The Making of the Manhattan Project Park
Cynthia C. Kelly
(excerpted from The Federalist, winter 2015-16)
The making of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park took more than five times as long as the making of the atomic bomb itself (1942–1945). Fifteen years after the first efforts to preserve some of the Manhattan Project properties at Los Alamos, New Mexico, in 1999, Congress enacted the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act, signed by President Barack Obama on December 19, 2014. The park was officially established by an agreement between the Secretaries of Interior and Energy on November 10, 2015. The following provides the story of how the park was created and a preview of coming attractions.
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At my urging, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) agreed to visit the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Manhattan Project site called “V Site.” On November 5, 1998, the Advisory Council members were astonished to see the simple properties where the world’s most powerful weapons were developed. Some said the cluster of buildings would qualify as a World Heritage Site. Somewhat chastened, the Los Alamos National Laboratory took the V Site buildings off the demolition list, but insisted that funds to restore them come from elsewhere.
The new park will focus on three major sites: Los Alamos, NM, where the first atomic bombs were designed; Oak Ridge, TN, where enormous facilities produced enriched uranium; and Hanford, WA, where plutonium was produced. There are over 40 properties that are officially designated as part of the park with provision for adding others later.
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A Virtual Museum
The Department of Energy has created an online exhibit of resources for learning about K-25, one of the central facilities of the Manhattan Project involved in the development of atomic power and the atomic bomb. It was built in the eastern Tennessee farming community of Wheat, later known as Oak Ridge. The top-secret, U-shaped building, constructed around the clock from 1943 to 1945, was a mile long and stood on 44 acres. It became the world’s largest enclosed building. At its peak it employed 25,266 people.
K-25 was dedicated to the use of the gaseous diffusion method for uranium separation, while other buildings explored electromagnetic isotope separation (Y-12) and liquid thermal diffusion (S-50) methods. Introductory text explains:
The first level housed auxiliary equipment such as transformers, switch gears, and air handling systems. The second floor contained the thousands of converters and compressors required for the gaseous diffusion process. The third level was largely a pipe gallery with the majority of piping enclosed in duct manufactured from steel panels. The operating floor, on the fourth level, included hundreds of instrument panels and control devices that aided in operation of the plant. The fourth floor also included a control room that allowed operators to monitor portions of the diffusion stages and manage potential disturbances.
K-25 was demolished in 2008 and 2013, after almost 70 years of service, but the Manhattan Project Park plans to erect a “footprint” of the facility for visitors.
The website has a useful timeline, complete with key documents, photographs, and film clips; a narrated virtual walking tour that takes you through all four levels of the building; stories of life in Happy Valley (the housing community); information on location and functions of the numerous support buildings; explanations of expansion during the Cold War; and oral histories with participants and relatives.
The site conveys the scientific and engineering complexity of that enormous and rushed wartime undertaking, of the great human efforts involved, and the evolving contributions of the facility after World War II to “defense, energy, and environmental cleanup missions that have helped end war, fuel nations, and restore the local landscape.” This is a very informative and well-planned site that provides a good introduction to the complex and critical undertaking at Oak Ridge. Visit http://www.k-25virtualmuseum.org/
Mary D. Dysart
reposted from The Federalist 41 (Spring 2014), 10-12
The Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA), a Field Operating Agency of the United States Air Force, is located at Maxwell AFB, Alabama. It operates under the oversight of the Director, Air Force History and Museums Policies and Programs. It serves as the Air Force’s central historical repository, furnishing information throughout the Air Force and to other agencies, institutions, and individuals. It is responsible for collecting, organizing, and disseminating USAF and air power related history; providing research services; compiling and approving organizational lineage, honors, and heraldry actions; and supporting wartime and contingency operations.
