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In WW2, did Germany ever mine Uranium from Czechoslovakia?

In WW2, did Germany ever mine Uranium from Czechoslovakia?

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1938 Oct 01, Germany begins annexing the Sudentenland. 1939 Mar 15, Germany invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia.

There is a mine, far on the western border, called the Joachimsthal Mine.

Today it is called Jáchymov, but back then was known as Joachimsthal. This place had a silver mine dating back to the 1500's. It also produced Uranium. In fact, when Martin Klaproth first identified Uranium in 1789, I believe that Uranium came from the mine in Czechoslovakia.

I would like to know if Germany, at any point from 1938 to 1945, mined Uranium from this mine. If so, how much, and what concentration of Uranium did it have.

I'm aware that Germany never had a serious atomic bomb project comparable to the Manhattan Project. I would nevertheless like to know if they ever tried to mine Uranium from here.

Apparently, yes.

This site states (translation mine):

Während des Zweiten Weltkriegs, St. Joachimsthal war damals Teil des ans Deutsche Reich angeschlossenen Sudetenlands, wurde in den Gruben Uran für Forschungszwecke der deutschen Wehrmacht abgebaut.

"During World War II, St. Joachimsthal being part of the Sudetenland incorporated into the German Reich back then, Uranium was mined for research purposes for the German Wehrmacht."

The website was produced by the German-Czech Textbook Commission.

This site states (translation mine):

Im Zuge der Umsetzung des 1941 erarbeiteten "Göring-Programms" wurden zuerst französische, später sowjetische Kriegsgefangene in den Minen von Sankt Joachimsthal eingesetzt.

"In the course of implementing the 'Göring program' compiled in 1941, first French, later Soviet POW's were employed in the Sankt Joachimsthal mines."

The website was produced by the University of Oldenburg.

As an update to a question in the comments as to how much Uranium was mined, via the German WP article on the Uranprojekt I found this Spiegel article, translation mine (as much as I loathe citing David Irving for anything):

Auer beutete seit der Einverleibung der Tschechoslowakei im März 1939 die Uranbergwerke in Sankt-Joachimsthal aus, und der Laborleiter Nikolaus Riehl erachtete das Uranprojekt als so vielversprechend, daß er selbst die Leitung der Uran-Produktion übernahm und innerhalb weniger Wochen in Oranienburg einen Betrieb aufbaute, dessen monatliche Produktionskapazität etwa eine Tonne Uranoxyd betrug.

"Since the annexiation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Auer [company] exploited the Uranium mines in Sankt-Joachimsthal, and the laboratory supervisor Nikolaus Riehl deemed the Uranprojekt so promising that he himself took control of the Uranium production. Within a few months he did built a factory in Oranienburg capable of producting about one [metric] ton of Uranium oxide per month."

Note that the connection between the Oranienburg factory and the Joachimsthal mines is a rather loose one; the same article also mentions that Germany took hold of 3500 tons of Uranium minerals from the Union Minere in Belgium, and that the Auer company used (mainly?) those to satisfy their demands.

The “Einstein Letter” — A Tipping Point in History

On a mid-July day in 1939, Albert Einstein, still in his slippers, opened the door of his summer cottage in Peconic on the fishtail end of Long Island. There stood his former student and onetime partner in an electromagnetic refrigerator pump, the Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard, and next to him a fellow Hungarian (and fellow physicist), Eugene Wigner. The two had not come to Long Island for a day at the beach with the most famous scientist in the world but on an urgent mission. Germany had stopped the sale of uranium from mines in Czechoslovakia it now controlled. To Szilard, this could mean only one thing: Germany was developing an atomic bomb.

Szilard wanted Einstein to write a letter to his friend, Queen Mother Elisabeth of Belgium. The Belgian Congo was rich in uranium, and Szilard worried that if the Germans got their hands on the ore, they might have all the material they needed to make a weapon of unprecedented power. First, however, he had to explain to Einstein the theory upon which the weapon rested, a chain reaction. “I never thought of that,” an astonished Einstein said. Nor was he willing to write the Queen Mother. Instead, Wigner convinced him to write a note to one of the Belgian cabinet ministers.

Pen in hand, Wigner recorded what Einstein dictated in German while Szilard listened. The Hungarians returned to New York with the draft, but within days, Szilard received a striking proposal from Alexander Sachs, an advisor to President Franklin Roosevelt. Might Szilard transmit such a letter to Roosevelt? A series of drafts followed, one composed by Szilard as he sat soaking in his bathtub, another after a second visit to Einstein, and two more following discussions with Sachs. Einstein approved the longer version of the last two, dated “August 2, 1939,” and signed it as “A. Einstein” in his tiny scrawl.

The result was the “Einstein Letter,” which historians know as the product not of a single hand but of many hands. Regardless of how it was concocted, the letter remains among the most famous documents in the history of atomic weaponry. It is a model of compression, barely two typewritten, double-spaced pages in length. Its language is so simple even a president could understand it. Its tone is deferential, its assertions authoritative but tentative in the manner of scientists who have yet to prove their hypotheses. Its effect was persuasive enough to initiate the steps that led finally to the Manhattan Project and the development of atomic bombs.

Stripped of all jargon, the letter cited the work of an international array of scientists (“Fermi,” “Joliot,” “Szilard” himself), pointed to a novel generator of power (“the element uranium may be turned into a new and important source of energy”), urged vigilance and more (“aspects of the situation call for watchfulness and, if necessary, quick action”), sounded a warning (“extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed”), made a prediction (“a single bomb of this type, carried by boat and exploded in a port, might very well destroy the whole port together with the surrounding territory”), and mapped out a plan (“permanent contact between the Administration and the group of physicists working on chain reactions in America . . . and perhaps obtaining the co-operation of industrial laboratories”). A simple conclusion, no less ominous for its understatement, noted what worried the Hungarians in the first place: “Germany has actually stopped the sale of uranium from the Czechoslovakian mines which she has taken over.”

Looking back at the letter, aware of how things actually turned out, we can appreciate its richness. For one thing, it shows us a world about to pass from existence. Where once scientific information flowed freely across national borders through professional journals, personal letters, and the “manuscripts” to which the letter refers in its first sentence, national governments would now impose a clamp of secrecy on any research that might advance weapons technology. The letter also tells us how little even the most renowned scientists knew at the time. No “chain reaction” had yet been achieved and no reaction-sustaining isotope of uranium had been identified. Thus the assumption was that “a large mass of uranium” would be required to set one in motion. No aircraft had been built that could carry what these scientists expected to be a ponderous nuclear core necessary to make up a bomb, so the letter predicts that a “boat” would be needed to transport it.

More than the past, the letter points to the shape of things to come. Most immediately, it shows us that the race for atomic arms would be conducted in competition with Germany, soon to become a hostile foreign power. And in the longer term, of course, the postwar arms race would duplicate that deadly competition as hostility between the United States and the Soviet Union led them to amass more and more nuclear weapons. The letter also presents us with nothing less than a master plan for what became the Manhattan Project, the first “crash program” in the history of science. After the war, other crash programs in science—to develop the hydrogen bomb to conquer polio to reach the moon to cure cancer—would follow. Finally, by stressing the entwining of government, science, and industry in service of the state, the letter foreshadows what Dwight Eisenhower later called “the military-industrial complex.”

In the end, the “Einstein Letter” is a document deservedly famous, but not merely for launching the new atomic age. If we read it closely enough, it gives us a fascinating, Janus-faced look at a tipping point in history, a window on a world just passing and one yet to come, all in two pages.


World War II Function Codes
Code Notes
BM Airborne mines laid without parachutes
EM Moored Contact mines. Mostly Hertz Horns.
FM Shallow water contact mines, mostly moored types.
KM Anti-invasion coastal mines
LM Airborne parachute mines
MT Ground mine torpedoes laid from torpedo tubes
OM Surface mines
RM Shore-controlled or independent ground mines
SM Moored magnetic mines laid from mine tubes on U-Boats
TM Magnetic (influence) mines laid from torpedo tubes
UM ASW contact mines

German mines of World War II were all designated by letters, the first two indicating the function and the third the series designation within that category, usually indicating a modification.

Postwar, new mine designations originally included the year that development started, but new mines now are designated by function.

During World War I, Britain classified German mines into four general types. During World War II, Britain changed to a two letter code sequence to identify German mines, with the first letter being G (for "German") and the second letter given in a sequence as to when the first example was captured. Where possible, these codes are included in the tables below.

The Missions

The Alsos Missions of the Manhattan Project were conducted in three phases. In addition there was a headquarters mission established in London. The original detachment forming the missions consisted of thirteen military personnel, including interpreters and six scientists. The team members were generally familiar with the research programs of both the United States and Great Britain and were capable of extracting through interrogation and observation detailed scientific information on atomic energy. From the beginning, Alsos was commanded by Lt. Col. Boris T. Pash. Eventually Dr. Samuel Goudsmit came aboard as chief of the scientific component.

In December 1943, a London office was established to act as liaison between the Manhattan Engineer District and various intelligence agencies operating in occupied Europe. The office was first established by Major Robert Furman and later placed under the command of Captain Horace K. Calvert. Maj. Robert Furman returned to Washington to act as General Groves' personal assistant regarding Alsos mission intelligence. In addition to Calvert, the office was comprised of a Capt. George C. Davis, three WAC's and two counterintelligence agents. The primary purpose of this liaison office was to pave the road for the three Alsos Missions by locating up to fifty German nuclear scientists and any laboratories that they were suspected of using for atomic research. By the time the second Alsos mission into occupied France was organized, Horace Calvert had succeeded in obtaining dossiers on all of the top German scientists, where they worked and where they lived.

In WW2, did Germany ever mine Uranium from Czechoslovakia? - History

Chapter 12: The Uranium Miners

Some of the mines were large open pits, but most were underground networks of shafts, caverns, and tunnels, shored up by timbers. Because uranium milling and open-pit mining is conducted above ground, radon levels tend to be quite low, as radon is readily dispersed into the atmosphere. However, millers are exposed to uranium dust and thorium 230, both of which may have chemical or radiological toxicity, as well as additional chemicals used in the extraction process. In the remainder of this chapter, we focus on the underground miners who were exposed to much higher levels of the hazards that are the principal cause of lung cancer in the miners.[4]

The American boom followed centuries of experience with uranium mining in Europe, where a mysterious malady had been killing silver and uranium miners at an early age in the Erzgebirge (ore mountains) on the border between what is now the Czech Republic and Germany. In 1879, two researchers identified the disease as intrathoracic malignancy. They reported that a miners' life expectancy was twenty years after entering the mine, and about 75 percent of the miners died of lung cancer.[5] By 1932, both Germany and Czechoslovakia had deemed the miners' cancers a compensable occupational disease.

In 1942, Wilhelm C. Hueper, a German émigré who was founding director of the environmental cancer section of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), one of the National Institutes of Health, published a review in English of the literature on the European miners suggesting that radon gas was implicated in causing lung cancer.[6] He eliminated nonoccupational factors because excess lung cancer showed up only among miners. He also eliminated occupational factors other than radon because these other factors had not caused lung cancer in other occupational settings.[7] Among Hueper's peers, dissenters, such as Egon Lorenz, also of the NCI, focused on contaminants other than radon in the mine, the possible genetic susceptibility of the population, and the calculated doses to the lung, which seemed too low to cause cancer because the role of radon daughters--which the radioactive polonium, bismuth, and lead decay products of radon gas are known as--was not yet understood.[8]

At the time its own program began, the AEC had many reasons for concern that the experience of the Czech and German miners portended excess lung cancer deaths for uranium miners in the United States. The factors included the following: (1) No respected scientist challenged the finding that the Czech and German miners had an elevated rate of lung cancer (2) these findings were well known to the American decision makers (3) as Hueper points out, genetic and nonoccupational factors could be rejected and (4) radon standards existed for other industries, and there was no reason to think that conditions in mines ruled out the need for such standards. Moreover, as soon as the government began to measure airborne radon levels in Western U.S. uranium mines, they found higher levels than those reported in the European mines where excess cancers had been observed.[9] As Public Health Service (PHS) sanitary engineer Duncan Holaday, who spent many years studying the miners, recalled in 1959 congressional testimony, there was early recognition that while there were substantial differences between European and American settings, the exposure levels in U.S. mines were high:

In 1946 our American mines were not as deep as those in Europe. The men did not work long hours. Furthermore, a great many of them were more or less transient miners, in and out of the industry.

