Nazi nuclear bomb venture may have taken place in Austrian tunnels

Photo story (Clockwise from top left): (1) Hitler saluting his soldiers in September 1938 (2) Otto Hahn. In December 1938, German chemists Otto Hahn & Fritz Strassmann published the results of a historic nuclear fission experiment (3) Lise Meitner in 1946. She was part of the team that discovered nuclear fission for which her colleague Otto Hahn was awarded Nobel Prize (4) Inmates of the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camps toiling in the tunnels making war weapons during WWII. (5) Gusen concentration camp near St Georgen in Austria. Nazi nuclear bomb venture may have taken place in tunnels underneath the camp.

German academia had been heavily politicized under the Nazi National Socialist regime which drove many physicists, mathematicians and engineers out of Germany since 1933. Those of Jewish community who did not leave by then were swiftly purged from the German institutions which further reduced the ranks of academia. Many technical personnel and scientists were conscripted forcefully into the German armed forces from the politicized universities due to the demands for manpower in Nazi military. These steps eventually eliminated a generation of bright physicists.

Nazi Germany secretly attempted to produce nuclear bombs under a project called Uranprojekt or Uranverein which means ‘Uranium Society or Uranium Club’. The venture began months before the WWII.

In December 1938, German chemists Fritz Strassmann & Otto Hahn reported to the ‘Natural Science’ journal that they had detected the element Barium (Ba, atomic number 56, alkaline metal) after battering Uranium (U, atomic number 92, radioactive metal) with neutrons. They communicated immediately to Austrian Female Jewish physicist Lise Meitner who was an expert on radioactivity and had fled in July 1938 to the Netherlands and then to Sweden.

Hahn was an opponent of persecution of Jewish people by Nazi Party. He helped Lise Meitner escape to the Netherlands on 13th July 1938. Hahn even gave her a diamond ring, which he had inherited from his mother, just in case the frontier guards demanded bribe. Fritz Strassmann and his wife Maria Heckter also put themselves and their 3 year old son at risk by concealing a Jewish friend in their apartment for several months.

On 13th January 1939, upon further experimentation, Meitner and her nephew Otto Robert Frisch declared Fritz & Hahn’s experiment results as nuclear fission. On 29th April 1939, Nazi Reich Ministry of War started the first Uranium Society including physicists Robert Dopel, Walther Bothe, Wolfgang Gentner, Hans Geiger, Gerhard Hoffmann, Wilhelm Hanle and Georg Joos. These notable physicists were all drafted into the German Armed forces Wehrmacht.

In June 1939, Auergesellschaft, an industrial firm established in Berlin, extracted radium from waste uranium. In July, 1939, Heeraswaffenamt Army Ordinancy (HWA) office ordered Auergesellschaft plant in Oranienburg, north Berlin for the production of Uranium Oxide.

But these efforts were halted only months later. Then Germany invaded Poland on 1st September 1939 and started the WWII. The second Nazi nuclear effort began on the day WWII began when HWA separated Reich Research Council (RFR) from the Reich Ministry of Education (REM) and started formal Nazi nuclear bomb venture under military auspices.

By 1942, it became apparent to the Nazis that nuclear energy project would not make a decisive contribution to end the war and win it for Germany. However, the project was broken down in 3 main areas- (1) Heavy water and Uranium production (2) Separation of Uranium isotope (3) Uransmaschine or Uranium machine or nuclear reactor. The project was split between 9 major institutes. Directors from these research institutes dominated the research.

Dominant personnel from these nuke institutes were- Walther Bothe, Kurt Diebner, Klaus Clusius, Otto Hahn, Werner Heisenberg, Paul Harteck, Hans Kopfermann, Georg Stetter, Nikolaus Riehl.

During 1942, the number of scientists working on applied nuclear fission started to reduce in numbers as many had applied to use their talents to other more pressing war time demands.

At the end of the war, the Allied forces competed to obtain the surviving German nuclear facilities, materials and scientists as they did with the V-2, the long range ballistic missile program. V-2 was the progenitor of all modern rockets used by the U.S. and the Soviet Union for Space programs and military uses.

Online edition of renowned British daily tabloid newspaper Daily Mirror reported that Austrian authorities have ordered to search for Nazi nuclear bomb venture evidence in the secret tunnels beneath the most brutal and biggest Nazi concentration camp complex (Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp) on Austrian soil near St Georgen during the WWII.

The probe was triggered by a TV documentary which featured nuclear bomb blueprints and eye witness accounts of A-bomb creating efforts. And recently, readings were taken around St Georgen that showed elevated uranium levels and indications of subterranean implosions during the WWII.

122,766 to 320,000 people were murdered in the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camps. Raised levels of Uranium found inside the 15 miles of tunnels underneath Gusen camp, a sub camp of the concentration camp complex. During one point of WWII, 40,000 slave laborers toiled in these tunnels making war weapons like Messerschmitt aircrafts.

Documentary maker Andreas Sulzer investigated archives in Moscow, Germany and the United States and found that 272 prisoners of the camp were taken to nearby St Georgen in January 1944 to start the construction of secret galleries. By November 1944, half of the 40,000 laborers drafted into building tunnels had been worked to death.

Austria spent some £ 10 million to fill the tunnels with concrete after the war. But Sulzer and the people who back him believe that a secret section where the Nazi nuclear bomb venture took place was missed out.

Until 1955, the Soviets were stationed in St Georgen and took all the files on the site back with them to Moscow. In June 2011, nuclear waste materials from Hitler’s secret atomic project were believed to have been found in an old mine near Hanover in Germany.  More than 126,000 barrels of nuclear materials have been rotting in an old salt mine in Germany.

The Austrian locals unnerved by Sulzer documentary are eager to find the evidences Nazi nuclear bomb venture on their soil. The Austrian local authority already spend some £10,000 on preliminary searches of the tunnels and are now seeking to form a team of international nuclear experts. Existence of one secret underground borehole was found with the help of geothermal imaging devices with no clues about the use of the empty space.

Further investigations might show how close Adolf Hitler might have come to winning the WWII using nuclear bombs.
Video story: Documentary on Nazi nuclear bomb venture during the WWII

Mohammad Rafi Saad

Mohammad Rafi Saad is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE