THE EXPLOSIVE SECRETS OF MAJOR JORDAN'S DIARIES
During 1942-45, high-level US officials covertly
helped the USSR acquire large quantities of materials for its secret
atom-bomb research project.
Will history judge the ensuing Cold War as a monstrous set-up?
(Back to part 1)
Extracted from Nexus Magazine, Volume 4,
#2 (February - March 1997).PO Box 30, Mapleton Qld 4560
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Originally published inthe book:
From Major Jordan's Diaries
© 1952 by George Racey Jordan, USAF (Ret.)
with Richard L. Stokes
Originally published in 1952 by
Harcourt, Brace & Company, New York
Reprinted by American Opinion, 1961
From the outset, extraordinary secrecy
and security measures have surrounded the project," declared Henry L.
Stimson, Secretary of War, in commenting on the first military use of
the atom bomb. "This was personally ordered by President Roosevelt."
Mr Roosevelt's orders, he innocently added, "have been strictly
Yet Russians with whom I worked side by side at Great Falls knew
about the A-bomb at least as early as March 1943, and General Groves
had reason to distrust the Russians in October 1942! In common with
almost all Americans, I got the first hint of the existence of the
atom bomb from the news of Hiroshima, which was revealed on August 6,
1945 by President Truman.
I visited Washington in January 1944 to bring to the attention of
the highest authorities what seemed to me to be treacherous
violations of security in the Pipeline. I got exactly nowhere in the
State Department or elsewhere. It was not until I heard the
announcement of the atomic blast in Russia on September 23, 1949,
that I finally had the good fortune of meeting Senator Bridges and
Fulton Lewis - but more of that later.
It was after eleven o'clock, and my checking job was virtually
done, when Colonel Kotikov burst into the cabin of the plane. He
wanted to know by whose authority I was committing this outrage [see
previous issue] and bellowed that he would have me removed. I
answered that I was performing my duty, and, just to show how things
stood, opened two or three extra suitcases in his presence. I left
the C-47 and with a nod of thanks dismissed my sentinel.
As I crossed the field toward the barracks, Colonel Kotikov fell
in beside me. No doubt he reflected that he was in no position to
force an issue. He may also have realized that I understood the
gravity of almost nothing I had seen. All that mattered to him was
getting the suitcases off to Moscow. Anxiously he inquired what I
intended to do.
If I had known what I do today, I should have grounded the
transport, but in the end it went on its way to Russia.
Colonel Kotikov asked me to open no more suitcases until
instructions came from the War Department. He said he hoped he would
not have to get me transferred. I expected to be fired, and went so
far as to pack my gear. But I received no communication from the War
Department, and gathered at last that Colonel Kotikov had made no
complaint. Perhaps, I began to think, he did not dare.
I reported to Colonel George F. O'Neill, security officer of the
34th Sub-Depot at Gore Field, about the fifty suitcases I had
examined. He was interested enough to pass the story on to his
superior officer in Spokane. There was no reply, even after Colonel
O'Neill made a second attempt. Apparently it was not considered good
form to cast reflections on the integrity of our ally...
"DON'T MAKE A BIG PRODUCTION..."
One morning in April 1943, Colonel Kotikov asked whether I could
find space for an important consignment of nearly 2,000 pounds. I
said, "No, we have a quarter of a million pounds' backlog already."
He directed me to put through a call to Washington for him, and
spoke for a while in his own tongue. Then he put a hand over the
mouthpiece and confided to me in English, "Very special shipment -
experimental chemicals - going through soon."
There was an interval of Slavic gutturals, and he turned to me
again. "Mr Hopkins - coming on now," he reported. Then he gave me the
surprise of my life. He handed me the phone and announced, "Big boss,
Mr Hopkins, wants you."
It was quite a moment. I was about to speak for the first time
with a legendary figure of the day, the top man in the world of
Lend-Lease in which I lived. I have been careful to keep the
following account as accurate in substance and language as I can. My
memory, normally good, was stimulated by the thrill of the occasion.
Moreover, the incident was stamped on my mind because it was unique
in my experience of almost 25 months at Newark and Great Falls.
A bit in awe, I stammered, "Jordan speaking."
The male voice began at once. "This is Mr Hopkins. Are you my
expediter out there?"
I answered that I was the United Nations Representative at Great
Falls, working with Colonel Kotikov.