However, our early environmental studies in these early American mines indicated that we had concentrations of radioactive gases considerably in excess of those that had been reported in the literature.[10]

One important hole in Hueper's argument was that the calculated dose of radiation from the radon in European mines did not seem high enough to cause cancer.[11]But when William Bale of the University of Rochester and John Harley, a scientist at the AEC's New York Operations Office (NYOO) who was working toward his doctorate at Renssaelear Polytechnic Institute, were able to show and explain in 1951 the importance of radioactive particles that attached to bits of dust and remained in the lung, the discovery had a tremendous impact.[12] When doses to the lung were recalculated using Bale and Harley's models, they increased 76 times,[13] making them high enough to explain the observed cancer rates.[14] Recognizing the importance of radon daughters also explained why animal experiments using pure radon gas had not caused cancer.[15]

In the absence of Atomic Energy Commission willingness to press for relatively safe tolerance levels for radon in U.S. mines and to institute an effective program of mine ventilation to reduce the hazard, and a mixed, but mainly unsatisfactory response from the states, the stage was set for intergovernmental buck passing and decades of study, a course that resulted in the premature deaths of hundreds of miners. An analysis of eleven underground miners' studies published in 1994 by the National Cancer Institute supports the view that radon daughters are responsible for an even greater number of lung cancers than previously believed.[16]

The Advisory Committee heard from many miners and their families about the devastation wrought by the experience in the mines and the government's ability to prevent it. Dorothy Ann Purley, from the pueblo of Laguna in New Mexico, told Advisory Committee members at a public meeting in Santa Fe, "Nowadays people come out and say, 'Did you know so and so died of cancer?' 'I have a brother in law who has got cancer. He worked at the mine.'"[17]

Philip Harrison, a spokesman for Navajo miners and their families, told the Advisory Committee that in New Mexico mines "the working conditions were sometimes unbearable. . . . The government knew all along what the outcome would be and . . . initiated studies on the miners . . . without their knowledge and consent."[18]

A Standard for Beryllium, But Not for Uranium

In 1948, Merril Eisenbud, an industrial hygienist, was recruited by the AEC's New York Operations Office to help set up a health and safety laboratory. The NYOO was responsible for all raw materials procurement for the AEC.[19]At the request of the AEC's Raw Materials Division, Dr. Eisenbud and Dr. Bernard Wolf, a radiologist, reported on potential health hazards in the mines to the NYOO field office in Colorado and to AEC headquarters staff.[20] Dr. Eisenbud and the New York Operations Office recommended that the AEC write requirements for health protection into its contracts with the mine operators.[21]

The AEC had used contract provisions in the case of beryllium, another key (but not radioactive) element in bomb production. One month before Dr. Eisenbud filed his report on the uranium mines, the Cleveland News reported on a conference convened to discuss cases of beryllium poisoning at plants in Massachusetts and Lorain, Ohio.[22] Among the fatalities in Lorain were five residents living near the Beryllium Corporation plant.[23] The plant owner, Dr. Eisenbud recalled in 1995, was eager to have conditions studied "because he wanted to know what his liability was."[24]

That same month, June 1948, responding to the "considerable publicity . . . given by the press to cases of berylliosis among plant workers and residents," the AEC set a tentative standard for the permissible levels of exposure to beryllium. The NYOO, "with the approval of the Division of Biology and Medicine, has insisted that the AEC-recommended tolerance levels be met in all plants processing beryllium or beryllium compounds for the Commission."[25] Despite the fact that by September 1949 there had been at least twenty-seven deaths attributed to beryllium in plants where the AEC had contracts (no one became sick with berylliosis after the tolerance limits had been set in place), the DBM objected to AEC "establishment and enforcement of standards or regulations pertaining to health and safety conditions" and wanted to turn the matter over to the states.[26]Nevertheless, the NYOO enforced standards for beryllium.[27]

The uranium and beryllium situations had much in common. In both cases the AEC was the sole or primary purchaser. In both cases the AEC's New York Operations Office sought to control the hazard. And in both cases there were arguments to be made for inaction: The causation mechanism for the disease was poorly understood, and the legal authority of the AEC to regulate private production was questionable. The essential difference between the two cases was that the illness caused by beryllium appeared shortly after exposure and aroused publicity and associated public concern. By contrast, it would take more than a decade before uranium miners would begin to die of lung cancer, and causality would be harder to infer.

The DBM and the AEC Raw Materials Division rejected Dr. Eisenbud's recommendation for health protection, arguing that the Atomic Energy Act did not give the AEC authority over uranium mine health and safety.[28] While the Committee did not locate the early AEC legal opinions on this question, as discussed in the text, we did find documentation of AEC lawyer reassertion of this position in the late 1950s. The New York Operations Office took the same position that it had taken on beryllium: if it was going to procure uranium, it was going to control radon in the mines.[29] The AEC responded by transferring uranium procurement to a newly created section of the Raw Materials Division in Washington.[30] According to Dr. Eisenbud, the director of the New York Operations Office and many of its employees quit over this move, at least some of them because the shift was intended to keep the AEC out of health-related matters in the uranium mining industry.[31]

Eisenbud's perspective was echoed in at least part of the AEC's Washington office. In May 1949, A. E. Gorman, a sanitary engineer at the AEC, wrote a memo for the files in which he reported on a meeting with Lewis A. Young, director of the Colorado Department of Health's division of sanitation, and Dr. John Z. Bowers, deputy director of the Division of Biology and Medicine. Bowers "indicated that health conditions [on the Colorado Plateau] were not satisfactory," and Mr. Young reported that "conditions under which uranium ore was being mined and processed were not good."[32] Bowers, the memo recorded, said his office did not want to recommend "drastic steps" to require correction of deficiencies, but preferred to gather facts about the hazard and cooperate with mine operators and state agencies to correct unsatisfactory conditions. Gorman, however, recorded:

I expressed the opinion that if the State of Colorado had only two inspectors to cover industrial hygienic conditions in all mines in the state, it would not be realistic to expect very extensive follow up of the hazards problems [ sic ] involving silicosis and radioactivity also that since AEC was purchasing a very large percentage of the uranium produced, we had a moral responsibility at least to improve any unsatisfactory condition which was known to exist involving the health of workers. I suggested that this might be taken care of by a clause in our contracts even though it might result in a higher cost of production. I questioned the point that such action might seriously affect the production of uranium.[33]

Gorman's perspective did not win out. By the 1950s occupational standards or guidelines existed not only for radium[34] (a maximum permissible body burden) but also for radon. By 1941 the data from the European mines had been used to establish a radon standard for "air in plant, laboratory, or office [of] 10 picocuries per liter."[35] But when it came to the mines the federal government took nearly two decades to issue enforceable standards and actions to protect all those miners known to be exposed to significant risk. Instead, it debated responsibility for action while it pursued a long course of epidemiological study. The episode, the judge would declare in the Begay case decision in 1984, was a "tragedy of the nuclear age."[36]

The PHS Study

On August 25, 1949, the state of Colorado and U.S. Public Health Service officials met to explore radiation safety in the uranium mines and mills.[37] Colorado was home to about half of the U.S. uranium mines. Because many of them were small mines, they employed less than 10 percent of the country's uranium miners. (New Mexico, with much larger mines on average, had a fraction of the mines, but nearly half of the miners.)[38] The Colorado Department of Health established an advisory panel of federal, state, and uranium industry officials to oversee a comprehensive study. The panel advised the health department that more information was needed on the medical hazards of the uranium mines. In August 1949, the health department, along with the Colorado Bureau of Mines and the U.S. Vanadium Company, formally requested a study of the mines and mills, which the PHS agreed to do.[39] The PHS initiated both environmental studies of the mines[40] and epidemiologic studies of the miners.[41] The environmental study ended in 1956, but the epidemiologic study is ongoing.

In 1949, Henry Doyle, a sanitary engineer who was the chief PHS representative in Colorado, began environmental sampling in the mines.[42] Doyle recruited Holaday to direct the study.[43] The health departments of Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona also participated.[44] The environmental part of the study began first, in 1950. Between 1950 and 1954 medical examinations of uranium miners and millers were done on a "hit-or-miss basis,"[45] but in 1954 a systematic epidemiological study of the miners was begun.

Between 1949 and 1951, PHS investigators took environmental measurements of radon levels in the mines. Like Dr. Eisenbud, they detected high levels of radon.[46] In a February 1950 memo to the PHS Salt Lake City office, Holaday reported on a survey of four mines on the Navajo reservation. He declared that while he "anticipated that the samples would show high radon concentrations, the final results were beyond all expectations." The samples disclosed a "rather serious picture," leading Holaday to conclude "that a control program must be instituted as soon as possible in order to prevent injury to the workers."[47]

On January 25, 1951, representatives from the AEC, the PHS Division of Industrial Hygiene, and other branches of PHS convened to discuss in detail the radon concentrations discovered by the PHS study and what could be done about them.[48] The PHS staff explained that the uranium study demonstrated "radon concentrations . . . in the mines high enough to probably cause injury to the miners. . . ."[49] They also said the hazard could be abated by proper ventilation. The group concluded that the radon concentrations should be reduced to the lowest level possible consistent with good mine ventilation practices, but found it "unrealistic" to set a definite level that mine operators should meet.[50] They recommended further research, especially on ventilation techniques.[51] By this route, "the radon concentrations in the mines would be materially reduced in all cases, and valuable information would be yielded as to the effectiveness of standard ventilation practice in the control of radon."[52] It also was noted at this meeting that the acceptable level of radon in manufacturing was only 10 picocuries per liter, one to three orders of magnitude lower than the observed levels in the mines.[53]

The PHS Progress Report for the second half of 1951 explained that because of the "acuteness of the radon problem it was felt that it was necessary to temporarily put aside our full-scale environmental investigation of this industry and concentrate on the control of this contaminant."[54] The PHS met with the mining companies to discuss the hazards and urged them to undertake ventilation measures.[55] In 1979, Duncan Holaday testified to Congress that "by 1940 I do not believe there was any prominent scientist or industrial hygienist in the United States, except one [presumably Lorenz], who was not thoroughly convinced of the dangers, and it had been demonstrated that the radioactive elements could be removed from a closed area and be completely avoided."[56] However, it appears the mining industry lacked the commitment to improve worker conditions.[57]

The PHS distributed its interim report on a "restricted" basis to state and federal government officials and mining companies in May 1952.[58] A June 26, 1952, press release announcing the completion of the interim report began with the statement that "no evidence of health damage from radioactivity had been found."[59] Mining had been going on for only a few years, and lung cancer has a ten- to twenty-year latency period. The introduction to the report itself noted, however, that "certain acute conditions are present in the industry which, if not rectified, may seriously affect the health of the worker."[60]

Meanwhile, as evidence of hazard mounted, Dr. Hueper, now at the National Cancer Institute, reported continued efforts to limit his speech on the risks involved. Dr. Hueper reported that in 1952 he was invited to speak to the Colorado Medical Society, but declined to attend when ordered by the director of the NCI, at the request of the AEC's Shields Warren, to delete references "to the observation of lung cancer in from 40 to 75 percent of the radioactive ore miners in . . . [Europe] although these occupational cancers had been reported repeatedly since 1879."[61] In a 1952 memo to the head of the Cancer Control Branch of NIH, Hueper reported that an AEC representative had objected that references to occupational cancer hazards in the mines were "not in the public interest" and "represented mere conjectures."[62] After the Colorado episode, according to Hueper, Warren wrote to the director of the NCI, asking for Dr. Hueper's dismissal for "bad judgment." Dr. Hueper kept his job, but was, according to Victor Archer, one of the physicians who ran the uranium miner study, forbidden to travel west of the Mississippi for research purposes.[63]

U.S. officials, including those from the PHS, had no independent authority to enter the privately owned mines--as opposed to those owned by the AEC and leased to private operators--without permission of the mine owners.[64] Duncan Holaday testified in court proceedings that in order to gain access to the mines, an oral agreement was made with mine owners not to directly inform those most affected by their findings, the miners.[65] According to Holaday, "this was routine procedure that was followed in every industrial survey I was aware of . . . this went back for many decades." To gain entry to the mines the researchers agreed that the PHS would not "alarm the miners" by warning them of hazardous conditions.[66] In 1983 Holaday testified in Begay that "you had to get the survey done and you knew perfectly well you were not doing the correct thing . . . by not informing the workers."[67] A medical consent form from the PHS study dated May 1960 says nothing about the risk of lung cancer or any other health risk associated with working in uranium mines.[68] "[T]here would be no overt publicity," Holaday recalled in a 1985 deposition, "and when we reported the information that we found, it would be done in such a way that the facilities where a particular set of samples were taken would not be identified and that we would not inform the individual workers of what data we found."[69]

Holaday told Stewart Udall, a former secretary of the interior who represented the miners in the Begay case, that he did not try to go public because he didn't think that Washington would notice a "little Utah tweet" from him.[70] Eisenbud has suggested that perhaps this was because in the Cold War environment, with nuclear weapons testing under way, no one would pay much attention to the long-term health risks of a small group of miners.[71]

Although the PHS and the AEC already knew the danger of radon in the mines in 1951, and had pressed the states to take action with mixed results, PHS doctors nonetheless began to conduct basic health examinations to collect baseline data against which long-term health effects of radon could be gauged.[72] These medical examinations did not initially find evidence of harm caused from working in the mines. However, one would not have expected to find such effects because few miners had been on the job for more than five years and lung cancer takes ten to fifteen years to appear.

