[We would like to thank Robert S. Norris, author of the definitive biography of General Leslie R. Groves, Racing for the Bomb: General Leslie R. Groves, the Manhattan Project’s Indispensable Man, for taking the time to read over these transcripts for misspellings and other errors.]
General Leslie R. Groves: All right now what else is there?
Stephane Groueff: So you made a decision about the Hanford.
Groves: Well I guess they were involved in going ahead with the gas diffusion process and the various decisions that came up there. The thought was advanced—and it was more or less accepted as gospel and you’ll find it in Mrs. [Margaret] Gowing’s book [Britain and Atomic Energy, 1935–1945]—that if this plant was shut down for any reason, through excessive air entrance or loss of vacuum or anything like that, it would take a long time to get it back on stream and operating. In fact our people claimed it would seventy days when I first talked to them about it.
I thought about that for a little while and then announced that I didn’t agree with it and I thought it was wrong and that it wouldn’t take any time at all. I said you could cut out a section. The individual cells would be in sections of maybe six and then again in sections of seventy-two, I think. I said all you’ve got to do is to have valves that will enable you to bypass any six or any seventy-two and you just turn the valves on then the gas just skips those and I said the degree of separation is so small that the gas will never know that you’ve cheated on them. That was it. So that took that fear out of our minds.
We had the decision in connection with the gas diffusion plant and there were so many of these decisions all the time. For example, should we depend entirely on TVA power? Well we could depend on TVA power for the electromagnetic plant but we didn’t feel, at the time, that we could depend on them for anything where a shutdown might cause a complete shutdown for many months before we could get back. Of course I recognized that when I said that this could be bypassed that maybe I would be wrong and we would have that trouble. So we designed on the base that we would have a long shutdown in case there was any interference.
For that reason we didn’t want to run the risks of sabotage of power by either human or supernatural in the way of lightning striking the line because it might take half an hour to an hour to get it back into operation. So we wanted to build our own powerhouse.
Also in the design of the plant, which was unnecessary but we didn’t know how to do it quickly any other way, there were a great many different types of power required in the plant—different frequencies and different voltages, particularly the frequencies. You could change the voltage but you couldn’t change the frequency so easily. It was much more convenient to have that generated in that frequency. There was no reason for it, I think as it turned out I don’t believe we needed those frequencies but you can design that way a lot faster than you could eliminating it and getting away from it.
So we had generators of these various frequencies right in our big power plant. But the main reason was to get security of power. We took the power from there in an underground passage so that we wouldn’t have any interruption. Actually we had a piece of sabotage in there, somebody drove a nail into one of those cables.
Groueff: On purpose?
Groves: Yeah. It’s always on purpose. Nobody drives a nail in a cable otherwise.
Groves: We never could find out what was the reason for it. Whether it was an attempt at sabotage; whether it was a disgruntled workmen; whether he was mad at the government; mad at his foreman or mad at the local company or electrical installers or who he was mad at; or if he was a little off in his head. It might have been somebody who said this is a terrible thing to assist in something that obviously for war purposes, I believe in peace so I’m going to hurt them.
Groueff: It stopped the work?
Groves: No it didn’t bother us at all because it was discovered in the testing of the lines you see. Once they were tested and in place then they were all closed off so nobody could get at them anyway.
The power plant was a tremendous affair. It was the biggest that had ever been erected at one time. I’ve forgotten whether there were two or three boilers. I think there were two or three—I’ve forgotten which. Anyway we got a lot of the equipment from Chicago. All the equipment had been built and placed in storage there for a plant that had been authorized for construction. Then the government clamped down on it and said you can’t have the rest of your construction materials during the war to build it and so we got the whole business.
Well what we did we heard about it and we got the engineer who had designed it to do our design work, so that he fitted that right on in. Commonwealth Edison of Chicago, I think was the company concerned and they had no objection to all of this and we said that we wanted it. After all it was to their advantage, they got their capital investment out of it and with the improvements—while there new equipment would cost them more to replace it—there would be enough improvements so they were probably glad to have it.
