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Oral History Transcript — Dr. Philip Morrison

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Interview with Dr. Philip Morrison
By Robert S. Norris
At Cambridge, Massachusetts
December 19, 2002

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Philip Morrison; December 19, 2002

ABSTRACT: Philip Morrison had an almost unique experience during the Manhattan Project, participating in many of the central events of building and using the atomic bomb. From late 1942 to 1946 Morrison’s responsibilities took him to the University of Chicago Met Lab, Los Alamos, General Groves’ Washington Office, Oak Ridge, Trinity site, Wendover, Tinian, Hiroshima and Hanford. From these vantage points he had the opportunity to meet and observe many of the interesting persons involved in the Project and reflects about them in the interview.

Transcript

Session I | Session II

Norris:

This is an oral history interview with Philip Morrison taking place on December 19th in Cambridge, Massachusetts with Robert S. Norris. So the first two questions have to do with when you first learned that the U.S. government was working on an atomic bomb and how you were recruited for the Manhattan Project.

Morrison:

Well, I've told the story many a time, and it's quite an interesting story. It has a funny sting in the tail. I was sitting at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in the physics department teaching summer courses twelve months a year with two weeks off, because it was just after Pearl Harbor. And I was also working on radiography with the betatron which Don [Donald William] Kerst had just invented and created there at Urbana, which I was already doing just for the interest of seeing what images were made when you had gamma rays able to make pairs — which was a different thing from anything else. So that was fun. And war broke out and we got money in any amount to support that work. We knew very little about taking — about war; we knew a lot about particles, gamma rays going through metal. We figured that was something quite relevant to the war, so we might as well go ahead, and we did it. And I was contentedly doing that, and quite, very gung-ho about the war, very, so glad that we're [unintelligible word] at it and so on. And then my ex-friend — I mean, a friend who was an ex-student with me of Robert Oppenheimer's, a theoretical physics student with a degree from Oppenheimer same as mine in perhaps the same year, from Berkeley, but I haven't seen him for several years.

Because what I'm talking about is the post-Thanksgiving weekend of 1942. Well, that seems a long time after Pearl Harbor. And I had been working at the University of Illinois. I arrived at Illinois the September before Pearl Harbor, so I had a full academic year and the next year as well. Well, it wasn't the next year, it was just — yeah, it was one year about. It was one and a half years after things got serious. And on the other end of the phone was Bob Christy, a very serious, delightful, restrained Canadian with a lot of English training and B.C. accent and a dear person whom we hadn't seen for years, a couple years. And he said, "I know you're coming to the Physical Society Meeting" which always happens — this was in wartime — in Chicago and right after Thanksgiving, middle-western part of the Physical Society. "Yeah," I said, "I'm going to be there." He said, "Don't fail to come and stop to see me before you go back to Urbana. I plead with you, don't fail to do that." "Okay, I'll do that." "Come to Escher," not Escher —

Norris:

Eckhart.

Morrison:

Eckhart Hall. "I'll do it." So I imagined – since I didn't know where he was and he wasn't at California where I thought he had been, he must be working on some project. And I imagined that there was an atomic project, a uranium project, somewhere but I didn't know about it. I had written whole pieces about it for publication, but not about the project but about the possibilities, so that would be happening. So I walked up to Eckhart and what did I see but an armed guard. And I said to myself, "Yes, this is the place." So I waited there, the usual routine, down came Bob Christy with his badge and signed in and I went with him, sat down in his office. A man who wasted few words, he said, "I suppose you'd like to know what we're doing here." I said, "Well I can guess it has something to do with uranium." He said, very clipped, "Yes. We are making bombs." This floored me. Because while it was clearly logical and I expected it in some way, that it was so specific for him, that he was so clear on the objective and they were that far along, talking about various applications. I mean there's something big behind this. Because I never [unintelligible word] anybody told me about the bomb before. Yes, the week I heard about fission the graduate students and I drew cartoons, caricatures of bombs, were full of evi water and uranium and so on, but we really didn't know what we were doing. We just knew the labels. So that's how I found out. And he sat me down. That was his first sentence. His second sentence, or maybe the third, he said, "Do you think that we, the United States and our allies with all this power can lose the war save if the Germans make an atom bomb first?"

Norris:

He brought it up like that about the German bomb?

Morrison:

Second sentence. And I said, "No, you know, that's probably true." "Well," he said, "I believe that too." And he said, "Therefore since not many people can help in this effort, I'm trying to raise a few more people to get into it. You've got to do it. You've got to do it. I'm leaving here soon, and you can take my place." And I was working for Fermi, which is not a bad thing to do. So there I was. I learned how and I learned how to transform my work in 20 minutes with Bob Christy in the University of Chicago —

Norris:

Your life changed.

Morrison:

My life changed. Absolutely. Went home, told my wife — my first wife, not the present, not the one who has just died in 2002. And Emily still lives in Boston Back Bay. And we argued about it and just disputed for a week or so, and we knew that there was no way to avoid this call.

Norris:

You told her that your new job had to do the bomb.

Morrison:

Yeah, yeah. Well you know we were sort of on the edges in that project. It was nothing official. But I had no secret except that there was work going on and that was obviously a critical task. So that was how I was recruited, and I went down there at the end of '42, which was quite late, and at the first of the year I was in Chicago, and that was fateful, was not very long after the first chain reaction.

Norris:

That was December 2nd.

Morrison:

That's right.

Norris:

So you were —

Morrison:

Three weeks late.

Norris:

[Unintelligible word] we'll just pause here and [unintelligible word].

Morrison:

Sure. [Unintelligible phrase] I don't know, something up there in the mountains. And of course it was a uranium mine. But he could tell that though he had never heard of the value of uranium.

Norris:

From an aerial photograph.

Morrison:

That's right. So I was much impressed. Now the guy who took me to go see that was Robert Furman.

Norris:

Robert Furman who worked for General Groves.

Morrison:

Yes.

Norris:

It was this experience surrounding the German, your suspicions about the German program was when you first met General Groves and were brought to Washington.

Morrison:

That's right.

Norris:

Just maybe focus on General Groves for a moment. Had you known about this general beforehand or had you heard about this?

Morrison:

I knew the Szilard version, what a dummy he was and so on. I was a little surprised.

Norris:

So then here you come to Washington and —

Morrison:

And he was not — yeah.

Norris:

And here is this big guy here who you begin to realize has other qualities about him.

Morrison:

Exactly.

Norris:

And I suppose over the course of time you saw him —

Morrison:

Quite often.

Norris:

Quite often, in Washington and maybe at Los Alamos also.

Morrison:

Maybe once or twice at Los Alamos. Mostly in Washington.

Norris:

Right.

Morrison:

And so I acquired a much different impression of him, informed and more legitimate. I didn't like him any better. He was a very difficult man. And he was difficult not only with me; with all the other officers. That's what got me. He would make General Nichols much later on, carry his briefcase. It didn't seem right to me.

Norris:

No.

Morrison:

And I heard him turn down — this is much later — somebody who came in asking for armor, not for iron plate, not armor, iron plate to build landing craft which were needed for the forthcoming invasion when the front was opened in '43 or '44 – '43 I guess — and he turned this guy down flat. And the guy said, "I'd like to explain to you how important it is. We don't want to – we'll give back all we don't use." It was only to make ships. "Sorry," he said. "I've got this material. Fight with somebody else."

Norris:

That was the priority programs that he was able to manipulate to his great advantage.

Morrison:

Exactly. It made the whole thing possible.

Norris:

Right.

Morrison:

Otherwise I would have dropped it. Maybe it was a much better choice if I had, but I don't know.

Norris:

Yeah. So you spent quite some time then at the New War Department Building at 21st Street and Virginia Avenue [now State Department].

Morrison:

Absolutely. In Foggy Bottom. Once or twice in the Pentagon, but not visiting Groves — with other people that he sent me to.

Norris:

Right. So that was on the fifth floor and —

Morrison:

Yes, absolutely, in the front of the building, in the corner of the building.