Under the circumstances, who could have doubted that the speaker
was Harry Hopkins? Friends have since asked me whether it might not
have been a Soviet agent who was an American. I doubt this, because
his next remark brought up a subject which only Mr Hopkins and myself
could have known.
He asked, "Did you get those pilots I sent you?"
"Oh yes, sir," I responded. "They were very much appreciated, and
helped us in unblocking the jam in the Pipeline. We were accused of
going out of channels, and got the dickens for it."
Mr Hopkins let that one go by, and moved on to the heart of
things. "Now, Jordan," he said, "there's a certain shipment of
chemicals going through that I want you to expedite. This is
something very special."
"Shall I take it up," I asked, "with the Commanding Colonel?"
"I don't want you to discuss this with anyone," Mr Hopkins
ordered, "and it is not to go on the records. Don't make a big
production of it, but just send it through quietly, in a hurry."
I asked how I was to identify the shipment when it arrived. He
turned from the phone, and I could hear his voice: "How will Jordan
know the shipment when it gets there?" He came back on the line and
said, "The Russian Colonel out there will designate it for you. Now
send this through as speedily as possible, and be sure you leave it
off the records!"
Then a Russian voice broke in with a demand for Colonel Kotikov. I
was full of curiosity when Kotikov had finished, and I wanted to know
what it was all about and where the shipment was coming from. He said
there would be more chemicals and that they would arrive from Canada.
"I show you," he announced.
Presumably, after the talk with Mr Hopkins, I had been accepted as
a member of the 'lodge'. From his bundle on war chemicals the Colonel
took the folder called "Bomb Powder". He drew out a paper sheet and
set a finger against one entry. For a second time my eyes encountered
the word "Uranium". I repeat that in 1943 it meant as little to me as
to most Americans, which was nothing.
This shipment was the one and only cash item to pass through my
hands, except for private Russian purchases of clothing and liquor.
It was the only one, out of a tremendous multitude of consignments,
that I was ordered not to enter on my tally sheets. It was the only
one I was forbidden to discuss with my superiors, and the only one I
was directed to keep secret from everybody.
Despite Mr Hopkins' urgency, there was a delay of five weeks. On
the morning of June 10th, I caught sight of a loaded C-47 which was
idling on the runway. I went over and asked the pilot what was
holding him up. He said he understood some kind of special shipment
was still to come. Seven years afterward, the pilot identified
himself to the press as Air Forces Lieutenant Ben L. Brown, of
I asked Colonel Kotikov about the plane, and he told me the
shipment Mr Hopkins was interested in had just arrived at the
railroad yards, and that I should send a truck to pick it up. The
consignment was escorted by a Russian guard from Toronto. I set down
his name, and copied it later in my diary. It was Vladimir Anoufriev.
I identified him with the initials "C.C." for "Canadian Courier".
Fifteen wooden cases were put aboard the transport, which took off
for Moscow by way of Alaska. At Fairbanks, Lieutenant Brown has
related, one box fell from the plane, smashing a corner and spilling
a small quantity of chocolate-brown powder. Out of curiosity, he
picked up a handful of the unfamiliar grains, with a notion of asking
somebody what they were. A Soviet officer slapped the crystals from
his palm and explained nervously, "No, no - burn hands!"
Not until the latter part of 1949 was it definitely proved, from
responsible records, that during the war Federal agencies delivered
to Russia at least three consignments of uranium chemicals, totaling
1,465 pounds, or nearly three-quarters of a ton. Confirmed also was
the shipment of one kilogram, or 2.2 pounds, of uranium metal at a
time when the total American stock was 4.5 pounds.
Implicated by name were the Lend-Lease Administration, the
Department of Commerce, the Procurement Division of the Treasury and
the Board of Economic Warfare. The State Department became involved
to the extent of refusing access to files of Lend-Lease and its
successor, the Foreign Economic Administration.
The first two uranium shipments traveled through Great Falls by
air. The third was dispatched by truck and railway from Rochester,
NY, to Portland, Oregon, and then by ship to Vladivostok. The dates
were March and June 1943, and July 1944. No doubt was left that the
transaction discussed by Mr Hopkins and myself was the one of June
This was not merely the largest of our known uranium deals with
the Soviet Union, it was also the most shocking. There seemed to be
no lengths to which some American officials would not go in aiding
Russia to master the secret of nuclear fission. For four years,
monopoly of the A-bomb was the cornerstone of our military and
overseas policy, yet on September 23, 1949, long in advance of
Washington estimates, President Truman announced that an atomic
explosion had occurred in the Soviet Union.