I’m losing my voice a little here.
The TVA objected very strongly to this proposal. They didn’t have the power to supply us really.
You want one of these? [offers Groueff a beverage]
Groueff: No thank you.
Groves: Just to keep me fluid here.
The word got to them that we were building it because I said we couldn’t trust TVA power.
Groueff: Was [David] Lilienthal at that time— that’s how he never forgot?
Groves: He never forgot anything. He was typical of his race in that way—anything that he ever said, it always had to be praised or else he was a bitter enemy. That may be been one of the things that started his animosity towards me but I don’t think so. I think there were others.
Groueff: At that time did you have an argument with him and the TVA?
Groueff: But he didn’t like it?
Groves: Yeah, he didn’t like it. He would have loved to have built the steam plant himself.
Groueff: I see but wouldn’t that be even easier on him if you relieve him of this task?
Groves: Yeah but he didn’t want that. He wanted to be all-powerful in every direction.
Groueff: So he wanted all of this Tennessee—
Groves: Every power-bit of power in Tennessee he wanted to be his. Then he wanted to expand Tennessee so he’d have nationwide power authority all run by him and all government owned. That’s what he really wanted.
Groueff: Did he try to stop you in building this?
Groves: I don’t know if they made any—he may have very well have tried to.
Groueff: You didn’t have to tell him why you were building that?
Groves: Oh no we didn’t tell him.
Groueff: That atomic thing. No.
Groves: No. Whether he knew or not, I never knew.
Groueff: But not from you?
Groves: No and I don’t think he did know what we were doing. I think he was very curious so he might very well have found out some way. But he didn’t know I’m sure anything that he could probably put his finger on. He couldn’t admit that he knew because he’d gotten his information illegally and he knew it. So he never would say that he knew. I don’t think he would today.
In any case the plant was built.
Another thing that was important was the decision to go ahead with all of the construction of these electromagnetic plants. That is the number that we finally built. Another one was Ernest Lawrence and [Marcus] Oliphant were urging very strongly—at the time that Urey was saying that we couldn’t build the gas diffusion plant and make it work—they were urging very strongly that expand the electromagnetic plants so that we would have as many as 250 different race tracks. We locate them all over country. By that time we knew it was safe and we put them on the outskirts of a city like Detroit for example. It was just idiotic and absurd and I just had to say, “No we’re not interested. We can’t do it and we don’t want to do it.”
I’d say that we’d just about finished all that I can think of off hand. There are great many others. There was, of course, the one about determining what the size, what purity the U-235 would have, which I told you about.
There was the one of deciding that Hanford would not purify the plutonium to the final stage but that last small fraction of the process would be done at Los Alamos. There were all the relations with British, which I think you’ll find when you read Mrs. Gowing and you get a pretty good picture there.
The only thing that is wrong with that book is all the times at the start when she was blaming Bush and Conant and when she said that they were responsible for policy and I was responsible for execution. As I told you the other day that picture was like this and the policy, for example, my position was zero at the start and then it just kept on going.
Groves: Yes. Bush and Conant started like this and went and went down.
Groueff: To the advisors and that sort of committee.
Groves: I would say that was a general element in it. I don’t know if there’s anything else.
Groueff: I wanted to ask you when we talked about the gas diffusion process. I talked about that to Mr. Keith and he tells me that at the beginning he was rather reluctant to take the job because it was such an enormous job but he took it from you. You walked up and down in the street in New York one evening he remembers, and you convinced him that he should take it. He asked to be given complete free hand in all on-the-spot decisions there because he didn’t know how it would work with the Manhattan Organization. He says that you promised him that and promised complete assistance and kept that until the end. You never interfered and you backed him each time.
Groves: If you read the Smyth Report you’ll see how he was in it before but he really wasn’t in a position where he was going to do what he finally did, which was the engineering. Of course when he had complete authority—that meant if I wasn’t there.
Groueff: Yes and you were there quite often.