Early in 1942, when US military planners sought to examine World War I records, they found them sorely lacking. Therefore, on 4 March 1942 President Franklin D. Roosevelt directed that a Committee on Records of War Administration be established to “‘[preserve] for those who come after us an accurate and objective account of our present experience.’” The Adjutant General then instructed each of the commanders of the Army’s three major commands—Army Ground Forces, Army Air Forces (AAF), and Services of Supply—to appoint historical officers and supply them with the necessary staff to “record the administrative activities of their respective headquarters during the current war.” The Historical Branch, established in the Headquarters US Army Air Forces Office of the Assistant Chief of Air Staff, A-2 (Intelligence), supervised the preparation of histories of AAF units, made them available for AAF use and, subject to release restrictions, allowed access to other government entities, scholars, and the general public.By February 1943, the Historical Division Archives, located in Washington, DC, had begun to collect, classify, and catalog material concerning the activity of AAF units. As World War II drew to a close, the Historical Division was redesignated as the AAF Historical Office and assigned to the office of the Secretary of the Air Staff. After the National Security Act of 1947 established the United States Air Force (USAF) as a separate service, the Air Historical Office was reassigned to Air University, which was at that time an Air Force Major Command headquartered at Maxwell AFB. In September 1949, the Air Historical Office and its Archives moved from Washington, DC, to Maxwell, where it continued operations under various names and organizational structures until the inactivation of Air University as a separate command in 1978. AFHRA’s predecessor organization was briefly assigned to Air Training Command. It was designated as a USAF Direct Reporting Unit in 1979 and as a Field Operating Agency in February 1991. On 1 September 1991, it was redesignated Headquarters, Air Force Historical Research Agency.
AFHRA has thus remained the custodian of the documents entrusted to its predecessor organizations in the aftermath of World War II and of the histories and other materials subsequently added to its holdings. These documents serve as source materials for the Agency historians and archivists who provide historical services to Air Force organizations around the world and answer requests for information from the Air Force, government agencies, and the general public. They comprise a resource for scholars and other researchers and support professional military education programs at Air University. They are used to provide background material to inform the decision-making process at the highest levels of government, to support veterans, and to illuminate the actions and decisions of the air arm for the general public.
The Air Force Historical Research Agency’s holdings comprise more than 70,000,000 pages representing the world’s largest and most valuable organized collection of documents concerning US military aviation. Approximately 1,000 veterans, scholars, and members of the general public visit the Agency’s reading rooms each year, and over 4,400 documents are available on AFHRA’s public web page. AFHRA employees answer an average of over 7,000 requests for information annually from Air Force personnel, the Department of Defense and other government agencies, Congress, veterans, and individuals from around the world each year. Documents held by AFHRA are microfilmed or digitized, and uncontrolled unclassified copies are available for sale to the public.
The majority of AFHRA’s holdings consist of unit histories that chronicle US air forces’ operations and activities in war and peace from WWI to the present day. These materials provide the data and historical perspective that support the planning and decision-making process throughout the Air Force. These records are in constant use, and they often contain the answer to complex problems. For example, records and publications from the inactivated Strategic Air Command provided information vital to the stand-up of Air Force Global Strike Command, and researchers use World War II mission reports to determine the location of unexploded ordnance before initiating construction in Germany. AFHRA also maintains the organizational history of Air Force units and establishments, determines their lineage and honors, and administers Air Force organizational emblems. These records inform Air Force-wide organizational decisions and promote esprit de corps and knowledge of their heritage among Airmen.
AFHRA houses a wide variety of specialized collections. Its 786 groupings of personal papers include those of pioneers in flight, significant Air Force leaders and policymakers, and others who contributed to the evolution of American military aviation. In addition the Agency maintains approximately 100 Air Force Persons of Exceptional Prominence (PEP) Records Collections. It comprises more than 2,600 oral history interviews concerning matters of importance to the air forces dating from the 1920s, the Vietnam War, and the development and acquisition of Air Force weapons systems. Interviewees include individuals who led the Army Air Forces in the years before and during World War II and, beginning in 1976, former Secretaries of the Air Force, Chiefs of Staff, Major Command Commanders and Commanders-in-Chief, and the Chief Master Sergeants of the Air Force. The collection also contains interviews with personnel involved in Air Force operations abroad conducted by deployed historians, and it includes a large number of interviews concerning U.S. military operations carried out in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks.
The extensive aircraft records held at AFHRA contain abundant information about the history of individual aircraft and the circumstances under which they were retired from the Air Force inventory. The Agency’s holdings include individual aircraft record cards, aircraft accident reports dated prior to 1956, and World War II missing air crew and escape and evasion reports. A treasure trove for hobbyists, authors, and historians, these records, in combination with the corresponding unit histories, are used today by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command to locate and recover human remains from prior conflicts.
