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sanger-bomber1(Artist’s rendering – Eugen Sanger’s “Silbervogel”)

It is a time of peace.

Germany, under Chancellor Hitler, set two ambitious goals beginning in 1934 – the rebuilding of the national economy and the creation of a new military.

In order to create a new economy, cheap energy was needed on a scale unprecedented in history. While the Ruhr valley dams could and did provide electricity, the needed power for the new National Socialist dream would far exceed any projected supply.

Werner Heisenberg and Otto Hahn, two physicists at the Kaiser Wilhelm institute, had concluded in 1932 that nuclear fission was possible. This led to the research necessary for the construction of the world’s first powerplant near Trauen in 1938. Funded directly by Party money, the Trauen complex was the first of ten powerplants which were rapidly constructed by the National Socialists….


Dr. Werner Heisenberg left the main administration building and stepped into the crisp fall air. Early October in Germany was beautiful. The leaves were starting to turn, but the temperatures still reached into the 70’s in the afternoon. It wouldn’t be long before snow fell, but today was beautiful.

“Dr. Sanger! I was just coming to see you!”, said Heisenberg.

“Really, now? Regarding?” Dr. Eugen Sanger, an aeronautical engineer and Heisenberg’s boss, was in a hurry, as usual.

“I had a thought about the cooling-problem you were experiencing with your new aircraft,” Heisenberg began. “I was wondering if you couldn’t use the fuel itself as a coolant.”

“Oh?”, said Sanger, his interest piqued. “Walk with me. I have a meeting with the Todt Organisation people in a few minutes.”

“Well, I was thinking – – running lines through the main body near the top and sides, where the friction is much less, would enable the fuel to cool rapidly at the altitudes at which you’re suggesting the aircraft fly. You could easily route them as a cooling-jacket for the engine. No need to carry coolant – the fuel would do that.”

Sanger’s eyes widened. “It would be like flying a bomb.”

“You’re flying one anyway,” replied Heisenberg. “As long as the pressure remains constant, fuel won’t stay in one place long enough to overheat. You’ll solve two problems with one system – how much weight would that save?”

“Enough to get us airborne, and complete the mission,” said Sanger. “But we have another problem; one that’s not so easy to solve. The body-lift theory is sound – but in denser air, I need a completely different wing-structure in order to be maneuverable. Conventional straight or swept-wing designs are simply causing too much instability and vibration. That’s why I’m going to the Todt people and asking for an audience with Herr Goering.”

Heisenberg blanched. In medaeval Europe, it wasn’t a good idea to get too close to the King – and Goering was Reichsmarschall; second in many ways to Hitler himself. Mercurial and difficult, both Sanger and Heisenberg had found it was a good thing to speak to some of Goering’s underlings regarding his mood before approaching him. Results were better that way.

They entered one of the other administrative buildings on the campus. This was the nominal headquarters of the Todt Organisation – the National Socialist party’s official engineering and construction arm. Obtaining funding through the Party was far easier – but the Todt people actually controlled the labor supply, and anything Sanger wanted had to be approved.


“So far, the rest of the world believes we’re building powerplants,” said Sanger. “Goebbels and his people have done a good job of that. But the second phase of what we’re doing is going to require much more secrecy, as well as a lot of labor – skilled labor – and we need it quickly to meet the Fuhrer’s schedule.”

“What do you need to build?”, said the Todt representative, a good-natured fellow named Hans, who Heisenberg speculated was a contractor of some sort before being drafted into the Todt Organization.

“This,” said Sanger, rolling out his plans.

Both Heisenberg and ‘Hans’ drew a collective breath.

Sanger’s plans showed a 1:1000 scale – anything larger would not have fit on the two-meter conference table. The plans were for a ramp – starting at ground level, and rising slowly, with the final 1/3 taking a steeper incline until it was nearly vertical. The overall height was a little over 300 meters high.

Supported by huge outside angled pylons which looked like flying-buttresses and straight columns from the center, the ramp looked like nothing short of a huge railroad bridge – only there was one rail in the center.

‘What on earth is this FOR?”, said Hans.

“It’s for an aircraft. That’s all you need to know,” said Sanger, impatiently.

“But – this is over three kilometers long!”, said Hans.

“Yes. It is.”

“How many people will you need?”

“That is your department,” said Sanger. “All I know is that I’ve been ordered to have this in place by the end of next summer.”