Groves: I was there quite often, and I interfered at times but usually there’s a case he wanted my confirmation that he’s proceeding along sound grounds. In other words, he would get advice from Benedict and he would act on that and he would more or less go along to the point to where people said Benedict really was the man who did it. Well the man who was at the top is the one who’s responsible if it goes wrong and that was Keith.
Groueff: And he was one of those people to make things be done all the time.
Groves: Yeah he was pushing and he was being pushed by Colonel Nichols to some extent but particularly by me. He didn’t want to be in a position at the start where he thought that I’d say, “Well now we’ve got you so you report to Colonel Marshall.” And of course in the military that means you don’t talk to me anymore. He didn’t want anything like that. It was very clearly set forth and I think as you read this English book, it just shows that the big thing that I impressed people with was that I could be trusted. In other words if I made a promise, it was kept.
Groueff: Yeah that’s what he was saying.
Groves: And the promise was made with my eyes open. I knew what I was saying when I made the promise. I didn’t just say, Well I’ll make a promise” and then have to come back and say, “Well I shouldn’t have promised you that, so I’m going to have renege.”
I think that was one of the things that was more or less outstanding. I guess you got the validity of that from [Frank] Creedon too—the support that he would get. In other words, there’s nothing lonelier than somebody who is in the top position that hasn’t got anybody to talk, nobody to confer with, and he is all alone in the world. Even if I could sit down with him and they’d merely tell me their troubles and how they were solving it, I didn’t have to say a word. That was all right. They were much better off when I left. Of course the man that they’re talking to has to be of equal or superior stature to them. They can’t talk it out with a subordinate and get the same benefits from it.
Groueff: I wanted to check another thing that I don’t think I understood well from Keith, I have to check. According to him, K-25 was such a success that at the end it produced enough enrichment to go to the first bomb without using the electromagnetic [method] and then everywhere I read exactly the contrary.
Groves: No. I think I can explain that to you. The plant was originally designed to come to 100% purity. As we got into it, we found that was going to make about the equivalent of another plant on top of the one we had. Not in size or magnitude but they’re going to have to have more and more diffusers in this chain. I think there were 2,400 diffusers that I recall. This would have made maybe 3,600 or 4,000. Not as big but still it’d be a massive job.
So we decided fairly early—and I don’t know just when it was and I don’t know just who recommended it or first suggested it—but the decision was made that we would limit our purification plans for the gas diffusion to a certain percentage. I don’t know whether that’s still secret or not, but supposing we said 25%. Then we would take that material and put into the second stage of the electromagnetic and purify it up to what we wanted.
Groueff: For the bomb?
Groves: For the bomb. Now actually that was what was done. It was brought in and then when the thermal diffusion came in, the final program was this: we would take the material and put—well some of it went directly into the thermal diffusion, the raw uranium in the form of hexafluoride. It was purified from say 0.7 to maybe 1.4 or 1.8 or something like that. In other words we doubled our production.
Then that material was either put into the bottom stage of the gas diffusion plant from the thermal plant. At the same time, the first stage of the electromagnetic, which was producing say up to 12% or somewhere around there, that was going on and some of that would go from that over into the gas diffusion. In other words these three were all linked together: the thermal diffusion, the gas diffusion, and the Alpha [racetrack] and then finally the Beta [racetrack].
And it all, when it got through it went into the Beta and then out came the perfect product.
Groueff: So but the material, which left Oak Ridge to go to Los Alamos for the first bomb, went out of the Beta for the electromagnetic [process]?
Groves: Some of it had been through Alpha and then Beta. Some had been through gas diffusion and then Beta. Some had been through thermal diffusion, gas diffusion, and beta. And there might have even been some of them that went through all four of them someway for some reason or another.
Remember that all through this period there’s another thing about the gas diffusion and generally true of all the processes. You had your choice in gas diffusion; you could either bring it out at 100% purity and bring out nothing, or you could bring out an infinite amount with no increase in purity. So that’s what you had to judge what you wanted. That’s why it was so important for me to determine the final result that we wanted.
