The Secret History Of RDX: The Super-Explosive That Helped Win World War II 0813175283, 9780813175287, 0813175313, 9780813175317

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The Secret History Of RDX: The Super-Explosive That Helped Win World War II
 0813175283,  9780813175287,  0813175313,  9780813175317

Table of contents :
Front cover......Page 1
Copyright......Page 5
Contents......Page 8
Abbreviations......Page 10
Introduction......Page 12
1 Lord Beaverbrook, RDX, and the Ministry of Supply......Page 20
2 The Vexed Question of RDX Supply......Page 24
3 Torpex and the Air War......Page 36
4 RDX and the Army Ordnance Department......Page 44
5 RDX and the Army Air Forces......Page 54
6 The Battle for RDX Production......Page 64
7 Canada and RDX......Page 74
8 The Wexler Bend Pilot Plant......Page 86
9 The Great Holston Ordnance Works......Page 98
10 Torpex and the Battle of the Atlantic......Page 124
11 1945 and the Atomic Bomb......Page 146
12 The Aftermath......Page 150
Epilogue......Page 154
Acknowledgments......Page 158
Notes......Page 162
Bibliography......Page 198
Index......Page 208

Citation preview

The Secret History of RDX

The

Secret History of RDX The Super-Explosive that Helped Win World War II Colin F. Baxter

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Copyright © 2018 by The University Press of Kentucky Scholarly publisher for the Commonwealth, serving Bellarmine University, Berea College, Centre College of Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky University, The Filson Historical Society, Georgetown College, Kentucky Historical Society, Kentucky State University, Morehead State University, Murray State University, Northern Kentucky University, Transylvania University, University of Kentucky, University of Louisville, and Western Kentucky University. All rights reserved. Editorial and Sales Offices: The University Press of Kentucky 663 South Limestone Street, Lexington, Kentucky 40508-4008 www.kentuckypress.com Frontispiece: The Kill, by Robert Benny (1904–2001). Courtesy of the Navy Art Collection, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Baxter, Colin F., 1942- author. Title: The secret history of RDX : the super-explosive that helped win World War II / Colin F. Baxter. Description: Lexington, Kentucky : University Press of Kentucky, [2018] | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2017045447| ISBN 9780813175287 (hardcover : alk. paper) | ISBN 9780813175300 (PDF) | ISBN 9780813175317 (ePub) Subjects: LCSH: RDX (Cyclonite) | Explosives, Military—United States—History—20th century. | United States—Armed Forces—Weapons systems—History—20th century. | World War, 1939-1945—Equipment and supplies. Classification: LCC TP290.R39 B39 2018 | DDC 662/.27—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017045447 This book is printed on acid-free paper meeting the requirements of the American National Standard for Permanence in Paper for Printed Library Materials. Manufactured in the United States of America. Member of the Association of University Presses.

In memory of Morton Brown and Frank B. Williams Jr., of East Tennessee State University, and Wilbur Devereux Jones, of the University of Georgia.

Contents List of Abbreviations  ix Introduction 1 1. Lord Beaverbrook, RDX, and the Ministry of Supply  9 2. The Vexed Question of RDX Supply  13 3. Torpex and the Air War  25 4. RDX and the Army Ordnance Department  33 5. RDX and the Army Air Forces  43 6. The Battle for RDX Production  53 7. Canada and RDX  63 8. The Wexler Bend Pilot Plant  75 9. The Great Holston Ordnance Works  87 10. Torpex and the Battle of the Atlantic  113 11. 1945 and the Atomic Bomb  135 12. The Aftermath  139 Epilogue 143 Acknowledgments 147 Notes 151 Bibliography 187 Index 197

Abbreviations AAF Army Air Forces ADM Admiralty papers (National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom) AFHRA Air Force Historical Research Agency AIR Air Ministry papers (National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom) ASF Army Service Forces BAC British Air Commission BPC British Purchasing Commission CIC Counterintelligence Corps (Holston Ordnance Works) CPRB Combined Production and Resources Board D/ASW Director/Anti-Submarine Warfare DM&S Department of Munitions and Supply (Canada) HE High Explosive HAAP Holston Army Ammunition Plant HOW Holston Ordnance Works MAB Munitions Assignment Board (Washington, D.C.) NDRC National Defense Research Committee NRC National Research Council (Canada) ORS Operational Research Section OSRD Office of Scientific Research and Development

ix

x Abbreviations

PREM Prime Minister’s Office (National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom) RAF Royal Air Force RDX Research Department Explosive TEC Tennessee Eastman Company TNT Trinitrotoluene TPX Torpex

Introduction On this site during World War II stood the Wexler Bend Pilot Plant.  In this plant Tennessee Eastman developed a procedure for continuous production of the explosive RDX.   Working day and night, the pilot plant staff started the first semi-works plant run on February 17, 1942, only 26 days after Tennessee Eastman was asked by the National Defense Research Committee to undertake experimental work and pilot plant operation.   The work at the Wexler Bend Pilot Plant led to the government’s authorizing Tennessee Eastman on June 6, 1942, to design and operate the great Holston Ordnance Works for the manufacture of RDX, the most powerful explosive antedating the atom bomb. TENNESSEE EASTMAN COMPANY June 6, 1969

The concise words from the Wexler Bend historical marker help convey to another generation the enormous pride and sacrifice made by those men and women who made possible one of the great American industrial achievements of World War II. Tennessee Eastman Company employees, “working day and night,” continued to produce RDX at Wexler Bend until May 21, 1943, when the newly built, gigantic Holston Ordnance Works went into mass production of RDX, and the end product, Composition B. Thousands of people from northeast Tennessee and the southern Appalachians, and as far away as Rochester, New York, the headquarters of Eastman Corporation, came to work at Holston Ordnance Works, located near the Virginia and Kentucky state lines. What happened at Holston was “one of the great chapters of the war.”1 The journey of the super-explosive RDX from its beginnings at the Woolwich Arsenal, on the south bank

2  The Secret History of RDX

of the Thames in London, to the Holston Ordnance Works, along the Holston River, near Kingsport, Tennessee, is a remarkable, almost forgotten chapter in the history of World War II. With book shelves already straining under the weight of World War II studies, historian Max Hasting has observed that any addition to that vast literature must justify itself by offering a new perspective on the war.2 It is my hope that this account meets that test, as well as the plea of historian Paul Kennedy for more histories that fill what may be called the intellectual “black hole” that exists between what happened “at the top” and the history of “bloody-awful military experiences AT THE BOTTOM.”3 A crucial aspect of this “History from the Middle” is the central importance of those people who brought RDX into the realm of operational use: the managers, the scientists, the captains and commanders, and the men and women on the production lines who devoted themselves to producing RDX. From grand strategy and military operations to weapons and those in uniform, the sheer enormity of World War II involved many controversial issues, and it is not altogether surprising that RDX has received only passing attention. More often than not, the mention of RDX will be confused with RDF (Radio Direction Finding), will draw a blank stare, or will be associated with a particular model of automobile. It is hoped, therefore, that the following account contributes to the great body of work that has formed our understanding of what happened during World War II. In the shadow of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, RDX is largely forgotten, except by those who worked on the exciting top secret project. In 1942, General Leslie R. Groves, who had just finished supervising the construction of the Pentagon for the War Department, would proceed to oversee two of the largest and most secret construction projects of World War II. One was the Holston Ordnance Works (HOW), and the other was the atomic bomb project at Oak Ridge, just over 100 miles southwest of Kingsport. Holston Ordnance Works, at its peak of employment in the

Introduction 3

spring of 1944, numbered nearly 7,000 workers. The number of employees declined as the war progressed, but the production of RDX and Composition B continued to increase. The 123 workers required to operate a production line in 1943 was reduced to 100 by 1944, while production had doubled. By 1945, at the “powder plant,” as it was known locally, the average daily production of Composition B, the end product of RDX, was nearly 700 tons. Every day, “Comp B” was packed into 30,000 boxes and sent to Navy and Army loading plants, and even at this rate of production the demand for RDX and Comp B was so great that the HOW’s explosive magazines rarely held any in storage.4 Holston Ordnance Works would become the largest manufacturer of RDX and Composition B in the world, producing 434,000 tons of the super-explosive. An estimated 90 percent was used by U.S. armed forces, and about 10 percent went to Britain, mostly in the early days of production.5 First at the Wexler Bend Pilot Plant, and then at Holston Ordnance Works, the spectacular accomplishments of the Tennessee Eastman Company (TEC) led General Groves to select that company to be one of the main operators of the Oak Ridge nuclear facility. Several of the techniques used to build and operate Holston were borrowed and adapted to the Oak Ridge project, notably the process of designing, building, and operating plants at virtually the same time. RDX, under different names, was used by all the major combatants in World War II, but not to the extent and degree of success achieved by Britain, Canada, and the United States. The distinction of being the first RDX plant in the United States belonged to the Wabash River Ordnance Works, located north of Terre Haute, Indiana. The DuPont Company signed the contract to construct and operate the Wabash River plant on 13 December 1941. The Wabash facility used the Woolwich process, a method that required eleven pounds of nitric acid for every pound of RDX produced. The plant would be described as “a nitric-acid plant with a RDX-plant tail.”6

4  The Secret History of RDX

Under the direction of the civilian National Defense Research Committee (NDRC), established by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1940, several university laboratories began work on alternatives to the Woolwich process. In early 1941, Professor Werner E. Bachmann of the University of Michigan developed a process that reduced the nitric acid requirement by 85 percent while doubling the yield of RDX. Before the Bachmann “combination” process could become a practical manufacturing proposition, however, other difficulties had to be surmounted. Those difficulties were overcome by the Tennessee Eastman Company, a subsidiary of the Eastman Kodak Company of Rochester, New York. Using Bachmann’s combination process, Tennessee Eastman personnel solved the remaining technical difficulties and began the mass production of the world’s most powerful explosive then in existence. Canada would be a major partner in the development of RDX. The National Research Council of Canada, McGill University in Montreal, and the University of Toronto, together with the Shawinigan Chemical Company in Quebec, would be deeply involved in both the development and production of the super-explosive in Canada and the United States. By October 1941, with the assistance of Vannevar Bush and C. J. Mackenzie, a joint Canadian-American RDX Committee was formed.7 The laboratories in Canada and the United States cooperated as closely as “if they had been part of one laboratory.”8 The authors of a “Green Book” volume in the U.S. Army in World War II series paid tribute to RDX and its contribution to the Allies’ victory: “Depth charges and blockbuster bombs containing super-explosives from the Holston plant were crucially important in sweeping Hitler’s U-boats from the Atlantic and in pulverizing German war industries.”9 Hitler’s U-boats came close during the middle years of the war to cutting the vital supply line from North America to the United Kingdom. In May 1942, RAF Coastal Command introduced the Torpex-filled airborne depth charge into service, which

Introduction 5

provided its aircraft with a lethal airborne weapon to use against the U-boats. The weapon’s “knockout punch” would help turn the tide against German U-boats in the climactic 1943 encounters in the Battle of the Atlantic.10 Short for TORPedo EXplosive, Torpex consisted of 42 percent RDX, 40 percent TNT, and 18 percent aluminum powder. Torpex has been called the most effective underwater explosive used during World War II. In the Pacific, U.S. Navy torpedo warheads filled with Torpex sank scores of enemy ships. And the Hedgehog antisubmarine device mounted on the deck of destroyer-escorts consisted of rows of spigot mortars that fired projectiles filled with Torpex. These spigot mortars resembled the quills on a hedgehog’s back, hence the name of the antisubmarine weapon. Eventually the Hedgehog proved effective against enemy submarines. In the bombing campaign against Hitler’s Germany, Composition B, where possible, replaced the far less powerful explosive Amatol as a bomb filling.11 The famous dam-busting “bouncing bombs” that breached the Ruhr dams in 1943 were filled with Torpex. “Blockbuster” and “Tallboy” bombs, filled with Torpex, wreaked destruction on strategic targets. Torpex filled the largest nonnuclear bombs used in World War II, the 22,000-pound “Grand Slams.” In the form of C-4, or plastic explosive, RDX was put to good use by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), and the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in Axis-occupied Europe. Local saboteurs, trained and armed by the Allies, used plastic explosives to destroy viaducts, bridges, troop trains, ships, and enemy aircraft on the ground—and in general caused great inconvenience to the Axis.12 The chemical compound cyclotrimethylenetrinitramine, or “Hexogen” as it was then known, was first discovered by the German chemist G. F. Henning in 1899 and patented as a urinary antiseptic.13 For that purpose it proved a disappointment, but two decades later the tongue-twisting compound was recognized as the high explosive Hexogen, which in turn became known as Cyclonite.

6  The Secret History of RDX

Cyclonite received little attention until the commercial synthesis of methyl alcohol made available cheap supplies of formaldehyde, a key component of cyclonite, and the explosive was first produced commercially in Italy, under the code name of T4, at the Nobel Dynamite Company plant in Avigliana, Italy.14 Various countries in the 1920s, including the United States, investigated the military value of cyclonite. At the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey, U.S. Army ordnance experts concluded that cyclonite was “entirely too sensitive to mechanical shock” and too expensive to manufacture, since one pound of cyclonite cost $1.61 to produce compared to 15 cents per pound for TNT.15 British researchers at the Woolwich Arsenal in London concluded that in its pure or “neat” form cyclonite was, again, too sensitive for military use unless the highly volatile compound was mixed with desensitizing material.16 Their solution was to mix (or “phlegmatize”) cyclonite with TNT and beeswax, and the end result was called Composition B, which consisted of 60 percent RDX, 40 percent TNT, and 1 percent beeswax. Not all the bees in the world, however, could provide enough beeswax for the huge quantities of Composition B that were eventually produced.17 Once the United States entered World War II and considered producing the new super-explosive, an effective substitute for beeswax was developed from petroleum at the Explosives Research Laboratory in Bruceton, Pennsylvania.18 Composition B was less sensitive to shock while still possessing 30 to 40 percent greater explosive power than TNT.19 By 1933, Woolwich scientists were making small batches of the high explosive at seventy-five pounds per hour, and in 1937 they reported that the cyclonite mixture (Composition B) had been tested successfully in armor-piercing and high explosive shells, as well as in a plastic form for demolition purposes.20 The Woolwich researchers were confident that Composition B-filled bombs would enable Royal Air Force bombers to carry a larger number of bombs with far greater destructive power than those currently filled with Amatol.21 Moreover, they had “no doubt” that Composition B would

Introduction 7

be used in torpedo warheads, and many other applications, once supplies were available.22 The Woolwich report acknowledged that the cost of RDX was two or three times that of TNT. The Woolwich process would later be described by R. C. Burton, the general superintendent of production at Holston Ordnance Works, as follows: “The British procedure for making Composition B was to melt TNT in a heated kettle, shovel in wet RDX and stir until the water evaporated. The molten mix was then poured into trays something like biscuit pans where it cooled and solidified. With only a few pounds per tray, this was a real labor hog. In addition, the workers were constantly exposed to poisonous TNT fumes.”23 To increase production, the British decided to construct a pilot plant at the Royal Gunpowder Factory in Waltham Abbey, located north of London, with the capacity of producing ten tons of cyclonite a month.24 For security reasons, the researchers at Woolwich renamed cyclonite RDX, which stood for Research Department Explosive.25 Hardly had the Waltham Abbey pilot plant been completed when design and layout began in August 1939 for a larger RDX plant near Bridgewater in western England.26 Construction at Bridgewater was slow, however, because special design work was needed, and the plant cost five times that of a TNT plant. By the time Bridgewater was operational in July 1941, the facility had adopted the process developed by Michigan chemist Dr. Werner Bachmann for the production of RDX. Total British production of the explosive at both Waltham Abbey and Bridgewater amounted to only 900 tons in 1941.27 The Bridgewater RDX plant provided the explosive that would fill the famous “bouncing bombs” that were dropped on Germany’s Ruhr dams in May 1943. Thomas Thorpe’s Dictionary of Applied Chemistry, a basic reference work, proved to be prophetic in its 1939 edition: “In spite of the difficulties [previously] indicated, the future of cyclonite [RDX] as a major high explosive for military use is regarded as highly promising.”28 Although the British expeditionary force, together with

8  The Secret History of RDX

many French and Belgian troops, were evacuated in the “miracle of Dunkirk” in 1940, all equipment and tanks had to be left behind in France. Under these dire circumstances, Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared that the order of the day was production of existing weapons and munitions at all costs.29 The Ministry of Supply concentrated on the production of TNT and ammonium nitrate.30 In November 1940, Woolwich Arsenal was damaged by an enemy bomb, but the Waltham Abbey pilot plant continued to produce a small amount of RDX throughout the 1940–1941 air raids.31 Bridgewater would be the last British plant to produce RDX.32 The best hope to supply RDX lay across the Atlantic, but in 1941 no such production facilities existed in the United States.

1

Lord Beaverbrook, RDX, and the Ministry of Supply By June 1940, the Battle of France was lost and the Battle of Britain was about to begin. At the battle’s height, on 3 September 1940, Churchill declared, “The Fighters are our salvation, but the Bombers alone provide the means of victory.”1 Writing to his close friend Lord Beaverbrook, the minister for aircraft production, Churchill said, “We have nothing to stop him [Hitler]. But there is one thing that will bring him down and that is an absolutely devastating exterminating attack by very heavy bombers from this country upon the Nazi homeland. We must be able to overwhelm them by this means, without which I do not see a way through.”2 At the end of the 1940, however, Churchill noted in an “Action This Day” memorandum, “I am deeply concerned at the stagnant condition of our bomber force. . . . I consider the rapid expansion of the bomber force one of the greatest military objectives now before us . . . the situation is most distressing and black.”3 Bomber crews had displayed unquestioned determination and bravery in carrying out their missions, but the RAF Bomber Command’s aircraft were neither numerous nor accurate enough to inflict heavy damage on the enemy.4 Bombs filled with the explosive Amatol were unable to fulfill the very purpose of the bomber, which was to carry bombs that would cause maximum damage to the enemy. Furthermore, the ratio of explosive to the weight of the bomb itself was too low, between 27 and 30 percent, compared to the 50 percent in German bombs.5 Beaverbrook informed Air Marshal Sir Richard Peirse, the

10  The Secret History of RDX

chief of Bomber Command, that he was “alarmed that we have no real brains working on the question of improved explosives.”6 Beaverbrook told Peirse that he had been to Woolwich Arsenal and gained the impression that “except for the costumes, we had stepped back into the Crimean [War] period.”7 Beaverbrook stated that he had written to Sir Henry Tizard, the scientific adviser to the Air Ministry, asking whether they were using any outside sources, such as I.C.I. [Imperial Chemical Industries]. In the absence of Tizard, Air Commodore Patrick Huskinson had replied they were not; however, Huskinson informed him that there was a new and much better explosive than TNT, but it was only produced in “penny packet numbers” by the Ministry of Supply, and that unless pressure was applied on the Ministry of Supply by higher authorities increased quantities of the new explosive were unlikely. “It goes by the name of RDX.”8 Beaverbrook suggested in his letter to Peirse that they submit a paper to the Defense Committee demanding the “most urgent action” for an increased supply of RDX.9 Beaverbrook’s proposal stated that experiments at the Woolwich Arsenal over the past fifteen years had shown that RDX gave 30 percent more power than any of the explosives now used in their bombs, and its use by the RAF “will immensely increase our offensive bombing power.”10 He stated that the only RDX plant “in existence today” was at Bridgewater, which was expected to make sixty tons per week in September 1941, an amount that would “meet only a small proportion of the needs of the Royal Air Force. . . . Urgent consideration should therefore be given to the provision of further plants and facilities so that a minimum output of 600 tons a week can swiftly be reached.”11 Beaverbrook’s proposal was soon in the hands of the director-general of explosives at the Ministry of Supply, Lord Weir, who responded that “the first task” of the Ministry of Supply had been to make provision for sufficient production of the standard explosives TNT and ammonium nitrate.12 Somewhat defensively, Lord Weir wrote, “The problem of providing the Services with a

Lord Beaverbrook, RDX, and the Ministry of Supply  11

super high explosive has never been lost sight of . . . [after the defeat of France] we hoped to interest United States authorities in the adoption of either RDX or some similar type of super high explosive through Sir Henry Tizard’s visit but the response was not enthusiastic.”13 Instead of RDX, Weir suggested as an alternative filling RAF bombs with the explosive Pentolite, which could be manufactured more quickly and cost less: “For example, to make 1 ton of TNT or Pentolite, 1¼ tons of concentrated Nitric Acid is required, but for RDX 10 gross tons is needed.”14 Pentolite, said Weir, was around 20 percent more powerful than TNT as opposed to 30 percent for the RDX. As for Beaverbrook’s proposal to build a plant able to produce 600 tons of RDX a week, Weir argued that it would require the construction of nine units the size of the Bridgewater plant at a cost of £9 million and take between “two and three years” to construct.15 He recommended that in view of the magnitude of the proposed expansion, and the “congested state in this country of construction and equipment programs,” that “on whatever scale further RDX production may be decided upon it should be carried out in the U.S.A.”16 They were negotiating through the British Purchasing Commission in Washington for the possible supply of RDX from the United States.17 In a letter to Sir Andrew Duncan, the Minister of Supply, Beaverbrook declared that he could not accept Lord Weir’s position on RDX or accept Pentolite as an inferior substitute for RDX. As long ago as 1934, stated Beaverbrook, the Research Department at Woolwich reached the conclusion that RDX was superior to Pentolite. In Beaverbrook’s opinion, there had been “a serious failure in the past” to push forward construction of RDX facilities.18 However, wrote Beaverbrook, “the past concerns neither you nor me, what is evident is the need for immediate action now to increase production of this explosive, for large quantities of which the Air Staff are already pressing.”19 On 12 March 1941, Dr. J. W. Armit, deputy director-general of explosives at the Ministry of Supply, presided over a ministry meeting to discuss RDX production. After considering Bomber

12  The Secret History of RDX

Command’s request for as much RDX as possible to fill all types of bombs and the Navy’s antisubmarine requests for Torpex, Dr. Armit informed Lord Weir, “I think from all points of view it would be best to try all means of getting the United States Government to erect these [RDX] plants as part of its own rearmament program.”20 Armit added, “I am seeing, this morning, Dr. Conant, who I understand is one of President Roosevelt’s chief scientific advisers, in this connection.”21 Beaverbrook’s efforts on behalf of Bomber Command were appreciated by Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal, chief of the Air Staff: “I was very glad to hear . . . that you were fighting for a proper production of the new explosive known as RDX. I view the introduction of RDX on an adequate scale as a matter of very great importance since it will greatly enhance the effect of every bomb so filled which we can deliver into Germany. I am told that the destruction caused by a 500 pound general purpose bomb is increased by 50% by the use of R.D.X. There is no need to stress the value any further.”22 Although Portal considered the production of RDX “of very great importance,” the Ministry of Supply made it quite clear that any new plants beyond that at Bridgewater were impossible.

2

The Vexed Question of RDX Supply There now began a vigorous British campaign to convince American authorities to manufacture RDX on a large scale “as a matter of great urgency.”1 Their greatest challenge would be to convince the U.S. Army Ordnance Department of the importance of RDX, since that department was responsible for supplying munitions to the Army, as well as the Army Air Forces and Navy. The Air Ministry believed that the U.S. military services preferred to deal with one body on air matters, and that would be the RAF Harris Mission. Lord Beaverbrook, however, argued that Britain’s best friends in America were not the Army or Navy, but the president and his civilian advisers, who could override “where necessary the inevitably professional view of the Service chiefs.” Before the supply question was finally resolved in 1943, both approaches would be necessary to surmount opposition from the Ordnance Department to RDX. In June 1941, Air Vice-Marshal Sir Arthur T. Harris arrived in Washington to head the RAF mission in America. After discussing RDX requirements with General H. H. “Hap” Arnold, chief of the U.S. Army Air Forces, Harris cabled Air Chief Marshal Portal that Arnold was “definitely interested” in the superexplosive, but the Army Ordnance Department regarded RDX as unsafe.2 Harris also cabled Sir Wilfred Freeman, vice-chief of the Air Staff, “In order to get and keep [the] right people here interested and sell them the idea of RDX on [the] grand scale must have necessary sales patter and pictures.”3

14  The Secret History of RDX

Harris was quickly provided with what little firsthand operational material was available, since their very limited supply of RDX restricted its use to only a handful of 4,000-pound “Blockbuster” bombs.4 Most of this information was derived from the bombing of the German port of Emden on the North Sea. Freeman added that RDX, in the form of Torpex, had also been used in an airborne antisubmarine depth charge, and “RDX proved itself excellent in both these cases, and considered ideal for filling any type of bomb.”5 At the end of April 1941, Air Commodore Huskinson, director of armament production, informed Air Marshal Peirse, chief of Bomber Command: You will be pleased to hear that we are delivering to you this coming week 12-4,000 lb. bombs filled with RDX as these bombs have been asked for by the Air Staff for a special purpose. The bombs contain the very latest type of explosive which gives Approximately 30 percent increase over the present filling. I am writing to you so as to make sure that no accidents occur and that these bombs are not used on ordinary targets. You will be glad to hear that I have more or less recovered from a very nasty shake-up, but I am still blind in both eyes. However, I hope to regain my eyesight shortly. I hope these 12 super bombs will be put in the right place as I feel very angry towards the “Hun.”6 The first of the “super bombs” dropped in World War II made their operational debut on the night of 31 March 1941, when two of them were dropped on Emden.7 Air Marshal Harris was informed that “Bomber crew reports indicate tremendous effects of explosion often felt as high as 14,000 feet and causing debris, flame and smoke over wide areas.”8 Aerial photographs confirmed the reports of the aircrews and indicated “tremendous devastation and blast effect at 200 yards from point of impact.”9 Reliable

The Vexed Question of RDX Supply  15

intelligence sources described “the demoralizing effect on Germans who are extremely apprehensive and dread more extensive use [of] these bombs.”10 Huskinson, who shared the reports with the American ambassador, John G. Winant, remarked that the bomb had “supremely justified itself.”11 Reconnaissance photographs confirmed crew reports that the first bomb obliterated every building in an area of approximately 100 by 80 yards, and the German High Command described the blast damage as “severe.”12 The American public was made aware of the new 4,000pound bomb by Time magazine, which under the heading “Beautiful New Bomb” carried the story that Minister of Aircraft Production Lord Beaverbrook had praised the “boys in the back room [scientists and technicians]” who had helped design “the big new beautiful bombs.”13 One witness of a big bomb dropped on Hamburg described the effect as “like a volcano in eruption.”14 Later in 1941, Beaverbrook would be reminded of his public praise of the “boys in the back room” when he appeared to accept U.S. Army Ordnance Department skepticism about RDX. General Arnold was so impressed by the destruction inflicted by the 4,000-pound “Blockbuster” bombs that he requested Army Ordnance to produce a bomb of similar design.15 Full particulars of the RAF bomb were sent to the British Air Commission in Washington.16 However, in the Army Ordnance Department, Generals Gladeon M. Barnes and Richard H. Somers doubted whether the 4,000-pounder would be as effective as two 2,000-pound bombs.17 Assistant Secretary of War for Air Robert A. Lovett intervened and ordered the continued development of the 4,000-pound bomb.18 The British submitted their first request for 6,500 tons of RDX on 2 May 1941 and asked that it be delivered at a rate of 125 tons per month, with the deliveries “to start as soon as possible.”19 Two weeks later, representatives of the British Supply Mission asked the Ammunition Branch to discuss their RDX requisition. Why did the British submit the requisition to the Ammunition

16  The Secret History of RDX

Branch, which was relatively low down on the Ordnance Department’s organizational chart, and not to Ordnance’s Technical Staff? Dr. Robert O. Bengis, chief chemist in the Ammunition Branch, later recounted, “It was the feeling of the British that they had completed the research and development program” on RDX, and by making their designs available to the Ammunition Branch, it would be possible to initiate immediate RDX production in the United States.20 Moreover, the British may have felt that Ordnance’s Ammunition Branch would be more receptive to their requisition than the Technical Staff headed by General Gladeon M. Barnes, described in Ordnance’s official history as “a dominant figure on research and development matters” in the Department from 1938 to 1946. A skilled engineer, and sure of his own judgements, Barnes’s opponents regarded his “refusal to consider contrary opinions a very great weakness.”21 Barnes believed that Ordnance was fully capable of carrying out its own research program without the intervention of any other agency.22 Several conferences involving British, U.S. Navy, and NDRC representatives followed in the Old Munitions Building in Washington. Major G. C. Tibbitts of the Ammunition Branch noted that “the British have strongly emphasized their desire for utmost secrecy on the whole subject of RDX and have also stressed the extreme urgency of their requirement for RDX.”23 Commander Holsinger stated that the Navy “definitely” required 120 tons of RDX per week.24 Although the Army made no official request for RDX, Colonel Henry S. Aurand said the Army should not be left out of the RDX program.25 Once the Navy’s request for RDX was known, the Ammunition Branch recommended that a contract be negotiated “immediately” to cover the development and pilot plant work necessary for the design and operation of the first RDX facility in the United States.26 The main plant would have the capacity to produce 240 tons of RDX per week. In June 1941, a subcommittee of the Defense Aid Ordnance Requirements Committee, established following passage of the Lend-Lease Act in March 1941 to review

The Vexed Question of RDX Supply  17

foreign ordnance requests, unanimously recommended that negotiations be immediately started with the DuPont Company for the construction of an RDX plant.27 Four days later, the War Department Facilities Board recommended that negotiations be started with DuPont. The estimated cost of the plant was “in the neighborhood of $70,000,000.”28 In the adoption of an American RDX program, Admiral Blandy played a critical role. “Spike Blandy,” as he was known to his friends, had previously been instrumental in the U.S. Navy’s adoption of the Swiss-developed 20 mm automatic Oerlikon antiaircraft gun. In 1940, Commander Stuart Mitchell of the Royal Navy had been sent to the United States to persuade small New England machine tool companies to manufacture parts for the antiaircraft gun, which had been adopted by the Royal Navy. The success of Mitchell’s mission hinged on the weapon’s adoption by the U.S. Navy, since no war material could be manufactured in the United States unless it was considered suitable for use by U.S. forces. The weapon was test fired by Blandy (who was then a captain) at the Navy’s Dahlgren Proving Ground.29 After firing the Oerlikon antiaircraft gun, Blandy unstrapped his harness and, “grinning broadly,” turned to Mitchell and said, “Well, Commander, I guess we’ll buy that!”30 “In precisely twenty minutes,” wrote author Gerald Pawle, “one man, acting on his own judgment had reached a decision which had taken the [British] Admiralty eighteen months of trials and bitter argument.”31 Admittedly, the U.S. Navy had the benefit of a report from the British Admiralty on the outstanding performance of the weapon in combat against enemy aircraft. Admiral Blandy, promoted since the adoption of the Oerlikon, was convinced of the great possibilities of RDX, especially for use in mines and torpedoes.32 Underwater experiments conducted at the Explosives Research Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, confirmed that the British-developed explosive Torpex (a combination of RDX, TNT, and aluminum powder) was far more powerful

18  The Secret History of RDX

than TNT.33 On a weight basis, 100 pounds of Torpex produced the same underwater damage as 150 pounds of TNT. In other words, 1 pound of Torpex equaled 1.5 pounds of TNT.34 The British RDX requisition, accompanied by the Navy’s request for 120 tons of the super-explosive, proceeded to wind its way through U.S. Army Ordnance Department channels. General R. H. Somers, chief of the Technical Division, was asked “whether there are any present or possible future tentative requirements for use of RDX by the Army, either for artillery ammunition or bombs.”35 His response was equivocal and ambiguous: “Cyclonite [RDX] can be used by the Army when its production is sufficiently large to justify its adoption as an alternative explosive.”36 Meanwhile, Admiral Blandy appeared before a congressional committee to request an appropriation of $70 million to manufacture “a new type of explosive the nature of which I do not wish to discuss in an open hearing.”37 No doubt aware of the Navy’s RDX requirement, General Gladeon M. Barnes recommended to General Charles T. Harris Jr., chief of Industrial Service, that a plant should be built capable of producing approximately 300 tons of RDX per week.38 The recommendation stated, “The Navy wants 120 tons per week, the British 120 tons per week, and it is suggested that we gamble on 60 tons per week” (my emphasis).39 The $70 million appropriation led to the construction of the first RDX plant in the United States, the Wabash River Ordnance Works, built near Terre Haute, Indiana. Air Marshal Harris cabled the good news to Air Chief Marshal Portal, who suggested that Harris thank the Americans for their quick response to the their May 1941 request, and “then ask whether they can do any better.”40 Portal reiterated to Harris that RDX increased the explosive power of a 500-pound bomb by 40 percent, and projected that Bomber Command’s requirements would rise to 8,000 tons per week in 1943, and “ideally, of course, all this should be RDX.”41 The second British request for RDX had the impact of a bombshell. Submitted in July 1941 by the British Purchasing Com-

The Vexed Question of RDX Supply  19

mission (BPC) on behalf of the Air Ministry, the request called for 54,000 tons of RDX in the form of Composition B to be delivered over the course of 1942. The Ammunition Branch recommended favorable action on the requisition and suggested an approximate cost of $200 million for the plant and raw materials.42 Harris again attempted to persuade General Arnold of the need for the greatly expanded RDX requisition. Arnold acknowledged that RDX was “a very superior explosive,” but it would be confined to “very special projects” because of the cost factor.43 Composition B would also require a complete reorganization of bomb-loading establishments, said Arnold. However, he told Harris that he would continue pushing for the production of RDX as rapidly as possible so that it could replace TNT as it became available.44 The only avenue left open to achieve the quantities requested by Air Chief Marshal Portal and the Air Ministry was the political one. Harris cabled the Air Ministry that, given the “very great [RDX] expansion” envisioned, “it could do nothing but good if you found opportunity to impress Harry Hopkins [President Roosevelt’s closest adviser].”45 The chairman of the BPC, Dr. George W. White, contacted Hopkins in the first week of September 1941, explaining to him that “the plans for a war-winning air offensive are valueless without provision of bombs in step with bomber production, both from the U.S.A. and United Kingdom.”46 Sir Clive Baillieu, the director-general of the BPC, asked Canada’s minister of munitions and supply, J. R. Donald, that given “the scope of RDX is so vast that I would ask you to consider the possibility of Canada participating in the expanded program.”47 The British requisition came at a time when Roosevelt and congressional leaders had already agreed to a Lend-Lease appropriation of nearly $6 billion in military aid to Britain.48 Hopkins said the new RDX request proposal would have to wait until the “Victory Plan” emerged in the near future.49 Air Marshal Harris’s mission to Washington had not been a resounding success. His cables to Portal and Freeman had been

20  The Secret History of RDX

so critical of Britain’s main supplier and future ally that the two men had been obliged to restrict circulation of parts of his signals to the Air Ministry.50 The chief civilian on the RAF delegation in Washington would make the observation: “Harris has been very energetic since his arrival but I think he is suffering a little disillusion from the discovery, which is past experience among our predecessors that promises in high quarters do not always materialize in the face of the many obstacles to be surmounted in forcing schemes through the machine.”51 Harris cabled Air Marshal Freeman in September 1941 that it was a mistake to think that contacting such individuals as Arnold, Stimson, Hopkins, and even the president was the path to accomplishment in Washington: “It means generally little, and often nothing . . . promises at even the highest in the land have petered out to nothing in practice through material lack or Departmental opposition.”52 In Harris’s opinion, the Air Ministry, with its expectation of large-scale U.S. production of RDX, was “living in a fool’s paradise.”53 Harris vowed to continue his “missionary work” within the U.S. War Department, despite “the wishful thinking evident at home (but not by you!) [Harris meant Freeman].”54 That September, the British Air Commission in Washington informed the home authorities that British production of RDX was “so insignificant as to be likely to defeat our case for large U.S. expansion involving capital of $200 million.”55 British production from Bridgewater was only 60 tons a month, although expected to rise to a maximum of 376 tons a month in 1942, an amount that had to be shared between the Navy, Army, and Air Force.56 The BAC reported that American opinion appeared to be “consolidating” in favor of the explosive Amatol, as it “would make most effective use of ammonium available within next 18 months to 2 years.”57 The BAC thought it “doubtful” that ammonia would be switched from TNT “to increase the production of RDX. . . . The supply of TNT is the crux of the situation now worsened by diversions to Russia.”58

The Vexed Question of RDX Supply  21

The discouraging news concerning the American attitude (or more precisely that of the Army Ordnance Department) toward a large expansion of RDX was conveyed to Sir Archibald Sinclair, British secretary of state for air, in late October 1941 by his friend Lord Beaverbrook, now minister of supply: “My Dear Archie, I have received a warning that the Americans think RDX is not any good. They think that large bombs of rich Amatol would cause as much destruction.”59 Beaverbrook said that the Air Ministry realized the impossibility of obtaining all the RDX they wanted from the United States, but they hesitated to make a more reasonable request.60 Beaverbrook suggested an immediate review of the Air Staff request, since the cost for the full program would be about £150 million, whereas if Amatol were used none of this expenditure would be required.61 He signed the letter, “Max.”62 At the Air Ministry, Air Vice-Marshal D. G. Donald criticized Beaverbrook for his “warning” letter: “It is somewhat distressing to see Lord Beaverbrook entertaining any doubts of the opinions of the ‘Back-Room Boys’ [the scientists] whom he so proudly introduced to the British public [and quoted in the magazine Time] not so many months ago.”63 Air Vice-Marshal Donald noted that on a recent visit to Britain “we gained the impression that General Wesson [General Charles M. Wesson, chief of the U.S. Army Ordnance] was opposed to the RDX proposals not entirely on the merits. It is for us I think to resist such biased advice from American Army sources which I fear must have found its way back to Lord Beaverbrook.”64 Donald thought it “fundamentally wrong that we should purport to reduce requirements because there is thought to be difficulty in meeting them. The main effort should be directed towards overcoming the difficulties rather than in finding reasons for submitting to them.”65 He suggested that the Ministry of Supply should regard it as “one of their most vital duties to achieve at least this scale of provisions [15,500 tons of RDX per month by December 1942] of what must be regarded as our primary war-winning weapon.”66

22  The Secret History of RDX

From the Ministry of Supply, Sir Ronald Melville informed his friend Sinclair that he was “not very happy about the line” of approach taken by Air Vice-Marshal Donald, which appeared to him to be an uncompromising position on what he called “the vexed question of RDX supply.”67 Melville sent Sinclair a paper written by Frederick Wood (deputy under-secretary of state, Ministry of Supply), which he considered a “valuable analysis of the salient points of the question.”68 “The facts are,” wrote Wood: (a) Everyone here agrees that RDX is about 30% more effective than Amatol. (b) Our requirements amount to about 9,300 tons of RDX a month by December 1942. (c) We are to produce only 300 to 400 tons a month in this country from a factory at Bridgewater, which took 3,000 men more than a year to build and which employs continuously 1,000 operatives. (d) We are asking the Americans to produce the balance—a staggering requirement. The capital costs would be about £150,000,000 according to Lord Beaverbrook. Sir Walter Layton [Ministry of Supply] has told us that to produce only 5,000 tons a month would need 20 plants the size of Bridgewater. Wood concluded: (a) That we clearly cannot get the full amount. (b) That to make any balanced estimate of what lesser amount should be made requires knowledge of the production difficulties which we haven’t got. (c) That for the Ministry of Supply to make up their minds how much to go for requires a knowledge of operational factors which they haven’t got.