Norris:

A fairly small suite of offices.

Morrison:

But a very nice one — which I think the Secretary of State had afterwards. Maybe he had the central one. It was next to his. It was a corner office. It was very good.

Norris:

Yeah. That office has disappeared basically in the rearranging. I went to look for it, but it's gone. And in these visits to Washington you came into contact with many of the people in Groves' office who were there on a daily basis and came to have some views about them. You mentioned Robert Furman.

Morrison:

Yes. Robert Furman was the most technically competent. He had some good engineering background, I suppose. He became a contractor.

Norris:

He built Potomac Mills.

Morrison:

Oh, I see.

Norris:

After the war as a builder. He had been a Princeton engineering student and worked with Groves on some earlier projects, the Pentagon for example.

Morrison:

Yes. But I had a high opinion of him. Of course he had lots of powers I didn't have. He tapped me. This scared me one day. When I got home I had a letter, in the morning I got a letter that said, "Yesterday you were talking to your wife and you said 'I'm having some differences with that guy in the office I told you about'." So meddling like that conversation. So I shut up after that. But he was good, and I still remember many times that he taught me something and helped me with something. And he kept on right through, more or less that I did, when we stopped looking at distant things and began to do an on-the-spot interpretation he was still there, still doing that.

Norris:

Right. Well he went all the way to the end there and was basically the person who rounded up the ten German scientists and took them to Farm Hall and deposited them there, and then he came home and actually escorted half of the Little Boy uranium aboard the Indianapolis.

Morrison:

I see. Yes.

Norris:

He also, like yourself, had witnessed many interesting and important things and was in many places. He was on Tinian with you those days in August.

Morrison:

I didn't recall that. I don't doubt it though.

Norris:

He told me he escorted the photographers around to take pictures.

Morrison:

I see. Yeah.

Norris:

Some other people in that office you recall.

Morrison:

Let me describe Lansdale a bit.

Norris:

Okay.

Morrison:

Lansdale was very important to me, because it was only his, I believe, primarily his opinion that enabled me to work in that context. And otherwise I would have been deported to Ames, Iowa or something – which is a useful place, but not what I especially wanted to do. John Lansdale was a Cleveland lawyer and an extremely astute lawyer. And he disclosed to me one after another of my dossier and, "Would you comment on that?" and I would, and I would say, "This is not true" and say, "This is true," and "Nothing wrong with that." And finally he said, "Well, okay, I think you agree with me we're going to win this war. That's the most important thing, and you can do it. You can help." So I had a very high opinion of his ability. Maybe falsely, but I think he was smart. And he literally had several inches of material. William Considine, I'm mixed up on Considine. There were two Considines. (There is a Robert Consodine I think.)

Norris:

That's a journalist.

Morrison:

That's a journalist from Newark whom I met and had a lot to do with in the immediate post-war. And I'm mixed. I didn't know the lawyer Considine, to speak of.

Norris:

Actually the spelling is different.

Morrison:

Yes, I see that.

Norris:

And they're not related.

Morrison:

I know. The other one's an “i”. I know the difference, but I didn't realize that this one was also important.

Norris:

William is a lawyer from Newark who Lansdale recruited, and was in his shop at G2 in the Pentagon, and when Lansdale moved over to the New War Building he brought Considine with him. Considine became a very valued aide to Groves working on Combined Development Trust and the public relations, the Smythe Report and the preparation of all of those.

Morrison:

Yeah. I guess his importance grew as the war ended.

Norris:

Yes, it did. Unfortunately I would have liked to really talk to him because he was very close to Groves every day. Did you ever have contact with Jack Derry?

Morrison:

Yes. Now I knew Derry, can't remember how, probably from Los Alamos. I'm not sure of that, but I think so. But he was Major Derry.

Norris:

Yeah.

Morrison:

He was a trained electrical engineer I think. I did have a good opinion of his attitudes, what he did.

Norris:

He became in Groves's office sort of the liaison to Los Alamos.

Morrison:

That's what I figured, yes.

Norris:

Anything Los Alamos wanted, tell Jack Derry and he'll get it for you.

Morrison:

Yeah. But I didn't form a high opinion of him. And Mrs. O'Leary I said was indispensable, another indispensable person. Very fair-minded, and very sharp, acute, able to take initiative, and you could see she was the office manager or something.

Norris:

Right, right, and I suppose very protective of Groves I think.

Morrison:

Yeah absolutely, which was good.

Norris:

Loyal and quite competent in her job.

Morrison:

Yes.

Norris:

So, well I think I have the date right here about when you went to Los Alamos, along about the spring of 1944.

Morrison:

I would have said August.

Norris:

August '44? You think that late?

Morrison:

I think so.

Norris:

Really.

Morrison:

I seem to remember that I was there on the same trip as Bohr. And when we were both there I went to the movies with Bohr and had a bit of the usual difficulty of the home folks and their foreign visitors by going to a John Wayne film and explaining to him about the white hats and the black hats and all that. And I read later on that he was known in Denmark for his great knowledge of Western movies. So I felt always badly about that. But I'm pretty sure it was not March-April.

Norris:

Really? Okay —

Morrison:

Let me look it up. I have my notebook.

Norris:

Okay. But then anyway you were traveling quite a bit here back and forth to Washington.

Morrison:

Yes.

Norris:

And well actually this question has to do with another person who was connected to Groves's office. That would be Richard Tolman.

Morrison:

Oh yes. What you say is absolutely right. I think–

Norris:

I found him to be a very important person for Groves and I suppose underappreciated in the whole story.

Morrison:

Well, maybe, but I will say this, I — He was a very senior theorist, had written two very large books that I studied hard, and we students went — as you probably have heard — from Berkeley to Pasadena in the Spring when Robert Oppenheimer did. Because Oppie had two positions. He was full-time professor at Berkeley, but he was in some kind of a special relationship to Cal Tech. They wouldn't have released him to Berkeley without that. And when the Berkeley term ended, always early, we went to Cal Tech where the term was still on and we had the privilege of going to Cal Tech classes because Oppenheimer had come there. We wouldn't get credit I guess, but we didn't care about credit. But I heard Tolman.

Norris:

He was professor there and he was the dean. I think he was also the dean.

Morrison:

I think he was the dean, and he was also teaching statistical mechanics. Or maybe he wasn't even teaching it but just gave a lecture in the course. And I remember I read his book a lot, and that was the thing that remains in my mind. So I knew his qualities were very high. His integrity was also very great as, (I don't know if you know this), he was a terrific dissenter during World War I. He wouldn't work on poison gases.

Norris:

Really?

Morrison:

He was asked to discuss, get involved in the design of the Mussel Shoals plant for making phosgene with them, but he said, "No, I can't control this. I won't do that." He was a physical chemist of great strength. You know, the same kind of problem we had with Bob Wilson.

Norris:

So he was recruited of course by Vannevar Bush to participate in the OSRD and help with the, mobilizing the scientific talent of the United States to all of the many projects, and Groves took advantage of him in that capacity to staff and recruit the Manhattan Project.

Morrison:

Yeah. Now I don't think I saw Tolman during the war, but I knew about him. And I knew about Paul Fine and Bill Shurcliff. I had a lot to do with, something to do with Paul Fine — several interchanges at meetings and so on. I don't think Paul Fine was quite up to the level of a person that should be working with Tolman, but he was okay. He was a trained physicist of some sort. And Shurcliff I knew less well. He seemed to me clever, but he was much more restrained. Didn't say so much. I don't remember the context of what we talked about, but something that was you know an issue for the Groves office and Los Alamos and so on. Conant and I had no contact, except I saw him at the Trinity Test. He was over there, nearby.

Norris:

Well Shurcliff, it's my understanding, was recruited at the end. Well, I think he also did some analysis of those reports coming back from Germany.

Morrison:

I think he did.

Norris:

Because I think some of that was sort of overseen by Tolman in the Washington office.

Morrison:

I see.

Norris:

And would it be true to say that you then kind of took them back to Los Alamos for further analysis and to find out more questions to bring back to Furman to find out any —?