AFHRA’s leadership and staff continuously seek new opportunities to preserve Air Force history and to make more resources available to their customers. The Agency has collaborated with the Air Combat Command Cultural Resources office to establish and maintain a unique collection of architectural drawings for Air Force facilities of high historical mission importance or those that represent notable architectural and engineering achievement. When completed, the collection will comprise from 25,000 to 28,000 drawings dated primarily from 1938 through 1972 and include very rare or significant structures of the Army Air Corps and the Army Air Forces. This collection will be of great benefit to engineers and architectural historians.
Seventy years ago, Brigadier General Lawrence S. Kuter charged the AAF director of Organizational Planning to establish an Air Staff Historical Section to record the service’s history “‘while it is hot.’” Those histories, crafted in the heat of battle, formed the basis for the Archives’ collection—records selected with care by professionals dedicated to preserving a permanent history of the Army Air Forces. The AAF Historical Division and its successor organizations thus maintained the Air Force’s institutional memory, enabling it to prevail in current operations and plan for future ones. That legacy now belongs to the Air Force Historical Research Agency, which continues to collect, preserve, and make available those unparalleled documents.
1. Art (U), William C. Binkley, “Two World Wars and American Historical Scholarship,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 33, no. 1 (June 1946), 18, available at http://www.jstor.org/stable/1896733 (Oct 20, 2011).
2. AG letter (U), MG J. A. Ulio, The Adjutant General,” to Commanding Generals Army Ground Forces, Army Air Forces, and Services of Supply, “Appointment of Historical Officers,” July 15, 1942, IRIS #116436.
3. Directive (U), Brig. Gen. Lawrence S. Kuter, Deputy Chief of the Air Staff, [Army Air Force Historical Program], July 19, 1942, quoted in Article (U), Lt. Col. Clanton W. Williams, Acting Chief, Historical Division, AC/AS, Intelligence, “Army Air Force Historical Program,” n. d., IRIS #116419.
The Military Brand of Public History
One of our continual questions is how federal military historians do their work. How does their unique, nonacademic brand of historical duties and products broaden our concept of historical work and its purposes? I’m very impressed by the U.S. Army’s efforts to revamp and restore discipline and high standards to the Arlington National Cemetery History Office program after the egregious lapses there several years ago. Our profile of the office in the fall 2015 issue of The Federalist discusses re-establishing that program and, in so doing, allows us a detailed picture of what historians and curators there are expected to do. Duties range from conducting oral history interviews and preparing historical manuscripts to “recovery, documentation, and warehousing of grave site mementos and objects,” and fielding public inquiries. What makes the military historian’s work different, and are there benefits and even limitations to work done in the federal military context?
See The Federalist fall 2015 contents at http://shfg.org/shfg/publications/the-federalist/
Liberation of Ebensee Concentration Camp by U.S. Forces
It was on May 5, 1945, 70 years ago, that units of the XX Corps, Third U.S. Army approached the Ebensee camp and encountered a horrible sight. A brief history by Kathleen J. Nawyn of the Center for Military History describes the liberation, the needs, and the Army’s first relief efforts.
Ltg. Walton H. Walker led the XX Corps into Austria across the Inn River southeast towards the Enns River near Salzburg. The group’s 3rd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron moved along the Traunsee River, where some elements approached the town of Ebensee. They soon reported back that they had encountered “16000 political prisoners in Ebensee … badly in need of food and med care. What shall we do about them.”
The Ebensee concentration camp was part the Mauthausen camp system, comprising about 50 sub-camps throughout Austria. It was a camp for political prisoners from the Soviet Union, Poland, Yugoslavia, Hungary, France, and Italy, with about a third being Jewish. The prisoners worked at hard labor excavating tunnels for war production, but many died of starvation and disease.
