As focus once again turns to the North Korean and Iranian nuclear weapons programs, I am reminded of a little-known chapter in World War II history. A fascinating game of international cat and mouse was being played throughout Europe as the United States, Germany and the Soviet Union all sprinted to the finish line in the race to build the world's first atomic bomb.
It is difficult enough today to gain access to and gauge a sovereign nation's march to acquire nuclear technology. Imagine what it must have been like in the 1940s, amidst a war in full swing, dropping bombs and unyielding determination by the world's leading nuclear minds to make history. That was the mission of U.S. Army Colonel Boris Pash and his team, ALSOS: a top-secret Allied task force assigned to snatch German scientists on the run, procure weapons-grade uranium, and beat the Soviets to the ultimate goal.
• Catch the 'War Stories Classic: The Secret Race for the Atomic Bomb,' Monday, August 3 at 3 a.m. ET
"Everybody who has bombs is potentially a very, very dangerous enemy," said Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer-prize winning author of "The Making of the Atomic Bomb."
"The Secret Race for the Atomic Bomb" episode of "War Stories with Oliver North" took us on a worldwide tour of our own: From San Diego to Washington D.C., all the way to Germany, as we followed the footsteps of the men who crisscrossed all around continental Europe in an attempt to find out exactly what Hitler's army of scientists was capable of doing.
"And they quickly did uncover a major cache of documents, that made it absolutely clear that the Germans hadn't made much progress on the bomb," added Rhodes.
Eventually, Pash and his men ended up in a converted beer cellar in Haigerloch, southern Germany. Edwin Dolan was Pash's driver and unofficial bodyguard.
"In Haigerloch, in between two houses was a little doorway," said the Ohio native during our 2004 interview. "There was a reactor… after you get through the doorway."
"This was for the ALSOS Mission, basically, very good news, because they could confirm what they have basically expected earlier," said Dr. Michael Thorwart, former assistant director of the Atomkeller Museum, which now houses the historic German reactor. "This nuclear reactor was, first of all, never critical; and second, it had absolutely no use for the creation of an atomic bomb."
As we all now know, the Americans emerged as victors and ended mankind's bloodiest conflict. But the road to the world's first nuclear bomb wasn't an easy one. This weekend, find out more about the scientists, soldiers and spies who were pivotal to this tale of intrigue, deception and espionage.
— Ayse Wieting is a producer for "War Stories With Oliver North"