- A book published in Italy is set to reignite a smouldering
controversy over how close the Nazis came to manufacturing a nuclear device
in the closing stages of World War II.
- The author, Luigi Romersa, 88, is the last known witness
to what he and some historians believe was the experimental detonation
of a rudimentary weapon on an island in the Baltic in 1944.
- Hitler's nuclear program has become a subject of intense
dispute in recent months, particularly in Germany. An independent historian,
Rainer Karlsch, met a barrage of hostility when he published a study containing
evidence that the Nazis had got much further than previously believed.
- On October 12, 1944, Romersa, then a 27-year-old war
correspondent, was taken to the island of Rugen, where he watched the
detonation of what his hosts called a "disintegration bomb".
- "They took me to a concrete bunker with an aperture
of exceptionally thick glass. There was a slight tremor in the bunker;
a sudden, blinding flash, and then a thick cloud of smoke. It took the
shape of a column and then that of a big flower.
- "The officials there told me we had to remain in
the bunker for several hours because of the effects of the bomb. When
we eventually left, they made us put on a sort of coat and trousers which
seemed to me to be made of asbestos and we went to the scene of the explosion.
- "The effects were tragic. The trees around had been
turned to carbon. No leaves. Nothing alive. There were some animals -
sheep - in the area and they too had been burnt to cinders."
- When he wrote of his experiences after the war, "everyone
said I was mad". By then, it was universally accepted that Hitler's
scientists had been years away from testing a nuclear device.
- However, documents published recently by Mr Karlsch and
a US scholar, Mark Walker, have punctured this consensus. Russian archives
have shown one of the German scientists lodged a patent claim for a plutonium
bomb as early as 1941 and, in June, the two historians published an article
in Physics World that included what they said was the first diagram of
one of the bombs Hitler's scientists were trying to build, a device that
exploited both fission and fusion.