Atomic Energy for Military Purposes (The Smyth Report)

The Official Report on the Development of the Atomic Bomb Under the Auspices of the United States Government

By Henry De Wolf Smyth


5.1. In Chapter III the administrative history of the uranium work up to December 1941 was reviewed. Chapter IV reported the progress of the scientific work up to the same date. The present chapter describes the administrative reorganization that took place in December 1941 and various changes that occurred after that time.


5.2. Two major decisions were required in the further planning of the uranium or atomic-bomb program. These decisions were made by Vannevar Bush, Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development (which included NDRC), after conference with various scientists and administrators concerned. (See Chapter III.) The decisions were: first, that the possibility of obtaining atomic bombs for use in the present war was great enough to justify an "all out" effort for their development; second, that the existing organization, the NDRC Uranium Section (known as the S-1 Section, and consisting of L. J. Briggs, chairman; G. B. Pegram, vice-chairman; H. T. Wensel, technical aide; S. K. Allison, J. W. Beams, G. Breit, E. U. Condon, R. Gunn, H. D. Smyth, and H. C. Urey) was not properly organized for such an effort.

5.3. At a meeting of the National Defense Research Committee on November 28, 1941, Dr. Bush explained why he felt that it was desirable to set up the uranium program outside NDRC. The members of NDRC agreed to a transfer. Accordingly, the NDRC as an organization had no further connection with the uranium program, which was administered for some time thereafter by the OSRD directly through an OSRD S-1 Section and later through an OSRD S-1 Executive Committee.

5.4. At a meeting of the S-1 Section of OSRD on December 6 1941, J. B. Conant, speaking for Bush, announced the proposed "all out" effort and the reorganization of the group. The S Section itself had not been formally consulted on the proposed reorganization, but there is no doubt that most of its members were strongly in favor of the new proposals. The membership the reorganized S-1 Section was as follows: J. B. Conant, representative of V. Bush; L. J. Briggs, chairman; G. B. Pegram, vice chairman; A. H. Compton, program chief; E. 0. Lawrence program chief; H. C. Urey, program chief; E. V. Murphree chairman of the separately organized Planning Board; H. Wensel, technical aid; S. K. Allison, J. W. Beams, G. Bret, E. U. Condon, H. D. Smyth.


5.5. At the time the S-1 Section was reorganized, Bush also set up a Planning Board to be responsible for the technical and engineering aspects of the work, for procurement of material and for construction of pilot plants and full-size production plants. This Planning Hoard consisted of E. V. Murphree (chairman), W. K. Lewis, L. W. Chubb, G. 0. Curme, Jr., and P. C. Keith.


5.6. It was arranged that contracts for the scientific parts of the work would be recommended to Bush not by the full S-1 Section but by Briggs and Conant after conferences with the program chiefs involved and that recommendations on engineering contracts would be made to Bush by the Planning Board (The contracts which had been made on behalf of the old Uranium Section had been administered through the NDRC.) Contracts for the development of diffusion and centrifuge separation processes were to be recommended by the Planning Board, which would be responsible for the heavy-water production program also. Bush stated that the Planning Board "will be responsible for seeing to it that we have plans on which to proceed with the next step as expeditiously as possible."

5.7. The scientific aspects of the work were separated from the procurement and engineering phases. The Program Chiefs- H. C. Urey, E. 0. Lawrence, and A. H. Compton-were to have charge of the scientific aspects. Initially it was proposed that Urey should have charge of the separation of isotopes by the diffusion and the centrifuge methods and of the research work on the production of heavy water. Lawrence was to have charge of the initial production of small samples of fissionable elements, of quantity production by electromagnetic-separation methods, and of certain experimental work relating to the properties of the plutonium nucleus. Compton was to have charge of fundamental physical studies of the chain reaction and the measurement of nuclear properties with especial reference to the explosive chain reaction. As an afterthought, he was authorized to explore also the possibility that plutonium might be produced in useful amounts by the controlled chain-reaction method. It was understood, however, that this division of responsibility was to be more precisely defined in later conferences. (The written records of that period do not always give adequate accounts of what was in the minds of the men concerned. In deference to security requirements, references to the importance of plutonium and even to the bomb itself were often omitted entirely.)

5.8. The effect of the reorganization was to put the direction of the projects in the hands of a small group consisting of Bush, Conant, Briggs, Compton, Urey, Lawrence, and Murphee. Theoretically, Compton, Lawrence, Urey, and Murphree were responsible only for their respective divisions of the program. Each met with Conant and Briggs or occasionally with Bush to discuss his specific problems, or even the overall program.


