The Farm Hall Scientists: The United States, Britain, and Germany in the New Atomic Age, 1945-46 Open Access
Downloadable ContentDownload PDF
In late April and early May 1945, members of the Manhattan Project's foreign intelligence group, the Alsos Mission, captured ten German nuclear scientists. The group, which included luminaries such as Otto Hahn, Werner Heisenberg, and Max von Laue, spent their first two months in captivity in France and Belgium, where they were held at American-controlled locations but overseen by a British intelligence officer. In July 1945, the scientists were brought to Farm Hall, a country house near Cambridge, England, where their conversations were monitored for the next six months. Farm Hall has previously been written about in relation to debates about German nuclear scientists' wartime research or as the result of the Alsos Mission. This dissertation examines the Farm Hall detention in a broader political context.Using sources from British and American archives, this dissertation demonstrates Farm Hall's connection to three key issues to which American and British officials devoted considerable attention: domestic and international control of nuclear science; the occupation of Germany; and the shifting geopolitics of the immediate postwar period, which soon became the Cold War. Farm Hall was important because these officials - especially in the Manhattan Project - treated it that way. When they selected which scientists to detain, American and British suspicions and fears about French nuclear research and socialist leanings were at least as important as their interest in investigating German research. After the bombing of Japan, British officials advocated repatriating the group but ongoing objections from Manhattan Project officials delayed the scientists' return to Germany until January 1946. Fears about the Soviet Union and France affected decisions about the scientists' repatriation, as did concerns about how nuclear science could be controlled in occupied Germany. The US and Britain aimed to prevent the scientists from working for other countries, especially Germany, France, and the Soviet Union.