By 1953, the PHS had completed a series of ventilation studies. As early as 1951, federal and state officials meeting with mine owners in Colorado had told them that "ventilation had been tried in other mines and found to be satisfactory."[73] But while some large mines were ventilated during the 1950s and 1960s, most of the small mines were not ventilated until the 1960s or later, and in those mines that had ventilating systems earlier, they were not always properly used.[74]

The uranium miners were discussed at a January 1956 meeting of the AEC's Advisory Committee for Biology and Medicine. The formally secret transcript records that in a "status report on the Colorado plateau," the Division of Biology and Medicine's Dr. Roy Albert stated:

There are no pressing--particularly pressing--problems associated with it now, but there has always been a rumbling of discontent with the status of the health conditions in the uranium mines of the Colorado Plateau because this is a mining industry which is essentially controlled by the Federal Government and by the AEC in terms of how much it can produce and how much it paid for its product.

Albert explained that the tentative decision was to "sit tight" because it would be "an unusual step" for the federal government to enter the mining industry and the AEC could take a "wait and see" approach as the states "took up the cudgel."[75]

Merril Eisenbud responded, to no evident effect, that the federal government should pay to ventilate the mines: "I think here is where our responsibility lies, because I think this industry would not exist except for the fact that we need uranium. If the cost of operating these mines as determined by us does not permit adequate ventilation of those mines, we will have to change the price. It is as simple as that."[76]

In October 1958, LeRoy Burney, the surgeon general of the Public Health Service, wrote to Charles Dunham, director of the AEC's Division of Biology and Medicine, that the "numbers are too small to permit conclusions to be drawn at this time" about whether there were excess lung cancer deaths among the uranium miners. However, he added, "if this proportion of mortality . . . should increase or even continue in the future, then it might be appropriate to conclude that our American experience is not inconsistent" with that in the Czech and German mines. Dr. Burney added:

Although we do not have complete environmental measurements in all mines, it appears that about 1,500 men in some 300 mines are working in uncontrolled or poorly controlled environments. The median level of alpha emitters in the mines of one state is five times the recommended working level, and in some mines the level is exceeded by more than 50 times. . . . It is usually the older, smaller mines in which the workers are still exposed to these high levels.[77]

Burney concluded by suggesting that as the "sole purchaser of ores produced in the mines," the federal government could require mine owners to conform to federal safety standards.

Several months later, Dunham wrote a memo to AEC General Manager A. R. Luedecke, reporting "it is doubtful if the Commission's regulatory Authority could be extended to cover the mines."[78] The same day, March 11, 1959, AEC General Counsel L. K. Olson wrote to Dunham reporting that "there is nothing in the legislative history of the 1954 [Atomic Energy] Act, or the 1946 [Atomic Energy] Act, which indicates that Congress may have intended to permit AEC to regulate uranium mining practices."[79]

Later in 1959, the AEC asked the Bureau of Mines to inspect mines it leased and then made follow-up inspections to see that the bureau's recommendations were followed, closing sections of mines temporarily until corrective measures were completed. In the ten months between July 1959 when the inspections began and May 1960, levels of radon in these mines improved dramatically.[80]

As the judge in the Begay decision found, "the AEC concluded that it could enforce health and safety measures in leased mines [as distinct from privately owned mines] pursuant to the leasing provisions of the Atomic Energy Act" and amended its mines' leases "to contain explicit enforcement language and procedures."[81] The states began to enact standards in 1955,[82] but inspection and enforcement came later and varied greatly. New Mexico began enforcement in 1958.[83] Colorado and Utah did not begin serious enforcement until the 1960s,[84] and Arizona, according to Duncan Holaday, did "nothing outside of take air samples."[85] (3 August 1983), 152.

In late 1959, the miners were provided with the PHS pamphlet that warned them about the hazards of radon exposure. The pamphlet mentioned the possibility of radon causing lung cancer, but said nothing of the experience of U.S. or European miners or the level of risk. It said that "scientists are working hard to get the final answer on how much radon and its breakdown products, known as daughters, you can be exposed to safely."[86] It did not tell the miner the "suggested figures," but suggested bringing "enough clean, fresh air to the face to sweep out the radon gas and dust," as well as several other measures to reduce exposures.[87]

All mining is dangerous, and there is no reason to think that any miners went into the uranium mines unaware of this. Whether the uranium miners had an appreciation of the added cancer risk from radon is another matter. The 1959 pamphlet is the first document we could find that indicated that the federal government tried to warn the miners of the radiation hazards. While the pamphlet mentioned the possibility of radon causing lung cancer, it gave no indication of the level of risk.[88] Duncan Holaday told a congressional hearing in 1979, "We, in the Public Health Service, made every effort to communicate with the men the situation that they were in. We put out pamphlets . . . conducted medical examinations . . . we told them what the story was."[89] This statement is hard to reconcile with Holaday's other statements, as quoted earlier, that the researchers had agreed not to warn the miners as the condition for access to the mines. When Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah suggested to Mr. Holaday that some of the miners "just were not capable of understanding or knowing the dangers to which they were subjected," Mr. Holaday responded, "I understand this perfectly well."[90]

In 1960, the PHS presented to the governors of the mining states what it believed to be conclusive evidence from the PHS study of a correlation between uranium mining and lung cancer. The evidence showed that at least four and a half times more lung cancers were observed than would normally be expected among white miners--for whom comparison data were available--and that there was less than a 5 percent chance that such a difference had appeared by chance. The results of a study of 371 mines (the number of miners surveyed was not stated) in 1959 showed that the number of mines with unacceptable levels of radon had increased from 1958.[91] Yet the federal government continued to defer to the states on rule setting and enforcement in the case of the mines that were not AEC property, and the AEC, the PHS, and the states continued studies and discussions.

Finally, in 1967, Secretary of Labor Willard Wirtz announced the first federally enforceable standard for radon and its daughters in uranium mines that supplied the federal government. "After seventeen years of debate and discussions regarding the respective private, state, and federal responsibilities for conditions in the uranium mines," Wirtz told Congress, "there are today (or were when the hearings were called) no adequate health and safety standards or inspection procedures for uranium mining."[92] The standard was set at 0.3 Working Level (WL).[93] Wirtz established this criterion under the 1936 Walsh-Healy Act, which provided for the regulation of health and safety conditions under government contracts.[94] It is not clear why the authority granted the secretary of labor under this 1936 law was not used earlier to control radon in the mines, but it might have been because most of the mines were privately owned and did not operate under federal contacts, which made the applicability of the act questionable.[95]

The Begay Decision

Begay v. United States was filed on behalf of a group of miners in federal district court in Arizona in 1979 the case came to trial in 1983. During the 1950s, according to the court, the PHS found radiation exposures in some mines higher than the level it recommended, and "even higher than the doses received as a result of the atomic bomb explosion in Japan."[96] But on July 10, 1984, the court decided that the United States was immune from suit,[97] although the judge wrote that the miners' situation "cries for redress."[98]

The decision in the Begay case poses basic questions regarding the responsibility of the government and its researchers. The court found that the government's actions were motivated by strong national security interests:

The government, in making its decision in this area, was faced with the immediate need of a constant, uninterrupted and reliable flow of great quantities of uranium . . . for urgent national security purposes and as an energy source in the future for the growing peacetime nuclear energy industry. . . . [T]he decision makers had to be concerned that there was adequate data available to justify the standards to be set and that labor and management would have the tools to know when they were in violation. . . .[99]

The court is not clear, however, on why or how a standard for radon in the mines would have interrupted the flow of uranium, damaged national security interests, or interfered with the development of peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Ventilating the mines would have been relatively inexpensive, and it would have improved working conditions--this was demonstrated in PHS ventilation studies in 1951[100] --making it more rather than less attractive to a potential work force. In 1960 the deputy commissioner of mines of Colorado is reported as having said that 98 percent of the mines would have to suspend work if forced to abide by a working level standard proposed in 1955: 100 picocuries of radon in equilibrium with 300 picocuries of radon daughters.[101] In any event, the federal government did not invoke national security as a basis for its inaction. For example, in 1986 Duncan Holaday responded in the negative when asked in a deposition, "in all [your] years from 1949 until your retirement, did you ever receive directly or receive indirectly, any document [from the] Public Health Service, from the Atomic Energy Commission, or from any other source, indicating you or directing you that you are to pull punches or nothing was to be done because of national security considerations?"[102] As for the federal government's policy of not regulating the mines, this appears to have involved questions of the AEC's understanding of its authority and political questions relating to the traditional relationship between the states and the federal government.

Was the failure to apply the same approach to the uranium miners as to the beryllium workers a matter of the absence of legal authority, as claimed by the AEC, or of reasoned deference to state regulators, as the court suggested? The court's decision did not address the AEC's action to require its beryllium contractors to comply with hazard standards, nor did it address the fact that radiation standards were enforced in industrial settings. Fragmentation of responsibility - both at the federal level and between the states and the federal government - appears to have provided a convenient opportunity for the federal government to pass the buck among agencies and avoid decisive action until long after such action should have been taken.

Under what conditions should researchers enter into a long-term study where there is reason to suspect at the outset that the subjects are, each day, at continuing and largely avoidable and unnecessary risk?

The Begay decision states clearly the bargain entered into by the government and its researchers, on behalf of the epidemiological study:

. . . it was necessary to obtain the consent and voluntary cooperation of all mine operators. To do this, it was decided by PHS under the surgeon general that the individual miners would not be told of possible potential hazards from radiation . . . for fear that many miners would quit and others would be difficult to secure because of fear of cancer. This would seriously interrupt badly needed production of uranium. . . . [N]o individual mine, or mines, would be publicly identified in connection with that data. Consequently, the voluntary consent of mine operators was secured to conduct the PHS study.[103]

The Begay decision does not address questions such as whether the researchers could have worked more effectively with state agencies that had authority to enter the mines, or whether they could have conducted the study in mines on federal or Navajo land, to which they had access. In any case, there is no obvious national security or other ground on which to justify the continued exposure of miners to the radon hazard.[104]

As to medical examinations of the miners, the court found that the physicians who had conducted them "had the responsibility for dealing only with the examination and the results of that examination."[105] Thus, the court concluded, "it was neither necessary nor proper for those physicians to advise the miners voluntarily appearing for examinations of potential hazards in uranium mines."[106] In the case of the epidemiological study, the court explained:

An epidemiological study deals with group statistics and the conclusions of such a study appropriately cannot be applied to specific participants of a group. . . . The government did not seek volunteers to work in the mines so that they could become part of the study group. . . .[107]

On this point, the Advisory Committee disagrees with the court. In epidemiological studies such as the one under discussion, group conclusions are applicable to the members of the population of which the group is intended to be a representative sample. That is, each individual can be told the probability of developing disease based on his level and conditions of exposure. If the study was poorly designed, then such applicability may not hold, but to the Committee's knowledge, no one has argued this about the PHS study. Moreover, the PHS researchers had opportunities to warn the miners face to face because they examined them periodically over more than twenty years. There is some disagreement about whether any miners were warned of the risk of lung cancer, but even Duncan Holaday, who in one instance indicated that some miners received warnings, acknowledged that very likely these warnings were ineffective.

Radiation Exposure Compensation Act

The Begay decision concluded that the plight of the uranium miners "cries for redress." Because of the doctrine of sovereign immunity, however, the court declared that it could not provide the appropriate remedy. By 1990, 410 lung cancer deaths had occurred among the 4,100 miners in the Colorado Plateau study group about 75 lung cancer deaths would normally have been expected in a group of miners such as this.[108] In the same year, Congress responded with legislation, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA), which provided $100,000 compensation for miners with lung cancer or nonmalignant respiratory disease, subject to certain conditions. In the case of lung cancer, the act requires that the claimant demonstrate an occupational exposure to radon daughters from 200 WLM (working level months) to 500 WLM, depending upon his age and smoking history, the higher figure applying to smokers and older miners. In the case of nonmalignant respiratory disease, the act also requires documentation of disease by a panel of radiologists certified in assessing x-ray evidence of lung disease. In both cases, records of occupational histories and civil records for next-of-kin claimants (such as marriage certificates) are also required--records that are often nonexistent or difficult to obtain, particularly for Navajo miners.

