Project Alberta, also known as Project A, was a section of the Manhattan Project which developed the means of delivering the first atomic bombs, used by the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) against the Empire of Japan during World War II. The mission of Project Alberta was three-fold: (1) design a bomb shape for delivery by airplane, then procure and assemble it; (2) support the testing work of Army Air Forces Projects W-47 (ballistic testing of atomic bomb design) and Silverplate (modification of B-29s to perform the mission); and (3) preparation of facilities to assemble and load the weapons, and their use during the actual missions.
Project Alberta was formed in March 1945. It continued the development work at Los Alamos under Norman F. Ramsey, and the testing conducted by the 216th Army Air Forces Base Unit at Wendover Army Air Field, Utah. This included designing the exterior casings for the bombs, and discerning the ballistics information necessary to achieve reasonable accuracy and develop delivery tactics for protection of the crew from the resulting blast.
Much of Project Alberta's work consisted in training members of the 1st Ordnance Squadron (Special, Aviation), a unit of the 509th Composite Group created on 6 March 1945, whose function was to assemble the bombs on Tinian. Project Alberta was also responsible for developing the radar altimeters, timing clocks, and barometric switches placed in the weapons to keep them from prematurely detonating aboard the aircraft, before reaching detonation altitude, or remotely by emissions from Japanese equipment.
After completion of its development and training missions, Project Alberta attached 51 of its members, under the administrative designation 1st Technical Service Detachment, but referred to as the "Destination Team," to the 509th Composite Group at North Field, Tinian. Selection of Tinian was made by Commander Frederick L. Ashworth from Project Alberta in February 1945. The Destination Team was responsible for the preparation of facilities to assemble and load the weapons, and their use during the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After the war ended, it participated in Operation Crossroads.
The Manhattan Project began in June 1941, during World War II. Most of the project was concerned with producing the necessary fissile materials, but in early 1943, the project director, Brigadier General Leslie R. Groves, Jr., created the Los Alamos Laboratory, also known as Project Y, under the direction of Robert Oppenheimer to design and build atomic bombs. Within the Los Alamos Laboratory, responsibility for delivery lay with its Ordnance Division, headed by Captain William S. Parsons. With the Ordnance Division, the E-7 Group was created with responsibility for the integration of design and delivery. Led by physicist Norman F. Ramsey, it consisted of himself, Sheldon Dike and Bernard Waldman.
The size of the 17-foot (5.2 m) Thin Man bomb under development at Los Alamos in 1943 reduced the number of Allied aircraft that could deliver the bomb to the British Avro Lancaster and the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, although the latter required substantial modification. Any other airframe would have had to be completely redesigned and rebuilt, or carry the bomb externally. Parsons arranged for tests to be carried at the Naval Proving Ground in Dahlgren, Virginia in August 1943. No B-29 or Lancaster was available so a 9-foot (2.7 m) scale model Thin Man was used, and dropped from a TBF Avenger. The results were disappointing, with the bomb falling in a flat spin. This indicated that a thorough test program was required.
Further testing of Silverplate B-29 aircraft and Thin Man and Fat Man bomb shapes was carried out at Muroc Army Air Field in March and June 1944. Testing shifted to Wendover Army Air Field, Utah, in October. Project Y controlled the scheduling and contents of the tests, which were carried out by the Flight Test Section of the 216th Army Air Forces Base Unit. The tests were supervised by Ramsey until November, when Commander Frederick Ashworth became Parson's head of operations, and assumed responsibility for the test program. The test bombs were assembled by the 509th Composite Group's 1st Ordnance Squadron, Special (Aviation), and the 216th Army Air Forces Base Unit's Special Ordnance Detachment. Tests continued until the end of the war in August 1945. At first only the Ordnance Division's fuse and delivery groups were involved, but as the tests became more detailed, other groups were drawn into the test program.
