On May 8, 1945, with Germany’s unconditional surrender, Admiral Dönitz, the commander of Germany’s submarine force, ordered a number of specialised cargo U-boats, still at sea, to proceed to foreign ports across the world. In the early 1980s local divers discovered the hulk of the U-196 in Dargaville, sparking a renewed search for those who came ashore in 1945
“While we may never find out what happened to U-196 and the missing crew, I would like to take readers on a journey which, although at first sight may read like science fiction, is indeed based on the best evidence I can find.”
A STEP THROUGH TIME
At the beginning of the 20th century we saw a massive scientific interest in nuclear physics and electrical energy, fields both considered to be closely related. Einstein, among others, was beginning to formulate a view on what was to become known as the Unified Field Theory (UFT). Tesla, Marconi and other scientists had been looking at radio waves and beyond. By the end of the First World War (1918), understanding of these matters had advanced considerably. In fact, the idea of a ‘death ray’, capable of killing humans or disabling machinery, was being taken very seriously indeed. It resulted in the laser.
World War Two saw the introduction of radar and from that, what we all know today as the micro-wave oven. But that was only the beginning of the story. By 1943, both the Allies and the Germans had begun serious research into two highly secret projects - atomic weapons and the electronic masking of large ships at sea. Both, as it turned out, required a radical rethink in previously held assumptions about the way in which the universe works and the mathematics we use to describe this. It required the development of quantum mechanics. When the first atomic bomb of the ‘Trinity’ series was detonated at the Alamogordo, New Mexico, USA, test site, no one knew exactly what was likely to happen. There was a substantial block of scientific opinion that believed it was possible to ignite earth’s atmosphere with catastrophic consequences. Fortunately, they were proven wrong, but the scientists went ahead and did it anyway.
Many readers will have heard of the ‘Philadelphia Experiment’ which involved the electronic masking of the US Navy destroyerescort DE173 USS Eldridge. The experiment involved passing a large electric current through the ship using heavy copper cables placed lengthways around the hull, so as to reduce, or remove, the ability of enemy radar to obtain a reflective signal from the target ship. On October 28, 1943, according to credible eyewitness accounts, the ship simply vanished for several minutes to reappear hundreds of miles away, then just as suddenly, reappear at its moorings in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. The problem was it returned, missing crew, and there were even reports of crewmen being embedded in the deck plating, and still alive. What the Allies didn’t know at the time was the Germans were looking for a similar solution to the same problem, due to unsustainable U-boat losses in the Atlantic.
RINGING THE BELL
Since before the Second World War, Germany had been following the various scientific papers circulating among the academic community about the theoretical possibility of a sustained nuclear reaction for the generation of domestic electricity. It was not until about 1932 that theoretical physicists and mathematicians began to discover a way of achieving this. In Germany, Hermann Goering, then a leading member of the Nazi Party, was instructed to ‘bury’ this operation in the Post Office budgets, where many other secret projects were hidden.
But the Germans took a very different approach to nuclear science from the Americans, British and Russians. They looked at the ‘metaphysical’, the unseen, hidden aspects of nuclear energy. They reasoned there was much more to nuclear energy than just a large bang. German science believed that, buried within the processes making up a nuclear reaction, was the key to unlocking time itself. Even Einstein considered this more than a remote possibility, referring to it as the ‘space-time continuum’. He suspected, as did other researchers, time was possibly ‘elastic’, and depending on how fast the observer was moving, either sped up or slowed down.
Igor Witkowski, a Polish journalist attempting to uncover secret Nazi nuclear experiments, claims to have been shown Polish intelligence files after the collapse of the former Communist regime in 1990. From research by revolutionary German thinkers, like Reich, Stern and his understudy, Gerlach, at the Goethe Institute in Frankfurt-am-Main in the 1920s, came Project Thor. They developed a process, known as the fluorescence of mercury, under the influence of magnetic fields. This system creates a dense plasma field contained by powerful electric magnets to cause the fluorescence of mercury, using photo-chemistry. Excited mercury ions would then cause the beryllium (a catalyst within the reaction process) to emit slow neutrons to be captured by the thorium 232, changing it into uranium 233. A variation of this method using uranium 238 could also conceivably breed plutonium for atomic weapons without the need for a nuclear reactor. It is modern alchemy. Now we can understand why so many of the monsun boats were carrying large quantities of mercury to the Far East.