5.9. A meeting of the Top Policy Group, consisting of Vice-President Henry A. Wallace, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, and Dr. V. Bush, was held on December 16, 1941. General George C. Marshall and Dr. J. B. Conant, also members of the group, were absent; Mr. H. L. Smith of the Budget Bureau attended. Bush described the reorganization that was in progress and his plans were approved. In a memorandum to Conant describing his meeting, Bush wrote, "It was definitely felt by the entire group that OSRD should press as fast as possible on the fundamental physics and on the engineering planning, and particularly on the construction of pilot plants," Bush estimated the cost of this aspect of the work would be four or five million dollars, and stated the Army should take over when full-scale construction was started, presumably when pilot plants were ready. He suggested the assignment of a technically trained Army officer to become familiar with the general nature of the uranium problem. It was made clear at this meeting that the international relations involved were in the hands of the President, with Bush responsible or liaison on technical matters only.


5.10. On December 18, 1941, a meeting of the reorganized S-1 Section was held. Conant was present and discussed the new policy, which called for an all-out effort. He emphasized that such an effort was justified only by the military value of atomic bombs and that all attention must be concentrated in the direction of bomb development. The whole meeting was pervaded by an atmosphere of enthusiasm and urgency. Several methods of electromagnetic separation were proposed and discussed, and a number of new contracts were recommended.


5.11. Another meeting of the OSRD S-1 Section was held on January 16, 1942. Informal discussions of the various production methods took place, and tentative estimates were made as to when each method would produce results. These forecasts actually were no more than guesses since at that time the scientific information available was very incomplete and the problems of applying such data as did exist to the construction and operation of production plants had hardly been approached.


5.12. In the middle of January 1942, Compton decided to concentrate the work for which he was responsible at the University of Chicago. The Columbia group under Fermi and its accumulated material and equipment and the Princeton group which had been studying resonance absorption were moved to Chicago in the course of the spring. Certain smaller groups elsewhere remained active under Compton's direction. Under Lawrence the investigation of large-scale electromagnetic separation was accelerated at the University of California at Berkeley and a related separation project was started at Princeton. Research and development on the diffusion process and on the production of heavy water continued at Columbia under Urey; under the general supervision of Murphree, the centrifuge work continued at the University of Virginia under Beams while the Columbia centrifuge work was transferred to the laboratories of the Standard Oil Development Co. at Bayway, New Jersey.


5.13. In a report dated February 20, 1942, Conant recommended that all phases of the work be pushed at least until July 1,1942. Similarly, on March 9,1942, Dr. Bush sent a report to the President reflecting general optimism but placing proper emphasis on the tentative nature of conclusions. His report contemplated completion of the project in 1944. In addition, the report contained the suggestion that the Army be brought in during the summer of 1942 for construction of full-scale plants.


5.14. The entire heavy-water program was under review in March and April 1942. The reviews followed a visit to the United States in February and March 1942 by F. Simon, H. Halban and W. A. Akers from England. In a memorandum of April 1, 1942 addressed to Bush, Conant reviewed the situation and reported on conferences with Compton and Briggs. His report pointed out that extremely large quantities of heavy water would be required for a plutonium production plant employing heavy water instead of graphite as a moderator. For this reason he reported adversely on the suggestion that Halban be invited to bring to this country the 165 liters of heavy water which he then had in England.

5.15. In a memorandum written to Bush on May 14, 1942 (shortly before a proposed meeting of Program Chiefs), Conant estimated that there were five separation or production methods which were about equally likely to succeed. The centrifuge, diffusion, and electromagnetic methods of separating U-235; the uranium-graphite pile and the uranium-heavy-water pile methods of producing plutonium. All were considered about ready for pilot plant construction and perhaps even for preliminary design of production plants. If the methods were to be pushed to the production stage, a commitment of five hundred million dollars would be entailed. Although it was too early to estimate the relative merits of the different methods accurately, it was presumed that some methods would prove to be more rapid and efficient than others. It was feared, however, that elimination of anyone method might result in a serious delay. It was thought that the Germans might be some distance ahead of the United States in a similar program.

5.16. Conant emphasized a question that has been crucial throughout the development of the uranium project. The question was whether atomic bombs would be decisive weapons or merely supplementary weapons. If they were decisive, there was virtually no limit to the amount of effort and money that should be put into the work. But no one knew how effective the atomic bombs would be.