The Vexed Question of RDX Supply  23

He suggested as a way out of the “present impasse . . . Clearly the two Departments [Air and Supply] ought to get together and try and work out a compromise.”69 Melville informed Air Marshal Christopher Courtney at the Air Ministry that “we must cut our coat according to the cloth available, and any attempt to stand out for our ideal requirements or anything approaching them would, I am afraid, merely make us look ridiculous and in the end achieve for us less than a more realistic approach.”70 Sinclair replied to Beaverbrook in later November: “I am sorry to have been so long answering your letter of 20 October about RDX production, but we have not been idle. It is a question of immense importance to us as the difference between RDX and Amatol expressed in terms of air strength is + or - 30% in the striking power of Bomber Command.”71 That being said, Sinclair acknowledged the difficulties involved in the production of RDX, and “I therefore agree to your demand for an immediate review. . . . Yours ever, Archie.”72 Three days later, Melville wrote to Sinclair: “Dear Archie, to make RDX we must have the cooperation of the Americans. You get it, and we will try to do the job for you. You say you are on the way to it. We are of the opinion that your people are guilty of wishful thinking. We await your turning the realm of hope into the era of reality.”73 In September 1941, Canada’s munitions minister, J. R. Donald, a strong advocate of RDX, was told by Colonel J. P. Harris that the U.S. Army Ordnance Department questioned the superiority of RDX vis-à-vis Amatol.74 Donald assured him that the Woolwich researchers, and the British Army, would not have reached the conclusion they did regarding the superiority of RDX without very thorough and conclusive tests. Consequently, Donald said, “there was no doubt about it in my mind.”75 He urged Harris to “come up to Canada” and visit the RDX pilot plant at Shawinigan Falls in Quebec, where an improvement on the Woolwich process was being used to produce RDX.76 Harris accepted the invitation, and his visit was highly successful. At a November meeting in

24  The Secret History of RDX

Washington, Harris told Donald that he had convinced General Charles T. Harris Jr., chief of the Industrial Service in the Ordnance Department, of the value of RDX.77 Donald later wrote, “I don’t think at the time any of us expected the U.S. to be at war in about a month’s time.”78

3

Torpex and the Air War On December 7, 1941, with the surprise attack by Japanese carrier planes on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, the United States’ policy of official neutrality toward Britain and its Allies was replaced by one of total victory over their common enemies. However, the “wishful thinking” concerning U.S. production of RDX, while closer to reality, was not achieved overnight, and not without overcoming “terrific obstacles,” both departmental and physical.1 Army Ordnance skepticism of RDX would continue, and construction would be handicapped by competition for scarce materials during the most critical period of the war, the years 1942 to 1943. Dr. Robert O. Bengis, as one who had been directly involved in the struggle to promote the American RDX program, later wrote with understandable pride that RDX production was only achieved “due to the untiring efforts and aggressiveness of all concerned.”2 Five days after Pearl Harbor, Dr. J. W. Armit, deputy director of explosives at the Ministry of Supply, received a cable from the BPC in Washington: “[U.S.] military authorities are now giving serious consideration to RDX as a high explosive for U.S. Services.”3 In early February 1942, Sir Ronald Melville, also at the Ministry of Supply, asked Secretary of State for Air Sinclair, “What is the position of RDX?”4 Sinclair responded that “we cannot expect that supplies of RDX will for a long time be anything like our ideal requirements.”5 The Air Ministry’s immediate problem was the shortage of TNT needed to fill their Amatol bombs.6 Churchill’s scientific adviser, Lord Cherwell (Sir Frederick Lindemann), complained, “It would be better to drop plenty of

26  The Secret History of RDX

high explosive in any form of thin walled container than waste so large a proportion of our bombing effort in carting old iron to Germany.”7 Churchill aimed his displeasure at Air Minister Sinclair: “As to bombs, you told me in your minute of July 19, 1941, that a production order had been placed for 500-lb. special bombs, and that you were proceeding with the design of a larger one. . . . I am disappointed that such a large proportion of our efforts should still be applied to carrying bombs with only half the blasting power they might have.”8 Sinclair insisted they could not rely solely on the largest bombs, since only their heaviest bombers could carry them.9 Nonetheless, “we must press ahead with these bombs with all speed.”10 When Churchill expressed concern that the Air Ministry gave more importance to “penetration” than blast effect, Sinclair replied, “This is certainly not the case.”11 “We entirely agree that for the widespread destruction of dwelling houses and the like heavy bombs with the highest possible charge/weight ratio are best and we are planning to use such bombs in increasing numbers. . . . On the other hand there are many reasons why we cannot rely solely on this type of bomb: (a) Only the heaviest bombers can carry them. (b) Explosives are at present the bottle-neck in bomb production.”12 By 1943, the aluminized bomb became the focus of Lord Cherwell’s attention. The explosive Torpex, consisting of 42 percent RDX, 40 percent TNT, and 18 percent aluminum powder, had already been accepted as the most powerful underwater explosive in the Allies’ munitions arsenal, but experiments in 1941 had led to the mistaken belief that “there was little or no advantage in using aluminized explosives for blast in air.”13 Cherwell brought the issue of aluminized bombs to the attention of Prime Minister Churchill, who ordered an inquiry to consider whether, and if so why, there had been any failure to pursue research on aluminized explosives.14 The committee of inquiry, chaired by Sir Walter Monckton, found no evidence of wrongdoing and stated that all those involved with the development of alumi-

Torpex and the Air War  27

nized explosives had “acted throughout with zeal and energy.”15 The committee also found that comparisons between British and German and explosives were far from reliable, and that the 1941 aluminized bomb tests had given a misleading result largely because of the unsatisfactory methods of measuring blast pressures then in use.16 No subsequent tests were ordered because aluminum had been in short supply, and further tests were not considered high priority.17 By the summer of 1943, with the Battle of the Atlantic won by the Allies, the supply situation changed for the better as increased quantities of aluminum and bauxite ore began to reach Britain. In August 1943, Air Commodore Huskinson called Air Chief Marshal Harris at Bomber Command (Harris had been appointed to lead Bomber Command in February 1942). Huskinson provided Harris with “glowing reports on the effectiveness of Torpex” bombs, which were claimed to have 20 percent greater power than bombs filled with Composition B.18 Harris followed up Huskinson’s phone call with a letter to Air Marshal Sir Douglas Evill, vice-chief of the Air Staff at the Air Ministry, about the possibilities of filling Bomber Command’s bombs with Torpex now that the supply of aluminum was becoming easier.19 Evill’s response was not encouraging: “Although Torpex underwater performance is considerably better than RDX/ TNT [Composition B] the present bomb dropping trials with this explosive have not yet conclusively proved the Torpex bomb to be superior to RDX/TNT bombs.”20 Evill said that the small supply of Torpex they received from the United States was used in airborne depth charges and torpedo warheads, and with the small stock of aluminum available in the United Kingdom, he declared that it became a “a matter of priorities.”21 If “WINDOW” [strips of aluminum foil dropped to confuse German radar] proved to be successful and took priority over the bomb problem, “as presumably you will wish it to do,” stated Evill, Torpex would “receive a slight delay in production.”22 Evill included with his letter a copy of the “Torpex Production Program (Provisional)” that the Air Ministry

28  The Secret History of RDX

hoped to carry out with the accumulated stock of aluminum powder. “Special Priority” was allotted to one hundred 12,000-pound “Tallboy” bombs designed by Dr. Barnes Wallis; “First Priority” went to one hundred 4,000-pound bombs (next to this designation was the hand-written question “Why?”); “Second Priority,” which included 500-pound bombs, and up, received the remaining available Torpex.23 The country’s bomb program, wrote Evill, was dependent on its “very limited [bomb] filling capacity.”24 Lord Cherwell continued to press for aluminized bombs, arguing “that no effort should be spared to obtain and fill our bombs with some such [aluminized] explosive. Something like a million men are engaged in building and maintaining bombers in order to drop bombs on Germany, so that any increase in the efficiency of these bombs, if only by a small percentage, is worth a very large number of man-hours.”25 With or without Torpex bombs, Air Chief Marshal “Bomber” Harris, who had a “habit of exaggerating in order to press his points,” wrote a reassuring letter to Lord Cherwell stating that by 1st April 1944 the combined bombing offensive of the U.S. and British Air Forces should have destroyed 40 percent of the builtup areas in Germany.26 Harris suggested, “The Lancaster force alone should be sufficient, but only just sufficient, to produce in Germany by April 1st 1944, a state of devastation in which surrender is inevitable.”27 Harris, it should be said, was not alone among the “air barons” in expressing such optimism. The scarcity of Torpex is apparent in Harris’s letter to Huskinson in December 1943 asking him to obtain twenty-four “Tallboy” bombs to keep in reserve for special targets. Bomber Command was informed by Huskinson that the “Tallboys” would be ready “about mid-February,” and “For goodness sake don’t chuck them on targets for which they are not intended as a big effort has had to be made to get them filled with Torpex.”28 Air Commodore Christopher Bilney assured Huskinson that it would “only be ‘over my dead body’ that the Torpex filled 12,000 lb. bombs are wasted.”29

Torpex and the Air War  29

Torpex-filled bombs had been used in the famous dam busters raid led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson on the dams surrounding the Ruhr Valley in May 1943. Designed by Dr. Barnes Wallis, the large cylindrical-shaped bombs, filled with 6,600 pounds of Torpex, were intended to bounce or ricochet across the surface of a reservoir and then sink to a preset depth before exploding against the wall of the dam. The specially formed Squadron 617 that was to carry out the mission was composed of aircrews that came from Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. The epic attack was the subject of Paul Brickhill’s 1951 book, The Dam Busters, and the 1955 motion picture of the same name.30 In June 1944, a week after the Normandy invasion, the first 12,000-pound, 21-foot-long, “Tallboy” bombs were used in a raid on the Saumur Rail tunnel in France to prevent a panzer division from reaching the battlefront. At least one of the enormously powerful bombs, each containing 5,200 pounds of Torpex, hit the tunnel, and others blocked the approaches.31 The panzer division was duly delayed.32 In September 1944, “Tallboys” were dropped on the vital Dortmund–Ems Canal, a main link between the Ruhr and the North Sea. Both branches of the canal were breached, draining the canal for several miles and leaving barges and Uboats stranded.33 The U.S. Navy had loaded many “Tallboys” with Torpex, primarily for the British, for battering the U-boat submarine pens on the French coast. “Tallboy” bombs would score a spectacular success in November 1944 against the German super-battleship Tirpitz. Even earlier, Torpex torpedoes launched by two British midget submarines caused serious damage to the 41,000-ton ship in a Norwegian fjord. Numerous (and some costly) attempts had been made to sink the Tirpitz, sister ship to the Bismarck, which had been sunk in 1941. Attack aircraft carrying “flimsy” bombs were barely able to scratch the armored giant, so the coup de grâce was delivered to the Tirpitz in November 1944 by Lancaster bombers dropping “Tallboy” bombs.34 For almost three years the Tirpitz had

30  The Secret History of RDX

The 12,000-pound (5,200 pounds of Torpex) “Tallboy” bombs shown here finally sank the Tirpitz. The 22,000-pound (9,136 pounds of Torpex) “Grand Slam” bombs were used against viaducts and U-boat pens.

been a threat to the arctic convoys to Russia, as well as tying down battleships, aircraft carriers, and other vessels that could have been used elsewhere. The ship capsized and sank in just eleven minutes. Barnes Wallis would go on to develop the most powerful non-atomic bomb used during World War II, the enormous 22,000-pound “Grand Slam” bomb (or “earthquake” bomb), filled with over 9,000 pounds of Torpex. The weapon, which reached near-supersonic speed before penetrating a target, caused earthquake-like shock waves that collapsed viaducts, railroad bridges, and U-boat pens.35 American B-17s and B-24s could carry 4,000-pound blockbusters, but only under the wings of the aircraft. On 17 August 1943, B-17 Flying Fortresses made a daylight attack, without longrange fighter escort, on the German city of Schweinfurt in an effort to destroy the city’s important ball bearing plants. A swarm of 300 German fighters, the largest Luftwaffe force ever to attack

Torpex and the Air War  31

an American bomber formation, struck the Schweinfurt force. Pilots followed “burning Fortresses all the way to the target.”36 The bombing was inaccurate, and the bombs that did hit the ball bearing plants were not powerful enough to smash the important machine tools on the factory floor. The Americans dropped 1,000-pound bombs on the target at a time when the British were regularly dropping 4,000-pound bombs, and even larger ones.37 Carrying lighter and less powerful bombs resulted in aircrews having to repeatedly return to the same target in order to destroy it. A second raid on Schweinfurt in November suffered catastrophic losses. The new B-29 Superfortress, expected to be ready in 1944, could carry 4,000-pound blockbusters in their large bomb bays comfortably, but the B-29 was primarily a Pacific War weapon, and incendiaries formed the greatest part of its bomb load. During World War II the vast majority of bombs dropped on the enemy were the 500-pound and 1,000-pound bombs. The supply of Composition B was never enough to fill all the British and American bombs. As a result, large stocks of obsolete bombs, earlier “relegated to the scrap heap,” had to be brought back into service.38 By the spring of 1945, General Dwight Eisenhower, the Allied Supreme Commander, cabled U.S. general George C. Marshall of the “gravity” of the bomb shortage facing both allies’ Air Forces.39 The unconditional surrender of Germany on 8 May 1945 made the bomb shortage a moot question. The official postwar account observed that British bombs suffered from “one overwhelming disadvantage, insufficient explosive contents.”40

4

RDX and the Army Ordnance Department Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson disclosed during World War II that on the eve of war “we didn’t have enough [explosive] powder in the whole United States to last the men we now have over overseas for anything like a day’s fighting. And, what is worse, we didn’t have powder [explosive] plants or facilities to make it; they had all been destroyed after the last war.”1 With Army Ordnance facilities producing only twelve tons of TNT per day, Stimson had to make personal appeals to explosives companies before they would return to producing munitions.2 Branded “Merchants of Death” after World War I, and accused of dragging America into that war, the explosives companies were reluctant to meet Stimson’s requests.3 Dr. George B. Kistiakowsky, who was directly involved with RDX development, as well as a participant in the Manhattan Project, would write, “Prior to this war the subject of explosives attracted very little scientific interest, these materials being looked upon as blind destructive agents rather than precision instruments.”4 Robert P. Patterson, under secretary of state for war, wrote, “Looking back across those crowded five years it sometimes seems a miracle to me that we won the war.”5 Although the U.S. Army Ordnance Department began to renovate its facilities in 1939 with the outbreak of war in Europe, a U.S. senator who inspected their facilities reported that they “looked like . . . a plant that had been abandoned for 20 years, and then a bunch of men were feverishly trying to get them back into shape to start production.”6

34  The Secret History of RDX

To most Americans in the spring of 1940, Europe seemed far away, and Japan “almost remote as the moon.”7 American attitudes began to change when newsreels showed the German army goose-stepping through Paris. Among those aroused to action was the “bespectacled, pipe-puffing” Dr. Vannevar Bush, who was head of the Carnegie Institution in Washington, one of the country’s leading scientific foundations.8 Dr. Bush carried the major part of the responsibility of impressing on President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his advisers the need for a more effective mobilization of science to improve American weapons of war.9 Bush moved quickly, meeting President Roosevelt through the help of his friendship with FDR confidant Harry Hopkins.10 Vannevar Bush was subsequently named by Roosevelt to be chairman of the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC), “to coordinate, supervise, and conduct scientific research on the problems underlying the development, production, and use of mechanisms and devices of warfare, except scientific research on the problems of flight.”11 Bush stated, “Apparently, there were very few chemists indeed in this country having a knowledge of military explosives, which are quite a different subject than commercial explosives. Hence it has been necessary for organic chemists to learn a somewhat new art.”12 Vannevar Bush was joined in his effort to mobilize American science for war by Dr. James B. Conant, the president of Harvard and a prominent organic chemist. On June 14, Bush telephoned Conant, who described himself as a “cold reserved New Englander,” to recruit him into the newly formed NDRC.13 This was later enlarged into the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD). During World War II there developed between United States, Britain, and Canada an unprecedented degree of cooperation in science, as well as other areas, and this was a major reason for the Allies’ victory. Nevertheless, the “special relationship” that Winston Churchill spoke of was not always achieved, and often depended on personal friendships. General Walter Bedell Smith, Eisenhower’s chief of staff, recalled that as a student at the Army

RDX and the Army Ordnance Department  35

War College he had heard a lecture by one of the senior American generals of World War I in which he warned the young officers against the “encumbrance of allies!”14 On both sides there were some who opposed the military and scientific exchange of information. It would take hard work behind the scenes, both before and after December 1941, to replace British condescension toward Americans and the institutionalized skepticism of the U.S. Army officer corps toward the British with trust and cooperation.15 The British scientific mission to the United States in early September 1940, headed by Sir Henry Tizard, was a major factor in breaking down the wall of mutual suspicion and dislike that hindered cooperation. Tizard had been the driving force behind British radar development, which had helped win the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940.16 After first stopping in Ottawa to consult with Canadian scientists and Prime Minister Mackenzie King, Tizard joined the other members of his group in Washington, D.C., who had brought with them a “black box” containing what has been called “Britain’s technological crown jewels.”17 The black box was placed in the wine cellar of the British embassy for safekeeping. Chief among the “jewels” was a prototype cavity magnetron, a tiny device only a few centimeters long, which became the basis of microwave radar. The cavity magnetron produced a highfrequency beam a hundred times more powerful than had ever been produced before—one capable of detecting enemy planes, ships, and submarine periscopes that were miles away.18 Radar would become a war-winning weapon for the Allies.19 Vannevar Bush informed Conant that the reluctance of some American Army and Navy officers to cooperate with the Tizard mission only collapsed after they realized that they were “five years behind on detection of air planes.”20 Among other secrets, the small, black metal box contained the outline plans for the jet engine and the atomic bomb, as well as information concerning RDX.21 The historian of the Tizard mission has called it “one of the most important events of the Second World War,” inaugurating unparalleled transatlantic technological cooperation.22

36  The Secret History of RDX

Secretary of War Stimson and Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall were determined to make full use of civilian scientific help, but such views were not shared by everyone, and “in occasional officers” there persisted a blind spot on the subject of “outside advice.”23 Such was the case with Army Ordnance officers, who were skeptical about what civilian scientists could know or accomplish in the field of explosives.24 The explosive cyclonite (later referred to as RDX) had been tested in the 1920s at the Ordnance Department’s Picatinny Arsenal and rejected as too sensitive and too costly for military purposes.25 In 1940, the Ordnance Department’s focus was on the shortage of TNT, and its interest in RDX has been described as “nil.”26 If the Army Ordnance Department was skeptical of what civilian scientists at the NDRC could accomplish in the field of military explosives, the British strongly encouraged the efforts of the NDRC. Dr. James Conant urged that RDX research should be “pursued most aggressively.”27 As a result, in November 1940 three outstanding organic chemists, one at Cornell, one at Michigan, and one at Penn State, none of whom had previously worked on explosives, were assigned to work on RDX.28 A letter to the academics explained that at a conference with British and Canadian representatives it had been learned that RDX was “an extraordinarily interesting and important explosive.”29 At the Woolwich Arsenal, London, researchers had made RDX by direct nitration of hexamine (a combination of formaldehyde and ammonia), which required eleven pounds of nitric acid per pound of RDX; in the words of one expert, “the Woolwich process requires a nitricacid-plant dog with a RDX-plant tail.”30 At McGill University in Montreal, Canada, the Ross-Schiessler process was developed to produce RDX using formaldehyde, ammonium nitrate, and acetic anhydride, which was less costly than the Woolwich process. At the University of Michigan, the brilliant organic chemist Werner Bachmann, best known for his discovery of synthetic sex hormones, had no experience in the chemistry of explosives. When he was first asked to devise a new method for making

RDX and the Army Ordnance Department  37

RDX, Bachmann recorded that his “heart sank.”31 Bachmann wrestled in his Ann Arbor laboratory daily from 8 o’clock in the morning to midnight or later.32 On 1 December 1941, the NDRC informed Army Ordnance that Bachmann had found a new process for making the super-explosive. There remained difficulties, however, since Bachmann’s “combination” process, which combined the Woolwich and Ross-Schiessler processes, released as a byproduct significant quantities of weak acetic acid contaminated with RDX. It was essential, therefore, to develop a means of purifying the weak acetic acid, concentrating it, and reconverting it to acetic anhydride. In November 1941, the NDRC asked Tennessee Eastman Company, a leading producer of acetic anhydride, to join the search for a solution to the contaminated acetic acid. Three months later, Eastman scientists had worked out a feasible acidrecovery procedure and, even more astonishing, a process for the mass-production of RDX. Earlier that year, in the spring, Dr. Conant had been asked by President Roosevelt to head the first NDRC mission to Britain. From the moment his plane touched down in the “drizzly, blacked-out British capital” until his return trip via Portugal six weeks later, Conant was welcomed by the residents of a “beleaguered fortress” under Nazi attack.33 Conant attended a meeting of the Scientific Advisory Committee to the British War Cabinet, conferred with leading scholars and scientists, met with Prime Minister Churchill three times, and had an audience with the king. At both Waltham Abbey and Woolwich, Conant observed the production of RDX. His visit was followed up in July by Drs. G. B. Kistiakowsky and R. C. Elderfield, members of the NDRC’s Explosives Section, who also visited Woolwich Arsenal, Waltham Abbey, and the Bridgewater RDX plant. On the basis of their report, Dr. Conant wrote to Army Ordnance that he was convinced RDX was superior to any existing high explosive. Replying for the Army Ordnance Department, Lieutenant Colonel J. P. Harris acknowledged

38  The Secret History of RDX

Conant’s letter stating that “you [Conant] are convinced that RDX is superior for many uses to either of the other two high explosives in the same category [Tetryl and Pentolite].”34 Harris said that Army Ordnance recognized that RDX had “certain superiorities,” but they considered RDX “to be of an experimental nature” with no “unqualified advantages over Pentolite.”35 At the NDRC, however, Dr. Kistiakowsky and Dr. Ralph Connor remarked that while all explosives were sensitive, and RDX was no exception, “PETN [Pentolite] is decidedly still more hazardous by almost all tests.”36 Admiral Blandy was particularly interested in RDX in the form of Torpex for underwater work. American submariners were unhappy with TNT. They wanted torpedo warheads with a much “greater punch.”37 Blandy stated that Torpex (TPX) was a much more potent explosive than TNT—100 pounds of Torpex produced as much underwater damage as 150 pounds of TNT.38 To meet the U.S. Navy and British requirement for 220 tons per day, the Army Ordnance Department contracted in December 1941 with the DuPont Company for the construction of the Wabash River Ordnance Works. It would initially have an RDX production capacity of 50 tons of per day. DuPont was at first hesitant to take on the project, but after their scientists visited the British plant and carried out their own tests, the company concluded that manufacturing RDX “presented much less difficulty” than originally anticipated, and that it could be produced at a cost of about 50 cents per pound.39 The Wabash plant involved construction of the largest nitric acid facility in the world. Dr. Bengis of the Ammunition Branch would later write, “The first reaction of the military personnel in charge of the entire explosive program was that RDX was a ‘luxury’ explosive, having heard cost estimates ranging from $1.00 to $2.00 per pound, and that the facilities required for its production would definitely ‘cut across’ the tremendous TNT program which was then most urgent and only in its early construction status.”40 Bengis justified the reaction of Army Ordnance leaders “at that time” because

RDX and the Army Ordnance Department  39

equipment and facilities, such as high-pressure forgings and highpressure compressor crankshafts, were “taxed beyond capacity.”41 “Moreover,” he noted, “it was not proven to the entire satisfaction of the military personnel, that RDX was so much better an explosive than TNT.”42 RDX was regarded as “a new and untried endeavor.”43 As far as cost was concerned, Bengis was of the opinion that the cost of RDX would not exceed 50 cents per pound.44 In 1941 and 1942, the serious shortage of TNT was a practical, life-and-death issue confronting the leadership of Army Ordnance. In General Levin Campbell’s postwar book, The Industry-Ordnance Team, in which he eulogized the Army Ordnance Department record, he described the mass production of TNT, which used toluene made from petroleum, as the greatest munitions accomplishment of the war, since it reduced the cost of TNT to six cents per pound.45 No less laudatory was the volume by General Gladeon Barnes, Weapons of World War II. Barnes agreed that the mass production of TNT was the most outstanding accomplishment in munitions, resulting in a “flood” of TNT.46 Such was the shortage of TNT in 1941 that Admiral Blandy reportedly said that he had to dole out TNT to the Navy “with a teaspoon.”47 Beyond more TNT, however, Blandy was determined to obtain RDX for his submariners, who were demanding torpedo warheads with greater explosive power. In June 1941, the admiral appeared before the House Naval Affairs Committee and requested $70 million for a plant to make a secret explosive. The authors of an official Ordnance history volume wrote, “The roots of the Ordnance Department’s distrust of the NDRC lay in the century-old conflict of military versus civilian.”48 Suspicious of outsiders and overprotective of its own authority and prestige though the Ordnance Department may have been at times, its attitude toward the NDRC was nevertheless understandable. Ordnance research men were first and foremost engineers rather than pure scientists.49

40  The Secret History of RDX

The Army high command and Ordnance leaders believed that they must plan ahead, determine long-range production goals, and then “stick with them.”50 Changes in the plan could be made to keep production in step with battlefield needs, “but changes must be held to a minimum and approved only after careful study of all factors in the situation.”51 The long-held philosophy of standardization and avoiding unusual manufacturing procedures was forcefully restated by General Charles T. Harris Jr. in the fall of 1940. Writing in the publication Army Ordnance, he described how mass production methods “shall be woven into the very fiber of its [Ordnance] organization and practice.”52 A stocky, plain-speaking, hard-driving officer, General Harris was “the dynamo of Ordnance.”53 The mind-set of the production engineer had also been voiced by General Levin H. Campbell Jr. (who became chief of Army Ordnance in 1942) when he told a group of Ordnance officers four years earlier that they “should jealously resist any and all attempts to let creep into drawings and specifications anything which imposed unnecessary difficulties on the production engineer.”54 He declared that in war “our greatest task will be production, production—and yet more production.”55 Dr. Vannevar Bush, director of the NDRC, later vented his unhappiness with those Army Ordnance officers who believed that all wars would be fought with the weapons which existed at the beginning of the war.56 As an example, he cited the greater explosive power of Japanese torpedoes “while we were still stuck to TNT.”57 Dr. William A. Noyes Jr., a member of the NDRC, expressed his wartime experience in the following terms: “In the early days of the work on explosives the Service representatives had attitudes ranging from tolerance to definite antagonism, and there were few cases of real enthusiasm for the creation of an explosives program within the NDRC. It is probable that in the large majority of cases lack of cooperation came from the sincere but smug conviction that the Services knew all that was to be known about explosives and that amateurs could not make significant

RDX and the Army Ordnance Department  41

contributions.”58 Dr. Noyes stated that throughout the war Army Ordnance officers believed they were in a better position to evaluate bomb fillings than were the Army Air Forces.59 However, he made a large exception for the Navy’s Bureau of Ordnance, and remarked that by the end of the war relations between NDRC scientists and those of the Navy Bureau “could not have been closer or more cordial.”60 Within the Army, an Army Service Forces officer commented: “There appears to be a decided fraternity or clique feeling among the majority of Ordnance officers. . . . There is apparently a belief that there is something ‘mysterious’ about the design and productions of Ordnance munitions; Ordnance officers are specialists in this—no one else knows anything about it, and no one should interfere.”61 General Gladeon M. Barnes, chief of the Technical Division, firmly believed that the Ordnance Department was quite able to carry out research without the intervention of “outsiders.”62 “No group of scientists no matter how wise could have undertaken this task with no preparation. It had taken years to train Ordnance officers to understand the meaning of Ordnance equipment in war. . . . In my opinion, if through some political move NDRC had been given the Ordnance job the Allies would have lost the war.”63 General Brehon B. Somervell, who became commanding general of Army Service Forces in 1943, made the comment “Bush, you and your crew are a damned nuisance.”64 Less than two weeks before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson urged the Ordnance Department to increase RDX production: I understand that it is now pretty generally agreed that RDX has an increased explosive power of between 30 to 40 percent over TNT. The conclusion is, therefore, inescapable that if the British and ourselves were supplied with RDX it would be the equivalent of 30 to 40 percent increase in the bombing and torpedo power or the equivalent of such an increase in the planes or the number of torpedo propelling ships. . . .

42  The Secret History of RDX

This is such an enormous matter that assuming satisfactory stability can be obtained I do not see how we can prevent the conclusion that we should go ahead with the substitution [my emphasis] unless there are controlling objections. Will you please advise me as soon as possible of the practical objections to the program from the: 1. Manufacturing standpoint. 2. The effect of new manufacturing facilities on:   (a) Other Ordnance programs.   (b) Civil uses. I understand that it would take between eighteen months and two years to accomplish such a program of substitution as may be contemplated. Accordingly, time is of the essence.65 In his reply to Stimson’s letter, five days after Pearl Harbor, the chief of Army Ordnance, General Charles M. Wesson, acknowledged that RDX was 30 to 40 percent more powerful than TNT but made no mention of substituting RDX for TNT, which he stated would “retard the TNT program in an appreciable degree.”66 The Technical Division’s General Gladeon M. Barnes made his position very clear: “RDX should not be classified as standard for any specific use at this time, and there should be as little interference with the completion of facilities already authorized for the production of ammonium nitrate and TNT as practicable, since these latter facilities are predicated upon a balanced program to meet the requirements which have been set up.”67 Ordnance chiefs were unquestionably in a difficult and unenviable position: they were responsible for meeting the urgent need for as much TNT as quickly as possible. At the same time, RDX was 30 percent more powerful than TNT.

5

RDX and the Army Air Forces Service requests for RDX skyrocketed following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The Office of Strategic Services submitted an “urgent request” for 100 tons of Composition C (88 percent RDX and oil desensitizer), otherwise known as C-4 or plastic explosive, in April 1942 in order to aid the resistance movements in Nazi-occupied Europe.1 The Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Navy vastly increased their RDX requirements.2 Colonel G. C. Tibbitts in the Ammunition Branch stated that the Army Air Corps “is very anxious” to obtain bombs loaded with RDX “at the earliest moment.”3 The newly established Munitions Assignment Board (MAB) faced the unenviable task of assigning priority ratings for materials in short supply because of the war. A request that a higher priority rating be granted for the production of RDX was made to a subcommittee of the MAB. The board, however, placed Composition B-filled bombs last on the priority list.4 Following the vote, Colonel William A. Borden of the Ordnance Department remarked, “There will be heartaches on this from some direction.”5 Nevertheless, at the Casablanca Conference in Morocco in January 1943, the American and British combined chiefs of staff had decided, “The defeat of the U-boat must remain a first charge on the resources of the United Nations,” and with the Battle of the Atlantic in the balance, first priority was given to filling aerial depth charges with Torpex.6 The commander of the U.S. Army Air Forces, General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, cabled Eighth Air Force commander General Carl “Tooey” Spaatz in Britain at the end of May 1943, “There

44  The Secret History of RDX

are no RDX Composition loaded bombs available now,” but he expected in a month a “very limited quantity only” of 500- and 1,000-pound Composition B-filled bombs.7 He advised Spaatz that “it was impossible to comply with request for all bombs to be RDX Composition B loaded. Will advise definite availability later.”8 The first production line at Holston Ordnance Works began operation on 8 May 1943, and ten days later the first bombs were loaded with Composition B. This was continued into August 1943, when the 1 percent wax component was eliminated. Tests conducted at Picatinny Arsenal by Dr. George C. Hale, the senior chemist, indicated that the small amount of wax was unnecessary: “We don’t see the necessity for it in the explosive, when it is cast loaded. I don’t see that it does any good,” stated Hale.9 The loading of bombs with Composition B2 was continued until the Army Air Forces received reports from the Aberdeen Proving Ground that indicated that the bomb, without a fuse, could explode prematurely if accidentally dropped from a low altitude. Some of the bombs exploded when dropped from an altitude of 3,000 to 4,000 feet.10 Regular Composition B bombs that did have the wax desensitizer did not explode. Based on the tests, the AAF switched back to the original formula. However, the B-17 Flying Fortress was a high-altitude bomber, designed to drop its bombs from 25,000 feet. The Aberdeen Proving Ground tests would have far-reaching repercussions. Not only would distrust and suspicion surround the Comp B2 bomb, but rumors spread concerning the safety of RDX itself, a concern only worsened by incidents involving the careless handling of bombs. An inspection of U.S. Eighth Air Force combat air stations in England in the summer of 1943 revealed “unsatisfactory and dangerous conditions and practices in handling live bombs.”11 Bombs had been unloaded from trucks by dropping them onto the ground. This dangerous practice was ordered to “cease immediately.”12 The anxiety and distrust surrounding the introduction of RDX-filled bombs, as opposed to the existing TNT and Amatol

RDX and the Army Air Forces  45

bombs, appear in a memorandum from Colonel Richard E. Sims, Ordnance Officer, U.S. Eighth Air Force. He stated that RDX increased a bomb’s blast effect by approximately 25 percent, and that it was sensitive to bullet impact and “rough handling.”13 The Aberdeen Proving Ground tests, stated Sims, indicated that it was “dangerous” to drop the bombs from a low altitude; therefore, before their operational use, he recommended that the bombs’ “properties” should be “carefully considered. . . . With this in mind, you may or may not want to use the 2,000 five-hundred pounders recently received by Service Command. . . . Please advise this office if and when you want any of these bombs on our airdromes.”14 Alarm bells sounded even louder with Colonel Sims’s instructions issued at the end of December 1943: “Particular care will be exercised that RDX bombs do not fall accidentally. . . . Extra caution will be required in loading bombs into aircraft or unloading them to prevent them from dropping. . . . RDX will not be mixed with ordinary bombs in storage, and if possible will be stored in separate revetments.”15 One-inch yellow concentric rings were to be painted on the nose and tail of RDX-filled bombs, along with the lettering “Composition B.” Bomb-handling personnel were to receive instructions on the “sensitiveness of RDX filling, and the necessary caution [with] which such bombs must be treated.”16 Not only were bomb-handling personnel reminded to use extra caution in loading bombs filled with Composition B, but Colonel Sims ordered that the same warning was to be given to aircrews at the briefing prior to each mission on which RDX bombs were carried.17 His warning concluded with the statement that the Aberdeen Proving Ground tests had shown that unfused RDX bombs dropped from low altitude sometimes exploded, and therefore if aircraft were about to crash land, RDX-filled bombs should be jettisoned since they were “very sensitive to fire.”18 Air Force authorities in the United States attempted to defuse what they considered to be the unfounded fears regarding

