The Race to Build the Bomb

At the start of World War Two the only countries capable of making the bomb were Germany, Japan and the United States. When it came to doing atomic research and development Germany had a good organization. Japan had a good organization. The United States had a mess. But... the Americans had the best scientists.

And the best of the best was Albert Einstein. A physicist who was thrown out of Nazi Germany because he was Jewish. He moved to the United States and Germany's loss became America's gain.

The Japanese team was headed by a brilliant scientist named Yoshio Nashina. In 1937 the army told him to build an atomic research center and an atomic bomb. From the army he got all the skilled men and money he needed. From the Japanese conquered country of Korea he got all the uranium and electrical power he needed.

In 1938 Japan's ally, Germany, had managed to split the atom to release huge amounts of energy. When Albert Einstein heard about this he wrote to the president of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt, and told him what this could mean. Any nation that could split the atom could build atomic bombs. And any nation that could build atomic bombs could win wars.

President Roosevelt understood and told the army to do something about it. The army ordered its engineers to do something about it. The engineers asked the universities to do something about it.

But there was confusion. There was research going on at several universities but it was not coordinated. No one knew who was ahead or who was on the right track. It was said that some professors at some colleges didn't know what they were doing. But the scientists at the University of Chicago knew what they were doing. In December of 1942 they were able to split the atom. America was four years behind Germany and Japan and had a lot of catching up to do.

Early in 1943 Japanese Intelligence asked the Germans to take a Spanish spy who worked for them to Mexico in one of their submarines. Once in Mexico, he slipped into the United States. The spy heard something about the work at the University of Chicago and thought that the Americans had built the atomic bomb. But the American bomb wouldn't be built until two years later. That erroneous report spurned on the Japanese even more.

Later that year British Intelligence received word from their spies across the English Channel that Germany was getting closer to building the bomb. It would only be a matter of time before the big explosion.

Heavy water was needed to make the bomb and Germany had the biggest heavy water plant in the world in Norway. The British sent planes in to bomb the building's power plant. While the facility lay in ruins, so did Germany's chances of building the atomic bomb.

The race was now between the United States and Japan. When America dropped bombs on Hiroshima on August 6 and on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, it was clear that they had won the war. But just barely.

On August 12 Japanese scientist Nashina tested an atomic bomb near a small island off the coast of Korea. Witnesses said it produced a mushroom shaped cloud a thousand yards wide. Several vessels in the test area were vaporized while others farther away burnt fiercely. It was just after that, that Japan surrendered. Nashina never talked about his work and he died of cancer a few years later.