Morrison:

Yes. And also had some rather curious things happen to them. I actually tried to do some thinking what else could be found, and I would take their samples to people I believe in Chicago, but I no longer can remember — a radio —chemist to have him do a different analysis, a different count, looking for alpha particles as well, because that's what the river told us, that would you get an alpha particle activity. Well we did get a lot, but it was in the background. Had to do with the mineralization of the river. It was geologically natural. They drain mountains that have uranium in them, so that turned to be to nothing, but it's quite right that they were involved in this operation.

Norris:

Right. And I think the other thing that Shurcliff had a hand in was helping to draft the Smythe Report — editing, writing and so on.

Morrison:

Yes.

Norris:

That took place.

Morrison:

That seems right. I don't know much about that but–

Norris:

Right. And well that was partially I think under Tolman's hand in terms of ensuring that nothing was being divulged in the Smythe Report.

Morrison:

Yeah.

Norris:

So the next question had to do with Manhattan chemists. Manhattan physicists have dominated the story to a great deal, and at least in my research I came across another group of people here, the chemists, who I think have a story to tell as well and are of interest and made a major contribution.

Morrison:

I believe you're absolutely right. I quite agree there. Physicists have dominated the story solely for one reason: the chemists’ work is all done before the physicists get to work. So the last stage appears to be this dangerous one of getting things together. But I did it, and I knew very well the chemists were most important people. And I had to draw upon them to get the stuff for which we began to start measuring critical masses. The three that I knew best were a group of physical chemists who had some academic unity among them and they were all students, I'm pretty sure they were all students of Kennedy, who was the head of radio-chemistry and who died very early on or maybe shortly after the war.

Norris:

Did he work with Seaborg? No.

Morrison:

Yes.

Norris:

Yes. Okay. Joseph. I think his name was Joseph Kennedy.

Morrison:

Joseph Kennedy, that's right, Joe Kennedy.

Norris:

Yeah. And is a partner of Seaborg's in the plutonium chemistry.

Morrison:

That's right. But then he became – his students were these physicists that I knew at, chemists I knew at Los Alamos, called Friedman, Perlman and I think Sugarman. And they were probably all picked up at Chicago or New York, and they were just wonderful. They answered every question, they produced everything. When you needed a coat of plutonium they could coat it; when you needed to get pure plutonium with that, they could do that. You just asked them and explained what you wanted, and sure enough in a week it would occur. I have always found that was amazing. Of course Kennedy was selected as the leader, and I believe that plutonium — well, plutonium discovery — was after all a chemical effort. The purification method was theirs at first. The polonium thing was what they also did — first from Monsanto and then it went to Ohio. Maybe that was a Monsanto plant as well, the polonium story secondhand to me.

Norris:

Yeah. It was in Ohio. That's right. Under a guy named Thomas.

Morrison:

Yes. He's a very big figure. He's not just a chemist, but some kind of a magnate. I mean he was the vice president of research for Monsanto or something.

Norris:

Exactly. And yeah Groves recruited him too.

Morrison:

Right.

Norris:

He was hard to turn down. If he stepped in the office, you were probably going to have a change in your life here and going to work for him.

Morrison:

Yes.

Norris:

Not too many people turned him down.

Morrison:

That's right.

Norris:

We brought up DuPont before here. Do you have any views on that? Now Groves held DuPont in very high esteem for its managerial abilities in mobilizing itself to do things. He built many ordnance plans with them and knew them well, so when it came time to build Hanford DuPont was his choice.

Morrison:

Well, I recognize that, and I was initially scheduled to go from Chicago to Hanford for the startup. Fermi actually did. And as you know, largely due to John Wheeler but to some extent due to Fermi, there found a big glitch at Hanford.

Norris:

Xenon poisoning.

Morrison:

Yes.

Norris:

Yes.

Morrison:

And Wheeler had foreseen that. I think Fermi had had the idea, but maybe Wheeler as well, and they fully saw it. At that time, which let's see Hanford must have begun in middle '44.

Norris:

The startup was at I think, I believe the end of September '44 I think. Maybe September 27th or 28th when they turned it on.

Morrison:

And it went out.

Norris:

And it was going fine for an hour or two and then lo and behold it died out. It was Xenon.

Morrison:

One should check those dates a little, because I would have said that was too late. Maybe that was some official startup. Because I'm pretty sure I was there at Los Alamos by that time.

Norris:

September.

Morrison:

Late September. I have to cut it fine, because I'm pretty sure I wasn't there earlier than August. But now what we were to do then — and it was Fermi who put us to this post. I wasn't in any responsibility, but I just hung around and didn't have much else to do. I was waiting for Los Alamos myself. The heavy water reactor was started up at the Argonne earlier than that, and one of the things that we were told to do — I think Zinn was in charge of the whole thing.

Norris:

Howard Zinn?

Morrison:

Howard. Not Howard Zinn.

Norris:

Warren Zinn?

Morrison:

Howard Zinn is the local historian.

Norris:

I think we know who we're talking about, the Chicago scientist.

Morrison:

Okay, okay. Right. Walter Zinn.

Norris:

Walter Zinn. I was close with Warren, but Walter. Okay, we got it. Walter is it.

Morrison:

A very clever man. He told me once he thought he invented something patentable every day. And I'm inclined to believe it, allowing a little bit of stretch. And also I saw him do something truly wonderful. There was a spill from the P9, the code word for heavy water, on the floor, so of course they rushed out with nice clean rags to try to sop it up. It was worth a dollar a gram or something. And they squeezed it onto a bucket, whereupon Zen sits down on a chair, takes off his shoes and dabbles his feet in the heavy water saying, "I believe I'm the first person in the world to wash my feet in heavy water," carefully dried it out, put the towels into the bucket, and went away. So I'll never forget. It was just wonderful. Anyway, so that is what he did. But he was very good. What we were supposed to be doing was running that thing at the limit to try to get it to poison itself. We had too many other things to do that we thought were important. It turned out to be much more important just to do what we were told and run it as high as we could, as many hours, to see if we could drive it to poison. Because its intensity was not as high as Hanford.

Norris:

Right. Now of course the design of the reactor was done on the conservative side to have more tubes than were initially used. And it is said that, maybe would like to have you comment on this, but the DuPont engineers who were always sort of erred on the conservative side, wanted to build two thousand tubes and the Chicago scientists thought that you could do it with 1500, and Groves chose the latter as a backup and it proved to be the savior of Hanford. If those reactors had had to have been expanded or redesigned or rebuilt, of course there would have been no plutonium by the summer of '45.

Morrison:

That's right. Well, I've always believed that story because it fits the nature of the people so well, but I would say I don't know anything about it. It could just be a myth, which also fits very well. It's perfectly true that the Wigner group would have underestimated the problem and that DuPont having done the thing and understood pretty well say, "Well, maybe it's not all right, let's increase it 20 percent and see what that does."

Norris:

And as far as Groves was concerned, money was no object.

Morrison:

Exactly.

Norris:

So why —? We don't need to cut corners here in terms of cost, time is of the essence and let's make it big and extra because we may need it.

Morrison:

Yeah. Let me tell you this because — I guess this is not in the book even. During that same summer there was a lot of rebellion at Chicago. Partly there wasn't a lot of work going on there, and people going to Los Alamos, some of them already. See, the Los Alamos crisis was June of '44 when they just —

Norris:

The implosion crisis.

Morrison:

That's right. And then they started recruiting and began picking new people up. But after that there wasn't a lot to be done in Chicago. They were working on nucleonics, future of the world. And there was a lot of concern, especially starting among the Hungarians — Wigner and Sziland, and maybe Teller, and probably not correct, feeling that we were slow, we were not making progress as fast as would have happened under the scientist. That's true, trouble would have happened with less probability, but the other way might have been faster; they talked about all kinds of novel things. And when I was a little bit on their side, though a little skeptical, and the thing that they came up was double. It was a cabal against the project through some guy, I don't remember now, who was a relative of one of the then important Roosevelt advisors, possibly the speech writer. Do you remember that man's name?