The most recent and authoritative analysis of risks of lung cancer from radon in uranium mining comes from a 1994 NIH publication[109]that reanalyzed all eleven of the major occupational radon studies worldwide. This analysis considerably extends that undertaken by the National Academy of Sciences BEIR IV Committee,[110] which was available in 1986 prior to the enactment of RECA. This report used similar methods of analysis but more recent and more detailed data on a larger set of studies. The most important conclusions of this report are

  • that the risk rises approximately linearly with level of exposure, with an average slope that is similar to that estimated by earlier committees, including BEIR IV[111]
  • that the risk per WLM varies strongly by age, latency, mining cohort, and especially by dose rate or duration, the latter being a relatively recent observation, but one that is now widely accepted[112]
  • that there is little evidence that the proportional increase in lung cancer risks is substantially different for smokers and nonsmokers--as a consequence, the probability that a particular lung cancer was caused or contributed to by radon is not materially altered by smoking history[113]
  • that on average more than half of the lung cancers among white miners in the Colorado plateau cohort and the Navajo New Mexico cohort were caused by radon exposures[114] and
  • that there were substantial uncertainties in the actual doses received by miners in different mines.[115]

Thus, the 200 WLM figure that is used in RECA as the criterion for awarding compensation is not unreasonable as a "balance of probabilities" for the miners as an entire group, but (1) is a much higher risk threshold than is required for either the downwinders of the Nevada Test Site or the atomic veterans covered in the same act and (2) ignores substantial variation in age, latency, and other factors and substantial uncertainties in dose estimates for individuals within the group of all miners, so that many miners whose cancers are likely to have been caused by radon would not have attained this criterion. Furthermore, the distinction between smokers and nonsmokers established in the act is not well supported by currently available scientific evidence and tends to deny compensation to many miners, most of whom are smokers but suffered substantial increases in risk due to the synergistic effect of the two carcinogens.

Clearly some miners have a stronger case for compensation than others, and RECA makes an attempt to make such distinctions. In principle, it would be possible to construct a formula for determining the probability of causation that would better reflect the current state of scientific knowledge and a threshold on this scale of probabilities that would treat the miners more equitably vis-á-vis the other groups covered by the act. However, the case of the uranium miners presents insurmountable obstacles in this regard, including the loss of records pertaining to occupational histories and exposures and variations in cultural practices that have made record-keeping burdens on claimants especially onerous. When the difficulty of meeting such bureaucratic requirements is coupled with the strong link between lung cancer and uranium mining, the scheme unjustly places too great a burden on the individual. The Committee is strongly persuaded to propose an adjustment in the criteria so that the evidence of a minimum duration of employment underground would be sufficient to qualify for compensation. Any compensation scheme is necessarily imperfect, but given the strength of causal connection, and the severity of the injury, the time spent in the mines is a rational and equitable basis for determining exposure levels.

Conclusions About the Uranium Miners

The Advisory Committee concludes that an insufficient effort was made by the federal government to mitigate the hazard to uranium miners through early ventilation of the mines, and that as a result miners died. The Committee further concludes that there were no credible barriers to federal action. While national security clearly provided the context for uranium mining, our review of available records reveals no evidence that national security or related economic considerations were relied on by officials as a basis for not taking action to ventilate the mines. Since most of the mines were not ventilated, the federal government should at least have warned the miners of the risk of lung cancer they faced by working underground. We recognize that the miners had limited employment options and might have felt compelled to continue working in the mines, but the information should have been available to them. Had they been better informed, they could have sought help in publicizing the fact that working conditions in the mines were extremely hazardous, which might have resulted in some mines being ventilated earlier than they were.

The court in the Begay decision did not exaggerate when it called the abuse of these miners "a tragedy of the nuclear age."

The Committee believes that after 1951, when William Bale and John Harley's findings on radon daughters established that miners were getting a much larger dose to the lungs than previously suspected, the mine owners, the state governments, and the federal government each had a responsibility to take action leading to ventilation of all mines. There are basic ethical principles to not inflict harm and to promote the welfare of others (as described in chapter 4) under which all the relevant parties ought to have acted to prevent harm to the miners.

The Advisory Committee has found no plausible justification for the failure of the federal government, which is the focus of our inquiry, to adhere to these principles. It is clear that officials of the federal government were convinced by the early 1950s that radon and radon-daughter concentrations in the mines were high enough to cause lung cancer. The federal government's obligation flows from this knowledge and its causal link to the mining activity. Without the federal government to buy uranium, there would have been no uranium mining industry. Since the miners were put at risk by the federal government, a minimal moral requirement would be that the government ensure that the risk was reduced to an acceptable level. Because the federal government did not take the necessary action, the product it purchased was at the price of hundreds of deaths.

The historical record is tangled and incomplete, but legal responsibility for the health and safety of the miners appears to have rested largely, but not exclusively, with the states. At the same time, the resources to implement remedial measures existed mainly within the federal government.

The Atomic Energy Commission, which was the contracting agency of the federal government in its role as sole purchaser of uranium, interpreted the Atomic Energy Act as not providing it with authority over health and safety in the mines. It is not clear to the Committee why the AEC, as in the case of beryllium, could not have made ventilation a requirement of any contract to mine uranium, or, in any event, why the AEC could not have sought clarification of its authority from Congress. The Labor Department appears to have had authority under the 1936 Walsh-Healy Act to ensure safe working conditions in the mines, but for reasons that are again unclear to the Committee, it was not until 1967 that the Department of Labor applied the act.

According to the Begay decision, the United States did not recruit miners to work in the mines, nor did it cause the miners to be exposed to hazard or withhold treatment from any individual. None of the considerations, however, detracts from what was for the Advisory Committee an overarching determinative consideration: without the federal government's initiative and its role as sole purchaser, there would not have been an American uranium industry. Because the government played a pivotal role in putting the miners in harm's way, it follows that the government had a moral obligation to ensure that the harm be controlled, at least to a level of risk that was not in excess of those risks normally associated with underground mining, an argument the government used to act in the case of beryllium.

The uranium mines were not ventilated, however, adding particular significance to a second moral issue raised by this case: Why were the miners not warned about the risk to which they were being exposed, particularly as the likely magnitude of the hazard became clear? Although this question can be properly put to all the relevant parties, including the mine owners, the state governments, and the various federal agencies, most attention has focused on the Public Health Service. Investigators of the PHS were the only federal officials in direct contact with miners as they recruited and then followed the miners in the course of their epidemiological studies. Also, it was in the course of these studies that important evidence about the severity of the risk was accumulated.

When the data collected by the PHS indicated the miners were working in an environment where the threat of lung cancer was significant, which was clearly the case after the Bale-Harley findings, and when the PHS observed in the early 1950s that the states and owners were not ventilating the mines to mitigate the hazard, the PHS was obligated to warn the miners about the implications of its research. This research appears to have been conducted, however, under oral understandings with the mine owners that the PHS researchers would not directly warn the miners of the level of hazard.[116]

The question arises, of course, of whether the PHS should have entered into an agreement to study the miners conditioned on not warning them of the hazard to which they were being exposed. The argument for accepting this condition is that it was the only way the PHS researchers could gain entry to the mines and that ultimately the study results would be valuable and likely save some lives. But acceptance of the condition precluded the PHS from dealing in a straightforward manner with the people they were proposing to study and from providing a warning that had the potential, in this case, for saving at least some lives. The Committee is divided on this issue. Some members concluded that the condition was morally objectionable and should have been rejected, even if this meant that the research could not go forward or could go forward only in a limited way.[117] Others argued that a morally acceptable course would have been to accept the condition and, as the results emerged, warn the miners anyway, because in this case the duty of promise keeping was justifiably overridden by the duty to prevent harm.

The PHS's decision to abide by the agreement not to warn the miners is particularly troubling in light of a regulation, as noted by the court in the Begay decision, in force from 1951 to 1978, that governed the disclosure of information obtained and conclusions reached for PHS surveys, research projects, and investigations. The regulation said, in part, that information "obtained by the Service under an assurance of confidentiality . . . may be disclosed . . . whenever the Surgeon General specifically determines disclosure to be necessary (1) to prevent an epidemic or other grave danger to the public health. . . ."[118] Certainly at some point the potential and eventually realized lung cancer epidemic qualified under this regulation. The PHS's 1952 interim report is clear that "certain acute conditions are present in the industry which, if not rectified, may seriously affect the health of the worker."[119] So, while the PHS had legal as well as moral standing to breach its confidentiality agreement, it did not do so, although it appears to have made efforts to communicate its findings, their implications, and abatement recommendations to health authorities, the AEC, mine operators and owners, and state agencies.[120]

The agreement between the PHS and the mine owners no doubt also affected what PHS investigators were willing to tell the miners about the purpose of their investigations at the time the miners were recruited to participate. The PHS told the miners little more than that they were studying "miners' health."[121] In fact they were studying (1) the relationship between exposure to radon and other conditions in the mines and miners' health and (2) engineering methods (specifically, ventilation techniques) for controlling radiation hazards.[122] Had miners been told the true purpose of the study then, even in advance of any warnings connected with the progress of the research, it is possible the miners could have used this information to advocate for their interests. Even if the miners were not well positioned to seek employment elsewhere or to advocate for improved working conditions, the principle of respect for the self-determination of others would have required a more straightforward disclosure.

Current guidelines for the ethics of epidemiological research, as well as current practices, would not counsel the original bargain with the mine owners, the minimal disclosure made to workers about the purpose of the research, or the failure to warn the workers as the hazard became clear. For example, the current Council for International Organizations of Medical Sciences (CIOMS) guidelines explain: "Part of the benefit that communities, groups and individuals may reasonably expect from participating in studies is that they will be told of findings that pertain to their health."[123] The CIOMS guidelines also specify a duty not to withhold, misrepresent, or manipulate data.[124] Today, it is widely recognized among epidemiologic researchers that they have an obligation to report findings indicating potential or actual harm, along with the uncertainties of those findings, to the people being studied and to the public at large.

Although the Committee believes that the federal government should have acted to ensure that the mines were ventilated and that the PHS should have informed the miners about the severity of the risk it was investigating, the Committee did not have enough information to assess the moral responsibility of individual AEC and PHS employees and officials for these failures. Some effort was made by some investigators to get the states and mine owners to ventilate the mines, and some warnings may have been given to individual miners. But the ventilation effort was inadequate and the warnings ineffectual. We lack the information to evaluate whether officials such as Duncan Holaday, Henry Doyle, and Merril Eisenbud should have done more than they did to protect the miners, granting that their superiors had ultimate responsibility for decisions not to press for ventilation and warnings. Whistleblowing to avert serious harm is an important moral responsibility, but there are personal prudential considerations unknown to us that must be weighed before judging whether these people failed in their duty.[125]


Navajo men gravitated to work in the mines, which were near their homes and about the only job available. For many Navajo families, uranium mining represented a first contact with the broader US wage economy. These Navajo families were thankful at the time that they had employment.20,21

Above right: Navajo miners near Cove, Ariz, in 1952. Courtesy of the Navajo Nation Museum, Window Rock, Ariz (NG6-52).

Miners were paid minimum wage or less. Copies of pay stubs provided by a Navajo miner from 1949 show an hourly wage of


Early measurements were of the concentration of radon in the air in mines—typically measured in picocuries per liter. Harley’s work focused on the radon daughters and led to the definition of a working level as the measure of the energy released by radon daughters. This provides a physical measure that is closely related to the mechanism for biological damage. One working level is a concentration of radon decay products that will release 1.3 million electron volts per liter of air. Depending on ventilation and the amount of dust, a particular concentration of radon in the air can correspond to different working levels.17,30 At equilibrium (expected with poor ventilation), 1 working level corresponds to 100 pCi/L in air. The commonly reported measure of exposure (which depends on both the amount of radioactivity and duration) is “working level months.” One working level month is equal to spending 170 hours (1 month of working hours) exposed to 1 working level.

.81 to $1.00 (D. Crank, written communication, 1998). The jobs that they held included blasters, timber men (building the wooden supports in the mines), muckers (who dug the blasted rock), transporters, and millers. Navajo miners report that the bosses were usually White and that the foremen did not spend as much time in the mines as did the Navajo laborers. Mines ranged from pickax and wheelbarrow to heavy equipment. Navajo miners reported working as little as a few months to 10 years or more in uranium mines.1,8

When uranium mining began, the predominant modes of transportation for Navajo People were by horse and wagon or by foot on the reservation, the Navajo language had no word for radiation, few Navajo People spoke English, and few had formal education. Thus, the Navajo population was isolated from the general flow of knowledge about radiation and its hazards by geography, language, and literacy level.1,8 Today, the miners and their families say that they had no idea that there were long-term health hazards associated with uranium mining. Virtually all of the Navajo miners report that they were not educated about the hazards of uranium mining and were not provided with protective equipment or ventilation.22

Today, many Navajo People note that the Treaty of 1868 between the Navajo Tribe and the US government assigned the Bureau of Indian Affairs to care for Navajo economic, educational, and health services. They view this as a special trust relationship that carried particular responsibilities, including safeguarding the health of the Navajo People.8 However, government-provided health care for Navajo People has been fraught with problems. From the 19th century through the 1940s it focused more on eliminating the role of native healers, or medicine men, than on curing widespread infectious disease. Thus, uranium mining– related disease arose in a context of other public health failures.23

First-ever atomic bomb developed by Nazi Germany?