46  The Secret History of RDX

the dangers of RDX-filled bombs—and Comp B2 bombs in particular—in a memorandum sent to General James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle, commander of the Eighth Air Force. The memorandum informing him in February 1944 that “recent developments in the airburst type of fuses afford an opportunity to utilize the increased blast effect that is obtained from RDX Comp B2 filled bombs. The stipulation remains, however, that these bombs be used only for medium or high level bombing.”19 The Eighth Air Force was requested to submit their requirements for any additional RDX Comp B2 bombs “desired by your theater.”20 The cable from the home authorities only served to annoy Colonel Sims, who responded, “Now we have received the attached directive from Washington to submit our requirements for RDX bombs. To date, none have been used in our operations.”21 He recommended an operational use of the bombs “so that we can properly evaluate RDX and thereby make a proper answer to the AAF query.”22 General Spaatz had repeatedly requested information based on operational experience with all RDX bombs. Despite Sims’s reservations about Composition B-filled bombs, General Doolittle informed the Eighth Air Force Ordnance officer in April 1944, “Due to extreme shortage of 500 lb. GP bombs desire that 500 lb. RDX filled bombs be substituted if GP bombs not available when field order calls for 500 lb. size.”23 The general purpose bombs that Doolittle was referring to were filled with either TNT or Amatol. It is perhaps not surprising that some bomber crews, disturbed by the rumors about the dangers surrounding RDX-filled bombs, jettisoned their Comp B bombs whether they were regular Comp B or B2 (without wax). In a directive headed “Jettisoning of RDX Bombs,” Major H. C. Logan responded: It is believed that combat crews have become unnecessarily perturbed about the “danger” involved in carrying RDX Comp B bombs aboard their aircraft. As far as the crews are concerned RDX bombs should receive exactly the same

RDX and the Army Air Forces  47

treatment as GP bombs. Indiscriminate jettisoning of RDX bombs, or any other bombs, should be discouraged. On the mission of 20 April, 500 lb. RDX filled bombs were carried. Out of a total of 6,344 loaded, 2,472 were jettisoned. Therefore it is felt that the above mentioned incident was an unnecessary waste of a critical ammunition item . . . in comparison with the normal GP bomb, amatol filling, RDX has greatly increased bursting power—as much as 30 percent. Incomplete information was furnished this theater, indicated [that] the explosive [Comp B2] was more sensitive than regular amatol. Since then the tests have been completed and the first report [the Aberdeen Proving Ground tests] has been discredited. Ammunition convoy personnel had developed a feeling of immunity to the danger involved in bomb handling. In order to make them conscious of the danger, instructions were issued to bomb handlers bringing attention to the fact that should an explosion occur with RDX filled bombs the result would be many times more disastrous. . . . It should be pointed out that the amatol filled GP bombs have been known to explode when jettisoned from only 600 feet. Station ordnance officers are briefing all crews to disregard rumors concerning danger of RDX bombs.24 This attempt to counter the rumors concerning the danger of Composition B bombs suffered a severe setback by what happened on the evening of 15 July 1944, near the village of Metfield in Suffolk, England. A massive explosion caused “almost everybody [to] hit the dirt simultaneously.” It destroyed the bomb dump of the 491st Bombardment Group, based near the village of Metfield. Five airmen were killed, and the air base was left in shock.25 No personnel had been available to unload six bomb-carrying trucks. The drivers were impatient to get back to Metfield for a Saturday night on the town, so they worked out a plan to quickly offload the bombs from the rear ends of their two-and-a-half-ton trucks.26

48  The Secret History of RDX

The driver of one truck shifted into reverse, gunned his engine for speed, and then slammed the brakes hard. The sudden stop caused the 500-pound Comp B2 bombs to roll off the back of the truck. What followed was the explosion of 1,200 tons of high explosives and incendiaries, which wrecked the bomb dump and rocked the countryside for miles around. Two days after the disaster, General Doolittle visited the devastated air station. Four days later, General Spaatz, commander of U.S. Strategic Air Forces in Europe, cabled Army Air Forces headquarters in Washington, asking, “Are RDX Composition B2 bombs considered safe for combat zone handling?”27 The answer was, “The Composition B2 bombs are considered safe for combat zone handling.”28 Nevertheless, the bomb mishandling incident at Metfield only served to increase the distrust of Comp B2 bombs. General Spaatz had made repeated requests for information on the operational safety of all RDX bombs, and in late August 1944, 163 aircraft loaded with Comp B2 bombs attacked five targets in Germany. Accompanying those aircraft to the same targets were 214 bombers carrying Composition B or Amatol bombs. The post-operational analysis reported there was nothing in the loss and damage figures to indicate that there was any difference between those planes carrying the B2 bombs and those loaded with Composition B or Amatol bombs. There was nothing in the loss and damage figures to suggest that “the greater sensitivity of the RDX B2 mixture to bullets and shell fragments increased the losses in that portion of the force carrying RDX B2 bombs.”29 However, the earlier Aberdeen Proving Ground tests and the more recent Metfield incident had irrevocably damaged the reputation of the Comp B2 bomb. In December 1944, Colonel Sims requested “immediate replacements” of the Comp B2 bombs with “regular RDX [Comp B] or TNT/Amatol bombs.”30 The Ordnance officer stated, “The sensitivity of these bombs is indicated by the fact that they exploded when dropped from the rear end of a 2-1/2 ton truck upon the ground.”31 General Doolittle informed Spaatz in January 1945

RDX and the Army Air Forces  49

that “No future use of Composition B2 bombs [is] contemplated by this Air Force. To avoid repetition of Metfield incident, request subject bombs not be delivered to stations in this Air Force” [Eighth Air Force].32 The Eighth Air Force decision to abandon the Comp B2 bomb led General Spaatz to ask for additional information, since “Previous communications from the U.S. state these bombs are considered safe for combat zone handling.”33 Colonel Bert A. Arnold replied on behalf of Doolittle and wrote that it was the understanding of the Eighth Air Force that “neither the RAF, the Fifteenth Air Force, the Ninth Air Force, the First Tactical Air Force, or the Western French Air Force, desired to use RDX Composition B2 bombs.”34 Colonel Arnold understood that those air forces preferred the regular Comp B bomb because it could be used “without the increased risks and difficulties” associated with the Comp B2 bomb.35 He also defended the Comp B2 decision based on incidents where bombs had to be jettisoned in England from an altitude under 2,000 feet for unavoidable operational reasons. Most of the bombs had not exploded on impact, which led him to conclude, “Had RDX Comp B2 bombs been used . . . their generally acknowledged increased sensitivity would have resulted in a big increase in our casualty rates in connection with those incidents.”36 At the same time, the evidence indicates that Doolittle had complete confidence in Comp B bombs filled with RDX. In March 1945 he asked Colonel Sims to have 95 percent of 500-pound bomb tonnage filled with Comp B.37 And, with the supply of bombs “critical in the extreme,” the Eighth Air Force commander requested the release of 7,500 tons of Comp B2 bombs (500-pound and 1,000-pound bombs) from the storage depots.38 Doolittle noted that special precautions would be taken in handling the bombs, and he added that they did not want any more Comp B2 bombs.39 To ensure that the bombs were stored and handled properly, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Robbins inspected the combat air stations that were receiving the Comp B2 bombs. After his in-

50  The Secret History of RDX

spection tour, Robbins recommended that the bombs be removed from combat stations either by “expenditure”—that is, dropping the bombs on the enemy—or by returning them to storage depots.40 “I believe that bombs are accidently dropped during handling,” declared Robbins, “and so long as B2 bombs are moved another ‘Metfield’ incident can be expected.”41 Colonel Sims was unhappy with even the temporary return of Comp B2 bombs to the airfields: “This is an undesirable step; however, we are forced to use these bombs due to the unavailability of TNT, amatol, or RDX Comp B bombs.”42 Sims suggested that Comp B2 bombs all be “used up on one operation.”43 “We believe that this is necessary,” he said, “due to the special care required in the handling of these bombs and we do not wish to mix these bombs with the other types, and do not wish to risk the possibility of their being handled in a rough manner. We suggest that this mission be one in which very little flak is anticipated.”44 Sims also contacted the U.S. Ninth Air Force to inquire about their experience with Comp B2 bombs, and in his request he mentioned not only the Metfield incident, but another episode involving an American truck loaded with Comp B2 bombs.45 The bomb-loaded truck had collided with a British truck on a hill, and the two vehicles caught fire. A civilian bus approached the scene and parked about 100 yards from the burning vehicles. The bombs exploded, killing multiple bus passengers and injuring others.46 In response to Sims’s request for information, the Ninth Air Force replied that “No Comp B2 has been expended.”47 They had been using RDX Comp B bombs “for the past year.”48 During March 1945 they had dropped 40,751 Comp B 500-pound bombs and 2,830 Comp B 1,000-pound bombs, and “Nothing unusual has been reported from operational use.”49 Two months before the end of the war in Europe, Doolittle notified Spaatz, “This Air Force considers Composition B a standard filling for HE [high explosive] bombs and no distinction is made as far as operational use is concerned.”50 He further requested authority to end the physical separation between Composition

RDX and the Army Air Forces  51

B-filled bombs and Amatol-filled bombs, and “to report all individual sizes of HE bombs in [the] same category regardless of filling.”51 Though considered by some “an ideal explosive for bombs,” only about 25 percent of the bombs dropped by the USAAF in Europe were filled with Comp B.52 Had a much larger percentage of bombs been filled with Composition B and been used earlier, the effectiveness of the bombing campaign against Germany might have been greater. However, the limited supply of RDX and Composition B prevented this. The suspicions and fears surrounding Comp B2, whether unfounded or not, further handicapped the bombing effort.

6

The Battle for RDX Production The construction of an RDX plant in addition to the Wabash River Ordnance Works seemed unlikely given the insistence of the Army Ordnance Department that there should be as little interference as possible with the production of TNT. General Roswell E. Hardy, chief of the Ammunition Branch, believed that the proviso of noninterference with TNT production presented a “severe handicap in expediting the RDX expansion.”1 The Ammunition Branch, however, moved with the “utmost speed” to plan the facilities that would be required to increase RDX production, and in April 1942 Hardy requested permission from General Charles T. Harris Jr., chief of the Industrial Services Division, to “initiate immediate proceedings for the design, construction and operation of a plant for the production of 170 tons of RDX per day [converted to 283 tons of Composition B] by the Anhydride Process.”2 The term Anhydride Process had been underlined in Hardy’s request so as to emphasize that the Bachmann combination process would be used, not the more costly Woolwich process. Hardy stated that the proposed facility would not materially interfere with TNT production.3 General Harris approved the request, and the site selected for the new RDX plant was along the Holston River, near the town of Kingsport, in northeast Tennessee. The cost of what would become the “great Holston Ordnance Works” was estimated to be $100 million. On 11 November 1942, Admiral Blandy presided over an important conference held at the Navy Department in Washington.4

54  The Secret History of RDX

The Powder and Explosive Section of the Ammunition Branch had arranged the conference on RDX. The conference agenda was the “speediest completion of the Holston Ordnance plant.”5 Representatives from all the parties interested in the earliest completion of the Holston plant were present, including the U.S. Navy, the Ammunition Branch, Tennessee Eastman, the Army Air Forces, the Engineer Corps, the War Production Board, the British Purchasing Commission, and representatives of the British services. “Expected but not present” was the representative from the Army Services of Supply.6 All the attendees “indorsed the unquestionable urgent need for the early production of RDX in quantities sufficient to meet the requirements on order by the Army Air Forces, the Navy Bureau of Ordnance, the Army Engineers, and the British Royal Navy and Air Forces.”7 “It was only as a result of this meeting that AAA priority was obtained on over $1,000,000 worth of stainless steel orders,” wrote Dr. Begis.8 When progress on construction of the Holston Ordnance Works was threatened by a new directive giving a “top priority” rating to rubber and high octane production, Bengis appealed to Rear Admiral T. J. Kelcher, head of the Executive Branch of the Army-Navy Munitions Board (Kelcher had attended the November conference): “It is imperative that no interference should be introduced to jeopardize the anticipated 1943 [RDX] production which, at best, can only meet 58 percent of the 1943 requirements.”9 At the January 1943 meeting of the Munitions Assignment Board (MAB), held in the newly opened Pentagon Building, the British delegation urged that the Holston Ordnance project be assigned a higher priority rating.10 Some members of the board, however, remained “unconvinced that that [RDX] superiority was sufficient to justify higher priorities and increased capacity.”11 General Somervell argued that the MAB should not allocate materials unless a procurement requirement, generally controlled by ASF, had been presented for it.12 An amended priority directive increased the number of plants with an urgency rating to 69, but again HOW was not among them.

The Battle for RDX Production  55

After the war, Bengis recalled the “terrific obstacles” which had to be overcome during the most intensive period of the war effort: “The competition for critical materials . . . was almost paralyzing to the RDX program, and it was only due to the untiring efforts and aggressiveness of all concerned” that the Holston project was completed.13 A serious gap, however, was growing between the enormous requirements for RDX and the lack of production capacity. Canadian J. R. Donald argued strenuously in support of increased RDX production, and submitted a powerful memorandum justifying far greater production to the Combined Production and Resources Board (CPRB): RDX/TNT mixture [Composition B], which is 60% RDX and 40% TNT, has an effective explosive force approximately 40% greater than straight TNT. . . . The value of RDX has, therefore, been thoroughly investigated and determined over a period of time. No other explosive of equal qualities, which has been fully developed both in application and manufacture, is available and the possibility of some new explosive being available for this war is remote. . . . The purpose in the use of projectiles is to deliver explosive force at the required point and the greater the explosive force that can be carried by the projectile the greater the effectiveness and efficiency of the weapons employed, whether guns or planes. The number of planes over enemy territory is obviously not the objective but the explosive force which can be delivered by the planes. . . . The more powerful the explosive permits the use of fewer planes. It is a reasonable assumption that the capital cost of doubling RDX production in the United States would be a great deal less than the capital cost of creating plants to increase bomber production by 40%. It seems very evident that increased RDX capacity should be undertaken without delay and the requirements of critical materials and labor are more than offset by the economies that could be

56  The Secret History of RDX

effected in other programs. In considering the whole problem of RDX, the fact must not be lost sight of that the Axis Powers are known to be using RDX in increasing quantities and will, undoubtedly, recognize the advantages which have been outlined above.14 The CPRB had been established in June 1942 with the objective of integrating American and British production programs, but as historian John Ohl has written, “Led by Somervell, American officers saw it [the CPRB] as just another [British] method of needling the US for material.”15 Somervell, the chief of Army Service Forces, effectively “neutralized” the CPRB.16 The looming RDX supply crisis led General Hardy, chief of the Ammunition Branch, to inform General Charles T. Harris Jr., chief of the Industrial Services, that RDX requirements for 1943 amounted to approximately 39 million pounds per month, while capacity would be only about 22 million pounds per month once Holston Ordnance Works came into full production.17 And that amount included the Wabash River Ordnance Works’ production.18 General Hardy received Harris’s approval to request from “higher authority” an additional plant with a production capacity of 20 million pounds, which would result in an overall capacity of 42 million pounds of RDX per month.19 These figures, however, did not include those of the Army Air Force, which had a “tentative requirement” of approximately 31 million pounds, making a grand total requirement of about 70 million pounds of RDX per month.20 General Hardy recognized, however, that there was “little hope” of obtaining another $100 million Holston plant, but he wanted to go on record as establishing “the urgent need for additional capacity.”21 He submitted a memorandum to General Somervell in March 1943 in which he pointed out that the starting date for the Holston plant had been set back from 7 March 1943 to 20 April 1943 by the “most severe obstacles,” namely the rubber, high octane, and escort vessel programs, and a July completion date for Holston was thought to be “unattainable.”22

The Battle for RDX Production  57

At the end of May 1943, Hardy and Bengis visited Holston to discuss the possibility of increasing the capacity of the plant so as produce 240 tons of RDX daily.23 The response at Holston Ordnance Works was a definite “yes,” and instead of a new plant General Hardy now proposed that the capacity of Holston be increased by 100 percent. Somervell’s priority chief, General Lucius D. Clay, responded that production requirements for 1944 were already set, and therefore “the expansion of the Holston RDX plant is not favorably considered at this time.”24 Undeterred by the Army Supply Force’s denial of the request to increase RDX capacity, the super-explosive’s proponents attacked on another front. A copy of J. R. Donald’s earlier memorandum to the CRPB was now sent to Lauchlin Currie, a member of President Roosevelt’s New Deal “Brain Trust,” who in turn asked Hardy to delegate Colonel C. F. Hofstetter and Dr. Bengis of the Ammunition Branch to meet with him in late May 1943 to discuss the question of RDX production. As a result of that meeting, Lauchlin Currie addressed a memorandum to President Roosevelt on the subject “Use of New Explosive RDX.”25 1. I have been reliably informed that this explosive gives an effect 40% greater than TNT. 2. We are currently producing 7,000 tons a month. 3. This quantity must meet the requirements of the British and of the Army and the Navy for all purposes. 4. Consequently, the bulk of our bombs continue to be powered [filled] by TNT. 5. Greatly increased production of RDX would require a small amount of stainless steel. On the other hand, reduction of TNT output would release manpower and toluol which would permit the manufacture of more high octane gas. 6. A swing-over from TNT to RDX would be similar in its effect to an increase in plane and pilot output, and would mean a saving in material and gasoline.

58  The Secret History of RDX

7. If you wish, I would be very happy to get the services’ viewpoint on this whole matter. Lauchlin Currie The president sent a copy of the memorandum to General Somervell, asking, “What do you think the answer to this is?” signed “F.D.R.”26 The handsome, silver-haired General Somervell has been described as a man of “organizational genius and Olympian arrogance.”27 The author of the official Army history of the ASF, who had served on Somervell’s wartime staff, wrote: “People who knew Somervell seldom felt neutral toward him. Some thought of him as a power-hungry officer, a man on horse-back.”28 On the other hand, he had powerful political connections, including Harry Hopkins (Somervell had served as administrator of the Works Progress Administration [WPA] for New York City), and during World War II Somervell went on to become George C. Marshall’s principal adviser on all supply matters.29 In his response to Currie’s memorandum, Somervell reiterated many of long-held criticisms against RDX: In your memorandum of 24 June 1943, you enclosed a memorandum from Mr. Lauchlin Currie in which Mr. Currie points out that the Army Service Forces are reluctant to a major increase in the production of RDX, a new explosive which gives perhaps 25% greater explosive force than TNT which is our present standard explosive. Mr. Currie points out particularly the desire of the Air Forces to use a larger amount of RDX in their bomb loadings than the 25% on which their requirements have been based. The information now available indicates definitely the superiority of RDX for underwater work and our present production will suffice to meet the strictly operational requirements for this purpose. It would also appear that the use of RDX in our bomb loadings for other purposes would increase their effectiveness. However, the relative strength

The Battle for RDX Production  59

of RDX and TNT as determined by the comparison of the effectiveness of small quantities does not necessarily apply when these explosives are used in large bombs as, in fact, much of the explosive force of all large bombs is wasted. The Army Service Forces are not opposed to the expansion of RDX facilities if the advantages of RDX warrant the expansion; however, we do feel that we must be cautious as to the rate of expansion as it will result in the scrapping of TNT plants completed at great expense. Moreover, we have under development another new explosive known as EDNA which is almost as powerful as RDX and has a number of advantages in its transport, storage, and loading.30 Somervell informed the president that ASF command had authorized a 40 percent increase in Holston’s capacity, and additional expansion would take place “if tests now being made at Aberdeen Proving Grounds are as favorable as anticipated.”31 “The Under Secretary of War [Robert P. Patterson] has read and concurs in this letter,” wrote Somervell.32 General Levin H. Campbell Jr., the chief of Army Ordnance, however, did not agree with Somervell, writing to him, “I am terribly sorry, but I cannot concur in this letter. I believe that you should recommend augmentation of the Holston Plant to provide additional RDX in the amount of 60% of 1944 requirements.”33 He declared, “Someday the fact that Somervell had done everything within reason to meet the demand for RDX may be a major item in [his] performance in the field.”34 Somervell and Campbell had clashed earlier in the war. In the words of the authors of an official “Green Book” volume, “All was not harmonious” between the two men when Somervell headed the Construction Division of the Corps of Engineers and Campbell was an assistant chief in the Ordnance Department.35 In their disagreements, Somervell usually “came out on top.”36 In his postwar account, Dr. Robert Bengis wrote, “In his [General Somervell’s] letter to the President [the facts] were not

60  The Secret History of RDX

exactly accurate in several respects.”37 Somervell’s statement that RDX “gives perhaps 25% greater explosive force than TNT” was at odds with the generally accepted figure of 30 percent or more superiority of RDX. The assertion that increased RDX production meant the “scrapping of TNT plants completed at great expense,” although a long-standing argument against RDX production, overlooked the fact that 40 percent of Composition B consisted of TNT. Bengis calculated that a 100 percent increase in RDX production to 350 tons (567 tons of Composition B) per day would replace approximately 3.4 lines of TNT at 6,000 pounds a day per line.38 Somervell’s proposed alternative explosive to RDX, EDNA (ethylene dinitramine) or Haleite (named in honor of Picatinny Arsenal’s Dr. George C. Hale), was slightly inferior to RDX and, as Somervell himself noted, was still “under development.” Greater quantities of RDX could be produced in far less time with no danger of unexpected manufacturing difficulties. In July 1943, General Hardy repeated in a letter to Somervell that the superiority of Composition B as a bomb filling over all known explosives had been definitely supported by tests at the Aberdeen Proving Ground.39 He again emphasized that unless the present rate of Composition B production was increased there would be an 11.5 million-pound monthly deficit in 1944.40 Finally, on 2 August 1943, four and a half months after the initial recommendation from Hardy to increase RDX production capacity, approval was obtained when General Clay informed General Hardy that the tests of RDX-loaded bombs at Aberdeen Proving Ground indicated “the desirability of increasing RDX capacity” at Holston by 100 percent over that originally planned.41 The following day, Somervell reported to President Roosevelt that the Aberdeen Proving Ground tests “were as favorable as anticipated” and that “steps are being taken to increase the capacity of RDX facilities by 100% of that originally planned.”42 In a short note to Roosevelt, Lauchlin Currie wrote: “I know that you will be interested to learn that subsequent to your showing in-

The Battle for RDX Production  61

terest in the possible production of more RDX explosives, I have been informed that the Army Service Forces have authorized a substantial increase in the production.”43 Holston Ordnance Works could proceed with doubling its capacity to produce RDX. After the completion of the 100 percent expansion in January 1944, HOW became the world’s largest manufacturer of RDX and Composition B. However, even this increase was insufficient to meet all the demands for the superexplosive. Bengis wrote at the end of the war, “Without question, it would have been most advantageous to the War Effort if it had been possible to meet all the requirements where RDX showed its superiority.”44

7

Canada and RDX In the story of RDX during World War II, Canada’s role was a prominent and important one. Most of Canada’s wartime research was coordinated by the National Research Council (NRC) under its president, C. J. Mackenzie.1 The minister for Canada’s Department of Munitions and Supply (DM&S) was the powerful Liberal politician Clarence Decatur “C. D.” Howe, who was nicknamed the “minister of everything.”2 Under Howe, serving as director of the Explosives and Chemical Branch, was James Richardson “Ritchie” Donald, a prominent Montreal chemical engineer and a close friend of Howe. Donald would become one of the staunchest advocates of RDX production. On his scientific mission to the United States in 1940, Sir Henry Tizard made his first stop in Canada. At the Montreal airport to greet Tizard was Dr. Otto Maass, chair of the Department of Chemistry at McGill University, and a member of the NRC. One of Canada’s foremost chemists, Maass had made the first of his several overseas flights to Britain in the spring of 1940 to find out in what fields Canada could most usefully serve.3 He returned from his first visit to Woolwich convinced that one very valuable service would be to tackle the problem of achieving large-scale production of the world’s most powerful explosive.4 Maass promptly mobilized his colleagues at McGill, who included Dr. J. H. “Jimmie” Ross, Dr. Raymond Boyer, and other associates into a special RDX research team.5 Ross was in London at the outbreak of war in September 1939. He received a cable from J. R. Donald asking him if he could return to Canada to work on explosives.6

64  The Secret History of RDX

Returning to Montreal, Ross was given an appointment at McGill University by Dr. Maass.7 During his brief stop in Canada, Tizard also met C. J. Mackenzie (the president of the NRC), Dr. Frederick Bunting (recipient of the Nobel Prize for his discovery of insulin), and C. D. Howe (of the DM&S). Tizard “earned high marks from his Canadian contacts,” and he quickly established an excellent rapport with Prime Minister Mackenzie King.8 Tizard praised Canada’s valuable contribution to the development of radar, as well as its “becoming the great air training center” for the British Commonwealth.9 Tizard was pleased with Mackenzie King’s enthusiastic support of AngloAmerican cooperation, noting the prime minister even “pounded the table and said . . . he would speak to Roosevelt, which he did.”10 Negotiation with their American counterparts, however, was the purpose of the Tizard mission, and Tizard left Ottawa to join his other colleagues already in Washington. The following year, in April 1941, J. R. Carswell, the Canadian liaison officer of the DM&S in Washington, called Donald in Montreal to notify him that “the RDX matter was up and was most urgent.”11 Carswell wanted to arrange a meeting in Montreal on Monday morning with Dr. George W. White, head of the British Purchasing Commission in Washington.12 At the Montreal meeting, White informed the Canadians that Britain was requesting from the United States a supply of 120 tons of RDX per week, or 500 tons per month.13 He reported that James B. Conant, a member of the NDRC, supported the British request. The question then arose of “what might be done towards manufacturing this new explosive in Canada.”14 J. R. Donald suggested, “In view of the importance of this whole matter,” Canada “might with advantage send a team of two over to England to study this whole situation.”15 A reluctant Howe responded that the question of new explosives was one for the Canadian military authorities to determine, and suggested that “you do not send a group to England until the Canadian position is more clearly defined.”16 Howe felt that “Canada should not force itself in the

Canada and RDX  65

RDX situation as far as the British Government is concerned.”17 He told J. L. Ralston, the Canadian minister of national defense, that he was “prepared to drop the [RDX] matter unless there was a Canadian need for the new product. The British have stated that this new explosive will be secured in the United States.”18 On receiving news that the DuPont Company was proceeding with an RDX plant in the United States, Howe suggested to Donald, “We might postpone our decision as to a Canadian plant for two or three months.”19 In the meantime, at McGill University, J. H. Ross, aided by his graduate student Robert W. Schiessler, developed a new process for producing RDX that used formaldehyde and ammonium nitrate in the presence of acetic anhydride, a dehydrating agent.20 The Ross-Schiessler process resulted in a large cost saving since it required less of the expensive nitric acid used in the Woolwich process. For a brief time the Canadian Ross-Schiessler method was considered the only viable way to make large quantities of RDX. The welcome news that Canadian scientists has discovered a financially viable ways to produce RDX led C. D. Howe to approve Donald’s request to have Shawinigan Chemicals Company construct and operate a small pilot plant in Quebec province. At the University of Toronto, Dr. George Wright and his research team were also working “day and night” carrying out RDX experiments.21 The Canadian developments were promptly shared with British and American scientists.22 By August it was decided to send a sample of the RossSchiessler product to Britain, without delay, to determine if it was identical to British RDX. Professors Ross and H. S. Sutherland prepared packages of the new explosive compound totaling about twenty pounds, which they would personally deliver to the Woolwich researchers for testing.23 Flying across the Atlantic in those days was a new and dangerous business, and carrying a few pounds of the high explosive RDX did not reduce the risk.24 The Canadians began their flight on 19 August 1941. All

66  The Secret History of RDX

went well as the bomber flew at low altitude as far as Gander, Newfoundland, with the RDX sample in the bomb bay ready to be jettisoned in the event of a forced landing. On leaving Newfoundland, it was necessary to cross the Atlantic at a very high altitude, which posed the threat that the high explosive might freeze, and then “thaw out again—and explode!” as the aircraft returned to sea level on approaching Britain.25 The fate of everyone aboard the aircraft, plus the RDX sample, was at stake.26 To reduce the risks, Ross and Sutherland brought the samples (immersed in water in glass jars) into the unheated passenger cabin,“tucked [them] away under their blankets,” and used the warmth of their own bodies to prevent the packages from freezing high over the Atlantic.27 It was a “nightmare crossing” by all accounts, but the Canadian-made RDX arrived safely at Prestwick, Scotland.28 The next difficulty involved getting the explosive sample transferred from Scotland to Woolwich. British civil regulations did not permit explosives to be transported on a passenger train. The RDX sample had to be left behind to follow them by special transport. The Canadians arrived in London, but the RDX did not. After waiting three or four days for the sample to arrive, and with their patience exhausted, Ross and Sutherland secured the necessary raw materials at Woolwich to produce enough RDX for testing. The Shawinigan sample finally arrived, which proved useful in that the larger quantity permitted a greater variety of tests. These showed that the Ross-Schiessler compound was indeed largely RDX, but it contained a high percentage of impurities, and further research was resumed at McGill.29 The entire dramatic episode eventually resulted in a Molson beer brewing company advertisement spotlighting Canada’s RDX contribution to the war effort. Meanwhile, Dr. George F. Wright of the National Research Council, Ottawa, and the University of Toronto, worked to improve the Woolwich process, which made RDX by the nitration of hexamine by means of nitric acid. By August 1941, Wright had improved the Woolwich process to raise yields from about 35 per-

Molson’s “Be Proud of Canada” advertisement celebrates Canadian scientists and their contribution to RDX development in World War II. (Courtesy of McGill Library)

68  The Secret History of RDX

cent to about 80 percent, but his process resulted in a tremendous amount of ammonium nitrate as a byproduct.30 On the Canadian scientists’ return home, J. R. Donald informed Howe about their talks with British authorities. Dr. J. W. Armit, the deputy director-general of explosives at the Ministry of Supply told Ross that they would like Canada to build a plant to produce 100 tons of RDX per month using the Ross-Schiessler process.31 Donald asked the Shawinigan Chemicals Company to prepare plans and estimates for such a plant, “In order that no time may be lost.”32 Donald reported that they were keeping in close touch with the work being done at the University of Toronto, and that the British were kept informed of the results.33 “Our work in Canada has also been drawn to the attention of the U.S. Authorities,” Donald informed Howe, “and they propose shortly to send some of their explosives authorities [Colonel J. P. Harris] to discuss the [Ross-Schiessler] process.”34 In early October 1941, Howe gave Donald “the green light” to proceed with construction of the Shawinigan Falls RDX pilot plant in Quebec province: I have your secret and confidential memo of October 4, and would ask you to extend my congratulations to Dr. Ross and Dr. Sutherland for the success of their efforts in working out an alternative method of manufacturing RDX. I have authorized the expenditure necessary to build at Shawinigan Falls, a plant for the manufacture of 100 tons per month of RDX according to the process worked out by Dr. Ross.35 In August 1941, Donald visited Dr. Wright’s laboratory at the University of Toronto, where “To my horror” he found that “very substantial quantities of RDX” were stored in an old elevator shaft.36 Historian Donald Avery observes that, “Driven by his desire to get the job done, Wright did not always observe normal safety procedures.”37 Donald pointed out that Wright and his whole team

Canada and RDX  69

would “probably be blown to pieces and I would be blown out of a job in Ottawa. While I think George felt I took an extreme view, the RDX was shortly removed much to my relief.”38 In Toronto, Wright’s team was investigating the relative merits of the Ross-Schiessler process and the Bachmann process, which had been discovered by Dr. Werner Bachmann of the University of Michigan. Briefed on the Woolwich process in November 1940, Bachmann, working in his laboratory daily from 8 a.m. until midnight or after, devised a system combining the Woolwich process with the Ross-Schiessler method.39 Bachmann’s combination process reduced the quantity of the expensive nitric acid required by the Woolwich process by 85 percent while doubling the yield of RDX and lowering the cost.40 Dr. Wright’s Toronto team would conclude that Bachmann’s combination process was superior to both the Woolwich and the Ross-Schliessler methods. The researchers at Woolwich would likewise agree that Bachmann’s process was the most efficient and cost-effective way to produce the super-explosive. At the end of October 1941, Colonel J. P. Harris of U.S. Army Ordnance visited the Shawinigan pilot plant. J. R. Donald had been pressing Harris for some time to make the trip, and on the first day of the busy three-day itinerary they visited operations at Shawinigan Falls. (The party included Dr. Bengis, Captain H. D. Reynolds, and Dr. George White of the British Purchasing Commission.) Donald later remarked that Harris, besides being an authority on explosives and ammunition, was “a very human person. . . . We all benefited from his visit and he, in turn, was impressed with our plants and organization. It was a valuable contribution to Canadian-U.S. co-operation, and we capped it off with a very pleasant dinner at the University Club.”41 Cooperation and coordination of RDX experiments between Canada and the United States were advanced enormously by the creation of the Canadian-American RDX Committee. Chaired by Dr. Ralph Connor, head of the Explosives Section (8) of the NDRC, the joint RDX committee met in New York in November

70  The Secret History of RDX

1942, where Dr. Connor reported that some captured unexploded Japanese incendiary bombs had contained a white explosive powder.42 He told the committee “the Japs are using RDX.”43 When Dr. F. C. Whitmore of Penn State University added that Italy was using the explosive Composition B, Dr. Connor commented that when RDX was produced on a large scale, “it will be practically impossible to keep the details secret.”44 Members of the American-Canadian RDX Committee met at intervals of one to two months until RDX was in large-scale production. During the time that RDX was regarded as “top secret,” members of the committee used the code word “golf” when referring to the super-explosive in their telegrams and communications with each other.45 Dr. Connor was troubled about “using Government telegrams for personal matters,” the messages in question being “Golf in Montreal on February 15,” and “Ship 1000 lb. Golf balls to ERL.”46 The first message called a meeting of the committee, and the second directed a shipment of RDX to the Explosive Research Laboratory in Bruceton, Pennsylvania. In one of their last meetings, at the end of September 1943, the American-Canadian RDX Committee met in Kingsport, Tennessee. The occasion was to celebrate Holston Ordnance Works’ reaching full production. Touring the gigantic Tennessee complex in Kingsport, they were impressed by the multi-story buildings of “gleaming steel and glass.”47 For some time, J. R. Donald had urged that a meeting of the Canadians and Americans with British supply officials would be valuable in coordinating the munition programs of the Allies, and at the end of June 1942 he and Dr. J. H. Ross flew to London. “Thus began six weeks which were interesting, stimulating and even exciting,” wrote Donald.48 He had broached the matter earlier to Colonel J. P. Harris, and with the arrival of Colonel Harris and Dr. Robert Bengis in London the “tempo” of their business accelerated.49 “Harris’s warm personality, and obvious competence quickly won the confidence not only of [Dr. J. W.] Armit, but also other Ministry of Supply officials,” stated Donald.50 RDX was a “mat-

Canada and RDX  71

ter of high priority,” and Dr. Armit arranged for the visitors to tour the RDX plant at Bridgewater. They traveled by train from London to Exeter, where a Ministry of Supply car picked them up. “It was not too long after the saturation bombing of Exeter,” wrote Donald, “and the ruin and devastation over a wide area was frightful.”51 After visiting the Bridgewater plant they proceeded to Bath, and “Again we saw the devastating results of the recent saturation bombing, and it drove home to us North Americans the magnitude of problems facing the U.K., which did not exist in North America.”52 After his return home, Donald “required a few days to adjust to the security and calm after the tension and excitement of Britain. Furthermore I felt a sense of guilt in running away from friends in trouble.”53 He “disappeared for a few days” to write his report for Howe, which he said “reflected the fears and stresses of the summer of 1942 when the Germans and Japanese armies were still advancing. The collapse of the Russian resistance was generally anticipated, the fear of an invasion of Great Britain remained, and submarine warfare was taking a heavy toll.”54 Donald emphasized “the great importance of RDX.”55 The British military had emphasized the need of explosives with maximum power, while Ministry of Supply officials regarded RDX as a “luxury explosive and [questioned] its overall superiority to TNT, taking into consideration the supply problems.”56 Donald observed that even when the Bridgewater plant doubled its capacity, supply of the RDX would fall far short of demand.57 Torpex was recognized as 50 percent more powerful than TNT for underwater purposes, and about 90 percent of it was allotted to the Royal Navy for torpedo warheads, “Hedgehog” antisubmarine projectiles, and aerial depth charges.58 The British Air Ministry, noted Donald, “urgently pressed” for RDX as a filling for the bombs of the RAF Bomber Command. In his report, Donald described a demonstration using the plastic explosive Composition C (88 percent RDX and the remainder plasticizers), which was used to destroy railroad track, steel

72  The Secret History of RDX

bridges, and fortifications.59 At a commando base, “A striking example of its power was demonstrated to the writer [Donald] . . . where a 3-lb. ball of plastic explosive was thrown at a piece of armored plate 1-¼ inches thick, and blasted a hole through the plate about 6 inches in diameter.”60 Donald was convinced of the superiority of RDX to existing explosives, and of the urgent need to greatly increase its supply: “It seems definitely established that RDX is the outstanding development in explosives in this war, and that its use will steadily increase. It is now reported that the Italian navy are using RDX in shells, and that the Germans are starting to use it in bombs.”61 Donald protested to C. D. Howe in the spring of 1943 when he learned that consideration was being given to the expansion of aircraft production and ship building as a result of the curtailment of TNT and other ammunition production: As you know, I have been emphasizing the importance of additional RDX manufacture as the most efficient and quickest method of delivering greater destructive force. In round figures, 70 bombers carrying bombs loaded with RDX/TNT mixture [Composition B] carry the same explosive force as 100 utilizing TNT loaded bombs. By spending a comparatively small sum of money on RDX expansion, the equivalent of a good many million dollars in bomber production and operation can be obtained. It also seems possible that the limiting factor in bombing will be the heavy demands for high octane gasoline, trained air and ground crews and, if this proves to be the case, the use of a super explosive becomes increasingly important.62 The most difficult challenge, however, was to overcome the deep suspicion of U.S. Army Ordnance authorities toward RDX, and the consequences of an accidental explosion were made abundantly clear in correspondence between two members of the American-Canadian RDX Committee. In March 1943, Walter C.

