Identifying the Germans to be recruited
Many German “intellectuals” as they were derisively called before the war were sent to perform mundane tasks with the German army in the East. As the war turned against Germany the value of the specialists became apparent, and they were recalled to work in German industry and scientific development. A list was prepared by the head of the German Defense Research Association, Werner Osenberg, which identified those specialists which were recalled after being persuaded to comply with the regime’s political position.
The Osenberg list was found, incomplete as it had been partially shredded and crammed into a commode, as Germany was collapsing in the spring of 1945. It was forwarded via Britain’s MI6 to the Americans, who used it as the basis of identifying German specialists to be interviewed after the war. At the time there were no plans to recruit any of the Germans to come to the United States. The Americans only wanted to determine what technical and scientific advances had been made during the war.
Initially the operation was known as Overcast, and as the German specialists were interviewed by the Americans it became evident that they would be able to make significant contributions to successfully completing the war against Japan. Nearly all of the specialists identified by the remnants of the Osenberg list had worked at the German V-2 base at Peenemunde. Once they were located and taken into custody the Americans held them at Landshut, with their families.
During the spring of 1945 American and British agencies concentrated in the areas of Germany which would be transferred to Soviet control in July of that year. Many of the specialists identified on the Osenberg list voluntarily came forward to the Americans, others tried to avoid capture, especially those who could be named as being members of the Nazi Party or involved in activities which could be considered to have supported war crimes.
Attempts at secrecy regarding the specialists were thwarted by the press, and Operation Overcast was renamed Operation Paperclip, under increased security, in the fall of 1945. The United States created secret organizations to take into custody – a form of legalized kidnapping – specialists to prevent their emigration to another nation. A high priority was assigned to those specialists which could provide immediate support to the Pacific war effort.