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No, it doesn’t work this way

Hitler was just a ferry-ride away from getting hold of a crucial ingredient needed for an atomic weapon to blow up London, a new documentary has discovered.

In the middle of a Norwegian lake, 100 miles from Oslo, naval historians and scientists have located the boat on which the Nazis were transporting barrels of heavy water for use in German nuclear reactors.

The Hydro ferry was sunk on Churchill’s orders in 1944, but until now nobody knew if the craft really was containing vital component that Hitler needed for his nuclear arsenal.

The reason the Nazis didn’t get the bomb is that they didn’t take getting the bomb seriously.

Getting it in the sort of timescale the Americans did would have required devoting the same sort of resources to it that the Americans did. Getting it by 1960 was trivial but not of a great deal of use when Berlin fell in 1945. Getting it by 1944 when it might – might note – have made a difference required rather more effort. Which they simply didn’t devote to it.

Sure, we can look at certain aspects, this heavy water for example. Or the raid on the Norwegian plant itself. But no, they weren’t going to get there, not the way they were doing it.

29 thoughts on “No, it doesn’t work this way”

  1. Bloke no Longer in Austria

    Saw a docu on this years ago, some divers found the barrels of heavy water and brought them up. The clue was that the ph in that part of the fjord was far too high and it was caused by leakage from the barrels.

    Satisfied that they had found all the barrels, they calculated that the amount of heavy water was just enough to regulate a small atomic pile, such as Fermi made at Chicago. So it could have only been for experimental purposes.

    It is the age old question, as to whether Heisenberg stalled the development of the Nazi Bomb. Although all the Jewish ones had fled, there were still a lot of brilliant physicists in Nazi germany. The problem that the regime had, was that it never properly engaged its scientists in the operational side ( as in GB ) until the war was already lost. You know Totaler Krieg and all that stuff…

  2. Post-war it was discovered that the German scientists had made an error in calculating critical mass.

    “The clue was that the ph in that part of the fjord was far too high and it was caused by leakage from the barrels.”

    Wut? D2O has a pH of 7.4 (H2O is 7.0). Seawater has a typical pH of just over 8…..

    And even if it didn’t there’s an awful lot of moving fjord water and not very much D2O in barrels…..

  3. Bloke no Longer in Austria

    pH in seawater is all over the place and can run from below 6 to well over 8.

    From memory it was a specific spot, not the whole fjord.

  4. ISTR reading that the reason the Nazis gave a low priority to nuclear research was because Hitler thought of it as mere “Jewish physik”.

  5. Getting it in the sort of timescale the Americans did would have required devoting the same sort of resources to it that the Americans did

    Probably no way they could’ve afforded that and fight a war at the same time. The Manhattan Project cost about $22Bn in today’s money. Also, where would they have put it? Nowhere in occupied Europe was out of reach of bombers.

    Despite their interwar rearmament, the Germans were still relying on horsedrawn logistics during WW2. The Nazis simply weren’t geared up to fight “total war” until it was far too late.

    The outcome of WW2 was a foregone conclusion from the moment Hitler invaded Russia (and probably long before, if Viktor Suvorov’s ICEBREAKER thesis can be believed.)

    Ron Unz wrote:

    First, although there was been a widespread belief in the superiority of Germany’s military technology, its tanks and its planes, this is almost entirely mythological. In actual fact, Soviet tanks were far superior in main armament, armor, and maneuverability to their German counterparts, so much so that the overwhelming majority of panzers were almost obsolescent by comparison. And the Soviet superiority in numbers was even more extreme, with Stalin deploying several times more tanks than the combined total of those held by Germany and every other nation in the world: 27,000 against just 4,000 in Hitler’s forces. Even during peacetime, a single Soviet factory in Kharkov produced more tanks in every six month period than the entire Third Reich had built prior to 1940.

    So the only realistic outcomes of WW2 were:

    * Communist tyranny consumes all of Europe
    * Communist tyranny consumes just half of Europe

    Hitler had no path to victory.

  6. The British project was based on Leo Szilard’s invention of The Bomb (patented to Szilard and The Admiralty). When the project did its preliminary calculations on The Bomb, it became clear that it couldn’t be developed in the UK in time to be useful. That’s why Churchill decided to pass the key info to a still-neutral USA and plead with them to get on with it. So disordered and incompetent was the FDR administration that it didn’t absorb the lesson – eventually Einstein, acting effectively as a British agent at the urging of Leo Szilard, managed to draw useful attention to the issue.

    The whole story is told quite brilliantly in

  7. The Germans had no way to deliver a bomb to London.

    The B-29 cost more than the bomb.

    I’m sure they could have stuffed a nuke into the pointy end of a V2.

  8. BIW – Eventually, with years of R&D. Fat Man and Little Boy weighed around 10,000 lbs. The warhead on a V2 was about 2,000 lbs.

    So they’d have needed bigger missiles or smaller nukes. A daunting technical challenge, even when you’re not running out of fuel and being bombed into starvation.

  9. “The Germans had no way to deliver a bomb to London.”

