Thursday, July 14, 2016

Countdown to Hiroshima: X-Minus 23 Days

This week I launched my annual daily countdown to the use of atomic bombs against Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the aftermath in 1945.  You can find the first couple of days below.  In one of them, I described how famed nuclear physicist Leo Szilard organized a petition campaign  to try to get President Truman to order that their creation not be used against humans or if so, only after a demonstration to the Japanese of its power.  This sparked a similar petition, on around this date in 1945,  by 67 scientists at Oak Ridge, Tenn., who were also working in the Manhattan.  For more see my Atomic Cover-up book.  This post is from the War Department's official release on the lead up to Trinity test of the first weapon, which would occur on July 16.  The release, of course, was not distributed to the public until after Hiroshima.
This phase of the Atomic Bomb Project, which is headed by Major General Leslie R. Groves, was under the direction of Dr. J. R. Oppenheimer, theoretical physicist of the University of California. He is to be credited with achieving the implementation of atomic energy for military purposes.

Tension before the actual detonation was at a tremendous pitch. Failure was an ever-present possibility. Too great a success, envisioned by some of those present, might have meant an uncontrollable, unusable weapon.

Final assembly of the atomic bomb began on the night of July 12 in an old ranch house. As various component assemblies arrived from distant points, tension among the scientists rose to an increasing pitch. Coolest of all was the man charged with the actual assembly of the vital core, Dr. R. F. Bacher, in normal times a professor at Cornell University.

The entire cost of the project, representing the erection of whole cities and radically new plants spread over many miles of countryside, plus unprecedented experimentation, was represented in the pilot bomb and its parts. Here was the focal point of the venture. No other country in the world had been capable of such an outlay in brains and technical effort.

The full significance of these closing moments before the final factual test was not lost on these men of science. They fully knew their position as pioneers into another age. They also knew that one false move would blast them and their entire effort into eternity. Before the assembly started a receipt for the vital matter was signed by Brigadier General Thomas F. Farrell, General Groves' deputy. This signalized the formal transfer of the irreplaceable material from the scientists to the Army.

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