PART 2 OF GENERATION SERIES: THE GREATEST GENERATION/SILENT GENERATION 1925 – 1945
The Manhattan Project (1939-1946)
It all started with Einstein. In 1939, Einstein, a pacifist who arrived as a Nazi fugitive in 1933, wrote President Roosevelt that Germany was working on a bomb, and that the US had the opportunity to create its own atomic bomb. This led to the creation of the Manhattan Project. There were two main parts of the Project: “Site X” where plants produced materials for the Atom Bomb and “Site Y” where physicists built the Bomb. This is why some call Einstein the “father of the atomic bomb.”
“Site X” (Oak Ridge, Tennessee)
I’m hitting just a few of the points here since what they were doing was sooo complicated that I can barely type it!
‘Site X’ was the chosen to be the location to build uranium enrichment plants necessary to make the Atom Bomb (K-25 and Y-12), the liquid thermal diffusion plant (S-50), and the pilot plutonium production reactor (X-10 Graphite Reactor). (Hey, I understood the first part of thatt!) “Site X” later changed its name to Clinton Engineer Works.
General Leslie Groves purchased 59,000 acres 20 miles west of Knoxville to quietly and quickly build houses for the 30,000 workers and the enormous buildings that would house the plants. Local families and farmers were moved out. Thirty to forty prefabricated homes, made of cement and asbestos “cemesto” arrived each day to house workers. People who lived in Knoxville resented the Oak Ridge “furriners” because they were secretive and had unlimited ration stamps and lots of cash.
For security and safety reasons, the production plants were not built near town. The plants had walls that were 7 feet thick. Dupont and ALCOA were two participants in the program. Stokes & Webster designed the plants. Tennessee Company was the operator of the plants. Parts for the equipment were provided by Westinghouse Electric Company, Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company, Chapman Valve Manufacturing Company, and General Electric.
After the war, the name of the site was changed to Oak Ridge. Until 1985, one of the plants produced fuel for civilian nuclear power reactors around the world. Another plant started making peacetime radioisotopes for use in industry, agriculture, medicine, and research. The radioisotopes plant was permanently shut down in 1963 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966 and a National Historic Chemical Landmark in 2008.
“Site Y” (Los Alamos, New Mexico)
Who would have thought such a simple looking entry would hold so many intellectual physicists behind it?? When we hear about The Manhattan Project, we think of the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. The work done here could not have been competed without “Site X.”
The codename for the development was “Project Y.” Oppenheimer suggested to General Groves that the bomb laboratory operate secretly in an isolated area but allow free exchange of ideas among the scientists on the staff. General Groves accepted his suggestion and began seeking an appropriate location. Los Alamos Boys Ranch School was suggested by Oppenheimer. It was inaccessible since it was on top of a mesa (a mountain with a flat top,) and it was only 30 miles from Santa Fe, New Mexico. The only thing the property needed was a larger water supply and power. Groves purchased the property, and construction started with the University of California providing supplies and personnel.
There were concerns about putting Oppenheimer in charge. He had no administrative experience, lacked a Nobel Prize (which several physicists under him had received), sympathized with leftists and had communist friends (and was already being followed by Hoover), practiced Eastern mysticism, was sensitive, a chain smoker, looked emaciated, and worked long hours. In spite of this, Oppenheimer was selected to head Project Y. He and Gen. Groves respected each other.
For 3 months, Oppenheimer’s travelled around the world persuading scientists to the cause. Divas that they were, they couldn’t miss the opportunity to team up on the project with the world’s best physicists. Scientists and their families started arriving at the Santa Fe Railroad Station, followed by nuclear physics equipment, including two Van de Graaffs, a Cockroft-Walton accelerator, and a cyclotron. After arriving at the railroad station, they made their way up to the mesa along the single primitive road. The scientists found themselves anonymous. Famous names were disguised and occupations were not mentioned. Enrico Fermi became “Henry Farmer”,” Neils Bohr became “Nicholas Baker.” The word physicist was forbidden; everyone was an “engineer.”
Once the scientists had all arrived, teams were established.
Family Life at Los Alamos
Bummer, but it was necessary
Everyone was given a fake name, occupation, and history.
Incoming and outgoing mail was read and censored.
Phones were tapped.
Birth certificates for babies born in Los Alamos listed the place of birth as PO Box 1663 in Santa Fe.
Not Too Bad
A 12-grade school system with 16 teachers.
A nursery school was established for working mothers.
Maid service, using Indian women from nearby pueblos, was provided on a rationing system based on the number and ages of the woman’s children and the number of hours she worked.
