Kurt Diebner

Kurt Diebner

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Kurt Diebner was a German nuclear physicist who is well known for directing and administrating the German nuclear energy project
German nuclear energy project
The German nuclear energy project, , was an attempted clandestine scientific effort led by Germany to develop and produce the atomic weapons during the events involving the World War II...

, a secretive program aiming to built weapon of mass destruction (nuclear weapon
Nuclear weapon
A nuclear weapon is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission or a combination of fission and fusion. Both reactions release vast quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter. The first fission bomb test released the same amount...

) for the Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 during the course of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. Diebner was the administrative director of the German nuclear program after Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

, German Chancellor
Chancellor of Germany
The Chancellor of Germany is, under the German 1949 constitution, the head of government of Germany...

, authorized this program.

Diebner also served as the director of the Nuclear Research Council and a Reich Planning Officer for the German Army until its surrender to Allied Powers
Allies of World War II
The Allies of World War II were the countries that opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War . Former Axis states contributing to the Allied victory are not considered Allied states...

 in 1945. After the war, Diebner was incarcerated in the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 and repatriated back to West-Germany in early 1946. Shortly after his return, Diebner became director and joint owner of DURAG-Apparatebau GmbH and he was a member of the supervisory board of the Gesellschaft zur Kernenergieverwertung in Schiffbau und Schiffahrt m.b.H

Education


Diebner was born in 1905 in Obernessa, Weißenfels
Weißenfels
Weißenfels is the largest town of the Burgenlandkreis district, in southern Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. It is situated on the river Saale, approximately south of Halle.-History:...

 in German Empire
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

. From 1925, Diebner went on to study Physics
Physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

 at the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg
University of Halle-Wittenberg
The Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg , also referred to as MLU, is a public, research-oriented university in the cities of Halle and Wittenberg within Saxony-Anhalt, Germany...

 where he gained B.S.
Bachelor of Science
A Bachelor of Science is an undergraduate academic degree awarded for completed courses that generally last three to five years .-Australia:In Australia, the BSc is a 3 year degree, offered from 1st year on...

 in 1928, and M.S.
Master of Science
A Master of Science is a postgraduate academic master's degree awarded by universities in many countries. The degree is typically studied for in the sciences including the social sciences.-Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay:...

 in Physics from Leopold Franzens University of Innsbruck in 1930. He completed his doctorate, in 1932, under Gerhard Hoffmann
Gerhard Hoffmann
Gerhard Hoffmann was a German nuclear physicist. During World War II, he contributed to the German nuclear energy project, also known as the Uranium Club.-Education:...

 in Halle. His thesis was on column ionization of alpha particles.

Academic Career


From 1931 to 1934, Diebner was Gerhard Hoffmann’s teaching assistant at Halle University.

From 1934, Diebner was a part-time employee of the Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt (PTR, Reich Physical and Technical Institute; today, the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt
Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt
The Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt is based in Braunschweig and Berlin. It is the national institute for natural and engineering sciences and the highest technical authority for metrology and physical safety engineering in Germany....

); he was also an advisor to the Reichswehrministerium (RWM, Reich Ministry of Defense; after 1939, the Reichskriegsministerium, RWK, Reich Ministry of War) and the Heereswaffenamt (HWA, Army Ordnance Office) on nuclear physics.

German nuclear program


On 22 April 1939, after hearing a paper by Wilhelm Hanle
Wilhelm Hanle
Wilhelm Hanle was a German experimental physicist. He is known for the Hanle effect. During World War II, he made contributions to the German nuclear energy project, also known as the Uranium Club...

 on the use of uranium
Uranium
Uranium is a silvery-white metallic chemical element in the actinide series of the periodic table, with atomic number 92. It is assigned the chemical symbol U. A uranium atom has 92 protons and 92 electrons, of which 6 are valence electrons...

 fission
Nuclear fission
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, nuclear fission is a nuclear reaction in which the nucleus of an atom splits into smaller parts , often producing free neutrons and photons , and releasing a tremendous amount of energy...

 in a Uranmaschine (uranium machine, i.e., nuclear reactor), Georg Joos
Georg Joos
Georg Jakob Christof Joos was a German theoretical physicist. He wrote Lehrbuch der theoretischen Physik, first published in 1932 and one of the most influential theoretical physics textbooks of the 20th Century.-Education:Joos began his higher education in 1912 at the Technische Hochschule...