Recently, rumors started circulating again about the fact that the first nuclear weapons were developed and successfully tested not in the U.S., but in Nazi Germany. Did the Nazis really manage to build an atomic bomb?

The theory about the development of nuclear weapons by the Nazi is among those hypotheses that can neither be confirmed nor denied (and according to the rules adopted by the contemporary science, including history, they are automatically considered to be unreliable). Most often, the authors mention some secret documents allegedly kept in the archives of the secret services of the former enemies of Germany. Of course, it is difficult to say whether this is true or not, since no one saw these documents other than their authors.

There is a standalone theory that was suggested in 2005 by a German historian Rainer Karlsch in his book "Hitler's Bomb. In this monograph, the author, citing eyewitness accounts, shows that in 1944 on the Baltic island of Rügen and in the spring of 1945 in Thuringia atomic bombs were tested. All these data are based on the testimony of local residents and journalists from the countries of Germany's allies who spoke about the blasts accompanied by intense light flashes.

The testimony of a certain Claire Werner recorded and documented in the 1960s by the city authorities of Arnstadt, where, according to historians, they are still stored in local archives. A Wehrmacht officer Frau Werner knew said to her in an outburst of frankness in the spring of 1945 that "tonight something will happen that can shake the world." The intrigued lady perched herself by the window where she could observe what was happening at the military training ground near the Thuringian town of Ohrdruf. Then the night turned to day: "I saw a huge pillar rising into the sky, and suddenly it was so light that you could read a newspaper. The pillar rushed into the sky, turning into a huge tree with a wide crown".

Other testimony about the testing in Thuringia said that the explosion caused damage in a radius of 500 meters. In particular, several hundred prisoners of war who were used as testing material have been killed. Some of them burned without a trace. One of the participants in these tests said that many nearby residents have complained of nausea and nose bleeding over the next few days after the tests. One witness testified that he helped to burn a great number of dead bodies the next day: they were all bald, and some had blisters on their body and naked raw red flesh.

In addition, Karlsch refers to the results of the measurements carried out later by the U.S. military on the ground test site in Thuringia where traces of radioactive isotopes were found. In particular, soil samples showed the presence of radioactive elements, namely uranium, plutonium, cesium 137 and cobalt 60. Summing up all these and other facts, Mr. Karlsch concludes that by the end of the war the Germany already had a completely ready atomic bomb. Had the country managed to establish its serial production, the results of the World War II could have beeen somewhat different.

However, Rainer Karlsch in his book says that all these facts are not indisputable evidence of his hypothesis. In fact, a bright flash and a cloud that resembles a mushroom can sometimes occur as a result of the explosions of conventional, though quite powerful bombs (and not just bombs - many witnesses of the tragedy of September 11, 2001 in the United States said that a cloud of smoke and dust rising from the collapsing Twin Towers looked like a "mushroom cloud"). The isotope of uranium found in soil was not the one used in an atomic bomb. Hair loss and sores on the bodies of the dead may appear not only due to ionizing radiation, but also because of the use of shells with chemical weapons.

However, the main thing is that in March of 1945, when the tests in Thuringia were allegedly conducted, allied troops were already very close. Why did their seismographic tools (available in each army) not detect any strong shaking? They should have taken place because, judging by the witnesses' testimony, the blast was of "land" type. They are detected by seismographs fast enough. This information is unlikely to have been ignored by the command of the allies' troops.

However, in this article, I am not going to engage in denial or confirmation of Karlsh's hypothesis because, unlike him, I do not have access to secret archives of the intelligence. I would like to simply analyze the purely theoretical possibility of nuclear weapons being created by the Germans at the end of the war. As we know, for such a weapon to appear, two things are required: scientific developments and related industrial technologies. Did the Nazi Germany have these two components?

In terms of the first component, the Germans obviously had an absolute priority. Back in 1938 the global scientific community was shaken by the news of the discovery of the German physicists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann who found that the core of uranium isotope 235U is in an unstable condition and under certain environmental conditions can be divided into two parts, which release massive amounts of energy. This means that the Germans were the pioneers in the field of nuclear energy.

A little later, on Sept. 26, 1939, in Berlin, the department of military weapons held a meeting of the leading German physicists. Among others, the meeting was attended by such famous scientists as the founder of modern quantum mechanics Werner Heisenberg and Carl von Weizsacker, who described the fusion occurring in the interiors of stars. As a result, Germany has commenced the so-called "Uranium Project", whose goal was to create the first nuclear reactor. That is, the theoretical basis for research was very strong. However, the practical implementation has apparently never happened.

Why not? First, because construction of a reactor requires uranium in pure form and large quantities. Germany barely has any deposits. At Czechoslovakia's Jáchymov field controlled by the Nazis since 1938, the uranium compounds are quite difficult to separate from other metals contained in the ore (according to Soviet experts who studied Jáchymov ore after the war, from 16 tons of rock one could get no more than four to six tons of uranium). This uranium was sufficient for laboratory tests, but not enough to create a reactor.

It was also said that after the seizure of 1,200 Belgium tons of finished ore concentrate of uranium oxide produced in the country were at the disposal of the Germans. However, it seems that the Nazis never used it. According to the reports from the U.S. and Soviet military, nearly the same amount of material was diverted to the U.S. and the USSR after the defeat of Germany, and it was the same Belgian uranium.

But there is more to it. To make nuclear fuel it is not enough to clear uranium from impurities. Studies show that for experiments with nuclear reactors, uranium metal was required that in turn necessitated the development of a technology for its casting. The engineering firm Degussa was tasked with it, but they were able to produce uranium metal only by December of 1944. That is, the trials on the island of Rügen that took place according to Karlsh in the late summer of that year could not involve an atomic bomb because there were simply no required raw materials.

However, the introduction of the technology and casting of uranium does not lead to the creation of an atomic bomb. Natural uranium at 99.3 percent consists of the isotope 238U, which is quite stable, and for the nuclear fuel its unstable "brother" 235U is used. To obtain it, uranium is enriched by special devices. These experimental devices have been found in German laboratories by the Soviet and American specialists, but those that could carry out enrichment on an industrial scale have not been found (no technical documentation to support their presence was found either).

Apparently, despite the existence of the scientific equipment, the German Nazis did not succeed in the implementation of the idea of ​​the atomic bomb. Interestingly enough, a Soviet specialist Kikoin working on the domestic "uranium project," who in 1945 acted as an expert on German nuclear research, said: ". Among the secret documents we found the uranium project. We were not mistaken, and Kaiser-Institute was fundamental in this issue. According to the reviewed documents, it became clear that the Germans did not outrun us, on the contrary, they had a very low scientific and technological level in terms of questions presenting interest for us.

However, they have experimentally observed the beginning of a chain reaction (neutron multiplication). As a moderator they used heavy water obtained from Norway. We found two five-liter cans of heavy water labeled Norsk Hydro. We also found some metallic uranium and several kilograms of uranium oxide.

We dismantled and sent to Moscow some of the remaining in the Kaiser-Institute equipment (electrical, instrumentation). Some very simple isotope separators we also sent to Moscow . "

The German scientists who worked on the "uranium project" repeatedly said that creation of a nuclear bomb would require a great deal of time which Germany did not have. Werner Heisenberg in a conversation with Niels Bohr in 1941 said that the creation of nuclear weapons in Germany was possible in principle, but it would require such extraordinary technical efforts, that hopefully it would not be able to implement during that war. It seems that this prediction of the great physicist brilliantly confirmed. The atomic bomb had not been created by the Nazis.

Germany's Energy Choices Over the Years


As in the rest of Europe, wood was the main source of energy throughout the vast territory of the Holy Roman Empire, which encompassed the territory of present-day Germany. Wood was used essentially for heating and cooking food. The other needs were covered by human and animal muscle power In physics, power is the amount of energy supplied by a system per unit time. In simpler terms, power can be viewed as energy output. .


Little by little, the Germans developed hydropower. A single watermill could replace several dozen men. After water mills came windmills, mainly in the North. In the 12 th century, Germany started to extract coal Coal is ranked by its degree of transformation or maturity, increasing in carbon content from. from shallow mines, particularly in the Harz Mountains and Bohemia.

© ThyssenKrupp / WIKICOMMONS

The first large coal mines were opened in the 18 th century. The main resources were located in the basins of Silesia, Saxony, Saar and Aachen. In 1782, the Krupp family (see photo of Alfred Krupp), which would soon become one of the country's most powerful industrial families, first set up operations in the Essen region.

The 39 States making up the German Confederation had only their language in common. But gradually, the country's structures fell into place: the first municipal gas distribution company was created in 1826 and the Deutscher Zollverein (customs union) was launched in 1834 for the purpose of creating a single domestic market. New universities were founded to train engineers and the network of railways and navigable waterways was expanded.

© Familienalbum / WIKICOMMONS

In 1846, German engineers reached a depth of 736 meters in a coal mine, beating the record held up to then by the British. By around 1850, the Ruhr region had more than 300 coal mines. However, national production remained a modest 5 million mt of coal and 2 million mt of lignite Rock whose properties are somewhere between peat and coal. It has a carbon content of about 70 to 75%. (brown coal), compared to 50 million mt in the U.K.


Under the leadership of Chancellor Bismarck (see picture), modern Germany was born in the aftermath of the Franco-German War of 1870 with the proclamation of the German Empire in the Château de Versailles Hall of Mirrors. With its rich subsurface energy resources, dense communication network (20,000 km of railways in 1870 compared to 16,500 km in France), and large companies (Konzerne), the country had all the necessary advantages to become an economic and industrial leader. The German coal mining industry had its hour of glory with an explosive rise in production: 70.4 mt of coal and 19 mt of lignite in 1890.

© Siemens corporation / WIKICOMMONS

Ten years after the first International Exposition of Electricity in Paris at the Palais de l'Industrie, Germany was on the leading edge of this new technology. The world's first electric tramway, conceived by Werner von Siemens, was put into service near Berlin in 1881. In 1883, Emil Rathenau founded a company specialized in electrical equipment (light bulbs, flatirons, tea kettles, radiators, refrigerators, etc.), which soon became one of the country's most successful companies. The first electricity company was created in Berlin in 1884 and the first experiment in transporting electricity over a long distance was performed in 1891.


The German engineer Rudolf Diesel Diesel is the name of an internal combustion engine that works by compression-ignition. (see picture) developed the engine that still carries his name today. It was installed on ships, submarines, locomotives and trucks, and was also used by industry and the army. It was initially designed to be fueled by pulverized coal but for reasons of price and reliability, fuel Fuel is any solid, liquid or gaseous substance or material that can be combined with an oxidant. oil was ultimately preferred.

© Deutsches Bundesarchiv / WIKICOMMONS

The Allies set up a blockade at the outbreak of the war and Germany turned to Romania for its supplies of oil and coal. In 1917, the German Foreign Minister, Arthur Zimmermann, proposed an alliance against the United States to Mexico, which was then the world's second largest oil producer. His telegram was intercepted and precipitated America's entry into the war.


After the blockade imposed by the Allies and Germany's defeat, the country invested heavily in research and development of substitution industries, known as Ersatz. In 1923, two chemists, Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch, developed a process for producing a synthetic liquid fuel from coal. The idea captured the interest of Adolf Hitler, who saw it as the long-dreamed-of energy source for fueling his army. Production began, with the largest plant set up in Leuna.

© Deutsches Bundesarchiv / WIKICOMMONS

Until 1944, the Reich's only oil resources were in Romania, but its oil refineries were regularly bombed. In order to secure energy supplies, Germany and its allies tried to take control of the Middle East and the Caucasus, but Hitler's attempts failed. The country was hit by an oil shortage and the German chemical industry was called in to support the Wehrmacht and supply it with synthetic fuel produced through the Fischer-Tropsch process Chemical process invented in Germany in 1923 in which a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen. created in 1923. In 1943, production reached 5.7 million Mt, thus covering 90% of its aircraft fleet's needs and 50% of the country's. Strategic bombing, particularly of Leuna, took its toil on national production.


In the aftermath of the war, Allied plans called for partitioning the country and its administration, dismantling German industry and placing its economy under surveillance. But disagreements arose rapidly between the Soviets and the Western powers. In the West, an electricity network was created that still exists today. In the East, the Soviets nationalized energy installations, including power plants, equipment and networks. In 1949, the Soviets set up the German Democratic Republic (GDR) (see flag) and the Allies, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG).

Under the leadership of the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, six countries (France, West Germany [FRD], Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) signed the Treaty of Paris, which entered into force in July 1952 and founded the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). Its main objective, according to Robert Schuman, was to "give massive support to European industries in the sector to enable them to modernize".


Oil continued to increase its share of the European countries' energy mix The range of energy sources of a region. and coal supplies became overabundant, resulting in a major crisis in the German coal industry. Mining was reduced to the most accessible seams. In ten years, 16 of the Saar's 23 mines had closed.