Ernest Lawrence had told me that he would be very glad to calculate how we should bring these various things in because here we were our thermal diffusion was increasing in capacity and in the productive purity every few days. There were new Beta units being brought in. The gas diffusion had new units coming in, do you see? I think there were even some new Alpha’s coming in and this all had to be linked together as to what was the best way to do it. Of course it was an impossible thing to calculate. We could do it with electronic computers.
Groueff: You created a special committee with this Patterson?
Groueff: Peterson, yeah.
Groves: The original plan had been that Lawrence would do the work—he and his group. Then Nichols would go over their work himself and see that he thought it was all right and then I would sort of take a glance at it and say that sounds all right. If it was, Nichols took over the responsibility. He had Peterson in a group working under him. They passed it on. Nichols went over that a lot more careful than he would have otherwise and I in turn went over it much more carefully than I would have otherwise. So that was strictly a military operation to determine what was the most important thing in it.
Groueff: So it was changing every week probably or calling to the different percentages of things?
Groves: Yes, it might change every day, as a new unit would come in. That would change the whole thing, what you would do.
Groueff: The important thing was how to make it the fastest?
Groves: The important thing was—it was not too long when we got our first estimate as to when we would have the material. I then told Nichols that I want so much material. I’d like some more if I can get it. In other words, so we’d have a margin of safety if Oppenheimer suddenly decided he needed a little bit more. I wanted that at the earliest possible date, but that he was to concentrate on getting it.
When he figured out that date, which he figured that was the earliest possible, I then said, “Alright, supposing that was the 21st of July. At the time of the 21st, just before that time, you can make a desperate effort and you can actually push some things through so that in the end you have lost production but you get a little bit more for the crucial date.”
In other words, we’d set the first bomb up maybe by a couple of days, the second bomb would have been set back by maybe a week. It’d be the same thing if you harvest fruit. You went through and at the last minute you grabbed off everything in the vineyard and plucked it all even if you knew that a lot of it wasn’t going to give you any wine anyway. But you’d get just a little bit more by doing it then if supposing the market was going to drop the next day and you knew it—something of that kind.
Groueff: How long before the actual assembling of the bomb material was ready? Very shortly?
Groueff: So just when it arrived the bomb was made immediately?
Groves: In other words everything was scheduled on the basis of Oppenheimer’s whole time schedule, which was given to him: “You must be ready for test at Alamogordo as soon as you get the plutonium. You must be ready to ship the bomb, to have everything connected with the gun-type bomb as soon as you get the material from Oak Ridge.”
In other words, “If Oak Ridge delivered that on the 15th of July, you know you’re going to need three days to form it into the shape and then you must be prepared at that time, on the 15th, to form it into the final shapes and then as soon as it’s formed to ship it on,” so that the controlling date was when did we get the material.
Groueff: That was the main battle actually and the suspense.
Groves: That was the main battle.
Groueff: You fulfilled all the deadlines?
Groves: Yes, excepting of course the deadline on getting the material was one that I set myself. But with that as the controlling deadline, nothing else delayed it.
Groueff: The other night on the TV, one of the reasons had been mentioned through the years, one more reason for the decision and not to make sort of demonstration [of the bomb]—people say that one of the reasons was that you didn’t have enough bombs so you couldn’t waste one or two. Is it true that you only had the Alamogordo one and the Hiroshima and lately the Nagasaki?
Groves: Well I’ll put it this way. When we exploded the Alamogordo one that’s the only one we had.
Groueff: You didn’t have the second one?
Groves: No. No. When we exploded the second one, the one over Hiroshima, that’s the only one we had. Well that isn’t true; we had the other one. We had it twenty-four hours.
Groueff: The Nagasaki?
Groves: Yes, because if the Hiroshima one had gone when it was supposed to go we wouldn’t have had any others. Of course the bomb wasn’t assembled; we had to material for it over in Tinian. When we exploded the one over Nagasaki we didn’t have anything left. That of course is unheard of in all military operations.
