Did We Consider Nuking Germany?

You always here about the “BOMB” being developed against Japan but had the war lasted longer (the war in Europe) or the A bomb developed sooner would we have used it against Germany?


That’s about as definitive an answer as your going to get on this one.

I am sure their are people with far more expertise than me on this, but I think it would be an almost certainty that they would have if the war in Europe was still going when it was ready. The reason the US built the bomb so fast was for fear of the Nazis beating them to it in the first place…although it wasn’t even a close race in reality.

I just finished reading “The Last 100 Days” by John Toland, a (supposedly) authoritative account of the end of WW II in Europe, and nothing is mentioned about the USA using a-bombs in that theater. I believe the only reference to the Manhattan Project was when Truman was filled in on its existence following FDR’s death.

Considering that the bomb hadn’t even been tested until a couple of months after the Nazi collapse, I think Lance’s answer covers the fact that any response is speculation.

What I mean is that is unlikely that an as yet unavailable weapon even merited serious discussion amongst the planners. I’ll speculate that if it had not been operational before we breached Germany’s borders in September of 1944 (10 months before the Trinity test) it would not have likely been seriously considered. Pure speculation.

Germany was close to developing the bomb themselves or at least we thought they were. IIRC Bombing raides were made on heavy water storage facilities (yea, I know that’s a fusion bomb but that what I recall). We didn’t fully understand the long term effects of the bomb. As such if we developed it, I’m pretty sure we would have used it. If we were making serious advances w/ little allied losses, we’d probally hold off unless we suspected they developed it too.

Interesting to theorise, though…

The handy thing about Japan is that it’s an island without neighbours close by. Dropping similar bombs on Germany would tend to leave rather nasty holes in the centre of the European continent. You’d want to be more wary of the wind direction, also.

Perhaps the more ‘interesting’ possible use of nuclear weapons at that time was either as Germany was collapsing or immediately after its defeat and against the Soviet Union. The western allies certainly looked at the feasibility of taking on the Rooskies but I actually don’t know how developed the plans were, nor whether they involved nuclear strikes (though one assumes they would have).

Did we consider it? No, as discussed above it wasn’t a feasibility until after VE day.

Would we have considered it if the bomb had been available six months earlier? Probably not. One of the big rationales for using it against Japan was concerns about the cost of lives in an invasion. By the fall of '44, Germany’s doom was sealed. Sure, there was a lot of fighting left, but the writing was on the wall. The president would have reserved the only two nuclear bombs for the Pacific, where the utility was more apparent. (Two, just in case one didn’t work).

If we had been repulsed at Normandy, and been unable to get a foothold in Western Europe would we have considered it? That’s a more likely possibility. Even if Russia’s advance had continued without us opening a second front, we might have used it to force Germany to surrender before too much of Europe was behind Soviet lines.

This was one of the interesting subjects that came up in a college course I took the history of 20th century science. According to the professor, as early as 1943, the US was already deciding that Germany would not be the recipient of The Bomb. There were some interesting reasons he gave for this:

  • At the time, we (the US) weren’t certain that The Bomb would work when dropped. We also believed that Germany was working on its own bomb project at the same time. If we dropped a dud on Germany, it could give the German scientists a good look at what designs we were using, and could give their bomb project a major boost.

  • A dud could also provide them with a good-sized chunk of fissionable material they could use in their own bomb.

  • Even as far back as 1943, it was believed by many of the top military brass that the war in Europe would be over by late 1944, well before an American bomb would be ready.

There were also some issues of probable US losses through conventional fighting in Europe, effects of the bomb on our allies and effects on future diplomatic relations with both Germany and our then-allies, which I wrote down in my notes and promptly forgot.

Cites? Gee, sorry officer, I must have left them in my other coat.


If not, why not? Those people essentially approved of the mass slaughter of millions of people. To hell with all of them.

Those people? You mean, the government in power, right? Not all Germans, right?


We may all be suprised to discover, a decade or two hence, that Werner Heisenberg actually misdirected the German effort to develop such a weapon. Currently, there is compelling circumstantial evidence, including an unusual visit with Niels Bohr during the war in which Heisenberg supposedly accurately depicted a control-rod type of reactor on (of course) a bar napkin. Such a design could imply a basic understanding of a process that was nevertheless completely overlooked by the Germans themselves, largely due to Heisenberg’s overesimation of the material needed to construct a simple plutonium weapon.

Germany, by late 1944, or possibly even earlier, was considered to be defeatable by purely conventional means. Furthermore, retaliation on the part of the Germans was considered feasable, whereas a Japanese retaliation was not (this, by the way, was not an assumption based upon fact; Japanese nuclear theorists were the equal in quality if not numerically and ideologically to those who worked on Manhattan). Nobody knew anything about radiation or its effects.

It is worth noting that the combined conventional bombardments by American and British air units induced deadly firestorms at Hamburg and Colougne on the level of the Atomic Bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan, by mid-1945, had already been attacked in similar fashion, only with more success in the wooden cities of the time. The fact that one bomb could induce such terror was unique; and apparently helped sway the Japanese to surrender. Soviet invasion didn’t hurt, either.

To elaborate:

Few people who condemn the dropping of the atomic bombs are aware of the devastation that conventional bombing was capable of.

In Hamburg 40,000 people died. In Dresden 50,000 people died. In Tokyo 80,000 died. In all cases several hundred thousand people were left homeless.

