The Manhattan Project: A Gateway to Military Advancement

The planning and designing of Manhattan project was carried out by the United States and the allied forces in the Second World War with the view of developing an atomic bomb to be used during the war. The project was initiated by Maj. Gen. Leslie Groves and J. Robert Oppenheimer who led in the development of various research facilities all across the United States of America[1]. The project became a success and produced bombs that were used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The plans to develop nuclear weapons started in the year 1939 when President Franklin Roosevelt got the Einstein-Szilard letter where scientist urged the United States to develop nuclear weapons before the Germans could develop them and use in the war. The letter led to the formation of National Defense Research Committee which led research into the manufacture of nuclear weapons. The development of nuclear weapons received a boost on June 28, 1941, when Executive Order 8807 was signed leading to the creation of the Office of Scientific Research & Development with Vannevar Bush and the first director[2].

To ensure that the plan to develop nuclear weapon becomes a success, there was a need for vast research which led to the formation of S-1 Uranium Committee with Lyman Briggs as the head. The research into the development of Nuclear weapons was boosted further when Australian physicist Marcus Oliphant paid a visit to the S-1Committee with a view of increasing the speed of the nuclear research[3]. Marcus Oliphant was a member of the MAUD Committee, a part of the S-1 Committee from the British side tasked with the development of atomic bombs. Britain was a key player in the Second World War and was greatly interested in ensuring that the plan was a success and that the United States and friendly nations emerge victorious in the war.

The Initiation of the Manhattan Project

The S-1 Committee met for the first time on December 18, 1941, only a few days after Pearl Harbor was hit. The meeting helped in bringing together the best scientists from America, and some of the top scientists present in the meeting were Harold Urey, Arthur Compton, Ernest Lawrence, and Eger Murphree. The scientists resolved to find out avenues through which they could extract uranium-235 and different reactor designs that could be used[4]. The researches were carried in various institutions among them being University of California-Berkeley and Colombia University. The proposal was then presented to the Top Group Policy and Bush and received immediate approval in June 1942 when President Roosevelt released funding immediately.

Due to the intensity of the project, there were required large new facilities, and this forced the committee to work collaboratively with US Army Corps of Engineers. Corps of Engineers initially called it the ‘Development of Substitute Materials’ by later re-named ‘Manhattan District on August 13.’ The project was led by Colonel James Marshal in summer of 1942 but was later replaced in September 1942 when he failed to put the project the highest priority as required. Brigadier General Leslie Groves became the new head of the project[5].

Amassing of Resources

Fast-tracking the project, Groves began by securing sites at Argonne, Oak Ridge, Hanford, and Los Alamos. Robert Oppenheimer preferred the site at Los Alamos the most among all others. In the process of other projects going on smoothly, there was a delay at Argonne, and this made Enrico Fermi’s team to develop the first ever the nuclear reactor in Stagg Field at the University of Chicago. Fermi managed to create the first artificial nuclear chain reactor on December 2, 1942, which was a huge success towards the development of nuclear weapons[6]. The resources received from both the United States and Canada helped in the development of sites at Hanford and Oak Ridge to focus attention on enriching uranium and producing plutonium; this is because there had been other methods used which include gaseous diffusion, electromagnetic separation, and thermal diffusion. In the process of research and production taking place secretly, the British and the United States shared knowledge and information on matters nuclear. The two countries the proceeded to share ideas which led to the signing of Quebec Agreement in August 1943 sealing the agreement of collaborating in the development of atomic weapons[7]. Scientists that spearheaded the agreement were Otto Frisch, Niels Bohr, Rudolf Peierls and Klaus Fuchs.

The Design of the Weapon

As the process of production started, Oppenheimer and his team at the site of Los Alamos led the design of the atomic bomb. The initial works of production focused on ‘gun-type’ designs where one uranium was fired into another leading to uranium chain reaction. Although this approached used in the nuclear chain reaction was suitable for uranium-based bombs, its capacity was less as compared to the ones using the plutonium[8]. This prompted researchers to work on the design and development of a plutonium-based bomb because materials for the same could be easily got. By July 1944, the scientists focused more on the design and development of plutonium designs and the gun-type bombs lost focus.