, along with Hanle, notified Wilhelm Dames, at the Reichserziehungsministerium
Reichserziehungsministerium
The Reichserziehungsministerium was officially known as the Reichsministerium für Wissenschaft, Erziehung und Volksbildung .-Background:...

(REM, Reich Ministry of Education), of potential military applications of nuclear energy. Just seven days later, a group, organized by Dames, met at the REM to discuss the potential of a sustained nuclear chain reaction
Nuclear chain reaction
A nuclear chain reaction occurs when one nuclear reaction causes an average of one or more nuclear reactions, thus leading to a self-propagating number of these reactions. The specific nuclear reaction may be the fission of heavy isotopes or the fusion of light isotopes...

. The group included the physicists Walther Bothe
Walther Bothe
Walther Wilhelm Georg Bothe was a German nuclear physicist, who shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1954 with Max Born....

, Robert Döpel
Robert Döpel
Georg Robert Döpel was a German experimental nuclear physicist. He was a participant in a group known as the “first Uranverein,” which was spawned by a meeting conducted by the Reichserziehungsministerium, in April 1939, to discuss the potential of a sustained nuclear reaction...

, Hans Geiger, Wolfgang Gentner
Wolfgang Gentner
Wolfgang Gentner was a German experimental nuclear physicist.Gentner received his doctorate in 1930 from the University of Frankfurt. From 1932 to 1935 he had a fellowship which allowed him to do postdoctoral research and study at Curie's Radium Institute at the University of Paris...

, Wilhelm Hanle
Wilhelm Hanle
Wilhelm Hanle was a German experimental physicist. He is known for the Hanle effect. During World War II, he made contributions to the German nuclear energy project, also known as the Uranium Club...

, Gerhard Hoffmann
Gerhard Hoffmann
Gerhard Hoffmann was a German nuclear physicist. During World War II, he contributed to the German nuclear energy project, also known as the Uranium Club.-Education:...

, and Joos. After this, informal work began at the Georg-August University of Göttingen, and the group of physicists was known informally as the first Uranverein (Uranium Club) and formally as Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Kernphysik. The second Uranverein began after the Heereswaffenamt (HWA, Army Ordnance Office) squeezed out the Reichsforschungsrat
Reichsforschungsrat
The Reichsforschungsrat was created in Germany in 1937 under the Education Ministry for the purpose of centralized planning of all basic and applied research, with the exception of aeronautical research...

(RFR, Reich Research Council) of the REM and started the formal German nuclear energy project
German nuclear energy project
The German nuclear energy project, , was an attempted clandestine scientific effort led by Germany to develop and produce the atomic weapons during the events involving the World War II...

. The second Uranverein had its first meeting on 16 September 1939, which was organized by Kurt Diebner; formally, Diebner was director of the Kernforschungsrat (Nuclear Research Council), under General Carl Heinrich Becker of the HWA. It was then that Kaiser-Wilhelm Institut für Physik (KWIP, after World War II reorganized and renamed the Max Planck Institute for Physics
Max Planck Institute for Physics
Max Planck Institute for Physics is a physics institute in Munich, Germany that specializes in High Energy Physics and Astroparticle physics. It is part of the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft and is also known as the Werner Heisenberg Institute, after its first director.It was founded as the Kaiser Wilhelm...

), in Berlin-Dahlem
Dahlem (Berlin)
Dahlem is a locality of the Steglitz-Zehlendorf borough in southwestern Berlin. Until Berlin's 2001 administrative reform it was a part of the former borough of Zehlendorf. Dahlem is one of the most affluent parts of the city and home to the main campus of the Free University of Berlin with the...