Project Alberta, also known as Project A, was formed in March 1945, absorbing existing groups of Parsons's Ordnance (O) Division that were working on bomb preparation and delivery. These included Ramsey's delivery group, now called O-2, Commander Francis Birch's O-1 (Gun) Group, Kenneth Bainbridge's X-2 (Development, Engineering, and Tests) Group, Robert Brode's O-3 (Fuse Development) Group and George Galloway's O-4 (Engineering) Group.
Parsons became the head of Project Alberta, with Ramsey as his scientific and technical deputy, and Ashworth as his operations officer and military alternate. There were two bomb assembly teams, a Fat Man Assembly Team under Commander Norris Bradbury and Roger Warner, and a Little Boy Assembly under Birch. Philip Morrison was the head of the Pit Crew, Bernard Waldman and Luis Alvarez led the Aerial Observation Team, and Shedon Dike was in change of the Aircraft Ordnance Team. Physicists Robert Serber and William Penney, and US Army Captain James F. Nolan, a medical expert, were special consultants.
In all, Project Alberta consisted of 51 Army, Navy and civilian personnel. Army personnel were two officers, Nolan and First Lieutenant John D. Hopper, and 17 enlisted men from the Manhattan Project's Special Engineer Detachment. Navy personnel were Parsons, Ashworth, two lieutenant commanders and eight ensigns. The remaining 17 were civilians. The 1st Technical Service Detachment, to which the personnel of Project Alberta were administratively assigned, was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Peer de Silva, and provided security and housing services on Tinian.
In addition, there were three senior officers on Tinian, who were part of the Manhattan Project but not formally part of Project Alberta: Rear Admiral William R. Purnell, the representative of the Military Liaison Committee; Brigadier General Thomas F. Farrell, Groves' Deputy for Operations; and Colonel Elmer E. Kirkpatrick, who was responsible for base development, and was Farrell's alternate. Purnell, Farrell and Parsons became informally known as the "Tinian Joint Chiefs". They had decision-making authority over the nuclear mission.
Manhattan Project and United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) officials agreed in December 1944 that operations would be based in the Mariana Islands, and the following month Parsons and Ashworth held a conference with USAAF officers to discuss the logistics of establishing such a base. In February 1945, Ashworth traveled to Guam bearing a letter for Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz informing him of the Manhattan Project.
Up to this point it had been expected that the 509th Composite Group would be based on Guam, but Ashworth was struck by the congestion in the harbor and the shortage of construction units there. USAAF suggested that he take a look at Tinian, which had two good airfields, and was 125 miles (201 km) further north, and important consideration for potentially overloaded aircraft. Ashworth toured Tinian with the island commander, Brigadier General Frederick V. H. Kimble, who recommended North Field. Ashworth agreed, and had Kimble hold them for future use.
Groves sent Kirkpatrick to supervise construction on Tinian by the Seabees of the 6th Naval Construction Brigade.Four air conditioned Quonset huts of a type normally used for bombsight repair were provided for laboratory and instrument work. There were five warehouses, a shop building, and assembly, ordnance and administrative buildings. Ramsey overcame the problem of how to ship everything through military channels and the San Francisco Port of Embarkation which would want to account for everything when what would be required was still subject to change by designating everything as a "bomb assembly kit". Three would be shipped to what was now codenamed Destination O. Shipments commenced in May. Kirkpatrick arranged for everything to be shipped direct to Tinian rather than via Guam, as was usual.
Project Alberta's scientific and technical personnel departed Tinian for the United States on 7 September. Kirkpatrick and Ashworth remained behind to supervise the disposal of Manhattan Project property. Project Alberta was then discontinued.
