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Technology and Culture 44.3 (2003) 644-645
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Forschen für Stalin: Deutsche Fachleute in der Sowjetischen Rüstungsindustrie, 1945-1958. By Christoph Mick. Munich: R. Oldenbourg, 2000. Pp. 344.
Technology transfer belongs among the core topics of the history of technology. One of its most intriguing chapters is the transfer of Third Reich high technology to the victorious powers after World War II. Even before the end of the war, the Allies started a race for German know-how and signaled that the "hot" conflict would be followed by a "cold" war. How this race started, the different motives and strategies of the Allies, and the outcomes they attained—these are some of the questions that Christoph Mick seeks to answer in this book.
From these questions, it becomes clear that the title—"Developing for Stalin"—indicates the book's content only in part. Mick does not limit his investigation to the employment of German specialists by the Soviet defense industry, but extends his analysis to include ways in which the Western allies acquired knowledge and experts from Germany. He also goes beyond the immediate Stalinist era. But the main part of his study does deal with the exploitation of German specialists within the Soviet military-industrial complex. He describes precisely the areas where the Germans were deployed. On the basis of hitherto unavailable archival data, he provides evidence for the assumption that the Soviets transferred not just scientists and engineers, as the Americans and the British did, but entire working groups, including skilled labor and auxiliary personnel.
A description of the Soviet military-industrial complex provides background for an understanding of the context within which the German specialists acted. The development of new military technologies, such as radar, the nuclear bomb, and rocketry, called for new structures to overcome the sluggishness of the nationalized Soviet innovation system. In these sectors, influential members of the political elite with their own bases of power and direct access to Stalin took the lead. After disclosing these structures, Mick explains how the German design offices and research laboratories were integrated therein. The manner of integration and exploitation of German experts differed remarkably between technological sectors. Whereas the nuclear experts collaborated intensely with their Soviet colleagues, rocket and aviation experts remained mostly isolated, competing with their Soviet colleagues for resources even though their position was an inferior one from the outset. The task they were assigned was to provide the Soviets with German know-how, but not to improve on it.
Most interesting is Mick's discussion of the constraints the actors faced when transferring technology. These resulted from clashing research and development cultures. The Germans tended to pursue R&D by means of experiments, test models, and approximate values, whereas Soviet practice [End Page 644] was to produce test models only after all calculations were completed. This practice was, on the one hand, due to a lack of skilled workers necessary for the developing of models and series. On the other hand, socialist educational policy had yielded great intellectual resources, whose exploitation was thus cheaper than the erection of facilities for experiments and tests—wind tunnels and the like. Mick also points out that the Soviet innovation system possessed an important system-specific advantage when it came to copying large-scale undertakings. Backed up by the authority of the party and the state, it was possible to concentrate all available resources on a few major projects. In the long run, however, this advantage turned into a system-specific disadvantage, because the price for promoting just a few sectors was backwardness in many other fields.
In the last third of his book Mick describes the working and living conditions of German experts in the Soviet Union and their return to Germany. Since the Soviets intended only to skim off the knowledge of the Germans, not to integrate them into their system as the Americans did, the ultimate (and yearningly awaited) prospect of the Germans' stay in Russia was their return home. Many experts and their families had to wait long...