, was placed under HWA authority, with Diebner as the administrative director, and the military control of the nuclear research commenced. Some of the research was carried out at the Versuchsstelle (testing station) of the HWA in Gottow; Diebner, was director of this facility as well as the experimental station of the RFR in Stadtilm
Stadtilm
Stadtilm is a town in the Ilm-Kreis district, in Thuringia, Germany. It is situated on the river Ilm, 15 km northeast of Ilmenau, and 11 km southeast of Arnstadt....

. When it was apparent that the nuclear energy project would not make a decisive contribution to ending the war effort in the near term, control of the KWIP was returned to the its umbrella organization, the Kaiser-Wilhelm Gesellschaft (KWG, after World War II renamed the Max-Planck Gesellschaft
Max Planck Society
The Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science is a formally independent non-governmental and non-profit association of German research institutes publicly funded by the federal and the 16 state governments of Germany....

) in January 1942 and control of the project was relinquished to the RFR that year. However, the HWA did maintain its testing station in Gottow and continue research there under Diebner’s direction until the end of the war. During Diebner’s directorship at the KWIP, considerable personal animosity had developed between Diebner and Werner Heisenberg
Werner Heisenberg
Werner Karl Heisenberg was a German theoretical physicist who made foundational contributions to quantum mechanics and is best known for asserting the uncertainty principle of quantum theory...

 and his scientific circle, which included Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker
Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker
Carl Friedrich Freiherr von Weizsäcker was a German physicist and philosopher. He was the longest-living member of the research team which performed nuclear research in Germany during the Second World War, under Werner Heisenberg's leadership...

 and Karl Wirtz
Karl Wirtz
Karl Eugen Julius Wirtz was a German nuclear physicist. He was arrested by the allied British and American Armed Forces and incarcerated at Farm Hall for six months in 1945 under Operation Epsilon.-Education:...

; when Diebner left the KWIP, Heisenberg became the acting director.

It was at the Gottow facility that nuclear fission
Nuclear fission
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, nuclear fission is a nuclear reaction in which the nucleus of an atom splits into smaller parts , often producing free neutrons and photons , and releasing a tremendous amount of energy...

 experiments designated G-I and G-III were conducted. The G-1 experiment had lattices of 6,800 uranium oxide cubes (about 25 tons) in the nuclear moderator paraffin. The work verified Karl Heinz Höcker’s
Karl-Heinz Höcker
Karl-Heinz Höcker was a German theoretical nuclear physicist who worked in the German Uranverein. After World War II, he worked at the university of Stuttgart and was the founder of the Institut für Kernenergetik und Energiesysteme.-Education:From 1935 to 1940, Höcker studied at the University of...

 calculations that cubes were better than rods, and rods were better than plates. The G-III experiment was a small-scale design, but it generated an exceptionally high rate of neutron production. The G-III model was superior to nuclear fission chain reaction experiments that had been conducted at the KWIP in Berlin-Dahem, the University of Heidelberg, or the University of Leipzig
University of Leipzig
The University of Leipzig , located in Leipzig in the Free State of Saxony, Germany, is one of the oldest universities in the world and the second-oldest university in Germany...

. Work was also done to explore the initiation of a nuclear reaction through the detonation of explosives.

In the latter part of World War II, in addition to his other responsibilities, Diebner was a Reich Planning Officer.

Program collapsed


Diebner was rounded up on 2 May 1945 as part of the Allied Operation Alsos
Operation Alsos
Operation Alsos was an effort at the end of World War II by the Allies , branched off from the Manhattan Project, to investigate the German nuclear energy project, seize German nuclear resources, materials and personnel to further American research and to prevent their capture by the Soviets, and...

 and taken to Huntington, England and interned at Farm Hall, with nine other scientists thought to be involved in nuclear research and development. The nine others incarcerated were Erich Bagge
Erich Bagge
Erich Rudolf Bagge was a German scientist. Bagge, a student of Werner Heisenberg for his doctorate and Habilitation, was engaged in German Atomic Energy research and the German nuclear energy project during the Second World War. He worked as an Assistant at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut für Physik...

