Project paperclip


“This is absolutely intolerable,” Josef Stalin complained to one of his rocket experts, Lieutenant G. A. Tokaty.  “We defeated the Nazi armies; we occupied Berlin and

Peenemünde; but the Americans got the rocket engineers.” (Swenson, Grimwood, and Alexander).

Stalin had every right to be angry.  In its haste to gather all of the scientific advancements and secrets developed by Nazi Germany, the United States cut corners and formed secret organizations, often partaking in some rather dubious acts.  One of these plans was entitled Project Paperclip, a plot by the American government to bring many of the leading and renowned scientists and engineers from Nazi Germany to America.  This project has been shrouded in secrecy for many years; it has only recently come to light. Therefore, the history of this project is not widely known to the American public.  It is important that we look at this history and the effects that Project Paperclip has made on our future.  By examining how this project came to be, it can seen why the American government thought that stealing German scientists and information was important to the war effort and see a few of the technological advances that came about because of their decisions.

The United States began to make plans to steal Nazi Germany’s technological secrets even before the war had ended.  In fact, this drastic push to gain theses secrets was a reaction to America’s intense involvement in the Pacific Theatre.  Seeing that European Theatre was quickly drawing to a close, the United States also wanted to conclude the war with Japan, assuming taking Germany’s secrets would assist them in this goal.  They also hoped to take away the might of Germany.  By stealing many of the Nazi’s scientists and other intellectuals, Germany would not be able to rearm itself and a possible World War III could be prevented (Hunt, “Secret” 9).

Realizing that living on a different continent than Germany might pose a slight problem, the Americans decided to join forces with the British, sharing secrets, manpower, and money (Beyerchen).  John Gimbel, a noted researcher on Project

Paperclip says:

In their campaign to defeat Germany, the British and Americans created a number of special intelligence organizations and units whose function was to identify, secure, guard, and exploit “valuable and special information, including documents, equipment and persons.” (Gimbel).

One of these organizations was FIAT, or the Field Information Agency, Technical, created by American Major General Kenneth W. D. Strong (Beyerchen).  Strong saw the need to organize and create different types of information-acquisition teams.  Therefore, he created two different teams, the T-Forces and the CIOS (Gimbel).  The T-Forces were special military units whose objectives were to secure and guard intelligence and counterintelligence targets for exploitation by other teams (Gimbel).  The CIOS, or the Combined Intelligence Objectives Subcommittee, was in charge of finding the aforementioned targets and arranging for them to be exploited by FIAT (Gimbel).

In order to find excellent targets who might know important information, CIOS consisted of engineers, physicists, mathematicians, and chemists “borrowed” from various positions in Washington, universities, and industrial organizations (Gimbel). They had three objectives: first, to find out what the Germans knew about weapons, fuel, rockets, engines, communications, etc. that might help the Allies, second, to gather information which might shorten the war with Japan, and third, to locate, detain, and possibly intern German personnel to obtain information and to stop it from going somewhere dangerous, such as Egypt, Spain, or many Latin American countries (Gimbel).  Scientists, technicians, and engineers who were of particular interest were put onto a list, named “The Black List” (Gimbel).

One of the most important teams sent in to do this task was code-named “Alsos.”

Led by American Lieutenant Colonel Boris Pash, and assisted by chief scientist Samuel Goudsmit, the Alsos team went into Nazi territory to find out about Hitler’s atomic bomb project.  It was believed at the time that Hitler was very close to creating the world’s first atomic bomb.  The Americans wanted this information not only to stop Hitler from using the bomb, but also to create the technology for themselves.  However, upon finding the men with the proper expertise in the subject, the Americans found that the Germans were in fact about two years behind the American atomic bomb project.  What they did discover, though, was the German expertise in biological and chemical warfare.  A few of the men found by the Alsos team were the first scientists and researchers drafted into what would eventually become Project Paperclip (Hunt, “Secret” 11).

Due to increased interest, civilian teams also joined forces with the military to create the Joint Intelligence Objectives Committee (JIOC) (Walker, Lester).  The main function of the JIOC was to collect physical information before it was destroyed.  They had their work cut out for them.  Many German scientists were unwilling to merely give their secrets away, either due to orders from and love of the Reich, or because of their dislike of the actions of the Allied troops.  These scientists destroyed damning equipment and data, or hid it in various secret locations, such as caves, hidden safes, or mineshafts.