In behalf of national security, the Manhattan Project during the
spring of 1943 clapped an embargo on American exports of uranium
compounds. But zealots in Washington appear to have resolved that
Russia must have at all costs the ingredients for atomic experiment.
The intensely pro-Soviet mood of that time may be judged from echoes
in later years.
For example, there was Joseph E. Davies, Ambassador to the Soviet
Union in 1936-39, and author of a book and movie of flagrant
propaganda, Mission to Moscow. In an interview with the
Times-Herald of Washington for February 18, 1946, he was
quoted as saying, "Russia, in self-defense, has every moral right to
seek atomic bomb secrets through military espionage if excluded from
such information by her former fighting allies!" There also was
Professor Harold C. Urey, American scientist, who sat in the
innermost circle of the Manhattan Project. Yet on December 14, 1949,
in a report of the Atlantic Union Committee, Dr Urey said that Major
Jordan should be court-martialed if he had removed anything from
planes bound for Russia.
When American supplies were cut off, the device of out-maneuvering
General Groves was to procure the materials clandestinely from
Canada. Not until 1946 did the commander of the Manhattan Project
learn from the Un-American Activities Committee that his stockade had
My share in the revelation was testimony under oath, leading to
one conclusion only: that the Canadian bypass was aided by Mr
Hopkins. At his direction, Lend-Lease issued a certificate of release
without which the consignment could not have moved. Lend-Lease
channels of transportation and Lend-Lease personnel, such as myself,
were used. Traces of the scheme were kept off Lend-Lease books by
making it a 'cash' transaction. The shipment was paid for with a
check of the Amtorg Trading Corporation.
Because of the initial branch of the airlift to Moscow was under
American control, passage of the chemicals across United States
territory could not be avoided, in Alaska if not Montana. On account
of that fact - the cash nature of the project - it was necessary to
obtain an export license from the Board of Economic Warfare. Such a
document, covering a shipment of American origin, was first prepared.
It was altered, to comply with the Canadian maneuver, by some BEW
official whose identity has been concealed by the State Department.
As amended, the license was issued on April 29, 1943. Its serial
number was C-1643180.
But two facts were forgotten: (a) public carriers use invoices,
and (b) the Air Forces kept tallies not only at Great Falls but
By diligent searching, freight and airway bills yielded
incontestable proof that 15 boxes of uranium chemicals were delivered
at Great Falls on June 9, 1943, and were dispatched immediately, in a
Lend-Lease plane, to the Soviet Union.
The shipment originated at Eldorado Mining & Refining, Ltd, of
Great Bear Lake, and was sent through Port Hope, Ontario. It was
authorized by a Canadian arms export permit, No. OF1666. The carrier
was the Chicago, Milwaukee, St Paul & Pacific Railway. Listed as
consignee was Colonel A. N. Kotikov, resident agent of the Soviet
Government Purchasing Commission at Gore Field, Great Falls.
The story behind the story is as follows. On February 1, 1943,
Hermann H. Rosenberg of Chematar, Inc., New York City, received the
first inquiry about uranium ever to reach his office. The applicant
was the Soviet Purchasing Commission, which desired 220 pounds of
uranium oxide, 220 pounds of uranium nitrate, and 25 pounds of
At that date Oak Ridge was under construction, but would not be in
operation for another year.
Six days earlier the War Production Board had issued General
Reference Order M-285, controlling the distribution of uranium
compounds among domestic industries like glass, pottery and ceramics.
A loophole was left by overlooking the export of such materials for
war purposes. The Russians claimed that they had urgent military need
for uranium nitrate in medicinal research, and for uranium oxide and
metal as alloys in hardening gun-barrel steel. There was nothing for
the US to do but grant an OK, since we did not want to imply that we
were suspicious of Russia's request.
Uranium metal was unavailable. On March 23, at Rosenberg's
instance, the S. W. Shattuck Chemical Co. of Denver shipped four
crates, weighing 691 pounds, to Colonel Kotikov at Great Falls. The
Burlington Railroad's bill of lading described the contents merely as
"Chemicals", but it was accompanied by a letter from Rosenberg to
Kotikov designating the contents as 220 pounds of uranium nitrate and
200 (not 220) pounds of uranium oxide. Since it was a Lend-Lease
transaction, defrayed with American funds, no export license was
required. The cargo was dispatched without friction along the
But the War Production Board, from which clearance had been
sought, alerted the Manhattan Project. It was too late to halt the
Shattuck sale. General Groves reluctantly approved it on the ground
that it would be unwise to 'tip off' Russia as to the importance of
uranium chemicals - a fact with which Moscow was only too familiar.
