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Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe, Pt. 4

by Jim "Twitch" Tittle

Article Type: Military History
Article Date: November 20, 2001

The Theories

Otto Hahn and Friedrich Strassman demonstrated the fission of uranium U-235 in December 1938. The nuclear puzzle in all countries was to stimulate normally slow emanation of radioactive elements to release their energy all at once. If that could be accomplished considerable destructive power could be wielded. U-238 is a normal, non-volatile isotopic metal found in nature. U-235, on the other hand, is highly radioactive. Neither is capable of nuclear fission to produce an explosion without intense transmutation by an outside process.

The goal was to find a way to refine U-235 from its normal one percent composition in conjunction with the ninety-nine percent composition of U-238. If a refining process attains a three percent figure for U-235, then a reactor is made. Non-volatile U-238, if barraged by radiation, can be transmuted into plutonium and a new element, U-239, is born. This element is weapons grade material.

Nuclear reaction requires that neutrons discharged by decaying atoms need to collide with other atoms nearby causing them to decay as well, hence chain reaction. Since the neutrons exited at high velocity from U-235 atoms passing through adjacent uranium atoms without effect, a means to slow them down was needed.

Early on Germans scientists had used graphite as an agent to slow down the neutrons and cause fission in the atoms. Much later it was concluded that impurities in the graphite absorbed the neutrons instead of simply slowing them down. They had the perfect catalyst and didn’t know it. Since there were so few men working on things experiments couldn’t be conducted again. They had to move on. Their loss—our gain!

Enter Heavy Water

The next conceivable substance was “heavy water.” It is an unusual form or normal H2O water in which a form of the hydrogen atom is heavier atomic weight than, and replaces, the regular hydrogen atom. Heavy water (deuterium oxide) is found in nature and can be separated from normal water in hydro-electric facilities using diverters to isolate it. Such a plant was in operation in Vemork, Norway and was the basis of the cinema film The Heroes Of Telemark that depicted the underground’s destruction of the hydro-electric facilities and dam. It was the Norsk Hydro Hydrogen Electrolysis plant.

In fact the plant was never fully destroyed but the repeated attacks by bombers and saboteurs did accomplish the same thing when production ceased in 1943. By then several tons of deuterium oxide had been gleaned from the dam and were to be shipped to Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Göttingen, Germany. The transport ship carrying it was sunk but that didn’t mean German scientists were without heavy water completely, of course.

Before the facility was taken by the Germans in 1940, French physicists under the direction of Frederic Joliot-Curie had conducted experiments using the heavy water from the plant. 1,000 tons of uranium was captured in Belgium in 1940 as well. The cat was out of the bag. The Germans had the materials.

All evidence discovered as the Allies swept into Germany in the late days of the war pointed to the fact that no suitable nuclear reactor was in operation and that the Germans were years away from a bomb. A large vessel of heavy water with hundreds of uranium cubes suspended in it was depicted as the only thing in existence and that was unworkable.

No, the reactor didn’t become critical. Post war calculations showed that a functioning nuclear reactor would have had to be about 1.5 times the size of this reactor. Expanding the reactor, however, was no longer possible in April 1945 due to the lack of more heavy water and uranium blocks. Again, a slight miscalculation made them elude success.

A Success?

But in Leipzig in 1942 Werner Heisenberg (1932 Nobel Prize winner “for the creation of quantum mechanics, the application of which has, inter alia, led to the discovery of the allotropic forms of hydrogen”) was head of atomic research—code named Virus House. His team built a different device. They had two aluminum hemispheres bolted around a central sphere containing heavy water and uranium powder. The whole affair was submerged in ordinary water for twenty days, cooking. Bubbles were seen to be escaping from the device. When the thing was raised and the access hatch opened a hissing sound was produced followed by a jet of fire.

Alarmed scientists thought somehow the uranium had ignited and promptly drained the heavy water to stop contamination after extinguishing the fire. They resealed the unit and lowered it into the water once more with a sigh of relief.

Werner Heisenberg-1940

In a few hours the sphere was discharging bubbles again. This time the tank of coolant water was beginning to boil, so great was the heat generated. Astoundingly the thing commenced to vibrate and physically swell in size! Everyone evacuated the room and the device exploded spewing burning uranium. Fire crews called in poured water on it but it did not douse the ensuing fire. It took two days for the fire to burn itself out.

What was the purpose of this outlandish device? Certainly the scientists were attempting to slow down the neutrons in order to make them interact with the atoms. Remember, if U-238 uranium is radiated with U-235 plutonium is created. Beryllium in aluminum has the capability of emitting neutrons when under bombardment of radiation during a process that takes several weeks to accomplish.

This same experiment was undertaken by an American teenager in 1994. The results had to be taken to a nuclear disposal site. Since Heisenberg’s team was a little smarter than this kid, it is pretty likely that they too produced fissionable material in 1942 since the unquenchable fire was completely Chernobyl-like in its demeanor.

As we return to "Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe, Part III" and note the Amerika Bombers, like the Me 264 and Ju 390 that were never pursued, we must remember that late 1944 saw intense interest in the concept again. Why? The jet power possible to propel bombers high and fast was at hand and not just to deliver conventional bombs. No one was dumb enough to believe that a few tons of explosives would halt the American war effort.

USA Nuked!

Let’s run a “what if” scenario. The Horten XVIII Amerika Bomber is above 40,000 feet closing on New York City or Washington D.C. No one has detected it because it is made from layers of wood and carbon glued together. Yes, it is constructed of composites. With its all wing shape it is the first stealth bomber. The four Heinkel-Hirth HeS 011s with 10,600 lbs. of combined thrust are buried in the 130-foot wing. The plane weighed 35 tons on takeoff.