Often, the information was covered by containers full of liquid oxygen that would immediately destroy the evidence if handled poorly (Walker).  Many secret caches were accidentally destroyed by the Allied forces attempting to recover information and some may still remain hidden even today.

After Germany surrendered and the country began to be carved up between Russia, America, France, and Britain, the United States began to show a concentrated focus on obtaining important German scientists instead of their information and research, as did Stalin and Russia.  In June 1945, the precursor to Project Paperclip, named Project Overcast, was instituted by the Americans (Beyerchen).  Project Overcast basically stated that the CIOS should use “The Black List” to take all possible prospects and to transport them out of the other three sectors, especially the Russian sector, and to settle them into the American sector for possible relocation to America in the future.  They were particularly interested in getting these scientists away from the Russians due to threatening comments made by Stalin.  Stalin had said that he wanted to create a “transAtlantic rocket” and to use them as “an effective straight jacket for that noisy shopkeeper Harry Truman” (Swenson, Grimwood, and Alexander).

Another early phase of the project was code-named “Safehaven.”  This was set up to insure that interesting scientists did not flee to other countries, particularly Latin America, where they could not be exploited by Americans (Hunt, “Secret” 9).  America even made deals with certain Latin American nations and pressured others to deport these

Germans back to Germany where the Americans would have access to them (Hunt,

“Secret” 145).

At first, America was not very successful.  Many scientists instead went to work for Britain or Russia, who offered them a better salary, work, and living conditions (Swenson, Grimwood, and Alexander).  However, America managed to convince many to move to the American sector of Germany with the promise of good salaries and protection for them and their families (Gimbel).  They were told they could take whatever fit into two suitcases and a backpack and to make sure that they brought their science materials (Gimbel).  Some of these scientists were relocated to an internment camp near Frankfurt, called “Dustbin” (Beyerchen).  By doing this, America alienated their British ally.  Instead of sharing information and people as they had previously done, they began to steal important people from the British sector (Beyerchen).

Life for these scientists was not all as they have been expecting.  Many of these people never received the compensation they had been promised by the Americans. Instead of the large homes they had left behind, the researchers and the people they brought with them were forced to live in small apartments or in abandoned schools that had been taken over by the Americans.  Here, they were interrogated and forgotten about (Gimbel).  Few of these scientists, technicians, and engineers were recruited into Project Paperclip and taken to America, as had been promised to them earlier.  Many of these people simply had to go back to what remained of their homes once the Americans decided that they were no longer of worth.

The original idea behind Project Paperclip never actually included relocation of scientists to the United States.  Instead, American personnel were charged with earning the trust of important German scientists, and failing that, to steal their information.  The War Department was afraid that Hitler was close to being able to create an atomic bomb, which they knew he would not hesitate to use against the Allied forces (Hunt, “Secret” 9). The politicians in Washington were regretting their decision to allow Germany to rearm themselves at all and were hoping that by stealing German research, they could take away Hitler’s military power and end the war, thus correcting their mistake (Hunt, “Secret” 9).

However, when this plan was lain out to then president Franklin Roosevelt, the project looked to be in serious trouble.  OSS chief William Donovan suggested to

Roosevelt that some of the double agents they had hired, including many SS officers and German intelligence agents be offered special privileges once the war was over.  One of these privileges was, in Donovan’s words, “permission for entry into the United States after the war, the placing of their earnings on deposit in an American bank and the like.” (Hunt, “Secret” 9-10).  Donovan needed presidential approval for the plan.  Roosevelt was not a fan of the idea.  He quickly sent Donovan an angry answer, clearly stating his opinions on the project:

I do not believe that we should offer any guarantees of protection in the post-hostilities period to Germans who are working for your organization.  I think that the carrying out of any such guarantees would be difficult and probably be widely misunderstood both in this country and abroad.  We may expect that the number of Germans who are anxious to save their skins and property will rapidly increase.  Among them may be some who should properly be tried for war crimes or at least arrested for active participation in Nazi activities.  Even with the necessary controls you mention I am not prepared to authorize the giving of guarantees (Hunt, “Secret” 10).

