Operation Paperclip and the Osenberg List

Operation Paperclip  and the Osenberg List

A group of 104 rocket scientists (aerospace engineers) at Fort Bliss, Texas

As the Nazis felt the victory of war slipping out of Germany’s grasp in the final years of World War II before the Allied Victory, they started pulling out all the stops with secret weapons, rockets and other desperate measures.  To accomplish this, they started recalling all the German scientists, chemists, weaponeers and other technical people who they were not already using in their research and development.  Many had been doing unrelated jobs in the military or the public arena.  To keep organized, the head of Wehrforshungsgemeinschaft, the German Military Research Association, Werner Osenberg, compiled “the Osenberg list” of suitable candidates to be interrogated.  Germany’s elite rocket scientist Werhner von Braun topped the list.

Later, when Germany fell to the Allies, pieces of the paper list were said to have been found floating in toilet water.  The significance of the list made its way to both Major Robert B. Staver, the US Chief of Jet Propulsion Research and Development in London and the British Secret Service, who then sent it on to the Pentagon in Washington D.C.

Operation Paperclip was created to identify, track, and verify talents and reliability, Nazi affiliation and other pertinent information on these men.  Harry S. Truman, US president wanted to evacuate these Germans and their families for immigration to the United States.  Partially it was to keep the technical expertise away from the Soviets as the Cold War commenced, and partially it was to utilize these excellent minds for the good of the United States.

V-2 rocket launching, Peenemünde, on the north-east Baltic German coast. (1943)

Truman did not want any members of the Nazi party or sympathizers of the Nazis brought in through this immigration, but so many outstanding scientists were members that the Joint Intelligence Objective Agency (JIOA) created false papers, purged Nazi membership associations and basically ignored Truman’s edict.

Major Staver made his own list of people to be captured and interrogated, including a top nuclear physicist Werner Heisenberg who he believed to be worth more than several German Army divisions alone. Heisenberg never did immigrate to America however, but remained in Europe throughout his life. Others on his list were chemists, physicians, naval weaponeers and rocket scientists.

One year contracts were offered to rocket scientists with 127 accepting immediately in 1945.  They were sent to Fort Bliss for rocket testing at the White Sands Proving Grounds.  They carried titles of “War Department Special Employees.”

By 1947, the United States had immigrated through the United States Consulate in Mexico 1,800 technicians and scientists along with 3,700 members of their families.  Notable names among them was Dr. Herbert A. Wagner, the inventor of the Hs 293 missile, as well as Germany’s premier rocket scientist Wernher von Braun who went on to great things in the US space program.  Von Braun, called both the “Father of Rocket Science,” and “The Greatest Rocket Scientist in History,” received the National Medal of Science in 1975.  He worked on the US Army Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile and was chief designer of the Saturn V that helped propel the first men to the moon.  As a member of NASA, he became director of the Marshall Space flight Center.

German scientists repatriated from Sukhumi in February 1958. (

By 1958, the entire Operation Paperclip was public knowledge, and during the post war Nuremberg Trial, some of these men were investigated, linked to war crimes like human experimentation and deported. Arthur Rudolph, a V-2 Rocket scientist and engineer renounced his US citizenship and was deported in 1984 to West Germany where he became a citizen.  Georg Rickhey was returned to Germany for the Dora Trial in 1947 which was held on the site of the Dachau death camp.  19 Germans were on trial, but Rickhey, a citizen, was one of four acquitted and brought back to the US in 1948 where he became a citizen.  Huburtus Strughold was found to be linked to medical experiments, torture and murder at Nuremburg, and an aero medical library named for him in 1977 at Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio was renamed. Called the “Father of Space Medicine,” his reputation took quite a downturn after his death and when his prior associations were publicized,

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