WOULD dropping A-bombs on Germany have stopped the Nazis?

Inspired by this thread.

Now, obviously, there are a zillion what-ifs and qualifiers.

Let’s assume the following scenario:

The Nazis win at Stalingrad and also successfully capture the Caucasus Oil Fields. The Soviets are held at bay, and the Nazis have fuel for their war machine.

The D-Day invasion is repulsed. The Nazis, after their victory, reinforce the Channel coastline, making a second attempt much less likely to succeed, and much more costly. Britain and the US are still bombing European cities, but they have no real foothold on land north of the Alps.

In 1945, the Americans build their A-bombs, as scheduled. Let’s say they decide that Germany is the greater threat, and they can afford to take the slower road in grinding down the Japanese. They are faced with the prospect of dropping the A-bombs on the cities of a Germany that is not, as Japan was, on the brink of starvation and defeat anyway, but rather on a people who have a fully functioning war machine and are the apparent masters of Europe.

Would dropping atomic bombs on Germany have led to an immediate Nazi surrender, as everyone assumes? Let’s face it—while atomic bombs are horrific, their effects (considering the limited number of bombs the US had at its disposal) are not significantly different from Dresden-style firebombing. Yes, the psychological impact is greater, and even more greater for the fact that a SINGLE PLANE is all that’s needed to burn out a city.

Assuming enough Nazi leadership survived (and they well might have—many people who took cover in air raid shelters in Hiroshima survived), would they have continued fighting? Would they have called the US’s bluff in terms of seeing how many A-bombs the US had in its arsenal? (i.e., not that many) It seems to me we overestimate the effectiveness of WWII-era atomic weapons in stopping a healthy Nazi Germany.

The Japanese were already losing by the time they were bombed. So the bombs served as a tipping point to convince them to surrender instead of forcing the Americans to invade the home islands.

But in the scenario you describe the Nazis would still be going strong. The surviving Russian forces would be pushed back behind the Urals and the Nazis would largely be fighting a guerrilla war on the eastern front.

One or two atom bombs would not be enough to force a surrender. And that’s assuming you could even get them to their targets through the German air defenses. And production of new bombs was slow at first. You wouldn’t be able to deliver enough bombs to break Germany’s back until mid - '46 at least.

But in the meantime you’re going to use what you have. And after the first detonation in '45 Germany knows an atom bomb is possible and will immediately start working on one of their own. It will probably take them until 1947 to get one … unless they manage to shoot down an Allied bomber and get their hands on an unexploded one.

Now here’s the really bad news: The Nazis have a better delivery system than the Allies do. The Luftwaffe can shoot down incoming bombers, but the RAF can’t stop incoming V-2’s … .

Worst case scenario: The Allies nuke 5 or 6 Germany cities before London goes up in a mushroom cloud. And pretty soon you’ve got a mutual assured destruction situation between the U.S. and the Nazis … .

Hitler replies with Chem & Bio, & things get rather antisocial.

The Japanese social structure was much more dedicated to the cause. They had designs for kamikaze planes to be used against tanks. IMO German generals would have shot Hitler on sight if he refused after the FIRST A-Bomb. It’s a small country and it wouldn’t take much to destroy every living thing.

Dropping Abombs in Europe might have the effect of alienating the populaces of those captive countries. If Germany did indeed have a stranglehold on most of Western/Eastern Europe, how would the US deliver the goods to interior Germany?

Yeah, a significant number of German commanders ignored or contrived “not to receive” various scorched-earth/liquidation directives from Berlin in the latter months of the conventional war.

And mind you that a German Army that won at Stalingrad might not be the same ebullient German Army that rolled through France and the Low Countries and Poland in the early days of Blitzkrieg with comparatively light casualties. “Soviets held at bay” (and everything between the Atlantic and Moscow implicitly occupied) poses many of the same manpower, supply line, Russia-in-Wintertime, overextension problems that the siege itself posed. It could have been a very precarious victory to hold onto.

Given that Hitler never particularly hated the Americans or even the Brits, and certainly the General Staff didn’t, let’s say the orgy of Slav-killing involved in a Stalingrad victory, plus maybe effectively decapitating the hated Bolshevik regime in Moscow, leaves them sated (or, exhausted). Do the Germans, then, maybe make overtures to the Western powers? I doubt it would have been accepted (it never was on the handful of occasions that common cause or less-than-unconditional surrender was bruited by Hess or others at various times), but one needn’t be convinced that Germany (a nation of burghers, after all) would have been as nihilistically suicidal as to confront continued A-Bombs. In fact, I suspect that Manhattan project scientists might have been dispatched to make clandestine contact with their former German colleagues to pass along the word to the Reich government that if they didn’t surrender, something Really Bad was going to happen, so as to not have to drop even the first bomb. Would it have worked? Who knows.