Roosevelt’s reply did not stop the Americans in Germany from making unsanctioned deals and promises to the personnel they wished to recruit.  As early as

1944, some important scientists were anticipating eventual relocation to the United States (Hunt, “Secret” 11).  Roosevelt’s death, Harry Truman’s acquisition to the presidency, and the increasing acknowledgment of German scientists that the war was lost breathed new life and interest in Project Paperclip.

After months of deliberation by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Gimbel), Project

Paperclip was authorized by President Harry Truman in August of 1945 (Walker, Andrew).  This operation was a refinement of the previous Project Overcast, but this time relocated those members of the research teams who were of particular interest to the United States to America for short term consulting jobs.  However, Truman said that anyone found “to have been a member of the Nazi Party and more than a nominal participant in its activities, or an active supporter of Nazism militarism” (Walker, Andrew) should be excluded.  Personal files on all of the scientists were collected; intelligence officers working hard to determine each person’s involvement in the Nazi party.  If these scientists passed the test, they could be admitted to the United States and even possibly offered citizenship.  It is believed that the name “Paperclip” was created due to the fact that the files of the scientists who were to be drafted into Project Paperclip were paper-clipped to immigration forms.

However, many Americans opposed this idea.  Still reeling from the war, America was full of anti-Nazi sentiment and rumors that the government was going to offer well paying jobs and citizenship to these ex-Nazis did not sit well with them.  Many important military and technological leaders argued that, “‘Great Britain, France, and the USSR will proceed unilaterally’ to exploit Germans for civil purposes whether or not the US did so” (Gimbel).  There was particular unrest within Washington.  A Pentagon general recognized the need for selling Project Paperclip to the American public, saying, “We’ve got to discourage people from thinking that this is a grand opportunity to sign some of the Germans permanently and take them into the Army Air Forces and make them American citizens” (Lasby, 72-3).  Major General Hugh Knerr, the commander of the U.S. Air

Force in Europe also argued for Project Paperclip, saying:

Occupation of German scientific and industrial establishments has revealed the fact that we have been alarmingly backward in many fields of research.  If we do not take the opportunity to seize the apparatus and the brains that developed it and put the combination back to work promptly, we will remain several years behind while we attempt to cover a field already exploited. (Walker, Andrew).

The Joint Chiefs of Staff deliberated some more, deciding to bring a total of three hundred and fifty German rocket scientists and engineers over to America (Gimbel).

However, as members of the CIOS began to trickle back to Washington after their time in Germany, they brought back with them even more names, concerned that many of the forgotten scientists, engineers, and technicians would be picked up by the British, French, and especially, the Russians (Gimbel).  The Joint Chiefs of Staff convened together once again, this time meeting with the State War-Navy Coordinating Committee (SWNCC) to approve more names for Project Paperclip (Gimbel).  On the eighteenth of November, 1945, a few of the first selected group arrived in the United States. (Walker, Andrew).

The small group of seven men landed in Boston, headed by their leader, Wernher von Braun, all having signed a six-month contract with the Army (Lasby, 88).  Meanwhile, on the nineteenth of February, 1946, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and SWNCC agreed to bring about one thousand more German and Austrian scientists and technicians over to America, giving them the chance to gain U.S. citizenship upon completion of a good job (Gimbel).

Because this relocation was supposedly top secret, it is not really known exactly how many people officially came over due to Project Paperclip, even though most of the records have been declassified due to the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act (“Records”). Some speculate it was only five hundred, others say sixteen hundred, while others said it was over three thousand.  The actual number is difficult to determine.  When the United States decided to bring over three hundred and fifty scientists, they were not taking into account the number of dependants who also came over.  The most important of the scientists were allowed to bring over their families, and sometimes even their secretaries and their secretaries’ families (Gimbel).

However, it is relatively simple to track the most famous of these scientists, engineers, and technicians and see what they have accomplished.   The most well-known of these names include Wernher von Braun, Arthur Rudolph, and Walter Paul Emil Schreiber, although many others were also quite famous.  The importance of these individuals to American technology can be seen by examining what they accomplished in their lifetimes.