Project Thor began with Heeres Versuchanstalt No10 - a German Army laboratory, in January 1942. The project office was originally located at Torgau, a small medieval town in eastern Germany, but later moved west as the Russians advanced through Poland and into East Prussia, during 1944. On November 2, 1944, Dr Ernst Nagelstein, a German nuclear engineer, visited a conference in Switzerland where he disclosed to an American intelligence agent that a plant at Auer was refining thorium into metal, when there was no known industrial use for thorium. He also suggested that Otto Hahn was working on an atomic bomb using either uranium or thorium. This thorium production was associated with Project Thor. From January 1944 Dr Gerlach was directed to produce fissile uranium for the German atomic weapons programme, while the Horten twins, both highly successful Luftwaffe aircraft designers, were ordered to begin their Amerika Bomber project. Documents captured by Operation ALSOS (an intelligence operation specifically designed to collect German nuclear research materials) in Strasbourg, Alsace, and classified after the war, refer to the ‘Goudsmitt Papers’ in which a machine used for the production of enriched uranium is described. It was a tall standing device looking like a bell shaped van der Graff generator, or perhaps a Tesla coil. At the very top, inside its spherical head, was a spinning device. In the margin are notes claiming it generated five million electron-volts!
The importance of this device was that, unlike the Allied nuclear programme, requiring a reactor to produce the material necessary to create a nuclear weapon, this German system didn’t. Nor did it remain dangerously radioactive after use, and it could be disassembled and moved by U-boat. But, when working, it was extremely dangerous to humans in close proximity. One report claims a technician literally melted before the horrified onlookers, after he got too close to the operating machine. A similar phenomenon was observed aboard USS Eldridge.
AN UNEXPECTED BONUS
During the operation of this centrifugal machine, it was discovered to produce a very small anti-gravitational effect. This effect was sufficiently pronounced as to be recorded by the relatively primitive measuring devices of that period. What we do know is, the original site of this centrifuge contains a substantial reinforced concrete frame later researchers have estimated to be capable of withstanding at least 100 tons of vertical force. They believe it to be a gigantic docking point. By the time the Germans began to explore this unexpected effect, the war was almost over.
But those in charge of the project would not have been prepared to hand their discovery to the Russians. Once the centrifuge had been disassembled it would have been almost impossible to rebuild and operate it without expert guidance from the original Project Thor team. Like the V2 rocket teams from Peenemünde, the Allies would be in a bidding war for such information. So, why would it have been brought to Northland?
The centrifuge unit could have been operated in a dry shed anywhere in the world, provided there was sufficient power to run it. It was the anti-gravity effects that could not have been so easily contained or hidden. The U-196, evacuated from North Korea with its cargo of documents, nuclear material and the centrifuge plans, needed a remote, safe location, in which to re-establish Project Thor. Northland was the perfect choice. New Zealand also had the necessary infrastructure to produce the high-grade ceramics and engineering skills to make the centrifuge.
Following the Japanese surrender in August 1945, the Americans immediately ceased all nuclear cooperation with Britain, fearing the research team based at Cambridge University in England was leaking information to the Russians via Peter Kapitsa, a former colleague of Ernest Rutherford, who had headed the project team. Kapitsa had been at the Mond Temperature Laboratory before the war, but had returned to Moscow in 1934 at the insistence of Stalin.
The Americans had suspected a number of leaks from the Manhattan Project, which proved to be correct. In fact, Stalin was well informed about the state of the Manhattan Project from the time it was established. Naturally, this rupture in the exchange of Allied nuclear information caused a major rift between the two governments. The British immediately began an independent nuclear programme, based on breeder reactors, which did not require the same replenishment of uranium-235 as the American systems did. Just as importantly, U-196 was in the area controlled by the British at the end of the war.
If Admiral Dönitz was going to offer German nuclear research to anyone, it was likely to have been the British. Why? Because he could be confident the Germans would remain a partner in British nuclear research and ultimately obtain their own nuclear weapon. It’s a fair bet the British, faced with the cost of a nuclear programme, offered to share their project with Germany and France, in exchange for splitting the costs. Even though Germany was not permitted nuclear weapons on her own soil, there was nothing to prevent jointly owned nuclear weapons being stored on French bases along the Rhine. But before any of this could be achieved, there needed to be a secret enrichment facility. Who would believe little old backwoods New Zealand could have such a thing?
But if the five German bodies discovered in Northland after the war are anything to go by, there is much more to this story than we have been told to date. Of even greater interest is the fact that officially, these deaths ‘never occurred’.