, Walther Gerlach, Otto Hahn
Otto Hahn
Otto Hahn FRS was a German chemist and Nobel laureate, a pioneer in the fields of radioactivity and radiochemistry. He is regarded as "the father of nuclear chemistry". Hahn was a courageous opposer of Jewish persecution by the Nazis and after World War II he became a passionate campaigner...

, Paul Harteck
Paul Harteck
Paul Karl Maria Harteck was a German physical chemist. He was arrested by the allied British and American Armed Forces and incarcerated at Farm Hall for six months in 1945 under Operation Epsilon.-Education:Harteck studied chemistry at the University of Vienna and the Humboldt University of Berlin...

, Werner Heisenberg
Werner Heisenberg
Werner Karl Heisenberg was a German theoretical physicist who made foundational contributions to quantum mechanics and is best known for asserting the uncertainty principle of quantum theory...

, Horst Korsching
Horst Korsching
Horst Korsching was a German physicist. He was arrested by the allied British and American Armed Forces and incarcerated at Farm Hall for six months in 1945 under Operation Epsilon.-Education:...

, Max von Laue
Max von Laue
Max Theodor Felix von Laue was a German physicist who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1914 for his discovery of the diffraction of X-rays by crystals...

, Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker
Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker
Carl Friedrich Freiherr von Weizsäcker was a German physicist and philosopher. He was the longest-living member of the research team which performed nuclear research in Germany during the Second World War, under Werner Heisenberg's leadership...

, and Karl Wirtz
Karl Wirtz
Karl Eugen Julius Wirtz was a German nuclear physicist. He was arrested by the allied British and American Armed Forces and incarcerated at Farm Hall for six months in 1945 under Operation Epsilon.-Education:...

. All were involved with nuclear research except for von Laue. They were repatriated to Germany in early 1946.

From 1947/1948, Diebner was director and joint owner of DURAG-Apparatebau GmbH in Hamburg
Hamburg
-History:The first historic name for the city was, according to Claudius Ptolemy's reports, Treva.But the city takes its modern name, Hamburg, from the first permanent building on the site, a castle whose construction was ordered by the Emperor Charlemagne in AD 808...

.

Post war career


From 1956, Diebner was a member of the supervisory board of the Gesellschaft zur Kernenergieverwertung in Schiffbau und Schiffahrt m.b.H (GKSS, Company for the Commercial Exploitation of Nuclear energy in Ship Building and Shipping); Erich Bagge
Erich Bagge
Erich Rudolf Bagge was a German scientist. Bagge, a student of Werner Heisenberg for his doctorate and Habilitation, was engaged in German Atomic Energy research and the German nuclear energy project during the Second World War. He worked as an Assistant at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut für Physik...

, was the general director. From 1957, Diebner was also a lecturer at the state School of Naval Engineers in Flensburg
Flensburg
Flensburg is an independent town in the north of the German state of Schleswig-Holstein. Flensburg is the centre of the region of Southern Schleswig...

.

Internal reports


The following reports were published in Kernphysikalische Forschungsberichte
Kernphysikalische Forschungsberichte
Kernphysikalische Forschungsberichte was an internal publication of the German Uranverein, which was initiated under the Heereswaffenamt in 1939; in 1942, supervision of the Uranverein was turned over to the Reichsforschungsrat under the Reichserziehungsministerium...

(Research Reports in Nuclear Physics), an internal publication of the German Uranverein
German nuclear energy project
The German nuclear energy project, , was an attempted clandestine scientific effort led by Germany to develop and produce the atomic weapons during the events involving the World War II...

