Many, many years ago as I studied World War II my mind was filled with stories of the Allies valiantly fighting the evil Nazis and Imperial Japanese and in the end we vanquished all the evil empires and brought the villains to justice. Well, of course, that was somewhat true. . . and somewhat false. We certainly were the right side, the vast majority of our troops fought valiantly, and thank God we wiped out the Nazi and Japanese empires. But in the waning days of the war and afterward, we were not as interested in justice as I had once thought.
The Americans and British on Germany’s western front, and the Soviets on the eastern front all knew that the Germans had thousands of brilliant scientists working on weapons of mass destruction (such as chemical and biological weapons). The British had already felt the brunt of German ballistic missiles (the infamous V-1 and V-2 rockets). Everyone in military intelligence knew that Germany was beaten, and there were be a mad arms race between Soviet and Western forces after the war was over.
So, the Americans put out the word that they wanted these scientists before the Soviets could get them. In July of 1945 the attempt to find the Nazi scientists was called “Operation Overcast.” In November they changed the name to “Operation Paperclip.” It was signed and a0roved by President Harry Truman on September 3rd, 1946. Some of the details are STILL classified! But this much we know:
The US captured some 1600 German scientists. They were world leaders in rocketry and aeronautics. They were architects, engineers, and chemists. Some were nuclear scientists, but we already had the “bomb” so they were not quite as valuable. We wanted their expertise on ballistic missiles, chemical/biological warfare, and synthetic fuels before the Russians could get them. Too late. The Russians captured at least 2000 of them and “coerced” them into work for the Soviet military.
There was a problem with the scientists we captured. Many of them were Nazi Party members. . . even leaders! Men such as Wehner von Braun (who later led a major portion of NASA’s Apollo moon project) were not only party members, but they were SS too!
But hey, we won’t let that stand in our way. The German scientists and their families were packed up and sent to the US to help us beat the Russians in the Space Race (and in a few other projects). Put them on trial for helping the Nazi war machine? Nope.
Not at all.