SPIES IN THE CONGO by Susan Williams


America's Atomic Mission in World War II
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Dogged examination of the official American and British wartime interest in keeping valuable uranium ore from the Belgian Congo out of Nazi hands.

Williams (Senior Research Fellow/Institute of Commonwealth Studies, Univ. of London; Who Killed Hammarskold?: The UN, the Cold War and White Supremacy in Africa, 2012, etc.) offers a dense and engaging work on a key aspect of the Manhattan Project. Once Albert Einstein warned President Franklin Roosevelt of the potential for German scientists to develop an atomic bomb in mid-1939, the Americans seized the sources of the necessary uranium ore. These included mines in Canada and Czechoslovakia, but the richest one was located in the southern Congo province of Katanga. The ore from the Shinkolobwe Mine was exceptionally rich, containing an average of more than 65 percent uranium ore, compared to the negligible quantities from Canadian and American mines. However, in May 1940, the Nazis had overrun Belgium, and while the colony’s governor general officially declared support for the Allies, “allegiances in both Belgium and in its colony were far from clear.” To foil any attempts by the Nazis to infiltrate the colony and wrest control of the mine, the Americans enlisted the Office of Strategic Services, set up by Roosevelt as the wartime intelligence agency. Top-secret agents—e.g., the able civil engineer Wilbur Owings Hogue—were sent to work alongside Belgian officials to keep the shipments of Congolese ore moving to the port of Matadi and eventually ending in a storehouse on Staten Island. Only a handful of insiders knew of the ultimate use of the ore, and thus a diamond-smuggling operation became the ideal cover for the movement of the uranium. The author’s work is chock-full of spies and their fanciful code names as well as insightful accounts of the jealousies between the Americans and British.

A fine complement to other accounts of wartime efforts to keep atomic weapons from the Germans—e.g., most recently, Neal Bascomb's The Winter Fortress (2016). 

Pub Date: Aug. 9th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-61039-654-7
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: PublicAffairs
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2016


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