5.17. In May 1942, Conant suggested to Bush that instead of encouraging members of the section individually to discuss their own phases of the work with Conant and Briggs, the OSRD S-1 Section should meet for general discussions of the entire program. Bush responded by terminating the OSRD S-1 Section and replacing it with the OSRD S-1 Executive Committee, consisting of the following: J. B. Conant, chairman, L. J. Briggs, A. H. Compton, E. 0. Lawrence, E. V. Murphree, H. C. Urey. H. T. Wensel and I. Stewart were selected to sit with the Committee as technical aide and secretary respectively.

5.18. The following members of the old OSRD S-1 Section were appointed as consultants to the new Committee: S. K. Al1ison, J. W. Beams, G. Breit, E. U. Condon, H. D. Smyth.

5.19. The functions of the new OSRD S-1 Executive Committee were:
(a) To report on the program and budget for the next eighteen months, for each method.
(b) To prepare recommendations as to how many programs should be continued.
(c) To prepare recommendations as to what parts of the program should be eliminated.

5.20. Recommendations relative to matters of OSRD S-1 policy and relative to the letting of OSRD S-1 contracts were made on the basis of a majority vote of the Committee. Conant refrained from voting except in case of a tie vote. While Bush alone had the authority to establish OSRD policies and commit OSRD funds, he ordinarily followed the recommendations of the S-1 Executive Committee.


5.21. On June 13, 1942, Bush and Conant sent to Vice- President Henry A. Wal1ace, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, and Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall a report recommending detailed plans for the expansion and continuation of the atomic-bomb program. All three approved the report. On June 17, 1942, the report was sent by Bush to the President, who also approved. The report, which is too long to present in full contained four principal parts, which dealt with: (a) The status of the development as appraised by the senior scientists; (b) Recommendations by the program chiefs and Planning Board; (c) Comments by Bush, Conant, and Maj. Gen. W. D. Styer; (d) Recommendations by Bush and Conant. We may paraphrase parts (a) and (c) as follows:

(a) The status of the program.

(1) It was clear that an amount of U-235 or plutonium comprising a number of kilograms would be explosive, that such an explosion would be equivalent to several thousand tons of TNT, and that such an explosion could be caused to occur at the desired instant.

(2) It was clear that there were four methods of preparing the fissionable material and that all of these methods appeared feasible; but it was not possible to state definitely that any given one of these is superior to the others.

(3) It was clear that production plants of considerable size could be designed and built.

(4) It seemed likely that, granted adequate funds and priorities, full-scale plant operation could be started soon enough to be of military significance.

(c) Comments by Bush, Conant, and General Slyer. Certain recommendations had been made by Lawrence, Urey, Compton, and Murphree. These recommendations had been reviewed by Bush, Conant, and General Styer (who was instructed by General Marshall to follow the progress of the program) and their comments concerning the program were as follows:

(1) If four separate methods all appeared to a highly competent scientific group to be capable of successful application, it appeared certain that the desired end result could be attained by the enemy, provided he had sufficient time.

(2) The program as proposed obviously could not be carried out rapidly without interfering with other important matters, as regards both scientific personnel and critical materials.

A choice had to be made between the military result which appeared attainable and the certain interference with other war activities. (3) It was unsafe at that time, in view of the pioneering nature of the entire effort, to concentrate on only one means of obtaining the result. (4) It therefore appeared best to proceed at once with those phases of the program which interfered least with other important war activities. Work on other phases of the program could proceed after questions of interference were resolved.

5.22. The June 13, 1942, report to the President and Bush's transmittal letter dated June 17, 1942, were returned to Bush with the initialed approval of the President. A copy of the report was then sent by Bush to General Styer on June 19, 1942.


5.23 On June 18, 1942, Colonel J. C. Marshall, Corps of Engineers, was instructed by the Chief of Engineers to form a new district in the Corps of Engineers to carryon special work (atomic bombs) assigned to it. This district was designated the Manhattan District and was officially established on August 13, 1942. The work with which it was concerned was labeled, for security reasons, the "DSM Project" (Development of Substitute Materials).


5.24. On September 17, 1942, the Secretary of War placed Brigadier General L. R. Groves of the Corps of Engineers in complete charge of all Army activities relating to the DSM Project.


5.25. A conference was held on September 23, 1942, among those persons designated by the President to determine the general policies of the project, and certain others. Those present were Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall, Dr. J. B. Conant, Dr. V. Bush, Major General Brehon Somervell, Major General W. D. Styer, and Brigadier General L. R. Groves. (Vice-President Henry A Wallace was unable to attend) A Military Policy Committee was appointed consisting of Dr. V. Bush as Chairman with Dr J. B. Conant as his alternate, Major General W. D. Styer, and Rear Admiral W. R. Purnell. General Groves was named to sit with the committee and act as Executive Officer to carry out the policies that were determined. The duties of this committee were to plan military policies relating to materials, research and development, production, strategy, and tactics, and to submit progress reports to the policy group designated by the President.