During the investigation, I was embarrassed by questions as to why
tables of exports to the Soviet Union contained no mention of
uranium. The Shattuck consignment was legitimate. It had been
authorized by Lend-Lease, the War Production Board and the Manhattan
Some months later I ran into John F. Moynihan, formerly of the
Newark News editorial staff. A Second Lieutenant at the Newark
Airport when I was there, he had risen to Colonel as a sort of
'reverse press-agent' for General Groves. His duty was not to foster
publicity but prevent it.
"I heard you floundering about," he said, "and wished I could tell
you something you didn't know. I was sent to Denver to hush up the
records in the Shattuck matter. It was hidden under the phrase,
'salts and compounds', in an entry covering a different metal."
General Groves moved rapidly to stop the leak through which the
Shattuck boxes had slipped. By early April he had formed a nationwide
embargo by means of voluntary contracts with chemical brokers. They
promised to grant the United States first right to purchase all
uranium oxide, uranium nitrate and sodium uranate received by the
The uranium black-out was discovered by Rosenberg when he tried to
fill another order from the Soviet Purchasing Commission, for 500
pounds each of uranium nitrate and uranium oxide. On April 23, 1943,
Rosenberg was in touch with the Canadian Radium & Uranium Corp.
of New York, which was exclusive sales agent for Eldorado Mining
& Refining, Ltd, a producer of uranium at Great Bear Lake.
An agreement to fill the Soviet order was negotiated with such
dispatch that in four days Rosenberg was able to report victory to
the Purchasing Commission. The shipment from Ontario to Great Falls
and Moscow followed in due course.
The Port Hope machination had the advantage, among other things,
of bypassing the War Production Board, which was sure to warn the
Manhattan Project if it knew the facts, but could be kept in
ignorance because its jurisdiction ran only south of the border.
General Groves was advised at once of the Soviet application for
1,000 pounds of uranium salts. He was not disturbed, being confident
the embargo would stand. After declining to endorse the application,
he approved it later in the hope of detecting whether the Russians
could unearth uranium stocks which the Manhattan Project had
overlooked. American industries were consuming annually, before the
war, upwards of 200 tons of uranium chemicals.
"We had no expectation," General Groves testified December 7,
1949, "of permitting that material to go out of this country. It
would have been stopped."2
So far as the United States was concerned, the embargo held fast.
The truth that it had been side-stepped by means of resort to
Canadian sources did not come to the General's knowledge until three
Another violation of atomic security was represented by the third
known delivery to Russia, in 1944. It proved to be uranium nitrate.
During May of that year, Colonel Kotikov showed me a warning from the
Soviet Purchasing Commission to look out for a shipment of uranium,
weighing 500 pounds, which was to have travel priority. The Colonel
was soon returning home. As the climax of his American mission, he
proposed to fly the precious stuff to Moscow with his own hands.
Disguised as a "commercial transaction" within American territory,
the deal was managed by Lend-Lease. Chematar and Canadian Radium
& Uranium were abandoned in favor of the Procurement Division of
the Treasury Department, although the Treasury, under regulations,
had no authority to make uranium products available to the Soviet
Contractors were asked to bid, and the winner was the Eastman
Kodak Company. Somewhere in this process, the expected 500 pounds
shrank to 45. Eastman Kodak reported the order to the War Production
Board as a domestic commercial item.
Whatever the motive, it was determined not to send the compound by
air. After a Treasury inspection in Rochester, the MacDaniel Trucking
Company drove it to the Army Ordnance Depot at Terre Haute, Indiana,
arriving July 24. The shipment turned up in freight car No. 97352 of
the Erie Railroad, and got to North Portland, Oregon, on August 11.