Groueff: Because if you use this Nagasaki bomb for a demonstration and the Japanese were not convinced, you couldn’t bomb them the next day because you didn’t have—
Groves: No, no.
Groueff: It would have taken weeks probably to—
Groves: And of course the other thing on this was we didn’t know whether that thing would go off or not.
Groueff: Yeah even after Alamogordo you couldn’t be 100% sure about Hiroshima. It was different.
Groves: Think of the average artillery shell, the new one or a gun, this would be a gun and ammunition. Think how many times that’s fired before it’s issued to troops.
Groueff: Yours were never fired?
Groueff: The Hiroshima was never fired.
Groves: It was never fired and the Nagasaki one was never fired. It was fired just a piece of it up on a tower.
Groueff: But never from a plane?
Groves: Never from a plane and our actual fusing had never been tested until something like seventy-two hours beforehand it was tested in the United States and twenty-four hours beforehand it was tested over in Tinian.
Groueff: So it will be quite possible if the first uranium bomb didn’t work over Hiroshima and just dropped a piece of metal and nothing happened.
Groueff: Then you were in a spot.
Groves: I would have been, wouldn’t I?
Groueff: I think that would absolutely also be a very good reason not to waste bombs.
Groves: Oh it was. In other words, just think of a demonstration in which you tell you’re going to blow the world apart and you drop it and nothing happens.
Groueff: Nothing stupider. You probably would have been ridiculed to the whole world.
Groves: Yes, and know what that would do as far as the world was concerned. It’s all idiotic. The effects would not have been the same. The psychological effects on the Japanese of a surprise like that were just overwhelming. If you think back to the 1940’s, just think what a shock it was to the French when they found out the Maginot Line was not a protection.
After having been told and told and told that it was. It’s a psychological effect in war that gets the big surprise and gets the big victory you might say. I don’t know were you in that line at the time?
Groueff: No. I was studying in Switzerland so I didn’t know the war.
Groves: Did you stay in Switzerland the whole war?
Groueff: Yeah and move after that to France.
Groves: Well you were French by birth weren’t you?
Groueff: Yep. Talking about spies now.
Groves: Yes, on security. Originally when I took over there had been great carelessness in the handling of security. It had gotten so bad that Conant asked G-2, General Strong, for the loan of an officer who was later Colonel Lansdale; I think he was a captain then.
Groves: Lansdale went out Berkley and he just hung around there for a while and he got more information just listening. They were very free and frank in talking to him. He had some cover name or something else.
Groueff: They didn’t know that he was—
Groves: Oh no. Then when he disclosed what had learned why there was a great horror all the way around. One of things that Bush and Conant said to me at the very start was they hoped that I would tighten up on the security. Well originally we had our own local security officer under the District and then we depended on G-2 for general external security and general supervision of our internal security. That was handled by Lansdale acting under the direction of Chief of Counter Intelligence who was Colonel Bissell, and later Colonel Forney when Bissell was bounced. Then they in turn reported to General Strong, who was G-2.
This worked very well until the time when Mrs. Roosevelt interfered with internal security in this county. She induced, at least it was attributed to her by various people whom I had a great deal of confidence, the decision was reached that War Department would cease having a centralized control of Counter Intelligence that was effective. They’d have control but there would be no effectiveness to it.
If a man was under surveillance in New York City and he moved down to Baltimore, the Baltimore G-2 would have no knowledge about him at all. In other words you had separate little kingdoms set up, the centralized files were to be destroyed. It just meant just a complete destruction of effective G-2 work because after all a man who was under suspicion in New York, the people in Baltimore wouldn’t know anything about him and nobody would follow him from one place to another. He’d start off with a clean sheet whenever he moved. So naturally it was just a dead giveaway.
The reason was that it was to protect certain people who had Communist records. It was rumored and on good authority that Joe Lash was one of those who was involved. You may remember something about him in connection with Mrs. Roosevelt.
Groueff: No I don’t.