A town council was elected.
More than 30 recreational and cultural organizations were formed.
Home-grown talent provided concerts and theatrics.
There were movies several times a week.
Running the Project cost $100 Million per month. Some were worried that they wouldn’t have the “Little Boy” uranium bomb ready by the August 1, 1945 deadline. In order to meet the deadline, more scientists, civilian machinists, and Army enlisted men (known as SEDS – Special Engineering Detachment) were brought in to assist. A rocket research team at the California Institute of Technology was to assist in obtaining test fuses, and to contribute to component development. All of these changes kept the Project on track to meet the deadline.
It looked like the deadline would be met. The test of the “Fat Man” plutonium weapon was done at Alamagordo Bombing Range in New Mexico. Oppenheimer named the test “Trinity.” On July 16, 1945 at 5:30 a.m., the test started with a bomb drop.
You may have heard the terrifying results of the test story before. It turned asphalt to green sand, etc.
“Little Boy,” the untested uranium bomb, was dropped first at Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, while the plutonium tested bomb, “Fat Man,” was dropped 3 days later at Nagasaki.
The cost to run the Manhattan Project was $20.5 Billion (in 2018 dollars.)
After Its Use
The destructive power of the bombs haunted many of the Manhattan Project scientists for the rest of their lives. Oppenheimer later fought to prevent development of the hydrogen bomb; he was stripped of his security clearance in 1953.
Einstein, a lifelong pacifist, recognized the irony with a mixture of regret and resignation. Before he died, he admitted to an old friend, “I made one great mistake in my life—when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made; but there was some justification—the danger that the Germans would make them.”
One of the Los Alamos team members from Britain, Klaus Fuchs, was caught passing nuclear information to the Russians in 1949. He was convicted of espionage and exchanged to the Russians.
After the bombs were dropped on Japan and the public learned of the project, they were shocked such a large, top-secret mission could exist. That such a thing could be built around them without them even knowing of its existence. That the government spent $2.2 Billion on the mission to purchase physical properties and employ 130,000+ workers without word getting out.
World War II begins December 7 and 11, 1941
“The Barb’s most famous exploit did not involve those weapons. Observing trains passing along the Japanese coastline, Captain Fluckey hatched a scheme to dispatch a landing party to blow up one of the trains by burying the Barb’s fifty-five pound scuttling charge (essentially a self-destruct device) under the tracks. [Actually, it was Billy Hatfield, 3rd class Electrician’s Mate, who came up with a solution: a microswitch placed under the rail, when the train passed over it, the rail would sag just slightly, and this would depress the switch, completing the circuit.] Rather than using a timer, the explosives would be jury-rigged only to blow when the pressure of a passing train completed the circuit, a trick Fluckey likened to a childhood walnut-cracking prank. A landing party of eight was selected on the basis of their unmarried status and membership in the Boy Scouts. Fluckey believed the scouts would have better pathfinding skills.
“At midnight on July 23, the Barb slipped up to within a kilometer of the shore, and a landing party commanded by Lt. William Walke, paddled quietly to the beach. While three men took up guard positions—they encountered a sleeping Japanese guard in a watchtower, whom they left unharmed—the other five buried the demolition charge and managed not blow themselves up jury-rigging the detonation circuit. They were furiously rowing back to the Barb when a second train passed.
Fluckey described what happened next in his autobiography Thunder Below! : “The engine’s boilers blew, wreckage flew two hundred feet in the air in a flash of flame and smoke, cars piled up and rolled off the track in a writhing, twisting mass of wreckage.”
“All sixteen train cars derailed, killing 150 passengers. The Barb’s crew added a train to the tally of enemy ships sunk on their battle flag. Its landing party had just performed what would be the only U.S. ground operation on the Japanese home islands during World War II. The Barb continued its rampage along the Sakhalin coastline through July 26 before returning safely back to its base in Midway Island on August 2.”
My father served in the African and Pacific theaters. He and Harold Andrews served together in the Pacific on the USS Gunston Hall. Mr. Andrews and I have been email friends for 20 years. We were introduced through the historical organization website for the USS Gunston Hall (LSD-44.) The site contains a timeline of some of the ship’s activities in the Pacific. www.ussgunstonhall.org/webdocs/WWII_files/WW2.htm
1938. Operation Postorius. Two teams of German agents were dropped off by German U-boats in Florida and Long Island. One of the agents contacted the FBI and all of the spies were rounded up and convicted. (see Herbert Hoover, above.)
