In the Alistair MacLean novel Ice Station Zebra, and indeed in one of the scenes preserved in the necessarily snappier film adaptation, the British scientist (portrayed by Patrick McGoohan, not playing a spy for a change) observed:
The Russians put our camera made by our German scientists and your film made by your German scientists into their satellite made by their German scientists.
The Cold War thriller assumed facts that everybody suspected to be true, but nobody without a security clearance really knew: that Russian technology had gotten a similar boost from captive Germans as American had from acquiring Walter Dornberger and Wernher von Braun and their rocket team.
Over the years, it became possible to guess from Russian advances that we’d gotten the head start in rocket guidance and program management that led to manned space and surface-to-surface missiles. The Russians had gotten some real talent in rocket engine, jet turbine, and turboprop design (to this day, their engines generally have more thrust than their western equivalents). They also got a jump in air-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles; the Germans had operationalized the first (with which they sunk a number of Allied ships) and were close to operational on the latter at war’s end.
Fortunately, it’s no longer that necessary to guess. The National Security Agency has declassified an internal magazine article about German contributions to the Russian missile effort. Some ideas that we took away from this:
- Ivan didn’t really trust his Germans much, and the ones taken to Russia were soon frozen out of design work and shipped home, except for guidance men, who probably took longer to develop good Russian understudies.
- As far as we can tell, none of the Germans became naturalized Soviet citizens.
- The use of these scientists was completely covert; the soviet public never heard their names.
- The scientists were of more help in shaking down processes and overcoming specific logjams than in overall design. The Soviets had their own talent.
But you don’t need to take our word for it. Read The Whole Thing™: early_history_soviet_missile [.pdf]
One would assume — and the writer of the undated NSA document assumes — the the Soviets’ German scientists were pressganged into service. In fact, they seem to have been recruited, using a blandishment that the US ARmy had taken off the table for its Germans: the ability to stay in Germany. In 2003, Anatoly Zak, in Air and Space magazine, explained:
When I met [former Soviet officer Boris] Chertok in Moscow last year, …. his memory of events that took place half a century earlier was still vivid. He recalled the scramble in 1945 as he and his colleagues tried, with little success, to lure top German talent to the Soviet side. His emissaries made risky dashes into the American zone, approaching the rocket specialists with offers of hefty salaries, food rations, and—most importantly—the opportunity to stay in Germany. That was one of the few battles von Braun and his colleagues had lost in negotiating with the Americans, and the Soviet recruiting campaign appealed to the Germans’ longing to remain in their homeland.
Few took the bait. One who did was Helmut Gröttrup, a physicist by training and a top expert on the V-2’s flight control system. Historians have debated why Gröttrup turned down the offer to work in the United States, suggesting that it was a combination of his leftist views and his refusal to become a bit player on von Braun’s team. Chertok thinks the primary reason was Gröttrup’s wish—and the even stronger desire of his wife Irmgard—to stay in Germany. He doesn’t discount, however, the scientist’s left-wing politics. “He was what we would call a social democrat—definitely anti-fascist,” Chertok recalls.
The deal wasn’t kept on the Russian end, and Gröttrup and his colleagurs were spirited off to the USSR the next year. It’s interesting to compare Anatoly Zak’s post-Cold-War take to the NSA’s in-progress-look on the establishment of an institute in Belicherode (which the NSA report identifies as Institut Rabe).
At the end of World War II, German military technology was in several fields the most advanced in the world. They had world-leading small arms, tanks, aircraft, and entire new categories of guided weapons and missiles that the Allies were far from operationalizing. It did them almost no good at all. The Allies had vast quantities of stuff that was, in many cases, not as good; the German innovations were not enough to stem the logistical tide that buried the would-be thousand-year empire. (Not that that outcome is a bad thing, considering the nature of the empire; but we’re prospecting for lessons learned here).
And what happened to the inventions? And even the inventors like Gröttrup and von Braun? If you lose the war, your enemies get them. QED.
Even if it weren’t Friday, it would be just plain wrong to mention the good Herr Doktor without sharing Tom Lehrer’s musical character study.
Kevin was a former Special Forces weapons man (MOS 18B, before the 18 series, 11B with Skill Qualification Indicator of S). His focus was on weapons: their history, effects and employment. He started WeaponsMan.com in 2011 and operated it until he passed away in 2017. His work is being preserved here at the request of his family.