“We only have about a month of real construction weather this year. Perhaps enough for soil engineering and footings. The bulk of the work will have to be done next year.”

“As long as it’s in place by the end of summer. We need to test by then while we still have decent weather left,” Sanger replied. “Now, if you don’t mind, I have other work to do.” Sanger began rolling up his elevation plan; Heisenberg helped with his other papers.


Walking back to the research complex, Heisenberg wondered if he should ask his boss about the aviation project. He decided that was probably not a good idea. His function was physics; he left engineering powerplants – or aircraft – to those who knew how.

“Lost in thought again, Heisenberg?”

“Ah! Sorry, Dr. Sanger. I was thinking, yes.”

“You’re good at it, if a bit forgetful and unfocused at times. But your ideas might have made my own project viable,” said Sanger, getting back to his aircraft again.

“Dr. Sanger?”

“Yes?” Sanger was showing some of his legendary impatience.

“May I ask what this aircraft is for?”

“No, Heisenberg, you may not. And you won’t ask again. Although I might ask you for some assistance from time to time.”

“I see. Why not just involve the Blohm and Voss people, or the Messerschmitt folk? Certainly they can help.”

“No, and no, Heisenberg. They cannot. And you won’t mention it, either.”

Ja, Herr Doktor,” replied Heisenberg. Back to physics. And to keep his mouth shut….


“I am concerned about the safety of the thing.”

Mein Fuhrer, the first plant at Trauen was constructed as safely as we know how. The others were built quickly. They are all producing the explosive-metal we need as a byproduct of cheap electricity–”

Hitler cut off the Reichsmarschall. “I’m not talking about the plants! I’m talking about this – plane!”

Goering’s face grew red. “My apologies, Mein Fuhrer. So much of this reports directly to me now. I am sometimes overwhelmed.”

“We will get you more help, Goering,” replied Hitler, icily. “Now, tell me why I should ask a pilot to risk his life in this thing?”

Sanger spoke. “Herr Chancellor, the Silbervogel” – here, he used the codename “Silverbird” with which Goering was so pleased — “will have a pressurized cockpit and a form-fitting seat – this is for support during the intense pressures of takeoff, but will also provide safety and a degree of comfort for the pilot. All safety precautions are being taken regarding the device, when it is ready.” Sanger didn’t say what the men in the room already knew – the real reason for Heisenberg’s research; the breakneck pace at which they’d constructed uranium-fission powerplants; the experiments with graphite-rods and heavy water.

National Socialist Germany was close to producing an atomic weapon.


“So, what is the advantage to us if we pour more millions of Reichsmarks into this project, Herr Doktor?” Hitler was impatient; even more so than Sanger, which unnerved him.

“If the research is fully funded, through the test phase and construction of prototype, I’m reasonably certain we can provide the Reich with an airplane that can fly to the edge of space and land safely,” said Sanger. He waited on tenterhooks for the Fuhrer’s reply.

Hitler paused. Then, he spoke. “And, apart from the glory of Greater Germany, what will we gain?”

Now, Sanger paused. A moment later, he said, “Herr Chancellor, apart from the pilot, the aircraft can carry a payload. If Heisenberg and Hahn remain on task and produce a weapon by the end of 1940, we can carry and deliver it to any point on the planet. Further, due to the altitude at which the Silbervogel will fly, no aircraft in current production can reach it. The destructive capacity of the weapon, combined with an unstoppable and unreachable aircraft, will guarantee us the ability to destroy any nation which dares to resist us.”

Hitler received this news with a stone face. Abruptly, he burst out laughing and slapped his leg, almost in caricature. Herr Doktor, you have not created a ‘bird’ – das ist der Teufels adler!”

Sanger visibly relaxed; smiling. “You will have the funding you need, Herr Doktor.” Hitler stood. The meeting was officially over.

Sanger had the funding for both his project and Heisenberg’s. Now, the only thing to do was work – and work hard; there was much to do….
(Next — A Gathering of Eagles)


One Comment

  1. Michio Kaku’s book Parallel Worlds
    “In 1941, with the Nazis overrunning most of Europe, Heisenberg made a secret journey to meet his old mentor, Bohr, in Copenhagen.
    … Was Heisenberg trying to sabotage the Nazi bomb? Or was Heisenberg trying to recruit Bohr for the Nazi bomb?…”

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