Ordnance Division was broken up in July 1945, with most of its responsibilities being transferred to a new division, Z (Ordnance Engineering) Division, which was named after its leader Jerrold R. Zacharias. Zacharias left the Manhattan Project in October 1945, and Roger S. Warner, Jr., became the leader of Z Division. In late 1945, Z Division and 216th Army Air Forces Base Unit's Flight Test Section and Special Ordnance Detachment moved to Oxnard Field, which became Sandia Base. A new division known as B Division was formed for Operation Crossroads in 1946, with Warner as its head. It carried out a similar function to that of Project Alberta.
- Hoddeson et al. 1993, pp. 25-26.
- Hoddeson et al. 1993, pp. 40-41.
- Ramsey 2012, p. 340.
- Hoddeson et al. 1993, p. 378.
- Bowen 1959, pp. 91–92.
- Hoddeson et al. 1993, p. 380.
- Ramsey 2012, pp. 344–345.
- Dvorak 2012, p. 20.
- Hoddeson et al. 1993, p. 383.
- Campbell 2005, p. 45.
- "The Manhattan Project". Array of Contemporary American Physicists. Retrieved 8 February 2012.
- Ramsey 2012, p. 346.
- Hawkins 1946, p. 286.
- Campbell 2005, p. 157.
- Campbell 2005, p. 143.
- Russ 1990, pp. 80-81.
- Campbell 2005, p. 156.
- Christman 1998, p. 176.
- Hoddeson et al. 1993, pp. 386-387.
- Krauss & Krauss 2005, p. 19.
- "Memo Ashworth to Groves on selection of Tinian airbase". National Archives. 24 February 45. Retrieved 3 March 1945.
- Hoddeson et al. 1993, pp. 387-388.
- Hawkins 1946, p. 285.
- Hawkins 1946, p. 291.
- Russ 1990, pp. 83-85.
- Russ 1990, pp. 85-89.
- Bowen, Lee (1959). Vol. I, Project Silverplate 1943–1946. The History of Air Force Participation in the Atomic Energy Program, 1943–1953. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Air Force, Air University Historical Liaison Office. Retrieved 28 July 2013.
- Campbell, Richard H. (2005). The Silverplate Bombers: A History and Registry of the Enola Gay and Other B-29s Configured to Carry Atomic Bombs. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. ISBN 0-7864-2139-8. OCLC 58554961.
- Christman, Albert B. (1998). Target Hiroshima: Deak Parsons and the Creation of the Atomic Bomb. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-120-3. OCLC 38257982.
- Dvorak, Darrell F. (22 December 2012). "The other atomic bomb commander: Colonel Cliff Heflin and his "Special" 216th AAF Base Unit". Air Power History 59 (4): 14–27. ISSN 1044-016X.
- Hawkins, David (1946). Project Y: The Los Alamos Project Inception through through August 1945. Manhattan District History. Los Alamos, New Mexico: Los Alamos National Laboratory. Retrieved 11 August 2011.
- Hoddeson, Lillian; Henriksen, Paul W.; Meade, Roger A.; Westfall, Catherine L. (1993). Critical Assembly: A Technical History of Los Alamos During the Oppenheimer Years, 1943–1945. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-44132-3. OCLC 26764320.
- Krauss, Robert; Krauss, Amelia, eds. (2005). The 509th Remembered: A History of the 509th Composite Group as Told by the Veterans Themselves, 509th Anniversary Reunion, Wichita, Kansas October 7–10, 2004. Buchanan, Michigan: 509th Press. ISBN 978-0-923568-66-5. OCLC 59148135.
- Ramsey, N. F. (2012). "History of Project A". In Coster-Mullen, John. Atom Bombs: The Top Secret Inside Story of Little Boy and Fat Man. United States: J. Coster-Mullen. OCLC 298514167.
- Russ, Harlow W. (1990). Project Alberta: The Preparation of Atomic Bombs For Use in World War II. Los Alamos, New Mexico: Exceptional Books. ISBN 9780944482018. OCLC 24429257.
- Project Alberta/Destination Team roster of personnel
- National Archives, Instructions to CG XXI Bomber Command, 29 May 45, regarding 'Project A'