By means of shifts not yet divulged, the uranium nitrate found itself
aboard a Russian steamship, Kashirstroi, which left for Vladivostok
on October 3. Colonel Kotikov, who had planned a triumphal entry into
Moscow with a quarter-ton of "bomb powder" as a trophy, gave up the
project in disgust on learning that the shipment would be only 45
In charge of uranium purchases for the Manhattan Project in 1944
was Dr Phillip L. Merritt. Appearing January 24, 1950 before the
Un-American Activities Committee, Dr Merritt swore he was taken by
surprise, a day earlier, on discovering for the first time that the
Eastman Kodak order had been shipped to Russia by way of Army
General Groves was likewise uninformed. Asked as a witness whether
it was possible for uranium shipments to have been made in 1944, he
answered, "Not if we could have helped it, and not with our knowledge
of any kind. They would have had to be entirely secret, and not
discovered."3 He declared there was no way for
the Russians to get uranium products in this country "without the
support of US authorities in one way or another".4
The Soviet Purchasing Commission appears to have had instructions
to acquire without fail 25 pounds of uranium metal, which can be
extracted from uranium salts by a difficult process requiring
specialized equipment. Supported or advised by Lend-Lease, the
commission for a whole year knocked at every available door, from the
Chemical Warfare Service up to Secretary Stimson. As a matter of
fact, uranium metal was then non-existent in America, and for that
reason had not been specified in the Manhattan Project's embargo or
named as a "strategic" material.
Stimson closed a series of polite rebuffs with a letter of April
17, 1944, to the chairman of the Purchasing Commission, Lt General
Leonid G. Rudenko. But Moscow was stubborn. Under Soviet pressure,
the commission, or its American friends, had an inspiration. Why not
have the uranium made to order by some private concern?
As usual, a roundabout course was taken. The commission first
approached the Manufacturers Chemical Co., 527 Fifth Avenue, New
York, which passed the order along to A. D. Mackay, Inc., 198
Broadway. By the latter it was farmed out to the Cooper Metallurgical
Laboratory in Cleveland. According to Mr Mackay, neither he nor the
Cooper concern suspected that their customer was the Soviet Union.
But Mackay reported the deal to the War Production Board, which
warned the Manhattan Project. The latter's expert on rare metals,
Lawrence C. Burman, went to Cleveland, it is related, and urged the
Cooper firm to make sure that its product was of "poor quality". He
did not explain why. But the metal, of which 4.5 pounds was made,
turned out to be 87.5 per cent pure as against the stipulated 99 per
Delivery to the Soviet Union was then authorized of a small sample
of this defective metal, to represent "what was available in the
United States". Actually shipped was one kilogram, or 2.2 pounds. The
Purchasing Commission abruptly silenced its demands for pure uranium.
But the powers that be found it suitable to omit this item, as well
as the Rochester sale, from the 1944 schedule of exports to Russia.
From the start, in contrast to the atmosphere prevailing in
Washington, the Manhattan Project was declared by General Groves to
have been "the only spot I know that was distinctly
anti-Russian".5 Attempts at espionage in New
York, Chicago and Berkeley, California, were traced to the Soviet
Embassy. They convinced General Groves in October 1942 that the
enemies of our atomic safeguards were not Germans or Japanese, but
Russians. "Suspicion of Russia was not very popular in some circles
[in Washington]," he stated. "It was popular in Oak Ridge, and from
one month of the time I took over we never trusted them one iota.
From that time on, our whole security was based on not letting the
Russians find out anything."6
That the Russians found out everything from alpha to omega has
been established by volumes of proof. Through trials in Canada,
England and the United States there has been revealed the existence
of an espionage network so enormously effective that Russia,
scientists calculated, "should have been able to make a bomb
considerably before September 1949". The network chief was the former
Soviet Vice Consul in New York, Anatoli A. Yakovlev, who fled in
THE STORY OF THE "HEAVY WATER"
What is popularly known as "heavy water" is technically called
deuterium oxide. It is in crystal form, not liquid.
In alleging medical and other grounds for its needs of uranium
oxide and uranium nitrate, Russia had taken care to observe an
appearance of truth, for such use is not unknown to therapeutics. It
had been tried out in throat sprays and lent its name to Uranwein, a
German specific against diabetes. Uranium oxide had been tested as an
alloy for toughening steel, but it was found difficult to handle and
had erratic results. Therefore when Moscow asked for heavy water,
they let the cat out of the bag. Except for curious experiments in
retarding plant growth, heavy water boasts only one useful property:
it is the best of moderators for slowing down the speed of neutrons
in nuclear reactions.
Records in evidence7 prove that on August
23, 1943, Hermann Rosenberg of Chematar received an application from
the Soviet Purchasing Commission for 1,000 grams of deuterium oxide.