Groves: He was one of the protégés of which she had a number among what she always termed “The young people.” If you look up in any newspaper or morgue you’ll find a reference to Joe Lash but you won’t find very much because I imagine a paper like The New York Times probably tore it all up—they didn’t want it there. But if you got to somebody in the Journal American or someone like Jack Lotto, if you happen to know him—
Groueff: I know people at Journal American. Lasch, L-A-S-C-H?
Groves: L-A-S-H, Joe Lash.
Groves: And if you said that you understood that he was a protégé of Mrs. Roosevelt during the war, they’ll tell you quite a few things that I wouldn’t tell you.
Anyway, I was informed by Lansdale that General Strong wanted me to know that they were breaking this up. It was intimated to me that I wanted to set up my own organization that I could have my choice of anybody that was in that work in G-2 at the time. I then saw General McNarney who was acting Chief of Staff and told him that I understood there’s going to be a reorganization in Counter Intelligence and that I wanted to set up my own.
He said, “That’s all right. There is going to be one and you can set up your own,” because he couldn’t have stopped me because I would have gone to the secretary and gotten it anyway or gone to General Marshall afterwards.
So I was given the complete choice of all the personnel that I wanted. I got hold of Lansdale and said that I wanted him to over and head it up and then I told him that I wanted him to select people that he knew. So we selected about, I guess pretty close to 200 men.
Groueff: Was he a very competent?
Groves: Very competent or I wouldn’t have given him that thing. He brought over the ones that he thought would make the thing go. They turned out to be very good. The officers were essentially young lawyers, some of whom had passed their Bar examinations, a great many hadn’t passed their Bar examination—they’d finished and were working towards the year of study that they usually undergo before they take their Bar examinations.
There were a great many enlisted men who were what we termed agents. An agent, you never knew what his rank was. Usually they were Staff Sergeants. Some were more, some were less but they were all agents and that put them on a special status. We took about twenty-five of those I think, and commissioned them so that we would have the people we want.
So we wound up with an organization somewhat similar to the FBI, essentially lawyers with a few specialists. Like we had a few men who were experienced in CPA work. We had one man whose background was an officer in charge of an office for the Secret Service. As you know the Secret Service has two functions: one is counterfeiting and one is protecting the president. He had worked outside of the Washington area as a responsible office head. Then there were some that were particularly qualified in foreign languages.
Then later there were a few brought in—already officers—who had peculiar qualities. One was a man whose father was the head of The Uniform Police in New York City. Well that gave him an entrée to every police department in the country, do you see? “I’m John O’Connell’s son, New York”—that’s all they needed.
His father told me once when I was talking about a problem we had in Radio City and I said, “I wish I could into that office for an hour or two, have my people get in.”
He said, “Anytime you want to, General just give me the word I’ll put 10,000 cops around that building. You can go in to your hearts content.”
I said, “That would certainly create a lot of interest wouldn’t it?”
He said, “Well it would, wouldn’t it.”
Another one who was brought in later, a man named Philip Fell who is now in England as a representative of Gulf Oil. He was a man whose stepfather had been Ogden Mills, who was Secretary of Treasury under Mr. Hoover. He had been brought up in very wealthy surroundings and he was accustomed to moving in those surroundings and he knew just how everybody felt and I wanted somebody who could get to that kind of people if I needed to in a hurry. I think he was the next-door neighbor of Secretary Stimson up on Long Island and used to see him all the time. It was that kind of thing.
So we tried to have in addition to this basic group, which were young lawyers, we had these other people with special qualifications that made them somebody that we might want some day. Judge Considine had been a reporter in Boston, I think for eight years full time, while he was going to college and also to Harvard Law School, and he’d have big jobs. He’d work for a Hearst paper I think for years so he had that. He could write.
Groueff: Were they all secret? They were in uniform or nobody knew they were agents?
Groves: Oh no, the officers were generally in uniform but they all had civilian clothes. They’d go in civilian clothes if there was any reason for it. Now Fell, for example, he had originally been in the New York City organization before it was all broken up. Then he was stationed there for us afterwards and one of his missions was to follow various people and these people and these people were night clubbers.
