Warning

 

Close

Confirm Action

Are you sure you wish to do this?

Confirm Cancel
Member Login

Site Notices
Posted: 9/18/2009 8:38:17 AM EST
Can anyone give a reader's digest summary of how the Soviets got nukes?

Did they manage to find all the answers on their own, or did someone get the info for them?
Link Posted: 9/18/2009 8:41:50 AM EST
[Last Edit: 9/18/2009 8:42:26 AM EST by davis9588]
Spies. Rosenbergs I think.
Link Posted: 9/18/2009 8:42:22 AM EST
Link Posted: 9/18/2009 8:43:04 AM EST
[Last Edit: 9/18/2009 8:49:51 AM EST by limaxray]
Both. They had some outstanding scientists of their own, but they also had a VERY effective espionage apparatus at Los Alamos and other American research and operational organizations. Their biggest downfall was an institutional distrust of scientists, which hampered their research and development cycle.

The book "Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb" by Richard Rhoades is a superb historical account of the race to the hydrogen bomb, and includes the espionage piece very well. He had access to a bunch of Russian records, so his story covers both sides of the race.

ETA: To clarify––they wouldn't have been as successful as quickly as they were without the espionage piece, so to answer your question, I'd have to say their success rested on the spy piece more than an organic scientific ability.
Link Posted: 9/18/2009 8:45:57 AM EST
the Rosenbergs sure as hell helped but they would have gotten their on their own just would have taken longer.
Link Posted: 9/18/2009 9:01:50 AM EST
Thanks.

I've been discussing the Cold War with some younger co-workers and wanted to get my facts straight. Topic came up because of Obama dropping the missile shield.

It's a bit surreal to realize that so many young people have no recollection nor concept of the Cold War and what it was about...no clue of what the Soviet Union was and how it factors into modern day Russian policy.
Link Posted: 9/18/2009 9:09:17 AM EST
The Soviets, especially under Stalin, also had a very liberal doctrine when it came to nuke usage...essentially, they were though of as mega-artillery, rather than some paradigm changing event.

The Soviets had no shortage of design brillance in house, Kurchatov and Sakarov were brilliant men who would have acheived a Soviet Arms capacity, eventually...the espionage portion of the program told them what areas were technological deadends, and gave them insight into our weapons capability and production techniques. Espionage saved the Soviets billions of dollars/rubles in R&D costs.
Link Posted: 9/18/2009 9:14:13 AM EST
I just did I quick scan of this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_nuclear_program so take this for what it's worth...


Sounds like Soviet scientists had been working periodically, when allowed, on a nuclear weapon program about as long as anybody else. So despite having capable scientists of their own they were slightly behind the other allies because of wavering government support and strained resources due to fighting Germany on their own soil.


The espionage helped shorten the time for the program to be successful because they knew what not to try and which general research paths were promising. Plus all the German uranium they looted after the war didn't hurt either.



Link Posted: 9/18/2009 9:16:06 AM EST
This is unproven and unprovable, but there are stories of some WWII vets claiming to have delivered hundreds of crates of unknown material marked "radioactive" to the USSR before Roosevelt died as part of the huge aid package FDR gave to Russia, and that Truman put an abrupt halt to exporting secret material and technology to Russia as soon as he assumed the office. Probably tinfoil, but Roosevelt was very, very cozy with Stalin. Roosevelt's administration was riddled with Soviet spies, he called Stalin "His man" during White House meetings, etc.
Link Posted: 9/18/2009 9:26:33 AM EST
Originally Posted By Shane333:
Can anyone give a reader's digest summary of how the Soviets got nukes?

Did they manage to find all the answers on their own, or did someone get the info for them?


The Manhattan Project was riddled with Soviet agents and Communist sympathizers from the beginning.

