The Manhattan Project, the Belgian Congo, and World War II

I recently read Susan Williams book, Spies in the Congo: America’s Atomic Mission in World War II (2016).  It is a subject I knew nothing about.  Her primary focus is on the activities of OSS (Office of Strategic Services) agents in the Belgian Congo in particular, and West Africa in general.  The reason for American interest in the Congo was as a source of high quality uranium, which was essential for the development of the atomic bomb.  A secondary concern was to make sure that Germany did not get that uranium.  With the cooperation of the Belgian Union Minière, the available uranium was shipped from the Congo to New York between 1940 and 1942.  After that, OSS agents sought to prevent the smuggling of uranium to Germany.  Germany did obtain uranium that had been shipped to Belgium before World War II began, but targeted bombing by the Allies prevented any use of it.  The Congo provided most of the uranium used by the U. S. in its nuclear weapons program until the early 1950s.  The book, therefore, helps explain American interest in Central Africa.

While Williams identified the men and women employed by the OSS, she could not uncover much detail about their actual activities.  I suppose that is only to be expected in a book about secret agents.  For example, one agent, Dock Hogue, survived several assassination attempts, but it is unclear who carried out those attempts.  Since Hogue claimed to be investigating diamond smuggling, diamond smugglers rather than German agents may have been involved.

The book shows how interconnected the world was, even before globalization became a popular explanation of economic trends.  England, France, Belgium, and Portugal all had African colonies.  Germany dominated Belgium and Vichy France, but the Allies had the support of the Belgian Congo.  Although Portugal was neutral during the war, it was sympathetic to Germany.  Liberia had close ties to the United States and Firestone Tire and Rubber.  Troops from the Congo fought the Italians in Ethiopia.  The war against Germany, Italy, and Japan did indeed have worldwide ramifications, and the consequences of the war were therefore global.