1941. German u-boats begin bombing U.S. merchant ships in the Atlantic. The ships were carrying supplies to Europe.
1941. The US occupies Greenland and Iceland to help defend the Atlantic fleets.
There were 155,000 troops at the Normandy Invasion (D-Day.)
Congress declared war on Germany after Hitler declared war on the U.S. The European allies were: France, Poland, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Netherlands, Belgium, Greece, Yugoslovia, Soviet Union, United States. The three countries that controlled allied strategy were Great Britain, U.S., Soviet Union.
The most well-known battle, and the turning point of the war was D-Day, or the Normandy Invasion on June 6, 1944. Over 450,000 Allied and German troops were killed, missing, or wounded. There were 155,000 troops at the Normandy Invasion (D-Day.) Americans: 23,250 Utah Beach, 34,250 Omaha Beach, 15,500 airborne troops. British and Canada: 24,970 Gold Beach, 21,400 Juno Beach, 28,845 Sword Beach, 7,900 airborne troops.
Eleven months after D-Day, Germany unconditionally surrendered on May 9, 1945. This date is known as VE Day.
The most wonderful story & video of a young American on Normandy Beach 2014. Grab a box or two of Kleenex!
“The Jazz Singer” is the first commercial taking picture using Vitaphone sound on disks synchronized to film
Grand Ole Opry’s first broadcast 1927
“Blue Skies” by Irving Berlin
“Happy Days Are Here Again” by Milton Ager
“Call of the Jitterbug” by Cab Calloway defines the word ‘jitterbug’ as swing and dance music
“Porgy and Bess” by George & Ira Gershwin
“God Bless America” by Irving Berlin
“Billboard” magazine publishes its first issue
Frank Sinatra (1939 – )
Sinatra’s first two records were with the trumpeter, Harry James — neither song was popular. By 1941, he was named top male singer by “Billboard” and “DownBeat” magazines. “Sinatramania” started. His most popular group of fans were known as “Bobby Soxers.”
Bobby sox were worn by teenagers and young adults. The term “Bobby Soxer” and “Sock Hop” came from school dances — shoes had to be removed to dance on the gym floor so they were dancing in their socks.
Teenage and Young Adult Fashion – Think of the movie “American Graffiti.” Girls wore oxford shoes with folded or rolled down socks. Jeans were rolled up almost to the knees. Guys wore jeans and jackets and were clean shaved with short haircuts. Both gals and guys wore weejun loafers; a penny would often be slipped into the top of the shoe slit.
Most importantly, the one we’ve all heard about is the Poodle Skirt. They were made of felt and had appliques sewn on. Here are a couple of photos of youth fashion in the 50s.
They really had some awesome slang. If I could remember any of them, I’d use them..
Achin’ for a breakin’ – Threating someone to fight
Ankl-biter – A child
Bake biscuits – Making a record
Ernest Hemingway – “The Sun Also Rises.” “A Farewell To Arms”
William Faulkner publishes The Sound And The Fury
Thomas Wolfe publishes Look Homeward, Angel
Margaret Mitchell publishes Gone With the Wind
American Academy of Poets founded
“Life” magazine publishes first issue
“Look” magazine publishes first issue
1933 – “Flying Down to Rio” make their debut Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
1942 – “Casablaca”
1927 Babe Ruth hits 60 home runs, setting a record that will stand for more than 50 years
1935 – Boxer Joe Louis Barrow wind Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press.
1936 – Jesse Owens (African-American) wins four gold medals at Olympics held in Berlin
Movies – Sound
Television – Commercial television broadcasting begins
Aviation – Non-stop transatlantic flight by Charles Lindbergh
Jet stream discovered
Television – First transatlantic television transmission
Medicine – Penicillin
1926 – Henry Ford establishes the 5-day, 40-hour work-week
1927 – Charles Lindbergh flies solo from New York to Paris
1027 – Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences formed; first Academy Awards given in 1929
1931 – Empire State Building opens
1934 – Alcatraz becomes federal prison in San Francisco Bay
1934 – Bonnie & Clyde, “Pretty Boy” Floyd, and John Dillinger killed by authorities
1937 – Hindenburg disaster in Lakehurst, New Jersey
1938 – Orson Welles broadcast “The War of the Worlds”
1940 – Selective Service Act (Draft) implemented
Kids played jacks, marbles, rode bicycles, read books, roller skated, played ball, and played without adult supervision,
Birth Rate 1945: 2,858,000
Divorce Rate 1945: 4.75 per 1,000