Canada and RDX  73

McCrone at Cornell thanked McGill’s Robert Nicholls for his letter updating him on developments at the Shawinigan RDX plant: “I am going to answer your letter very frankly because it is between you and me (almost). In the first place my concern over the situation arises from the fact that if any accident should occur at Shawinigan, the whole program for the manufacture of RDX-B [Composition B] in Canada, Britain and United States would receive a setback and, probably, would result in the respective Army Commands saying, ‘We don’t want any of that stuff. We’ll stick to TNT, etc.’”63 McCrone’s warning came as a timely reminder at a critical point. At the U.S. Army Service Forces, General Brehon Somervell was opposed to expanding RDX production capacity. The scientific cooperation between Britain, Canada, and the United States had achieved astounding success, as evidenced by the mass-production of RDX. Relations with the Soviet Union, however, were far more complex, and the free flow of information between the co-belligerents was never officially authorized, particularly on the RDX and atomic bomb projects.64 The Soviets had first contacted British authorities about technical information on RDX in 1943. The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff response was negative, and was based on the grounds that no RDX secrets could be released without mutual agreement since RDX had become a joint project.65 British and Canadian officials “politely” accepted this veto, although they were annoyed by the hardline position taken by the Joint Chiefs.66 Particularly distressed by the decision not to share RDX information with the Soviet Union was Raymond Boyer, the cosecretary of the American-Canadian RDX Committee. Boyer had performed valuable research on RDX and viewed any attempt to keep weapons and munitions from the Red Army as counterproductive. He agreed, therefore, to convey RDX information to the Soviets through the medium of Fred Rose, a Communist who sat in Canada’s Parliament.67 In early 1943, Boyer went to Rose’s apartment and provided him with information on the Canadian process for making RDX.68

74  The Secret History of RDX

Ironically, when the Soviets approached Canada for information on the actual production process, Canada consulted Britain and the United States on whether or not to disclose the requested information, and this time there was no American opposition. Permission was granted for a Soviet delegation to visit the Shawinigan Falls RDX plant, and “incredibly” no restrictions were placed on what “the Soviets could or could not see.”69 The officials at the Shawinigan Falls plant permitted the Soviets to see everything in the RDX plant.70 At the end of World War II, in September 1945, Canadians were shocked by the revelations of Igor Gouzenko that the Soviet Union had conducted a wartime spy network in Canada.71 A cipher clerk in the Soviet embassy in Ottawa, Gouzenko defected with evidence of the Soviet Union’s information gathering activities, and Raymond Boyer’s name appeared in the documents. Boyer would plead guilty to the transmission of classified information to the Soviets, and was sentenced to the minimum two years’ imprisonment.72 Considerably larger in land area than its neighbor to the south, Canada had a population of only 11 million people at the start of World War II. Yet Canada, like the United States, became an arsenal of democracy. At sea, in the air, and on the battlefields of Europe, Canada fought far above its weight. By 1945 Canada’s war production ranked fourth among the Allied powers, exceeded only by the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom. In the development of the super-explosive RDX, Canada was in the forefront, together with Britain and the United States. The Shawinigan Falls RDX plant in Quebec, which began large-scale production in July 1942, increased production each and every month, until by the end of the war it reached 350 tons per month. The Holston Ordnance Works plant in Tennessee began production in May 1943, and by 1945 it reached the staggering output of 340 tons of RDX per day! Only through the great partnership between Canada, the United States, and Britain were these results possible.

8

The Wexler Bend Pilot Plant Despite the huge success of Bachmann’s combination process in reducing the enormous amount of nitric acid required by the Woolwich process, and requiring smaller amounts of the dehydrating agent than did the Canadian process, problems remained to be solved before large-scale production became a reality. A byproduct of Bachmann’s method was large amounts of weak acetic acid contaminated by traces of RDX, and the combination process was slow.1 During 1941, Dr. James Conant and his fellow scientists at the NDRC had become active proponents of an American RDX program, and at the same time, relations between the NDRC and Dr. Bengis in the Ammunition Branch “had become very close, and a free exchange of ideas, actions, and information was engaged in.”2 To help solve the difficulties remaining with Bachmann’s combination process, the NDRC and the Ammunition Branch turned to the Western Cartridge Company, the DuPont Company, and Tennessee Eastman Company. With both Western Cartridge and DuPont committed to other projects, everything depended on the Tennessee Eastman Company (TEC). The chemists and engineers there “hit the jackpot.”3 Tennessee Eastman, a subsidiary of the Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester, New York, had experience with both acetic acid and acetic anhydride—important chemical ingredients in Kodak’s nonflammable and popular “safety” film—but TEC had no previous experience in the field of explosives. In early November 1941, one month before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Major G. C. Tibbitts of the Office of the Chief of Ordnance, wrote to Per-

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ley S. Wilcox (“Uncle Perley” to his employees), the president of Tennessee Eastman, asking them to develop a process to recover, purify, and concentrate acetic acid.4 The recovered acetic acid would be converted to anhydride. Shortly afterward, Dr. Robert O. Bengis, chief chemist in the Ammunition Branch and a figure who would play a leading role in the promotion of RDX production in the United States, visited TEC officials in Kingsport. At a meeting with Dr. Bengis, H. G. “Herb” Stone, works manager at TEC, proposed a method for the recovery of pure acetic acid from the weak acetic acid byproduct of the Bachmann combination process, which was a mixture of inorganic salts, heat-sensitive explosives, formaldehyde, nitric acid, and acetic acid.5 On 17 November, James C. White, vice president and general manager of Tennessee Eastman, visited the Office of the Chief of Ordnance, where he discussed with Colonel J. P. Harris, Major Tibbitts, and Captain Reynolds some of the problems that had prompted Bengis’s visit. When asked if TEC would be willing to work on the acid recovery problem, White replied that they would start immediately on the problem, without a contract.6 Arrangements were made to ship twenty-five gallons of weak acetic acid from the Shawinigan Falls RDX plant in Canada to Tennessee Eastman in Kingsport. On 24 November, the shipment of weak acetic acid arrived in Kingsport. Previously, Bengis and Stone had discussed safety precautions for handling the weak acetic acid that contained trace amounts of a high explosive. When the weak acid was poured out of the stainless steel drum, at the bottom was a small amount of a white crystalline explosive. TEC officials and personnel were shocked to learn that the teaspoonful amount of the white substance known as RDX was the most powerful explosive in the world.7 Until then, none of the Tennessee Eastman people involved had heard of the top secret “RDX.” Just nine days after Pearl Harbor, a sample of pure acetic acid recovered from the Canadian crude was presented to officials in Washington.8 The

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Ordnance Department’s Colonel J. P. Harris was “very much impressed” by TEC’s success, as were Bengis and others, so much so that on 21 January 1942 Dr. Ralph A. Connor of the NDRC’s Explosive Section telephoned H. G. Stone in Kingsport. The phone call caused an even greater shock to TEC officials. Dr. Connor asked Tennessee Eastman to build a pilot plant to produce a few hundred pounds of RDX per day!9 The request shocked not only the “top brass” in Kingsport, but Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester. The company founded by George Eastman made cameras and film, not high explosives, and now they were being asked to work with the “most powerful high explosive known, and by a new, unproven process whose dangers were entirely unknown.”10 After one day of phone conversations with “people in Rochester and much soul-searching,” P. S. Wilcox “somewhat reluctantly gave his nod of assent.”11 His reluctance stemmed not from whether Eastman would recover its developmental costs, but because he wanted to be sure that Tennessee Eastman could do the job “faster and better than any other company.”12 As one of those present at the “creation” would write, “Now, things did start to move!!”13 The Wexler Bend site was selected, and the pilot plant would be built along the north shore of the South Fork of the Holston River, near the southeastern end of Long Island and southeast of the main Tennessee Eastman complex. Just in case there were an accident, the pilot plant would be built some 700 yards from the nearest Eastman building. H. G. “Herb” Stone dug his heel into the ground to mark out the site of the pilot plant, then immediately left on a whirlwind four-day trip to Washington, D.C., for a meeting with Dr. Ralph Connor of the NDRC, followed by other travels to learn as much as possible about RDX. Accompanying him on that memorable trip were Dr. Fred Conklin, who later worked on the Manhattan Project and succeeded Stone as works manager of TEC, Dr. Lee G. Davy, and Dr. Dave C. Hull.14 Ann Arbor, Michigan, was next, where they witnessed Werner Bachmann make RDX in his laboratory using the combination process.

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The glass jeep reactor permitted the continuous manufacture of huge quantities of RDX at Holston Ordnance Works. (Courtesy of Joseph Davy)

Bachmann would later be remembered as “a test-tube-andbeaker guy . . . a laboratory chemist working with minute quantities.”15 The Eastman group recognized that neither the Woolwich process nor Bachmann’s batch method of making RDX were feasible for large-scale production. On the night of 25–26 January, Davy and Hull, who shared a room at the Jefferson Hotel in St. Louis, were “restless and worked into the early hours” of the morning on the design features for a continuous reactor for producing RDX, later to be known as a “jeep.”16 By the time the Eastman team returned to Kingsport at the

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end of January, the Wexler Bend Pilot Plant was almost ready to begin its spectacular contribution to the history of RDX. Initially, the pilot plant consisted of one twenty-five- by twenty-fivefoot building. Research workers, operators, supervisors, trainees, and visiting experts, including Drs. Bachmann and Connor, were crowded into the building to the last possible person allowed under safety regulations. Wexler Bend Pilot Plant would be described as “an efficient madhouse.”17 Something new was happening “every minute—every minute of the 24-hours, seven days a week.”18 The Eastman employees were all “picked men, seasoned and loyal employees, and potential foremen for large scale production units. Their financial backgrounds had been investigated, and in all instances the operators were married and had at least one child.”19 Dr. Lee Davy practically lived at the pilot plant, as did many others, working sixteen- and eighteen-hour days. Raymond Herring, a chemist, remembered, “Those were quite wonderful days, though, because there was a great spirit of camaraderie and purpose in what they were doing.”20 They spent “months and months and months” in the effort to squeeze every ounce of RDX out of hexamine that they could.21 Everyone at Wexler Bend referred to the pilot plant as “Pearl Harbor” until management stopped the practice immediately for security reasons.22 Eastman employees could “almost sense the evil eye of a Nazi periscope stalking their experiments.”23 Off the East Coast and Outer Banks of North Carolina, German U-boats were engaged in what has been called a “Second Pearl Harbor,” sinking merchant ships and oil tankers at will, often within sight of horrified spectators on land. The coastline was ablaze with lights that illuminated the silhouettes of the slow-moving merchant ships. In the first half of 1942, U-boats sank over 500 ships—or 1.2 million tons of shipping—off the East Coast. Dr. Ralph Connor visited the Wexler Bend Pilot Plant and could scarcely contain his admiration and enthusiasm, writing to other members of the NDRC: “In order to really appreciate the vigor with which Tennessee Eastman moved this program,

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Wexler Bend Pilot Plant began its first run of RDX on 17 February 1942 at the rate of thirty pounds an hour, and discontinued on 21 May 1943, by which time output had increased to 2,800 pounds per day. The pilot plant was described as an “efficient madhouse.” (Courtesy of the National Archives at Atlanta)

you should know that my visit last Wednesday was exactly three weeks after I had called them on the telephone to ask if they would consider doing pilot plant work on the production of RDX.”24 Fulsome praise came from Dr. Bengis and Dr. C. M. Salls, of the Army Ammunition Branch, who visited Wexler Bend in April 1942. Dr. Salls remarked on the “truly remarkable combination of ability and enthusiasm. The achievement of such a pilot plant in less than 10 weeks’ time would have been impossible without a high degree of ‘know-how’ activated by a strong will to work at top speed.”25 In the words of Bengis, “This performance by the Tennessee Eastman Corporation was considered phenomenal.”26 Obstacles that blocked a solution to a problem were tackled head-on, as when Herb Stone was informed that an item could not be obtained because the project lacked a priority rating: Stone asked when the request could be met—“‘Possibly a week,’ came the answer. ‘A week,’ Stone shouted into the phone, ‘Why the Japs

The Wexler Bend Pilot Plant  81

took Manila in a week!’” The item was sent that afternoon, and from that point on “The Japs took Manila in a week!” was the war cry whenever Wexler Bend confronted an obstacle.27 A steam boiler was needed, but none was available. Stone bought a saw mill in Virginia and moved the portable boiler to Wexler Bend.28 The continuous production of RDX was made possible by the “jeep,” a small, jacketed, U-shaped glass tube, three inches in diameter, with a cross bar so that the liquid could circulate. This jeep device replaced the Woolwich and Bachmann batch processes. Acetic acid, then nitric acid, ammonium nitrate, acetic anhydride, and hexamine were fed into the jeep at various stages of the process. The end result was RDX. The jeep’s first run produced a half pound of RDX per minute, or thirty pounds an hour. Within months the same jeep was producing four times as much, or two pounds of RDX per minute, 120 pounds an hour, a production rate they maintained until Wexler Bend was shut down in the spring of 1943. Throughout the manufacturing process the chemicals necessary for the production of RDX were kept in a semifluid, acid slurry form and piped from one step in the process to another, rather than hauled and handled in the time-honored fashion. In February 1942, Tennessee Eastman received another call from Dr. Ralph Connor in Washington: “Would Eastman develop a process and build a pilot plant for making Composition B?”29 Dr. Connor explained that there was no safe way to ship RDX unless it was desensitized with TNT. This was the first time that anyone at Eastman had heard of Composition B.30 Vice President and General Manager James White said, “This really shook us up,” especially in Rochester, where P. S. Wilcox happened to be when White relayed Dr. Connor’s request.31 Once again the answer was “Yes, but not on the TEC plant site.”32 A pilot plant where RDX and TNT would be mixed to produce what the British called Composition B was set up beside the old Eastman logging railroad at the foot of Bays Mountain, about a mile west of the river. Dr. Connor and Dr. R. C. Elderfield of

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the NDRC’s Explosives Section visited Eastman to discuss in detail the procedures of incorporating RDX and TNT. Three weeks after the call from Washington, the Horse Creek Pilot Plant was producing Composition B under the supervision of E. G. “Ed” Guenther. A concrete dividing wall, fifteen feet high and twenty-four inches thick, is all that remains of the three wood-frame buildings that comprised the historic Horse Creek Pilot Plant, where Eastman personnel first “incorporated” or mixed RDX and TNT to make the explosive Composition B. Aware of Hershey’s method of cooling off their chocolate kisses on a conveyor belt, Ed Guenther designed an ingenious method of pouring and cooling the small Composition B pellets on a stainless steel conveyor belt. The finished product resembled in size and shape the Hershey chocolates. They were quickly dubbed “Jap Kisses.”33 The process was simple, ingenious, and safe. It eliminated the health problem of TNT fumes while at the same time reducing labor costs.34 Employees called Horse Creek Pilot Plant “Singapore,” but this name was also quickly forbidden by management.35 So desperate was the need for RDX-type explosives that the Horse Creek Pilot Plant rushed to the Navy every 20,000 pounds of Composition B produced, despite the fact that this figure was only one-fifth of the capacity of the 100,000-pound boxcars.36 On 25 April 1942, the first shipment left for the U.S. Naval Mine Depot in Yorktown, Virginia. As Wexler Bend continuously increased its production of RDX, Horse Creek was able to produce ever greater amounts of Composition B. At the naval ordnance depots, the Composition B pellets were re-melted, then aluminum powder was added, thus making the explosive Torpex used to fill torpedo warheads and aerial depth charges for the Battle of the Atlantic.37 Throughout the war Composition B was “shipped out and used fast.”38 American submarine commanders in the Pacific agreed unanimously that Torpex warheads were far more powerful than those loaded with TNT.39 For a time, RDX was so scarce that tor-

The author at Horse Creek Pilot Plant, which was built near an old Eastman logging railroad at the foot of Bays Mountain. At the pilot plant RDX was desensitized with TNT to form Composition B. Only a portion of the concrete wall in the middle of the building still stands as a reminder of the dangerous activity that once occurred at the site. (Photograph by John T. Bearden, plant manager of Holston Defense Corporation from 1970 to 1974 and from 1985 to 1988)

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pedo warheads containing Torpex were only assigned to commanders with the best record of hits.40 As fast as production permitted, Torpex torpedoes were distributed throughout the Navy’s submarine fleet.41 In December 1942, Holston Ordnance Works delivered 255,000 pounds of Composition B to the Naval Mine Depot at Yorktown.42 Of that amount, 90,000 pounds were used to load 185 torpedo warheads, 75,000 pounds to fill 280 aerial depth charges, and the remainder for mines dropped from aircraft.43 In January 1943, the Naval Mine Depot received 1,171,100 pounds of Composition B from Holston Ordnance.44 Comparative tests with captured enemy munitions showed that neither the Germans nor the Japanese possessed explosives as powerful as Torpex.45 At the start of the war in the Pacific, American submarine commanders were extremely disappointed with the poor performance of their torpedoes. These complaints were expressed to Admiral Blandy by Rear Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, his former Annapolis classmate, who was now commander of the U.S. Pacific submarine fleet. In response to Lockwood’s letter, Blandy wrote: Dear Charlie, You still make me just a little weary when you say “If we can get certain things quickly, such as dependable torpedoes, etc.” I will admit that they are not perfect but they are a damn sight closer to perfection than some of the work your people do with them.46 Rockwood’s letter to Blandy had included a postscript, in which he said that Torpex was “swell,” and asked if the weight of the explosive could be increased.47 Blandy reminded him that they started the war with 500-pound warheads loaded with TNT, then increased to a 600-pound charge. “Next we shifted to Torpex,” wrote Blandy, “and all heads for submarine torpedoes are now Torpexloaded.” He noted that Torpex gave an explosive effect roughly equivalent to 150 percent as much as TNT, and that the latest

The Wexler Bend Pilot Plant  85

loading with Torpex would be equivalent to approximately 1,000 pounds of TNT, or “twice as much as we started the war with.”48 Blandy congratulated Lockwood on the success in sinking Japanese ships, “but I don’t suppose the subs were forced to ram any of the tonnage which they did sink, or ‘to claw off the plates with their bare fingers.’” Blandy ended his letter, “With best regards, Spike.”49 Lockwood had earlier commented before a Washington audience that “If the Bureau of Ordnance can’t provide us with torpedoes that will hit and explode . . . then for God’s sake, get the Bureau of Ships to design a boat hook with which we can rip the plates off a target’s side.”50 Those comments had made Blandy “boiling mad.”51 Lockwood was understandably upset by duds and deep-running torpedoes in the early stages of the war. Moreover, U.S. torpedo warheads had lacked the “punch” of Japanese warheads, which were designed to sink warships, not merchant ships.52 However, the switch to Torpex warheads, together with technical and tactical improvements, changed the picture dramatically. The Navy’s Bureau of Ordnance began to receive reports of Torpex-armed torpedoes not merely sinking Japanese ships, but breaking them in two. After its 19 March 1943 war patrol, the USS Wahoo reported: “0515H; Fired one torpex torpedo at medium sized freighter identified as KANKA MARU, 4,065 tons, range 750 yards, 120 port track, speed 9 knots. Hit. After part of ship disintegrated and the forward part sank in two minutes, and 26 seconds. These torpex heads carry a awful wallop.”53 Toward the end of the war, warheads loaded with 1,100 pounds of Torpex (equal to 1,650 pounds of TNT) were being used in the Pacific. The Naval Torpedo Station at Newport, Rhode Island, had produced only three torpedoes a day before the war. By war’s end, the Bureau of Ordnance had produced over 57,000 Torpex-loaded warheads. The Battle of the Atlantic demanded Blandy’s attention, however, and in December 1942 he requested permission from U.S. Fleet Commander Admiral Ernest J. King to use Torpex in

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aerial depth charges as well as in the torpedoes fired by PT boats: “At the present time the Bureau of Ordnance is loading all available Torpex into submarine warheads, submarine mines, aircraft depth bombs [airborne depth charges], aircraft mines and antisubmarine depth charges Mark 10 and Mark 20. This decision was based upon the necessity of obtaining maximum explosive effect and the fact that ordinarily the above weapons would be little exposed to bullets or fragments to which Torpex was known to be sensitive to some degree.”54 Tests conducted at the Naval Proving Ground in Dahlgren, Virginia, had shown that Torpex-loaded weapons were “sensitive to some degree” to .30 caliber armorpiercing machine gun bullets and 20 mm cannon rounds, and involved, in the words of Blandy, “the acceptance of a calculated risk.”55 “The Bureau understands that the British have accepted the attendant risk in aircraft torpedoes and are desirous of loading Torpex in all weapons that detonate underwater. Torpex has the advantage of giving about one and one-half times the damage effect of an equal quantity of TNT, and from this viewpoint some risk might be accepted.”56 Admiral King approved the extension of Torpex to aerial depth charges, but “Torpedo warheads for surface craft shall not be loaded with Torpex.”57 By the end of April 1942, with the Wexler Bend Pilot Plant succeeding beyond all expectations, Tennessee Eastman submitted a report to the NDRC stating that they had sufficient data to design an installation for large-scale production of RDX and Composition B. On 6 June 1942, the War Department authorized Tennessee Eastman to design and operate Holston Ordnance Works (HOW) with a capacity to produce 170 tons of RDX daily. By the end of the war Holston would be producing 570 tons each day.

9

The Great Holston Ordnance Works “It is brand new you know . . . nobody has ever tried this thing before.”1 An Ordnance officer gave the warning to General Leslie R. Groves of the Army Corps of Engineers, who was about to launch the massive Holston Ordnance Works construction project in June 1942. Groves needed no reminder that the Holston Ordnance Works project was “one of the Corps’ most difficult wartime undertakings” and that it would “bear close watching.”2 At the peak of the building program, as many as 18,000 construction workers were employed in the two areas that comprised Holston Ordnance Works. Groves would later be assigned the even greater task of managing the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb. Groves vetoed a suggestion that TEC construct the plant, choosing instead the top industrial engineering firm Fraser-Brace Company, which he had just used to complete the Weldon Spring Ordnance Works in Missouri, probably the largest TNT plant in the world.3 Groves selected the highly respected Charles T. Main Company as the principal subcontractor. Work on Holston began “at once . . . the plant needed to be completed yesterday.”4 Holston Ordnance Works would consist of 250 buildings in separate areas, A and B. To local people, Holston Ordnance Works was simply “the powder plant.” Area A was located on a forty-five-acre site in Kingsport, Tennessee, along the South Fork of the Holston River, and near the main Tennessee Eastman complex. Area A would supply gla-

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cial (pure) acetic acid and acetic anhydride, two chemicals that were essential in the RDX process, to Area B for the manufacture of RDX and its conversion into Composition B. For safety reasons, Area B was built five miles to the west and located just below the confluence of the North and South forks of the Holston River, in Hawkins County.5 The Holston River was the only water supply available to meet the enormous quantity required in the manufacturing processes of RDX, 447 million gallons a day. Throughout the war, bacteriological tests were made of deep wells and the water supply. Generating enough electricity for Holston Ordnance Works to operate at its peak of production required two steam plants burning sixty-five tons of coal an hour, which equated to generating sufficient electricity for a medium-sized city. Weak acetic acid used in the RDX manufacturing process in Area B was pumped back to Area A for reprocessing into glacial acetic acid or acetic anhydride. Now almost derelict, the once “gleaming steel and glass” eight-story buildings remain standing as a testament to the enormous wartime effort made by the employees of Tennessee Eastman. At Area B, the raw materials were turned into RDX, and, when mixed with TNT and wax, Composition B. On what had been 6,828 acres of rich bottom land along the North Fork of the Holston River there would grow up the great Holston Ordnance Works. Much of the land had consisted of small farms raising tobacco, and one small dairy owned by Mary C. Kenner. The largest tract of 1,602 acres had been the prosperous dairy farm belonging to John B. Dennis, valued at $200 an acre, the market value for the land. Bordering Area B was the pre–Civil War Rotherwood estate, the home of the Dennis family, which the U.S. government purchased with the dairy farm. From June 1942 to March 1944, Lieutenant Colonel William E. Ryan, commanding officer at Holston Ordnance Works, lived in Rotherwood Mansion. The Clinchfield Railroad served Area A, while the Southern Railroad connected with Area B, entering after crossing Highway 11W on a steel overpass and extending five miles down to

RDX was piped to Building E in the form of spent acetic acid slurry. (Courtesy of the National Archives at Atlanta)

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The Interplant Railroad. (Courtesy of the National Archives at Atlanta)

the four-span Clouds Bend Bridge. Connecting Areas A and B was the Interplant Railroad with twenty-nine miles of track. One steam engine, “Old Faithful,” and five diesel locomotives would eventually make round-trips twenty-four hours a day. Laying the track for the Interplant Railroad had been the work of several hundred African Americans, called “Gandy Dancers,” from Mississippi. The name “Gandy Dancers” derived from the songs and chants the men used as they laid the track. “It was something to see them drive steel with their chanting,” recalled Harold Burleson.6 African American workers were housed in wooden barracks in Area B. The former dairy farm’s large barn was remodeled to serve as the main cafeteria during the construction period. “Colonel” Sanders, of later Kentucky Fried Chicken fame, is rumored to have worked briefly in one of the cafeterias during the early stages of construction of the plant. The barn, turned main cafeteria, was later renovated to become a recreation center for employees. Employee health was a high priority at Holston, which was provided with a well-equipped medical department. Medi-

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cal checkups included blood specimens and X-ray examinations. RDX itself was not a serious health hazard. Of more immediate concern to employees was the possibility of an explosion! Scientific studies involving the toxicity of RDX were conducted with rats and rabbits ingesting RDX over an extended period of time. The tests showed that prolonged ingestion of RDX did cause serious problems. However, there was no evidence of severe toxicity from the production process at Holston. The medical department and mobile medical bus treated acid burns, cases of dermatitis caused by fumes, and other possible employee injuries that might occur. Foraging expeditions had an important role to play in the completion of HOW. The Interplant Railroad depended on the construction of three steel bridges to cross the Holston River. Steel was almost impossible to obtain, so when H. G. Stone learned of three abandoned, fifty-year-old steel bridges near Lynchburg, Virginia, he contracted with the Bethlehem Steel Company to dismantle, repair, and reassemble the abandoned bridges at the Holston sites. As construction began on Holston Ordnance Works, people who had been out of work or working for low wages during the Great Depression swarmed into northeast Tennessee to get one of the better paying jobs that became available. Employment at Holston Ordnance Works peaked at about 6,800. A laborer now earned 50 cents an hour instead of perhaps a $1 a day, with lots of overtime pay available. Harold Burleson started work at Holston earning 62½ cents an hour, and remarked, “It was more money than I had ever made in my life.”7 Besides the money, everyone felt they should help the war effort. Kingsport, a small, sleepy town, even with the presence of Tennessee Eastman, became a wartime boomtown. Its population tripled in just a few months, from over 14,000 to nearly 51,000.8 To meet the incredible housing shortage, the government operated a trailer camp in Kingsport with a capacity for 300 families. Workers slept in shifts in Kingsport boarding houses, sometimes three

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Payday at HOW. (Courtesy of the National Archives at Atlanta)

to a bed. Such was the housing shortage that families were “asked” by the government to take in boarders! “You could rent a chicken coop,” declared one individual.9 To not rent a vacant room was viewed as unpatriotic. For supervisory personnel who were on twenty-four-hour call at all times, twenty-three attractive brick units were built in what was then known as the “Staff Area,” today’s Bay’s Cove. To help provide housing for some of the thousands of construction workers, the structures from two abandoned Civilian Conservation Corps camps in Marion, Virginia, were brought to the work site.10 The supply of local labor could scarcely begin to meet Holston’s construction and operation requirements. A steady stream of new people located to the area, representing practically “every state in the 48,” with Missouri and Virginia running a close race for first place.11 Mostly the employees came from southern Appalachia, which meant that perhaps two-thirds of the total workforce had to be transported from surrounding counties and states every day. Buses, some dating back to the 1939 New York World’s Fair, cars (with mandatory carpooling), and trucks converging on Kingsport resulted in a traffic problem of stagger-

The Great Holston Ordnance Works  93

The Victory Buses ran three times a day from Limestone, Bowmantown, Sulphur Springs, and Gray Station to Eastman Chemical Company and Holston Ordnance Works. With wartime gasoline rationing and a national thirty-mile-per-hour speed limit, plant owners bused their employees to work all over the tri-state area.

ing proportions: “You could have walked from Broad Street and Center Streets [in Kingsport] to Area B on the tops of vehicles and never touch the ground.”12 Kingsport’s large Civic Auditorium served as the headquar-

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ters for the Holston project for almost ten months. Eastman sent nearly 200 draftsmen, engineers, and office personnel to the Civic Auditorium to do the early design work for the Holston RDX plant. They brought with them the invaluable knowledge and experience gained from the Wexler Bend Pilot Plant. Other personnel came from Kodak Park, Rochester, headed by Colonel Carey H. Brown, who later succeeded H. G. Stone as works manager at Holston.13 Also from Rochester came R. C. Livermore with a degree in chemistry from Cornell. To people in the area, Livermore was a “damn Yankee.”14 “‘General Mud’ can whip any big job if allowed to get the upper hand,” declared Fraser-Brace project manager Harry Englander, “and could easily have delayed construction at Holston for months.”15 There were twenty-two days of rain in the critical construction month of August 1942, and the fall and winter rains were worse than normal, creating a sea of mud and threatening construction. “Holston was a trucking job,” wrote Englander, “workers, materials, and equipment could not get to the job or out to the construction sites except by truck, and the trucks couldn’t move without roads.”16 Often vehicles and equipment would be mired in the mud. Bulldozers mired down completely, and other bulldozers had to winch the stuck ones out of the mud. If a horse or mule was mired down, men had to dig out enough mud to put a canvas under the animal, and a crane would lift it straight up, thus preventing broken legs.17 By mid-December the acute rock shortage that had existed was conquered. During the twenty-two months of construction, some 1.2 million tons of crushed rock were used on the Holston project.18 Work went on regardless of the weather. In extreme cold temperatures workers continued to pour concrete and lay brick. To prevent freezing damage to the concrete, laborers hung canvas over construction areas and burned coke in salamander barrels to warm the air around the concrete as it set. The method was used even on the sides of some of the tall buildings in Area A.19 Safety and security measures at Holston Ordnance Works

The Great Holston Ordnance Works  95

Steel plate comparison showing the greater explosive power of RDX compared to that of TNT. (Author’s collection)

To avoid the possibility of an electrical spark causing a fire or explosion, production line floors were kept wet with water. All tools were either wooden or made of brass. No steel items were permitted in the production areas. (Courtesy of the National Archives at Atlanta)

were stringent. All employees were issued picture identification cards that had to be presented upon entering the plant. Safety training for new employees included a comparison test demon-

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strating how one ounce of RDX could blast a smooth hole through a half-inch steel plate, while TNT only dented the plate.20 Those on the production line and working elsewhere at Holston were quickly made aware that they were “not making maple sugar.”21 Holston’s Guard Department reached its peak strength in May 1943, with 458 guards and 110 guard posts distributed over the construction area and surrounding territory. Using automobiles, motorcycles, and horses, guards patrolled continuously, with thirty-eight guard towers located along the sixteen miles of Area B’s perimeter fences. Frequent friction and confusion occurred in the early stages of construction between Colonel Ryan’s office, TEC’s guard force, and Fraser-Brace employees, who felt there was too much “red tape.”22 Army officers were reluctant to show their Holston-issued passes at the entrance gates, demanding that they be recognized by the guards on duty. These difficulties were largely resolved by 1943.23 Sabotage and spies were an ever-present worry. Holston employee Lois Henry remembered, “Everybody had to keep their mouths closed. You weren’t allowed to tell how much you made, you weren’t allowed to talk anything about Holston. Nothing at all.”24 Security guards and selected workers were asked to keep a lookout for anyone or anything suspicious. One former Holston employee felt that they had “overemphasized security.”25 Some customary pursuits, however, could not be entirely prevented by even the strictest security. One employee recalled “one old mountaineer and three hound dogs went through the whole plant undetected.”26 Marquis Childs, the renowned journalist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, toured Holston Ordnance Works in early 1944. For his column “Washington Calling,” and under the heading “SuperExplosive,” Child’s wrote: The most remarkable safeguards have been thrown around the entire operation. . . . When the whole story of American industry—technician, management, labor—can be told,

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it will be one of the great chapters of the war epic. And it is far from being concluded. New and highly secret projects are still being developed. It may be the reporter’s point of view, but it seems to me that needless hush-hush surrounds some of these achievements . . . surely after it has been used in combat over a period of time, it can be no secret to the enemy. The publication of such news is enormously cheering to the men and women in industry. It means that their contribution to the war is known and appreciated.27 A female employee caught up in the hush-hush secrecy was interviewed by an agent of the Army’s Counterintelligence Corps (CIC). The agent investigated a male informant’s report that he had overheard the employee talking with a “foreign-looking man” with “the appearance of a German” and “a decided German accent” in a café in Chuckey, Tennessee.28 The young woman told the CIC agent that “she did not recall ever talking to any person of foreign appearance or foreign speech,” and that “if she had spoken to any person, it would be necessary for her to know this person fairly well, as she is not in the habit of and has never practiced speaking to strangers.”29 In his report the CIC agent rated the female employee’s credibility as “good.”30 In another case, the landlady (the “confidential informant”) of a boarding house in Johnson City reported to a CIC agent that her boarder was “rather eccentric,” “egotistical,” and had a “definite mental superiority complex.”31 The “suspect” received a large volume of mail, had no friends, his only hobby was collecting stamps, and “when he came home from work in the evening, he shuts himself in his room and stays there until the following morning.”32 In his report, the CIC agent stated the informant “is a very talkative woman, and this Agent believes that she had permitted her imagination to run away with her.”33 During the investigation the agent had interviewed Dr. L. G. Davy at Holston Ordnance, who told him that the subject under investigation for “disaffection” was an inspector for the Canadian

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Inspection Board whose job it was to test samples of their finished product to ensure that they met the specifications of the British empire, which was purchasing the product.34 Dr. Davy told the agent that the subject had no access to information which would be classified as confidential. In Dr. Davy’s opinion, the subject was “a man of more than average education, with a quiet, reserved personality and little or no ambition.”35 He believed the subject “to be in complete sympathy with the cause of the Allies and that there was nothing of a subversive nature about him.”36 The CIC agent agreed, noting that while the subject had a “peculiar personality,” there was nothing to indicate that he had engaged in subversive activities or assisted the enemy.37 Most of the Holston employees were white males, but with thousands of young sons, brothers, and husbands in the armed forces, thousands of women were needed in the defense plants. Women were not paid the same as their male counterparts, and in one case where a female asked a male employee doing the same work about the difference in compensation “there was much merriment on the males’ part about my expecting the same as the man.”38 Marquis Childs declared, “Yes, and they [the female employees] are subjected to very real hazards. Working in the XYZ area, you work under the constant threat that the ticklish stuff may blow up, developing cumulative force sufficient to blast the whole countryside.”39 From the start, women held most of the office jobs, but soon they were needed on the ten production lines. Throughout 1944, women comprised between 32 and 34 percent of the production line workforce.40 All production line operators were required to wear white cotton uniforms, cotton socks, and cotton underwear provided by the company for safety purposes. Workers were required to shower after work to ensure that no one left the plant contaminated with RDX, and clean uniforms were provided daily from Holston’s own laundry. In the nitric acid area, fumes were so severe that cotton would not stand up to regular use. Employees there had to wear wool.41 Women often had to turn large valves and lift fifty-pound boxes of Composition B.