Groueff: I see.
Groves: It didn’t bother him at all. He’d go in and the headwaiters all knew him and they that he was good for a ten-dollar tip. I don’t know how much of his own money he spent but it was all legitimate money to be reimbursed if he’d asked for reimbursement. His wife would go with him. She didn’t know what he was interested in but he’d just say I want you to come with me and so they would.
Groueff: So they looked very normal.
Groves: Absolutely normal. Nobody on Earth would had ever had spotted him for it. He just looked like a very dapper, young, wealthy New Yorker. There were others. There was accountant. There were other people that had particularly qualities. The enlisted men who remained enlisted men were in general people had been in police work of some kind. They’d been detectives. They’d been sergeants or lieutenants on a police force or quite a few of them had been insurance adjusters where they’re used to doing investigations. In other words they were for that purpose. And of course the top-secret papers were carried by messenger always. They weren’t sent through the mail.
Groueff: Where was the center of Lansdale’s organization, the headquarters?
Groves: In my office in Washington.
Groueff: In Washington.
Groueff: It wasn’t Oak Ridge?
Groves: No but he, supposedly, was a staff officer for me and he was supposed to deal through the Security Office for Colonel Nichols who was down in Oak Ridge. There were two of those: one was a man named Horace Calvert who later was sent to England and he was succeeded by a named Parsons from Seattle.
Groueff: In Los Alamos you had somebody else there?
Groves: Well in all of the places like Los Alamos and Hanford and Berkeley and Chicago, they all had people who reported to Colonel Parsons and through him, of course, to Nichols. And then Parsons, acting for Nichols, reported to Lansdale, but actually in a thing like this Lansdale was constantly giving—he was the boss and he was always interfering with him and he created friction. I don’t know if Nichols told you anything about that.
Groves: He was the one person where we got out of line with Nichols and had to clamp down on Lansdale because he wasn’t observing normal military procedures, which he should have known but he didn’t do. He was a UVMI graduate who was a young lawyer in Cleveland.
Groueff: He wasn’t a military man—a career officer?
Groves: No but he had gone to VMI and had been in the reserves and he was well-trained, excepting that he had no regular service. But he was very impulsive and he’s a trial lawyer today and very successful and I think all you have to do is to meet him to see what kind of man he is. He couldn’t possibly keep quiet and go through channels and sometimes he couldn’t go through channels but on a few occasions he overstepped the bounds.
Of course what he should have done was to advise the local man what to do, instead of “I think you should do that,” knowing that it would be followed. Instead he’d say, “I want you to do that,” and it might be something that Colonel Nichols had told him not to do. That caused a little friction but not enough to bother.
Groueff: He was the one on the Oppenheimer case?
Groves: Yes he handled that more or less himself in a lot of ways. Then that was basis of our formation. When I was given the responsibility for foreign intelligence, which came about by General Marshall’s request. General Styer asked me one day, he said “General Marshall wants to know if you will take over foreign intelligence on atomic matters.”
And I said, “Well, what in the world does he want me to do that for?”
He said, “Well, in the first place there’s a lot of friction between the various agencies.”
We had the Army G-2, we had Navy ONI, we had Donovan’s outfit in OSS, the FBI was in on it, the Treasury Department, the Agriculture Department, and everybody had people all over the world gathering information.
As Marshall very wisely said, this information is going to be lost because nobody will know. They’ll get one little piece and that might mean something to you but it wouldn’t mean anything to these others. So I made a few comments, in fact, “Why didn’t Marshall knock a few heads together?”
I said, “Alright, I’ll take it you just tell him I’ll take it over right away.”
So it was taken over without any orders. I sent an officer, Calvert, over from Oak Ridge to London. Calvert had an outside income fortunately, he had oil leases, he came from Oklahoma. He did a magnificent job for me over there and he had a desk with the British section that was handling atomic information, he had a desk in our military attaché office, and he had a desk in G-2 of the European Theatre. He finally was the one who discovered where the Germans were and generally what we should look for it.
Groueff: I have to go.