GROVES AND THE MED
Difficult Choices, 1942
The summer of 1942 proved to be a troublesome one for
the fledgling bomb project. Colonel James C. Marshall (right)
received the assignment of directing the Laboratory for the Development
of Substitute Metals, or DSM, the military’s initial cover name for the
project. Marshall immediately moved from Syracuse, where he
served in the Corps’s Syracuse Engineer District, to New York City.
Concerned that the name DSM would attract too much attention, the
military set up the Manhattan Engineer District (MED),
established by general order on August 13. Marshall, like most other
Army officers, knew nothing of nuclear physics. Furthermore,
Marshall and his Army superiors were disposed to move cautiously. In
one case, for instance, Marshall delayed purchase of an excellent
production site in Tennessee pending further study, while the
scientists who had been involved in the project from the start were
pressing for immediate purchase. Although Vannevar Bush had carefully managed
the transition to Army control, there was not yet a mechanism to
arbitrate disagreements between the S-1
Committee and the military. The resulting lack of
coordination complicated attempts to gain a higher priority for scarce
materials and boded ill for the future of the entire bomb project.
September, Bush and the Army agreed that an officer other than Marshall
should be given the assignment of overseeing the entire atomic project,
now was referred to as the Manhattan Project. On September 17,
appointed Colonel Leslie R. Groves
(left) to head the
effort. Six days late, he was promoted to Brigadier
was an engineer with impressive credentials, including building of the
and, most importantly, had strong administrative abilities.
days, Groves acted to obtain the Tennessee site and secured a higher
rating for project materials. In addition, Groves moved the
Engineer District headquarters from New York to Washington. He
recognized the talents of Marshall's deputy, Colonel Kenneth D.
arranged for Nichols to work as his chief aide and troubleshooter
throughout the war.
Bush, with the help and authority of Secretary of War Henry L.
Stimson, set up the Military Policy Committee, including one
from the Army, the Navy, and the Office of
Research and Development. Bush hoped that scientists
better access to decision making in the new structure than they had
DSM and S-1 operated as parallel but separate units. With Groves
overall command (Marshall remained as District Engineer, where his
nature proved useful in later decision making) and the Military Policy
in place (the Top Policy Group retained broad policy authority), Bush
early organizational deficiencies had been remedied. In
October 1942, Groves also
accepted the suggestion forwarded by Robert
Oppenheimer and others to concentrate in an isolated location
research on the design of the bombs themselves. The search soon
the site of what would become the Los Alamos
summer and fall 1942, technical and administrative difficulties were
still severe. Each of the four processes for producing
fissionable material for a bomb remained under
consideration, but a full-scale commitment to all four posed serious
even with the project's high priority. When Groves took command
mid-September, he made it clear that by late 1942 decisions would be
made as to
which process or processes promised to produce a bomb in the shortest
time. The exigencies of war, Groves held, required scientists to
laboratory research to development and production in record time.
traditional scientific caution might be short-circuited in the process,
was no alternative if a bomb was to be built in time to be used in the
conflict. As everyone involved in the Manhattan Project soon
Groves never lost sight of this goal and made all his decisions
Sources and notes for this page.
The text for this page was adapted from,
and portions were taken directly from the Office of History and
Heritage Resources publications: F.
G. Gosling, The Manhattan Project: Making the Atomic Bomb
(DOE/MA-0001; Washington: History Division, Department of Energy,
January 1999), 13-14, and Richard G. Hewlett and Oscar E. Anderson,
Jr., The New World, 1939-1946: Volume I, A History of the
United States Atomic Energy Commission (Washington: U.S.
Atomic Energy Commission, 1972), 82-83. The photograph of James
Marshall and the photograph of Leslie
Groves are reprinted from page 42 and the inside front cover,
respectively, of Vincent C. Jones, Manhattan: The Army and the
Atomic Bomb, United States Army in World War II (Washington: Center
of Military History, United States Army, 1988). The photograph of
Vannevar Bush, James Conant, Groves, and Franklin
Matthias is courtesy the DuPont Corporation; it is reprinted in
Stephane Groueff, Manhattan Project: The Untold Story of the Making
of the Atomic Bomb (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company,
1967). The photograph of Groves with Robert Oppenheimer is courtesy
the Department of Energy.
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