U.S. forces faced no resistance from German remnants but were shocked by what they saw. They found “skeleton-like figures” among the living and at least 400 bodies at the crematorium, which could not keep up with the deaths. The 3rd Cavalry Group had to take charge of relief immediately. It set up kitchens, organized the local bakeries to produce more food, and requested more supplies from XX Corps. Even so, they reported, 300 were starving daily. Soldiers had to calm the former prisoners who rioted several times at the delivery of food. Many died from the inability to digest the sudden intake of more food. On May 9 units from the 30th Field Hospital arrived and began to more systematically treat the ill. Additional health units arrived to control for typhus. The medical operations continued through June 1945.
** Read Kathleen J. Nawyn’s article at http://www.history.army.mil/news/2015/150500a_ebensee.html
** For an excellent finding aid to Ebensee records at the National Archives, see The Mauthausem Concentration Camp Complex: World War II and Postwar Records, Reference Information Paper 115, (2008), comp. by Amy Schmidt and Gudrun Loehrer, available at http://www.archives.gov/publications/ref-info-papers/index.html
— Benjamin Guterman
The Defense Threat Reduction Agency
The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) has not had an active historical program for over two years, since the retirement of Chief Historian Pat Harahan, a former SHFG president (1994–95). Since then, historian Bianka Adams has also left. Aside from their duties of conducting research and oral histories, DTRA historians contributed to the agency’s journal, the shield. The last available issue of the shield (Spring 2012, available online) states that the journal “has been suspended until further notice” due to “a shift in focus to internal communications efforts.” These changes resulted in large part from the recent budgetary cuts of “sequestration.”
DTRA is a Combat Support Agency established in the Department of Defense in October 1998. Its mission is to “work with the military services, other elements of the United States government, and countries across the planet on counterproliferation, nonproliferation and WMD reduction issues with one goal in mind: Making the World Safer.” Its specialists and experts on Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) “address the entire spectrum of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high yield explosive threats.” It works in conjunction with SCC-WMD, the U.S. Strategic Command Center for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction, which “synchronizes Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction efforts across our military’s geographic commands and leverages the people, programs and interagency relationships of DTRA at a strategic level.”
DTRA has been using online outlets to promote news and awareness of its activities, most prominently its excellent website at http://www.dtra.mil/, which features “Headline News,” stories of DTRA in the news, and information on its current missions. One major area of responsibility is “Arms Control Verification,” in which DTRA/SCC-WMD arms control inspectors work “to establish whether or not a nation is in compliance of treaties in place.” Another major effort is in “Chemical and Biological Defense,” in which it has partnered with the Department of Health and Human Services to prepare for events at home and abroad, and now using “our first agent-based, high performance computational analysis system, which has resulted in a revolutionary pandemic influenza modeling capability.”
DTRA is also using Facebook to highlight its activities. One posting reports that DTRA personnel inspected the remains of an SS-18 intercontinental ballistic missile silo that was destroyed with explosives in Ukraine, and that the destruction was part of Ukraine’s compliance with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). Another story reports on a joint inspection by a U.S. and Norwegian Open Skies Treaty surveillance flight over Russian territory between August 5 and 10 on board a U.S. Boeing OC-135B observation aircraft, under an agreement by 34 member states “to promote openness and the transparency of military forces and activities.”
Another effective online news outlet is the DVIDS (Defense video and imagery distribution system) website, http://www.dvidshub.net/, which provides a wide range of news and applications. One story by Anne Marek, for example, reports on a Nuclear Weapons Accident/Incident Exercise in May at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Montana, under the scenario that “a U.S. nuclear launch facility is attacked by a domestic terrorist organization with transnational connections and the assistance of an insider.” DTRA’s activities are far wider in scope than the above examples.
These news updates and outreach efforts are invaluable for understanding the difficult work of this essential agency. But we hope that DTRA can reestablish a history office in the near future when resources allow. Historians are essential to an agency’s adaptation and successful evolution. They provide analysis and perspective by using an agency’s reports, field data, and oral histories to provide a narrative of past performance—a usable past. Meanwhile, we’ll read with great fascination and gratitude about DTRA’s often-dangerous front-line engagements in all dimensions of the campaign to control weapons of mass destruction.