Employees loading Composition B. (Courtesy of the National Archives at Atlanta)

Composition B on the conveyor belt resembled Hershey’s Kisses chocolate candies. (Courtesy of the National Archives at Atlanta)

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But even over the hard and dangerous work women could sometimes be heard laughing or singing popular songs.42 In Area A the women wore blue uniforms. During the halfhour lunch break they would eat their own packed lunch. One woman remembered a coworker teaching her during one of these lunch breaks how to “jitterbug” to the wartime music of the Glen Miller band, such as “In the Mood,” and Benny Goodman’s “Peckin’.”43 Because of the incredible housing shortage, many of the young women lived in a wooden barracks at the Area B plant site. A recreation center was opened in December 1943, located in the pre-war barn-turned-cafeteria. The recreation center was open seven days a week. The center featured movies, parties, lectures, special training courses, religious services, and weekend dances. On occasion, African American employees were permitted to use the recreation center for dance socials.44 Holston employees organized and competed in various sports, such as the women’s softball team, and won local tournaments.45 In 1943, horseshoe courts for the use of dormitory residents were constructed, and contests were organized for the employees.46 Few African Americans were employed during either the construction or operation of Holston Ordnance Works. Blacks sat in the back of buses (and might be ordered out of that seat by a white person), and they were mostly hired as laborers, in janitorial positions, as maids, or in food preparation.47 Segregation, in law and custom, governed race relations. The barracks in Area B were divided into facilities for men and women, whites and blacks. A separate recreation room was provided for black dormitory residents.48 In June 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt had established the Committee on Fair Employment Practice, generally known as the Fair Employment Practice Committee, or FEPC. The presidential executive order had banned discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries based on “race, creed, color,

Holston Ordnance Works women’s softball team. (Courtesy of the National Archives at Atlanta)

Female chauffeurs at HOW. (Courtesy of the National Archives at Atlanta)

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or national origin.”49 On 2 April 1943, Roosevelt Dollar, a former bricklayer for the Fraser-Brace Company, claimed in a letter to the FEPC that he and another “colored man,” named Jesse Homes, were dismissed by that company on the basis of their race.50 Dollar and Homes were notified that their dismissals were based on “the necessity of reducing the [labor] force.”51 “I candidly believe,” wrote Roosevelt Dollar, “that we were laid off for some other motive and not for the reduction of force.”52 Works Manager Harry Englander, in response to Dollar’s complaint, informed the FEPC that the Holston project was “being worked as a closed shop job,” and that skilled and unskilled workmen were requisitioned from the local unions. No discrimination had taken place, he replied, and Mr. Dollar “merely took his place with others of his craft in the normal lay-off from completion” of the job.53 Englander added, “Mr. Dollar is welcome to employment on this job as a common laborer, since we have never been able to meet our requirements in that classification.”54 Replying for the FEPC, Assistant Executive Secretary George M. Johnson wrote, “In view of the fact that your [Fraser-Brace] figures show as of April 22, 1943, 124 bricklayers employed, 4 of whom were Negroes, it does seem that a more equitable procedure would have retained him [Roosevelt Dollar] on the job until the disparity between the number of whites and Negroes employed would have been lessened. However, we are informing the complainant of your offer of employment in another capacity.”55 The matter was closed when Roosevelt Dollar informed FEPC’s regional director that because he had been working most of the time since his dismissal by Fraser-Brace, “I don’t feel like I should try to give them any legal trouble.”56 The regional director was asked by the assistant director of field operations to change his report on the case from “withdrawn by complainant” to closed for “insufficient evidence.”57 In August 1943, Holston Ordnance itself was accused of racial bias in its hiring practices by Sam F. McKesson of Kingsport. McKesson made the accusation in a letter addressed to

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“Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt,” the president’s wife, who was widely known for her efforts on behalf of racial equality.58 McKesson enclosed a copy of an advertisement, which he stated was “continually being run in a local paper” under the heading “1000 War Workers Needed Immediately,” and with subheadings, “Experience is Not Necessary,” and “Any intelligent man or woman willing to learn can qualify in a few months as a well-paid operator, while during the training period receiving good wages.”59 McKesson accused the superintendent for personnel at Holston Ordnance of ignoring the FEPC requirements and refusing to hire “Negroes” for “anything other than janitors or maids.”60 McKesson stated that he had been interviewed by the personnel superintendent and that black applicants were also barred from the Defense Training School, and were told that the “courtesy extended to whites only.”61 Eleanor Roosevelt asked the FEPC to investigate McKesson’s complaint, and McKesson himself wrote a letter to the FEPC, declaring, “We, the under-privileged Negroes of this community are asking an investigation be made on behalf of Negro men and women in and around this vicinity against Holston Ordnance Plant, which is a National Defense Plant located at Kingsport, Tennessee.”62 The reply from the FEPC said that McKesson had not “supplied sufficient information to enable us to investigate your complaint,” and three complaint forms were included in the reply, since “you appear to be writing for the under-privileged Negroes.”63 McKesson was urged to have at least three persons complete the other complaint forms and to secure the proper number of witnesses. Unless they heard from him within ten days, “we shall consider that you wish to withdraw your complaint and shall mark our docket accordingly.”64 On 7 March 1944, A. Bruce Hunt, the regional director, informed McKesson that since he had not replied to the request for additional information, “we wish to advise you that the case has been closed.”65 At the time of McKesson’s application for employment at Holston in July 1943, an agent for the CIC had made inquiries

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concerning the applicant’s “loyalty, integrity, and ability.”66 The agent was told by a “confidential informant” in the Kingsport Police Department that he had known McKesson “over a period of years,” that he was “an ebullient, boisterous, loquacious, selfassertive type of individual,” and that the “subject’s character and integrity were compatible with that of the average colored man of his social status and station in life . . . and that the subject was not lazy and possessed more independent initiative than average of his race . . . quite loyal . . . of a gullible nature.”67 Another informant told the agent that McKesson was “superior to the average Negro in ability and intellect,” “more energetic than most colored men,” and “often conversationally championed the cause of the colored man.”68 Beyond complaints to the FEPC, individuals gained the attention of the U.S. Senate Special Committee Investigating National Defense, headed by Senator Harry Truman, appointed to investigate waste, fraud, inefficiency, and war profiteering in defense plants. One such target was J. Fred Johnson, who was accused of wasting government funds by building a trailer camp for 300 Holston workers on a “virtual swamp.”69 As president of the Kingsport Improvement Corporation, Johnson was accused of having war-related housing built on land owned by that company.70 The author of the letter to the Truman Committee asked, “Are we still living in a democracy?”71 A staff member of the Truman Committee contacted the office of Tennessee senator Kenneth D. McKellar asking for information about J. Fred Johnson and was told that he was a millionaire, a leading citizen of Kingsport who built the town—“he really is Kingsport.”72 No less a person than the assistant chief of the Corps of Engineers investigated the reasons for the selection of the government trailer site and reported to the Truman Committee, “Holston is the most urgent project on the list of explosives plants under the supervision of this office.” He stated that the project was under “especially close control.”73 On 29 April 1943, the first production line at Holston Ordnance Works began producing RDX, marking the culmination

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of months of tireless and unceasing effort on the part of everyone involved in the huge project.74 Wexler Bend Pilot Plant had produced 2 pounds of RDX per minute without difficulty, but there had been anxiety about whether the process would work on a grand scale. Holston Ordnance Works would be using a largely untried assembly line process. However, production of RDX at Holston quickly dispelled any remaining anxiety, as the production of RDX and Composition B climbed each and every month. An experiment was begun in September 1943 to determine if the RDX produced by the new jeep reactor, 360 feet of four-inch glass tubing, was equal to the material obtained in the three-inchdiameter glass jeep, and the answer was a resounding “yes,” with the new jeep producing thirty pounds per minute. Tennessee Eastman had successfully tackled the technical and safety difficulties involved in the mass production of the super-explosive, but the RDX supply crisis would not be resolved until August 1943, when at long last the reluctant Army Service Forces gave its approval to “expand facilities for production of RDX . . . to obtain a 100% increase in production capacity over that originally planned.”75 Full capacity, as originally planned, was achieved in November 1943. That initial capacity was doubled after August 1943, reaching 577 tons of RDX daily by February 1944. In the following weeks and months, HOW received an almost continuous stream of officials from Britain, Canada, and the U.S. military. An early proponent of RDX, Colonel J. P. Harris, declared that Holston Ordnance Works was “the best explosive plant in the country.”76 NDRC visitors included Dr. George B. Kistiakowsky and Dr. Ralph A. Connor. Both scientists had labored hard on behalf of RDX production in the United States. They were accompanied by one of the most important advocates of RDX, Dr. Robert O. Bengis of the Ammunition Branch. One visitor to see the fruition of his efforts was Dr. James B. Conant, who was especially noteworthy since it was largely through his efforts that the “research and development of RDX and Composition B, the end product of Holston Ordnance Works,” were started in America.77

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Holston Ordnance Works receives the Army-Navy “E” Award in December 1943 for its outstanding achievement in the production of “materials for war.” (Courtesy of the National Archives at Atlanta)

The culmination of these distinguished visits came on 6 December 1943, when Holston Ordnance Works received the prestigious Army-Navy “E” for excellence of production. The formal presentation of the award was made by General Charles T. Harris Jr. on behalf of the War Department and by Lieutenant Commander H. H. Heine representing the Navy Department. Among the guests attending the ceremonies were Governor Prentice Cooper of Tennessee and F. W. Lovejoy, chairman of the Eastman Kodak Company’s board of directors. TEC officials included P. S. Wilcox, J. C. White, H. G. Stone, and B. M. Brown, who served as the master of ceremonies.78 General Harris stated: “the men and women of Holston Ordnance Works are daily producing tons of explosive which is making Hitler and Hirohito regret the day they began this war. There is little question but that this plant is making one of the major contributions toward the winning of this war for our country.”79

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Raising the Army-Navy “E” Flag at HOW. (Courtesy of the National Archives at Atlanta)

The Kingsport Times congratulated the management of Holston Ordnance Works on receiving the coveted “E” award, while commenting that “our real thanks should go to the [rankand-file] job holders, whether they be white collared or overalls, whether they handled precision tools or wheelbarrows.”80 The Knoxville News-Sentinel, under the heading “‘E’ for Axis-Blasting,” declared, “Every East Tennessean should get a real ‘lift’ out of the revelation this week that tons upon tons of a new and secret explosive being made in this area are right now being used to blast our Axis foes toward eventual submission.”81 Holston Ordnance employees were kept informed of how the RDX and Composition B were helping to win the war by the newspaper accounts and clippings that were posted on the Holston notice board by the plant’s works manager, Carey H. Brown, who had replaced Herb Stone in June 1944 when Stone returned to TEC on a new assignment. A July 1944 Life magazine issue pinned

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“B-29 Superforts Bomb Japanese Mainland.” The 10 July 1944 issue of Life magazine shows loading of Comp B bombs onto a B-29. From their Chinese bases, the B-29s flew to the island of Kyushu, where they bombed the Yawata steelworks, the “Pittsburgh” of the Far East. (Courtesy of the National Archives at Atlanta)

to the notice board made very clear how Composition B was being delivered to the enemy. Under the heading “B-29 Superforts Bomb Japanese Mainland,” the Life article described the bombing of the Yawata steelworks on the island of Kyushu.82 The employees’ attention was directed to photographs showing bombs being loaded onto a B-29, with a large arrow pointing to the bombs, which were clearly marked “Composition B.”83 On another occasion, Brown wrote to Holston employees, “You will be interested in these two clippings from recent newspapers.” One clipping, “RDX Replaces TNT, Pulls Nazi ‘Dragons’ Teeth,” described how U.S. Army combat engineers used the super-explosive in the form of plastic explosive or C-4 (88 percent RDX) to “blast” their way through miles of concrete antitank obstacles (“Dragons’ Teeth” or “Martian molars” to the troops) along Germany’s Siegfried Line. Another newspaper clipping, “Earthquake Bomb Proves Effective,” described the success of the devastating 12,000-pound “Earthquake” or “Tallboy” bombs, which had been used to

Newspaper clippings: “RDX Replaces TNT, Pulls Nazi ‘Dragons’ Teeth’ ” and “Earthquake Bomb Proves Effective.” Former Eastman and Holston Army Ammunition Plant employee Robert T. Butler described in his memoir how the combat engineers wrapped rope-shaped plastic explosive around the base of pyramid-like concrete antitank obstacles. After a tremendous explosion, the concrete teeth were cleanly cut to the ground, allowing tanks and infantry to move through the Siegfried Line. (Courtesy of the Holston Historical Files)

Newspaper clipping. The attention of Holston employees is drawn to the use of the product they are making: Comp B bombs are being dropped on Berlin, and in the Bay of Biscay Torpex-loaded aerial depth charges are sinking U-boats. (Courtesy of the Holston Historical Files)

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sink the battleship Tirpitz and drain the vital Dortmund–Ems Canal.84 Twenty-five years after World War II, R. C. Burton of Holston Ordnance Works spoke for most of his compatriots at Holston when he said, “There is no question that explosive compositions made with RDX were a key factor in the Allies’ eventual success in anti-submarine warfare.”85 Burton quoted Winston Churchill’s declaration, “The Battle of the Atlantic was the dominating factor all through the war . . . everything happening elsewhere, on land, at sea, or in the air, depended ultimately on its outcome.”86

10

Torpex and the Battle of the Atlantic Despite the vital importance of the Battle of the Atlantic, historian Jonathan Rose has noticed that, “in proportion to its importance,” it is “relatively neglected in histories of the war.”1 If such is the case, it is not surprising that the explosive Torpex has received only passing attention. On the eve of World War II, Nazi Germany’s ocean-going submarine force, numbering a mere fifty-seven boats, was not viewed as a major threat by the British Admiralty to the Atlantic lifeline, particularly when compared to Germany’s powerful surface warships. Should a U-boat (Unterseeboot) threat emerge, it was confidently expected that the same antidote that worked in World War I—convoys protected by naval vessels—would check any new menace, since those escorts would now be equipped with the underwater sound-detection system ASDIC, or sonar.2 It was confidently believed that, once detected, an enemy submarine would be sunk by “a few well-placed depth charges.”3 However, the convoy escort ship had to pass over the submerged submarine contact to drop its depth charges over the stern, which meant that the ASDIC contact was lost immediately prior to attack.4 The echo-beam of ASDIC was ineffective beyond one thousand yards and only reflected range and bearing. Not until 1944 could it detect depth, a shortcoming that caused difficulties for the Navy’s 450-pound depth charge, with its lethal radius of only about seven yards!5 What Germany had failed to achieve in World War I, Hitler’s

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Wehrmacht achieved in little over a month, and by June 1940 Nazi Germany controlled the Atlantic coast of France. By the winter of 1940–1941, U-boats operating from those bases made good use of “wolf pack” tactics, attacking British merchant ships on the surface and at night.6 It soon became obvious that ASDIC could not detect a U-boat traveling on the surface. As for any threat from the air, Admiral Karl Dönitz, commander of Germany’s U-boat navy, boasted that “the airplane can no more eliminate the submarine than the crow can fight a mole.”7 In the words of historian Correlli Barnett, the RAF Coastal Command was “a sea bird weak on the wing, short of sight, and blunt of beak.”8 Its blunt “beak” consisted of one or two 100-pound antisubmarine bombs carried by outdated aircraft. On 3 December 1939, HMS Snapper was mistakenly attacked by a “friendly” aircraft and received a direct hit on the conning tower by a 100-pound bomb. The total damage inflicted by this weapon was four electric light bulbs broken in the submarine’s control room.9 With the Air Ministry possessing no substitute for the virtually useless 100-pound antisubmarine bomb, First Lord of the Admiralty (civilian head of the Royal Navy) Winston Churchill wasted no time in responding to a request for a naval depth charge, informing the Controller of the Navy: “One of the aeroplane Squadrons on the East Coast would like to have a depth charge in order to test effects on flight, speed and dropping. There is no need to supply a loaded depth charge. Will you kindly make available for Commander Anderson RAF sometime tomorrow a depth charge case, empty, together with a statement of the weight with which it should be filled, so that experiments can be made [with the depth charge]. . . . Commander Anderson will call for it, and take it to his Squadron.”10 By the summer of 1940, Coastal Command had been supplied with seven hundred of the Navy’s 450-pound depth charges, but the weight of the weapon restricted its use to the largest aircraft.11 Subsequently, the lighter 250-pound aerial depth charge was issued to Coastal Command squadrons.12 Both weapons were

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filled with the explosive Amatol and set to explode at 100 feet. Neither weapon proved much more effective than the 100-pound bomb.13 In the first two years of the war, Coastal Command aircraft made 245 attacks on enemy submarines. They sank only three.14 Some 4 million tons of British merchant shipping were sunk during that same time period. Whatever the uncertainties before the war, there could be no doubt that the submarine was now a “highly dangerous weapon.”15 In June 1941, Air Chief Marshal Sir Philip Joubert was appointed commander in chief of Coastal Command, his favorite (if not his most successful) command.16 His dedication, enthusiasm, and technical expertise are unquestioned, but whether he was good choice to lead Coastal Command is open to question. According to historian Brereton Greenhous, Joubert possessed “a somewhat acrimonious temperament” and a degree of “outspokenness [that] did not please the politicians he had to deal with.”17 Determined “not to rest” until he had made Coastal Command into “the most effective submarine killer in the Allied arsenal,” Joubert persuaded Professor Patrick Blackett to move from his post as scientific adviser at Anti-Aircraft Command, and to join RAF Coastal Command as Joubert’s scientific adviser and the director of the newly formed Operational Research Section (ORS). Blackett quickly gathered together a group of young civilian scientists, who applied scientific analysis in the war against the U-boat.18 One of them, the physicist E. J. Williams, “jumped right away” into the question of why Coastal Command aircraft were sinking so few U-boats, barely 1 percent of those attacked.19 In ORS Report Number 142, “one of the classics in Operational Research Literature,” Williams discovered that the kill rate per aircraft attack would be more likely to increase if less attention was given to attacking the “long submerged U-boat,” and Coastal Command focused instead on submarines while they were still surfaced, or within fifteen seconds of submergence.20 Williams’s analysis showed that the percentage of U-boat kills would dramatically increase by setting the firing-pistol on

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the airborne depth charge to a shallow twenty-five feet instead of the existing setting of one hundred feet, thus catching the U-boat on or near the surface.21 Once the difficult problem was solved of setting the firing-pistol to go off at such a shallow depth, the rate of kills from air attack rose from 1 or 2 percent to almost 10 percent by 1943.22 Blackett would later write: “After some time spent convincing the relevant departments that the [ORS] argument was correct, and some minor technical difficulties had been overcome, the shallow depth setting was introduced into Coastal Command in early 1942 with spectacular results. Captured German U-boat crews thought that we had introduced a new and much more powerful explosive. Actually we had only turned a depth-setting adjuster from the 100-foot to the 25-foot mark. There can be few cases where such a great operational gain had been obtained by such a small and simple change of tactics.”23 Blackett failed to mention in this account the significance of Torpex, which was introduced in the summer of 1942, perhaps because he was highly critical of “new gadgets.” He also likely associated them with his archenemy, Frederick Lindemann, Lord Cherwell. Historian Stephen Budiansky has noted that Blackett had “long since concluded that the way scientists could really improve things was not by trying to invent new tools anyway but by figuring out how to better use the tools already in hand.”24 However, German U-boat prisoners of war had no doubt that their U-boat had been sunk by a new and more powerful explosive. In addition to showing the importance of a shallow depth setting on aerial depth charges, E. J. Williams had highlighted the need for a more powerful explosive. At the time, Blackett and his ORS team pressed for airborne depth charges filled with the most powerful explosive in place of Amatol, and in September 1941 Coastal Command submitted to the Air Ministry its first request for Torpex.25 Short for TORPedo EXplosive, Torpex was a mixture of 42 percent RDX, 40 percent TNT, and 18 percent aluminum powder. The addition of aluminum powder to Composition B significantly increased the underwater power of RDX.26 Instead of

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Torpex, the Air Ministry offered Coastal Command the less powerful Minol (48 percent TNT, 42 percent ammonium nitrate, and 10 percent aluminum powder). Frustrated with the Air Ministry’s offer, Joubert responded: We are much exercised at the feebleness of the explosive in our depth charges. The lethal distance is so small as to make kills practically unobtainable. I hear that there is a new explosive called ‘Torpex’ (not, repeat, not Minol) which weight for weight is 50% better than our present explosives and volume for volume 75% better. It seems to me therefore of the greatest importance to have our depth charges filled with Torpex since it would greatly increase our chance of getting kills. Will you, as a matter of urgency, look into this and see what can be done.27 At the Air Ministry, Air Commodore J. D. Breakey assured Joubert that “the advantage of Torpex over Minol would not, in fact, be large.”28 Breakey wrote, “RDX which is the main ingredient of Torpex is, as you know, only available in small quantities.”29 He pointed out that Coastal Command’s use of Torpex would divert RDX from Bomber Command’s “500 lb. M.C. [medium capacity] bomb, which was specially designed for RDX filling.”30 “You will be glad to know,” wrote Breakey, “that everything possible is being done to increase the supply of RDX. . . . We have also brought the maximum political pressure to bear on the U.S. authorities to adopt and manufacture this explosive. No substantial increase is, however, likely to be practicable for at least twelve months since the erection of special plant is involved.”31 The air commodore informed Joubert that an afternoon meeting of the Admiralty’s Anti-Submarine Warfare Committee had discussed Torpex, and “Nobody at this meeting had precise figures as to its [Torpex] efficacy, but the Admiralty appear to have been sufficiently satisfied on this point to divert a sufficient quantity of their supply of RDX to fill 260 of the 250 lb. aerial antisubmarine depth charges per month.”32

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Joubert had sent a copy of his letter to the Air Ministry to the director of armament development at the Ministry of Aircraft Production, Air Commodore Patrick Huskinson, who agreed with him that Torpex was the best explosive for underwater purposes, but Huskinson had been told by the Submarine Mine Division that Torpex “is little more than 35% better than the standard filling.”33 Huskinson said that Torpex required the highest grade of RDX, and “up to the present Waltham Abbey is the only source of supply, and this merely meets the Admiralty’s No. 1 requirement for Torpex [to fill torpedo warheads]. Hence, any filling [for aerial] depth charges will be at the expense of this Admiralty requirement.”34 Huskinson’s reply was forwarded by Joubert to Blackett for comment.35 Blackett, noted for “speaking his mind,” replied, “The letter from D. Arm. D. [Huskinson] is rather misleading, I think.”36 Blackett, citing data from Huskinson’s own letter, wrote, “It follows that by refilling a 250 pound [aerial] depth charge with Torpex one will get 75% more explosive energy. In short, a 250 lb. Mark VIII aerial depth charge filled with Torpex was equivalent to a 420 lb. Mark VII aerial depth charge filled with amatol, and very nearly equal to a charge of 288 lbs. of TNT.”37 Blackett, a vociferous critic of the bombing campaign against Germany, commented: I rather suspect that D. Arm.’s letter was actuated, possibly unconsciously, by the wish to write down the value of Torpex for A/S [antisubmarine] work, so as to avoid attempts to steal RDX from R.A.F. bombs! It was agreed by D/ASW’s [Director, Anti-Submarine Warfare] Committee on Wednesday that D.T.M. [Directorate of Torpedoes and Mining] shall start filling 250 lb. depth charges with Torpex almost immediately, but the Navy has only available enough Torpex to fill about 260 250 lb. depth charges per month. This would keep Coastal Command going, but is quite inadequate to build up distributed stocks. It does seem very important to try and

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get some extra RDX released as a non-recurrent supply to enable reasonable stocks of Torpex filled depth charges to be built up. I feel very strongly that the Air Ministry ought to be pressed again and again to release some of their supply destined for their big and beautiful bombs.38 Pressed by Blackett to return to the attack, a few days later Joubert informed Huskinson, “I want to return to the charge on the subject of Torpex for A/S [antisubmarine] work, a most urgent matter.”39 Coastal Command needed a two-month supply of Torpex. “Once this is agreed to we shall not be entrenching on Bomber Command’s requirements again.”40 Joubert’s effort to obtain Torpex was strongly supported by the senior Air Staff officer at Coastal Command, Air Vice-Marshal G.B.A. Baker, the director of armament development at the Ministry of Aircraft Production: “Submarine attack [by aircraft] is perhaps one of the most difficult for obvious reasons. The target is small, fleeting and of great value. It is rarely chanced upon—once in the tour of duty of an anti-Uboat aircrew on the average.”41 What Coastal Command wanted, declared Baker, were greater aiming accuracy and a more powerful bomb.42 He had been told by the Operational Research Section that the average aerial depth charge aiming error was probably sixty to eighty yards.43 To correct that problem, Blackett and Williams were working on a bomb sight. Baker wrote, “Other targets remain to be bombed another day—we have to get ours when the chance occurs: if we miss it may cause us thousands of tons of shipping.”44 He added that Coastal Command’s request for Torpex had the “full support” of Captain (later Admiral) George E. Creasy, director of the Admiralty’s Anti-Submarine Warfare Committee (D/ASW).45 Baker invited the director of armament development to visit the Northwood headquarters of Coastal Command outside of London: “I wonder if you could find the time to come out to lunch here one day—it is only 40 minutes away. I think it would interest you to see our problem and also to discuss with the RAF and

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Naval Staff our present feelings as to what is required to solve it.”46 All the interested parties met at Northwood in February 1942. Air Chief Marshal Joubert took the opportunity to impress upon Air Marshal Sir Ralph Sorley, assistant chief of the Air Staff (Technical), the urgency of Coastal Command’s request for Torpex, and Sorley agreed to approach Bomber Command on the subject of RDX. At the end of his letter to Baker, Air Commodore Huskinson added, “I want to stress that it is entirely the A.C.A.S. (T)’s [Sorley’s] funeral to force the Admiralty into action.”47 The Torpex supply problem had improved sufficiently for Captain Creasy to inform Baker at the end of February, “There is every prospect of getting enough Torpex to fill not only the Hedgehog charges for surface ships, but the depth-charges for aircraft.”48 Creasy told Baker: “I know you will appreciate that I fully share your keenness to hot up the potency of the aircraft charge. I am absolutely convinced that had we had the 25 ft. [shallow depth] setting and the higher efficiency explosive over the past six months we should have been able to count a large proportion of the ‘Seriously Damaged’ U-boats as in the bag.”49 Coastal Command’s long search for a lethal anti-U-boat weapon appeared to be within sight with the availability of Torpex as a filling for the 250-pound aerial depth charge. Ironically, however, it came too late for Air Chief Marshal Joubert, who had decided that Coastal Command’s only solution to the gravity of the U-boat threat was a bigger bomb. In March 1942, Joubert wrote to the Air Ministry that after more than two years of war, his command still lacked an effective antisubmarine weapon: For the entire duration of the war to date we have been attempting to attack U-boats with 2 types of depth charge, neither of which is capable of giving us satisfactory results. . . . Many Coastal Command aircraft have been incapable even of carrying a standard Mark VII 450 pound depth charge, and it was therefore found necessary to design a special small 250 pound depth charge, the Mark VIII. This weapon

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was more satisfactory from the point of view of tactical use, since it was not restricted in height or speed; but recent experience of attacks upon U/boats have proved conclusively that its killing power is quite inadequate, and that it is seriously impeding the effect of our anti-submarine warfare as a whole. We therefore require that a special aircraft depth charge should be developed on the highest priority and to meet [the] following specifications: The bomb was not to exceed 500 pounds, to be Torpex-filled, and capable of being dropped from heights up to 5,000 feet and speeds up to 200 knots.50 The probability of hitting a U-boat that was only twenty feet wide from almost a mile-high altitude was remote. When the 600-pound antisubmarine bomb did come into service, it was normally dropped from between 500 and 1,000 feet (the minium permissible was 120 feet). The results were disappointing. However, Joubert and the Air Staff decided to abandon as soon as possible the 250-pound Torpex aerial depth charge, since they considered its lethal radius of nineteen feet to be ineffective. No ORS representative was present when the decision was taken to go ahead with development of what became the 600-pound depth bomb.51 With Blackett’s departure to the Admiralty, E. J. Williams became head of Coastal Command’s ORS. It was Professor Williams’s operational analysis that had indicated the best opportunity to sink a U-boat was while it was still surfaced or within fifteen seconds of its submerging, thus providing the rationale for the shallowdepth-setting and low-level attack using the 250-pound Torpex aerial depth charge. Blackett, who was now chief adviser on operational research at the Admiralty, was informed that among the arguments advanced for the 600-pound depth bomb, “There is a very strong feeling, which possibly is based on psychological and not technical grounds, that a small number of bigger bangs is far better than a lot of little ones.”52 Blackett was told that the Air Ministry had

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intended to put forward “a requirement themselves for such a new weapon . . . if Coastal Command had not put in their oar.”53 Immediately after World War II, Professor C. H. Waddington wrote, “This decision [in favor of the 600-pound depth bomb] was almost certainly a mistake.”54 Waddington had joined ORS in 1944 and was intimately involved with the entire subject. At the end of April 1942, one month after the decision to develop a 600-pound depth bomb, the first batch of 250-pound Torpex-loaded aerial depth charges was divided among the Coastal Command squadrons with the best attack records.55 On the night of 3–4 June 1942, a Coastal Command aircraft attacked two Italian submarines in the Bay of Biscay that were sailing for the Bahamas and Puerto Rico.56 The attack marked the first use of the Leigh Light, an airborne spotlight, to illuminate the enemy submarine at night, as well as possibly the first use the Torpex aerial depth charge.57 The Luigi Torelli was severely damaged, but it survived. The submarine had been straddled by the Torpex aerial depth charges, but the fuses were defective and the explosions occurred well below twenty-five feet. Not until early 1943 was the “serious fault” remedied.58 In spite of difficulties with the fuses, Coastal Command had a “very difficult problem” keeping enough 250-pound Torpex aerial depth charges available at the Air Stations that needed the weapon most.59 Baker wrote to Creasy, “I hope you will not think that I am flogging a dead horse, indeed I know it to be a live one although it is not galloping fast enough.”60 Creasy responded: “As you know we have had a long battle to obtain any RDX for Torpex filling for the Navy in the past. The whole supply went to the RAF. We eventually obtained half the output. This allowed us to fill Hedgehog projectiles for our ships, and Mark XI Torpedoes, 600 Mark VIII depth charges per month for aircraft.”61 Creasy reported that they had made such a strong case “at last Thursday’s meeting of the RDX Committee” that “out of a total output of 260 tons per month, 210 tons had now been allocated to the Navy, 30 tons to the R.A.F., and 20 tons to the Army.”62

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As a result, they could increase the output of Torpex aerial depth charges to 3,000 per month: “Thus all your troubles with shortage of Torpex airborne depth charges should cease shortly. Also we ought to be able to make a start with supplying the outlying stations, Middle East, Eastern area, and West Africa.”63 He noted that Canadian production of RDX “should start fairly soon now,” and they would probably fill their own aerial depth charges more quickly than if they were supplied from the United Kingdom.64 Air Chief Marshal Joubert, however, now had set his sights on replacing the 250-pound aerial depth charge with a 600-pound depth bomb. The change of the explosive filling from Amatol to Torpex did not change his mind. “This change effected some improvement, but not on the scale which was anticipated. Reducing the depth-setting of the ‘pistol’ [fuse] to twenty-five feet was probably at least as effective, for the reason that the majority of attacks were made when the target was only just below the surface.”65 Joubert’s position vis-à-vis the big depth bomb versus the smaller aerial depth charge was made abundantly clear in a letter to Captain C. F. Clarke, the new D/ASW. (Creasy had taken up a sea command). In the letter he asked for his assistance in the development of the 600-pound depth bomb: I continue to be more and more disappointed with the results of the 250 pound Torpex depth charge. Many attacks have been made during the last few months and very little indication has been seen of damage to the enemy. . . . I now hear that one of their own submarines [HMS Talisman] that was on the surface in the ‘free for all’ area a short while ago was attacked by one of our own aircraft, apparently quite accurately, and that the submarine was able to proceed to the Mediterranean quite undisturbed. It is obvious, therefore, that the 250 lb. depth charge is a most unsatisfactory weapon and that before we can achieve any real success against the submarines we must find the right answer. I have seen some results from the hollow-charge bomb, and I am quite

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prepared to try it as an alternative weapon. I would, however, urge that this weapon is only really suitable for our smaller aircraft and that we should press on with the utmost vigor with the production of the 600 lb. A/S bomb, for which we have been asking these many months. I am told that its development is proceeding in the usual slow time and that we shall not get it at the present rate for many months. Will you see what you can do in pushing ahead with this weapon which I regard as an essential factor in the antisubmarine campaign.66 Captain Clarke replied, “In the attacks made by aircraft during the last six weeks I think we have every reason to expect that considerable damage has been caused to the enemy and that there have been some kills.”67 He acknowledged that after some attacks it was “disappointing that the U-boats have apparently got away.”68 Clarke believed, however, that the 250-pound Torpex aerial depth charge with thirty-six-foot spacing and twenty-five-foot depth setting was “lethal to a surfaced U-boat, provided that it falls accurately across the center of the target.”69 “On the other hand,” he observed diplomatically, “I agree that with increased bombing accuracy with the more experienced pilot the 600 lb. A/S bomb should prove a good weapon.”70 Regarding the small hollow-charge bomb, Clarke stated, “I quite agree with you as regards the hollow-charge bomb, except that I am not at all convinced that its limitation of angle and jet effect in the direction of the axis makes it a suitable weapon.”71 As for the Talisman attack, Clarke said that the submarine was at a depth of forty-seven feet and that the Torpex depth charges had fallen across the stern at right angles to the track, probably three port side and one starboard side: “The damage, although not lethal, was by no means undisturbing . . . requiring at least 14 days to make good the repairs.”72 The thirty-five-pound hollow-charge antisubmarine bomb referred to by Joubert and Clarke in their correspondence was

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a weapon championed by Churchill’s scientific adviser, Lord Cherwell. C. H. Waddington described the small hollow-charge bomb as Cherwell’s “baby” which he attempted “to sell to Coastal Command.”73 With U-boats sinking 700,000 tons of shipping in November 1942, Joubert, with almost a sense of despair, wrote to Admiral Sir Dudley Pound, First Sea Lord (professional head of the Royal Navy), that “unless some radical change in the rate of destruction [of U-boats] takes place, we are faced with an ever increasing fleet of U-boats at sea.”74 For the most part, Air Chief Marshal Joubert’s critical view of the 250-pound Torpex aerial depth charge was reflected in the post–World War II narrative The R.A.F. in the Maritime War: “Unfortunately the lethality of attack had not risen to anything like the figure hoped for after the introduction of Torpex filled depth charges. . . . At the end of September 1942 the ratio of kills to attacks averaged only 6% per month. It had been hoped confidently that at least 20% kills would result. Blame for this disappointment followed the same lines as in the spring—poor weapons or poor aiming.”75 The introduction of the Torpex-filled 250-pound aerial depth charge, together with the twenty-five-foot shallow-depth setting pistol, did steadily increase the lethality of attacks from the air to the point where Coastal Command, in the words of historian John Terraine, was “definitely in the game.”76 The official Coastal Command Review for July–August 1942 stated, “The use of Torpex-filled, shallow-set, depth-charges has greatly increased the power of our attacks from the middle of May onwards.”77 Nevertheless, Joubert and the Air Staff blamed the weapon for not showing greater results, and they “bitterly accused” the ORS scientists of paying no attention to the morale effects of attacks, and that greater weight should be given to the “deterrent effect of a ‘big bang,’ even if it fails to damage the U-boat.”78 To the scientists in the Operational Research Section, however, the “overwhelmingly most important problem” was the need to improve bombing accuracy.76 They cited the widely varying ac-

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curacy in the practice bombing reports and argued that in “the excitement of an actual attack the accuracy of release was likely to be well below that achieved under practice conditions.”80 Air Chief Marshal Joubert, however, accepted the claim of his pilots that there was a bombing error of only about twenty yards.81 Joubert may have genuinely believed in the accuracy of aircrew reports; to have blamed the lack of greater success on poor bomb aiming would have reflected badly on his own pilots.82 It was notoriously difficult for aircrews to estimate distances at sea by eye, known as “pilot’s eye bombing.” Cameras and mirrors mounted on Coastal Command aircraft, however, supported the ORS contention that pilots were aiming too far ahead of their target, some 60 yards ahead of a U-boat’s conning tower.83 Blackett insisted they aim directly at the U-boat’s conning tower. Torpex, development of a low-level bomb sight, and improved tactics increased the lethality of attacks on visible U-boats to 30 percent in 1943.84 The Coastal Command Review graphically described the rising kill rate against U-boats: On 15 September 1942, a [Whitley] Coastal Command aircraft flying at 6,700 feet, sighted a U-boat at a distance of 7 miles. It was making 10 knots. The aircraft turned and broke cloud at 3,000 feet, then attacked from the U-boat’s port quarter with five Torpex depth-charges released from 20 feet while the U-boat was fully surfaced. The depth-charges straddled it; three fell short to port, one made a direct hit on the bridge, and one fell beyond to starboard. . . . The aircraft turned to make another attack. . . . The remaining Torpex depth charge exploded in the center of this oil and debris, 5 seconds after the bows had gone out of sight. . . . The aircrew reported that total destruction of the U-boat was “more than likely.”85 They were correct: postwar investigation showed that the attack marked the end of U-261.86

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On 3 September 1942 a Coastal Command aircraft from 77 Squadron attacked U-705, which was right on the surface of the Bay of Biscay. The plane’s rear-facing camera caught the 250-pound Torpex-loaded aerial depth charge splashing into the water. The Torpex depth charges were dropped 50 feet ahead of the U-boat’s conning tower in a “stick spacing” of 100 feet. The aircraft made a subsequent pass over U-705, which showed a patch of oil and air bubbles. The submarine sank with all hands.