In addition the deaths were often gruesome. People getting stuck in melting tar in the street and burning to death unable to move. Children being ripped from their mother’s arms and sucked into burning buildings by 150 mph winds. People suffocating to death because all of the oxygen had been burned away. People not burning but ‘drying out’ where they lied. And so on…

For comparison 70,000 died in Nagasaki and around 140,000 died in Hiroshima.

The people vaporized in an instant by an atomic bomb are fortunate in comparison. The people dying later of radiation poisoning less so. I don’t know…comparing between two horrible deaths is really beyond my experience or imagination.

Nevertheless don’t think that A-bombs are the only bad boys out there. Conventional bombs can potentially be just as devastating.

Disagree. Japans fate was sealed too, but a bomb was still dropped on them. It still cost tens of thousands of US/Allied lives to invade and occupy Germany itself. As everyone has mentioned, this is all speculation, but I believe it would have been done if it was ready and Germany collapse was not iminent…like pre-Feb 45.

There would seem to be a racial element involved in NOT bombing or nuking Germany.

There is actually good evidence that this story was made up by rationalizing Nazi scientists after the fact: See “Bomb Apologetics: Farm Hall, August 1945” in the August 1995 issue of Physics Today. To summarize, the compound where German physicists (including Heisenberg) were detained was heavily bugged. When the detainees heard radio reports of Hiroshima and Nagasaki they first reacted incredulously and figured if they couldn’t figure it out, the Americans couldn’t either so it must be propaganda. Then they had an impromptu seminar where they figured out the physics, again from details in radio reports. When they realized where they must have gone wrong (a critical experiment early on failed for them, for still unknown reasons), they rationalized their failure by moving to the story that they intended to fail.

I’m sure the Germans were trying. I’m sure they would have used it.

In light of the fact the bomb didn’t even exist until after the Nazi surrender, could you clarify, Markxxx?

Two points. The Japanese General Staff knew after Midway in June of 1942 that there was no way to win the war if the Allies chose to pursue it agressively. If, in 1945, the Allies had placed a ring of steel around Japan to prevent any imports of oil or food (this had been more or less accomplished) and continued to bomb the hell out of what was left of Japanese industry, the country would have collapsed and there would have been no need for an invasion.The seige could have been maintained indefinitly at minimal cost. The atomic bomb was dropped solely to impress Stalin. The Cold War was already being planned. This point cannot be emphasised too strongly.

The German General Staff knew for certain that the war was lost after Stalingrad, during the winter of 1942-43. After Kursk, July, '43, it became a rout. Actually, one German general-I forget which one-remarked with only one word when asked when he knew that the war was lost. He said simply, “Moscow”, meaning the winter of 1941-42. The force of 150 German divisions hurled eastward on June 21, 1941 was a huge gamble which planners on the general staff considered imprudent as it constituted forces which would normally be held in reserve. This strategy was pretty much a one shot deal. When it failed, the jig was up.

Had this thing played itself out, there is no question that the Soviets would have eventually defeated the Nazis and their allies and possibly linked up with the defeated forces of the Spanish Republic and enemies of Salazar, the fascist dictator of Portugal, and rolled all the way to Lisbon. It is critical to remember that it was to prevent this possibility, and not to defeat the Nazis, which precipitated the landing at Normandy in June of 1944 when for all intents and purposes, the Nazis had, by any rational measure, already lost the war. This was accomplished with very few casualties by WWII standards.

The atomic bombing of Japanese cities and the firebombing of Tokyo, Dresden, Hamburg, and other cities By US and British bombers were crimes against humanity. This is absolutely certain. And no, the attrocities perpetrated by the dictatorships of these countries do not justify it.

Nearly everything I have read on the subject points to the fact the atomic bomb was originally developed to use against the Germans. Thankfully VE day arrived before the weapon was developed.

For (what is widely considered to be the best) history of the Manhattan project see Richard Rhodes’ The Making of the Atomic Bomb. For info on the cold war and the development of the H-bomb read Dark Sun : The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb by the same author.

Evidence has been presented that the allies knew that both militant Japan and Germany were on their way out well before the final knockout blows were delivered. However we need to keep the following points in mind:

[list=1]1 Historical context: We have a different mindset today about war, imposition of human rights etc.
2 There existed a “get it over with soon” mentality that precluded a waiting siege.
3 The specific intelligence that the axis powers were weak and dying was (like any military intelligence) open to very real questions at the time. It is only later that we are able to verify and crosscheck the facts.[/list=1]

War is like that. As immoral as any atomic bomb attacks may be the fact remains that without German, Japanese and Italian aggression there would have been no WWII.

BTW it always amazes me that the Nazis have been treated so much worse in historical review than the Japanese.

I’m sure this was a major reason but certainly not the only one. If this were true then the bomb would have been dropped on Moscow-I’m sure Stalin would have gotten the message. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings certainly did help end the war. Also, from a cynical standpoint, militarily the atomic bomb was deployed because when there is a need (perceived or not) one does not just sit on a two-odd billion dollar project when it might be able to help.

galen wrote:

‘Planned?’ Who did the planning and when?

It certainly can be emphasized too strongly when there little historical evidence to support that interpretation.

If the Cold War was being planned, why did the US secure the agreement of the USSR to invade Manchuria in August 1945 and provide significant Lend-Lease aid to help them carry it out?

Oh, and while you’re at it, you might to explore the hypothesis that Allied leaders were intent on ending the war against Japan quickly and without a disintegration of Japan’s central authority that would require fighting the 1,000,000+ Japanese soldiers occupying other countries.

Andrew Warinner