    They wouldn’t have to have. One dropped just over the front line when the Western Allies reached Germany would have been enough to stop them in their tracks. What politician would have been prepared to bet couldn’t deliver one to Paris, London etc? Especially given they had rockets by then which were unstoppable. The Russians probably wouldn’t have cared and driven on, as Moscow was too far away and Stalin cared nothing for his population anyway, and certainly nothing for the populations of Eastern Europe. But I bet the Western Allies would have sh*t themselves and called a truce. Which in turn would have freed more troops and material to face East.

  10. So Kirk Douglas didn’t have to blow up the ferry? Next you’ll be telling me there is no such place as Navarone? Or a Welshman, an American and an Austrian Fraulein didn’t walk into an Alpine bar?

  11. The history of this is an interesting tale of insufficient information. It was known that D2O was no use for a bomb itself but it makes a good moderator for an experimental reactor, which was what Werner Heisenberg was working on. In hindsight, the effort & sacrifice put into stopping the production & supply of D2O was probably unwarranted but at the time no-one in England & Norway really knew how much effort was required to get from the experimental reactor stage to production of a practical weapon. The Manhattan Project may by then have had a good idea but they weren’t telling – too big a secret.

  12. Recommend the excellent Project Berlin by Gregory Brentford an alternative what if the allies had the bomb a year earlier story, but focusing on the development and politics of the the bomb rather than what happens afterwards.

  13. Try and imagine 27000 tanks in one place.

    Steve, as I recall it, Hjalmar Schact later said the the Boche would’ve been bankrupt by 1945 regardless of anything anyone else did.

    I often think Hitler’s victory lies in what the rest of us had to do to ourselves to defeat him.

  14. @Bloke no Longer in Austria:

    It was an inland lake, not a fjord. Or it could be a fjord as some lakes are also fjords (ask your local geography teacher). Anyway, I have no idea what this means for the pH but i’m guessing the current is negligible. Could also be that the rusting shipwreck had something to do with it (ask your local chemistry teacher).

  15. “They wouldn’t have to have. One dropped just over the front line when the Western Allies reached Germany would have been enough to stop them in their tracks.”

    They didn’t have a way to drop one over the front line, either. That London was a few hundred miles more away is irrelevant.

  16. Bloke no Longer in Austria


    A big lorry and an alarm clock would have solved that conundrum, it is not always necessary to drop bombs from 10,000 feet. A Type XXI U-boat could manage to carry 5 tons easily enough, provided it could get within striking distance of Southampton, Portsmouth… Brixham…

  17. I’ve observed before that if a third nuclear explosion in anger ever takes place, the delivery vehicle is more likely to be a shipping container than an ICBM.

  18. The thing is – you don’t need heavy water to make a basic nuclear weapon.

    Little Boy was a gun type weapon made out of enriched Uranium. Don’t need heavy water to enrich Uranium.

    Might need heavy water to run a reactor to transform enriched uranium into plutonium, but not to create a basic weapon.

  19. Delivering a nuke to London? By boat. Same way that can be done now.

    As for tanks, yes the Russians built much better tanks than the Germans. They just didn’t know how to use them very well.
    Single Russian tank charging a group of German tanks? Outcome is as you can guess – one destroyed Russian tank. Which may even take out one or two German ones.

    The Germans practiced combined operations, tank unit tactics and could do a lot of their own maintenance by tank crews.
    What they also ended up with was massive supply line – fuelling the tanks (which are fuel hogs) cost a lot of fuel when transported hundreds then later thousands of miles.
    And German tank production changed and reduced, making any tank loss hit them more.

    Hitler lost the war by invading Russia then getting distracted, a drive on Moscow would have worked.
    Once the Russians had been taught German tactics for tanks and the Russians started forward the Russians won the war, Germans could not stop them thanks to Hitler.

  20. A ground exploded H bomb of that era isn’t that powerful. It needed to be airborne for proper effectiveness. 600 metres high.

    Nor is it much use as a tactical weapon. The span isn’t that large. It’s a terror weapon primarily (which is why the US has thousands, because you need that many to cover any span).

    The fire bombing of various German cities and Tokyo were more deadly and destructive than the actual bomb. Cheaper too. Just slower and more costly in Allied lives.

    Anyway, by 1945 the Germans needed to stop the Soviets and their US support. H-bombing London would not achieve that.

    Hitler needed to get one to Moscow. And it would need to be the first one, because otherwise Stalin would move beyond the Urals.

  21. Chester Draws WINS! WWII was between the Germans and the Soviets*. The West was a side show.

    *7/8ths of German division months were in the EAST. The Soviets beat the Germans, not the western allies.

  22. “As for tanks, yes the Russians built much better tanks than the Germans.”

    Congratulations! That is the STUPIDEST THING I EVER READ ON THE INTERNET !!!!!!!!!!!

  23. Steve,

    I’m not sure it was ever winnable for Hitler. If he’d stopped at Czechoslovakia, maybe. But invading Poland and declaring war on the USA was enough.

    The German economy was basically broke in 1937. Then you add a load of wartime spending and socialist policies that keep making the economy worse.

    It would have taken a few more years without Barbarossa, but I don’t think it changed the outcome.

  24. BoM4, I think if Hitler had secured west of Moscow, and gone all out for Baku early, he could have won. It was his generals that insisted on trying to take Moscow early.

    Hence, credit for losing the war should go to Generalfeldmarschall Fedor Von Bock, with the encouragement of Generaloberst Heinz Guderian.

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