5.26. The appointment of the Military Policy Committee was approved by the Joint New Weapons Committee, established by the U. S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and consisting of Dr. V. Bush, Rear Admiral W. R. Purnell, and Brigadier General R. G. Moses.

5.27. The creation of the Military Policy Committee in effect placed all phases of the DSM Project under the control of Dr. Bush, Dr. Conant, General Styer, Admiral Purnell, and General Groves.

5.28. The OSRD S-1 Executive Committee held meetings about once every month from June 1942 to May 1943 and once after that time, in September 1943. These meetings were normally attended by General Groves, after September 1942, and Colonel Marshall, and frequently by representatives of the industrial companies concerned with the production plants. Recommendations of the Committee were not binding but were usually followed. Thus it served as an advisory body to Dr. Bush and General Groves, and as an initial liaison group between the scientific, industrial, and military parts of the DMS Project. The S-1 Executive Committee has never been formally dissolved, but it has been inactive since the fall of 1943.

5.29. The procurement and engineering functions of the Planning Board were taken over by the Manhattan District in the summer of 1942 and that board then became inactive.

5.30. By the spring of 1943 it was felt that the Manhattan District was in a position to take over research and development contracts from the OSRD. Such a transfer was effected as of May 1, 1943, and marked the end of the formal connection of OSRD with the uranium project.

5.31. In July 1943 Conant and R. C. Tolman were formally asked by General Groves to serve as his scientific advisers. They had already been doing so informally and have continued to do so, Coordination of the various scientific and technical programs was accomplished by meeting1l between General Groves and the leaders of the various projects, in particular, Compton, Lawrence, Oppenheimer (see Chapter XII), and Urey.


5.32. Since 1943 there have been no important changes in the form of the organization and few of importance in the operating personnel, General Groves has continued to carry the major responsibility for correlating the whole effort and keeping it directed toward its military objectives. It has been his duty to keep the various parts of the project in step, to see that raw materials were available for the various plants, to determine production schedules to make sure that the development of bomb design kept up with production schedules, to arrange for use of the bombs when the time came, and to maintain an adequate system of security. In discharging these duties General Groves has had the help of his tremendous organization made up of civilian scientists and engineers and Engineer officers and enlisted men. Many of the civilians have been mentioned already or will be mentioned in later chapters dealing with particular projects. Brigadier General T. F. Farrell has acted as General Groves' deputy in the important later phases of the project. Colonel K. D. Nichols, the District Engineer of the Manhattan District with his headquarters at the Clinton Engineer Works, has been connected with the project since 1942. He has been concerned with the research and production problems of both U-235 and plutonium and has always shown exceptional understanding of the technical problems and their relative importance. Two other officers who should be mentioned are Colonel F. T. Matthias and Colonel S. L. Warren. Colonel Matthias has discharged major responsibilities at the Hanford Engineer Works in an extremely able manner; his duties have been concerned with both the construction and operational phases of the project. Colonel Warren is chief of the Medical Section of the Manhattan District and therefore has had ultimate responsibility for health problems in all parts of the project.


5.33. By the end of 1941 an extensive review of the whole uranium situation had been completed. As a result of this review Bush and his advisers decided to increase the effort on the uranium project and to change the organization. This decision was approved by President Roosevelt. From January 1942 until early summer of 1942 the uranium work was directed by Bush and Conant working with the Program Chiefs and a Planning Board. In the summer of 1942 the Army, through the Corps of Engineers, was assigned an active part in the procurement and engineering phases, organizing the Manhattan District for the purpose. In September 1942, Dr. Bush, Dr. Conant, General Styer, and Admiral Purnell were appointed as a Military Policy Committee to determine the general policies of the whole project. Also in September, General Groves was appointed to take charge of all Army activities of the project. The period of joint OSRD and Army control continued through April 1943 with the Army playing an increasingly important role as the industrial effort got fully under way. In May 1943 the research contracts were transferred to the Corps of Engineers; the period of joint OSRD-Army control ended and the period of complete Army control began.

5.34. Since the earliest days of the project, President Roosevelt had followed it with interest and, until his death, continued to study and approve the broad programs of the Military Policy Committee. President Truman, who as a United States Senator had been aware of the project and its magnitude, was given the complete up-to-date picture by the Secretary of War and General Groves at a White House conference immediately after his inauguration. Thereafter the President gave the program his complete support, keeping in constant touch with the progress.

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