The ample 6,835 mile range has brought its three-man crew to the American shores with ease. Two unnecessary 30 mm Mk 108 cannon are there for the slight possibility of defense though its ceiling is a lofty 52,492 feet. The bombardier lines up on the Empire State Building or Washington Monument and a twelve-foot long, 1,000 kilogram bomb with an armored nose begins its dive. The bomber exits the area at 550 MPH heading home to complete its 27-hour mission.

At supersonic speed the projectile pierces a building. The impact force shears the pins holding uranium plates. The sphere shatters under the pressure of its compressed kerosene load, which then ignites and spews in all directions. The detonator cap in the nose unleashes a spray of neutrons into the uranium. If the thing does not detonate in chain reaction fashion the uranium commences meltdown similar to the 1942 lab incident but not with just uranium powder. Once the material bores through to the water table a mass of superheated water will arise in a colossal cloud of radioactive steam that will poison the area for decades hence.

Ho 18 A & B

By the way, Göring ordered immediate construction of the Horten Ho XVIIIB in February 1945. The Ho XVIII was simply a larger version of the Ho 9 or Ho 229, which had already flown. We will discuss more of the Horten brothers’ aircraft in later installments.

But it is easy to see in the graphic illustration of the 9/11/01 terrorist attack on New York and Washington how much damage and chaos could have been caused by a wing of Amerika Bombers with standard bombs. The surreal vision was like a backward look into an alternate, possible time line.

Yes, the real German atomic weapon was a feasible reality. Its construction was quite similar to the experimental sphere. Ten uranium layers were to be spaced within the 2.5-foot diameter sphere so that kerosene could flow between them. Why? Kerosene absorbs neutrons very well to prevent contact and reaction. Then once the small golf-ball-sized sphere of beryllium is fractured neutrons commence the fission process.

The meltdown scenario is a possibility since the American A-bomb functioned with a 1,000 FPS shot of collision to smash its uranium plates together and produce the chain reaction. A free falling bomb might not travel so fast.

Gray- U-235, Orange- Kerosene, Blue-Ballast, Yellow-Shearpins, Green- Plutomium

Other Deliveries

The A-4 or V-2, as it was known, impacted at 3,000 FPS. Quite fast enough, but it hadn’t the range to attack the U.S. This is why the A-9/A-10 project was accelerated near the war’s end. It was envisioned as early as 1940 as a multi-stage winged rocket. In 1941 Dr. Walter Thiel calculated one engine with 400,000 lbs. thrust could be developed in three years if given priority. By January 1945 a winged V-2 was successful in trials.

A booster with six 56,000 lb. thrust A-4 motors was to be the A-10 that would launch with the A-9 atop it with its 2,200 lb. payload, in this case a nuclear bomb. After boost phase to extraordinary altitude the A-9 would separate and head toward the U.S. gliding on its 29.5-foot wings. Its impact would certainly cause chain reaction and detonation of atomic proportions. The rocket would have a range of 3,105 miles with a 6,500 MPH peak speed.

This Winged A-4b Was Same As A-9

Paul Harteckk’s and Dr. Wilhelm Ohnesorge’s research theorized that low temperature for the reactor would work as a dirty bomb. Mixed with sand and dust it would leave behind plutonium and radioactive isotopes after detonation in a V-1 or V-2 warhead. Dissention of ideas and the small number of scientists involved fortunately hindered developments. The fundamental theories varied widely and many believed a whole nuclear reactor had to be dropped for the bomb to work.

The submarine-towed pods with V-2s was pursued to the point that a Type XXI submarine pod was finished by the war’s conclusion with eventual deployment off the eastern U.S. coast. This was certainly more plausible than the A-9/A-10 in the given time.

The German Nuclear Device

At the end of hostilities the French may have found two prototype bomb spheres near Stuttgart submerged in water in a lab. Since they were immersed it meant they were probably ready for testing. The supposedly blew up the complex.

The Germans simply weren’t all on the same page in their efforts and Heisenberg and company didn’t really grasp the integrals to build a good bomb. And seemingly what they did discover they didn’t capitalize on.

Niespulver & Such

WWII had no monopoly on German secret weapons. In 1914 scientists were convened by the high command to produce a chemical irritant in balls placed in fragmentary artillery shells. A Professor Nerst developed the ‘Ni-Shell’, as it became known, containing a nonpoisonous irritant, namely ‘Niespulver’—sneezing powder! It was used in 3,000 shells on the Western Front in October of 1914 against British and Indian troops who suffered no ill effects.

So ineffective was the substance that General von Falkenhayn’s son won himself a crate of champagne in a bet that he could out last it for five minutes unprotected in a cloud of the stuff. Achoo!!

Also in 1914 a chemist named Hans Tappen came up with the T-Shell containing explosive and a chemical irritant called xylyl bromide. In Jaunuary 1915 it was used against Russian troops but the cold probably rendered the liquid inert. It was uncertain at the time whether German industry could even produce enough of the shells for effective bombardment at any given time.

In the winter of 1914-15 it was the chemist, Professor Dr. Fritz Haber, who came up with the idea of generating a cloud of gas so as to engulf an entire enemy line. Liquid chlorine gas released from pressurized cylinders was to engulf an enemy trench line then blow away allowing German soldiers able to quickly follow with an attack on the incapacitated enemy. Seemingly it was never used.


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