© Sebastian Suchanek / WIKICOMMONS

The first German experimental nuclear power plant was commissioned in 1961. In 1966, Germany produced its first MWh of nuclear power. Other nuclear power plants were built rapidly thereafter. But the debate over the hazards of nuclear power began very quickly and drove Germany to think about alternative solutions.

© Von Karl-Heinz Münker-Appel / WIKICOMMONS

While Willy Brandt (see picture), West Germany's Foreign Minister and future Chancellor, was already convinced in 1967 of the need to draft a common European policy in the areas of transportation and energy, East Germany was still beset with endemic problems. The changeover from direct to alternating current A flow of electric charge that changes direction twice per period. didn't take place until 1965 and the transition from 110 to 220 volts would only come later. Electrical installations were not adapted to needs and often obsolete. On New Year's Eve 1978, a sudden cold wave knocked out the power grid.


In October 1973, the Arab member countries of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC Created in 1960, OPEC currently has 12 members: Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia. ) decided on an embargo on deliveries to States that supported Israel. As a result, oil prices quadrupled. West Germany, which, like France, depended on OPEC for 96% of its imports, was severely impacted. West Germany turned to Norway, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom, countries considered more politically stable than OPEC and, more importantly, that were geographically closer. In 1975, Ruhrgas and Gaz de France began construction of the MEGAL gas pipeline Pipeline used to transport gas over a long distance, either on land or on the seabed. (see picture) to transport natural gas from the Soviet Union to the south of Germany and to France.

At the initiative of Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, heavy investments were made in the nuclear sector and a series of measures were implemented to improve building insulation, engine efficiency and heating equipment.

For the first years after the 1973 crisis, East Germany was largely spared the economic consequences thanks to the oil rates charged in the Soviet-led East Bloc. But at the beginning of the 1980s, the crisis caught up with the country. The USSR was confronted with enormous economic difficulties and could no longer supply East Germany with crude oil Oil that has not been refined. at less than prevailing world market prices. Prices soared and the country faced a severe oil shortage. Citizens were firmly encouraged to economize on fuel and had to use bicycles for urban transportation. East Germany also invested in intensive prospection on its own territory. But desperately lacking foreign currency and suitable technology, the country was forced to fall back on coal and lignite mining. The East Germany railway (the Reichsbahn) put steam locomotives back into service and the country sought billions in loans from Western countries.


Weakened like all of Europe by the second oil crisis of 1979, West Germany commissioned its first major wind farm in the north of the country in 1983. With this move, West Germany clearly marked its determination to develop renewable energy Energy sources that are naturally replenished so quickly that they can be considered inexhaustible on a human time scale. , in contrast to its European neighbors. This determination was only strengthened by the discovery during this same period of the devastating effects of acid rain, which appeared to affect one third of the country's forests and was attributed mainly to air pollution from sulfur emitted during coal combustion. This situation instilled an ecological consciousness in the German mindset.

© Deutsches Bundesarchiv / WIKICOMMONS

Geographically closer to the Soviet Union than the French, the Germans were already mistrustful of nuclear power. After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, they lost all confidence in this energy source. At that time, the energy policies pursued on the two sides of the Rhine were completely at odds. And even though Chancellor Helmut Kohl (see picture) affirmed that there was no alternative to nuclear energy Energy produced in nuclear power plants. The enormous amount of heat released during fission of uranium atom nuclei is transferred to water. , the pressure of public opinion forced the government to invest ever more in the development of renewable energies.

© Deutsches Bundesarchiv / WIKICOMMONS

The time for reunification had arrived. The East German energy market was redistributed among a dozen companies from former West Germany. As was already the case in the West, the energy market was then organized into three levels. Municipal public services were responsible for distribution. In the former East Germany, coal and lignite mining continued and exchanges of gas and oil with Russia intensified.


In line with E.U. competition law and policy, Germany deregulated the market for gas and electricity distribution, allowing consumers to chose their distributor. Today, the country has more than 800 electricity suppliers and nearly as many gas suppliers. Four electricity suppliers (E.ON, EnBW, Vattenfall and RWE) account for 80% of the market. In 2001, three years after taking power, the Social Democrat/Green coalition implemented a policy of energy modernization based on the development of renewable energies and a withdrawal from nuclear power by 2021 through a phased shutdown of the country's 19 reactors. After winning the elections in 2009, the CDU/FDP coalition with Angela Merkel at the helm granted nuclear operators a stay and postponed the closing of plants until the 2030s.


The accident at the Japanese nuclear power plant led the Chancellor to make a sudden decision to immediately shut down the country's eight oldest reactors. One week later, she set up an Ethics Commission, largely made up of philosophers and sociologists and without the participation of industry representatives. In May, it submitted a report presenting the possibility of phasing out nuclear power through the development of renewable energies, without sacrificing security of supply. The use of thermal power plants, which produce electricity through the combustion of gas, coal or fuel oil, would, however, be indispensable during the energy transition period.

The Third Reich’s nuclear programme: Churchill’s greatest wartime fear

In the spring of 1940, as Britain reeled from defeats on all fronts and America seemed frozen in isolation, one fear, says writer Damien Lewis, united the British and American leaders like no other: that Hitler's Germany might win the race to build the world's first atom bomb. So began the secret hunt for the führer's nuclear weapons

This competition is now closed

Published: March 22, 2018 at 9:30 am

In his new book, Hunting Hitler’s Nukes: The Secret Race to Stop the Nazi Bomb, Lewis reveals the seminal role Churchill played in combating this most fearsome threat of the war. Churchill launched a top-secret mission codenamed Operation Peppermint – a ‘cloak and dagger’ intelligence game played in the shadows – to prepare Britain for a Nazi ‘dirty bomb’ being exploded over London.

Here, writing for History Extra, Lewis explores Churchill’s fear of the Third Reich’s nuclear programme…

That Adolf 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. “We both felt painfully the dangers of doing nothing,” Churchill would later write. “We knew what efforts the Germans were making to procure supplies of heavy water – a sinister term, eerie, unnatural, which began to creep into our secret papers. What if the enemy should get the atomic bomb before we did! We could not run the mortal risk of being outstripped in this awful sphere.”

The term ‘heavy water’ referred to deuterium oxide, a refined form of naturally-occurring H2O that is used as a moderator in nuclear power plants, which can breed weapons-grade uranium and plutonium.

So great were the wartime leaders’ fears that Roosevelt demanded immediate action to sabotage Hitler’s nuclear efforts. Only Britain had the capacity to respond. Churchill ordered a series of dramatic raids by his ‘Volunteers for Special Duties’ – his commandos, Special Operations Executive [SOE] agents and Special Forces: unique fighting men and women ideally suited to such near-suicide missions. Those daring raids targeted the giant heavy water plant at Vemork, in German-occupied Norway, among other facilities, which formed a key element of the Germans’ nuclear programme, and was the only element deemed vulnerable to Allied sabotage.

Those desperate sabotage attempts, which claimed scores of British lives before ultimately proving successful, form the narrative of my new book. But so too does Churchill’s launching of a top-secret mission codenamed Operation Peppermint: a covert programme to prepare Britain for a Nazi ‘dirty bomb’ being exploded over London. 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. Secrecy was paramount, for Churchill feared mass panic and a collapse of wartime morale.

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. Those fears were massively exacerbated when Germany seized Czechoslovakia, prior to war’s outbreak, for in the mountainous north of the country was Europe’s only uranium mine. Joachimsthal is an ancient spa town in what was then northern Czechoslovakia, situated in the Ore Mountains. Following the seizure of the Joachimsthal mines in 1938, the German metallurgy company Auer Gesellschaft began shipping uranium ore to Oranienburg, in northeast Germany, where it began industrial-scale production of high-purity uranium – the raw material required to build the atom bomb.

With Nazi Germany’s seizure of Norway in April 1940, Hitler’s Reich took control of the Norsk Hydro Vemork plant – the only facility in Europe making heavy water, the other key component for a nuclear reactor and for ‘breeding’ atom bombs. When added to uranium, deuterium oxide acts as a ‘moderator’ to optimise nuclear fission – the self-sustaining chain reaction of splitting the atom.

Just 24 hours prior to marching into Norway, Nazi General Nikolaus Von Falkenhorst had led his troops into Denmark, occupying the nation in a matter of hours. In doing so Nazi forces had seized Copenhagen, along with its Institute of Theoretical Physics, whose founder and key luminary was Niels Bohr, a man many considered to be the grandfather of atomic research. In 1922 Bohr had won a Nobel Prize for his work on atomic structure and quantum theory. Among the top scientists that Bohr had mentored during the pre-war years was Werner Heisenberg, a German physicist who was then the chief mover and shaker at the Uranverein: Nazi Germany’s ‘Uranium Club’, set up at war’s outbreak to perfect the Third Reich’s nuclear weapons programme.

The Canadian William Stephenson, a First World War flying ace who went on to be Churchill’s foremost spymaster in North America during the Second World War, alerted his close friend to the threat of Bohr’s unwitting collaboration. “One of the world’s great atomic scientists was lost inside the German fortress… In a spirit of scientific inquiry Bohr was discussing the atomic bomb with those who wanted to use it to conquer the world”. In Bohr, the “Germans had the man whose theoretical work was the basis of the bomb”.

In May 1940, German forces struck a further series of seminal blows in the race for nuclear supremacy. On 10 May their forces overran Belgium, seizing at Olen (a town in the north of the country) the largest remaining stocks of uranium in all of Europe and possibly the world. Olen was one of the refining centres for the Belgium mining firm Union Minière du Haut Katanga, a company that then held sway over the world’s richest uranium reserves. In what was then the Belgian Congo, in Central Africa, the mining company controlled most of the world’s proven uranium reserves. At Olen, German forces seized well in excess of 1,000 tonnes of uranium ore.

British intelligence reports on this potentially catastrophic development made for grim reading. “Since the fall of Belgium… much the largest stock of uranium has been available [to Germany], from the refinery of the Union Minière at Oolen [sic].”

The report went on to chronicle how “several hundred tonnes of crude concentrates had been removed from Belgium”. The destination for that ore was the Auer Gesellschaft refinery, at Oranienburg – the same facility that was receiving the Czech ore from the Joachimsthal mines. “If Germany conquers Britain,” Stephenson declared, “the way is clear for the development of this weapon with which Hitler can blackmail the rest of the world… Give him respite, and he will make this new weapon of horror”.

Allied research suggested it would require 20,000 workers, half a million watts of electricity and $150 million in expenditure to build the world’s first atom bomb. A totalitarian state run by a dictator who now controlled most of western Europe could demand such resources, and in the concentration camps Hitler had access to millions of slaves. 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. Allied worries reached fever pitch as the feasibility of building the bomb became ever clearer. Citing cutting-edge research, Churchill’s wartime scientific advisor, the eminent physicist Frederick Lindemann, said: “It should be possible for one aeroplane to carry a somewhat elaborate bomb weighing about one ton, which would explode with a violence equal to about 2,000 tons of TNT”.

“Whoever possesses such a plant should be able to dictate terms to the rest of the world,” concluded Lindemann. “It would be unforgivable if we let the Germans develop a process ahead of us, by means of which they could defeat us in war or reverse the verdict after they had been defeated.”

As early as the winter of 1942, the American military prepared to issue public warnings and evacuate key cities – so great was the fear of a Nazi nuclear strike. As Samuel Goudsmit, a key US nuclear physicist, later explained: “Since the Germans had started their uranium research about two years before us, we figured they must be at least two years ahead of us. They might not have the bomb yet, but they must have had the chain-reacting piles going for several years. It followed they must have fearful quantities of artificial radioactive material available. How simple it would be for them to… sow death wholesale amongst us.”

Goudsmit had more reasons that most to fear a nuclear-armed Nazi Germany: his Dutch parents would be deported to the concentration camps and murdered there. Of the climate of fear in the USA he wrote: “Some of the men… were so worried they sent their families to the countryside. The military authorities were informed and fear spread… scientific instruments were set up… to detect the radioactivity, if and when the Germans attacked”.

Britain’s experts, working at the top-secret London-based Tube Alloys project – the codename for the UK’s nuclear initiative – likewise warned of the seemingly unthinkable. Britain needed to prepare for Luftwaffe strikes utilising “fission products” – the by-products of a working nuclear reactor engineered into crude (‘dirty’) bombs. “Precautions should be taken to avoid a surprise attack,” the Tube Alloys experts wrote, proposing, “regular operation of suitable means of detection and tests in large towns”. This had to be balanced with “special precautions to preserve secrecy,” for they agreed with Churchill that if news leaked there would be mass panic on Britain’s streets.

