Operation Paperclip – Commandeer Nazi Scientists & Engineers

Operation Paperclip was a secret United States intelligence program in which more than 1,600 Nazi German scientists, engineers, and technicians were taken from former Nazi Germany to the U.S., for government employment after the end of World War, between 1945 and 1959.

In 1945 the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency (JIOA) was established and given direct responsibility for Operation Paperclip. The program recruited former Nazi scientists, some of whom had been identified and prosecuted as war criminals during the Nuremberg Trials.

The primary purpose for Operation Paperclip was U.S. military advantage in the Soviet-American Cold War, and the Space Race. In a comparable operation, the Soviet Union relocated more than 2,200 German specialists, with Operation Osoaviakhim during one night on October 22, 1946.

In February 1945, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) set up T-Force, or Special Sections Subdivision, which grew to over 2,000 personnel by June.

T-Force examined 5,000 German targets with a high priority on synthetic rubber and oil catalysts, V-2 (rocket) weapons, jet and rocket propelled aircraft, aero medicine research, and ‘scientific and industrial personalities.

OSENBERG LIST

By early 1943, the German government began recalling from combat a number of scientists, engineers, and technicians; they returned to work in research and development to bolster German defense for a protracted war with the USSR.

Overnight, Ph.D.s were liberated from KP duty, masters of science were recalled from orderly service, mathematicians were hauled out of bakeries, and precision mechanics ceased to be truck drivers.

The Nazi government’s recall of their now-useful intellectuals for scientific work first required identifying and locating the scientists, engineers, and technicians, then ascertaining their political and ideological reliability.

Werner Osenberg, the engineer-scientist heading the Defense Research Association, recorded the names of the politically cleared men to the Osenberg List, thus reinstating them to scientific work.

In March 1945, at Bonn University, a Polish laboratory technician found pieces of the Osenberg List stuffed in a toilet; the list subsequently reached MI6, who transmitted it to U.S. Intelligence.

The term ‘Overcast’ was the name first given by the German scientists’ family members for the housing camp where they were held in Bavaria. In late summer 1945, the JCS established the JIOA, to directly oversee Operation Overcast and later Operation Paperclip.

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SCIENTIFIC WORK

In November 1945, Operation Overcast was renamed Operation Paperclip by Ordnance Corps officers, who would attach a paperclip to the folders of those rocket experts whom they wished to employ in America.

In a secret directive circulated on September 3, 1946, President Truman officially approved Operation Paperclip and expanded it to include 1,000 German scientists under “temporary, limited military custody”.

When large numbers of German scientists began to be discovered in late April, Special Sections Subdivision set up the Enemy Personnel Exploitation Section to manage and interrogate them.

Enemy Personnel Exploitation Section established a detention center, DUSTBIN, first in Paris and later in Kransberg Castle outside Frankfurt. The US Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) established the first secret recruitment program, called Operation Overcast, on July 20, 1945.

Then U.S. Army Major Robert B. Staver, Chief of the Jet Propulsion Section of the United states Army Ordnance Corps, used the Osenberg List to compile his list of German scientists to be captured and interrogated; Wernher von Braun, Germany’s premier rocket scientist, headed Major Staver’s list.

Major Staver’s original intent was only to interview the scientists, but what he learned changed the operation’s purpose.

Most of the Osenberg List engineers worked at the Baltic coast German Army Research Center Peenemünde, developing the V-2 rocket. After capturing them, the Allies initially housed them and their families in Landshut, Bavaria, in southern Germany.

Beginning on July 19, 1945, the U.S. JCS managed the captured ARC rocketeers under Operation Overcast. However, when the “Camp Overcast” name of the scientists’ quarters became locally known, the program was renamed Operation Paperclip in November 1945.

This provided the information on targets for the T-Forces that went in and targeted scientific, military, and industrial installations (and their employees) for their know-how. Initial priorities were advanced technology, that could be used in the war against Japan.

Those with special skills or knowledge were taken to detention and interrogation centers, such as at Adlerhorst, Germany or one code-named DUSTBIN (located first in Paris and then moved to Kransberg Castle outside Frankfurt) to be held and interrogated.

OSENBERG LIST

A project to halt the research was codenamed “Project Safehaven”, and it was not initially targeted against the Soviet Union; rather the concern was that German scientists might emigrate and continue their research in countries such as Spain, Argentina or Egypt, all of which had sympathized with Nazi Germany.

In order to avoid the complications involved with the emigration of German scientists, the CIOS was responsible for scouting and kidnapping high-profile individuals to block technological advancements in nations outside of the US.