— Benjamin Guterman
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Managing the Army’s Operational Records
William Michael Yarborough warns researchers that operational records from the Iraq War (1990–1991) are incomplete due to deficient records management procedures. These deficiencies were the result of the deterioration of the Adjutant General’s office and staff in the post–Vietnam War era. Operational records are “documents generated by units, commands, or other Army organizations in the course of and relevant to executing missions.” Yarborough calls them “the basic who, what, where, when, and how for units’ actions,” and says that the loss of these records during the Iraq War was caused by several factors. After Vietnam, records management functions historically performed by the Adjutant General were relegated to the Signal Corps, in an attempt to improve efficiency and computerize records along with other types of communication. Newly instituted procedures under the Modern Army Recordkeeping System were piloted only five years before the Iraq War, which proved insufficient time for records managers to learn to implement and administer them. Reduced resources diminished the ability of records managers to affect day-to-day operations at the field unit level. Records managers also tended to be Army civilians, who could not accompany units when deployed. As a result, the Iraq War witnessed a “near-total collapse of the Army’s system for managing operational records.” Records were misclassified, misdirected, lost, or otherwise improperly retired. Yarborough writes that Army historians in Military History Detachments became active in the records management process for Major Army Commands during the war, but that this was outside their regular responsibilities and that “the historians’ time and energy were finite.” Later controversy surrounding Gulf War Syndrome, and the revelation that soldiers near Khamisiyah may have been exposed to chemical weapons after unmarked munitions were improperly destroyed there, revealed the lack of available operational records. The Gulf War Declassification Project began in an attempt to identify which Army units were in locations that might pose health risks by piecing together data from a variety of agency records. Yarborough writes that a recent positive development has been the transfer of records management functions to the Office of the Administrative Assistant, but concludes that “nevertheless, much work remains to restore the system destroyed in the 1980s.” — “Undocumented Triumph: Gulf War Operational Records Management,” The Journal of Military History 76 (October 2013): 1427–38.
— Thomas I. Faith
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Military History Detachment: Collection of Data from the Field
Collecting historical data for military history is a dangerous business, often done under fire. The 305th Military History Detachment (MHD), one of many such three-person teams, has been part of several major operations in Iraq and Afghanistan from start to finish, collecting as much supportive material and documentation as possible.
The 305th MHD, and the other teams like it, commander Maj. David Hanselman writes, is dedicated to preserving and telling the history of the U.S. Army. They feel an obligation to remember the sacrifices of soldiers, especially those who died only days after being interviewed. The 305th has been on active duty for over three-and-a-half years since September 11, 2001, working on several major operations, including Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, and others in the contin
ental United States, such as after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Working with Major Hanselman since 2007 are master Sgt. Richard Gribenas and Sgt. Julie Wiegand. They arrived together in Afghanistan in September. There, they were responsible for covering an area larger than the entire country of Iraq, and larger than any other MHD. Since Hanselman was essentially the Theater Historian, he and his two non-commissioned officers participated in “senior level planning, briefings, and tasks at their home base of Bagram Air Base.”
The team members soon were at work on a 30-day mission in northeastern Afghanistan where they embedded with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team as part of Operation Rock Avalanche. They participated in dir
ect combat, but managed to collect interviews, documents, photographs, and artifacts. In November and December, they participated in the assault on Musa Qaleh in the south, where they documented the entire operation, including the massive air assault. Hanselman participated in several combat flights, taking on direct enemy fire.
During these and additional missions, the 305th traveled to 21 different bases and collected 379 interviews totaling over 325 hours. They also collected over 8,500 photographs and 3,000 documents. Importantly, Hanselman stresses, the team “maintained contact with multiple historians within the US Army and provided information directly from the battlefield to other agencies within the US Army.” These included the Center of Army Lessons Learned, Combat Studies Institute, Army Heritage Center, US Army Training and Doctrine Command, US Army Forces Command, and numerous other Army historians. He writes that “the entire Army history field benefited directly from their efforts.”
The military detachment historian is certainly a unique professional. It’s difficult to imagine the hard work, resourcefulness, and dedication of these military historians, but their efforts, and those of others like them, make possible a fuller narrative of military operations, and ultimately improved military strategy and organization.
See David Hanselman’s article “The Tip of the History Spear: Capturing Combat History of the Army in Current Operations,” The Federalist, No. 24, Winter 2009, 9–11.