The purpose stated was "research". A supplier was found in the Stuart
Oxygen Co. of San Francisco, which shipped the merchandise on October
30 by railway express to Chematar's New York office. Rosenberg
forwarded the consignment to the Purchasing Commission in Washington,
which dispatched it on November 29, by way of the Pipeline, to
Rasnoimport, USSR, Moscow U-1, Ruybjshova-22.
The order was packed with as much tenderness as if it had been a
casket of jewels. Forty pyrex ampoules, each containing 25 grams,
were enclosed in mailing tubes and wrapped in layers of cotton. The
ampoules were divided in lots of 10 among four cartons, which were
placed, with further precautions against damage, in a large wooden
box. This was strapped and sealed. The overall weight was 41.12
pounds. The cost of the fluid content was that of expensive perfumes
- $80 an ounce.
The export of heavy water to the Soviet Union was approved by a
release certificate, No. 366, dated November 15, with the signature
of William C. Moore, Division for Soviet Supply, Office of Lend-Lease
If General Groves had been consulted, the heavy water would not
have left this country. Had it been known at the time, he said, that
1,000 grams were available, unquestionably he would have bought the
treasure himself. He added, "If it had been pure."8 That it was between 99.7 and 99.8 per cent pure
was attested by an independent analysis made for Rosenberg in the
laboratories of Abbot A. Hanks, Inc., San Francisco.
At the beginning of 1945, the Soviet Purchasing Commission placed
with Rosenberg a second order for heavy water. Only 100 grams were
sought. He applied once more to the Stuart concern, which expressed
the 'liquid diamonds' to Chematar on February 7. One week later
Rosenberg forwarded the parcel to the commission. Its subsequent
adventures have not been traced. In August of the same year,
Rosenberg was naturalized as an American citizen...
Was one kilogram of heavy water and were mere hundreds of pounds
of uranium chemicals too insignificant for important use?
Specialists agree that the quantities delivered were inadequate
for producing one A-bomb or even one experimental pile. They point
out, however, that scarcely any fraction of a substance can be too
small for laboratory research. The head of a pin could not have been
formed with the first plutonium ever made. From 500 micrograms were
determined most of the properties and the chemical behavior of an
element which 18 months earlier had been entirely unknown.
On the presumption that 1,465 pounds of uranium salts were
contributed to the Soviet Union, metallurgists estimate that they
were reducible in theory to 875 pounds of natural uranium, which in
turn would yield 6.25 pounds of fissionable U-235. But 4.4 pounds of
the latter, or nearly two pounds less, are capable of producing an
atomic explosion. Authority for this assertion may be found in the
celebrated report which Dr Henry De-Wolf Smyth of Princeton
University wrote at the request of General Groves and published in
The Shattuck and Eldorado purchases totaled 1,420 pounds. With
their third requisition, the Russians expected so confidently to
acquire another 500 pounds that papers to that effect were drafted
and sent to us in Montana. If the full amount had been available,
instead of 45 pounds, the aggregate would have been 1,920 pounds, or
virtually one ton.
At his Paris laboratory, while chief of the Atomic Energy
Commission of France, Frederic Joliot-Curie built an experimental
pile to which he gave the affectionate name of "Zoe". It actually
ran, though the wattage was feeble. The quantity of uranium crystals
utilized, said Dr Joliot-Curie, was "something in the order of one
It seems fair to take into account not merely what the Russians
got, but what they tried to get. With Communist tenacity and ardent
support from both White House and Lend-Lease, the Soviet Purchasing
Commission strove again and again to obtain 8-1/2 tons each of
uranium oxide and uranium nitrate, plus 25 pounds of uranium metal.
The campaign started in February 1943, and persisted until the
Russians were squelched by Secretary Stimson during April 1944.
There are memorable instances of what can be achieved with less
than 17 tons of uranium powders. One was a model atomic pile which
went into operation at Chicago University on December 2, 1942. "So
far as we know," Dr Smyth recounts, "this was the first time that
human beings ever initiated a self-maintaining nuclear chain
reaction." With a power level of 200 watts, the device served as a
pilot plant for the Hanford Engineer Works. The uranium supply
available to them was six tons.
