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Sabotaging Hitler’s Bombs

In response to:

Immoral Rearmament from the December 20, 2007 issue

To the Editors:

This was a thoughtful review of a book I now realize that I must buy and read [Adam Tooze’s The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy, reviewed by Richard J. Evans, NYR, December 20, 2007]. I have a personal recollection that amplifies the statement “Armaments production did increase in 1943 and 1944. Much…owing to…forced labor….”

In 1978 I worked with Norwegian colleagues during a US–Norwegian geophysical study of the Norwegian continental margin. For seismic sources, we used World War II surplus Nazi explosives which were stored in man-made caverns along Norwegian fjords.

It was my personal observation that while the munitions dated 1939–1940 were reliable, those with dates from 1943 and later were typically weak or noneffective. This difference I ascribe either to intentional sabotage by the “Jews and concentration camp inmates” or to the simple substitution of inert materials for active ones by munitions plant managers, presumably due to the conflict between production quotas and availability of nitrates.

Speer was apparently not above “production for production’s sake” with a blind eye to quality control.

John Diebold

Chief Scientist for Marine Operations

Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Palisades, New York

Richard J. Evans replies:

I’m grateful to Mr. Diebold for his interesting letter. There were certainly growing materials shortages in the second half of the war, and forced laborers in munitions factories were starving, weak, and constantly maltreated; the quality of their work cannot have been very high. No one can be sure how widespread sabotage by munitions workers was, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence, including a story I can contribute myself. A German bomb fell through the roof of my wife’s grandmother’s house in the East End of London in 1943 and lodged, unexploded, in her bedroom wardrobe. When the bomb disposal unit opened it up, they found a note inside. “Don’t worry, English,” it said, “we’re with you. Polish workers.”

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