally agreeing it failed on all fronts. With that, Hitler is thought to have focused more on his revolutionary V1 and V2 rockets, but he came terrifyingly close to arming them with nuclear warheads, according to declassified papers unearthed by writer and filmmaker Damien Lewis.
The author of ‘Hunting Hitler’s Nukes’ wrote: “That Hitler’s Germany might win the race to build the world’s first atom bomb was arguably one of Winston Churchill’s greatest wartime concerns and one that was shared with his good friend US president Franklin D Roosevelt.
“When Churchill flew across the Atlantic to meet Roosevelt to discuss this issue, they agreed no effort could be spared to stop Hitler from getting the bomb, for with it he would win control over the world.”
Mr Lewis detailed how Sir Winston “ordered a series of dramatic raids” to target German facilities and strike the nuclear programme at its heart.
He added: “Operation Peppermint, arguably the most secret project of the entire war, aimed to provide early warning and whatever protection might be possible in the event of a nuclear strike by Nazi Germany on Britain.
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“Such fears were very real. Following German physicist Otto Hahn splitting the atom in December 1938, the Allies believed the Germans to be two years ahead in the race to build the atom bomb.”
In May 1940, German forces struck a further blow in the race for nuclear supremacy after seizing Olen, Belgium, where the largest remaining stock of European uranium was located.
British intelligence reports on Operation Peppermint found by Mr Lewis revealed fears from London.
One read: “Since the fall of Belgium, much of the largest stock of uranium has been available [to Germany] from the refinery.”
The report went on to chronicle how “several hundred tonnes of crude concentrates had been removed from Belgium”.
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Winston Churchill feared Hitler would get his hands on nuclear weapons
According to Mr Lewis, its destination was the AuerGesellschaft refinery, at Oranienburg, Germany.
Allied research suggested it would require 20,000 workers, half a million watts of electricity and $150million (£114million) in expenditure to build the world’s first atom bomb.
Hitler, who now controlled most of western Europe, could demand such resources.
And, in concentration camps, he had access to millions of workers.
Mr Lewis noted: “In short, the Fuhrer could harness Germany’s foremost engineering capabilities to its scientific expertise and western Europe’s almost unlimited resources – all of which made an atom bomb a real possibility.”
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Damien Lewis uncovered documents on the secret operation
But the Allies made a breakthrough in 1943, when intelligence on the V1 and V2 weapons seeped into Britain.
Top secret reports spoke of “liquid air bombs being developed in Germany of terrific destructive power”.
William Stephenson, Churchill’s leading intelligence worker, noted that these were very possibly carrying nuclear warheads.
Mr Lewis added: “The greatest fear was that the Nazis had mastered the technology to fit a nuclear or radiological charge to the V2s, in which case there would be no defence possible.
“Churchill ordered aerial surveys to forewarn of such attacks – dry-run rehearsals to prepare for such an ordeal, and for frontline doctors to be briefed on the symptoms of radiation poisoning.
Otto Hahn split the atom in December 1938
“Details of Operation Peppermint and the measures taken to prepare for a Nazi nuclear strike were revealed in papers that I unearthed from the National Archives.
“This came as a great surprise to me, for I was unaware that the Allied wartime leaders viewed Nazi Germany’s nuclear programme as such a real and present threat.”
However, a top secret heroic mission would lead to a breakthrough.
Mr Lewis noted: “Some 34 British commandos flew into occupied Norway on two gliders, which were towed by Halifax bombers.
“Their target was a vast hydro-electric plant producing deuterium oxide, a key component of the Nazi nuclear programme, along with uranium.
The V2 rocket was cause for concern for the Allies
“Sadly, the hemp tow ropes attaching the gliders to the tow-aircraft froze solid in the icy conditions over Norway and they snapped.
“Those commandos not killed in the subsequent crash landings were captured, tortured by the SS and Gestapo and executed horribly.”
However, Mr Lewis revealed how the unrelenting mission continued, and may have ultimately saved the world.
He continued in 2016: “The failure of that mission, codenamed FRESHMAN, led to a very different approach being adopted by the Special Operations Executive (SOE).
“The commander of the SOE’s Scandinavian section – former scoutmaster and clandestine operations supremo Major John ‘Skinner’ Wilson – sent in two further assault teams.
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“Codenamed Grouse and Gunnerside, each consisted of a small contingent of Norwegian commandos carrying explosives, skis and survival gear.
“In an assault of unrivalled daring and bravery, those 12 SOE raiders led by Joachim Ronneberg, managed to penetrate the plant’s supposedly impregnable defences and to blow the deuterium oxide apparatus to smithereens.”
Mr Stephenson would later comment on the raid: “If it had not been for [the saboteur’s] resolve, the Germans would have had the opportunity to devastate the civilised world.
“We would be either dead or living under Hitler’s zealots.”
‘Hunting Hitler’s Nukes: The Secret Race to Stop the Nazi Bomb’ is published by Quercus and available to buy here.