Norris:

Rosenman? No, no. Samuel Rosenman?

Morrison:

Something like that. Maybe it was Samuel Rosenman. It might have been. Something like that. [I now think it was not Rosenman.]

Norris:

I thought — Yeah. Go ahead.

Morrison:

Maybe not. Some relative of such a person was known, was on the project, a young man of great enthusiasm, and he and the disparate people who were in disagreement like Szilard always wanted things to be different. In the grapevine world, no official thing, they began to say, "We must cut corners. We must do things fast." I heard them propose such things as this. And even at one point they said Fermi supported it, but I don't necessarily believe that. They were going to put the reactor on an island in a lake somewhere and not shield it very much. So you could save all that shielding and so on. Of course you would endanger the people who had to go there, but they said, "Well, that's not too important."

Norris:

Really? Would it have speeded up the process of plutonium production?

Morrison:

If all had been right, yes. But if it wasn't right it would have slowed it down.

Norris:

Aha.

Morrison:

The notion that you could get people and even ask them to do this when there was no knowledge that the Germans were going to build one next day and not protect their workers from radioactivity, I thought that was going too far. It was putting your opinions of the Germans far too high. I should tell you this as well, which I remember very clearly. When I was going in and out of Chicago and frequently meeting Wigner and Szilard especially, I realized that I came in one day — and I think I remember the reason for it. When the American forces, maybe with British, had secured probably Sicily. I was so pleased. But the Europeans said it was unimportant, won’t make up for the lack of the metric system.

Norris:

So you did visit Oak Ridge then.

Morrison:

Oh, I did do this. Yes, yes.

Norris:

I didn't know that.

Morrison:

And Wendover, Utah too.

Norris:

You went to Wendover too?

Morrison:

Oh, certainly. But Hanford, no, not until after the war. But I went to Hanford while it was still classified, but after the war, in '46.

Norris:

Why did you go to Wendover?

Morrison:

To get sent to Japan, to Tinian.

Norris:

Oh, so you flew out of there.

Morrison:

Yeah. I flew from Los Alamos to Albuquerque, from Albuquerque to Wendover.

Norris:

Right.

Morrison:

That's the 509th AAF group that was assembled.

Norris:

The 509th was there and the C-54 Green Hornets.

Morrison:

The Green Hornets. Yes, absolutely.

Norris:

That's probably how you got to Tinian.

Morrison:

That's how I got to Tinian.

Norris:

Yes.

Morrison:

It was very exciting, especially when we had the Green Hornets which were the newest C-54s with reversible pitch propellers. When we landed on the landing field for the first time with those (I think in Hamilton Field, San Francisco, but maybe in Wendover). They rushed out the fire engines because the planes were stopping at the gates, too short.

Norris:

Well of course on the Nagasaki plane, on the B-29s they needed the reversible propellers to stop from going off the end of the —

Morrison:

Of the airstrip.

Norris:

The airstrip.

Morrison:

Yeah, at Iwo. Yeah.

Norris:

At Okinawa.

Morrison:

Okinawa. Uh-huh.

Norris:

So, well, we mentioned before — I guess we skipped one here. We skipped number 9 actually.

Morrison:

Yes, I should say —

Norris:

Why don't we go back there and look at the Special Engineering Detachment (SED). A group of young scientists and technicians and engineers who selectively were drafted to form some of the work at Los Alamos and elsewhere.

Morrison:

Yes. Absolutely. And of course —

Norris:

And people have told me that they are deserving of sort of more recognition in the project, and it's sort of been overlooked as well.

Morrison:

Well, absolutely. I agree with that entirely. But they're exactly the people and the jobs and the lack of recognition usually to graduate students. They were essentially graduate students, and the graduate students of the project — especially at Los Alamos — and they did everything. I had many working for me. Not dozens, but you know, handfuls. And when the guy is carrying the core. There's a famous photograph, a certain Sergeant somebody — (I have now forgotten his name) — was carrying in the plutonium core in the special carrying case that we had designed for it through the door of the ranch house.

Norris:

McDonald ranch house.

Morrison:

That's right. And that is Sergeant [Herb] Lehr.

Norris:

Sergeant Lehr, yes, right, that's good.

Morrison:

I don't remember his name. And he was such a person.

Norris:

He was a SED.

Morrison:

And many such people.

Norris:

Right, right.

Morrison:

And Los Alamos did very well by them. They got them — when they were sent there, they were scheduled for the usual, general utility, but they were in fact employed on technical parts of the project, all kinds of record keeping and everything else. Not intelligence, not guarding, but technical work. The authorities felt, the camp commander, that they should be treated as the soldiers they were. They were all drafted. That meant they had to police their own quarters, and they had to have a certain amount of basic training so they could watch and walk in order and so on. I guess it was Oppie himself or Hawkins or one of those people in the office, who said, "This is terrible. We can't afford it. They are the people that do all the work. We've got to free their time. We'll hire people to clean their quarters." The Indians wanted the employment anyhow. So they did, and the locals came and it all worked just beautifully. Only some rule was broken (which Groves could always fix up!)

Norris:

There again, if it accelerated the project we can do it in a slightly different way and it's okay.

Morrison:

That's just right. They had to hire people from the Indian Reservations to stoke the home coal furnaces and do whatever had to be done.

Norris:

Right, right.

Morrison:

Which they were doing anyhow for the benefit of the residents. But now they had to do a little bit more for the benefit of the technical project — which certainly had well-established needs. So that was fine.

Norris:

I think there were a significant number of them in Los Alamos —

Morrison:

Oh yes.

Norris:

They were also at Oak Ridge in numbers as well.

Morrison:

There were. I would say there were two thousand at Oak Ridge and maybe five hundred to a thousand at Los Alamos?

Norris:

I think that's right.

Morrison:

As I say, [unintelligible word] they were graduate students. Every group had them, you know, keeping the counters in order and doing the analyses and recording all the data. And the bosses would have to go to committee meetings and so on.

Norris:

Some of them absolutely were in central places of the activity that's going on of course.

Morrison:

Oh, absolutely. I know at the Trinity test — it's just an example, late in the project — many were sent down to the countryside with detectors to see what they could see and monitor the fallout.

Norris:

Right.

Morrison:

They reported the fallout, and they got people moved from their houses.

Norris:

If we could back up just a little bit, you've touched upon it before, the reason that you were sent to Los Alamos I think had to do with the implosion crisis, the realization that using the gun type assembly would not work with plutonium, and when this became absolutely conclusive the organization of the laboratory was changed rather dramatically and many people were recruited to do new things, and you were among them.

Morrison:

Yes. I was recruited by R.F. Bacher, Robert Bacher, who was a well-known physics executive and been a good physicist to this day, from Cornell I believe. And he went around, maybe a couple of other people as well, to the other labs to look for people who were able to do something useful right away. Since I had worked a lot on critical assembly or something like it — it wasn't quite critical assembly. It was reactivity measurement. I was brought to work in Otto Robert Frisch’s, Otto Robert Frisch's group on critical assemblies, which is the same thing, only turned from slow neutrons to fast, and from large to small. That's why I was not sent to Hanford, because they had plenty of people going to Hanford, but I was going to do this where there was nobody else. They had needed a couple of people to go there, so I went to Los Alamos instead.

Norris:

The sense that this potentially could fail I suppose, how —? If certainly Groves was worried about this, that maybe all of this effort at Hanford might go for naught, and maybe this new thing which was much more difficult might not work, can you speak to the sense of sort of uncertainty? Of course we know how things turned out and things did work with — But looking at it from the other side, there was always a fear of delay or failure and that must have been very keen during this implosion rearrangement.

Morrison:

Well, it certainly was. We all knew it was very strange and scary, and we began, when I went to Los Alamos, I had this clear task of making critical assemblies with small amounts of material, which gradually got denser and denser and smaller and smaller. And they were dangerous and hard to do but worth doing.

