Meet General Groves
Historian Robert S. Norris explains why General Leslie R. Groves was absolutely essential to the Manhattan Project’s success.
Narrator: In his biography of General Leslie R. Groves titled Racing for the Bomb, Robert S. Norris argues that Groves was the Manhattan Project’s “indispensable man.” Without him, the atomic bomb might not have been produced before the end of World War II.
Robert S. Norris: Without Groves’ vision, drive, and administrative ability, it is highly unlikely that the atomic bomb would have been completed when it was. The Manhattan Project did not just happen. It was put together and run in a certain way—Groves’ way. He is a classic case of an individual making a difference.
He had the unqualified support of the President, the Secretary of War, the Army Chief of Staff, and the President’s Science Advisor, among many others. He could draw upon unlimited funds from the U.S. Treasury. He was able to recruit any scientist, any engineer, or specialist that he needed. He signed up some of America’s largest corporations to build his atomic factories. He was highly skilled in knowing the ways of Washington.
He had extraordinary judgment about people, quickly able to size them up and know whether they could do the job or not. He had enormous confidence in himself, and great stamina. I got weary just reading his daily appointment book, describing the telephone calls, the visits, and the visitors to his office.
General Leslie R. Groves’ children Gwen and Richard remember when they played games with their father, the General won.
Narrator: General Leslie R. Groves pushed himself just as hard as he pushed others. While directing the Manhattan Project, he worked three years without taking a day off. He did however, take time to play games with his children, as his daughter Gwen and son Richard recall.
Gwen Groves Robinson: On Sundays, when he was around, we would always be out at the country club playing tennis, which he loved. His game was very canny, and whereas I was trained to have beautiful strokes and all that kind of thing, he was always chopping and slicing and winning. He always won. It was very irritating because I looked much better than he did. But he would stand fairly still and just outwit you.
Richard Groves: He was very, very competitive. He played games not to play games, but to win. He was very strongly endowed with a competitive spirit, and he followed it in everything he did. You didn’t want to play a game with him, because you were probably going to lose. If you didn’t, he’d come back until he beat you. He always spoke of the Navy as being content to have moral victories. He said, “There is no such thing as a moral victory. There is a victory, or otherwise you lose.”
General Leslie R. Groves kept the atomic bomb a secret even from his family. His daughter Gwen recalls learning of Hiroshima on the radio.
Narrator: As the war progressed, it became clear that whoever managed to build the first atomic bomb stood the best chance to win the war. And to General Leslie R. Groves, nothing was more important to the success of the Manhattan Project than secrecy. If enemies were to learn of U.S. advances, the race could be lost. As difficult as it is to believe, Groves kept the project a complete secret, even from his own family. It wasn’t until August 6, 1945, when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, that Groves’ wife and family learned what the General had been up to. As his daughter Gwen remembers:
Gwen Groves Robinson: The night before the Hiroshima bomb, we went to the Army Navy Club to have dinner, and we were with somebody named Mr. Thompson. And then he and my father, peeled off and said they were going to go back to the office to sleep. But he said to my mother, “I may not be home tonight.” And that was it.
The next day it was on the radio, I think that was sort of where we heard about it. It was a big bomb, and there was my father who had done all this work, you know. And that is how we found out. You do not believe that, but that is the truth. And my mother was truly astonished.