Part IV: Manhattan Project
Nancy Bartlit
Development of the atomic bombs was one of the greatest scientific achievements of all time, and the best kept secret of World War II. Because the Manhattan Project entailed a huge investment and the work of 129,000 people over a period of several years, it was also the largest scientific project in history. “Manhattan Project” was the code name for this nuclear research effort begun in Manhattan Island, NY.

In 1930, German-born Albert Einstein moved to the U.S. and settled at Princeton University. Einstein, as well as many scientists who were part of the Manhattan Project, had personal ties with European universities and laboratories. They knew the theories and discoveries in nuclear fission coming in 1938 from Berlin and elsewhere. They knew the scientists who remained in Hitler’s Germany and their capability to develop a nuclear weapon. In 1939, these scientists, many of them refugees, asked Einstein to write the letter he did, urging President Franklin Roosevelt to begin intense research on an atomic bomb. Roosevelt accelerated atomic research and the Manhattan Project was born. General Leslie R. Groves, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, became the Director in 1942.

American-born J. Robert Oppenheimer grew up on the isle of Manhattan, NY. He was a brilliant physicist with American and European schooling, who was teaching in California in October 1942, when Groves picked him to lead the research effort. From his early years, Dr. Oppenheimer knew firsthand of the remote Los Alamos Ranch School for Boys in New Mexico, and recommended it for the special site of the Manhattan Project for the duration of the war. In March 1943, the Project took over from the school. Santa Fe, New Mexico's capitol city, became the gateway for Manhattan Project scientists, both civilian and military, to come up to “The Hill.” A race ensued to develop a new kind of weapon, expected to be used on Hitler’s Germany. Many of the outstanding Jewish émigrés who had escaped from Hitler’s policies of exclusion, then extinction, became Manhattan Project scientists, contributing to the project’s success.

However, the war in Europe ended with Germany’s surrender on May 8, 1945, before atomic weapons were available for use. The weapons were ready by mid-July 1945, and the focus turned to using them on Japan if that nation did not accept the Allies’ Potsdam Declaration. President Harry Truman warned of a “rain of ruin” if Japan did not surrender unconditionally. Only the use of two atomic bombs, and the entry of Russia into Manchuria, convinced the Emperor to end the war. The Japanese military leaders were ready to resist an allied invasion on Kyushu. Some leaders pursued a coup to stop the Emperor's surrender message. When that failed, they acquiesced and gave up their arms.

Research on the Manhattan Project required multiple production and research sites that operated secretly around the United States, involving scientists and resources from England and Canada. The results of that research were ultimately assembled and tested in New Mexico, then sent to Tinian Island in the Pacific and put aboard B-29 planes. ❇