Norris:

Was this to determine how much plutonium would be needed?

Morrison:

That's right. And whether it could be compressed or not.

Norris:

Right. So at a certain point it was agreed that a certain amount would be the amount that would be needed. And you helped contribute to that decision.

Morrison:

Yes. In fact my little group where I was working was the first ever to make a plutonium chain reaction in a solution of plutonium nitrate or something like that — which is dangerous, but we did it.

Norris:

You compressed it?

Morrison:

No, we made it go critical in water solution.

Norris:

You made it go critical.

Morrison:

You know, delayed slow-neutron critical.

Norris:

Aha.

Morrison:

And then it was our task to do more and more, but only after the war did I really get interested in making reactors that worked on fast neutrons.

Norris:

Right.

Morrison:

And we did make one, and it did work, and we — I worked out the new unit called the cent, and the cent was a hundredth part of difference between all-neutron critical and only delayed-critical. You don't have to wait for delayed neutrons to become critical. That's the danger point. You drive that point a hundred cents [????????????] don't go across it. That was done after the war, just after.

Norris:

But as you were doing these experiments, at some point it was decided that well approximately 6 kilograms were going to be needed for a test bomb. It had to be done by a certain date, and then six more for a real bomb to follow. And you know, this was the real pacing item for everything.

Morrison:

Yes.

Norris:

Which Groves recognized. And at that point the Hanford schedule was predictable. But can you recall kind of who made this final decision about how big a critical mass should be for plutonium?

Morrison:

No, I think it was made by the laboratory board of —

Norris:

Yeah. Data and —

Morrison:

Oppie and data.

Norris:

Oppie's data and —

Morrison:

But we measured it, so we no doubt gave numbers which enabled them to calculate a good safe value. Because they wanted a little excess. I didn't know about efficiency calculations, so I don't remember the allowance they had to make for making the reactor when it's compressed for that short time more than just critical so it grows fast. That was all in the design. I don't remember the detail about that. But it's all a very touching thing because you know the death of Slotin.

Norris:

Right.

Morrison:

He was supposed to be testing the criticality of a complete core done to the right size. But he exceeded it. It became slightly more than prompt critical.

Norris:

Right. Right. You were very close to that whole episode.

Morrison:

Very. I wasn't there at the time fortunately, but he called me up at the same time he called the hospital. That was May 21, 1946. That's quite long after these events.

Norris:

Right.

Morrison:

So I don't think that my presence at Hanford would have made any difference to anybody. Yes, I would have helped Enrico, but he didn't need much help! It would have been nice to have somebody, but John Wheeler was there, who knew the thing better than I did. And I would have just been another person to make it a little safer, if somebody got sick or lost in the airplane or something. I was probably the next person to ask, but it wasn't very important.

Norris:

So as we move in into the early months of 1945, things are becoming more predictable about when there would be enough material and so on, and things begin to be organized for the actual use of the bomb.

Morrison:

Yes.

Norris:

And there's a certain group of people here who eventually come to make up parts of what's called Project Alberta.

Morrison:

Yes.

Norris:

And just prior to that there was something called the Weapons Committee which had some of the same membership. And some of these people are among the more interesting ones of the project and if you had some observations about them, Norman Ramsey being one, was someone in a central position under Parsons. Can you talk about those two people?

Morrison:

Well, of course Ramsey was a very, very able physicist and a serious person. He also had a strong military background. I believe his father was a General.

Norris:

That's right. His father was at West Point, a military man.

Morrison:

So he was a good person to be in liaison. And Parsons of course was an able Captain, very technically minded, strongly interested in the gun. And I think that was his specialty — he was an Ordnance Officer. So I don't think he was brought in so much for technical knowledge as for his general knowledge of guns. And being a good person to be on committees and talking about weapons, in the general officer’s world. Roger Warner was an explosives type who had spent a lot of time — I worked for him a while in Canada at Churchill, blowing up ice and things like that. I don't think it was very productive, but there it was. And there's Francis Birch, again a gun person, a physicists expert in high pressure.

Norris:

Francis Birch, yeah, he was in charge of the assembly of Little Boy.

Morrison:

That's right. And Robert Brode. I don't remember what he did as a physicist. He probably also was on the gun. And Norris Bradbury, a Naval officer, and Lewis Fussell. I don't remember his name. I think he's a chemist [and Glenn Fowler] I don't know at all.

Norris:

Okay.

Morrison:

Roger Warner taught me how to handle high explosives. That is, what he taught me was, "Be as careful as you can, and don't run, because you can't run very far in a microsecond." Might as well say the time. If you know enough to say, "I want to run," stop. You know, it's all over! That impressed me greatly. (Actually, it’s milliseconds.)

Norris:

Well, to be very precise about the Trinity day here, you were–

Morrison:

What about the pit assembly? You want to know more about that?

Norris:

Which is that now?

Morrison:

Eleven.

Norris:

Number 11. Oh yes, I'm sorry, we sort of skipped over that. And you had been assigned by Bacher with Marshall Holloway.

Morrison:

Exactly.

Norris:

For pit assembly, and I guess your nickname was the G-engineers or you —

Morrison:

That's right, G-engineers. G meant gadget (the name of the Bomb Division at Los Alamos).

Norris:

Gadget engineers.

Morrison:

Yeah, we didn't say that. We just said G-engineers.

Norris:

And your responsibilities there were to —

Morrison:

You see, Bacher was the head of G division. That's where G-engineers comes from. It means the Implosion Device Division. The gadget as the G the implosion device. And we were the pit team — that's what the Army called us. We had to make sure to Bacher, responsible to explain to him just how we were going to get and test all the components inside a certain sphere. I forget which one, probably the uranium plug. Everything — all about where it comes from, who's doing it and so on. Which we then proceeded sturdily to do. And we divided the job and each of us did something, and we'd occasionally check each other. I remember with great enthusiasm helping a young Navy draftsman, whose name I've forgotten, a genuine trained engineer officer in the Navy who knew a lot about drafting, I guess he was a Naval architect by training. So he could draw and he knew all the 8X16 screws and all that.

We discussed and together designed and he did all the truly engineering things and I thought more about the functions of the special case for the core, which you see in many pictures and which was a serious matter. Which was made out of something dazzling like titanium. (Maybe not. Maybe it was only aluminum.) And it had a sealed place for the pit, it had built-in radioactivity measurement, it had temperature recorded to see if the — See, we had this other problem. I hope this is not new to you. The plutonium core is delta phase plutonium which is not stable under normal circumstances. But the clever metallurgists under Cyril Smith knew how you could stabilize — or thought they knew — phase changes in such heavy metals, and they added gallium to it, and their tests showed that gallium alloy stabilized, and would never change phase. Now if it changed in phase it would become denser and might start the whole thing going! It was not thermodynamically stable because of that. But apparently they know lots of things are meta-stable, just as ammonium nitrate fertilizer is an explosive. It’s not stable at all.

Norris:

Right.

Morrison:

And blew up a whole city in Germany when they found that out.

Norris:

So as you went about your responsibilities for the pit team here, whatever you needed you could draw upon people to provide this and this and —

Morrison:

Yes. To explain to us how they were going to get it, how they were going to make it. You know, like the chemists who are going to draw the plutonium from so-and-so, and this was their date, and this was the guy who would have it ready, and here was the rate, so we'd go and see him, "Can you do this?" and then when the time came we'd go ask him, "Have you done this?" and so on. We really were pressing on it and how it was done and then tested.

Norris:

And course that schedule again from Hanford, which was a great revelation to me that it was coming in small amounts, being worked over by the chemists to make it into the metal and fashion it and shape it and everything, but all of this was on a very, very tight schedule. So you didn't have your plutonium until very late in the game and —

Morrison:

That's right. I remember very well the shipment was given to us by Allison, and I remember very well the — (I'm not sure it was Allison, somebody gave it to us). I think it was he. The statement was made about it, "This is the first shipment in which the weight of the plutonium is greater than the paper that goes with it." And so we got it, and eventually — we didn't open the containers in general.