Wernher von Braun was a leading rocket scientist by the time the war ended.  Von

Braun had created the Aggregate 4 (A-4) missile in 1942.  This missile was admired by

Hitler himself, who renamed the missile the V-2 (“Reach for the Stars”), or the Vergeltungswaffe zwei (Swenson, Grimwood, and Alexander).  Hitler was so impressed with the weapon that he set up an impossible production schedule for them, trying to have as many made as possible before the end of the war.  Hitler was planning on using the missile to decimate Britain’s major cities (“Reach for the Stars”).  Von Braun and the company he worked for, Peenemünde, fell hopelessly behind due to the unreasonably high demand.  As the technical director of Peenemünde, von Braun was afraid that he would be held personally responsible for the failure to produce enough missiles (“Reach for the Stars”).  Fortunately for von Braun, the war was beginning to end and many

Germans were becoming aware of the fact that they were soon going to be defeated.

After being given orders from Heinrich Himmler to desert the Peenemünde facility, von

Braun met with his team and together they decided to surrender themselves to either the Americans or the British.  They had heard various tales from refugees about the brutality of the Russians and decided that they would fare better with the other two countries (Lasby, 34).  The team hid various plans and weapon samples in a cave and headed toward an Allied encampment.  Somewhere along the way, the team decided to surrender themselves only to the Americans instead of to the British.  Von Braun later described what made them come to that decision: “We despised the French, we were mortally afraid of the Soviets, we did not believe the British could afford us, so that left the Americans”

(Lasby, 125).

When the Americans found that the nearly complete Peenemünde team was willing to defect to their side, they immediately started to milk all of the possible information that they could out of them.  The Americans entered the Peenemünde facility shortly before the Russians did, quickly shipping much of the information and about one hundred complete V-2 rockets back to America (“Aftermath”).  Von Braun and a few select members of his team were the first German scientists to be inducted into Project Paperclip.  The Americans wanted to split up his Peenemünde team, but von Braun fought hard to keep them together, saying that they would be more productive in the end because they were used to working as a collective (Lasby, 124).

As with many of the German scientists involved in Project Paperclip, there were some who opposed bringing von Braun to America.  He had been a member of numerous Nazi organizations and was even a ranking member of the SS.  Von Braun had also designed the missiles which had destroyed Britain, leading to a lot of prejudice against him.  His personal intelligence file said that he was a “security risk” (Walker, Andrew). However, his file was “cleaned” and rewritten, with less emphasis on his Nazi activities and more emphasis on what he could do for America.  With this new file, he was welcomed to America with open arms.

Von Braun’s team, now called the “von Braun Rocket Team,” consisted of Drs.

William Mrazek, Walter Haeussermann, Ernst Stuhlinger, Eberhard Rees, Hans E. Hollmann, Herbert Wagner, and Robert Lusser.  Together these men made a lasting impression on American technology, working closely with the Air Force and with NASA (“German Rocket Scientists”).  They were influential in creating such things as the first U.S. orbiting satellite, the Juno; the Pioneer 4, the first U.S. lunar probe; the Apollo 8, which put the first U.S. astronaut into space; the Apollo 11, which put the first man on the moon; the Lunar Roving Vehicle, the first vehicle to travel on the moon; and the Skylab, the first U.S. space station (“German Rocket Scientists”).  Together with his fellow scientist and friend, Dr. Krafft Ehricke, von Braun wrote a book entitled The Mars Project in which they described how man could travel to Mars.  They argued that it could be done by a type of ferry system, which later led to the creation of the modern space station (“German Rocket Scientists”).


Dr. Arthur Rudolph was another famous scientist and a member of the von Braun

Rocket Team (“German Rocket Scientists”).  He had been another V-2 project engineer

(“Records”), but had worked as the chief director of Nordhausen, where the V-2s were produced (Walker, Andrew).  He became the NASA project director for Saturn V, the moon rocket used to send the Apollo projects to the moon (Hunt, “Arthur”).