By the autumn of 1943, Churchill’s Operation Peppermint was in full swing, and specialist teams equipped with Geiger counters – radiation detectors – were dispatched to Britain’s key cities. Expert reports outlined the dangers of the “military use of fission products by the enemy” – in other words, highly radioactive by-products from nuclear reactors being spread over Britain’s streets. Such fears reached their zenith when Nazi Germany’s V weapons programme (V for Vergeltung – vengeance) geared up for the so-called Robo-Blitz in the autumn of 1943, wherein more than 3,000 V2 rockets would pummel London, Antwerp and other key Allied targets.

Over the autumn of 1943 intelligence on the V1 and V2 weapons seeped into Britain. Top-secret Allied reports spoke of “liquid air bombs being developed in Germany… of terrific destructive power”. Stephenson, the quiet Canadian and Churchill’s intelligence supremo, noted that these were very possibly Vergeltungswaffe rockets carrying nuclear warheads. The V1 “flying bomb” campaign was followed by the giant V2 rockets – the first man-made objects ever to enter space. The V2 plummeted to earth at speeds in excess of 5,000 kph. No anti-aircraft guns or warplanes could ever hope to intercept the V2s or to shoot them down.

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. Secrecy was of paramount concern.

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. The wider story of the race to stop the Nazi bomb is told in my new book, including the series of daring raids aimed at sabotaging Hitler’s nuclear programme wherever it was vulnerable to the Allies.

That sabotage was ultimately successful, though at considerable cost. In the autumn of 1942, some 34 British commandos flew into occupied Norway on two Horsa (wooden-hulled) gliders, which were towed by Halifax bombers. Their target was a vast hydro-electric plant producing deuterium oxide (heavy water), a key component of the Nazi nuclear programme, along with uranium. Sadly, the hemp towropes attaching the gliders to the tow-aircraft froze solid in the icy conditions over Norway and they snapped. Those Commandoes not killed in the subsequent crash landings were captured, tortured by the SS and Gestapo and executed horribly.

The failure of that mission, codenamed FRESHMAN, led to a very different approach being adopted by the Special Operations Executive. The commander of the SOE’s Scandinavian section – former scoutmaster and clandestine operations supremo Major John ‘Skinner’ Wilson – sent in two further assault teams. Codenamed Grouse and Gunnerside, each consisted of a small contingent of Norwegian commandoes (who had been trained and equipped in Britain) carrying explosives, skis and survival gear. In an assault of unrivalled daring and bravery, those 12 SOE raiders led by Joachim Rønneberg, who like most of his men was still in his early twenties, managed to penetrate the plant’s supposedly impregnable defences and to blow the deuterium oxide apparatus to smithereens.

William Stephenson, Churchill’s spymaster, would later say of those raiders: “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”.

Damien Lewis is the author of Hunting Hitler’s Nukes: The Secret Race to Stop the Nazi Bomb. The book, published by Quercus, is out now.

This article was first published on History Extra in December 2016

World War II Database

ww2dbase As the Allied forces gathered on the west banks of the Rhine River, it was no longer a matter of surprise. The German troops knew that the Allied forces were only taking a short time to gather up strength before the invasion into Germany would commence. George Patton's US 5th Division crossed the Rhine River during the night of 22 Mar 1945, establishing a six-mile deep bridgehead after capturing 19,000 demoralized German troops. Patton, who actually did not have the orders to cross the river, did so under an extremely low profile: quietly, his troops crossed the river in boats without artillery barrage nor aerial bombardment. His commanding general Omar Bradley, who issued the order for him not to cross to avoid interfering with Bernard Montgomery's operations, did not know of the crossing until the next morning. Bradley did not announce this crossing until the night of 23 Mar Patton had wished the Americans to announce that they had crossed the Rhine River before the British. This was the first crossing of the Rhine River by boat by an invading army since Napoleon Bonaparte. Within three days Patton's troops were rapidly approaching Frankfurt, Germany, capturing bridges in tact as the German defenses began to fall apart.

ww2dbase Dwight Eisenhower expected the German troops, some elite including soldiers of the First Paratroop Army, would be prepared for such an invasion in the northern Ruhr area. The crossing would be difficult with German mortar and artillery guns already trained at river crossings. However, such a strong resistance was not encountered as elements of the 21st Army Group and Ninth Army crossed the river in the north in the Ruhr River region. The crossing was led by a heavy artillery shelling and supplemented by an airborne operation (Operation Varsity) by the American 17th Airborne Division and the British 6th Airborne Division. This paratrooper operation was not a typical one where troops were dropped a distance behind enemy lines before the operation to disrupt communications this time, Bernard Montgomery chose to drop the paratroopers immediately behind the enemy lines after the conventional infantry had already crossed the Rhine River under the cover of darkness. After suffering significant casualties from heavy anti-aircraft fire, the airborne infantry landed and participated in direct combat during daylight to attack the German defenders from both sides. This operation to cross the northern Rhine River launched in the night of 23 Mar 1945. This airborne operation was the largest of its kind during the entire war, utilizing 1,625 transports, 1,348 gliders, and 889 escort fighters to deliver over 22,000 airborne infantry into the contested territory. Another 2,153 fighters supported the ground operations. Throughout the night of 23 Mar and the next day, 80,000 British and Canadian troops crossed the 20-mile stretch of the river.

ww2dbase To Eisenhower's surprise, the crossing of the Rhine River north of the Ruhr was not met with fierce resistance, and he attributed it to the beginning of the destruction of German morale. "My dear General", Winston Churchill said to the American general as they met the next morning, "the German is whipped. We've got him. He is all through."

ww2dbase Additional Contribution by Alan Chanter

ww2dbase The river on XXX Corps' front was 500 yards across and defended on its eastern bank by the German 8th Parachute Division, in and around the town of Rees. This had elements of the 6th and 7th Parachute Divisions on their flanks and, to their rear in reserve, the 15th and 116th Panzer Divisions. Under extremely tough and experienced Parachute and Panzer officers and NCOs new replacements (many dedicated Nazis) had been moulded into a formidable fighting force. Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks of XXX Corps commented later that, although they heard stories of German soldiers surrendering in their thousands at other places, the German troops encountered in XXX Corps' area were extremely fanatical in defence of their homeland.

ww2dbase To cross the Rhine presented the Royal Engineer with many highly technical problems, but experiments and preparations for just such a task had been carried out on the River Ouse, near Goole, since 1943, and orders for specialised equipment needed had been placed with the Ministry of Supply in good time. For the crossing 8,000 Royal Engineers came under command of the C.E. XXX Corps. Some 22,000 tons of assault bridging had to be brought forward, including 25,000 wooden pontoons, 2,000 assault boats, 650 Storm boats, 120 River tugs, 80 miles of balloon cable and 260 miles of steel wire rope.

ww2dbase To assist the Engineer the RAF's No.159 Wing was approached to furnish some of the men who operated the balloons to handle the winches that were to be used to haul the ferries and rafts across. To their credit, the RAF despatched fifty specialist within twelve hours and promised that a further 300 volunteers good be made available if required. In addition, the Royal Navy provided a team to construct an anti-mine boom upriver to prevent the Germans from floating demolitions down to destroy the bridges after they had been constructed.

ww2dbase All this, plus the assembly of vast amounts of troops, assault boats, Buffaloes, guns etc. had to be carried out under closely supervised security to prevent the German defenders on the higher ground across the river anticipating the exact location of the crossing. The comparatively light casualty rate experienced by the first troops across (153rd and 154th Brigades of 51st Highland Division) clearly demonstrated how thorough the preparations had been made.

ww2dbase Source:
Brian Horrocks, Corps Commander (Magnum Books, 1977)

ww2dbase On 24 Mar, Churchill crossed the Rhine River in an LCM (landing craft, mechanized), setting foot on the eastern bank of the river, symbolizing the crossing of the top British political leader over the traditional border of Germany that no foreign army had crossed in 140 years. He later went as far as the railway bridge at Wesel by Montgomery's staff car, a bridge that was still under enemy fire. This adventurous expedition, however, was later criticized by Eisenhower as far too daring, and noted that had Eisenhower been there he would never have permitted Churchill to cross the river at that time, just as Eisenhower had fought to stop Churchill from observing the Normandy landings in France.

ww2dbase Prior to crossing the Rhine, the Allied forces were already bombing German airfields to reduce the capability for the Luftwaffe to interfere with the plans. The bombing started on 21 Mar, and by 24 Mar the German air force were no longer able to put up much of a resistance against its Allied counterpart 8,000 sorties were launched between 21 Mar and 24 Mar, and Allied airmen reported only about 100 enemy aircrafts sighted. By the end of 24 Mar 1945, the German airfields were so damaged that the Luftwaffe practically ceased to exist on this front. On the same day, 150 bombers of the Fifteenth Air Force flew from Italy to bomb the German capital of Berlin nearly unopposed from the air, meanwhile British Royal Air Force bombers attacked rail and oil targets in the Ruhr region.

ww2dbase Between Frankfort and the Ruhr River, the American First Army had breached the Rhine River barrier earlier in the month near Remagen. On 26 Mar 1945, these troops marched southward toward Patton's troops. Major General Clarence Huebner's V Corps made rapid advances with relative ease. Frankfort was captured by Allied troops on 29 Mar.

ww2dbase Further to the south, General Patch's Seventh Army crossed the Rhine River on the same day the Remagen contingent marched forward. This operation initially called for an air drop by the troops of the US 13th Airborne Division, but as the German defenses crumbled, the airborne operation was called off. The troops of the French First Army crossed the Rhine River near Philippsburg, Germany on 1 Apr.

ww2dbase With the German defenses along the Rhine River falling apart, the industrial region of Ruhr was enveloped, depriving Germany's war manufacturing capabilities. Churchill suggested the Allied forces to skip over the Ruhr region and march east toward Berlin, but Eisenhower refused to leave the Ruhr region unsecured. He believed that it would leave too long of a left flank vulnerable to German counter offensives.

ww2dbase Sources:
Dwight Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe
Anthony Read and David Fisher, The Fall of Berlin

Last Major Update: Feb 2006

Crossing the Rhine Interactive Map

Crossing the Rhine Timeline

19 Mar 1945 George Patton received permission from his superiors to take the US 3rd Army across the Rhine River.
22 Mar 1945 The US 3rd Army crossed the Rhine River west of Mainz and near Oppenheim just before midnight the Americans had beaten the British in crossing the river. Opposition was negligible and within 24 hours the entire US 5th Division had crossed the river.
23 Mar 1945 As US Third Army made another Rhine River crossing near Worms, Germany, British Second Army and Canadian First Army launched their assaults across the Rhine River north of the Ruhr River. In Berlin, Adolf Hitler wanted to counterattack at the Allied bridgehead at Oppenheim, but he was told that no reserve forces were available to embark on such an operation.
24 Mar 1945 Operation Plunder landed over 16,000 British and American troops across the Rhine River region, allowing link ups with advancing British 21st Army Group's 4 bridgeheads. Meanwhile, US Third Army captured Ludwigshafen and Speyer, Germany.
25 Mar 1945 US First Army finally broke out of Remagen bridgehead in Germany. 140 kilometers to the north, British Second Army captured Wesel, Germany.
26 Mar 1945 In Germany, US Third Army captured Darmstadt and reached Main, allowing the linking up with US Seventh Army near Worms. On the banks of the Rhine River the British Royal Corps of Engineers completed the construction of a Class 9 bridge "Waterloo Bridge" at 0100 hours and a Class 15 bridge "Lambeth Bridge" at 0830 hours. Meanwhile the construction of an even larger Class 40 bridge "London Bridge" continued and was completed by midnight.
27 Mar 1945 A German counter attack from Frankfurt, Germany towards Küstrin barely got out of the city. Meanwhile, US Third Army captured Aschaffenburg, Germany, 40 kilometers to the southeast.
28 Mar 1945 In Germany, US 1st Army captured Marburg and US 3rd Army captured Limburg am Lahn. Meanwhile, British 2nd Army began an offensive towards the Elbe River. British sappers built another Rhine bridge, "Blackfriars", by noon. Behind the lines, Dwight Eisenhower transferred US 9th Army from Bernard Montgomery's army group to Omar Bradley's army group as Anglo-American objective shifted toward southern Germany and Czechoslovakia.
29 Mar 1945 In Germany, US Third Army captured Frankfurt and Wiesbaden and US Seventh Army captured Mannheim. British sappers built another Rhine bridge, "Westminster".
30 Mar 1945 US First Army attacked Paderborn, Germany. Beyond the German front lines, US aircraft harassed retreating German columns, destroying 246 trucks and 241 railway wagons.
31 Mar 1945 As the troops of the French First Army crossed the Rhine River near Speyer, Germany, they became the first French troops to attack across the river since Napoleon Bonaparte. Meanwhile, US Third Army reached Siegen, Germany.
1 Apr 1945 US First Army captured Paderborn and Hamm, Germany.
13 Apr 1945 Troops of the US Ninth Army finished clearing the Duisberg Pocket in Germany.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. nick says:
18 Sep 2008 08:47:33 PM

is it true that Gen.Patton was told to stop at the Rhine and let the Russians take Berlin first? need to know for my research. thank you. please answer

2. [email protected] says:
28 Oct 2009 06:28:44 AM

It was not the Rhine.All Rhine crossings, starting with the first at Remagen (between Coblenz and Bonn, were exploited immediately. It's likely you're referring to the Elbe.