I think you’ve got something there, Huerta. I always forget that “unconditional surrender” is something that has rarely happened outside of WWII. It seems to me it would be much more likely that the Nazis would, after being bombed two or three times, offer a peace treaty, and the Allies—having essentially lost both the Eastern and Western fronts, with no good hope of breaking through without a terrible bloodbath to dwarf any previous beach landings—would agree to it.

You grossly overestimate the effectiveness of atomic weapons, particularly WWII-era ones. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs had a radius of total destruction of only 1.6km, with fires set to only about 11.4 km² altogether. How many German cities are there? How big are they? Today, there are more than 80 German cities with populations larger than 100,000. And nukes are fairly useless at slaughtering large masses of people in villages, etc., in the countryside. Bomb shelters are also much more effective than people like to believe—some Japanese survivors were underground/in strongly built structures a mere 100m from ground zero.

And with an undefeated Nazi war machine, and a limited capacity to build nukes, we wouldn’t get the chance to drop that many bombs. They’d work damn hard not to let us into their airspace.

Also, don’t forget that news of the Hiroshima bomb was slow to get out because of Hiroshima being surrounded by mountains and water.

Now suppose the U.S. dropped a Hiroshima-size bomb in the low, flat terrain of northern Germany. Not only could you see the flash everywhere between Berlin and Amsterdam, but a large chunk of farmland would be turned into glass.

Would the U.S. even have needed to drop a second bomb?

I don’t think Germany would be able to develop them in that short an amount of time, maybe not even given an unlimited length of time. They didn’t have the resources or the level or number of physicists that the US had.

The V-2 carried a 2200 lb warhead. The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki weighed 10800 and 8818. :slight_smile:

It depends on the circumstances surrounding the atomic bombing. Is it part of a more general air bombing campaign that’s already wrecking the German economy and killing German people? Or was it isoalted attacks where one or two cities are destroyed but Germany is safe overall?

My guess would be that the atomic bombs would have caused a coup in Berlin. Hitler would have been overthrown either by Himmler and the SS or by the German military. The new government would then blame the now dead Hitler for the war and offered to negotiate a peace treaty with the west. This would be followed by several decades of “cold war” between the West and the Reich.

I remember reading that analyses of radioactive isotopes in certain areas had indicated one or more tests of small nuclear devices, comparable to small modern-day tactical nuclear weapons, so they might have been closer to a working nuke than anybody would like to contemplate. I can’t seem to dig up a cite at the moment, though.

The Germans would not have known that the supply of atom bombs was limited, nor would they even know that anything deployed was the largest available.

What they do knhow is that at least one ot two major industrial centres are destroyed, and they also know that more will come.

Bombing destroyed buildings, and caused casualties, however the atomic weapon was something else, it was capable of not just denying solid structures - factories, but would also deny the labour to keep production going.

Imagine, you have a huge military outlay, but it is completely innefective, not only that, you cannot hide or disguise this ‘uberweapon’ from your population the stories of the effects will be repeated and the rumour mill will ratchet this up at every retelling.

Imagine every person within a 30 mile radius seeing the destruction, and sometime later seeing the pitiful survivors.You do not need many of these devices to spread the word.

Hitler wants to keep going, ranting of revenge, I guess that after a handful of these across three months which would be up to 10 or so, he is toast. You can also expect production of A bombs to increase too.

The effect of limited production would be that the population would be sitting around waiting for the next lot of absolute destruction - imagine the anxiety and terror effect that would have.

Germany would make all sorts of noises about a deal, neither the British nor the French would have accepted anything less than unconditional surrender, I can almost imagine Churchill talking of bombing Germany back to the stone age.

One crucial aspect to D-day was complete air control, that isn’t going to change, and production in the UK was well ahead of that of Germany, let alone that of the US.
Despite the images of super German weapons, the allies were well ahead of Germany in termsof technology, better aircraft, better tanks just on the sidelines, better fire control systems (US Artillery was notable for this), the U-Boat war is virtually lost. The means to destroy U-Boat pens was being used widely the tallboy bombs.

Unless there is an open source repository of plans for the allied forces, I’m going to have to assume that the soviet union in the first what if , would have been written off as a player, leaving only the states and the commonwealth forces.

That means d-day does not happen and a political settlement is arrived at, with europe pretty much bequeathed to the germans.

Production of the continental bombers begins in earnest, atomic weaponry is stockpiled, the oss and the jedburghs are given the lead role in formenting unrest and sabotage of german industries.

