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I've been brainstorming this idea of America conquering the world right after World War II, during the period when USA was the only nation with the atomic bomb.

I'm looking for something either scientific or political that could have accelerated the bombs development so that it could have been dropped in the European theater before being dropped on Japan.

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    $\begingroup$ Given the actual question this does not work, but I had an easy answer for the title: Any other country exploding an A-bomb $\endgroup$ Apr 25 '20 at 2:39
  • $\begingroup$ If you're allowed to alter the laws of physics, then if the spontaneous fission rate of Pu240 was lower, or alternatively if Pu240 wasn't produced in a (natural uranium) reactor, then the "Thin Man" gun device would have been feasible. That'd do it. $\endgroup$
    – Rich
    Apr 25 '20 at 23:41
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America conquering the world right after WW2 during the Period when the USA was the only nation with the Atomic bomb.

You are looking in the wrong direction, I am afraid.

The main limitation wasn't the availability of the atomic bomb (one or many), but how to deliver them on the target. The bombers used to carry them on Japan were the weak link in the chain, and Japan was a good target because at the end of the war the only defense they had against air raids was cussing at the planes.

Bombing for example the USSR with a healthy defense system was a completely different game. See history.SE for more info.

If you really want the USA to conquer the world under the sword of the atomic power, you need to have rockets earlier. This means that Von Braun has to be in the USA way before the war ends. Either he is kidnapped, pardon, "friendly invited" or he flees the Nazi Germany like Einstein and many more did. Then start a parallel Manhattan project for rockets.

Once you have nukes and rockets to deliver them with no effective counters on the other side, you are done.

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  • $\begingroup$ The problem with vonBraun is that Hitler was the only leader crazy enough to fund stuff like ballistic missiles at that point. So vonBraun was kind of stuck with the nazis. In any case I doubt going to the US would have accelerated it much. But you could go the other way and simply deny the Soviets access to the German technology or Korolev or both. vonBraun going to the US early would be a big help with that. $\endgroup$ Apr 25 '20 at 23:16
  • $\begingroup$ That's a great point and also getting added to my notes. $\endgroup$
    – HIGHYIELD
    Apr 26 '20 at 2:45
  • $\begingroup$ "Once you have nukes and rockets to deliver them with no effective counters on the other side, you are done." No. In order to conquer the world and hold it, you need much more than that. Your own soldiers and your own population are not mindless drones, and would protest these orders. You need a complete nazi or bolshevik style takeover of the government first. Many colonies were given back their freedom in the 50's and 60's without a fight, despite the colonial powers having the military power to defeat them. The Vietnam War was also lost due to unwillingness of committing to it fully. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Apr 26 '20 at 19:22
  • $\begingroup$ @vsz, OP is asking about conquering, not conquering and holding. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Apr 26 '20 at 19:25
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch-ReinstateMonica : true, but even just conquering would be difficult. Would the US really be ready to nuke London, and Sydney, and Paris? What about Canada? During the Vietnam war there were protests and a lot of pressure on the government, even though they had a casus belli and they were protecting their allies from communist aggressors who have committed war crimes. It's completely impossible to sell full-on world conquest to the population. Had a president or general ordered such a thing, they would have been deposed at best, and there would have been a civil war at worst. $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Apr 26 '20 at 19:33
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There were no technical obstacles to dropping it during the war in the European theater. This was discussed, and those involved in the program worried what Germany might be able to do had it retrieved a dud (not only purloining the design, but having refined nuclear material to use for their own).

However, there were no significant research or production delays that might be removed to speed this up more than a few weeks. If you are looking for those, I suggest that they'd be conceptual and social-inertial. Had those who alerted the American government done so 12 months earlier, or even 24 months, work might have started earlier (whether this translates into having a finished bomb any earlier, who can say.

You'd still run into the problem where they wouldn't want to potentially hand the bomb to Germany, and it would be even worse earlier when Germany wasn't quite so weak and might conceivably solve the defects and send the same bomb right back to the Allies. Many things might alleviate that concern/worry, but the only circumstance that would completely erase it would be if Germany was winning and to the degree that they were desperate to turn the tide.

I have no suggestions on what that would be. I've read much WWII fiction over the years (thanks Mr. Turtledove!) where Germany fared more successfully than in reality. However entertaining those might be, my personal interpretation of history was that there are no conceivable circumstances where Germany was ascendant. They had too few resources and were burning through those at rates that would make lunatics cower. Whether those resources are steel, fuel, or men... it could never happen. Any military that launches attacks as they did will alawys win at first. Those attacks were surprising and wasteful. There wasn't some brilliant strategy in play. They were the equivalent of a sucker punch thrown at the guy with his back turned... and this guy was bigger and meaner than they (and had lots of big mean friends too). Germany was destined for defeat.

Thus, no plausible reason exists to be worried about Germany winning unless they were nuked.

None of this makes it impossible, mind you. At various times, people worry too much and react unreasonably.