. The reports were classified Top Secret, they had very limited distribution, and the authors were not allowed to keep copies. The reports were confiscated under the Allied Operation Alsos
Operation Alsos
Operation Alsos was an effort at the end of World War II by the Allies , branched off from the Manhattan Project, to investigate the German nuclear energy project, seize German nuclear resources, materials and personnel to further American research and to prevent their capture by the Soviets, and...

 and sent to the United States Atomic Energy Commission
United States Atomic Energy Commission
The United States Atomic Energy Commission was an agency of the United States government established after World War II by Congress to foster and control the peace time development of atomic science and technology. President Harry S...

 for evaluation. In 1971, the reports were declassified and returned to Germany. The reports are available at the Karlsruhe Nuclear Research Center and the American Institute of Physics
American Institute of Physics
The American Institute of Physics promotes science, the profession of physics, publishes physics journals, and produces publications for scientific and engineering societies. The AIP is made up of various member societies...

.
  • F. Berkei, W. Borrmann, W. Czulius, Kurt Diebner, Georg Hartwig, K. H. Höcker
    Karl-Heinz Höcker
    Karl-Heinz Höcker was a German theoretical nuclear physicist who worked in the German Uranverein. After World War II, he worked at the university of Stuttgart and was the founder of the Institut für Kernenergetik und Energiesysteme.-Education:From 1935 to 1940, Höcker studied at the University of...

    , W. Herrmann
    Walter Herrmann (physicist)
    Walter Herrmann was a German nuclear physicist who worked on the German nuclear energy project during World War II...

    , H. Pose
    Heinz Pose
    Rudolf Heinz Pose was a German nuclear physicist.He did pioneering work which contributed to the understanding nuclear energy levels. He worked on the German nuclear energy project Uranverein. After World War II, the Soviet Union sent him to establish and head Laboratory V in Obninsk...

    , and Ernst Rexer
    Ernst Rexer
    Ernst Rexer was a German nuclear physicist. He worked on the German nuclear energy program during World War II. After the war, he was sent to Laboratory V, in Obninsk, to work on the Soviet atomic bomb project...

     Bericht über einen Würfelversuch mit Uranoxyd und Paraffin G-125 (dated before 26 November 1942)

  • Kurt Diebner, Werner Czulius, W. Herrmann, Georg Hartwig, F. Berkei and E. Kamin Über die Neutronenvermehrung einer Anordnung aus Uranwürfeln und schwerem Wasser (G III) G-210

  • Kurt Diebner, Georg Hartwig, W. Herrmann, H. Westmeyer, Werner Czulius, F. Berkei, and Karl-Heinz Höcker Vorläufige Mitteilung über einen Versuch mit Uranwüfeln und schwerem Eis als Bremssubstanz G-211 (April 1943)

  • Kurt Diebner, Georg Hartwig, W. Herrmann, H. Westmeyer, Werner Czulius, F. Gerkei, and Karl-Heinz Höcker Bericht über einen Versuch mit Würfeln aus Uran-Metall und schwerem Eis G-212 (July 1943)

Selected literature

  • Kurt Diebner Der deutsche Forscheranteil, Die Zeit (18 August 1955) as cited in Hentschel and Hentschel, 1996, References, LX.

  • Kurt Diebner (alias Werner Tautorus) Die Deutschen Geheimarbeiten zur Kernenergieverwertung während des zweiten Weldkrieges 1939-1945, Atomkernenergie Volume 1, 368-370 and 423-425 (1956) as cited in Hentschel and Hentschel, 1996, References, LX.

Books

  • Kurt Diebner and Eberhard Grassmann Künstliche Radioaktivität (Hirzel, 1939)

  • Dieter Bagge, Kurt Diebner, and Kenneth Jay Von der Uranspaltung bis Calder Hall (Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, 1957)

  • Erich Bagge
    Erich Bagge
    Erich Rudolf Bagge was a German scientist. Bagge, a student of Werner Heisenberg for his doctorate and Habilitation, was engaged in German Atomic Energy research and the German nuclear energy project during the Second World War. He worked as an Assistant at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut für Physik...

    and Kurt Diebner 10 Jahre Kernenergie-Studiengesellschaft 1955 - 1965 (Thiemig, 1965)

External links