From the Wikpedia "Atomic Spies" page (which accurately reflects everything I know of the subject)

* Morris Cohen – American, "Thanks to Cohen, designers of the Soviet atomic bomb got piles of technical documentation straight from the secret laboratory in Los Alamos," the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda said. Morris and his wife, Lona, served eight years in prison, less than half of their sentences before being released in a prisoner swap with Russia. He died without revealing the name of the American scientist who helped pass vital information about the United States atomic bomb project.
* Klaus Fuchs – German refugee and theoretical physicist who worked with the British delegation at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. After Fuchs' confession there was a trial that lasted less than 90 minutes, Lord Goddard sentenced him to fourteen years' imprisonment, the maximum for espionage. In December 1950 he was stripped of his British citizenship. He was released on June 23, 1959, after serving nine years and four months of his sentence at Wakefield prison. He was allowed to emigrate to Dresden, then in the German Democratic Republic.
* Harry Gold – American, confessed to acting as a courier for Greenglass and Fuchs. He was sentenced in 1951 to thirty years imprisonment. He was paroled in May 1966, after serving just over half of his sentence.[4]
* David Greenglass – an American machinist at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. Greenglass confessed that he gave crude schematics of lab experiments to the Russians during World War II. Some aspects of his testimony against his sister and brother-in-law (the Rosenbergs, see below) are now thought to have been fabricated in an effort to keep his own wife, Ruth, from prosecution. Greenglass was sentenced to 15 years in prison, served 10 years, and later reunited with his wife
* Theodore Hall – a young American physicist at Los Alamos, whose identity as a spy was not revealed until very late in the twentieth century. He was never tried for his espionage work, though he seems to have admitted to it in later years to reporters and to his family.
* Allan Nunn May – He was British, and one of the first Soviet spies uncovered during the cold war. He worked on the Manhattan Project and was betrayed by a Soviet defector in Canada. His was uncovered in 1946 and it led the United States to restrict the sharing of atomic secrets with Britain. On May 1, 1946, he was sentenced to ten years hard labour. He was released in 1952, after serving six and a half years.
* Ethel and Julius Rosenberg – Americans who were involved in coordinating and recruiting an espionage network that included Ethel's brother, David Greenglass. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were tried for conspiracy to commit espionage, since the prosecution seemed to feel that there was not enough evidence to convict on espionage. Treason charges were not applicable, since the United States and the Soviet Union were allies at the time. The Rosenbergs denied all the charges but were convicted in a trial in which the prosecutor Roy Cohn said he was in daily secret contact with the judge, Irving Kaufman. Despite an international movement demanding clemency, and appeals to President Dwight D. Eisenhower by leading European intellectuals and the Pope, the Rosenbergs were executed at the height of the Korean War. President Eisenhower wrote to his son, serving in Korea, that if he spared Ethel (presumably for the sake of her children), then the Soviets would simply recruit their spies from among women.
* Saville Sax American acted as the courier for Klaus Fuchs and Theodore Hall.
* Morton Sobell - American engineer tried and convicted along with the Rosenbergs, was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment but released from Alcatraz in 1969, after serving 17 years and 9 months.[11] After proclaiming his innocence for over half a century, Sobell admitted spying for the Soviets, and implicated Julius Rosenberg, in an interview with the New York Times published on September 11, 2008


Link Posted: 9/18/2009 10:06:10 AM EST
Originally Posted By ODA_564:
Originally Posted By Shane333:
Can anyone give a reader's digest summary of how the Soviets got nukes?

Did they manage to find all the answers on their own, or did someone get the info for them?


The Manhattan Project was riddled with Soviet agents and Communist sympathizers from the beginning.

From the Wikpedia "Atomic Spies" page (which accurately reflects everything I know of the subject)