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    $\begingroup$ retrieved a dud - same with proximity fuses. But I think Germany getting their hands on it was a 'Red' herring; the Cold War began somewhere before 1945.... and around that time, the CCCP started focusing only on the ability to defend their territory as opposed to the ability of power projection across the Atlantic with bombers. - The MP used 15k tons of silver and the largest building ever, to produce two. Germany having the ability to make more than one is laughable. Russia, not so much. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Apr 25 '20 at 18:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Mazura That's sort of my point. Maybe I explained poorly. If Germany could somehow be unstoppable, then they'd be willing to nuke them. But if Germany can be knocked out without nukes, you don't bother to nuke them, you save those for something more important. Like a big "fuck you, Moscow" on the Japanese islands (Japan was broken at that point, but even at their worst they were never unstoppable either). That's why the US nuked civilians, as a dick-waving exercise to the Russians, whom certain people were worried might become unstoppable. $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Apr 25 '20 at 23:40
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnO Thanks for the insight. I don't want an unstoppable Germany (but that is a point I had not thought of). I to think dropping the bomb on japan was a big fuck you to Russia. So I was toying with a double down of that fuck you, by dropping one bomb near Germany, and one on Japan. Along with a political shift or Coup in DC that sends Patton into Russia after Germany surrenders. $\endgroup$
    – HIGHYIELD
    Apr 26 '20 at 2:54
  • $\begingroup$ @HIGHYIELD If that's the point, then I might think they'd have dropped it on Germany if Russia was misbehaving far earlier than they started (after the partition of Germany). They'd find a Nazi target to drop it on (so as for it to be deniable that it was that "fuck you"), and wait for Stalin to be terrified. But I'm not sure how you deal with the fact that they only had the two nukes. Maybe test it in continental Europe instead of Trinity (that gives you 3, effectively). $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Apr 26 '20 at 3:25
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I think accelerating the production is not the only viable approach. The biggest obstacle to US world domination in 1945 was probably the Soviet Union, so they would have to fight them sooner or later. How about this alternate history:

  • Relations between the US/UK and the Soviets deteriorate even faster than in the real world.
  • The Teheran conference ends in acrimony. Yalta doesn't happen because the Western leaders distrust the NKVD too much to enter their clutches. Ambassadors read speeches prepared in their respective capitals and glare at each other.
  • March and April 1945: "Unfortunate incidents" as Soviet and US/UK troops meet. The Soviets want Europe at least to the Rhine and don't take "no" for an answer.
  • May 1945: Soviet-held rear areas are subject to a bombardment campaign. This doesn't stop the frontline formations, and all restraint is lost. Now the Soviets want at least France, who knows where it will end?
  • Operations against Japan stop except for a submarine blockade. All other assets are diverted to Europe.
  • August 1945: One B-29 bombs Kiev, another goes to Moscow. This doesn't stop the factories behind the Ural.
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    $\begingroup$ October 1945: Stalin grants amnesty to Nazis who will join the Red Army, and prepares to invade Britain and India $\endgroup$
    – don bright
    Apr 25 '20 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ I plan for Patton to destroy the red army quickly after Germany surrenders from having a major city nuked. Any thoughts on that? I also plan to nuke Moscow at some point during a Russian insurgency. Maybe even an allied capital if they resist the new American order. $\endgroup$
    – HIGHYIELD
    Apr 26 '20 at 3:00
  • $\begingroup$ @HIGHYIELD, that is complete fantasy. There is the flippant comment that Germany was defeated by British courage, Russian blood, and American industry. A gross oversimplification, but the Red Army was extremely big and capable by 1945. Even if the US were to stop lend-lease earlier. Patton would never have rolled through France if he had faced the entire Wehrmacht there. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Apr 26 '20 at 4:45
  • $\begingroup$ Writing fiction seems to be mostly fantasy...........so ok. $\endgroup$
    – HIGHYIELD
    Apr 26 '20 at 12:40
  • $\begingroup$ also, no one can invade Russia (except the Mongols). Many tried, though. $\endgroup$
    – njzk2
    Apr 26 '20 at 17:01
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An easier answer might be to just start the Manhattan Project earlier. Historically the germ of the Manhattan Project started in late 1939 after the first nuclear fission experiments were conducted, but nuclear physicists had the first working model for nuclear weapons and had a basic understanding of the mechanism of nuclear weapons when Leó Szilárd first conceived of the nuclear chain reaction in 1933. The period between 1933 and 1939 was full of rapid advance in the field of nuclear physics- if you're rewriting history anyway, you could just compress this period of time by a year or two.

It was known that Hitler and Nazi Germany was shaping up to be an expansionist power by the end of the late 30's. In fact, Germany annexed the Sudetenland in 1938, which is what really set off alarm bells for the Allied powers. If the Manhattan Project started in late 1938, instead of late 1939, then they'd have a one-year head start versus the historic fact.

