Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Operation Paperclip

BBC New on-line has an interesting article on Operation Paperclip, the US plan towards the end of the Second World War to obtain as many German scientists as possible.

It has always been a controversial plan - some of the Germans taken to the US have since been accused (with varying degrees of credibility) of performing war crimes.

However, the article is ridiculous in many ways. Take this quote, about a pioneering German flying-wing aircraft:

With its radar-absorbing carbon impregnated plywood skin and swept-back single wing, the 1944 Horten Ho 229 was arguably the first stealth aircraft. The US military made one available to Northrop Aviation, the company which would produce the $2bn B-2 Stealth bomber - to all intents and purposes a modern clone of the Horten - a generation later.
Saying that the B2-bomber was a modern clone of the Ho 229 is, frankly, ridiculous. During the war (well before Operation Paperclip), Northrop made several flying-wing designs, including the prop-driven YB-35. After the war, some of these were converted into the jet-powered YB-49. The Germans themselves did not put much faith in the Ho 229 - they only made three.

I very much doubt that evading radar was in the design spec for the Ho 229; producing a fast, long-range aircraft was. The alleged radar-evasion was just an unintended side effect. Radar itself was very new, and poorly understood.

As for the claim that 'Cruise missiles are still based on the design of the V-1 missile'; you might as well say that the F-22 fighter 'is based on' the Wright Flyer.

The article also fails to mention that Britain had such a plan (Operation Surgeon and others), and so did Russia. Indeed, at the end of the war many German scientists were scurrying around trying to position themselves to be captured by the side they favoured. Most chose the US, but some chose the British, and others, strangely with hindsight, the Russians. In the process they also had to avoid the SS who wanted to prevent them from leaving.Therefore you had the odd situation where some of Von Braun's team went west to the Americans, some went east to the Russians, whilst others stayed behind to be captured by whichever side reached them first.

This all meant that the Allies had a very un-allied race to capture as many scientists, engineers and resources as possible before the war ended. In one case, the American troops advanced to capture a V2 assembly site that was behind the agreed Russian lines. By the time they handed it over to the Russians, virtually everything of use had been removed. On other occasions, American soldiers destroyed prototypes and tooling to avoid them falling into Russian hands. Even as the curtain was falling on the last act of the Second World War, the new Cold War was beginning.

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