* Morris Cohen – American, "Thanks to Cohen, designers of the Soviet atomic bomb got piles of technical documentation straight from the secret laboratory in Los Alamos," the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda said. Morris and his wife, Lona, served eight years in prison, less than half of their sentences before being released in a prisoner swap with Russia. He died without revealing the name of the American scientist who helped pass vital information about the United States atomic bomb project.
* Klaus Fuchs – German refugee and theoretical physicist who worked with the British delegation at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. After Fuchs' confession there was a trial that lasted less than 90 minutes, Lord Goddard sentenced him to fourteen years' imprisonment, the maximum for espionage. In December 1950 he was stripped of his British citizenship. He was released on June 23, 1959, after serving nine years and four months of his sentence at Wakefield prison. He was allowed to emigrate to Dresden, then in the German Democratic Republic.
* Harry Gold – American, confessed to acting as a courier for Greenglass and Fuchs. He was sentenced in 1951 to thirty years imprisonment. He was paroled in May 1966, after serving just over half of his sentence.[4]
* David Greenglass – an American machinist at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. Greenglass confessed that he gave crude schematics of lab experiments to the Russians during World War II. Some aspects of his testimony against his sister and brother-in-law (the Rosenbergs, see below) are now thought to have been fabricated in an effort to keep his own wife, Ruth, from prosecution. Greenglass was sentenced to 15 years in prison, served 10 years, and later reunited with his wife
* Theodore Hall – a young American physicist at Los Alamos, whose identity as a spy was not revealed until very late in the twentieth century. He was never tried for his espionage work, though he seems to have admitted to it in later years to reporters and to his family.
* Allan Nunn May – He was British, and one of the first Soviet spies uncovered during the cold war. He worked on the Manhattan Project and was betrayed by a Soviet defector in Canada. His was uncovered in 1946 and it led the United States to restrict the sharing of atomic secrets with Britain. On May 1, 1946, he was sentenced to ten years hard labour. He was released in 1952, after serving six and a half years.
* Ethel and Julius Rosenberg – Americans who were involved in coordinating and recruiting an espionage network that included Ethel's brother, David Greenglass. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were tried for conspiracy to commit espionage, since the prosecution seemed to feel that there was not enough evidence to convict on espionage. Treason charges were not applicable, since the United States and the Soviet Union were allies at the time. The Rosenbergs denied all the charges but were convicted in a trial in which the prosecutor Roy Cohn said he was in daily secret contact with the judge, Irving Kaufman. Despite an international movement demanding clemency, and appeals to President Dwight D. Eisenhower by leading European intellectuals and the Pope, the Rosenbergs were executed at the height of the Korean War. President Eisenhower wrote to his son, serving in Korea, that if he spared Ethel (presumably for the sake of her children), then the Soviets would simply recruit their spies from among women.
* Saville Sax American acted as the courier for Klaus Fuchs and Theodore Hall.
* Morton Sobell - American engineer tried and convicted along with the Rosenbergs, was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment but released from Alcatraz in 1969, after serving 17 years and 9 months.[11] After proclaiming his innocence for over half a century, Sobell admitted spying for the Soviets, and implicated Julius Rosenberg, in an interview with the New York Times published on September 11, 2008




Fuchs was the primary bad actor in this group. Most of the other agents were generally either support agents (like Gold) or were working in very specific fields. Fuchs had a bird's eye view of the operation.
Link Posted: 9/18/2009 10:29:25 AM EST
[Last Edit: 9/18/2009 12:28:14 PM EST by Gamma762]
Originally Posted By ODA_564:
The Manhattan Project was riddled with Soviet agents and Communist sympathizers from the beginning.

I wouldn't say that is accurate. Of the many thousands of people working in the Manhattan project, there were very few leaks; the primary spy was Klaus Fuchs. Greenglass was a technician who passed some limited information as well. It's believed that there was one other well placed source besides Fuchs - Morris Cohen's source, also identified by a code name in decoded Soviet cable traffic - but if they were ever identified it was not made public. It's also generally hypothesized that there may have been a leak from Hanford, because the Soviets learned a specific piece of information from the reactor operations there, but it's possible that Fuchs may have learned of that info and passed it along. Allan Nunn May provided some material samples and information on reactor design and some technical information but he was not at Los Alamos and didn't have access to actual weapon design information. The few leaks though provided very useful technical information to the Soviets.

There was a huge controversy at the time in the 50's were it was alleged that Robert Oppenheimer was a spy, personally I think it's complete hogwash. Oppenheimer tried to use his scientific/technical understanding of the issues to influence the government commissions he was on, which was the whole reason he was appointed to those commissions; when his opinions were in opposition to prevailing political sentiment he was thought to be a spy, rather than just having an honest disagreement based on his scientific knowledge. His personality was such that he often seemed very abrasive to those of lesser intellectual prowess, and I'm certain that this quality did not sit well with the political types that he was thrown in with on the commissions. There was information of critical importance to the Soviets that he was well aware of during the post-WWII and into the early 50's era that the Soviets were NOT aware of.