This would have made a big difference in terms of nuclear arsenal for the end of the war, and more importantly it would have made some weapons available for use in Europe prior to the fall of Berlin. The first bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima on August 6th and 9th of 1945- so if they were available a year earlier they'd be ready in August of 1944, just two months after the D-Day invasions. They would even be available prior to the fall of Paris in late August 1944, and then they would have been available sparingly from that point onward through the end of the war. That includes the Battle of the Bulge, as a panic response to blunt the surprise German offensive, or any point up to Germany's capitulation in May 1945.

How many bombs could have been produced after the first two? There are a lot of variables here, and nobody is quite sure of the true story. High-level discussions around the invasion of Japan give us some figures. Historically we know that we had two bombs ready to go on August 6th and 9th, so:

  • First month: two bombs
  • Second month: two bombs
  • Third & subsequent months: three bombs per month

If you moved the Manhattan Project schedule up by a whole year and kept that schedule, then you'd have two bombs ready in August 1944, two more in September 1944, three more in October 1944, etc.

The limiting factor in bomb production at that point is how fast fissile material could be made. We never really got to see how much fissile material the wartime Manhattan project could crank out, because the work was disrupted with the ending of the war and nuclear arms production didn't pick up again for several years after the fact. In a sense, everything up to Nagasaki and Hiroshima was just a prototype process. Depending on your story needs, you could realistically speed this up to four bombs a month, or slow it down to one bomb a month or less. The article linked above and the comments (particularly by Alex Wellerstein, who is an expert in the history of nuclear weapons) are all very high quality speculation.

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  • $\begingroup$ ... and the limiting factor to that is how quickly you can build the largest building ever yet constructed: K-25, "to produce enriched uranium for atomic bombs using the gaseous diffusion method". And a mint to loan you 470,000,000 ozs of silver to build calutrons. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Apr 25 '20 at 18:27
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I think you have to look for some difference in the geopolitics vis-a-vis the Soviet Union. Either people with different tendencies (more anti-communist than FDR) or some sort of phenomenon where USSR had become more/earlier the enemy.

Perhaps one dynamic might be if you imagine that Hitler never invades Russia and instead, you end up with some sort of Axis of Germans, Japanese and Russians. (Italians and perhaps Spanish/Swedes/Swiss becoming Finlandized vassals of the Germans). Maybe with the US pressed harder as Hitler consolidates all of non-Soviet controlled Europe (including Britain, Swiss, etc.) and with USSR carving up China along with Japan. And the Germans taking over North Africa and the Middle East to some line in India with Japan on the other side.

Brave USA is the last holdout! Our backs to the wall, we work a lot harder than we had to in reality. And then when we open up that can of Whoop-ass, we just go for it and occupy all Axis (including Soviet) territory. No 4-way splits with de Gaulle, the Brits, and Russia. Just us.

Hmm...kind of fun to think about, actually. I would play that board game! Maybe I can create a Civ2 scenario like that.

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  • $\begingroup$ I was playing with something similar, were the German and Russia don't go to war, but they are not allies. Russia focus internally taking political and territorial advantage of the situation. $\endgroup$
    – HIGHYIELD
    Apr 26 '20 at 3:07
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The biggest problem with the scenario is the United States and British Empire were reaching the limits of their resources, and the population was exhausted from the years of sacrifices and casualties.

The British actually considered something similar with Operation Unthinkable, but concluded that even in the strained conditions of 1945, the USSR would still could not be defeated, and that the British public would never support a continuation of the war on these terms. The Americans were coming to similar conclusions when considering different plans for the defeat of the Japanese Empire - the US Navy's proposal to simply surround the Home Islands and starve them into surrender by 1948 was rejected out of hand, and there was considerable doubt that Operation Downfall, the proposed invasion of the Home Islands would be acceptable to the American public with the projected casualty count of 250,000.

Nuclear weapons were certainly the way to break the impasse (which is why Harry S Truman authorized their use against the Japanese Empire), but even the United States, with all her resources was strained by the vast expense of both the Manhattan Project and the development of the B-29 bomber. Without the B-29, the delivery of nuclear weapons (outside of exploding them in the harbour aboard a ship).

The real issue here is that the height of America's "Imperial" impulses actually occurred prior to the Great War, with America gathering an overseas empire after the Spanish American War and securing interests in China during the Boxer rebellion. An aggressive President Theodor Roosevelt might be capable of rousing America to continue attempting the conquest of the world, but in this case, a rising America will meet the European Empires at the hight of their powers (before they were consumed in the Great War).

On the other hand, the United States may actually have accomplished your aim in the post 1945 environment without a shot. The American dollar became the world reserve currency, the Americans created and nurtured the institutions like the Bretton Woods Agreement, the IMF, the WTO and even the United Nations to bind the world into a global order of her own making.

So perhaps you need to reframe your story. Conquest doesn't necessarily need to be at the point of the sword, and America can arguably be said to have conquered the world (or a large fraction of it) between 1945 and the 1970's, and have still has enourmous influence to this day. There were a few occasions where the Americans might have actually used nuclear weapons in battle (the Korean war, the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and perhaps in the 1973 Yom Kippur war), but you can see in the real word this wasn't really necessary.

My advice might be to take one of these potential triggers and explore the consequences of actually using nuclear weapons then.

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