Fearing that the Soviet takeover would limit U.S. ability to exploit German scientific and technical expertise, and not wanting the Soviet Union to benefit from said expertise, the United States instigated an “evacuation operation” of scientific personnel from Saxony and Thuringia, issuing orders such as:

By 1947, this evacuation operation had netted an estimated 1,800 technicians and scientists, along with 3,700 family members.

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BONN

On November 5, 1947, the Office of Military Government, United States (OMGUS), which had jurisdiction over the western part of occupied Germany, held a conference to consider the status of the evacuees, the monetary claims that the evacuees had filed against the United States, and the “possible violation by the US of laws of war or Rules of Land Warfare”.

A group of 104 rocket scientists (aerospace engineers) at Fort Bliss, Texas In May 1945, the U.S. Navy “received in custody” Herbert A. Wagner, the inventor of the Hs 293 missile; for two years, he first worked at the Special Devices Center, at Castle Gould and at Hempstead House, Long Island, New York; in 1947.

In August 1945, Colonel Holger Toftoy, head of the Rocket Branch of the Research and Development Division of the U.S. Army’s Ordnance Corps, offered initial one-year contracts to the rocket scientists; 127 of them accepted.

In September 1945, the first group of seven rocket scientists (aerospace engineers) arrived at Fort Strong, located on Long Island in Boston harbor: Wernher von Braun, Erich W. Neubert, Theodor A. Poppel, William August Schulze, Eberhard Rees, Wilhelm Jungert, and Walter Schwidetzky.

Between 1945 and 1952, the United States Air Force sponsored the largest number of Paperclip scientists, importing 260 men, of whom 36 returned to Germany and one (Walter Schreiber) reemigrated to Argentina.

Beginning in late 1945, three rocket-scientist groups arrived in the United States for duty at Fort Bliss, Texas, and at White Sands Proving Grounds, New Mexico, as “War Department Special Employees”.

CAPTURE AND DETENTION

On June 1, 1949, the Chief of Ordnance of the United States Army designated Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, as the Ordnance Rocket Center, its facility for rocket research and development. On April 1, 1950, the Fort Bliss missile development operation – including von Braun and his team of over 130 Paperclip members—was transferred to Redstone Arsenal.

Overall, through its operations to 1990, Operation Paperclip imported 1,600 men as part of the intellectual reparations owed to the US and the UK, valued at $10 billion in patents and industrial processes.

The NASA Distinguished Service Medal is the highest award which may be bestowed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). After more than two decades of service and leadership in NASA, four Operation Paperclip members were awarded the NASA Distinguished Service Medal in 1969: Kurt Debus, Eberhard Rees, Arthur Rudolph, and Wernher von Braun.

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RESEARCH FACILITIES

The Goddard Astronautics Award is the highest honor bestowed for notable achievements in the field of astronautics by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

For their service, three Operation Paperclip members were awarded the Goddard Astronautics Award: Wernher von Braun (1961), Hans von Ohain (1966), and Krafft Arnold Ehricke (1984).

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, owns and operates the U.S. Space Camp. Several Operation Paperclip members are members of the Space Camp Hall of Fame (which began in 2007): Wernher von Braun (2007), Georg von Tiesenhausen (2007), and Oscar Holderer (2008).

JOHN GIMBEL

Two lunar craters are named after Paperclip scientists: Debus after Kurt Debus, the first director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, and von Braun.

Wernher von Braun was chief architect of the Saturn V launch vehicle, which enabled human missions to the moon.

Before his official approval of the program, President Truman, for sixteen months, was indecisive on the program. Years later in 1963, Truman recalled that he was not in the least reluctant to approve Paperclip; that because of relations with the Soviet Union “this had to be done and was done”.

Several of the Paperclip scientists were later investigated because of their links with the Nazi Party during the war. Only one Paperclip scientist, Georg Rickhey, was formally tried for any crime, and no Paperclip scientist was found guilty of any crime, in America or Germany. Rickhey was returned to Germany in 1947 to stand at the Dora Trial, where he was acquitted.

For 50 years, from 1963 to 2013, the Strughold Award, named after Hubertus Strughold, The Father of Space Medicine, for his central role in developing innovations like the space suit and space life support systems, was the most prestigious award from the Space Medicine Association.

On October 1, 2013, in the aftermath of a Wall Street Journal article published on December 1, 2012, which highlighted his connection to human experiments during WW2, the Space Medicine Association’s Executive Committee announced that the Space Medicine Association Strughold Award had been retired.

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