However, Rudolph is probably more well known for the scandal that erupted years later, when his activities at Nordhausen and the neighboring prison camp Dora were finally discovered.  It was revealed by the Department of Justice (“Records”) that some twenty thousand workers from Dora had died while working at Nordhausen (Walker, Andrew).  The prisoners had been starved, beaten, hung, and shot, essentially used as cheap slave labor to build the missiles (Hunt, “Arthur”).  As described by Colonel James L. Collins, the leader of the infantry unit that entered Dora, “They [the prisoners] had been starved to death.  Their arms were just little sticks, their legs had practically no flesh on them at all.” (Hunt, “Secret” 17-8).  By this time this connection was made, Rudolph had become a U.S. citizen with a good life in America.  Rather than fight various legal battles to clear his spotted past, he renounced his citizenship, going back to live in

Germany in 1984 (“Records).

Another controversial scientist was Dr. Walter Paul Emil Schreiber (“Echoes from

Nürnberg”).  He was a Wehrmacht major general in charge of Sanitary Division of the

Military Medical Academy and a prominent member of the Reich Research Council (Hunt, “Secret” 151-2).  The Russians, recognizing his worth, quickly snagged him before the Americans could.  The Russians, in addition to gaining his knowledge, had used him as a witness against Herman Göring (“Echoes from Nürnberg”), a move which surprised the Americans.  When the Americans tried to take the supposedly under arrest Schreiber at Nürnberg for interrogation and trial proceedings, the Russians quickly took the scientist back to the Russian sector.  U. S. Prosecutor Alexander Handy was told that the Americans could not have Schreiber: “I was unofficially informed that he was working on some ‘hot’ assignment for the Russians and that they required his services without interruption.” (Hunt, “Secret” 152).  Schreiber stayed in the Russian sector of

Germany for another two years before finally escaping into the American sector of Berlin (“Echoes from Nürnberg”)  The United States contracted him for six months to be a consultant to the U.S. Air Force in the vaguely named “Global Preventive Medicine” Division (“Echoes from Nürnberg”).

In 1952, a newspaper column appeared which ruined the public’s opinion already low opinion of Schreiber (“Records”).  Even before this column, there had been many rumors floating around that Schreiber’s past was not as clean as the government claimed. Various investigators and media members complained that such a controversial figure was should not even be allowed in the United States, let alone employed by its government.  Victims of his torture came forward, testifying of the gruesome “tests” they had been forced to endure (Hunt, “Secret” 153-4).

Schreiber had worked closely with many high ranking officials who were performing medical experiments on prisoners in concentration camps in Auschwitz (“Records”).  They had been testing the effects of cold water on the body and if they were able to freeze people and bring them back to life (“Records”).  This research was being done by the Germans to see if they could rescue their pilots.  They hoped to stop losing their pilots by being able to resuscitate those who were shot down or forced to bail in the freezing Atlantic Ocean.  Other tests endured by victims, such as those at Ravensbrueck concentration camp, dealt with chemical and bone experimentation.  Women had their legs cut open and deliberately infected with gangrene so that a bone transplant had to be performed.  If these women survived the experiment and subsequent transplant, in addition to having extreme mental scarring from the experience, they then became crippled for life (Hunt, “Secret” 153).

While the United States seemed not to tie Schreiber to the experiments themselves, they seemed to be fully aware of the accusations.  Schreiber himself definitely knew about them and never denied what was said about him.  The Air Force immediately refused to renew his contract when the heat was put on them by the media and the American people (“Echoes from Nürnberg”).  When asked what he was doing for the Air Force, two official conflicting statements were released: that he was working on unclassified matters, and also that it was confidential and could not be discussed

(“Echoes from Nürnberg”).  It was also stated that the Air Force had no idea of Schreiber’s possible past.  When it looked that prosecution was inevitable for Schreiber for abetting and possibly performing inhuman experiments on human subjects (“Echoes from Nürnberg”), he quickly escaped to Argentina, never returning to the United States (“Records”).