As an aside , the first bombs until the soviets exploded their first weapon would have probably been salvaged fused.


I really dig topics like this. Could someone provide some links to the better hypothetical history threads on these boards. Thanks.

Also, I agree that the Nazis would have no real indication of US atomic bomb supply. After the first two they could speculate that the US must have a delay in making more, but they wouldn’t know for any certainty. I imagine the atmosphere would be similar to the days and weeks following the 9/11 attacks, when people lived under the idea that more super-villain-level attacks were just around the corner.

First off, bombing campaigns were routinely conducted over German cities, including Berlin. Getting there and dropping bombs was not the problem. One atom bomb in berlin would have caused grotesque disruption to the war effort, particularly later on when better bombing took place. The reason is that German industry was hugely concentrated there; a bomb even close to the city had a good chance or killing a million people. The city was large, but windy and dusty, which is very good at spreading radioactive material.

Germany might have continued, but we could deploy atom bombs indefinitely. Sure, there would have been a delay after the first few, to go back and build more, but once they started into production the war would have become a matter of annihilation.

It’s quite possible Hitler would have been one of the victims of the a-bomb. In fact, I would expect the commanders to try and drop the first one on a city he was in. Decapitating a dictatorship like that would leave the country directionless. I think the military would eventually give in and sue for peace when confronted with a weapon for which they had no defense.

If Germany vainly decided to press on with the war they would have done so with their cities being occasionally vaporized. That would have damaged their manufacturing, communications and transportation systems beyond belief. I think they would have resorted to bringing in thousands of civilians from conquered territories to use as human shields against further attacks, but I doubt it would have mattered.

The same way they did against Japan : by air. Before D-Day, the Luftwaffe had been neutralized as a potent force. Even counting the transfer of planes from the Eastern Front following a neutralization of the USSR, I believe that by the summer of 1945, they would have gone through the Allied meat grinder and whatever was left wouldn’t have been much of a problem for the RAF and the USAAF.

Drop it at 5:50-6:30 PM…twilight.

People would sytill be outside, & it would be dark enough to be seen really well.

For a start, it’s worth stating that the assumed limited supply of Allied nuclear weapons through 1945 would probably not have been that limited. Leslie Groves was expecting to deliver a third in August, another three or four in both September and October, five in November and seven in December. (This didn’t happen in practice, precisely because the war ended.)
So even without stockpiling anything, you can be expecting to try to nuke a German city every week.

I agree with those who have emphasised the unspecified factors in the counterfactual about the strategic bombing campaign. Have the German cities been routinely and heavily attacked or not? What are the air defences like? In the actual course of events, those both had strong influences on German popular opinion and morale.

One unmentioned factor is how long the Allies can politically sustain the war in the face of both a Soviet defeat and failure in Normandy. While the likes of Bush, Conant and Groves were confident by 1944 that they could successfully deliver nuclear weapons in 1945, I’m not sure their political masters entirely believed them at that point. It’s one thing supporting the Manhattan project as part of your overall war effort when you are confident that you will prevail, another to fight on for a year in the secret hope that that it might become available as your last throw of the dice.
Though, of course, the UK had already faced a situation as bleak as that earlier.

Overly optimistic. The Germans were at least 3 years behind the Manhattan project in the spring of 1945. Similarly, from much the same starting line the Soviets took until August 1949 to test a weapon.
A decisive German victory on the continent in 1943 might just have moved their nuclear projects up in priority, but that’s unclear. They’d have anyway faced much the same critical problems the Soviets had with establishing the required uranium supply post-1945, though they would have had all of the pre-war Union Minière stockpile from Belgium to play with in getting things started (in the event, the majority of this was seized by the western Allies, rather than the Soviets, in 1945).

Though it’s worth bearing in mind that for most of the war the Allies had no idea of Hitler’s exact whereabouts, nor was he routinely in Berlin or any of his other known residences. Though in the event of a decisive victory in the east that might have obviously changed, but that’s entirely speculative.

Don’t bother - see my comments towards the end of this recentish thread on the German nuclear projects.

That would be the pivotal battle of the war. There’s no reason to believe that once the P-51s came on the scene in late 1943/early 1944, that in this alternate history, there wouldn’t have been a titanic “Battle of Britain” style air fight except over all of Europe instead of just the UK.

Assuming that the P-51s came out on top, which probably would have been the case- what impetus would the Germans have had to improve their fighters before that, then the Allied strategic bombing offensive would have been pretty devastating with or without atomic weapons, but I have to figure that an atomic bomb on Munich and one on say… Kiel might make the OKB/OKW think twice about continuing the war.