During the nearly four decades since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, much has been written about the developments leading up to that climactic moment in world history. Within days of that event, the War Department released its official account, the well-known semi-technical report by Professor Henry D. Smyth of Princeton University. Soon popular histories also appeared, and with the gradual opening of the archival records relating to the top secret World War II program known as the Manhattan Project, scholars began examining in detail the scientific, technological, strategic, and diplomatic story of atomic energy and the atomic bomb (see Bibliographical Note). Yet amid this outpouring of books, none has provided an adequate and full account of the United States Army’s participation in the atomic program from 1939 to the end of 1946. It is the purpose of this volume to tell that story.
Stated in its simplest terms, the achievement of an atomic bomb resulted from the highly successful collaboration of American science and industry carried out under the direction and guidance of the U.S. Army. This triad – scientists, industrialists and engineers, and soldiers – was the product of a decision in early 1942 by America’s wartime leaders to give to the Army the task of administering the atomic program. Convinced that the Allies were in a race with Germany to be the first to develop an atomic weapon, they decided that only the Army could provide the administration, liaison services, security, and military planning essential to the success of a program requiring ready access to scarce materials and manpower, maximum protection against espionage and sabotage, and, ultimately, combat utilization of its end product.
In telling how the Army met the challenge of its unique assignment, eventually achieving results that would have the most profound implications for the future of mankind, I have taken a broadly chronological approach but with topical treatment of detailed developments. The focus of the narrative is from the vantage point of the Manhattan Project organization, which functioned under the able direction of Maj. Gen. Leslie R. Groves and such key scientific administrators as Vannevar Bush, James B. Conant, Arthur Compton, and J. Robert Oppenheimer in compliance with policies established at the highest levels of the Washington wartime leadership. The volume begins with a
prologue, designed to provide the reader with a brief survey of the history of atomic energy and to explain in layman’s terms certain technical aspects of atomic science essential to an understanding of the major problems occurring in the development of an atomic weapon. Early chapters describe the beginning of the Army’s atomic mission, including the formation of the Manhattan District, the first steps in acquiring the means to produce atomic weapons, and the appointment of General Groves. Subsequent topical chapters trace the building and operation of the large-scale process plants for the production of fissionable materials; the administration of a broad range of support activities, such as security and community management; and the fabrication, testing, and combat employment of atomic bombs. A concluding section describes how the Army dealt with the difficult problems arising during its unexpectedly prolonged postwar trusteeship of the project until December 1946, when the newly created civilian agency – the United States Atomic Energy Commission – assumed responsibility for atomic energy matters.
The Army did not program a volume on the Manhattan Project in its multi-volumed historical series, the U.S. Army in World War II, until 1959. Two developments in the late 1950s had made available the essential records for research by Army historians: the instituting of a historical program by the Atomic Energy Commission, with the objective of preparing an unclassified account of its own origins; and the opening of access to the Manhattan District records, the so-called General Groves collection, then located in the Departmental Records Branch of the Adjutant General’s Office but subsequently retired to the National Archives and Records System.
A great many individuals are deserving of mention for their assistance and support in the preparation of this volume. For aiding me in my task of researching the voluminous and widely scattered records controlled by the Department of Energy, I wish to thank Mr. Roger Anders, Dr. Richard G. Hewlett, and Mr. Thomas J. Pugliese in Germantown, Maryland; Mr. Floyd F. Beets, Jr., Mr. William J. Hatmaker, Mr. Frank Hoffman, and Mr. James R. Langley in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Mr. Ralph V. Button and Mr. Milton R. Cydell in Richland, Washington; Mr. King Derr, Mr. David A. Heimbach, Mrs. Lucille McAndrew, and Mr. Robert Y. Porton in Los Alamos, New Mexico; Mrs. Eleanor Davisson in Berkeley, California; and Mr. E. Newman Pettit in Lemont. Illinois. For facilitating my use of the Manhattan Project records at the National Archives, I wish to thank Mr. Sherrod East, Dr. Lee Johnson, Dr. Herman Kahn, Mr. Wilbert B. Mahoney, Mr. Wilbur J. Nigh, Dr. Benjamin Zobrist, and, especially, Mr. Edward Reese, who on countless occasions rendered expert assistance in using the indispensable General Groves collection. And for making available interviews and photographs which they assembled for use in their own excellent account of the construction aspects of the Manhattan Project,
I wish to thank Miss Lenore Fine and Dr. Jesse F. Remington, formerly of the Historical Division, Corps of Engineers.