There was also a tremendous amount of information as well as material and equipment that was simply sent to the Soviets during WWII because they requested it through the lend lease program, and we gave it to them. For example, graphite of extremely high purity was required for the early design nuclear reactors, a level of purity that the Soviets couldn't duplicate. So they requested the graphite from the US and we provided it to them... the first Soviet reactor was made mostly with US provided graphite. There are many reports of massive amounts of technical printed material that were shipped to the Soviets via lend lease as well. Because of the secrecy of the Manhattan project, no one outside the project would have recognized or known the significance of the information that was provided to them. Information from Fuchs would lead them to simply request information on various industrial processes or technology, and the US would give it to them.

The US issued a somewhat comprehensive report immediately after WWII (the "Smyth Report") to present some basic information about nuclear technology; this somewhat hastily prepared and not properly edited report inadvertently revealed a significant detail about reactor operation for plutonium production that saved the Soviets a huge amount of time by their not having to discover and overcome the same unforseen physical process that we did. It was only an accident of design that the Hanford production reactors were able to be made productive; in theory that piece of information alone might have saved the Soviets a year toward their own atomic bomb.

The Soviets had some reasonably competent scientists, but it truly saved them an immense amount of work with the information that they collected from espionage. Things like the chemical processes to separate plutonium as well as plutonium and uranium metallurgy which was learned through tedious and exhaustive research in the Manhattan project, and the Soviets didn't need to repeat. Most critical factors they ran experiments to confirm the espionage provided info, but it's a whole lot easier to just confirm an answer than to try to find it experimentally. "Joe 1", the first Soviet bomb, was an exact copy of the "Fat Man" bomb that was used on Nagasaki.

Whoever all the leaks were, it's virtually assured that there were none (from Los Alamos at least) post WWII into at least the mid 50s. There didn't appear to be any leaks of information regarding hydrogen bomb development or design - the Teller-Ulam configuration from all evidence did not leak to the Soviets (or anyone else, the US didn't share it with anyone) and Andrei Sakharov (re)conceived of it independently a few years later.

The Rosenbergs were handlers who helped get information from Los Alamos (Fuchs, Greenglass, and the possible mystery third leak) to Soviet contacts in the US. What was not revealed at their trial, and not until decades later is that the US had a partial code book (recovered from Finland IIRC) which we used to partially decode Soviet diplomatic cable traffic from the late-WWII period. What was played off as flimsy evidence at trial was in reality a solid case, just that the US was not going to reveal that we had decoded that cable traffic.

The book Dark Sun by Richard Rhodes has an excellent history of Soviet nuclear weapons development along with probably the most comprehensive non-classified analysis of their related espionage activities.

Originally Posted By Shane333:
Did they manage to find all the answers on their own, or did someone get the info for them?

In any technical/scientific pursuit it always helps to have all the answers ahead of time. They did experimentation to confirm most all of the information they got, to make sure they weren't subject to disinformation. The Soviet intelligence agencies as well as scientific leaders were amazed that they got all this critical information so freely. Essentially all the critical discoveries and technical details they got via espionage, they just needed to get the industrial base in place to start manufacturing the materials while the scientists confirmed the information. They started theoretical work on more advanced and efficient designs almost contemporaneously with the US (and before their first test) since they started with essentially the same body of knowledge.

Through most of WWII the Soviet government had better knowledge about the Manhattan project than did the US government. Harry Truman didn't even know the Manhattan project existed until he was briefed after being sworn in as President after the death of FDR. It was agonized over whether, and what, to tell Stalin before using the weapons on Japan which was all moot since Stalin already knew more about the program than Truman did. Truman did however more fully recognize the leap in strategic significance of the weapons than did Stalin.
Link Posted: 9/18/2009 11:30:35 AM EST
Originally Posted By Gamma762:
Originally Posted By ODA_564:
The Manhattan Project was riddled with Soviet agents and Communist sympathizers from the beginning.


The Rosenbergs were handlers who helped get information from Los Alamos (Fuchs, Greenglass, and the possible mystery third leak) to Soviet contacts in the US. What was not revealed at their trial, and not until decades later is that the US had a partial code book (recovered from Finland IIRC) which we used to partially decode Soviet diplomatic cable traffic from the late-WWII period. What was played off as flimsy evidence at trial was in reality a solid case, just that the US was not going to reveal that we had decoded that cable traffic.The book Dark Sun by Richard Rhodes has an excellent history of Soviet nuclear weapons development along with probably the most comprehensive non-classified analysis of their related espionage activities.


This gives the background on the code-breaking effort. Venona was an impressive effort.
Top Top