Even earlier, before the Manhattan Project was dreamed of, a group
of scientists at Columbia University began a course of hazardous
experiments under the leadership of two foreign-born savants, Leo
Szilard of Hungary and Enrico Fermi of Italy. They were so
ill-supported with cash that 10,000 pounds of uranium oxide had to be
'rented' at a nominal fee of 30 cents a pound from Boris Pregel,
president of the Canadian Radium & Uranium Corp. of New York, who
was later unjustly made a scapegoat by the press for the secret
Here was done all the preparatory work moving toward the eventual
creation of the first man-made elements in history: neptunium-93 and
plutonium-94. From the group's creative imagination rose in time the
vast plutonium plant at Hanford, Washington, and, in a large sense,
America's atom bomb itself. The materials of that triumph were not 17
but 10 tons of uranium compounds.
One of my lucky experiences was that of chancing upon the February
27, 1950 issue of the magazine, Life, shortly before my second
appearance before the Un-American Activities Committee. I bore the
copy with me to the witness chair. It contained an illustrated
article on the atom bomb. I learned for the first time that a
plutonium pile consists of giant blocks of graphite, surrounded by
heavy walls of concrete and honeycombed with aluminum tubes. In these
tubes, it was related, are inserted slugs of natural uranium,
containing one per cent of U-235. The intensity of the operation was
declared to be governed by means of cadmium rods.
Graphite, cadmium, aluminum tubes - where had I met these words
before? In the Russian lists of Lend-Lease figures which I had added
to the Jordan diary. Re-examining those pages, I discovered that
during the four-year period 1942-45 we contributed to the Soviet
Union 3,692 tons of natural graphite, 417 tons of cadmium metals, and
tubes in an entry designating 6,883 tons of "aluminum tubes".
The figure for cadmium was arresting in view of its extreme
scarcity in this country and because of the fact that it occurs, so
far as we know, sparsely if at all in the Soviet Union. Under war
stimulus, American production of cadmium rose from 2,182 short tons
in 1940 to 4,192 in 1945.
It was interesting to find that in 1942-45 we shipped to Russia
437 tons of cobalt - a staggering amount when collated with American
production, which was nothing before the war, and increased to 382
tons in 1942 and 575 in 1945.
That cobalt is valuable in the A-bomb for retarding radioactive
emanations, and could be equally so in the hydrogen bomb, has been
affirmed by a chemical engineer who was consultant to one of the war
agencies. "Cobalt," says he, "was one of our highest scarcity
materials. If I had known that so large a proportion was going to the
Russians, I should have suspected them of being at work on the bomb."
Incidentally, cobalt was the first item to be restricted by President
Truman in the Korean emergency.
Almost as curious was the discovery that we shipped to Russia more
than 12 tons of thorium salts and compounds. Two other elements
alone, besides uranium and plutonium, are fissionable. They are
protoactinium and thorium. The former may be disregarded because of
its rarity in nature. But thorium, which is relatively plentiful, is
expected by physicists to rival uranium some day, or even supplant
it, as a source of atomic energy.
Then there were cerium and strontium, of which the Soviet
Purchasing Commission obtained 44 tons. Both metals, along with
cadmium, thorium and cobalt, figured in Colonel Kotikov's dossier on
experimental chemicals. They are useless for atomic purposes. But
Russian scientists may have been working their way through the rare
earths and metals on a well-founded suspicion that something
momentous was afoot in that group.
Everyone is aware, of course, that these elements have industrial
or military functions unrelated to the atom bomb, but Russia had a
very critical interest in procuring A-bomb components from America.
Red scientists are said to have been the first in Europe to announce
the theory of nuclear fission. As America discovered at a cost of
billions of dollars, it is a far cry from setting down speculations
on paper to putting them in practice at the dimensions imposed by
modern war. Thus the Kremlin was frantically inquisitive about
large-scale production techniques developed by the Manhattan
One ground for minimizing my evidence is a claim that Russia had
abundant uranium of its own, in connection with massive radium
deposits in the former area of Turkestan, the Kazakh Republic and the
state of Tannu-Tuva, north of Mongolia. More than 30 years ago, it is
said, Soviet physicists worked out the correct formula for separating
uranium from radium. On the other hand, as atomic experts are fond of
pointing out, "You can never have too much uranium."