3. chris says:
24 Dec 2009 11:39:04 AM

My father-in law,Sgt. Arthur Cottrell,surviving member of the 90th Infantry,357th Regiment,M Company, machine gun, is here with us on Christmas Eve. He is the soldier standing in the background of Patton urinating in the Rhine. He tells of the 2 failed attempts as Germans failed their attempts and then the 3rd successful try. The original military photographer brought him a copy of the photo that he took some 20 years AFTER the historical event.

4. Ed Malouf says:
24 Feb 2010 08:57:11 AM

The first INFANTRY troops to cross the Rhine was the 310th Regiment of the 78th Division. It was attached to the 9th Armored Division. The first Regient to cross the Rhine at Remagan was the 311th of the 78th Infantry Diivision The first Battalion to cross at Remagen was the first battalion of the 311th Regimnent, and they were across within 24 hours of the capture. The first battalionled by "C" Company, fought it's way into Erple, then Unkle. then Heuster, but didn't stop there at nightfall. It was PITCH BLACK. under cover of darkeness the entire battalion crept along the Rhine Roverbank, with each man cautioned to MAKE NO NOISE. They had to PHYSICASLLY hold onto the guy in front. 20 mm cannon fire went over their heads as the men were protected by being below the bank, and RIOGHT NEXT TO THE RIVER. By the morning of the 9th of March, 1945, the battalion attacked Honnef, five miles North of the bridge. House-to house fighting commenced. There was a news blackout by Allied media, but the Nazi dispatches reported that "SHOCK TROOPS HAD CROSSED THE RIVER IN ASSAULT BOATS, which was NOT TRUE. The troops were told to
hold up", as the 9th Infantry Diivision was absorbing counter attacks by the Germans due East of the bridge. They were told to be ready to withdraw if the 9th Division couldn't hold the line. But the 9th held. By the 17th of March (a WEEK BEFORE PATTON AND MONTGOMERY CROSSED), the 78th had fought it's way into Buel, a city on the East Bank of the Rhine opposite Bonn. The bridge at Remagen fell into the river on the 17th.
I as with the 1st Battalion of the 311th Regiment of the 78th Infantry Division, and was happy to know that the Germans regarded us as "SHOCK TROOPS". The only thing about this is that we were "shocked" at wondering how the dickens the 8th Armored Diiviision, with the help of the 310th Regiment of the 78th Division captured the bridge INTACT . Good thin, too, because I'm not too good a swimmer.

5. jane says:
25 May 2010 09:59:17 AM

My father was in Pattons army and his papers list him in Co A 281 engr comb bn. I'm trying to trace my dad's whereabouts during pattons crossing of the Rhine. He was a tank destroyer and had a armoured infantry ribbon on his hat. help. thanks so much.

6. Thomas Chambers says:
14 Aug 2010 06:17:07 PM

On 24 Feb 2010 Ed Malouf stated that the first INFANTRY troops across the Rhine were part of the 319th Regiment of the 78th Divison. This is an erronous statment made with some frequency by former members of the 78th. In fact, the first troops across were indeed Infantry troops, but they were from "A" Company of the 27th Armored Infantry Batallion of the 9th Armored Divsion.

7. Bill says:
9 May 2011 06:55:33 PM

My late Uncle Raymond De Nomie served with Pattons 3rd Army, he didn't say much about his experience, but from time to time he would start to talk, and stop, get up and go outside.
When I was going to Vietnam in 1967 he asked
what I was trained in, I told him Artillery
he said "Thank God your not in Tanks".

My Father told me if he could take my place
he would. It wasn't until I was in Vietnam,
that I understood what he meant.

Henry W. De Nomie Jr.
November 1919-November 2007

8. Larry McLaughlin says:
11 Aug 2011 01:55:58 PM

My father told me the 537th Engr light Pon Co Which he was member Told me built they
did alot of the work getting Patton tanks across the river
I have found about what the 537th did

9. Tom McNamara/History Detectives says:
13 Dec 2011 12:50:02 PM

I'm a producer for History Detectives on PBS. We're hoping to get in touch with "Chris" in regards to his ൠ Dec 2009" comment about his father-in-law, Sgt. Arthur Cottrell. We're investigating that very same Gen. Patton photograph for a segment on PBS.

Please contact: . It's a great story and we'd be happy to learn more about Sgt. Arthur Cottrel's service.

At that, we're happy to talk to anyone about the famous Patton-Rhine snapshot.

Tom McNamara, PBS History Detectives

10. Harry R Johnston says:
30 Jul 2012 02:15:03 PM

I sent a comment a few minutes ago, but I didn't mention our group left from Plymouth, England. I read with interest the history crossing the Rhine by LCDR William Leide from the Navy Dept. Library. He mentioned 15 LCM's left Toul Francce for the crossing, but that wasn't our group. Since the history of the crossing goes from 19 March to 31 March 1945 with the first crossing on 22 March perhaps our group didn't make a crossing until later in the month. Could you please inform me when our unit crossed lthe Rhine?

11. Anonymous says:
10 Feb 2014 03:42:13 PM

need to know how many photos were taken of Patton crossing the rhine river and peeing into the river. a friend of my husband has one and would like to know how many exist and possibly the value. could anyone help me out.

12. Anonymous says:
30 Oct 2014 08:57:17 PM

My grandfather was a srgt for 250th 44-46 built the bridges over rhine and a few other spots.. We have hundreds of pictures and he is still able to answer any questions via facebook or email 313-269-2014 NEED TO FIND OTHER WW2 VETS THAT ARE STILL LIVING PLEASE

13. John D Williams says:
16 Jan 2015 06:14:58 PM

My grandfather (John Ewell Williams) was in this battle. He passed before I was born and the history through the family has been lost since. Supposedly he has numerous medals and achievements. I have also been told that after this battle he transferred to the army air corp. I would love and appreciate some advise on how I could find out about himself and his experiences surving our country.

14. David says:
1 Mar 2015 06:07:01 AM

The airborne assault by Montgomery as they crossed the Rhine was a foolish, disastrous move that gained little and lost many valuable lives. It was a risky move that risked the lives of troops. This was similar to the Operation Market Garden fiasco.

15. Alan Chanter says:
4 Mar 2015 06:09:12 AM

I am a little mystified as to why 'David (comment 14)' should think that Field Marshal Montgomery was responsible for the Rhine Airborne Operations. I am open to correction here but surely 1st Allied Airborne Army was under the command of Lieutenant-General Lewis Brereton reporting directly to SHAEF (General Eisenhower) and, although for Operation Varsity XVIII Corps was attached to 21st Army Group (1st Canadian, 2nd British and 9th US Armies), the actual planning for the Airborne element of the crossing is known to have been made by Major General Ridgeway's own Headquarters. Might I suggest that David do a little more homework before making misleading statements about subjects which, it is obvious, he has no clear knowledge.

16. Clifford B. Sherman says:
4 Mar 2015 01:54:11 PM

I was with Gen. Patton. This entire story is false. He captured the Remagen Bridge but DID not cross, as he had no orders to.

17. Carolyn Passmore says:
16 Mar 2015 07:30:25 AM

In reading my father's account of the 73rd Engineer Company Light Pontoon crossing of the Rhine near Alpin, he did not give a date. "We were in the middle of the whole thing, big guns firing over us, each side of us, in front of us. " ච barrage" I would appreciate knowing the date of this assult.

18. Sandra Oldfield says:
19 Feb 2016 12:11:33 PM

My uncle, Albert Russell Mibb, from Chandlerville Illinois enlisted 09-08-1942, released date 12-13-1945 per Department of veterans AffairsBIRLS Death File. He was at the Battle of the Bulge & crossing of the Rhine. He was a member of the 84th Railspliters. I remember him talking about Patton, & nothing was good, how bad the weather was, conditions they were under, etc. No where do I find anything mentioned about the 84th Railspliters, were they part on another group?

19. Craig Stiles says:
3 Mar 2016 09:08:42 PM

Excuse me, but the Remagen bridgehead, beginning March 7th. Ring any bells?

20. Anonymous says:
21 Jun 2016 07:34:43 AM

Was the 5th infantry division, Red Diamonds ever in Berchlegaden, Germany where Hitlers Eagles Next is located near the Austrian border? According to my uncle, my dad was wounded there. My mom thought he was wounded in Frankfurt

21. Ed Sitten says:
22 Jun 2016 03:43:39 PM

My dad was in the 3rd Army 5th Infantry Div. Red Diamonds. He was wounded and lost his leg. His friend Leon Holderbaugh carried him to medic. Dad died in 1987 at the age of 66. Dad's brother, who was in Germany in 1944 & 1945. told me dad was wounded by a sniper with a 50 cal. in Berchlegaden near Hitlers Eagles nest a few miles from the Austria border approx 10 days before the war endedin 1945. Does anyone have any info about that area of Germany during the last days of the war.

22. james rall says:
25 Jan 2017 11:51:46 AM

the ordinary soldier was not allowed to go up hill at berchesgarden.because the officers wanted to loot the place limits.the soldiers were very tired but happy because they were going to live.the reason the third division was there was because we thought the best german troops were going to make a stand in area,some crack ss troops

23. martin robert MELIN horsman says:
30 Mar 2017 04:21:05 AM

the brits cost the rine using Canadian troops north shore reg my 2 uncles would talk of this as the alied artillery were firing over them as they cross my uncle lost his hearing from the concision of the shells going over them the crack he sead was defining but a inspiring thought as thay took fire from the germin solders . but i cant pinpoint the crossing point

24. Nate Bishop says:
28 May 2017 04:58:58 PM

My great grandmother was just telling me that her husbands brother was killed during while holding the bridge in March of 1945, she isn't sure what day but his name was Robert Fulghum and I'm looking for any information on him I can find.

25. Anne says:
13 Aug 2017 03:35:36 PM

First, to Nate Bishop's note: if you got in touch with Bob Barrett at
he might be able to give you some feedback on 'Robert Fulghum' or put you in a good direction to get some information

I was interested in knowing if anyone on this blog knows about the French fight in Oppenheim. I am writing a book, and need the information.
Many thanks to all

26. andrew says:
6 Sep 2017 06:50:00 AM

The 150th engineer battalion was making the bridge as patton did commended them

27. Karie Mitchell says:
11 Sep 2017 03:39:33 PM

My ex-husband's father's twin brother, Harry Hooper Mitchell, was killed in this push to the Rhine River, on March 15, 1945, as a part of the 3rd Army in the Saar Basin of the Rhine River. I would love to know who was serving in this area at this time.

28. Mick the Jock says:
13 Oct 2017 02:16:34 AM

History the first to cross the Rhine was not the Yanks it was the Brits at Arnhem by the back door retreat Spin doctor Dunkirk Spin doctor never admit defeat we are still doing it just a thought Respect to them all

29. Donald Russell says:
23 Oct 2017 04:15:54 PM

Edsel Elmer Jones, Searcy Ar. Was one of a number who swam the river toestablish a beach head, was wounded that night when crossed back to retrieve his gear!

30. Drew King says:
2 Feb 2018 02:55:51 PM

Karie Mitchell, My grandfather Andrew Jackson Collins was in a group of 10 that was hit hard by the Germans on March 15th, 1945 crossing the Rhine. We're trying to find more info as well.

31. Anonymous says:
8 Jul 2018 02:37:10 AM

my father akways said ( as a westminster dragoon tank driver) tht they were the 2nd across the rhine - is that true ?

32. Alan Chanter says:
2 Mar 2019 03:51:44 AM

The 2nd City of London Yeomanry (Westminster Dragoons) formed part of the 30th Armoured Brigade (Brigadier N.W. Duncan) in Hobart’s 79th Armoured Division. During the Northwest Europe campaign the Brigade was equipped with Sherman Crab mine-clearing tanks and so, is extremely likely to have been among the leading elements during the crossing of the Rhine, in order to clear routes through the enemy’s minefields on the far shore.

33. Anonymous says:
20 Mar 2020 12:21:07 PM

my brother was kia on March 26, 1945 crossing the Rhine at Worms, Germany. I have tried to find any information about that battle.

34. John Hallowell says:
25 May 2020 02:11:52 PM

My Dad William H Hallowell served under Patton during War World II
Many years ago I saw a news paper rticle stating that some General had offered a cash award to first American Solider to cross the Rhine River The article said my dad William H Hallowell won that award I have since misplaced that article i wonder if anyone knows about this award of cash for being first American Solider fir crossing the Rhine River If you are aware of this please let me know since i have lost the article Thanks for your help John Hallowell

All visitor submitted comments are opinions of those making the submissions and do not reflect views of WW2DB.

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