The ALSOS Mission, the Farm Hall Tapes, and Werner Heisenberg

Bernstein, Jeremy.

1. "The Farm Hall Transcripts: The German Scientists and the Bomb." New York Review of Books, 13 Aug. 1992, 47-53.

This article consists of an introduction by the author to the German nuclear project and an edited version -- with commentary -- of the Farm Hall transcripts for 6 and 7 August 1945, when the German scientists were first told about the U.S. atomic bomb. All indications are that the scientists reacted to the announcement with incredulity, and were quite shaken by it.

2. Hitler's Uranium Club: The Secret Recordings at Farm Hall. [US]: American Institute of Physics, 1995.

Surveillant 4.2: Here, a physicist-journalist annotates the Farm Hall tapes made over the last six months of 1945. The author concludes that "the Germans knew little about nuclear weapon technology" before the United States bombed Hiroshima. German scientists who later said they had withheld their knowledge of nuclear research from the Nazi regime are said to have been lying.

See also, Frank, Operation Epsilon: The Farm Hall Transcripts (1993).

Dawidoff, Nicholas. The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg. New York: Pantheon, 1994. New York: Vintage, 1995. [pb]

Yardley, WPNWE, 18-24 Jul. 1994, notes that Berg was a Major League catcher 1923-1939. During World War II, he was a "member of the small OSS task force assigned to track down the activities of Werner Heisenberg." After the war, he "tried a few assignments for the CIA, but was temperamentally unsuited for its bureaucratic style." Dawidoff's work shows "heroic research," and he "avoids the temptation of rehashing it to excess." He "has brought the mystery to life." Surveillant 3.6/4.2 says Berg "remains rather indistinct in this account ... but we are warned, for Dawidoff states at the outset that Berg was oddly secretive and enigmatic."

A briefer version of the main points of this book appears as: Nicholas Dawidoff, "Scholar, Lawyer, Catcher, Spy," Sports Illustrated, 23 Mar. 1992, 76-86. For an earlier biography of Berg, see: Kaufman, Fitzgerald, and Sewell, Moe Berg: Athlete, Scholar, Spy (1974). On the latter work, Constantinides notes that there is no mention of Berg in the OSS history or any major work on OSS. Berg's sister has also published a book on his life: Berg, My Brother Morris Berg (1976).

Frank, Charles [Sir]. Operation Epsilon: The Farm Hall Transcripts. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1993.

Surveillant 3.2/3: These are "long-classified transcripts of secretly taped conversations among key German nuclear physicists." See also, Bernstein, Hitler's Uranium Club: The Secret Recordings at Farm Hall (1995).

Goudsmit, Samuel A. ALSOS. New York: Henry Schuman, 1947. ALSOS: The Failure of German Science. London: Sigma, 1947.

Pforzheimer: The author led the civilians on a joint military-scientific team that went into Germany with the advancing Allied forces on a scientific intelligence mission. The goal was determine what the Germans knew about our atomic bomb and the extent of German progress in producing such a device. The leader of the military side of the team was Boris Pash, whose version (The ALSOS Mission) is regarded by Constantinides as "more operational and intelligence oriented" than Goudsmit's account.

Hart, John D. "The ALSOS Mission, 1943-1945: A Secret U.S. Scientific Intelligence Unit." International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 18, no. 3 (Fall 2005): 508-537.

Although its primary goal "was to determine the extent of Germany's nuclear weapons program," the mandate of the ALSOS Mission "was subsequently extended to other areas, including the German BW [Biological Warfare] program."

Hauser, Thomas N. "The Search for Weapons of Mass Destruction: Not a New Problem." Military Intelligence 30, no. 3 (Jul.-Sep. 2004): 48-53.

This article reviews concerns in World War II about the possibility of the Germans developing an atomic weapon. The work of the Alsos Mission is detailed.

