As World War II drew to a close, it became increasingly clear to the Western powers that the USSR would ditch its wartime alliances and create tensions that would trigger the Cold War. The quest for atomic supremacy was on. American intelligence and military services destroyed advanced German military and scientific equipment to prevent it falling into the hands of the advancing Soviet Army. They also began recruiting German scientists who were deemed to be potential contributors to America’s technological race with the Soviet Union. The project, originally called Operation Overcast, went into overdrive after VE Day. The targets were scientists who specialised in aerodynamics, rocketry, chemical weapons, chemical reaction technology and medicine. In particular, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was keen to recruit those with technological expertise acquired during the German V-1 and V-2 projects. These scientists and their families were secretly brought to the United States without State Department review and approval (they would been disqualified from officially obtaining visas).
Although President Truman authorised Operation Paperclip in August 1945 with the express stipulation 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 Nazi militarism” should be excluded, most of those recruited by the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency had been pressed into service for Hitler’s Third Reich. Many of them had been members of the SS and the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) and some, like Wernher von Braun, Arthur Rudolph and Hubertus Strughold, had been officially classified as war criminals and listed as a “menace to the security of the Allied Forces”.
Nearly 500 German scientists were deployed at locations such as White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico, Fort Bliss in Texas and Huntsville in Alabama to work on guided missile and ballistic missile technology. Their backgrounds were ‘bleached’ by the military and false employment histories were provided. Obviously, their previous Nazi affiliations were expunged from the record. The paperclips that secured newly-minted background details to their personnel files gave the operation its codename. Most were offered five-year contracts and arrangements were made to provide housing for their families back in Germany (until arrangements could be made to bring them to the United States). Much of the information surrounding all this is still classified.
Linked to Operation Paperclip was Project Alsos, part of the Manhattan Project, an intelligence mission to investigate German nuclear technology with a view to creating an atomic bomb.