The Trinity Test

Due to the complexity of the implosion-type device for use for the plutonium designs, Oppenheimer saw the need to carry out a test before the process could move to production. Despite the scarcity of plutonium, Groves confirmed the test and planning of the testing process was to be carried out by Kenneth Bainbridge. Bainbridge then selected the detonation site to be Alamogordo Bombing Range[9]. Although the initial plan was to have a containment vessel to help in recovering fissile material, the plan was abandoned after the supply of plutonium became high. Famously known as the Trinity Test, the pre-test explosion took place on May 7, 1945, where a 100-ft tower was constructed at the site. In the test process, the implosion test device, also known as, ‘The Gadget’ was lifted to the top with the view of simulating a falling bomb from an aircraft. With all the main members of the Manhattan Project present, detonation proceeded successfully with energy similar to 20 kilotons of TNT[10]. The detonation got the attention of President Harry S. Truman which authorized the development of atomic bomb using the test results.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Although the implosion device was the most preferred, the first weapon that left Los Alamos was the gun-type design because its reliability had been confirmed as opposed to the implosion type. The USS Indianapolis carried the components to Tinian and arrived on the 26th day of July. Upon Japan’s refusal to surrender, President Truman changed the target of the weapon to the city of Hiroshima; an order which was carried out by Colonel Paul Tibbets. The weapon was dubbed ‘Little Boy’ and was carried in the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay. The detonation of the ‘Little Boy’ was a success as it fell for 57seconds before its detonation at the predetermined height of 1900 feet[11]. The detonation produced a blast equaling to between 13 and 15 kilotons of TNT. The detonation led to complete destruction of the city of Hiroshima and affected a total area of two miles diameter. The resulting shock wave and firestorm from the bomb destroyed a total area of 4.7 square miles of Hiroshima and killed between 70,000 and 80,000 of the population and injured additional 80,000 others. The detonation in Hiroshima was followed by another one; ‘Fat Man,’ which was implosion plutonium bomb, on Nagasaki thereby generating a blast equaling 21 kilotons of TNT[12]. The detonation in Nagasaki led to the death of 35,000 people and injured 60,000 others. The two bombs forced Japan to pursue peaceful initiatives.

Conclusion

The Manhattan Project is one of the greatest endeavors that the United States ever engaged in during the Second World War as this project created, it employed a total of 130,00 people and cost 2 billion dollars[13]. The project introduced the world to the age of nuclear weapons where countries began harnessing these types of weapons for use in both military purposes and peaceful endeavors. The Manhattan Project proceeded with the development of nuclear weapons, and another major testing was done at Bikini Atoll to test the improved weapon. The Manhattan Project led to the development of nuclear researches which has guided the development of nuclear weapons in the United States and has guided the development of similar weapons in the superpower nations globally.

 

Bibliography

Lowe, David. “The Manhattan Project Historical National Park.” The Unfinished Atomic Bomb: Shadows and Reflections (2017): 167.

Reed, B. Cameron. “The Manhattan Project.” Physica Scripta89, no. 10 (2014): 108003.

Shore, Barry, and Giuseppe Zollo. “Managing large–scale science and technology projects at the edge of knowledge: the Manhattan Project as a learning organisation.” International Journal of Technology Management 67, no. 1 (2014): 26-46.

Wukovits, John F. The Manhattan Project. Greenhaven Publishing LLC, 2014.

[1] Lowe, David. “The Manhattan Project Historical National Park.” The Unfinished Atomic Bomb: Shadows and Reflections (2017): 167.

 

[2] Reed, B. Cameron. “The Manhattan Project.” Physica Scripta89, no. 10 (2014): 108003.

 

[3] Wukovits, John F. The Manhattan Project. Greenhaven Publishing LLC, 2014.

 

[4] Reed, B. Cameron. “The Manhattan Project.” Physica Scripta89, no. 10 (2014): 108003.

[5] Wukovits, John F. The Manhattan Project. Greenhaven Publishing LLC, 2014.

[6] Lowe, David. “The Manhattan Project Historical National Park.” The Unfinished Atomic Bomb: Shadows and Reflections (2017): 167.

 

[7] Wukovits, John F. The Manhattan Project. Greenhaven Publishing LLC, 2014.

 

[8] Reed, B. Cameron. “The Manhattan Project.” Physica Scripta89, no. 10 (2014): 108003.

 

[9] Lowe, David. “The Manhattan Project Historical National Park.” The Unfinished Atomic Bomb: Shadows and Reflections (2017): 167.

[10] Wukovits, John F. The Manhattan Project. Greenhaven Publishing LLC, 2014.

 

[11] Lowe, David. “The Manhattan Project Historical National Park.” The Unfinished Atomic Bomb: Shadows and Reflections (2017): 167.

[12] Reed, B. Cameron. “The Manhattan Project.” Physica Scripta89, no. 10 (2014): 108003.

 

[13] Shore, Barry, and Giuseppe Zollo. “Managing large–scale science and technology projects at the edge of knowledge: the Manhattan Project as a learning organisation.” International Journal of Technology Management 67, no. 1 (2014): 26-46.

 

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