Norris:

No.

Morrison:

Scary.

Norris:

Yeah.

Morrison:

But we got the chemists to do that. We designed containers and they would fill them up and bring them over to us, and then we'd put them in a tank of water. All this was designed and tried out beforehand and so on without plutonium, with mockups, to see where they become critical. So we made the first chain reaction on a late Saturday evening in March or April to see what the criticality was in solution with water tamper.

Norris:

Right, right.

Morrison:

And we knew that people knew the corrections pretty well. So that was it, and then finally we got enough metal to do that too.

Norris:

Right. And that came again really just a matter of days or a week or two before Trinity, before July 16th, and then once again after that. So, and then the schedule at the production reactors in Hanford was such that it was going to be about a bomb's worth of plutonium, oh probably every ten days or so. About three a month where it was going to be the rate into September-October if that were required.

Morrison:

I think I made the first preliminary survey in detail of what the production schedule could be on the basis of the early performance of the reactors. And I sat down and wrote, you know, figured out which ones are good to empty first, and all that stuff, engineering style. And yeah, what you're saying is about right. But that was only the first time that somebody did it and probably they did it much better.

Norris:

As I recount in the book — and this was sort of a revelation too — but showed the sort of relentlessness of Groves, that he had this speedup program at Hanford where the DuPont schedule was going too slow, too slowly, and thus he turned up the power. He had them turn up the power above the rate, above 250. He pushed the fuel out faster than normal and it didn't sit in the pools as long as it might have. So, because of all of this, the plutonium came sooner than it would have if other things had not been done.

Morrison:

Yeah.

Norris:

So I show that to have Groves's hand right there racing for the bomb and pushing hard.

Morrison:

Oh yes. Yeah.

Norris:

At the end, to have it as soon as possible. So these time spans were so close here. I mean every day was crucial.

Morrison:

Yes. Yeah.

Norris:

And there was no lax period where things weren't happening. It was all going very, very quickly.

Morrison:

That's how I got to work for DuPont.

Norris:

Aha.

Morrison:

They hired me to do this first go-over of how fast plutonium would flow.

Norris:

[Unintelligible phrase]. Above the rate. Aha.

Morrison:

Yeah.

Norris:

And well of course they were.

Morrison:

Yeah, I didn't do that, but I just gave them the possibilities. And no doubt they recalculated. They just wanted some start. They were very careful.

Norris:

Let's see. This guy named [Roger] Williams at DuPont and a guy named [Raymond P.] Genereaux? These names, these were some of the DuPont engineers and scientists [unintelligible phrase].

Morrison:

The guy I remember was more of a liaison person — Miles...

Norris:

Miles. I'm sure I came across him, but —

Morrison:

He was a senior person. He probably wouldn't calculate anything.

Norris:

But I think the main DuPont people that had responsibility for overseeing Hanford were a guy named Williams and a guy named Genereaux. Of course there was also Greenewalt, Crawford Greenewalt.

Morrison:

Yes.

Norris:

Did you ever —?

Morrison:

Oh yes, indeed.

Norris:

He's another very interesting person.

Morrison:

Indeed he is. He became the president.

Norris:

Of DuPont.

Morrison:

Yeah. He was pretty smart. He didn't know much, but he was really a clever man. I had a better opinion of him than most any other of the high administrators that —

Norris:

Groves say in him —

Morrison:

He was the Effects [correct word?] Chief or something?

Norris:

Yeah. Groves I think saw in him an ability to smooth the feathers of the scientists —

Morrison:

Yes.

Norris:

He was the DuPont person in close observation of everything, and Groves relied on him quite heavily. He kept a diary for a while until Groves found out about it and told him to stop. Typical.

Morrison:

So much for history. Yes.

Norris:

Yeah.

Morrison:

Well —

Norris:

He was often in Chicago and back and forth to Wilmington and Hanford.

Morrison:

Oh yes, oh yes. Well I had to go to Wilmington for a week, as I said, and be told the history of the DuPont firm and so on. Then I went back home, belonging to DuPont I calculated a speeded up pile situation.

Norris:

Groves eventually did it. He eventually did it. So, well, we're starting on sort of the details of Trinity and your involvement there, and I think I have this right here that you and Louis Slotin or — I came across another name, Paul Aebersold?

Morrison:

Aebersold. I don't think that's my [unintelligible word].

Norris:

No, that's not true. Then maybe I got that wrong.

Morrison:

But Slotin was somebody I met there. I mean I knew him, but he went down a day or two earlier and he met me at the car.

Norris:

Okay.

Morrison:

But I think I was in the car, and maybe McDaniel, Boyce McDaniel was in the car.

Norris:

Boyce McDaniel.

Morrison:

Yeah.

Norris:

In a kind of a convoy I suppose.

Morrison:

That's right.

Norris:

That left —

Morrison:

Who were driven like hell like women from the Women's Auxiliary Corps.

Norris:

Oh really?

Morrison:

Yeah. Famous for keeping their heavy foot on the pedal.

Norris:

And your eventual destination I guess was the McDonald Ranch.

Morrison:

That's right. And it's all recorded in movies. Yeah. Which is surprising. I didn't even know until the war was over by years. I saw cameras. I never knew whose their pictures would be taken.

Norris:

Yeah, I know, there are famous photographs of all of that and inside of the McDonald Ranch and then transporting it to the Trinity site itself. And you're involved in all of this here.

Morrison:

Yes.

Norris:

You are a bit out of your sight there or —

Morrison:

That's right. Even more than that, it's the important part was done by Ken Greisen and the people who put in the detonators. It's true, he had the design, but somebody had to do it, so Greisen from Cornell, a very good physicist, put the detonators in place, a job which I would not have particularly enjoyed, but somebody had to do it.

Norris:

No. Five thousand pounds of high explosive.

Morrison:

That's right. Forget the core. So we G-engineers did something too, because we had this little problem of making sure that the phase change did not occur to make the thing much more reactive than it should have been. We might take it out if something had happened and calm it down. So we had devised a neutron detector, a piece of metal wire, manganese wire as I recall, manganese having the right radioactivity. We put a hypodermic needle tube right through the whole device. You drop the wire into the hypodermic needle tubing, and remove it later to count decays in a Giga counter. That’s another thing we had to procure!

Norris:

Right.

Morrison:

And we'd go down there and wait a while, and we calibrated with sources. You could measure the neutron flux. And we did that every hour or something. Somebody would stay up all night, climb up the tower, drop this thing in, pull it out every one or two hours. That's in addition to what they did for the lenses and the wiring and detonators.

Norris:

Still things can go wrong, there still could be uncertainty, there's still apprehension and everyone feels probably great tension and pressure.

Morrison:

Yes. But I'll tell you even more than that, similar unexpected work was done at Tinian. I have learned since from people who were there — no reason to doubt them; they were where they said they were — I don't know what they did — they said they did, and it looked that way, and if they did what they said they did they completely changed details in a way which General Groves would not have liked when they delivered the final combat bomb to the airplane!

Norris:

Right. So even after it worked at Trinity, which was a —

Morrison:

Which was a test.

Norris:

— on a tower in a shape that was not useful for an airplane, and now there was something else to be done and uncertainty continued.

Morrison:

Yeah, well they were given the wrong thing shipped by air from China Beach, something like that.

Norris:

Right, right.

Morrison:

China Lake.

Norris:

China Lake. Right.

Morrison:

Where they made armor plate cases, to guard it if the Japanese were to fire at it with machine guns or something. Overly cautious. But the people that drove the holes in the armor plate made a mistake.

Norris:

Had it in the wrong place. Yeah.

Morrison:

That's right. And they knew at Los Alamos they couldn't drill through the armor. That was almost a stopper at Tinian.

Norris:

That must have been quite shocking.

Morrison:

Quite a shock. Absolutely.

Norris:

To discover that at the last minute.

Morrison:

Fortunately they never told anybody, so it worked.

Norris:

Yeah. And then isn't there a story about Bernard O’Keefe?