Another Coastal Command pilot and armament expert explained his experience with Torpex this way, “By the time I arrived in Iceland we were using a Minol and then a Torpex filling, with much more shattering force than the other two [Amatol and Minol]. But for its [Torpex] presence in the 250 pound D/C [aer-

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ial depth charge], we could never have begun at long last to sink U-boats.”87 On 12 October 1942, Squadron Leader Terrence “Bull” Bulloch of 120 Squadron, based in Iceland and one of the most successful antisubmarine hunters in Coastal Command, was flying a B-24 Liberator when he sank U-597 southwest of Iceland. Bulloch dived to attack from the U-boat’s port quarter and dropped six Torpex depth charges from seventy-five feet while the submarine was still on the surface: “The U-boat was completely covered by the stick [of Torpex depth charges], both in line and range, from bow to stern.”88 Bulloch sank another U-boat on 5 November 1942. On 7 December his plane was airborne for over sixteen hours, much of the time escorting a convoy. During that period they made eight U-boat sightings, and attacked seven times.89 The Torpex airborne depth charge was also used in the Mediterranean. In 1943, Daniel J. Zoerb from Kingsport, Tennessee, flying a Spitfire out of Corsica with the U.S. Twelfth Air Force, was equipped for dive bombing and strafing: “We got good at sinking ships with a pair of 250-pound bombs,” Zoerb would later recall, “But they didn’t tell us that the new bombs we were carrying were made with RDX. It really gave you a kick in the behind when it went off.”90 With the explosive coming from his hometown, Zoerb sank a small tanker, a pair of supply ships, and some flak boats. In the Battle of the Atlantic, however, the contest for control of the ocean appeared to be turning in favor of Germany. By the end of 1942, U-boats had sunk 1,662 ships, or a total tonnage of 8 million, and Admiral Dönitz now commanded over 200 operational U-boats. In February 1943, Air Chief Marshal Joubert was replaced as commander in chief of Coastal Command.91 He had served during a desperate period of the war, when first the Soviet Union was attacked by Germany, and then the United States was attacked by Japan. Until the economic and industrial might of the United States could be fully mobilized, war material, including RDX and Torpex, was scarce, which in turn led to bitter interservice ri-

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valries. Joubert had fought to win a greater share of Torpex, but as historian Christina Goulter has noted elsewhere, Joubert came “close to sinking his command’s anti-submarine effort” by advocating the “big bomb” rather than the 250-pound Torpex aerial depth charge as Coastal Command’s main weapon.92 The climax of the Battle of the Atlantic was approaching in 1943. One of the biggest convoy battles of the war occurred in mid-March, when forty U-boats, the largest U-boat pack ever collected into one area for the same operation, intercepted two convoys of nearly one hundred ships out of Halifax, Nova Scotia, sailing close together to the United Kingdom.93 Twenty-one ships were sunk for the loss of one U-boat.94 Dönitz described the fourday battle as “the greatest success achieved in a convoy battle to date.”95 In a period of twenty days, U-boats sank no fewer than seventy ships, or 500,000 tons lost in the North Atlantic. Victory appeared to be within the grasp of Dönitz and his crews, and with it the prospects for an Allied assault on Europe. With what seemed to be stunning suddenness, however, the tide turned in favor of the Allies. Coastal Command aircraft, which now included Very Long Range B-24 Liberator bombers equipped with 10-centimeter radar, attacked without warning from the air to smother U-boats with “a devastating pattern of 250 lb. [Torpex] depth-charges.”96 Veteran destroyer escort commander Vice Admiral Sir Peter Gretton paid tribute to the B-24 Liberator: “Air cover showed itself to be the key to the problem. The Liberators from Iceland and Northern Ireland cannot be too highly praised. . . . Out of the many factors contributing to the victory, the provision of air escorts for convoys threatened or under attack was the most important of all.”97 By May, Ultra decrypts of U-boat Command signals to its submarines in the Atlantic indicated fear of both Allied aircraft and of the surface escort vessels. Before mid-1943, one U-boat was lost for every 100,000 tons of shipping sunk; afterward, one Uboat was lost to 10,000 tons of shipping. Dönitz exhorted his captains, “If there is anyone who thinks that combating convoys is no

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longer possible, he is a weakling and no true U-boat captain.”98 German U-boat losses now exceeded replacements by more than two to one. In May, forty-one U-boats were sunk by aircraft, sixteen of them by Coastal Command.99 Such losses were unsustainable, and Dönitz withdrew his remaining submarines from the North Atlantic to avoid further damage.100 Adolf Hitler complained to the Japanese ambassador in Berlin that because the war had started too soon “we have been unable to dominate the sea.”101 German withdrawal from the North Atlantic did not mean an end to the U-boat war. Dönitz still had 200 operational Uboats, and he was not yet convinced that successful pack attacks on convoys were impossible.102 At Coastal Command, its new commander in chief, Air Marshal Sir John Slessor, was ready to launch an all-out campaign to prevent U-boats from either leaving or returning to their Atlantic bases on the Bay of Biscay.103 The campaign would present one last challenge to the Torpex airborne depth charge, and a final opportunity for the 600-pound depth bomb. By early August, some forty U-boats had been sunk in the Bay of Biscay. A desperate Admiral Dönitz warned his commanders that “diving is death,” for an attacking aircraft could drop its Torpex depth charges on a crash-diving boat before the vessel could get deep enough to escape. Dönitz ordered his captains to sail in groups of up to six, remain on the surface, and fight it out with the attacker with their combined antiaircraft fire.104 The battle rose to a “fever pitch of fury,” and with Coastal Command suffering heavy losses, it seemed quite possible that low-level attacks against U-boats might indeed be too expensive in men and machines.105 At the Air Ministry “there were long faces and prophets of gloom,” wrote Slessor.106 The 600-pound depth bomb, dropped from high altitude, might yet replace the smaller aerial depth charge.107 These views received “no sympathy from Slessor,” who directed his aircrews “to attack at once from lowlevel making the fullest use of front guns to smother the U-boat

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flak.”108 Owing to the “intrepid determination of the aircrews,” there was a steady increase in the lethality of attack on visible Uboats.109 Between July and October 1943, Coastal Command’s kill rate per attack reached 30 percent, with fifty-four boats sunk in the Bay of Biscay.110 For U-boat crews, each mission was more and more likely to be their last. Dönitz’s “fight it out on the surface” tactic had failed, and with it went the argument against the Torpex aerial depth charge. Slessor had no doubts about what had become Coastal Command’s most deadly weapon against the U-boat: The decisive weapon of the anti-submarine squadrons was the Mark XI Torpex depth charge, dropped in “sticks” of four to eight from point-blank altitude, fifty to a hundred and fifty feet. There were others. . . . There was the 600 lb. anti-submarine bomb designed to be dropped from higher altitudes . . . which only accounted for one U-boat in 1943. . . . But they were none of them comparable as U-boat killers with the old Mark XI depth charge. It had its earlier critics; but if the depth-setting was right, if the distance between the depth-charges making up the “stick” was properly spaced, above all if crews were well trained and laid their “sticks” accurately, it was an exceedingly effective weapon, as the figures show.111 By the end of the war, the lethality of attack on surface U-boats had risen to 45 percent.112 The Torpex-filled aerial depth charge sank an impressive 173 enemy submarines. The 600-pound depth bomb was used from time to time, but “never really gained popularity as an antisubmarine weapon.”113 Taking into account the expense of design and production of the big depth bomb, experts have stated, “In fact one wonders if it was ever really needed in the first place.”114 Torpex also filled the projectiles fired from the antisubmarine weapon nicknamed the “Hedgehog.” Mounted on a destroy-

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Death for a U-boat: Loading Torpex projectiles into a Hedgehog. (Courtesy of the U.S. Navy)

er-escort, the Hedgehog fired from each of its twenty-four mortar barrels a sixty-five-pound projectile with a thirty-five-pound Torpex charge, aimed about 200 yards ahead of the ship. The Hedgehog’s prickly appearance was the source for its nickname. A precision weapon, only a direct hit from a Hedgehog on the target produced an explosion, with near misses simply sinking to the bottom of the sea. The first Hedgehog went to sea operationally in January 1942, but because of technical “teething problems” and the lack of a Hedgehog training manual for the crew, the results during the first year at sea were “distinctly disappointing.”115 For sailors used to what historian Richard Overy called “the climactic roar of the depth charges,” even if they missed the target, the Hedgehog was a disappointment.116 A miss with a Hedgehog did nothing

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to disturb a U-boat. Although the tried and tested depth charge had a hit rate of less than one in ten, the colossal explosion and noise of a near miss could still shake the morale of a U-boat crew and bolster the morale of Allied merchant seamen. By the end of the war, the Hedgehog was credited with sinking thirty-seven U-boats.117 The weight and severe recoil of the Hedgehog precluded its use on smaller escort ships, and the Royal Navy produced a new ahead-throwing weapon, the “Squid,” which proved very effective. The three-barreled Squid fired about 100 pounds of Torpex and worked in conjunction with sonar. In the Pacific, a large number of American ships were equipped with Hedgehogs. Among them was the destroyer-escort USS England, which over a period of twelve days in May 1944 sank six Japanese submarines, a record unequaled in naval history.118 The first victim was the Japanese submarine I-16. With a length of almost 350 feet, I-16 was one of the largest submarines ever built in Japan. American intelligence intercepted Japanese radio messages, which revealed that I-16 was heading toward the Solomon Islands carrying a cargo of rice to the beleaguered Japanese garrison on the southern tip of Bougainville.119 The intercepts also revealed the submarine’s route and speed.120 The information was sent to the USS England, “which set out in hot pursuit.”121 The Japanese submarine was detected by the ship’s sonar, and the small destroyer-escort “shuddered and bucked, knocking men off their feet,” as the Hedgehog rounds hit and exploded against the hull of I-16, which sank in 324 feet of water.122 The England went on to sink five more Japanese submarines over the course of twelve days. Admiral Ernest J. King, commander in chief of the U.S. Navy, promised in 1945, “There’ll always be an England in the U.S. Navy.”123 In the Battle of the Atlantic, as in the Pacific, aircraft, radar, and radio intelligence all contributed to the defeat of the enemy. No other airborne weapon, however, proved as deadly against the German U-boat as the Torpex aerial depth charge.124 Moreover, any possible German comeback from defeats in the Atlantic was

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prevented by the “production miracle” of American shipyards, which produced 2,710 Liberty ships.125 In the final analysis, the Torpex aerial depth charge (and all the other weapons of modern war) depended on the skill, courage, and endurance of individuals who, in the words of naval historian Stephen Roskill, were inspired by an “intensity of moral purpose.”126

11

1945 and the Atomic Bomb On V-E Day (Victory in Europe), 8 May 1945, Holston Ordnance Works was in full production with no end in sight. The war in the Pacific appeared to be far from over, and RDX was still in high demand. By the end of July, government officials knew the atomic bomb was near completion and would almost surely end the war against Japan. For the first time in the war, Holston Ordnance was informed that its production quota was no longer to be exceeded, as it always had been before. On 6 August 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. When Japan did not surrender, a second bomb, with a plutonium core, was dropped on Nagasaki on 9 August 1945. A Holston worker recalled, “We started shutting down that same night.”1 With Japan’s surrender on 14 August 1945, Holston’s ten production lines were shut down. The speed of the layoffs was traumatic. In July, HOW had a workforce of some 5,040 people; in August 3,000 employees were let go. Some Holston workers were transferred to Tennessee Eastman, but the numbers continued to decline dramatically through the fall of 1945. The link between Holston Ordnance and the atomic bomb program, the Manhattan Project, began on Christmas Eve 1942, when James C. White, the general manager of Tennessee Eastman, received a phone call from General Leslie Groves in California.2 Groves had been greatly impressed by TEC’s outstanding success at Wexler Bend and Holston Ordnance Works. White was told that the Army wanted Tennessee Eastman to operate another plant for military purposes.3 White and the head of TEC, P. S. Wilcox, were invited to Washington, where General Groves con-

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This view of the Holston Ordnance Works from Bays Mountain shows the ten production lines at Area B. (Courtesy of the National Archives at Atlanta)

vinced them to participate in another secret project, which Groves estimated would involve about 1,500 people.4 TEC was hired by the Army Corps of Engineers to operate the Y-12 plant, where Uranium-235 would be separated from natural uranium, at what was known as the Clinton Engineering Works at Oak Ridge. They would employ over 24,000 people before it was over.5 Many Eastman scientists and engineers proceeded to leave Holston Ordnance Works and to join the thousands of other people headed for “a big job somewhere around Knoxville.” Ironclad secrecy was the order of the day. The word “uranium” was never used by the scientists at Oak Ridge.6 Some employees thought the new plant was making the same explosive as Holston, others that it was making poison gas. If asked what they were making, some were told to answer that they were making “Blackout plants for Lightning Bugs.”7 To the total surprise of all but a very few, the atomic bomb

1945 and the Atomic Bomb  137

ended World War II with a suddenness that had seemed impossible. Overnight, the explosive RDX, the most powerful explosive in the world, became simply a super-powerful conventional explosive. However, RDX and Comp B played an essential role in the final act of World War II. Fat Man, the code name for the plutonium weapon dropped on Nagasaki, was triggered by an implosion device that consisted in part of Composition B, which was used to create a converging shock wave that in a nanosecond “squeezed” the plutonium core sufficiently to cause a nuclear explosion. The implosion process was about sixteen times more efficient than the gun-type gadget used to detonate the Hiroshima bomb.8 However, the implosion device required precision engineering of the highest order. Dr. George Kistiakowsky, who as chief of the Explosives Division of the OSRD had played an important part in the development of RDX, was persuaded by Dr. James Conant, the leading figure in the promotion of RDX in the United States, that he should join the scientific team at Los Alamos working on the implosion process.9 Kistiakowsky was already a consultant to the Manhattan Project, and with his detailed knowledge of shaped charges, RDX, and Composition B, he was placed in charge of the Explosives Division at Los Alamos. He chose Composition B for the fast-burning high explosive needed to focus detonation waves that would compress the plutonium core. Large amounts of Comp B, in varying shapes, were required, and he remembered that the components numbered a “hundred or so pieces, which had to fit together to within a precision of a few thousandths of an inch on a total size of five feet and make a sphere.”10 This trigger mechanism was “one of the great secrets of the war.”11 After the war, in January 1946, while skiing in Colorado to recuperate from the rigors of life at Los Alamos, Kistiakowsky met a U.S. forest ranger.12 The ranger remarked, “Your atomic bombs were tremendously important but we also had a spectacularly effective weapon about which you, of course, don’t know. We used RDX-filled bombs and they wrecked any ship the Japs could mus-

138  The Secret History of RDX

ter. We made performance tests on Guadalcanal, and proved that these bombs were eight times (!) more destructive to ships than TNT-loaded bombs.”13 The forest ranger added that when his unit moved north they simply left the TNT bombs behind, taking only the RDX-loaded bombs along.14 The former Intelligence major in the Thirteenth Air Force, now turned forest ranger, remarked that his outfit experienced no trouble from increased sensitivity of the explosive.15 Kistiakowsky wryly noted that the eight-fold improvement in explosive performance claimed for RDX was, “of course, a generous exaggeration.”16

12

The Aftermath World War II had been over for five years. The incredible saga of RDX and the phenomenal accomplishments of Tennessee Eastman Company and Holston Ordnance Works were fading into the recent past. Public attention turned to the Cold War with the Soviet Union; however, a case involving espionage at Holston Ordnance Works in 1943 would make newspaper headlines in 1950. In June 1950, the same month as the outbreak of the Korean War, a former employee of Holston Ordnance, Alfred Dean Slack, was arrested by the FBI and charged with a 1943 act of espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union. Slack had been named by Harry Gold, a courier for Soviet spies in the United States. Arrested for his involvement in the theft of atomic secrets, Gold had told the FBI that Slack had provided him with a sample of the secret explosive RDX seven years earlier.1 Slack’s arrest in Syracuse, New York, came at the worst possible time for the chemist, a former supervisor of the nitric acid section at Holston. He was now embroiled in the Cold War atmosphere of “fear and intrigue.”2 Slack was tried before Judge Robert L. Taylor of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, in Greeneville, on 18 June 1950. Slack had previously admitted that “at about 11 o’clock late one night he left his laboratory, entered a section of the plant where he knew RDX was stored, and quickly placed a handful of the dry, white explosive in his pocket.” He later transferred it to a small rubber container. He took the contents home and later turned them over to Harry Gold.3 Attorney Ray H. Jenkins, one of Tennessee’s foremost defense lawyers, and known as the “Terror of

140  The Secret History of RDX

Syracuse chemist Alfred Dean Slack is escorted by deputies in Utica, New York, on 20 June 1950. He would be taken to Knoxville, Tennessee, later that day to face a charge of espionage. (Courtesy of Acme Telephoto)

the Tellico Plains,” was appointed to represent Slack. Jenkins emphasized that Slack was not a member of the “Klaus Fuchs, Harry Gold Atomic Spy Ring.” Jenkins asked the court to do “a very, very difficult thing . . . to transport yourself, so to speak, back to 1943,” when Americans admired the Russian stand at Stalingrad

The Aftermath  141

against Hitler’s Nazi Germany, and Joseph Stalin was the “greatest hero in this country.”4 Jenkins told Judge Taylor, “If he [Slack] had been arrested for giving RDX to a German agent . . . he would have been judged more charitably and with more compassion and with more sympathy, than it is being judged by the American people today.”5 The worst thing Jenkins could say about Slack was that he was a “weakling.”6 Gold’s threat to expose Slack’s past misdeeds, said Jenkins, was “as if Gold had put a pistol to Slack’s temple and said, ‘Hand over to me this sample of RDX.’ ”7 Although the U.S. attorney general recommended a sentence of ten years, Judge Taylor, describing Slack’s actions as “shocking,” and “with detestation,” imposed a sentence of fifteen years. The judge noted that a jury could have sentenced Slack to death.8 Newspaper editorials congratulated the judge on his ignoring the government’s recommendation, and letters to Judge Taylor praised his decision while at the same time suggesting that Slack should have been hanged, or should have faced a firing squad. One writer called Slack a “Judish spy.” (Slack was not Jewish).9 Slack was eventually released after serving ten years of his sentence. A former Holston employee remembered Slack as friendly and outgoing, “the last man in the world you would have thought was a spy.” “Not that it made any difference really,” recalled another employee, “I think that it was highly over blown, there wasn’t really much to it.”10

Epilogue The extraordinary story of RDX during World War II is composed of many striking chapters, one of which is the unprecedented collaboration between Britain, Canada, and the United States. At each stage, however, the proponents of RDX had to surmount formidable technical and human obstacles before the superexplosive and its offspring, Composition B and Torpex, could make an impact on the Allies’ war effort. Although researchers at the Woolwich Arsenal had desensitized the dangerous explosive by mixing it with TNT and some beeswax, the Ministry of Supply was unable to supply the vast quantities that were needed for total war. Beginning in 1941, the British launched a vigorous campaign to persuade the United States to manufacture RDX; however, the U.S. Army Ordnance Department, which was responsible for supplying America’s armed forces with explosives, had fully committed itself to the production of TNT. It required the effort of many agencies to gain a foothold for RDX production in the United States and then win the support necessary for greater RDX production. These accomplishments were only made possible through the intervention of the National Defense Research Committee, the Navy’s Bureau of Ordnance, the Ammunition Branch of the Ordnance Department, and the efforts of British and Canadian authorities. Many remarkable people were involved in the secret RDX project. In the forefront of the struggle for RDX were Dr. James B. Conant of the NDRC, Admiral W.H.P. Blandy of the Navy’s Bureau of Ordnance, and in the Ammunition Branch, Colonel J. P. Harris and Dr. Robert O. Bengis. In Canada, J. R. Donald, the director of that country’s Department of Munitions and Supply, was steadfast in his support of the super-explosive. From the be-

144  The Secret History of RDX

ginning, Canadian scientists had been directly involved with the RDX project. The result was the Shawinigan Falls RDX plant built in Quebec province. Dr. Werner Bachmann’s dramatic discovery at the University of Michigan was a major breakthrough on the path toward large-scale RDX production. His combination of the Woolwich process and Canadian method for making RDX increased the yield of the high explosive while reducing its cost. The remaining technical difficulties were solved by the phenomenal work of the Tennessee Eastman chemists and engineers at the Wexler Bend Pilot Plant. The last step, the mass production of RDX, became a reality at the massive Holston Ordnance Works, and on a scale that had been unimaginable two years earlier. In May 1943, when the first production line began producing Composition B, the cost was 30 cents per pound. By August 1945 the price was 10 cents per pound. From Woolwich and beeswax to the mass production of the most powerful explosive in the world along the banks of the Holston River, the successful outcome of the RDX story was by no means inevitable or a foregone conclusion. Controversy and debate were a significant part of that remarkable journey. Army Ordnance officials, with notable exceptions, focused on the largescale production of the workhorse explosive TNT. The official Army Ordnance history volume that appeared after the war accepted the wartime doubts of those Ordnance leaders who regarded the new super-explosive as too sensitive for military use.1 All explosives are sensitive, and RDX was slightly more sensitive than TNT, but also half again more powerful. The honest conflict of opinions on the subject of increased RDX production reached a crisis in the summer of 1943, when the issue reached the highest level in the government, President Roosevelt in the White House. The result favored a huge increase in the productive capacity of Holston Ordnance Works—a 100 percent increase over the plant’s original capacity. Production schedules that had seemed unreasonable—if not impossible—were not

Epilogue 145

only met, but exceeded War Department and Tennessee Eastman expectations. RDX made its presence felt on all the battle fronts of World War II. The super-explosive proved its value in breaching dams, filling blockbuster bombs, and providing American submarine commanders in the Pacific with Torpex-loaded torpedo warheads that helped to virtually blockade Japan by war’s end. However, it was in turning the tide against the U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic that Composition B would be best remembered by the employees at Holston Ordnance Works. At long last, Coastal Command aircraft had lethal weapons with which to sink Uboats—250-pound airborne depth charges loaded with Torpex. In May 1943, the tide of battle turned against Admiral Dönitz and his crews. The heroic age of RDX may have ended in 1945 with its important contribution to the trigger mechanism in the plutonium bomb, but the super-explosive and its derivative, called HMX (high-melting explosive), would soon be needed by the United States and its allies. Mothballed at the end of World War II, Holston Ordnance was reactivated for the 1950–1953 Korean War, and production of Composition B skyrocketed during the Vietnam War, when production exceeded that of World War II. Operated since 1999 by BAE Systems, which traces its origins to the Royal Woolwich Arsenal, Holston Army Ammunition Plant continues in the tradition of the great Holston Ordnance Works.

Acknowledgments During the writing of this book I have amassed a long list of individuals, libraries, and institutions to whom I owe an enormous debt of gratitude, starting with my lifelong friends Gene L. Rasor, Professor Emeritus at Emory & Henry College, and David R. Woodward, Professor Emeritus at Marshall University. During the years of this project they have offered encouragement and professional advice. Stephen G. Fritz, my former colleague in the Department of History at East Tennessee State University, has been a pillar of support. Sharon Chandler, the History Department’s executive aide, has been of continuing assistance. The recollections and comments of a considerable number of people, many of whom are no longer with us, have been instrumental in the writing of this book. Without their assistance it could not have been written. I take this opportunity to express my gratitude for their personal recollections: George W. Akens, Margaret Calcote, Mildred L. Conley, Charlie R. Fields, Rita Groseclose, Lois Henry, Patsy Jones, Judy Moss, Eula Holland, R. C. Livermore, Julia M. Loyd, J. S. Necessary, Thomas E. Sexton Sr., Lisa West, and John Willingham. I am indebted to the reminiscences of Ernest Harold Burleson and Richard L. McConnell. At BAE Systems-Holston, I would like to extend my thanks to Nancy Gray, Tony Hewett, Mike Mills, and Robert Winstead. Special thanks go to John Bearden for sharing with me his knowledge of Holston Army Ammunition Plant, and for locating the barrier wall at the almost lost site of the Horse Creek Pilot Plant, where TNT was combined with the RDX produced at the Wexler Bend Pilot Plant to produce Composition B. I am indebted to Joe Davy for providing the photograph of the glass jeep that was used to produce RDX in the early stage of production. Betty Jane Hylton was kind enough to bring the Victory Bus pho-

148 Acknowledgments

tograph to my attention. The late Ron Arnold kindly allowed me to photograph the steel plate presented to him on his retirement from Holston Army Ammunition Plant, which graphically illustrated the greater explosive power of RDX compared to TNT. I would like to thank “The Typhoons” lunch group of former Tennessee Eastman employees, Howard Young, Rudy Greer, Chap Hale, John Hyatt, Bob Scales, and Dave Valentine, for their stories and enthusiasm for the RDX project. Special thanks go to Howard Young for sharing his knowledge regarding the implosion mechanism that detonated the plutonium bomb. Young worked at Oak Ridge on the Manhattan Project. He now resides in Kingsport, Tennessee. I wish to extend my appreciation to Paul M. Sutcliffe, formerly with the British Ministry of Defense, for sharing with me his knowledge and insights on the Operational Research Section of RAF Coastal Command during the Battle of the Atlantic. A large debt of gratitude is owed to the archivists and librarians of the following institutions for their assistance in locating RDX sources: National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland; Naval Historical Center, Washington, D.C.; Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York; Library and Archives of Canada, Ottawa, Canada; McGill University Archives, Montreal, Canada; National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom; Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge, United Kingdom; Royal Air Force Archives, Hendon, United Kingdom; House of Lords Library, London, United Kingdom; Royal Society, London, United Kingdom; University Libraries, Knoxville, Tennessee; Wisconsin Historical Society Archives, Madison, Wisconsin; and the Air Force Historical Research Agency, Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery Alabama. At the National Archives in Atlanta, Georgia, Nathan Jordan was most helpful in providing photographs from the Holston Ordnance Works file. I am also grateful to Pam Overmann, curator of the Navy Art Collection at the Naval History and Heritage Com-

Acknowledgments 149

mand, Washington Navy Yard, who located the perfect photograph for the frontispiece. At East Tennessee State University’s Sherrod Library, the Inter-Library Loan librarians invariably found hard-to-find items. At the Sherrod Library, I would also like to thank Thomas P. Larue, Jerri Paddock, and the dean of the library, Patricia Van Zandt, for their assistance. The Sherrod Library staff represent professionalism at its best. I am grateful to Ned Irwin, former director of the Archives of Appalachia, East Tennessee State University, and now the archivist for Washington County, Tennessee, for bringing to my attention material on Alfred Dean Slack. Washington County historian Judge John Keiner and members of the Washington County Historical Association have been unfailing sources of information and encouragement. I would like to thank Allison Webster, Melissa Hammer, and Amy Harris for guiding the development of the manuscript. I am particularly grateful to Derik Shelor for his editing skills and thoroughness. His constructive criticism and wise observations have helped me produce (I believe) a far better book. Last, and far from least, my great debt is to my wife, Tamara, and my son, Andrew, for their love and support.

Notes Introduction 1. Marquis Childs, “Super-Explosive,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2 March 1944, Childs Papers, Box 17, Folder 4, Wisconsin Historical Society Archives, Madison, Wisconsin. 2. Max Hastings, Inferno: The World at War, 1939–1945 (New York: Knopf, 2011). 3. Paul Kennedy, “History from the Middle: The Case of the Second World War,” 2009 Annual George C. Marshall Foundation Lecture and the Society for Military History, American Historical Association, New York, 4 January 2009. 4. Mark Swanson, The World War II Ordnance Department’s Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Holston Ordnance Works Historic Investigation (Plano, Tex.: Geo-Marine, 1996), 39. 5. Margaret Ripley Wolfe, Kingsport, Tennessee: A Planned American City (Lexington: Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1987), 147; Ellen Crawford, “The Full Story of HOW Production,” Kingsport Times-News, 9 December 1943. 6. R. C. Burton, “The Origin of Holston Army Ammunition Plant,” lecture presented to the Kingsport, Tennessee, Rotary Club, 10 September 1975. 7. Donald H. Avery, The Science of War: Canadian Scientists and Allied Military Technology during the Second World War (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1998), 112. 8. William A. Noyes Jr., ed., Chemistry: A History of the Chemistry Components of the National Defense Research Committee, 1940–1946 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1948), 22. 9. Lenore Fine and Jesse A. Remington, The Corps of Engineers: Construction in the United States: The Technical Services, The U.S. Army in World War II (Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Military History, 1972), 596. 10. James Phinney Baxter III, Scientists against Time (1946; reprint, Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1952), 42.

152 Notes to Pages 5–8 11. Theodore C. Ohart, Elements of Ammunition (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1945), 37. 12. Giles Milton, Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat (New York: Picador, 2016). S.O.E. agents and local authorities achieved a spectacular success in November 1943 in German-occupied Greece. The saboteurs used plastic explosives to blow up the Gorgopotamos gorge viaduct that carried a single-track railway line linking Salonika in the north to the Mediterranean in the south. 13. “RDX. Torpex, Tritonal,” Discovery 6 (1945): 385–86, deposited in the Sir Charles Goodeve Papers, GOEV 3/1, Churchill Archives Center, Churchill College, Cambridge, United Kingdom. 14. Ibid. 15. Robert O. Bengis, “History of RDX,” 1 November 1945, RG 156, Entry 793, I-158, 5–6, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 16. “Development of Cyclonite,” Research Development Committee, 1 October 1937, DEFE 15/2454, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 17. Baxter, Scientists, 259. 18. The Preparation and Testing of Explosives, vol. 1, Summary Technical Report of Division 8, NDRC (Washington, D.C.: Department of the Army, 1946), 30. 19. Ibid. 20. “Development of Cyclonite.” 21. Ibid. 22. Ibid. 23. Burton, “The Origin of Holston Army Ammunition Plant,” 6. 24. W. H. Simmons, A. Forster, and R. C. Bowden, “The Manufacture of R.D.X. in Great Britain,” Industrial Chemist (July 1948): 430. Founded in 1560, the Royal Gunpowder Factory at Waltham Abbey was the first and oldest British government ordnance facility. 25. Ibid. 26. Ibid. 27. Lord Weir Papers, “R.D.X. & Other High Explosives,” 20/20, Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge, United Kingdom. 28. Thomas E. Thorpe, Dictionary of Applied Chemistry (London: Longmans, Green, 1939), 384. 29. M. M. Poston, D. Hay, and J. D. Scott, Design and Development of Weapons: Studies in Government and Industrial Organization (London: HMSO, 1964), 241.

Notes to Pages 8–11  153

112.

30. William Hornby, Factories and Plant (London: HMSO, 1958),

31. Ian Hay, R.O.F.: The Story of the Royal Ordnance Factories, 1939– 1948 (London: HMSO, 1949), 8. 32. Hornby, Factories, 112.

1. Lord Beaverbrook, RDX, and the Ministry of Supply 1. David Reynolds, In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War (New York: Basic Books, 2007), 175. 2. Charles Messenger, “Bomber” Harris and the Strategic Bombing Offensive, 1939–1945 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984), 39. Canadian Lord Beaverbrook (Max Aitkin) was a journalist and politician who was known for his independence and unconventional methods. Beaverbrook worked around the clock, hence his nickname “the beaver.” 3. Winston Churchill, The Second World War, vol. 2, Their Finest Hour (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1949), 711–12. 4. Denis Richards, The Hardest Victory: RAF Bomber Command in the Second World War (New York: Norton, 1995), 83. 5. Air Historical Branch, Armament, vol. 1, Bombs and Bombing Equipment (London: Air Ministry, 1952), 138; John A. MacBean and Arthur S. Hogben, Bombs Gone: The Development and Use of British Air-Dropped Weapons from 1912 to the Present Day (Wellingborough, UK: Patrick Stephens, 1990), 162. 6. Beaverbrook to Peirse, RAF Bomber Command, 19 January 1941, Lord Beaverbrook Papers, House of Lords Library, London, United Kingdom. 7. Ibid. 8. Ibid. 9. Ibid. 10. Beaverbrook draft minute to Churchill, 27 March 1941, Lord Weir Papers, 20/20, Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge, United Kingdom. 11. Ibid. 12. Lord Weir, comments on Lord Beaverbrook’s draft minute, Lord Weir Papers, 20/20, Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge, United Kingdom. 13. Ibid. 14. Ibid. 15. Ibid. 16. Ibid. 17. Ibid.

154 Notes to Pages 11–15 18. Beaverbrook to Duncan, 8 April 1941, Lord Weir Papers, 20/20, Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge, United Kingdom.. 19. Ibid. 20. “Minutes of a Meeting to Discuss the Production and Requirements of RDX,” 12 March 1941, Dr. J. W. Armit to Lord Weir, 17 March, 1941, Document 59, Weir Papers, 20/20, Churchill Archives Center, Churchill College, Cambridge, United Kingdom. 21. Ibid. 22. Portal to Beaverbrook, 9 April 1941, Lord Beaverbrook Papers, House of Lords Library, London, United Kingdom.

2. The Vexed Question of RDX Supply 1. AIR 8/337, “RDX Explosive for RAF Bombs,” 1 November 1941, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 2. AIR 8/337, Harris to Portal, 9 July 1941, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 3. Ibid., Harris to Freeman, 10 July 1941. 4. Ibid., Freeman to Harris, 12 July 1941. 5. Ibid. 6. Huskinson to Peirse, 27 April 1941, Lord Beaverbrook Papers, House of Lords Library, London, United Kingdom. Though permanently blinded, Huskinson’s expertise and talents were not wasted, and he spent the rest of World War II dealing with armament issues. Adding to the many honors and awards bestowed on him by Britain was the Legion of Merit from the United States, which had used many of his blockbuster bombs. 7. Air Historical Branch, Armament, vol. 1, Bombs and Bombing Equipment (London: Air Ministry, 1952), 167. At this stage in the war, navigational aids were primitive and inaccurate bombing was generally the rule. The British official historian of the air war, Noble Frankland, observed in his memoir, History at War: The Campaigns of an Historian (London: Giles de la Mare, 1998), “By early 1941 it was common knowledge that the [bombing] error was a matter of miles and not yards” (77). The Butt Report in August 1941 showed that on a moonlit night only one in three aircraft bombed within five miles of the enemy target. 8. AIR 8/337, Freeman to Harris, 12 July 1941, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 9. Ibid. 10. AIR 8/337, Air Staff to Harris, 13 July 1941, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom.

Notes to Pages 15–17  155 11. Patrick Huskinson, Vision Ahead (London: Werner Laurie, 1949), 180. 12. Ibid. 13. “Beautiful New Bomb,” Time 37, no. 18 (5 May 1941), 29. Squadron Leader Robert H. Garner and Air Commodore Patrick Huskinson were specifically mentioned in the story. 14. Ibid. 15. Air Historical Branch, Armament, 1:172. 16. Ibid. 17. Constance M. Green, Harry C. Thompson, and Peter C. Roots, The Ordnance Department: Planning Munitions for War (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1955), 454. 18. Ibid. By 1943, the United States was sending a large number of 4,000-pound “Blockbuster” Bombs to Britain, since their filling resources were inadequate to satisfy the needs of Bomber Command. Nearly 68,000 of the “Cookie” or “Blockbuster” bombs were dropped on enemy territory during World War II. 19. Lieutenant Colonel G. C. Tibbitts, Ammunition Division, to Colonel F. H. Miles Jr., 9 June 1941, RG 156/804, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 20. Ibid. 21. Green et al., Ordnance Department, 220. 22. Ibid., 221. 23. Tibbitts to Colonel F. H. Miles Jr., Intra-Office Memorandum, Office of the Chief of Ordnance, RG 156, 804, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 24. Dr. Robert O. Bengis, “History of RDX,” RG 156, Entry 793, I-158, 59, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 25. Ibid. 26. Ibid. 27. Lieutenant Colonel H. S. Aurand, Acting Chairman, Defense Aid Ordnance Requirements Committee, to General Rutherford, Supply Division, War Department, 6 June 1941, RG 156/804, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 28. Ibid. 29. Gerald Pawle, The Secret War, 1939–45 (New York: William Sloane, 1957), 72. 30. Ibid. 31. Ibid. Blandy was “one of the great naval figures of the war” (72). Under Blandy’s command, the first atomic trials were conducted in 1946 at Bikini Atoll.

156 Notes to Pages 17–20 32. James Phinney Baxter III, Scientists against Time (1946; reprint, Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1952), 257. 33. Buford Rowland and William R. Boyd, U.S. Navy Bureau of Ordnance in World War II (Washington, D.C.: Department of the Navy, 1953), 205. 34. Ibid. 35. Ibid. 36. Ibid., 62. 37. Admiral Blandy testimony before House Naval Affairs Committee, U.S. House of Representatives, 11 July 1941, Congressional Record, 77th Congress. 38. Green et al., Ordnance Department, 220. 39. G. M. Barnes to C. T. Harris, Jr., 15 July 1941, 14, RG 156/804, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 40. AIR 8/337, Portal to Harris, 6 July 1941, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 41. Ibid. 42. Dr. Robert O. Bengis, “History of RDX,” RG 156, Entry 793, I-158, 63, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 43. AIR 8/337, Harris to Portal, 30 July 1941, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 44. AIR 8/337, Arnold to Harris, 28 July 1941, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. The cost of the RDX produced at the Wabash River Plant would be far less than the initial cost estimate. 45. AIR 8/337, Harris to Freeman, 30 July 1941, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 46. Dr. George W. White to Harry Hopkins, 5 September 1941, MG 27, Series III, B 20, vol. 40, Library and Archives of Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 47. AIR 8/337, Sir Clive Baillieu to J. R. Donald, 12 July 1941, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 48. The Lend-Lease Act had been passed in March 1941. 49. The U.S. mobilization or “Victory Plan” would be completed by General Albert C. Wedemeyer in September 1941. 50. Anthony Furse, Wilfred Freeman: The Genius behind Allied Air Supremacy, 1939 to 1945 (Kent, UK.: Spellmount, 2000). 51. Charles Messenger, “Bomber” Harris and the Strategic Bombing Offensive, 1939–1945 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984), 48. On 22 February 1942, Harris became head of RAF Bomber Command. 52. Harris to Freeman, 15 September 1941, Lord Harris Papers, RAF Archives, Hendon, United Kingdom.

