Portrait of Col. Boris Pash, the military head of ALSOS

Haigerloch. -- In spring 2001, Prof. em. W. H. Allison (Pensylvania State University, USA) visited the Atomkeller museum and provided an exclusive report on his memory of Col. Boris T. Pash, the military head of the ALSOS mission. ALSOS was the allied special task force which headed for the German nuclear research programme in spring 1945.

William H. Allison:

Some background information about my sources of information concerning Colonel Pash may be helpful, and I give that below:

I saw action in World War II as a member of Company A, 1269th Engineer Combat Battalion. During the winter and spring of 1945 we were the combat arm of the Alsos Mission, a U.S. Sixth Army Group Task Force commanded by Colonel Pash, which was empowered to uncover, neutralize, and gather information from the German atomic research program.

Great urgency, headlong action, and a sense of profound secrecy characterized all that we did then. The purpose underlying the 1269th ECB relationship with the Alsos Mission was guarded by levels of security so rigorously maintained that it was not until many years afterward that the threads of purpose which tied our actions together became known to us.

So my memory of Colonel Pash from that wartime experience is very limited, and it was only at a much later time, near the end of his life, when an opportunity came for me to know him better.

His book The Alsos Mission having been long out of print, he became interested in bringing out a revised edition, and we met at his home near San Francisco, California to talk of that possibility. It is from that meeting and from telephone conversations in months thereafter that some of his life's adventures which were not revealed in his book became known to me.

It may be helpful to mention that, during my June 1993 meeting with Pash, he was suffering from a painful war-incurred radiation burn on his right leg which resulted from his transporting fourteen standards of unshielded radium beside him for a whole day as he brought them away from the National Bureau of Standards in Weida, a few hours before the Soviet occupation forces took control of that territory.

Colonel Boris T. Pash - a portrait by W. H. Allison

Boris Theodore Pash was born 20 June 1900 in California, the son of an Eastern Orthodox Russian priest who had been sent abroad by his church in the 1880s. The father was serving as Dean of San Francisco's Eastern Orthodox Cathedral when it was destroyed by fire in the great earthquake of 1906. Consequently he took on responsibility for building a new church for his congregation in the central area of San Francisco. Young Boris retained vivid memories of the earthquake and its aftermath. His mother was of Serbian extraction but was born in the United States. When Boris was ten years old his father was called back to duties in Russia, taking his family with him into a country utterly new to them.

Pash's youth in Russia

During the Russian Revolution Boris joined the anti-communist White Russian navy for duty in the Black Sea. By the age of 19 he had the rank of Chief Signalman, serving aboard the fleet flagship. Being fluent in both Russian and English, he was chosen to be translator in meetings between the Russian and British admirals. For his combat service he was awarded the Cross of St. George.

Emigration to USA

When the communists prevailed, he fled Russia. Joining the YMCA, he was sent to Paris, where he was given responsibility for educational activities at several Russian refugee camps. After service there, he was sent to the YMCA school in Springfield, Massachusetts. Just prior to World War II he was Director of the Physical Education Department of Hollywood High School in Los Angeles (In younger years he had been a track competitor, specializing in the mile run). During spare time in those pre-war years he joined the U.S. Army reserves and was assigned to the Infantry Intelligence Branch. He took course work then, qualifying for certification by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Beginning of World War II

Called to active duty in June 1940, he was posted to the Presidio in San Francisco, as counter-intelligence chief of Ninth Corps headquarters. When the war broke out he was made responsible for investigating security breaches by which the Soviet Union was raking for secret atomic research information from the Manhattan Project's Berkeley Radiation Laboratory.


That assignment being completed and his report made, he was summoned to Washington by Major General Leslie R. Groves, military head of the Manhattan Project. Working under Grove's direction, Pash organized the ALSOS Mission as a military-scientific intelligence force to be directed against Nazi atomic weaponry research. A Lieutenant Colonel at that time, Pash was appointed military commander of Alsos, with Dr. Samuel A. Goudsmit being named chief of the unit's scientific team. The Alsos force landed in Italy and proceeded to Rome. Subsequently they entered France from England soon after D-Day, and were among the first American troops to enter Paris, seizing a sizeable cache of uranium and securing valuable information. The 1269th Engineer Combat Battalion joined the Alsos task force for the final thrust into Germany which culminated in capture of the German atomic research laboratory at Haigerloch, as well as related targets in Hechingen, Bisingen, Tailfingen and vicinity on 22-26 April 1945. The record of Alsos accomplishments has been amply documented in the books The Alsos Mission by Boris T. Pash and Alsos by Samuel A. Goudsmit. The task force was awarded a commendation for outstanding performance of duty by the Sixth Army Group Commander, 30 June 1945.

After the war

Boris Pash was promoted to Colonel, awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and inducted into the Army's Military Intelligence Hall of Fame. After the war he served as Chief of the Foreign Liaison section on General Douglas MacArthur's staff in Tokyo (1946-47). Later he was the Army's representative to the Central Intelligence Agency (1948-51), and then served as Special Forces planning officer with the U.S. forces in Austria (1952-53). He served as Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence for the Sixth Army (1953-56), and was on the staff of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Guided Missiles from 1956 until his retirement in 1957. Shortly before his 95th birthday, Colonel Pash died in Greenbrae, California, on 11 May 1995.

24. June 2001, W. H. Allison

Michael.Thorwart@physik.uni-augsburg.de (Jun-24-2001)