Morrison:

Oh yeah, the guy who went —

Norris:

Who switched the wires in the middle of the night.

Morrison:

I see.

Norris:

It's the famous picture of the Alberta team. Bernard O'Keefe.

Morrison:

Bernard O'Keefe, yes. Did he switch wires?

Norris:

Yeah. He has a book and —

Morrison:

I know. I read it, but I don't remember this particular event.

Norris:

Yeah, and at the end he discovered that something — he was given the responsibility I think of guarding it and looking after it and making a final check, and he discovered that two wires were backwards and he switched them. He had this in his book.

Morrison:

And that is No Witness probably. But I'm glad he didn’t ask me.

Norris:

Said it seemed to be the right thing to have done.

Morrison:

The people that assembled it on Tinian actually took one of the — you know, there is a plethora of alternatives, so they took one of the non-armor ones, just mild steel, and they drilled the holes themselves, made it fit together, and delivered it all properly — except it wasn't the right kind of steel. But I didn't know one steel from another. It wasn't my job anyhow. When I looked at it, it was painted like the others. Of course, no one fired at it either.

Norris:

Well, just before we get to Tinian, just one final thing about Trinity, and that is General Groves requested some eyewitness accounts of Trinity.

Morrison:

Yes.

Norris:

From many of the people who were there. And you supplied a two-page description.

Morrison:

Yes.

Norris:

And that's in the archives, and you were at the base camp line lying prone, holding a stopwatch, and described the intense white light.

Morrison:

Yes. Not only did I hold a stopwatch, but I had a public-address microphone and a radio receiver.

Norris:

Oh, you did?

Morrison:

I was the announcer. The stopwatch was to follow the count. And I kept saying, "30 seconds" — you could also hear the voice of the real person coming from the shelter.

Norris:

That was I think Allison. There was another person.

Morrison:

It was Allison though. I think it was — I don't remember who it was now.

Norris:

I have it in the book. I just —

Morrison:

Yeah, well —

Norris:

One of the little sticky things here fell on the book here.

Morrison:

I know that man's name.

Norris:

Okay. We'll get it here, because I think I — I'm sure I did it. Yeah. Through the nearby loudspeaker they heard Samuel Allison count down the final seconds. Yeah, it is Allison.

Morrison:

It is Allison. I see. I didn't know that. [Still doubtful.]

Norris:

And you had sunglasses and welders' glasses.

Morrison:

Yeah. And a piece of cardboard as well.

Norris:

And you sensed the heat on your exposed force.

Morrison:

That was most memorable, most sensory impact of all. I wrote a very spare and confined description. I shouldn't have done that. People who wrote more poetically did better. I was too technical.

Norris:

And then you saw the mushroom cloud and felt the air shock.

Morrison:

Oh yes. Yes, indeed.

Norris:

And so my question was, that beyond these technical descriptions, do you remember having any other thoughts at that time over what you had just witnessed? Was this overwhelming and —?

Morrison:

It was overwhelming. I knew it would be terrible. But you know we were committed by that time.

Norris:

Right.

Morrison:

And the thing that sticks in my mind still, not what I wrote, it was several times greater heat on the face than the rising sun, always emphasizing not the sight so much as the heat on the skin, a sign the sun had risen twice.

Norris:

And you were ten miles away.

Morrison:

Ten miles. Base camp.

Norris:

You were ten miles at base camp.

Morrison:

Eighteen thousand yards.

Norris:

Yeah, yeah. And well, almost immediately after that then you were sent to Tinian.

Morrison:

Yes, well I was sent to Wendover.

Norris:

First to Wendover.

Morrison:

And then to San Francisco.

Norris:

And then to San Francisco.

Morrison:

And then to Tinian, yeah.

Norris:

And then eventually Tinian.

Morrison:

Yes.

Norris:

And now really formally part of this project, Alberta Team, under Norman Ramsey.

Morrison:

Yes.

Norris:

And now a whole other set of tasks to prepare for the final assembly of now a deliverable bomb rather than an experiment on a tower.

Morrison:

Exactly. And there were two, but I had some responsibility only for one.

Norris:

There were two?

Morrison:

Two bombs.

Norris:

Two bombs.

Morrison:

The Fat Man and —

Norris:

And Little Boy.

Morrison:

And Little Boy.

Norris:

Of course. And that team was under I think Francis Birch for final assembly I believe.

Morrison:

I would have said William Parsons, but I'm not sure. Parsons added the last thing. The last moment he changed his mind and he put in some final piece. He removed some plug for takeoff.

Norris:

Groves wanted the bomb fully assembled as it took off. Parsons, being on Tinian and witnessing several B-29 crashes going off of North Field and elsewhere, realized that had that been the Little Boy bomb in there, there was a good chance that it might detonate.

Morrison:

Yes, and blow up 500 B-29s!

Norris:

Right, and all of Tinian. So, in one of the few times I think Groves's orders were countermanded, Parsons decided that he was going to insert the high explosive in the air.

Morrison:

Yes. Propellant only.

Norris:

[Unintelligible word].

Morrison:

Cannon powder. Which they don't call high explosive.

Norris:

They called it — it was this RDX business I think.

Morrison:

Yeah, it's a mixture of some sort.

Norris:

Composition B I think.

Morrison:

Comp B maybe. Whatever, it's — yeah, okay, you can call it [unintelligible word].

Norris:

These little condite bags.

Morrison:

Yes. It's ammunition stuff. Yeah. And he had to throw the —

Norris:

And he had to [unintelligible word] it around and it was dark and drafty, but he got it. I think he did check now with General Farrell, so it wasn't totally a unilateral action.

Morrison:

I think he probably did, yes.

Norris:

Right. So on Tinian you have the opportunity to observe — well, many people you have been working with, but perhaps some new ones, and maybe if you might say something about General Thomas Farrell.

Morrison:

Just what I thought he would be. He was very — he understood what to do, he was firm in decision, polite man, rather — you could see he was a civil servant, that kind of a man. A genuine person. And he had the authority, so what could you do? And I never found any complaint about him. Purnell I knew less well. I just looked at him. Parsons I heard a lot from — not personally to me, but at meetings, because he spoke about the technical matters. And [William] Penney, high class. Penney I knew very little, but he was an English damage expert as you know, and he gave the full account of what the bomb would do in the week before.

Norris:

Blast. Yeah. Right.

Morrison:

And Charlie Baker was my partner. He was in my group. And Harold Agnew was a young fellow who did photographic work and a very clever person. I have seen him more since then I had at that time.

Norris:

Well of course Harold, like yourself, has been at many places over the years here. He was at December 2nd and —

Morrison:

Absolutely. I think he has —

Norris:

Eventually becomes the head of Los Alamos for a decade.

Morrison:

Yes. He really goes through the entire —

Norris:

Right. Soup to nuts here from the —

Morrison:

Yes.

Norris:

Right. Bill Penney of course was a member of the British mission.

Morrison:

Yes, yes.

Norris:

And do you have any comments about British [unintelligible phrase]?

Morrison:

I know a little about that but just that he was English. It's probably in the record too. At Tinian after the pictures came back of the bomb of the 6th [correct word?], the implosion people — which means Penny and others — not me particularly, I didn't care much about it, I wasn't, I just made the core — wanted to be able to fly over Nagasaki or whatever the target would be and get photographs much earlier than they had of Hiroshima. So we all went down, me and Penney and Farrell and I don't remember who else now — Ramsey surely, he was our chief — to see General [Curtis] Le May, who was the AAF commander of the whole show.

Norris:

Right.

Morrison:

And ask him for permission to do that.

Norris:

To take pictures?

Morrison:

Pictures of Nagasaki, much earlier than the plan on the paper, and then had been done at Hiroshima. And who could do that? Well, there was a top, much-decorated RAF crew captain full of medals, and he was a great pilot. And he was going to fly the plane. He had been checked out on the B-29s or whatever it was, and he offered to do that so as to run earlier and not have to do it through the Naval chain of command.

Norris:

Aha. This after the bombing.