Adding another dimension to my understanding of the atomic project were my visits to several Manhattan research, production, and community sites, arranged by Mr. Tom Cox and Mr. William McCluen at Oak Ridge, Mr. R. M. Plum and Mr. James W. Travis at Richland, Mr. Charles C. Campbell at Los Alamos, and Mr. P. M. Goodbread at Berkeley.
Many others gave generously of their time in reading and critiquing all or parts of the manuscript: Dr. James B. Conant, Col. William A. Consodine, Lt. Col. John A. Derry, Mr. Julian D. Ellett, Mr. Joseph R. Friedman, Dr. Crawford H. Greenewalt, Lt. Gen. Leslie R. Groves, Dr. Walter G. Hermes, Col. John E. Jessup, Jr., Dr. Richard G. Hewlett, Col. John Lansdale, Jr., Dr. Maurice Matloff, Col. Franklin T. Matthias, Maj. Gen. Kenneth D. Nichols, Mrs. Jean O’Leary, Mr. Robert R. Smith, Maj. Harry S. Traynor, and Col. Gerald R. Tyler. To each of them, I extend a special note of thanks.
At each stage in the preparation of this volume, I also benefited from the unique combination of talents available among my colleagues in the Army’s historical office. Fellow staff historians – Dr. Stanley F. Falk, Dr. Maurice Matloff, and Dr. Earl F. Ziemke – helped expedite initial research into the atomic project records, serving with me as members of a team under the direction of Dr. Stetson Conn, the chief historian; in addition, Dr. Falk conducted a number of interviews and wrote the first draft of the Prologue, Chapters I-IV, and Chapter X. Miss Carol Anderson, in the library, and Miss Hannah Zeidlik, in the records branch, cheerfully and expertly dealt with my many requests and kept me abreast of newly available records and publications on atomic energy. Mr. Arthur S. Hardyman designed the graphically handsome maps, some of them in color, and oversaw the layout of the photographs. His colleague, Mr. Roger D. Clinton, provided the clearly drawn charts, which will help the reader understand the complex organization of the Manhattan Project, and assisted in the selection of photographs. The skillful typing of Mrs. Joyce Dean, Mrs. Margaret I. Fletcher, Mrs. Edna Salsbury, and Miss LaJuan R. Watson, the eagle-eyed proofreading of Mrs. Rae T. Panella, and the meticulous indexing of Mrs. Muriel Southwick contributed to the efficient preparation of my technically difficult and heavily documented manuscript. Lt. Col. John R. Pipkin shepherded the draft manuscript through clearance by several government agencies in record time, considering the potential sensitiveness of its subject matter. Finally, Miss Joanne M. Brignolo edited the volume. She demonstrated a remarkable capacity for quickly grasping the intricacies of atomic science, enabling her to make readable my oftentimes obscure text and to give order and consistency to its complex documentation. I am obliged to her for whatever literary merit my book may have.
For her understanding and unremitting support during the many years this volume was in preparation, I wish to thank my wife, Kay Cox Jones, who, as an employee at the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago in the immediate post-World War II period, first brought my attention to the history of the atomic bomb.
For the many others not here mentioned who, over the years this volume has been in the making, have contributed in some way to its ultimate completion, I express my gratitude. The author alone, of course, takes responsibility for the facts presented and the conclusions reached in this volume.
Vincent C. Jones
1 March 1984