The Cold War arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union began as the two World War II “allies” were still mopping up in Germany. Both sides wanted to learn all they could about German rocket and atomic technologies, and both wanted to get their hands on the scientists who were developing them.
Joseph Stalin’s forces captured the atomic research labs at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in May 1945. U.S. forces removed V-2 missiles from the Nordhausen complex that was built under the Harz Mountains just before the Soviets took possession of the facility.
Also in May, Wernher von Braun, his fellow rocket engineer brother Magnus and some of their team surrendered to a U.S. private. The group was interrogated and scheduled to be turned over to the Soviets in June.
The American high command decided the group was too valuable to turn over to the Soviets and that the United States should locate and extricate as many of the German scientists as possible. An operation termed “Project Paperclip” was undertaken “to exploit German scientists for American research and to deny these intellectual resources to the Soviet Union.” The goal was to remove as much of the German research team as possible from Germany without the allies’ — particularly the Soviets’ — knowledge.
On Nov. 18, 1945, 88 German scientists reached the shores of America. There was one problem, however. President Harry Truman had ordered that no one who had been a member of the Nazi party or who had participated in Nazi militarism were to be included. This excluded most of the scientists, including von Braun.
Ostensibly without Truman’s knowledge, the U.S. Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency created false employment histories and expunged Nazi party affiliations from the public records. After their records were “cleansed,” the scientists received security clearances to work in the United States.
The fruits of their labors are found in the U.S. space and rocket programs, cruise missiles, stealth technology and a host of other advance technologies that Nick Cook, aerospace consultant for Jane’s Defence Weekly, speculated “could be so destructive that it would endanger world peace and [so] the U.S. decided to keep it secret for a long time.”