Notes to Pages 20–23  157 53. Ibid. 54. Ibid. 55. AIR 8/337, British Air Commission to Ministry of Aircraft Production, 28 September 1941, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 56. AIR 8/337, “R.D.X. Explosive for RAF Bombs,” 1 November 1941, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 57. AIR 8/337, BAC to Ministry of Aircraft Production, 28 September 1941, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 58. AIR 19/259, British Air Commission to Ministry of Aircraft Production, 24 October 1941, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 59. AIR 8/337, Lord Beaverbrook to Sir Archibald Sinclair, 20 October 1941, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 60. Ibid. 61. Ibid. 62. Ibid. 63. AIR 8/337, D. G. Donald to Melville, Portal, and others, 23 October 1941, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 64. Ibid. 65. Ibid. 66. Ibid. Air Vice-Marshal Donald also approached General George M. Brett, the American military attaché in London, asking him to present the British position on RDX “to your production people in America,” since the best filling for bombs “should surely be on the same level as the supply of heavy bombers.” See AIR 8/337, D. G. Donald to General George M. Brett, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 67. AIR 19/259, Sir Ronald H. Melville to Sinclair, 3 November 1941, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 68. Ibid. 69. Ibid. 70. AIR 19/259, Melville to Air Marshal Sir Christopher Courtney, 17 November 1941, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 71. AIR 19/259, Sinclair to Beaverbrook, 29 November 1941, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 72. Ibid. 73. AIR 8/337, Melville to Sinclair, 29 November 1941, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 74. J. R. Donald, “Memorandum re Explosives Program,” New York-Washington, 24–25 September 1941, MG 1003, c. 8, file 143, Chemical and Explosive Production Branch, Personal Reports, 1940–1945, Library and Archives, Ottawa, Canada. 75. Ibid.

158 Notes to Pages 23–27 76. Ibid. 77. Ibid. 78. J. R. Donald, draft of “A Chemist’s Yesterdays,” 119, MG 2043, c. 3, McGill University Archives, Montreal, Canada.

3. Torpex and the Air War 1. Dr. Robert O. Bengis, “History of RDX,” RG 156, Entry 793, I-158, 213, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 2. Ibid. 3. Dr. George W. White to Dr. J. W. Armit, 12 December 1941, BBK/D/114, Lord Beaverbrook Papers, House of Lords Library, London, United Kingdom. 4. AIR 19/259/79A, Melville to Sir Archibald Sinclair, Secretary of State for Air, 3 February 1942. 5. Air 19/259/80, Sinclair to Melville, 4 February 1942, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 6. AIR 19/259/79A, Ministry of Supply to British Purchasing Commission, 4 January 1942, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 7. PREM 3 75/6, Defense Committee (Supply), Cherwell to Churchill, 28 April 1942, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 8. Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War, vol. 4, The Hinge of Fate (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1950), 253–54. 9. Ibid. 10. Ibid. 11. PREM 3/75/6, 15 July 1941, Sinclair to Churchill, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 12. Ibid. 13. Lord Cherwell, “Preliminary Report on the Possibility of Improving the Efficiency of Blast Bombs,” G153/3, Cherwell Papers, Nuffield College Library, Oxford, United Kingdom. 14. Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War, vol. 5, Closing the Ring (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1951), 524. 15. “Committee of Inquiry into Aluminized Explosives, Report to Minister of Defense (PM Churchill),” G159/4, Cherwell Papers, Nuffield College Library, Oxford, United Kingdom. Sir Walter Monckton, lawyer, politician, and businessman, chaired the Committee of Inquiry. Monckton had served as legal adviser to King Edward VIII during the abdication crisis in 1936. 16. Ibid. 17. “Committee of Inquiry into Aluminized Explosives, Report for

Notes to Pages 27–31  159 Minister of Defense (PM Churchill),” G154/19, Cherwell Papers, Nuffield College Library, Oxford, United Kingdom. 18. AIR 14/972, Harris to Air Marshal Sir Douglas Evill, Vice-Chief of the Air Staff, Air Ministry, 18 August 1943, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 19. Ibid. 20. AIR 14/972. Air Marshal Evill to Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur T. Harris, Headquarters, Bomber Command, 27 August 1943, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 21. Ibid. 22. Ibid. 23. Ibid. 24. Ibid. 25. Lord Cherwell to Portal, Chief of the Air Staff, 6 October 1943, G197/20, Cherwell Papers, Nuffield College Library, Oxford, United Kingdom. 26. Air Chief Marshal Harris to Lord Cherwell, 8 December 1943, G197/20, Cherwell Papers, Nuffield College Library, Oxford, United Kingdom. 27. Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur T. “Bomber” Harris to Lord Cherwell, War Cabinet Offices, 8 December 1943, G197/20, Cherwell Papers, Nuffield College Library, Oxford, United Kingdom. 28. AIR 14/972, Air Commodore Huskinson, Pres.-Air Armament Board, to Air Commodore Bilney, HQ., Bomber Command, 21 January 1944, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 29. AIR 14/972, Bilney to Huskinson, 27 January 1944, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 30. The attack caused serious damage to the Möhne and Eder dams. Of the 133 airmen who set out, fifty-three were killed and three became prisoners of war. 31. Denis Richards, The Hardest Victory: RAF Bomber Command in the Second World War (New York: Norton, 1995), 234. 32. Ibid. Over 700 “Tallboys” were drooped during the war. 33. Ibid., 256. 34. John Sweetman, Tirpitz: Hunting the Beast (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2000), 163. 35. Forty-two “Grand Slam” bombs were dropped in 1945. 36. Donald L. Miller, Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought in the Air War against Nazi Germany (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006), 199. 37. Ibid., 200.

160 Notes to Pages 31–35 38. Air Historical Branch, Armament, vol. 1, Bombs and Bombing Equipment (London: Air Ministry, 1952), 148. Approximately 1.75 million 500-pound bombs were dropped on the enemy. 39. Ibid., 156–57. 40. Air Historical Branch, Armament, 1:20. Late in the war, 20 percent of German explosives were filled with rock salt, which “reduced their effectiveness correspondingly.” Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs (New York: MacMillan, 1970), 406.

4. RDX and the Army Ordnance Department 1. R. Elberton Smith, The Army and Economic Mobilization, United States Army in World War II (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, 1959), 437. 2. Henry L. Stimson and McGeorge Bundy, On Active Service in Peace and War (New York: Harper, 1947), 353. 3. Ibid. 4. George B. Kistiakowsky, Explosives and Detonation Waves (Las Vegas, Nev.: Nuclear Testing Archive/National Security Technologies, 1949). 5. Brian Waddell, ed., Robert P. Patterson: Arming the Nation for War, Mobilization, Supply, and the American War Effort in World War II (Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press, 2014), 1. 6. Harry C. Thompson and Lida Mayo, Procurement and Supply: The Ordnance Department. (Washington, D.C.: Department of the Army, 1960), 5. 7. Waddell, Robert P. Patterson, 1. 8. James G. Hershberg, James B. Conant: Harvard to Hiroshima and the Making of the Nuclear Age (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford Univ. Press, 1993), 126–27. 9. Irvin Stewart, Organizing Scientific Research for War: The Administrative History of the Office of Scientific Research and Development (Boston: Little, Brown, 1948), 4. 10. Hershberg, James B. Conant, 127. 11. Vannevar Bush, Modern Arms and Free Men (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1949), 274. 12. Vannevar Bush, “Report of the NDRC for the First Year of Operation,” RG 227.5.3, Records of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 13. Hershberg, James B. Conant, 9. 14. Walter Bedell Smith, Eisenhower’s Six Great Decisions: Europe

Notes to Pages 35–37  161 1944–1945 (New York: Longman, Green, 1956), 229; John Gooch, “‘Hidden in the Rock’: American Military Perceptions of Great Britain, 1919– 1940,” in War, Strategy, and International Politics: Essays in Honor of Sir Michael Howard, ed. Lawrence Freedman, Paul Hayes, and Robert O’Neill (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), 155–173. 15. Gooch, “‘Hidden in the Rock,’” 173. 16. Donald H. Avery, The Science of War: Canadian Scientists and Allied Military Technology during the Second World War (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1998), 57. Scientific interchange between Britain and the United States owed much to Professor A. V. Hill, who had arrived in Washington in May 1940 as a temporary scientific attaché to the British embassy, and Lord Lothian, the British ambassador to the United States. 17. David Reynolds, In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War (New York: Basic Books, 2007), 201. 18. David Zimmerman, Top Secret Exchange: The Tizard Mission and the Scientific War (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s Univ. Press, 1996), 83–85. 19. Reynolds, In Command of History, 201. 20. Ibid. 21. Avery, The Science of War, 57. 22. Zimmerman, Top Secret Exchange, 3. 23. Stimson and Bundy, On Active Service, 465. 24. James Phinney Baxter III, Scientists against Time (1946; reprint, Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1952), 255. 25. Ibid., 256; Dr. Robert O. Bengis, “History of RDX,” RG 156, Entry 793, I-158, 44, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 26. Ibid. 27. Ibid. 28. William A. Noyes Jr., ed., Chemistry: A History of the Chemistry Components of the National Defense Research Committee, 1940–1946 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1948), 38; Baxter, Scientists, 256. 29. Ibid. 30. R. C. Burton, “The Origin of Holston Army Ammunition Plant,” lecture presented to the Kingsport, Tennessee, Rotary Club, 10 September 1975. 31. Robert C. Elderfield, Werner Emmanuel Bachmann: A Biographical Memoir (Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences, 1960), 6; Baxter, Scientists, 256. 32. Elderfield, Werner Emmanuel Bachmann. 33. Hershberg, James B. Conant, 144.

162 Notes to Pages 38–40 34. Lieutenant Colonel J. P. Harris, Ordnance Department, to Dr. James B. Conant, July 29, 1941, RG 156/804, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. Throughout Ordnance, Colonel Harris was simply known as “J. P.” It was due to his initiative that the petroleum industry was able to provide the large quantities of toluene required to manufacture TNT. 35. Ibid. 36. Noyes, Chemistry, 89. Kistiakowsky was a professor of chemistry at Harvard University. He served as chief of Division 8 (Explosives), NDRC, from 1942 until 1944, when he was assigned to Los Alamos. Connor was a professor of chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania. A member of the NDRC, Connor succeeded Kistiakowsky as chief of Division 8. 37. Ibid., 204. 38. Admiral W.H.P. Blandy, Confidential Bureau of Ordnance Circular Letter, Navy Department, 8 March 1943, Confidential Ordnance Circular Letters, History and Heritage Command, Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C. 39. Donald to Howe, 16 September 1941, MG 27, Series III, B 20, vol. 40, file 5-9-16, Defense Industries, Part 1, 1941–1943, Library and Archives of Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 40. Dr. Robert O. Bengis, “History of RDX,” RG 156, Entry 793, I-158, 43, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 41. Ibid. 42. Ibid., 44. 43. Ibid. 44. At the start of World War II, TNT cost 17 cents per pound, and in 1945 it was 6 cents per pound. RDX Composition B cost 10 cents per pound at the end of the war. 45. Levin H. Campbell Jr., The Industry-Ordnance Team (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1946), 47. 46. Gladeon M. Barnes, Weapons of World War II (New York: Van Nostrand, 1947), 76. 47. Thomson and Mayo, Procurement and Supply, 134. 48. Ibid., 136. 49. Ibid., 226–28. 50. Ibid., 469. 51. Ibid. 52. Ibid., 35. 53. Ibid.

Notes to Pages 40–43  163 54. General Levin H. Campbell Jr., The Industry-Ordnance Team (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1946), 47. 55. Ibid., 253–59. 56. Vannevar Bush, Pieces of the Action (New York: William Morrow, 1970), 97. 57. Ibid. 58. Noyes, ed., Chemistry, 20. 59. Ibid. 60. Ibid 61. Constance M. Green, Harry C. Thompson, and Peter C. Roots, The Ordnance Department: Planning Munitions for War (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1955), 91. In the March 1942 sweeping reorganization of the Army, the Services of Supply command was established under General Brehon B. Somervell, who had a reputation for handling big projects, including construction of the Pentagon. Friction developed between the Ordnance Department and the new command. In May 1943, S.O.S. was renamed the Army Service Forces, commanded by General Somervell. 62. Green et al., Ordnance Department, 220. 63. Ibid., 230. 64. Ibid., 288. The Ordnance Department became subordinate to the new command of ASF. 65. Stimson to General Wesson, 26 November 1941, RG 156/804, I-298, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 66. Wesson to Stimson, 12 December 1941, RG 156/804, I-298, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 67. Technical Staff, “RDX-Facilities for Production,” 20 December 1941, RG 156/804, I-298, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.

5. RDX and the Army Air Forces 1. Dr. Robert O. Bengis, “History of RDX,” RG 156, Entry 793, I-158, 65, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. The Wabash Ordnance Works in Indiana would not start production until November 1942. 2. Ibid., 66. 3. Colonel G. C. Tibbitts to General R. E. Hardy, 30 July 1942, RG 156, Entry 919, Box 102, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 4. Ordnance Sub-Committee on Explosives, 16 March 1943, RG

164 Notes to Pages 43–47 156, Entry 919, Box K, 102, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 5. Sub-Committee on Explosives to the Ordnance Committee, Technical Staff, 16 March 1943, RG 156, Entry 919, Box 102, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 6. Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War, vol. 4, The Hinge of Fate (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1950), 692. 7. General Arnold to General Carl Spaatz, Eighth Air Force, 31 May 1943, United Kingdom, “Bombs, RDX,” File 471.6, Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA), Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Alabama. 8. The U.S. Army Air Corps became the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) on 20 June 1941. 9. The Preparation and Testing of Explosives, vol. 1, Summary Technical Report of Division 8, NDRC (Washington, D.C.: Department of the Army, 1946), 32. 10. Technical Data on RDX Comp B, Ordnance Officer, HQ USAAF in U.K., 27 November 1943, File 471.6, AFHRA, Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Alabama. 11. General Frederick L. Anderson to Headquarters, VIII Bomber Command, 27 July 1943, File 471.6, Air Force Historical Research Agency, Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Alabama. 12. Ibid. 13. Colonel Richard E. Sims, “RDX Filled Bombs,” 8 December 1943, File 471.6, AFHRA, Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Alabama. 14. Ibid. 15. Colonel Richard E. Sims, Ordnance Officer, Eighth Air Force, 26 December 1943, File 471.6, AFHRA, Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Alabama. 16. Ibid. 17. Ibid. 18. Ibid. 19. Ibid. 20. Ibid. 21. Colonel Richard E. Sims, “RDX Comp, Filled Bombs,” 18 February 1944, Eighth Air Force, File 471.6, AFHRA, Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Alabama. 22. Ibid. 23. General Doolittle to Colonel Sims, 15 April 1944, Eighth Air Force, File 471.6, Roll #5100, AFHRA, Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Alabama. 24. Major H. C. Logan, Ordnance Department, Eighth Air Force,

Notes to Pages 47–50  165 3 May 1944, File 471.6, Roll #5100, 520.8671L, Air Force Historical Research Agency, Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Alabama. 25. Colonel Richard E. Sims, Ordnance Department, Eighth Air Force, to HQUSAAF in United Kingdom, 21 December 1944, File 471.6, AFHRA, Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Alabama. 26. Ibid. 27. Spaatz to Doolittle, Eighth Air Force, 25 July 1944, File 471.6, Roll #5100, AFHRA, Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Alabama. 28. Operational Analysis, Comparison of Loss and Damage Rates, 24 and 25 August 1944, File 471.6, AFHRA, Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Alabama. 29. Ibid. 30. Colonel Sims to Headquarters, U.S. Strategic Air Forces in Europe, 21 December 1944, File 471.6, AFHRA, Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Alabama. 31. Ibid. 32. General Doolittle to General Spaatz, 11 January 1945, File 471.6, AFHRA, Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Alabama. 33. Spaatz to Doolittle, Eighth Air Force, 26 January 1945, File 471.6, AFHRA, Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Alabama. 34. Colonel Bert A. Arnold, Assistant Adjutant General, for the Commanding General, Eighth Air Force, 16 February 1945, File 471.6, AFHRA, Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Alabama. 35. Ibid. 36. Ibid. 37. General Doolittle to Colonel Sims, 3 March 1945, File 471.6, AFHRA, Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Alabama. 38. Doolittle to Sims, 7 March 1945, File 471.6, AFHRA, Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Alabama. 39. Ibid. 40. Colonel Charles Robbins to Air Inspector, Headquarters, Eighth Air Force, 22 April 1945, AFHRA, Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Alabama. 41. Ibid. 42. Colonel Sims to Headquarters, U.S. Strategic Air Forces in Europe, 7 March 1945, File 471.6, AFHRA, Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Alabama. 43. Ibid. 44. Ibid. 45. Colonel Sims to Ordnance Officer, Ninth Air Force, 5 April 1945, File 471.6, AFHRA, Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Alabama.

166 Notes to Pages 50–56 46. Ibid. 47. Captain Roy J. Bullard, Ordnance Department, Ninth Air Force, 10 April 1945, File 471.6, AFHRA, Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Alabama. 48. Ibid. 49. Ibid. 50. General Doolittle to Commanding General, U.S. Strategic Air Forces in Europe, 4 March 1945, File 471.6, AFHRA, Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Alabama. 51. Ibid. 52. Theodore C. Ohart, Elements of Ammunition (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1945), 37. Major Ohart began his connection with the Technical Division at Picatinny Arsenal in 1940.

6. The Battle for RDX Production 1. Dr. Robert O. Bengis, “History of RDX,” RG 156, Entry 793, I-158, 90, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 2. Ibid. 3. Ibid. 4. Ibid., 208. 5. Ibid., 72. 6. Ibid, 7. Ibid. 8. Ibid., 208. 9. R. O. Bengis to Rear Admiral T. J. Kelcher, Navy Executive Chief, Army-Navy Munitions Board, 3 January 1943, RG 156, Entry 793, I-158, 73, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 10. James Richardson Donald, Reminiscences of a Pioneer Canadian Chemical Engineer 1890–1952, ed. R. V. V. Nicholls and Mario Onyszchuk (Montreal: McGill Univ. Press, 1989), 139. 11. Ibid., 146. 12. John D. Millett, The Organization and Role of the Army Service Forces (Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Military History, 1954), 50. 13. Dr. Robert O. Bengis, “History of RDX,” RG 156, Entry 793, I-158, 213, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 14. J. R. Donald to CPRB, 14 January 1943, MG 1003, c. 8, File 143, Chemical Explosives Production Branch—Personal Reports, 1940– 1945, Library and Archives of Canada, Ottawa, Canada.

Notes to Pages 56–59  167 15. John Kennedy Ohl, Supplying the Troops: General Brehon Somervell and American Logistics in WWII (DeKalb: Northern Illinois Univ. Press, 1994), 130. 16. Ibid. 17. General Roswell E. Hardy, Chief, Ammunition Branch, to Chief of Industrial Division, 24 February 1943, RG 156/793/1-158, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 18. Ibid. 19. Ibid. 20. Ibid. 21. Ibid., 26. 22. General R. E. Hardy to Commanding General, Services of Supply, 17 March 1943, RG 156/793/1-158, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. Wabash River Ordnance Works had begun production of RDX on 1 November 1942. In March 1943 the plant was producing 1,500 tons of RDX per month. 23. Historical Report of HOW, Tennessee Eastman Company, 6th period, May 16–July 12, 1943, National Archives at Atlanta, National Archives and Records Administration, Atlanta, Georgia. 24. General Lucius D. Clay to General R. E. Hardy, 19 May 1943, RG 156, Entry 793, 1–158, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 25. Lauchlin Currie to the President on “Use of the New Explosive RDX,” 24 June 1943, “Departmental File, War, August–December 1943,” within the President’s Secretary File, Box 82, War Department folder 2-43, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York. 26. General Brehon B. Somervell, commanding general, Army Service Forces, 9 March 1942, “Departmental File, War, August–December 1943,” within the President’s Secretary’s File (PSF), Box 82, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York. 27. David M. Kennedy, Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929–1945 (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1999), 621; Keith E. Eiler, Mobilizing America: Robert P. Patterson and the War Effort, 1940–1945 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press, 1997), 245. 28. Millett, The Organization and Role of the Army Service Forces, 8. 29. Ibid., 143. 30. General Brehon Somervell to President Roosevelt, 26 June 1943, “Departmental File, War, August–December 1943,” within the President’s Secretary File, Box 82, War Department folder 2-43, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York. 31. Ibid.

168 Notes to Pages 59–63 32. Ibid. 33. General Levin H. Campbell Jr., to General Somervell, 26 June 1943, RG 156, Entry 793, Box 167, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 34. Ibid. Somervell dropped what has been described as a “bombshell” on the War Department in the summer of 1943 when he pushed a proposal to merge all the technical services into a single supply agency. Neither Stimson nor Marshall supported the proposal. Stimson likened it to “stirring up a hornet’s nest” in the middle of the war. Many Ordnance officers considered General Campbell’s resistance to Somervell’s proposal to be his greatest service to the Ordnance Department. See Millett, Army Service Forces, 120; Thomson and Mayo, Ordnance Department, 475. 35. Lenore Fine and Jesse A. Remington, The Corps of Engineers: Construction in the United States: The Technical Services, The U.S. Army in World War II (Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Military History, 1972), 360–61. 36. Ibid., 363. 37. Dr. Robert O. Bengis, “History of RDX,” RG 156, Entry 793, I-158, 101, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 38. Ibid. 39. General Hardy to Somervell, commanding general, ASF, 10 July 1943, RG 156, Box 167, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 40. Ibid. 41. Dr. Robert O. Bengis, “History of RDX,” RG 156, Entry 793, I-158, 74, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 42. General Somervell to President Roosevelt, 3 August 1943, War Department folder 2-43, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York. 43. Lauchlin Currie to the President, The White House, 14 August 1943, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York. 45. Dr. Robert O. Bengis, “History of RDX,” RG 156, Entry 793, I-158, 75, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.

7. Canada and RDX 1. Donald H. Avery, The Science of War: Canadian Scientists and Allied Military Technology during the Second World War (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1998).

Notes to Pages 63–65  169 2. Ibid., 53. 3. Wilfred Eggleston, Scientists at War (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1950), 76. 4. Ibid. 5. Ibid. 6. J. R. Donald, “Adventures in Chemical Engineering in War Time,” address delivered on 16 April 1946, RG 28, vol. 2, History— Chemicals and Explosives Production Branch, Library and Archives of Canada, Ottawa, Canada. Ross was a pilot in World War I. After World War II he became head of the Forest Products Laboratories in Montreal. 7. Maass was awarded the U.S. Medal of Freedom in 1947 for his contributions to Allied chemical and biological warfare. “Dr. Maass ranks second to none amongst the Allied scientists whose joint efforts rendered impotent a [chemical and biological] weapon which otherwise the enemy might well have used decisively.” See Stanley Brice Frost, McGill University: For the Advancement of Learning, vol. 2, 1895–1971 (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s Univ. Press, 1984), 226 8. Avery, Science of War, 57. 9. Ibid. 10. Ibid. 11. J. R. Donald to C. D. Howe, 28 April 1941, MG 1003, c. 8, File 143, Chemical Explosive and Production Branch—Personal Reports, 1940–1945, Library and Archives of Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 12. Ibid. 13. Ibid. 14. Ibid. 15. Ibid. 16. C. D. Howe to J. R. Donald, 30 April 1941, MG 1003, c. 8, File 143, Chemical Explosive and Production Branch—Personal Reports, 1940–1945, Library and Archives of Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 17. Ibid. 18. Howe to J. L Ralston, Minister of National Defense, 30 April 1941, MG 1003, c. 8, File 143, Chemical Explosive and Production Branch—Personal Reports, 1940–1945, Library and Archives of Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 19. Howe to Donald, 17 July 1941, MG 1003, c. 2, File 143, Chemical Explosive and Production Branch—Personal Reports, 1940–1945, Library and Archives of Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 20. Eggleston, Scientists at War, 76. 21. Adrian G. Brook and W.A.E. (Peter) McBryde, Historical Distil-

170 Notes to Pages 65–70 lates: Chemistry at the University of Toronto since 1843 (Toronto: Dundurn Group, 2007), 106. 22. “Report on Trip to United Kingdom 19 August 19 to 29 September 29, 1941,” MG 1003, c. 8, File 144, Chemical Explosives and Production—Personnel Reports, 1940–1945, Library and Archives of Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 23. Ibid. 24. J. R. Donald, draft of “A Chemist’s Yesterdays,” 113, MG 2043, c. 3, McGill University Archives, Montreal, Canada. 25. Eggleston, Scientists at War, 77. 26. Ibid. 27. Ibid. 28. Ibid. 29. Wilfred Eggleston, National Research in Canada: The NRC 1916–1966 (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1978), 200. 30. R. C. Featherstonhaugh, McGill University at War, 1914–1915, 1939–1945 (Montreal: McGill Univ. Press, 1947), 203. 31. J. R. Donald to C. D. Howe, 4 October 1941, MG 27, Series III, B 20, vol. 40, Library and Archives of Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 32. Ibid. 33. Ibid. 34. Ibid. 35. C. D. Howe to J. R. Donald, 6 October 6, 1941, MG 27, Series III, B 20, vol. 40, Library and Archives of Canada, Ottawa, Canada. Largescale production at Shawinigan Falls began in July 1942. By 1945, RDX production reached 350,000 pounds of per month. 36. J. R. Donald, draft of “A Chemist’s Yesterdays,” 161, MG 2043, c. 3, McGill University Archives, Montreal, Canada. 37. Avery, Science of War, 110. 38. J. R. Donald, draft of “A Chemist’s Yesterdays,” 161, MG 2043, c. 3, McGill University Archives, Montreal, Canada. 39. Eggleston, Scientists at War, 78. 40. Ibid., 112. 41. J. R. Donald, draft of “A Chemist’s Yesterdays,” 120, MG 2043, c. 3, McGill University Archives, Montreal, Canada. 42. RDX Committee Meeting, 1 November 1942, Bachmann Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan. Other members of the Canadian-American RDX Committee included: Dr. D. P. MacDougall (Explosives Research Laboratory, Bruceton, Pennsylvania), Dr. A. T. Blomquist (Cornell University), Dr. G. F. Wright (University of Toronto), Lieutenant B. A. Bull (NDRC), O. W. Stick-

Notes to Pages 70–73  171 land (BPC), Dr. W. C. Bachmann (University of Michigan), Dr. J. H. Ross (McGill University), Professor Carl Winkler (McGill University), Dr. Raymond Boyer (McGill University), Dr. C. A. Noll (Penn State University), Dr. F. C. Whitmore (Penn State University), and Dr. Lee G. Davy (Holston Ordnance Works). On occasion, Dr. R. P. Linstead, a Briton who taught at Harvard, attended meetings of the RDX Committee. 43. RDX Committee Meeting Minutes, 1 November 1942, Bachmann Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan. 44. Ibid. 45. William A. Noyes Jr., ed., Chemistry: A History of the Chemistry Components of the National Defense Research Committee, 1940–1946 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1948), 38. 46. Ibid. 47. Avery, Science of War, 116. 48. James Richardson Donald, Reminiscences of a Pioneer Canadian Chemical Engineer 1890–1952, ed. R. V. V. Nicholls and Mario Onyszchuk (Montreal: McGill Univ. Press, 1989), 119. 49. Ibid., 122. 50. Ibid. 51. Ibid. 52. J. R. Donald to C. D. Howe, “Memorandum re Visit to the United Kingdom, June 29, 1942–August 9, 1942,” MG 27, Series III, B 20, vol. 40, file 5-9-16, Defense Industries, 1941–1943, Library and Archives of Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 53. Donald, Reminiscences of a Pioneer Canadian Chemical Engineer, 132. 54. Ibid. 55. Donald to Howe, “Memorandum re Visit to the United Kingdom,” 6. 56. Ibid. 57. Ibid., 4. 58. Ibid., 6 59. Ibid., 7. 60. Ibid. 61. Ibid. 62. Donald to Howe, 11 May 1943, “Re: RDX Production,” MG 1003, c. 8, File 143, Chemical Explosive Production Branch—Personal Reports 1940–1945, Library and Archives of Canada, Ottawa, Canada. 63. Walter C. McCrone, Cornell University, to R. V. V. Nicholls, McGill University, 8 March 1943, MG 1062, c. 8, File 13, Crystallogra-

172 Notes to Pages 73–77 phy File, 1942–1943, War Research Related, McGill University Archives, Montreal, Canada. 64. Frost, McGill University: For the Advancement of Learning, vol. 2, 1895–1971, 241. 65. Wesley K. Wark, Espionage: Past, Present, Future? (Ilford, UK: Frank Cass, 1994), 112; CAB 111/46, “Disclosure of Information Concerning RDX to Russia,” National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 66. Wark, Espionage, 112. 67. Ibid. 68. Robert Bothwell and J. L. Granatstein, eds., The Gouzenko Transcripts: The Evidence Presented to the Kellock-Taschereau Royal Commission of 1946 (Ottawa: Deneau, 1982), 253. 69. Donald H. Avery, “Allied Scientific Cooperation and Soviet Espionage in Canada, 1941–45,” Intelligence and National Security 8, no. 3 (2 January 2008): 112. 70. Ibid.,113. 71. Frost, McGill University: For the Advancement of Learning, vol. 2, 1895–1971, 241. 72. Avery, Science of War, 241–43.

8. The Wexler Bend Pilot Plant 1. Margaret Ripley Wolfe, Kingsport, Tennessee: A Planned American City (Lexington: Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1987), 140. 2. Dr. Robert O. Bengis, “History of RDX,” RG 156, Entry 793, I-158, 30, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 3. James Phinney Baxter III, Scientists against Time (1946; reprint, Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1952), 257. 4. Historical Report of Holston Ordnance Works, 10th Period, 5 September 1943–2 October 1943, National Archives at Atlanta, National Archives and Records Administration, Atlanta, Georgia. 5. Ibid., 1. 6. Ibid. 7. Ibid. 8. Mark Swanson, The World War II Ordnance Department’s Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Holston Ordnance Works Historic Investigation (Plano, Tex.: Geo-Marine, 1996), 23. 9. R. C. Burton, “The Origin of Holston Army Ammunition Plant,” lecture presented to the Kingsport, Tennessee, Rotary Club, 10 September 1975, 4. Burton was the general superintendent of production at Holston Ordnance Works during World War II.

Notes to Pages 77–81  173 10. Ibid. 11. Ibid. 12. Ibid., 5. 13. Ibid. 14. Ibid. 15. Lillian Hoddeson, Critical Assembly: A Technical History of Los Alamos during the Oppenheimer Years, 1943–1945 (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993), 165. 16. Dr. Robert O. Bengis, “History of RDX,” RG 156, Entry 793, I-158, 34, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 17. Eillen Crawford, “Full Story of HOW Production,” Kingsport Times-News, 9 December 1945. 18. Burton, “The Origin of Holston Army Ammunition Plant,” 5. 19. Dr. Fred Conklin, “Log Report of Pilot Plant Construction on 506 Incorporation,” RG 156, OSRD, Division 8, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 20. Raymond B. Herring interview, by Mark Swanson, 27 September 1995, in The World War II Ordnance Department’s GovernmentOwned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Holston Ordnance Works, Transcripts of Oral Interviews (Plano, Tex.: Geo-Marine, 1996). 21. Ibid., 60. 22. Richard L. McConnell, “The Explosive RDX,” unpublished paper, 18 July 2006, Kingsport, Tennessee. A copy is in the possession of the author. 23. Eillen Crawford, “Full Story of HOW Production,” Kingsport Times-News, 9 December 1945. 24. Dr. Connor’s report is quoted in Wolfe, Kingsport, 141. 25. Report to Ordnance Department, War Department. 26. Dr. Robert O. Bengis, “History of RDX,” RG 156, Entry 793, I-158, 33, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 27. I would like to extend my gratitude to John Bearden for sharing with me his extensive knowledge of Holston’s history, and for his help in locating the concrete dividing wall that stands as a silent historic reminder of the Horse Creek Pilot Plant where Tennessee employees first carried out the mixing of RDX and TNT to produce Composition B. 28. Basil Rice, “It’s a Long Way from a Pasture to Ammo Plant,” Kingsport Times, 14 November 1968, 1. 29. Burton, “The Origin of Holston Army Ammunition Plant,” 3.

174 Notes to Pages 81–85 30. Ibid. 31. Ibid., 6. 32. Ibid. 33. Ibid., 7. 34. Ibid. In World War I, British female munition workers were known as “canary girls.” Exposure to nitric acid fumes had turned their skin yellow. Exposure to nitric acid can cause liver damage, with yellow jaundice and anemia. 35. McConnell, “The Explosive RDX,” 4. 36. Ellen Crawford, “Kingsport Plant Put Powerful RDX on ‘Assembly Line,’” Kingsport Times-News, 9 December 1945. 37. Ibid. 38. Raymond B. Herring interview, by Mark Swanson, 27 September 1995, 64. 39. Buford Rowland and William R. Boyd, U.S. Navy Bureau of Ordnance in World War II (Washington, D.C.: Department of the Navy, 1953), 206. 40. “Shot, Shell, and Bombs,” Fortune 32, no. 3 (September 1945), 265. 41. Rowland and Boyd, U.S. Navy Bureau of Ordnance, 206. 42. Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance to Inspector of Ordnance, Naval Mine Depot, Yorktown, Virginia, 1 December 1942, RG 74, Entry 25, Box 217, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 43. Ibid. 44. Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance to Inspector of Ordnance, Naval Mine Depot, Yorktown, Virginia, January 1942, RG 74, Entry 25, Box 217, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 45. Ibid. 46. Admiral “Spike” Blandy to Rear Admiral “Charlie” Lockwood, 11 August 1943, Container 72, Navy Historical Center, Navy Shipyard, Washington, D.C. 47. Ibid., 3. 48. Ibid. 49. Ibid. 50. Clay Blair, Silent Victory: The U.S. Submarine War against Japan (New York: J. P. Lippincott, 1975), 403. 51. Ibid. 52. Robert Gannon, Hellions of the Deep: The Development of American Torpedoes in World War II (University Park: Pennsylvania State

Notes to Pages 85–92  175 Univ. Press, 1996). The U.S. Navy was not alone in experiencing torpedo malfunctions. Well into the war, German torpedoes suffered devastating failures, similar to those of U.S. torpedoes. 53. Frederick J. Milford, “US Navy Torpedoes: Part Three: WW II Development of Conventional Torpedoes, 1940–1946,” www.geocities. ws/pentagon/1592/ustorp3. 54. Admiral Blandy, Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, to U.S. Fleet Admiral E. J. King, 15 December 1942, “Torpex Loading of Torpedo Warheads for Aircraft and PT Boats,” Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C. 55. Ibid. 56. Ibid. 57. King to Blandy, 25 December 1942, “Torpex Loading of Torpedo Warheads for Aircraft and PT Boats,” Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C.

9. The Great Holston Ordnance Works 1. Lenore Fine and Jesse A. Remington, The Corps of Engineers: Construction in the United States: The Technical Services, The U.S. Army in World War II (Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Military History, 1972), 517. 2. Ibid. 3. Robert S. Norris, Racing for the Bomb: General Leslie R. Groves, the Manhattan Project’s Indispensable Man (South Royalton, Vt.: Stearforth Press, 2002). 4. Harry Englander, Building the Holston Ordnance Works (New York: Fraser-Brace Engineering Company, 1946), 15. 5. Mark Swanson, The World War II Ordnance Department’s Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Holston Ordnance Works Historic Investigation (Plano, Tex.: Geo-Marine, 1996), 28. 6. Correspondence with Ernest Harold Burleson, 10 May 2000, Johnson City, Tennessee, in the possession of the author. 7. Ibid. 8. The population figures come from the 1940 census and ration books issued to individuals in 1943. 9. Richard McConnell interview, by the author, 21 June 2008, in the author’s possession. 10. Englander, Building the Holston, 23. 11. “At Least 15,000 New Residents in Kingsport Area,” Kingsport Times, 8 November 1942.

176 Notes to Pages 93–98 12. Correspondence with Ernest Harold Burleson, 10 May 2000, Johnson City, Tennessee, in the possession of the author. 13. Burton, “The Origin of Holston Army Ammunition Plant,” lecture presented to the Kingsport, Tennessee, Rotary Club, 10 September 1975, 7. 14. R. C. Livermore telephone interview, by the author, 20 September 2007, Rochester, New York. 15. Englander, Building the Holston, 27. 16. Ibid., 28. 17. Correspondence with Ernest Harold Burleson, 10 May 2000, Johnson City, Tennessee, in the possession of the author. 18. Ibid. 19. Ibid. 20. Raymond B. Herring interview, by Mark Swanson, 27 September 1995, 3 21. Ibid., 63. 22. Holston Ordnance Works, RG 156/646, 2, National Archives at Atlanta, National Archives and Records Administration, Atlanta, Georgia. 23. Ibid., 3. 24. Lois Henry interview, by Brian Compton, 31 July 2003, in the possession of the author. 25. C. R. Fields interview, by C. C. Hood, Kingsport, Tennessee, July 1984. 26. Ibid. 27. Marquis Childs, “Super-Explosive,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2 March 1944, Childs Papers, Box 17, Folder 4, Wisconsin Historical Society Archives, Madison, Wisconsin. In 1970 Marquis Childs received the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary. 28. Holston Ordnance Works, RG 156, Box 104, Intelligence File, National Archives at Atlanta, National Archives and Records Administration, Atlanta, Georgia. 29. Ibid. 30. Ibid. 31. Ibid. 32. Ibid. 33. Ibid. 34. Ibid. 35. Ibid. 36. Ibid. 37. Ibid.

