Tens of millions died during World War II as the warring powers raced to create the best fighter planes, tanks, and guns, and eventually that race extended to bombs which carried enough power to destroy civilization itself. While the war raged in Europe and the Pacific, a dream team of Nobel Laureates was working on the Manhattan Project, a program kept so secret that Vice President Harry Truman didn’t know about it until he took the presidency after FDR’s death in April 1945. The Manhattan Project would ultimately yield the “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” bombs that released more than 100 Terajoules of energy at Hiroshima and Nagaski, but not surprisingly, Nazi Germany was not far behind with their own nuclear weapons program.
When the Nazis’ quest for a nuclear weapon began in earnest in 1939, no one really had a handle on how important nuclear weapons would prove to war and geopolitics. The attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, along with the Cold War-era tests and their accompanying mushroom clouds, would demonstrate the true power and terror of nuclear weapons, but in the late 1930s these bombs were only vaguely being thought through, particularly after the successful first experiment to split the atom by a German scientist. The nuclear age itself was in its infancy, barely 35 years old, but within a few short years the advent of nuclear war loomed over the world and the prospect of a malign dictatorship winning the nuclear race kept Allied leaders awake at night.
Uranprojekt: The History and Legacy of Nazi Germany’s Nuclear Weapons Program during World War II examines the Nazis’ race to reach the ultimate goal from 1939-45, how they went about their objectives, and why they failed.