Besides these three men, von Braun, Rudolph, and Schreiber, numerous other scientists, technicians, and engineers came over to America from 1945 to 1950 (“German Rocket Scientists”).  The ten most famous atomic scientists of the time, including Nobel

Prize winners Otto Hahn, Werner Heisenberg, and Max von Laue came to America in

1945 (“German Rocket Scientists”).  Drs. Woldemar Voigt, Alexander Lippisch, Hans Multhopp, and Richard Vogt all designed aircraft and bombers, working for such companies as Boeing, Bell, and Martin (“German Rocket Scientists”).  Anton Flettner produced mass production helicopters, with a special easy to fly twin intermeshing rotor system.  Dr. Adolph Busemann built supersonic wind tunnels (“German Rocket

Scientists”).  Kurt Debus and Herbert Wagner designed guided missiles (Hunt, “Secret” 6) and rocket launchers along with Willy Fielder.  In addition, Fielder also developed the idea for submarine launched ballistic missiles, named Polaris and Poseidon, while attending a conference with a friend from the Navy (“German Rocket Scientists”). Gerhard Neumann developed gas turbine engines after being hired by GE, working his way up to become a CEO.  His catchphrase was “full speed or bust” (“German Rocket Scientists”).  Hubertus Strughold, the “father or space medicine,” designed NASA’s onboard life-support systems (“German Rocket Scientists”).

Other scientists worked on developing, improving, and discovering nerve gas, hardened armor, guided missiles, stealth technology, etc.; the list goes on (Walker, Andrew).  They elaborated on most of the American technology of the time, perfecting such things as gyroscopic controls, parachutes for rocket recovery, and moveable deflector vanes in the exhaust of rockets (Swenson, Grimwood, and Alexander).  Modern day cruise missiles are still based on the V-1 created by Wernher von Braun (Walker, Andrew).  Scramjets on NASA’s X-43 hypersonic aircraft are still based on a design invented by early German jet pioneers (Walker, Andrew).  It is probable that due to these scientists, Americans increased what they were capable of tenfold.

Despite its rather shady beginnings, Project Paperclip was overall rather successful for the Americans.  It brought to America many leading and important scientists who helped to further advance the American technological scene.  By learning about the early history of this secret operation and the circumstances surrounding it, we can better realize the impacts that Project Paperclip had on the war effort.  Not only did the project bring important German scientists to America so as not to allow other countries to have their intelligence, but they also helped further American technology, an impact felt even today.


“Aftermath: Operation Paperclip.”  Making the Modern World: Science in war.  2004.

The Science Museum. scene=10; Internet; accessed 29 March 2008.

“Echoes from Nürnberg.”  Time.  10 March 1952.  CNN.,9171,822226,00.html; Internet; accessed 5 April 2008.

“German Rocket Scientists.”  Scientists & Friends.  2007.  Scientists and Friends.; Internet; accessed 5 April 2008.

“Reach for the Stars.”  Time.  17 February 1958.  CNN.,9171,862899-1,00.html; Internet; accessed 29 March 2008.

“Records of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (Record Group 330).”  Interagency Working Group (IWG).  The National Archives.; Internet, accessed 26 March 2008.

Beyerchen, Alan.  “German Scientists and Research Institutions in Allied Occupation Policy.”  Autumn 1982.  History of Education Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 3 Special Issue: Educational Policy and Reform in Modern Germany.; Internet; accessed 29 March 2008.

Gimbel, John.  “U.S. Policy and German Scientists: The Early Cold War.”  1986. Political Science Quarterly.; Internet; accessed 29 March 2008.

Hunt, Linda.  “Arthur Rudolph of Dora and Nasa.”  NASA and Nazis.; Internet; accessed 29 March 2008.

Hunt, Linda.  Secret Agenda: The United States Government, Nazi Scientists, and Project Paperclip, 1945 to 1990.  New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991.

Lasby, Clarence G.  Project Paperclip.  New York: Atheneum, 1971.

Swenson, Loyd S. Jr. and James M. Grimwood and Charles C. Alexander.  “The Highway to Space.”  This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury.  1989.  National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).; Internet; accessed 5 April 2008.

Walker, Andrew.  “Project Paperclip: Dark Side of the Moon.”  BBC News.  21 November 2005.  BBC.; Internet; accessed 29 March 2008.

Walker, C. Lester.  “Secrets By the Thousands.”  Harpes Magazine.  October 1946.; Internet; accessed 5 April 2008.


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