Notes to Pages 98–103  177 38. Patsy Jones interview, by the author, 28 May 2003, in the author’s possession. 39. Marquis Childs, “Super-Explosive,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2 March 1944, Childs Papers, Box 17, Folder 4, Wisconsin Historical Society Archives, Madison, Wisconsin. 40. Swanson, The World War II Ordnance Department’s Government-Owned Contractor Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Holston Ordnance Works Historic Investigation, 85. 41. Ibid., 88. 42. Judy Moss interview, by the author, 10 May 2016, Erwin, Tennessee, in the author’s possession. 43. Lisa West interview, by her mother, 2005, in the possession of the author. 44. Ibid. 45. Richard L. McConnell interview, by the author, 18 July 2006, Kingsport, Tennessee. 46. Historical Reports, 1941–1944, RG 156, Office of Chief of Ordnance, Holston Ordnance Works, Folder 2, Box 2, National Archives at Atlanta, National Archives and Records Administration, Atlanta, Georgia. 47. Swanson, The World War II Ordnance Department’s Government-Owned Contractor Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Holston Ordnance Works Historic Investigation, 85. 48. Ibid. 49. Executive Order 8802, Prohibition of Discrimination in the Defense Industry (1941), RG 11, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 50. Roosevelt Dollar to FEPC, 2 April 1943, RG 228.5.7, Region VII, National Archives at Atlanta, National Archives and Records Administration, Atlanta, Georgia. 51. Ibid. My emphasis. 52. Ibid. 53. Ibid. 54. Ibid. 55. Ibid. 56. Ibid. 57. A. Bruce Hunt, Regional Director, “Final Disposition Report,” 29 February 1944, National Archives at Atlanta, National Archives and Records Administration, Atlanta, Georgia. 58. Sam F. McKesson to Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, The White House, Washington, D.C., 5 August 1943, Committee on Fair Employ-

178 Notes to Pages 103–107 ment Practice, RG 228.5.7, National Archives at Atlanta, National Archives and Records Administration, Atlanta, Georgia. 59. Ibid. 60. Ibid. 61. Ibid. 62. Sam F. McKesson to Fair Employment Practice Committee, 3 August 1943, RG 228.5.7, National Archives at Atlanta, National Archives and Records Administration, Atlanta, Georgia. 63. Eugene Davison, Assistant Director of Field Operations, to Sam F. McKesson, 1 October 1943, Fair Employment Practice Committee, RG 228.5.7, National Archives at Atlanta, National Archives and Records Administration, Atlanta, Georgia. 64. Ibid. 65. Ibid. 66. Intelligence File, Holston Ordnance Works, RG 156, Box 104, National Archives at Atlanta, National Archives and Records Administration, Atlanta, Georgia. 67. Ibid. 68. Ibid. 69. Truman Senate Committee, RG 46, National Defense Plants, Box 576, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 70. Ibid. 71. Ibid. 72. Ibid. 73. Ibid. 74. Recognition of the opening of production line 1, was celebrated in official flag raising ceremonies held on 10 May 1943 at Holston. The flagpole is now located at the entrance to the administration building. 75. Dr. Robert O. Bengis, “History of RDX,” RG 156, Entry 793, I-158, 33, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland. 73. 76. Historical Report of Holston Ordnance Works, 13th Period, 28 November–25 December 1943, National Archives at Atlanta, National Archives and Records Administration, Atlanta, Georgia. 77. Ibid. 78. Ibid. 79. Rotary Club of Kingsport, Kingsport: The Planned Industrial City (Kingsport, Tenn.: Kingsport Press, 1951), 309. 80. Kingsport Times, 1 December 1943, 4. 81. Knoxville News-Sentinel, 8 December 1943.

Notes to Pages 108–115  179 82. “B-29 Superforts Bomb Japanese Mainland,” Life (10 July 1944), 79–80. 83. Ibid. 84. Newspaper clipping in the possession of the author. 85. Burton, “The Origin of Holston Army Ammunition Plant,” 8. 86. Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War, vol. 5, Closing the Ring (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1951), 6.

10. Torpex and the Battle of the Atlantic 1. Jonathan Rose, Literary Churchill (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2014), 343. 2. The Admiralty’s overconfidence in ASDIC was similarly felt by Winston Churchill, who assured his readers in 1938 of the “undoubted obsolescence of the submarine as a decisive war weapon.” Rose, Literary Churchill, 94. 3. Marc Milner, North Atlantic Run: The Royal Canadian Navy and the Battle for the Convoys (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1985), 9. 4. John Campbell, Naval Weapons of World War Two (New York: Naval Institute Press, 1985), 35. 5. Eric J. Grove, The Defeat of the Enemy Attack on Shipping, 1939– 1945 (Brookfield, Vt.: Navy Records Society, 1997), 65. Filled with 290 pounds of Amatol (60 percent ammonium nitrate and 40 percent TNT), the naval depth charge was essentially unchanged since World War I. 6. Ibid., 63. 7. Alfred Price, Aircraft versus Submarine in Two World Wars (London: William Kimber, 1973), 86. 8. Correlli Barnett, Engage the Enemy More Closely: The Royal Navy in the Second World War (New York: Norton, 1991), 201. 9. Chaz Bowyer, Men of Coastal Command 1939–1945 (London: William Kimber, 1985), 19. 10. Winston Churchill to Admiral Bruce Fraser, Controller of the Navy, 28 September 1939, in The Churchill War Papers, vol. 1, At the Admiralty September 1939–May 1940, ed. Martin Gilbert (New York: Norton, 1993), 166. 11. W.A.B. Douglas, The Official History of the Royal Canadian Air Force, vol. 2, The Creation of a National Air Force (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1986), 473. 12. Ibid. 13. Ian Carter, Coastal Command 1939–1945: Photographs from the Imperial War Museum (London: Ian Allan, 2004), 75.

180 Notes to Pages 115–117 14. Ibid, 474; AIR 41/46, Air Ministry, The Royal Air Force in Maritime War, vol. 2, 40, 380–81, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 15. Price, Aircraft versus Submarine, 68. 16. Christina J. M. Goulter, “Joubert de la Ferté, Sir Philip Bennett (1887–1965),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, UK: Oxford Univ. Press, 2004), 1–7. This was the second time that Joubert had served as chief of Coastal Command. 17. Brereton Greenhous et al., The Crucible of War, 1939–1945: The Official History of the Royal Canadian Air Force, vol. 3 (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1994), 392. 18. Stephen Budiansky, Blackett’s War: The Men Who Defeated the Nazi U-Boats and Brought Science to the Art of Warfare (New York: Knopf, 2013), 141; Blackett, “Memorandum on Anti-Submarine Measures,” September 1941, Blackett Papers, 4/7/1/6, Royal Society Archives, London, United Kingdom. Blackett was instrumental having the underside of Coastal Command aircraft painted white, which made it more difficult for U-boat lookouts to see an approaching aircraft. 19. C. H. Waddington, O.R. in World War 2: Operational Research against the U-Boat (1946; reprint, London: Elek Science, 1973), 174. Waddington joined ORS in 1942 and became its director in 1944. His account of ORS activities was written immediately after the war. Professor Evan James Williams (1903–1945) died at the early age of forty-two. 20. Waddington, O.R. in World War 2, 172. 21. Ibid., 143. 22. Budiansky, Blackett’s War, 146; “Memorandum on Anti-Submarine Measures,” September 1941, Blackett Papers, 4/7/1/5, Royal Society Archives, London, United Kingdom. 23. P.M.S. Blackett, Studies of War: Nuclear and Conventional (London: Oliver and Boyd, 1962), 215. For his work in the early 1920s, Blackett received the Nobel Prize for physics in 1948. 24. Budiansky, Blackett’s War, 141. 25. C. H. Waddington, “Memorial Meeting for Lord Blackett at the Royal Society, 31 October 1974,” in Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 29, no. 2 (March 1975), 151. 26. James Phinney Baxter III, Scientists against Time (1946; reprint, Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1952), 42. 27. AIR 15/551/37A, Joubert to Air Commodore J. D. Breakey, Air Ministry, 23 December 1941, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 28. AIR 15/551/39A, Breakey to Joubert, 31 December 1941, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 29. Ibid.

Notes to Pages 117–120  181 30. Ibid. 31. Ibid. 32. Ibid. 33. Patrick “Husky” Huskinson had been vice president of the Ordnance Board at Woolwich Arsenal, 1939–1940, and then director of armament development for the Ministry of Aircraft Production. He returned to work soon after being blinded by a bomb burst during the Blitz of 1940–1941. 34. AIR 15/551/41A, Huskinson to Joubert, 30 December 1941, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 35. Ibid. Professor Blackett had moved to the Admiralty in December 1941, where he became its chief adviser on operational research. 36. AIR 15/551/42A, Blackett to Joubert, 3 January 1942, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 37. Ibid. 38. Ibid. Blackett would remain at the Admiralty, but he was now a “marked man,” seen as someone opposed to strategic bombing, a view that incensed some members of the government and the Air Ministry. Blackett called Cherwell’s belief in strategic bombing “fanatical.” See Bernard Lovell, “Patrick Maynard Stuart Blackett,” Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 21 (November 1975), 65. 39. AIR 15/551/43A, Joubert to Huskinson, 6 January 1942, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 40. Ibid. 41. Air 15/551/47A, Air Vice Marshal G.B.A. Baker, Coastal Command, to Air Commodore G.A.H. Pidcock, 27 January 1942, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. Pidcock had replaced Huskinson. 42. Ibid. 43. Ibid. 44. Ibid. 45. Ibid. Captain (later Admiral of the Fleet) Sir George E. Creasy would be responsible for planning naval operations for the 6 June 1944 Normandy Invasion. 46. AIR 15/551/47A, Baker to Air Commodore G.A.H. Pidcock, 27 January 1942, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 47. AIR 15/551/53A, Huskinson to Baker, 16 February 1942, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 48. Ibid. The new “Hedgehog” antisubmarine weapon was attached to a warship’s deck and fired twenty-four projectiles, each with a thirty-five-pound Torpex warhead. The Hedgehog was the first forwardthrowing antisubmarine weapon, firing over the ship’s bow instead of

182 Notes to Pages 120–124 the stern. The “Hedgehog” did not reach its expected level of success until late 1944. Willem Hackmann, Seek and Strike: Sonar, Anti-Submarine Warfare and the Royal Navy, 1914–54 (London: HMSO, 1984). 49. Ibid. 50. AIR 15/551, 63A, Air Vice Marshal G.B.A. Baker for Air Chief Marshal Sir Philip Joubert, Air Officer C.-in-C., Coastal Command, to the Under-Secretary of State, Air Ministry, 31 March 1942, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 51. Waddington, O.R. in World War 2, 14. Waddington’s manuscript was written in 1946 but remained unpublished until 1973. 52. AIR 15/551, 74A, Wing Commander Andrew Combe, Plans Tech., to Professor Blackett, Chief Adviser on Operational Research to the Admiralty, 19 May 1942, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 53. Ibid. 54. Waddington, O.R. in World War 2, 14. Blackett praised Williams’s research accomplishments at ORS while noting that Williams possessed “a very argumentative manner on scientific matters.” 55. AIR 41/47, The Royal Air Force in Maritime War, 3:80, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 56. Norman Franks, Dark Sky, Deep Water (London: Grub Street Press, 1997), 12. 57. Ibid. 58. Ibid., 7. 59. AIR 15/551/81A, Baker to Creasy, Director, Anti-Submarine Warfare Division, Naval Staff, 24 June 1942, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 60. Ibid. 61. AIR 15/551/85A, Creasy to Baker, Coastal Command, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 62. Ibid. 63. AIR 15/551/85A, Creasy to Baker, Coastal Command, 27 June 1942, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 64. Ibid. 65. Joubert, Birds and Fishes, 209. 66. AIR 15/551/92A, Joubert to Captain C. F. Clarke, Anti-Submarine Warfare Division, Naval Staff, 15 August 1942, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 67. AIR 15/551/94A, Clarke to Joubert, 22 August 1942, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 68. Ibid. 69. Ibid.

Notes to Pages 124–128  183 70. Ibid. 71. Ibid. 72. Ibid. 73. Waddington, O.R. in World War 2, 205. 74. ADM 205/24, Joubert to Pound, 21 September 1942, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 75. AIR 41/47, The Royal Air Force in Maritime War, vol. 3, 527, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. The narrative was written by Captain D. V. Peyton-Ward, who had served as Joubert’s naval liaison officer at Coastal Command. 76. John Terraine, The Right of the Line: The Royal Air Force in the European War 1939–1945 (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1985), 428. 77. Coastal Command Review, Headquarters Coastal Command, RAF Museum, Hendon, United Kingdom. Issues for the months of July, August, September, and December are deposited in the RAF Museum, Hendon. 78. Waddington, O.R. in World War 2, 179–80. 79. Air 41/47, The Royal Air Force in Maritime War, vol. 3, 527, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom. 80. Ibid. 81. Waddington, O.R. in World War 2, 187. 82. Paul M. Sutcliffe (formerly of the British Ministry of Defense) was kind to suggest the possible explanation for Air Chief Marshal Joubert’s position on the question of bomb aiming accuracy. 83. David Owen, Anti-Submarine Warfare: An Illustrated History (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2007), 91. 84. Waddington, O.R. in World War 2, 197. 85. Coastal Command Review 5 (September 1942), 14. 86. Terraine, The Right of the Line, 429. 87. Norman Franks, Search, Find, and Kill (London: Grub Street, 1995), x. 88. Sir John Slessor, The Central Blue: Recollections and Reflections (London: Cassell, 1956), 528. 89. Henry Probert, “Allied Land-Based Anti-Submarine Warfare,” in The Battle of the Atlantic 1939–1945: The 50th Anniversary International Naval Conference, ed. Stephen Howarth and Derek Law (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1994), 379. 90. Greeneville (Tenn.) Sun, May 3, 2016. Colonel Zoerb died in 2003. 91. Jourbert’s relations with Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal had soured when Joubert attempted to bypass him by advocating a sep-

184 Notes to Pages 129–132 arate antisubmarine command. Portal sent Joubert a letter of reproof, and a week later Joubert was replaced by Slessor. Air Marshal “Bomber” Harris considered Coastal Command “merely an obstacle to victory.” See Greenhous, The Crucible of War, 3:392; John Keegan, ed., Who Was Who in World War II (New York: Crowell, 1978), 392. 92. Christina J. M. Goulter, A Forgotten Offensive: Royal Air Force Coastal Command’s Anti-Shipping Campaign, 1940–1945 (London: Frank Cass, 1995), 212. 93. Patrick Beesly, Very Special Intelligence: The Story of the Admiralty’s Operational Intelligence Centre 1939–1945 (New York: Doubleday, 1978), 185. 94. Ibid. 95. Horst Boog et al., Germany and the Second World War, vol. 4, The Global War: Widening of the Conflict into a World War and the Shift of the Initiative 1941–1943 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2001), 396. 96. Barnett, Engage the Enemy, 602. 97. John A. MacBean and Arthur S. Hogben, Bombs Gone: The Development and Use of British Air-Dropped Weapons from 1912 to the Present Day (Wellingborough, UK: Patrick Stephens, 1990), 244. 98. F. H. Hinsley, British Intelligence in the Second World War: Its Influence on Strategy and Operations (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1981), 571. 99. Henry Probert, “Allied Land-Based Anti-Submarine Warfare,” in Howarth and Law, eds., The Battle of the Atlantic, 380. 100. Hinsley, British Intelligence in the Second World War, 571. 101. Ibid., 572. 102. Beesly, Very Special Intelligence, 193. 103. Ibid., 197. 104. Ibid., 198. 105. Ibid.; Waddington, O.R. in World War 2, 197. 106. Hilary St. G. Saunders, Royal Air Force, 1939–1945, vol. 3, The Fight Is Won (London: HMSO, 1954), 48. 107. Ibid., 203. 108. Greenhous, Crucible of War, 3:397. 109. Waddington, O.R. in World War 2, 197. 110. Ibid. 111. Slessor, The Central Blue, 466. 112. Waddington, O.R. in World War 2, 151. 113. MacBean and Hogben, Bombs Gone, 234. 114. Waddington, O.R. in World War 2, 197. 115. Gerald Pawle, The Secret War, 1939–45 (New York: William Sloane, 1957), 139; Howarth and Law, eds., Battle of the Atlantic, 307.

Notes to Pages 132–137  185 116. Richard Overy, Why the Allies Won (New York: Norton, 1995), 52. 117. Howarth and Law, eds., Battle of the Atlantic, 307. 118. Mark Sufrin, “Saga of the USS England,” American History Illustrated 5, no. 10 (June 1970), 14; A. P. Hilar, Sonar-Detector of Submerged Submarines (Washington, D.C.: Navy Department, 1946), 12. 119. John A. Williamson, Antisubmarine Warrior in the Pacific: Six Subs Sunk in Twelve Days (Tuscaloosa: Univ. of Alabama Press, 2005), viii. 120. Giles Milton, Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat (New York: Picador, 2016), 271. 121. Ibid. 122. Sufrin, “Saga of the USS England,” 17. 123. Ibid., 23. Ironically, there is currently no USS England in the American Navy. 124. Buford Rowland and William B. Boyd, U.S. Navy Bureau of Ordnance in World War II (Washington, D.C.: Department of the Navy, 1953), 338. 125. Overy, Why The Allies Won, 62. 126. Stephen W. Roskill, History of the Second World War: The War at Sea, 1939–1945, vol. 3 (London: HMSO, 1954), 355.

11. 1945 and the Atomic Bomb 1. Melvin Johnson interview, by Mark Swanson, 27 September 1995, in The World War II Ordnance Department’s Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Holston Ordnance Works, Transcripts of Oral Interviews (Plano, Tex.: Geo-Marine, 1996), 88. 2. Howard S. Young, “Eastman at Oak Ridge during World War II,” talk given on 11 September 2002 to the East Tennessee Section of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, 8, Tennessee Eastman Company Library and Archive, Kingsport, Tennessee. 3. Ibid. 4. Ibid. 5. Ibid. 6. Ibid. Dr. Young states that they used the British code name “tubealloy.” 7. Julia M. Loyd interview, 10 October 2007. Loyd worked at Oak Ridge. 8. John Coster-Mullen, Atom Bombs: The Top Secret Inside Story of Little Boy and Fat Man (N.p.: self-published, 2009), 41. 9. Richard G. Hewlett and Oscar E. Anderson Jr., The New World, 1939–1946, vol. 1, A History of the United States Atomic Energy Commission (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, 1972), 247.

186 Notes to Pages 137–144 10. Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986), 577. 11. Young, “Eastman at Oak Ridge,” 8. 12. William A. Noyes Jr., ed., Chemistry: A History of the Chemistry Components of the National Defense Research Committee, 1940–1946 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1948), 87. 13. Ibid. 14. Ibid. 15. Ibid. 16. Ibid.

12. The Aftermath 1. Federal Bureau of Investigation file on Alfred Dean Slack, AL651647, 1–22, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Washington, D.C. 2. Patricia E. Brake, Justice in the Valley: A Bicentennial Perspective of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee (Franklin, Tenn.: Hillsboro Press, 2003), 96. 3. United States v Alfred Dean Slack, Transcript of Proceedings, RG 21-45, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, National Archives at Atlanta, National Archives and Records Administration, Atlanta, Georgia. 4. Ibid. 5. Ibid. 6. Ibid., 26. 7. “Well Done, Judge Taylor,” Nashville Banner, 23 September 1950, 4, col. 1. These materials are deposited in the Judge Robert L. Taylor Collection, Box 61, Folder 15, University Libraries, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee. 8. Ibid. 9. C. R. Fields interview, by C. C. Hood, Kingsport, Tennessee, June 1984, in the possession of the author. 10. Raymond B. Herring interview, by Mark Swanson, 27 September 1995, U.S. Army Materiel Command Historic Context Series, Report of Investigations Number 9C: Transcripts of Oral History Interviews (Plano, Tex.: Geo-Marine, 1996).

Epilogue 1. Constance M. Green, Harry C. Thompson, and Peter C. Roots, The Ordnance Department: Planning Munitions for War (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1955), 463.

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Index Page numbers in italics refer to photographs.

Aberdeen Proving Ground, 44– 45, 47–48, 59–60 African Americans: Interplant Railroad construction, 90, 100. See also Fair Employment Practice Committee Amatol explosive, 5–6, 9, 20–23, 25, 44, 46–48, 50–51 American-Canadian RDX Committee, 4, 69–70 antisubmarine aerial depth charge, 43, 71, 82, 84, 86, 110. See also RAF Coastal Command; Joubert, Philip Armit, J. W., 11–12, 25, 68, 70–71, 154, 158 Army-Navy Munitions Board, 54, 166 Arnold, Bert A., 49 Arnold, Henry H. “Hap,” 13, 15, 19–20, 43 Aurand, Henry S., 16 Avery, Donald, 68 Avigliana, Italy, 6 B-24 Liberator, 128–29 Bachmann, Werner E., 4, 7, 36– 37, 53, 75–79, 81, 144 BAE (British Aerospace) Systems, 145 Baillieu, Clive, 19 Baker, G. B. A., 119–20, 122

Barnes, Gladeon M., 15–16, 18, 39, 41–42 Barnett, Correlli, 114 Battle of Britain, 9, 35 Battle of France, 9 Battle of the Atlantic, 5, 27, 43, 82, 85, 111, 113–34. See also Torpex aerial depth charge Bay of Biscay, 110, 122, 127, 130–31 Bearden, John T., 83 Beaverbrook, Lord (William Maxwell Aitken), 9–13, 15, 21 Bengis, Robert O., 16, 25, 38–39, 54–55, 57, 59–61, 69–70, 75– 80, 105, 143 Bethlehem Steel Company, 91 Bilney, Christopher, 28 Bismarck (battleship), 29 Blackett, Patrick Maynard Stuart, 115–19, 121, 126 Blandy, W. H. P. “Spike”: correspondence with Charles A. Lockwood, 84–86, 143; determination to obtain RDX/Torpex for torpedo warheads, 38–39; presides at Washington conference to speed up completion of Holston Ordnance Works, 53; requests appropriation of $70 million, 17–18 197

198 Index bombs: aluminized explosives, 26– 28; amatol bombs, 9; Comp B2 bomb, 44, 46–51; 4,000-pound “Blockbuster” or “cookie” bomb (Composition B), 43–44, 108; 100-pound antisubmarine bomb, 114; 600-pound antisubmarine depth bomb, 121, 131; Torpex aerial depth charge, 121–25, 129, 131, 133– 34; 12,000-pound Torpexfilled “Tallboy” bomb, 28–29; 22,000-pound “Grand Slam” or “earthquake” bomb, 30 Borden, William A., 43 Boyer, Raymond, 63, 73–74 Breakey, J. D., 117 Brett, George M., 157n66 Brickhill, Paul, 29 Bridgewater, England: RDX plant at, 7–8, 10–12, 20, 22, 37, 71 British Purchasing Commission (BPC), 11, 54, 64 Brown, Carey H., 107 Budiansky, Stephen, 116 Bulloch, Terrence “Bull,” 128 Bunting, Frederick, 64 Burleson, Ernest Harold, 90–91 Burton, R. C., 7, 111 Bush, Vannevar, 4, 34–35, 40–41 Campbell, Levin H., Jr., 39–40, 59 Canada, 63–74; Molson’s advertisement highlighting RDX, 66, 67; Ross-Schiessler process, 65–66, 68–69; Ross and Sutherland flight to the United Kingdom, 65–66. See also Department of Munitions and Supply; Donald, J. R.; Howe, Clarence Decatur

Carswell, J. R., 64 Casablanca Conference, 43 Charles T. Main Company, 87 Cherwell, Lord: on bombs, 25–26, 28, 116, 125 Childs, Marquis, 97–98 Churchill, Winston, 8–9, 25–26, 34, 37, 111, 114, 125 Clarke, C. F., 123–24 Clay, Lucius D., 57, 60 Clinchfield Railroad, 88 Clinton Engineering Works (Oak Ridge), 136 Combined Production and Resources Board (CPRB), 55 Composition B, 1, 3, 5–7, 16; Holston Ordnance Works, 87– 112. See also RDX Composition C-4, 5, 43, 71–72, 108–9 Conant, James B., 12, 34–38, 64, 75, 105, 137, 143. See also RDX Conklin, Frederick R., 77 Connor, Ralph A., 38, 69–70, 77, 79, 81, 105 Cooper, Prentice, 106 Counterintelligence Corps (CIC, Holston Ordnance Works), 97 Courtney, Christopher, 23 Creasy, George E., 119–20, 122–23 Currie, Lauchlin, 57–58, 60 Cyclonite explosive, 5–7, 16, 18, 36 Dahlgren Navy Proving Ground (VA), 17, 86 dam-buster raid, 7, 29 Davy, Joseph, 78 Davy, Lee G., 77–78, 97–98 Defense Aid Ordnance Requirements Committee, 16

Index 199 Dennis, John B., 88 Department of Munitions and Supply (DM&S), Canada, 19, 63, 143 Dollar, Roosevelt, 102 Donald, D. G., 21–22 Donald, James Richardson “Ritchie,” 19; on the superiority of RDX, 23–24, 55, 57, 63–65, 68–72, 143 Dönitz, Karl, 114, 128–31. See also Battle of the Atlantic Doolittle, James H. “Jimmy,” 46, 48–50, 145 Dortmund-Ems Canal, 29, 111 DuPont Company, 3, 17, 38, 65, 75. See also Wabash River Ordnance Works Eaker, Ira C., 43–46, 49 Eastman Kodak Company, 4, 75, 77, 106 Eisenhower, Dwight: seriousness of bomb shortage, 1, 34 Elderfield, R. C., 37, 81 Emden, Germany: first operational use of 4,000-pound “Blockbuster” bombs, 14 England, USS, 133. See also Hedgehog antisubmarine weapon Englander, Harry, 94, 102 Evill, Douglas, 27–28 Explosives Research Laboratory (ERL), Bruceton, PA, 6 Fair Employment Practice Committee (FEPC), 100, 102–4 “Fat Man” plutonium bomb, 137

491st Bombardment Group, 47 Frankland, Noble, 154n7 Fraser-Brace Company, 87–102 Freeman, Wilfred, 13–14, 19–20 Fuchs, Klaus, 140 Gibson, Guy, 29 Gold, Harry, 139–40 Goulter, Christina, 129 Gouzenko, Igor, 74 Greenhous, Brereton, 115, 180, 184 Gretton, Peter, 129 Groves, Leslie R., 2–3, 87, 135–36. See also Manhattan Project Guenther, E. G. “Ed,” 82 Hale, George C., 44, 60 Hardy, Roswell E., 53, 56–57, 60, 167–68 Harris, Arthur T., 13, 18–20, 27–28 Harris, Charles T., Jr., 18, 24, 40, 56, 106 Harris, John P., 23–24, 37–38, 68– 70, 76–77, 105, 143 Hasting, Max, 2 Hedgehog antisubmarine weapon, 5, 71, 120, 122, 131–33 Heine, H. H., 106 Henning, G. F.: as discoverer of hexogen, 5. See also RDX Henry, Lois, 96, 147 Herring, Raymond: interview, 79, 173–74, 176, 186 Hill, A. V., 161n16 HMX (High Melting Explosive), 148 Hofstetter, C. F., 59 Holston Army Ammunition Plant (HAAP), 109, 145, 147–48

200 Index Holston Ordnance Works (HOW), 1–3, 7, 44, 53–54, 56–57, 61, 70, 74, 78, 84, 86; awarded the Army-Navy “E” for excellence in production, 106; employee health, 90–91; “The Great Holston Ordnance Works,” 87–111; safety precautions, 75–76; security precautions, 94–95, 98; women employees, 98–100; African Americans and, 100–104 Homes, Jesse: claim of racial discrimination, 102. See also Dollar, Roosevelt Hopkins, Harry, 19–20, 34, 58 Horse Creek Pilot Plant, 82–83, 147 Howe, Clarence Decatur “C. D.,” 63–65, 68, 71–72, 169, 170–71 Hull, Dave C., 77–78. See also “jeep” reactor Huskinson, Patrick “Husky,” 10, 15, 27–28, 118–20, 154–55, 159, 181, 193 I-16 (Japanese submarine), 133 Industrial Services Division, Ordnance Department, 53. See also Harris, Charles T., Jr. Interplant Railroad, 90–91 “jeep” reactor, 78, 105 Jenkins, Ray H., 139–41. See also Slack, Alfred Dean Johnson, George M., 102 Johnson, J. Fred, 104 Joubert, Philip, 115, 117–21, 123– 26, 128–29 Kanka Maru (Japanese freighter), 85

Kelcher, T. J., 54 Kennedy, Paul, 2 Kenner, Mary C., 88 King, Ernest J., 85–86, 133 King, Mackenzie, 35, 64 Kingsport, TN: population, 91–93 Kingsport Improvement Corporation, 104. See also Johnson, J. Fred Kistiakowsky, George B., 33, 37– 38, 105; implosion program, 137–38, 162 Korean War, 139 Kyushu, Japan, 108 Leigh Light, 122 Lend-Lease Act, 16 Lindemann, Frederick. See Cherwell, Lord Linstead, R. P., 171 Livermore, R. C., 94, 147 Lockwood, Charles A.: Torpexloaded warheads were “swell,” 84–86 Logan, H. C., 46 Lothian, Lord, 161n16 Lovejoy, F. W., 106 Lovett, Robert A., 15 Loyd, Julia M., 185 Luigi Torelli (Italian submarine), 122 Maass, Otto, 63–64, 169n7 MacDougall, D. P., 170n42 Mackenzie, C. J., 4, 63–64 Manhattan Project, 33, 77, 87, 135, 137, 148, 175, 194 Marshall, George C., 31, 36, 58, 151, 193 McConnell, Richard L., 147

Index 201 McCrone, Walter C., 73 McGill University, 65 McKellar, Kenneth D., 104 McKesson, Sam F.: letter to Eleanor Roosevelt accuses HOW of racial bias, 102–3. See also FEPC Melville, Ronald, 22–23, 25 Metfield, England: accidental detonation of bombs in, 47–50 Mitchell, Stuart, 17. See also Blandy, W. H. P. Monckton, Walter, 26, 158 Munitions Assignment Board (MAB), 43, 54 National Defense Research Committee (NDRC), 4, 16, 34, 36–41, 64, 69, 75, 77, 79, 82, 86, 105, 143 Nicholls, R. V. V., 73, 166, 171 Nobel Dynamite Company, 6 Noyes, William A., Jr., 40–41, 161–63, 171, 186 Oerlikon antiaircraft gun, 17 Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD), 34, 137 Office of Strategic Services (OSS), 5, 43 Ohl, John, 56 120 Squadron (UK), 128 Operational Research Section (ORS), 115–16, 121–22, 125– 26, 182. See also Blackett, Stuart; Maynard, Patrick Overy, Richard, 132 Patterson, Robert P., 33, 59 Peirse, Richard, 9–10, 14 Pentolite explosive, 11, 38

Peyton-Ward, D. V., 183 Picatinny Arsenal, NJ, 6, 36, 44 plutonium bomb, 137, 145, 148. See also “Fat Man” plutonium bomb Portal, Charles, 12–13, 18–19 Pound, Dudley, 125 Powder and Explosive Section of the Ammunition Branch, 54 RAF Coastal Command, 4, 14, 114–22, 125–31, 145, 148; Torpex and the Battle of the Atlantic, 113–34, 145, 148, 179. See also Joubert, Philip; Torpex aerial depth charge Ralston, J. L., 65 RDX (Research Department Explosive) —British Research and Development: Bridgewater plant, 7–8; Royal Woolwich Arsenal, 1, 6–8, 11, 65, 69–78, 81; Waltham Abbey (1939– 1941), 37 —Canadian Research and Development: RossSchiessler process, 35, 65– 66, 68–69; Shawinigan Falls Chemical Company, 36, 64– 66, 68; George Wright and Toronto research, 65 —Politics of: Army Ordnance and RDX, 13, 15, 18, 25, 36– 42; Army Supply Forces and RDX supply crisis, 54–61; Lord Beaverbrook presses for RDX production, 10– 24; British RDX campaign in the United States, 13–24; Canadian efforts on behalf of

202 Index RDX—Politics of (cont.) RDX production, 23–24, 55– 57; U.S. Navy requests RDX, 17–18 —U.S. Research and Development: Werner Bachmann, 36–37; DuPont Company, 13, 17, 38, 65, 75; National Defense Research Committee, 36–37, 64, 105; Tennessee Eastman Company, 75–80; Wexler Bend Pilot Plant, 11, 13, 85, 87, 89–92, 94–96, 115, 144–45, 147 Reynolds, H. D., 69, 76 Robbins, Charles, 49–50 Roosevelt, Eleanor, 103. See also Dollar, Roosevelt; Fair Employment Practices Committee Roosevelt, Franklin D., 4, 12, 19, 34, 37, 57, 60, 64, 100–103, 144, 148 Rose, Fred, 73. See also Boyer, Raymond Rose, Jonathan, 113 Ross, J. H. “Jimmie,” 36–37, 65– 66, 68–69 Royal Gunpowder Factory, 7 Ryan, William E., 88, 96 saboteurs, 5, 15 Salls, C. M., 80 Schiessler, Robert W., 36–37, 65, 66, 68–69 Schweinfurt bombing raid, 30–31 Scientific Advisory Committee, 37 Shawinigan Chemicals Company: acetic acid shipped to Kingsport from, 76; Canadian RDX pilot plant, 23, 65–66,

68–69; location of, 4; production capacity, 170; production plant built, 144; Soviet wartime visitors, 73–74 Siegfried Line, 108 Sims, Richard E.: handling instructions for RDX-filled bombs, 45–46; questions operational safety of RDX bombs, 48–50 Sinclair, Archibald: reliance on TNT, 25–26; short supply of RDX, 21–23 Slack, Alfred Dean: arrested by FBI, 139, 140; tried in Greeneville, TN, as Soviet spy, 141 Slessor, John: and the U-boat war, 130–31, 183–84 Smith, Walter Bedell, 34 Snapper, H.M.S. (submarine), 114 Somers, Richard H.: doubts about the 4,000-pound bomb, 15, 18 Somervell, Brehon B., 41; management of RDX supply crisis, 54, 56–60, 73, 167–68 Sorley, Ralph, 120 Southern Railroad, 88 Spaatz, Carl “Tooey,” 43–44, 46, 48–50 Special Operations Executive (SOE), 5 Stimson, Henry L., 20, 33, 36, 41–42 Stone, H. G. “Herb”: and the Wexler Bend project, 76–77, 80–81, 91, 94, 106–7 Sutcliffe, Paul M., 148, 196 Sutherland, H. S., 65–66, 68 Talisman, H.M.S. (submarine), 123–24

Index 203 Taylor, Robert L., 139, 141 Tennessee Eastman Company (TEC), xi, xiii, xiv, 1, 3–4, 37, 75, 139. See also Wexler Bend Pilot Plant; Holston Ordnance Works Terraine, John, 125 Thirteenth Air Force (U.S.), 138. See also Kistiakowsky, George B. Tibbitts, G. C., 16, 43, 75–76 Tirpitz (German superbattleship), 29, 30, 111 Tizard, Henry: leads the Tizard mission, 10–11, 35, 63–64 Torpex: and the air war, 25–32; “Blockbuster” bombs, 5, 14– 15, 30–31, 145; dam-busting bombs, 5, 29, 145; “Tallboys,” 28–29; “Grand Slams,” 5, 30. See also Wallis, Barnes Torpex aerial depth charge, 15, 43, 71, 82, 84, 86, 110, 114, 116, 118–25, 127, 129–31, 133; Joubert presses for, 115, 117– 20; Joubert wishes to adopt 600-pound depth bomb, 120–22 Torpex torpedo warheads, 29, 82, 84–85 Truman, Harry S.: and the Truman Committee, 104 Twelfth Air Force (U.S.), 128. See also Zoerb, Daniel J. U-597 (German submarine): sunk with Torpex, 128 University of Toronto, 4, 65–66, 68 U.S. Army Air Forces, 13, 43, 164 U.S. Army Eighth Air Force: requests Composition B

bombs, 43–44; handling of bombs, 44–45, 48, 68; jettisoning of RDX bombs, 46 U.S. Army Ordnance Department: considers RDX a “luxury explosive,” 38–42; Picatinny Arsenal, xvi; RDX supply crisis, 54–61; view of RDX, 13, 15, 18, 25; view of civilian scientists, 36–38 U.S. Army Service Forces, 41, 56, 58–59, 61, 73, 105, 163 U.S. Naval Mine Depot, Yorktown, VA, 82, 84 U.S. Ninth Air Force, 49–50 U.S. Strategic Air Forces in Europe (USSTAF), 48 Wabash River Ordnance Works, 3, 18, 38, 53, 56 Waddington, C. H., 122, 125, 180, 182–84 Wahoo, USS (submarine), 85 Wallis, Barnes: “bouncing” bombs, 28–30. See also bombs Waltham Abbey, 7–8, 39, 118. See also RDX Weldon Spring Ordnance Works, MO, 87 Wesson, Charles M., 21, 42 Wexler Bend Pilot Plant, 1, 3, 75, 77, 79–82, 85–86, 94, 105, 135, 144, 147 White, George W., 19, 64, 69 White, James C., 76, 81, 106, 135 Wilcox, Perley S. “Uncle Perley,” 76–77, 81, 106, 135 Williams, Evan James, 115–16, 119, 121 Winant, John G., 15

204 Index Wood, Frederick, 22 Woods Hole Explosive Research Laboratory, MA, 17 Woolwich Arsenal, 1–10, 16–17, 36, 56–57, 143, 145 Works Progress Administration (WPA), 58

Wright, George F., 65–66, 68–69 Y-12 plant, 136 Yawata steelworks (Kyushu, Japan), 108 Zoerb, Daniel J., 128