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Blog Topic: Klaus Fuchs, Atomic Bomb Scientist and Spy

April 26 , 2015



Klaus Fuchs, atomic bomb scientist and spy

Klaus Fuchs, atomic bomb scientist and spy. UK national archives photo.

There are many sources that cover topics related to the atomic bomb during World War II, such as research and development at Los Alamos, J. Robert Oppenheimer and General Leslie Groves. However, I recently read the book Bomb - The Race to Build – and Steal – the World's most Dangerous Weapon,1 which contained information on scientists that actually stole plans for the atom bomb and gave them to the Soviet Union via the KGB.


Most people are familiar with the Rosenbergs who were actually executed in the 50's for spying for the Soviets. But it turns out the Rosenbergs were just couriers of military secrets, and not scientists themselves. There were scientists working on the Manhattan Project that actually stole the information on the atomic bomb and passed it on to the Soviets. Klaus Fuchs was one of these scientists.


Klaus Fuchs grew up in Germany in the early '30s during which time he developed an intense hatred for the Nazis. Attracted to the Communists simply because they were willing to fight the Nazis, he joined the Communist Party. Eventually, Nazi thugs beat him severely and threw him in a river, however, he survived and managed to escape to Britain. After he completed his PhD in physics, the British recruited him to work on the atom bomb project, then in progress in Britain, not knowing that Fuchs still maintained contacts with the KGB.


When the British reduced their efforts on developing the atom bomb, they transferred many of their scientists to work on updating radar. A portion of those remaining atomic scientists, including Klaus Fuchs, were transferred to the U.S.A. to work on the Manhattan Project, helping the Americans build the atom bomb. When Fuchs came to the United States, the KGB arranged for new contacts, and Fuchs continued as a Soviet spy, supplying information on the atom bomb to the Soviets.


After the war, Klaus Fuchs went back to Britain and in 1949, the Soviets detonated an atom bomb, showing the world that they knew how to build atom bombs. This aroused suspicions that the Soviets had been spying while the U.S. was building the atom bomb.The Americans suspected Klaus Fuchs, and after putting some pressure on him by talking to his friends and family, and badgering him with questions, Klaus finally confessed to stealing those secrets and handing them over to the Soviets.


Once he confessed, they scheduled a trial for him right away. An attorney was assigned to him just one day before the trial began. A surprising conversation took place between Fuchs and his attorney which probably went much like this:

Attorney: You known this is a very serious charge. They are probably going to convict you and give you the maximum penalty. Do you know what that is?
Klaus: The death penalty.
Attorney: No. When you were spying and handing off secrets to the Soviets, the Soviet Union was an ally of Britain, in the war against Nazi Germany. The maximum penalty for spying and handing off secrets to a British ally is only fourteen years. If Russia had been an opponent of Britain then it would have been the death penalty.

The trial only lasted two hours, and they convicted Fuchs and gave him the full fourteen years. He went to prison in Great Britain, and was released after ten years, for good behavior. Thereupon he immigrated to East Germany, then under Soviet control, and lived there for the rest of his life, dying at age seventy-six.

~ Jon



Notes
1Steve Sheinkin. Bomb – The Race to Build – and Steal – the World's most Dangerous Weapon. New York; Scholastic Inc. 2012.



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