Morrison:

After the bombing, yes.

Norris:

To take pictures as quickly as possible.

Morrison:

Exactly. Risking to fly over the smoke all that sort of thing.

Norris:

I see.

Morrison:

But of course LeMay paid no attention to that. The notion would get their pictures in the paper, certainly too much for LeMay. It was probably a little too much even for me, but —

Norris:

Yeah. Not going to let the British get any glory here of this.

Morrison:

That's right. Or blame, for that matter. So that was quite a meeting. It mean his impassioned pleas and representation of more experience and so on. "No," he said, "We won't do that."

Norris:

You saw LeMay in person at that time?

Morrison:

Maybe six of us and LeMay, maybe a couple of his colonels.

Norris:

He was another tough one there.

Morrison:

Boy, he sure was.

Norris:

So the British group at Los Alamos were a couple of dozen people who made contributions along the way.

Morrison:

Oh yes important.

Norris:

And actually Groves cites Penney as one of the people he relied on. He has a small group he mentions of people who give good advice. Ramsey was one and Penney was another actually along with of course Oppenheimer at the top of the list.

Morrison:

Yeah. I think Tuck made a real contribution to the design [unintelligible word]. Supporting, strongly supporting the implosion at an early stage.

Norris:

Of course Groves was not terribly happy that the British were there at all.

Morrison:

No.

Norris:

Being quite Anglophobic in his prejudices. And like almost everybody else there, he only sent them to places where he thought they could do some good. The British as you know were very knowledgeable about uranium enrichment and especially gaseous diffusion. And thus he sent people to, he sent British members to Kellex and to Oak Ridge. He knew the British didn't know anything about plutonium, so no British ever went to Hanford for example. He was going to at least limit the amount of knowledge that they could get, and then he sent a team to Los Alamos as well. So, well, we've had two hours here.

Morrison:

Okay.

Norris:

I suppose we can take a breather here and maybe do another session tomorrow if you're game.

Morrison:

Sure, if you'd like to do that.

Norris:

Yeah.

Morrison:

Maybe you'll think of something we didn't cover.

Norris:

Right, and yourself as well. There are other topics that we can get to at that point.

Morrison:

Well even when you asked me to tell you these details, it turns out there's a lot more little incidents which might be interesting.

Norris:

Absolutely.

Morrison:

It's hard to know.

Norris:

Yeah. Well I think they are.

Morrison:

You know, like the letter to [Ryokichi] Sagane. We didn't think of that in advance. Sitting around on the island we thought of it.

Norris:

Well, we can just touch on that if you want. Louie (Luiz) Alvarez and Robert Serber were also in Tinian.

Morrison:

Oh yes.

Norris:

And three of you I guess just spontaneously sort of decided to write this letter to a Japanese colleague.

Morrison:

Yes.

Norris:

Sagane.

Morrison:

Sagane, whom we knew at the Cyclotron Lab at Berkeley.

Norris:

And the thrust of the letter of course was that he should make every effort to convince the leadership to stop the war because —

Morrison:

There's more of this to come.

Norris:

There is more of this to come if — And now, in looking this up here, I guess you made three copies — I think this is true — and attached them to three instrument capsules to be dropped out of the airplane the "Great Artiste."

Morrison:

Yes. These were telemetry, and their radio signal gave the altitude of the instrument and the altitude in getting them in positions.

Norris:

Because of the three of them.

Morrison:

Yes.

Norris:

Okay, okay, now I see.

Morrison:

From the time of the explosion.

Norris:

Right.

Morrison:

And the signal they sent was the moment that the shock hit the microphone in the canister.

Norris:

Okay. That's why there were three.

Morrison:

Yes.

Norris:

That's why there were three. And eventually these capsules fell to the earth and were found.

Morrison:

And the military picked them up.

Norris:

And Professor Sagane did eventually get the letter.

Morrison:

Yes. He showed it to me one day, a year later.

Norris:

Is that right?

Morrison:

When he came to the U.S. But he didn't get it in time.

Norris:

He didn't get it in time. Well, that second bomb was decisive in causing the end of it. Can I ask about what's often a sort of ambiguous issue? And that is the third bomb. That is where things were or what your understanding was or what you were doing after what came to be the Nagasaki bomb. Of course you didn't know it was going to be the Nagasaki bomb when the plane took off. It was — Kokura was the first —

Morrison:

Kukura was the primary.

Norris:

Primary, and there was no third target on that mission.

Morrison:

Right.

Norris:

But I think I recall in an earlier interview you saying that when you were sent to Tinian you didn't know how long you were going to be there, and you were going to be there probably for quite some time perhaps.

Morrison:

I was told to arrange the system for six months.

Norris:

For six months.

Morrison:

Yeah. They didn't promise me I'd be there all that time. "How long shall we plan to do this?" and somebody looked up into the air, I forget, and said, "Well, let's say six months." "Six months? Wow. All right." And we knew that they weren't going to come very often. There would be a handful by the end of the year, three maybe, and after that there would be a gun, and they would come infrequently, but we could get a faster schedule — which I knew because I had made up the plutonium schedules. But I didn't think we'd be going that long.

Norris:

No. Groves — I mean he, in retrospect I guess, he recounts about how he thought that two bombs were going to do it, and he says he took this from Purnell. I don't know. I mean this is —

Morrison:

That's — I always heard two. Purnell said —

Norris:

But other people thought that more might be needed. General Arnold for example thought more might be needed.

Morrison:

Naturally. Not if the Navy had to deliver more guns. It turns out that wouldn't be useful at all.

Norris:

But in any event, this is another one of those things where we know what happened. It is two bombs that were, but at the time you didn't know whether there was to have been a third mission or a fourth mission.

Morrison:

That's right. As I say, I always had supplies in my Quonset hut and plans for people and so on so; we could live for six months.

Norris:

Right.

Morrison:

And they'd be relieved. But we didn't have to plan for that.

Norris:

And the 509th Composite Group, the crews and the planes and all of that were prepared for further missions.

Morrison:

Yes.

Norris:

And there is speculation about who would have been the pilot on the third mission, and [unintelligible word] one and —

Morrison:

Well, as you know, the pilot on the second mission was not planned, and they took it away from the guy who really should have done it.

Norris:

Right.

Morrison:

Though he's probably better off.

Norris:

Yes. [Charles] Sweeney became the pilot of the Bockscar.

Morrison:

The executive officer of this whole group, Tibbets pal — whereas it should have been —

Norris:

Bock

Morrison:

Bock.

Norris:

Fred Bock.

Morrison:

Fred Bock.

Norris:

Which is why it was called Bockscar.

Morrison:

That's right.

Norris:

And of course the Nagasaki mission was fraught with a great deal of problems from the moment of takeoff when they had the jammed fuel line. Almost everything went wrong there, and only by the skin of their teeth did they drop the bomb and get back to Okinawa with a few gallons of gas in the tank.

Morrison:

And probably they never did see the target. That's my opinion.

Norris:

I know.

Morrison:

They claimed they bombed when the clouds went away and they could see, but I bet they didn't because they were on a straight line but they weren't in range.

Norris:

I think that's true. I think that they probably made up the story and they decided that's what it would be for history, but I have attended some 509th reunions, and this does sort of come out a little bit here that —

Morrison:

It does fit, huh?

Norris:

But Ashworth. Now did you know Ashworth at all?

Morrison:

I knew him, but only slightly.

Norris:

He was the counterpart to Parsons, a weaponeer.

Morrison:

Yes.

Norris:

And an able fellow on that mission.

Morrison:

Well he was an Air Force person.

Norris:

Navy.

Morrison:

Navy. Oh.

Norris:

It's interesting, Parsons and — the weaponeers on both missions were Navy.

Morrison:

I see. I didn't know that. I now remember, yeah.

Norris:

Fred Ashworth. He's alive in Albuquerque still.

Morrison:

I don't know him well at all.

Norris:

Well, why don't we stop there, Phil, for the day.

Morrison:

Okay.

Session I | Session II