If a blunder occurred, such objections proceed, it was not the
shipment of minor quantities of uranium compounds to the Soviet
Union, but the publication of Dr Smyth's book, which told not only
how to make a nuclear bomb but how not to make one. The chief atomic
authority of Norway, Gunnar Randers, is cited as having pronounced
that the indiscretion of this publication saved Russia and every
other country two years of research. According to Professor Szilard,
"one half of the atomic bomb secret was given away when we used the
bomb, and the other half when we published the Smyth report." After
the espionage trials, however, one may ask whether the Smyth
revelations were not more informative to the American public than to
In any event, it is heartening to know that, on the whole, our
uranium embargo stood firm. Moscow was prevented from winning its
grand objective of 17 tons, in contrast to the delivery of 15 tons of
uranium chemicals to Great Britain which the Manhattan Project
authorized. The steadfastness of the General Groves organization
against Russia was the more admirable in that it was challenged by Mr
Hopkins, with the power of the White House behind him. After the
Un-American Activities Committee closed its hearing on March 7, 1950,
I was examined searchingly by Government investigators. They tried to
lure me into admitting a possibility, however faint, that the person
to whom I spoke might have been Edward R. Stettinius, Jr, who had
died five months earlier on October 11, 1949.
My answer was that never once, during my two years at Newark and
Great Falls, did I hear so much as a mention of Stettinius, though
reference to Hopkins was daily on the lips of the Russians.
It is common knowledge that on August 28, 1941, Stettinius
succeeded Hopkins as titular chief of Lend-Lease, and held the post
until September 25, 1943, when the agency was merged with kindred
bodies into the Foreign Economic Administration, with Leo A. Crowley
But even the official biographer of Mr Hopkins does not hesitate
"Hopkins knew that policy governing Lend-Lease would still be made
in the White House and that the President would continue to delegate
most of the responsibility to him. Stettinius was his friend and they
could work together - and that was that."9
Another effort to clear Hopkins was based on the supposition that
he acted in ignorance of what it was all about. Even if he helped the
Russians to get A-bomb materials, the implication ran, it was the
unsuspecting tool of Soviet cunning.
The Hopkins papers for Mr Sherwood's book were organized by
Hopkins' longtime friend, Sidney Hyman. A fortnight after my first
broadcast he was quoted as affirming that, until Hiroshima, Harry
Hopkins had not "the faintest understanding of the Manhattan Project"
and "didn't know the difference between uranium and geranium".
On the contrary, Harry Hopkins was one of the first men anywhere
to know about the atom bomb. Dr Vannevar Bush chose Hopkins as his
intermediary for presenting to Mr Roosevelt the idea of the atom
bomb. It was in consultation with Hopkins that Dr Bush drafted the
letter, for Mr Roosevelt's signature, which launched the A-bomb
operation on June 14, 1941! Where do we learn this? In the official
biography by Mr Sherwood, on pages 154 and 155. Finally, on page 704
we are told that the head of a state, Winston Churchill, "was
conducting this correspondence on the atomic project with Hopkins
rather than with the President, and that he continued to do so for
many months thereafter".
A witness on the topic, General Groves testified that to the best
of his recollection and belief he never met Harry Hopkins, talked
with him on the telephone, or exchanged letters or dealt with anyone
claiming to represent him. But the General thought it incumbent to
remark, "I do know, of course, that Mr Hopkins knew about this
project. I know that."10
An early symptom of White House obsession for 'reassuring Stalin'
has been described by General Deane. In letters to American war
agencies, dated March 7, 1942, Mr Roosevelt ordered that preferential
position, in the matter of munitions, should be given to the Soviet
Union over all other Allies and even the armed forces of the United
States. Then and there, decided the former chief of the US Military
Mission to Moscow, was "the beginning of a policy of appeasement of
Russia from which we have never recovered and from which we are still
Back to part 1...
1. Stimson, Henry L. and Bundy, McGeorge, On Active Service in
Peace and War, Harper, 1947.
2. "Hearings Regarding Shipments of Atomic Materials to the Soviet
Union during World War II", Testimony of General Groves, December 7,
1949, House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities,
US Government Printing Office, USA, p. 941.
3. ibid., p. 945.
4. ibid., p. 900.
5. ibid., p. 948.
6. ibid., p. 947.
7. "Hearings...", Testimony of Hermann H. Rosenberg, January 24,
1950, p. 1035.
8. "Hearings...", General Groves, p. 954.
9. Sherwood, Robert E., Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History,
Harper, 1948, p. 560.
10. "Hearings...", General Groves, p. 947.
11. Deane, John R., The Strange Alliance, Viking, 1947, p. 89.
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