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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Roscoe Charles Wilson

Air Force and Military Veteran, Project Officer to the MED Aeronautical EngineerWashington, DC

Dayton, OHJapanWendover, UT
Manhattan Project Veteran
Read Roscoe Wilson Manhattan Project Documents

Roscoe Charles Wilson was a United States Army Air Forces Officer. At the rank of Colonel he was the overall Project Office to the Manhattan Engineering District from June 1943 to December 1944.

 

Early Life

Wilson was born in Centralia, Pennsylvania June 11, 1905. After graduating from the U.S. Military Academy in June 1928, he was commissioned to second lieutenant in the Regular Army. In September he began flight training at Brooks Field, Texas. In November of 1929 he was awarded his wings at the Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field, Texas, and transferred to the Air Corps.

Wilson’s first tactical assignment was to the First Observation Squadron at Mitchel Field, New York.  In July of 1932 he began his service in the technical and scientific fields when he entered the Air Corps Engineering School at Wright-Patterson Field, in Ohio. Graduating a year later, he was assigned to the Aircraft Branch as the project officer on the B-15 (forerunner of the B-17) and the B-19.

He returned to the U.S. Military Academy to serve as an instructor in the Department of Natural and Experimental Philosophy. He then became an assistant professor there. Here, he assembled a wind tunnel, authored a book, Preliminary Airplane Design, and attended the Air Corps Tactical School.

In June of 1940, Wilson was posted back to Wright Field as the Assistant Chief of the Air Laboratory of the Air Materiel Command. In 1942, he became the Assistant Chief of Development Engineering at the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) Headquarters in Washington, D.C. In 1943, he became the Chief, reporting to Major General Oliver P. Echols, the head of the Air Material Command.

 

Manhattan Project

In June of 1943 Henry H. Arnold, designated General Echols as the USAAF liaison with the Manhattan Project. Echols then designated Wilson as his alternative. It was Wilson who became Manhattan Project’s main USAAF contact. Wilson excelled in this liaison position, working closely with Los Alamos personnel on projects related to weapons size and required modifications of the B-29 prototype (serial number 42-6259).

In August of 1944, Wilson aided in the selection of the 393rd Squadron, of the 504th Bomb Group, which became the 509th Composite Group. He also selected Wendover Field in Utah to be their training base. Wilson also requested the procurement of 300 “blockbuster” Pumpkin Bombs for 393rd Squadron training.

In December of 1944 Wilson was named the Chief of Staff of the 316th Bomb Wing at Colorado Springs, which began deployment to Okinawa. The first bomb group element arrived on July 31, 1945. The war ended before this wing was fully deployed to Okinawa and thus did not participate in the bombing of Japan.

General Leslie Groves stated the following, about Wilson:

“Wilson was a most fortunate choice, for his personality and professional competence ensured the smooth co-operation essential to our success. Through his efforts, the necessary air support was always provided by the subordinate Air Force commands, if not willingly, at least without delay. While I can say the same of every other Air Force officer with whom I had any dealings in the project, I have always felt particularly grateful to Wilson, for he had to bear the brunt of all our many minor problems with the Air Force as well as a major responsibility for a number of our principal activities. I am sure that he must have had many difficult moments with his Air Force colleagues, as he denied them, for security reasons, information they considered essential to understand the reasons for his requests.”

 

Life After the Manhattan Project

In August of 1945, Wilson returned to Air Force headquarters where he served in a succession of staff assignments: Office of the Assistant Chief of Air Staff for Materiel and Supply, the Office of the Deputy Commander of the Air Force, and Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Research and Development. He was assigned Temporary Duty (TDY), to participate in the Survey of Atomic Bomb Damage of Japan, from August 26, 1945 to October 12, 1945.

In July of 1947, Wilson became the Deputy Chief of the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project. This military agency was responsible for atomic weapons. In this post he had the additional duties of Air Force Representative to the Military Liaison Committee, between the Defense Department, and the Atomic Energy Commission. In 1950, he was transferred to Headquarters for the U.S. Air Force and continued to serve as Air Force member of the Military Liaison Committee, and the Research and Development Board.

Wilson continued to work with the Air Force throughout the 1950s. In 1951, he became the commandant of the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. He served in the United Kingdom from 1954 to 1957, commanding the Third Air Force, and working as the Chief of Military Assistance Advisory Group.

On August 1, 1957 he took up duties in the scientific and technical field when he was assigned as an Air Force member in the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group. In 1958 he was assigned as the Deputy Chief of Staff, and promoted to temporary lieutenant general. He was responsible for the research and technology program of the Air Force.

In 1961, Wilson retired. After his military retirement, he became the President and Chairman of Allied Research in Concord, Massachusetts, and a defense contractor. In 1963, he retired from these positions and moved to Louisville, Kentucky. He passed away on August 21, 1986 at the age of 81, and is interred at the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery.

Wilson is rated Command Pilot and Senior Aircraft Observer. He has been awarded an American Defense Service Medal, an American Theater Medal, a WWII Victory Medal, an Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and two bronze campaign stars (New Guinea Ryukyu-Okinawa).

Roscoe Charles Wilson's Timeline
1905 Jun 11th Born.
1928 Jun Graduated from the Military Academy.
1929 Nov Graduated from the Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field, Texas, and joined the Air Corps.
1934 Feb 1st Promoted to First Lieutenant.
1937 Jun1938 Jun Worked as an instructor at the U.S. Military Academy.
1938 Jul 9th Promoted to Major.
19381940 Worked as an Assistant Professor at the U.S. Military Academy.
1940 May Graduated from the Air Corps Tactical School, and was posted back to the Wright Field.
1941 Jan 31st Promoted to Major.
1941 Feb 1st Promoted to Lieutenant (temporary).
1942 Jan 5th Promoted to Lieutenant Colonel (temporary).
1942 Feb 1st Promoted to Lieutenant Colonel (now permanent).
1942 Mar 1st Promoted to Colonel.
1942 May Became the Assistant Chief of Development Engineering at the USAAF.
1943 Jun 2nd Promoted to Chief at the USAAF.
1943 Jun Began working on the Manhattan Project.
1944 Dec 8th Awarded a Legion of Merit.
1944 Dec 8th Awarded the Legion of Meir Oak-Leaf Cluster.
1945 Dec Returned to the Air Force Headquarters and began to work on various assignments.
1947 Worked with the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project.
1950 Jan 27th Promoted to Brigadier General (he previously, temporarily, held this rank in 1948).
1950 Feb Transferred to Headquarters for the U.S. Armed Forces. Named Deputy Chief of Staff for the AEC.
1951 Oct Designated Commandant of the Air War College.
1954 Apr Assumed command of the Third Air Force in the United Kingdom.
1954 Apr 7th Promoted to Major General.
1956 Nov 1st Became Chief of the Military Assistance Advisory Group for the United Kingdom.
1957 Aug Assigned as an Air Force member, to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense.
1958 Jul 1st Assigned as Deputy Chief of Staff for the U.S. Air Force, and promoted to temporary Lieutenant General.
1961 Nov 30th Retired from active duty.
1986 Aug 21st Passed away at the age of 81.

Military Service.

Silverplate B-29 Crew, Photo Courtesy of Keith Shields, 2/1944.

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