“He needed time to clear his mind, to fight through. He’d just looked in the face of the anti-Nazi underground, seen mental images of H.G. Wells’s super bombs, grasped the truth about his father’s murder, received a summons to help defeat Nazism — all simultaneously mind-boggling. Was this Black Orchestra real or just extending to him the opportunity to face a firing squad?”

In The Armageddon Secret, author and forensic engineer Robert Burnham takes the German A-bomb project and a real-life, elite anti-Nazi conspiracy and tills them as rich soil for speculation with the harrowing tale of Alex Drake, an American foreign correspondent in a Berlin on the cusp of World War II. It’s a tale where scientific facts and historical figures and events combine with plausible fiction to create a vivid and convincing espionage thriller revealing how narrowly we escaped Hitler’s plan for the ultimate weapon. Nazi scientists were three years ahead of America’s Manhattan Project. Someone had to stop them.

NEWSMAN TURNED RESISTANCE FIGHTER

Drake is working for the New York-based World Week news magazine when he is recruited by the Black Orchestra, a secretive organization bent on foiling Hitler’s burgeoning wartime plans. At first, he is unwilling to join, despite the fact that Hitler’s actions have had a very personal impact on Drake; his own father was murdered by the Nazis years earlier. 

It is only when he becomes aware of the existence, and the potential threat, of a game-changing Nazi A-Bomb project, that he comprehends “the stunning, paralyzing vision of the end of humanity,” and commits himself to the cause. But he realizes that a tiny cadre fighting the Nazi state machine can’t succeed without incredible courage, unimaginable sacrifice and the ingenuity to pull off a cunning deception.

Through Drake’s eyes, we witness the horror of Kristallnacht, assassination attempts, and the clandestine world of tense secret underground meetings, with each member sensing that their attempts to stop the Nazis will almost certainly end in their own executions. But, as Drake states, “There can’t be a more honorable way to die.”

He eventually takes part in secret activities to sabotage the A-Bomb project, including a nighttime raid on the Nazi’s main supply of heavy water by way of an abandoned subway tunnel, as well as a foiled assassination attempt on Hitler (the latter of which is based on a real-life event). All of this while managing to also fall in love with his fellow secret agent, Sondra Speier, the beautiful young widow of one of his fallen comrades.

Their likelihood of execution is amplified as together they come to realize that there is a traitor lurking within Black Orchestra, scheming to betray them to the SS for personal gain. 

A THRILLER BASED ON HISTORICAL EVENTS

While it isn’t necessary to know all the history behind the novel to enjoy it as fiction, having some background can only enrich the experience. The German A-Bomb project, the Black Orchestra Underground and even the Nazi battle that killed Drake’s father are based on factual events.

The German nuclear weapons project (Uranprojekt) was an unsuccessful effort by Nazi Germany to develop atomic weapons during World War II. It went through several phases, but never left the laboratory. Something mysterious occurred to knock them off the pathway to the new element later called plutonium.

Schwarze Kapelle, or Black Orchestra, was a group of anti-Nazi conspirators famous for an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler — the July 20 Plot or “Project Valkyrie.” It had among its members many highly placed German military and government officials. Its main goal was to kill Hitler, and it had drawn up detailed plans for a post-Hitler provisional government.

BLENDING FICTIONAL CHARACTERS WITH REAL PEOPLE

Burnham also portrays several historical figures with confidence. Scientists such as Leo Szilard (the Hungarian genius who first comprehended the concept of the chain reaction and its potential to release huge amounts of energy) and Otto Hahn, the first person to produce nuclear fission, take part in a believable way in the novel’s exciting plot. 

Real historical members of Black Orchestra, like Ludwig Beck and Hans Oster, appear in secret meetings with Drake. Dietrich Born, a fictionalized version of the Lutheran pastor and anti-Nazi dissident Dietrich Bonhoeffer, appears as a Black Orchestra tough-guy, and takes part in dangerous armed raids and a suicide mission with Drake. Famous journalists Edward R. Murrow and William Shirer are overheard in a Berlin restaurant lamenting the frenzied, torturous milieu of the Nazified city. Adolf Hitler also appears, and in one scene, gives an ultimatum to the leader of the German atom research team to deliver a bomb by 1943 or be sent to the torture chamber.

The overall effect is impressive. Burnham’s strength is in his ability to weave together all of these pieces into a coherent whole. Against this well-realized historical backdrop of Nazi scientific secrets, Hitler assassination attempts, gruesome beatings, brutal murders, double-dealing traitors and a love doomed to end in catastrophe, Burnham creates a satisfying, action-packed concoction that will keep you hooked until the last page. 

Whether you are a WWII buff or not, this novel brings to light a very believable version of the clandestine actions that might have kept Hitler from atomic mastery — thanks to the heroes who protected The Armageddon Secret.

Visit Robert Burnham’s BookTrib author profile page here.


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Robert Burnham is a licensed professional forensic engineer with two University of Michigan engineering degrees. He is a member of the National Academy of Forensic Engineers and the National Society of Professional Engineers. Burnham’s scientific and analytical background enabled him to accurately assess the possibility that Hitler’s scientists could have been first in the world to produce the Ultimate Weapon.

An adjunct professor of technology and lifelong student of science and history, he lives with his wife, Suzy, in Ft. Myers, FL, and Traverse City, MI. He is currently working on his next novel.