Mendelsohn, John, ed. Scientific and Technical Intelligence Gathering, Including the ALSOS Mission. New York: Garland, 1987. [Wilcox]

Norris, Robert S. Racing for the Bomb: General Leslie R. Groves, the Manhattan Project's Indispensable Man. South Royalton, VT: Steerforth Press, 2002.

Christman, Proceedings 128.9 (Sep. 2002), believes that Norris has succeeded in telling both the story of the birth of the atomic bomb and the life story of "an ambitious mission-driven general." According to Richelson, IJI&C 16.4, Norris has individual chapters on security for the Manhattan Project and its intelligence gathering responsibility, specifically the Alsos teams.

For Cohen, FA 81.5 (Sep.-Oct. 2002), "this well-executed biography evinces an honest respect for Groves" while not disguising the sides of "the man whom eyewitnesses and students of the atom bomb's creation love to despise." Sartori, I&NS 18.1, says this is a "meticulously researched and lively biography.... Norris's book provides a wealth of detail and is a valuable addition to the literature of the bomb project, but it does not significantly alter Grove's place in history."

Taylor, Booklist, 15 Mar. 2002, notes that the author's "exacting and complete research ... does not overwhelm the narrative.... Norris finds that as a personality, Groves was uncomplicated, patriotic, and traditional; as an officer, brusque, determined, and decisive. The latter traits made him too many enemies.... A critical contribution to the subject."

Pash, Boris T. The ALSOS Mission. New York: Award House, 1969.

See "Boris Pash and Science and Technology Intelligence," Huachuca History Program, "Masters of the Intelligence Art":

Pforzheimer notes that the author led the military part of a joint military-scientific team that went into Germany with the advancing Allied forces on a scientific intelligence mission. The goal was determine what the Germans knew about our atomic bomb and the extent of German progress in producing such a device. For Constantinides, Pash "is good on how intelligence leads were acquired and pursued to get further intelligence." The leader of the ALSOS civilian scientists was Samuel Goudsmit and his book, ALSOS, should also be read.

Powers, Thomas. Heisenberg's War: The Secret History of the German Bomb. New York: Knopf, 1993. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1994. [pb]

To Surveillant 3.2/3, Heisenberg's War is a "combination spy story and historical investigation." Powers "argues that Adolf Hitler's leading physicist, Werner Heisenberg, may have deliberately prevented the creation of a German atomic bomb."

Fontaine, FILS 12.4, comments that "Heisenberg remained an enigma right to the end. Powers is nothing else if not thorough, and the time spent on mature reflection is evident throughout the work. At no point, does Powers become an outright counsel for the defense. The body of the evidence does suggest that Heisenberg managed to weave his way through a minefield: preserving his life and yet keeping the bomb out of the hands of the Nazis." The author also recounts "the contemporary American intelligence effort, including the role of the controversial and often maligned Major General Leslie R. Groves."

Peake, AIJ 14.2/3, notes that Powers also looks "at the security measures taken to keep the [U.S.] program secret and the intelligence operations conducted to learn about the German program." Subjects covered include the role of former Red Sox catcher Moe Berg, the ALSOS team, and the ten scientists captured in Germany. "Powers makes an impressive case that the German scientists, and Heisenberg in particular, deliberately missed opportunities to mount a Hitlerian Manhattan Project."

Cohen, FA 73.5 (Sep.-Oct. 1994), points to Powers' admission "that others, looking at the same body of evidence, have legitimately drawn different conclusions." He "does not appear to know German" and "relies very heavily" on OSS sources. Overall, this is an "engrossing tale, superbly told." For Biddle, WPNWE, 22-28 Feb. 1993, the "narrative is not easy going.... Powers plows methodically back and forth over established ground that is nonetheless widely unappreciated, adding new material from archives and interviews.... [H]e has produced a haunting study of how the problems of science and society are inseparable."

Szasz, Ferenc M. "Peppermint and Alsos." MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History 6, no. 3 (1994): 42-47.

This is a broad overview of the ALSOS Mission from secondary sources.


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