The USA plan to make a new atomic bomb 'every ten days' in 1945
Imagine that it is 1:25 in the afternoon on August 13, 1945. The world's first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, just one week ago. Russia declared war on Japan on August 8. The second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9. Yet World War Two still rages on.
Hundreds of American and British servicemen are dying every week. Japan is suffering far more casualties, but Japan has not surrendered. It looks like an invasion of the home islands of Japan will be needed to end the war. The projected Allied casualties for such an invasion are that hundreds of thousands of servicemen, most of whom would be American and the rest from the British Commonwealth, will be killed or wounded. The Japanese casualties are projected to exceed one million, but nobody knows how long Japan will be able to continue the war.
General John E. Hull is the assistant chief of staff for the War Department's Operations Division. He is a top aide to General George C. Marshall, the Chief of Staff of the United States Army, the highest ranking general in the entire army. He has been ordered to contact the Manhattan Project, the makers of the the atomic bombs, to update the information on the number of atomic bombs that will be made and when they will be available. The method of using them is also a topic for discussion.
He places a long-distance phone call from Washington, D.C., to Los Alamos, New Mexico. At the other end of the line Colonel L. E. Seeman, a top aide to General Leslie Groves, the military leader of the Manhattan Project, picks up the phone. They begin a person-to-person conversation.
However, these two people are not the only ones listening to this conversation. Like a fly on the wall, the National Security Agency has 'tapped' the phone line and records every word that is said. Decades later, a photographic copy of the hastily-typed transcript of this conversation is declassified from 'Top Secret' to 'Unclassified' and made available in an archive on the Internet for anybody, even amateur historians, to discover and read.
The conversation begins:
H What General Marshall wants to know is the status of the development of these bombs now so we can best determine how to use them. There's one of them due up the 23rd as I recall it.
S There's one ready to be shipped - waiting on order right now.
The order to ship the third bomb was placed on hold by President Truman as he adopted a 'wait and see' policy to gauge the Japanese reaction to the first two atomic bombings.
Next, they discuss when the third bomb could be ready:
H If the order is given now, when can it be ready?
S Thursday would be its readiness; the 19th it would be dropped.
The planning date for the invasion of Kyushu, the southernmost Japanese home island, is November 1, 1945. General Marshall wants to know how many more bombs will be made and ready to use by October 31. The answer is seven:
H The last one, which is a possibility for the end of October, could you count on that for use before the end of October?
S You have a possibility of seven, with a good chance of using them prior to the 31st of October.
The planning date for the invasion of Honshu, the main island of Japan, is March 1, 1946. The two aides further discuss how often the bombs will be made:
H That will continue even after the first of November, we will say.
S Every ten days.
H That gives me the information I want.
At a rate of three bombs per month during the period from November 1, 1945, to March 1, 1946, a total of twelve more bombs would have been manufactured. The projected total number of atomic bombs made by then would be twenty-two: the three used or ready to go by August 19, plus seven more in the next two months, plus those final twelve.
The discussion then moves on to the topic of tactical use rather than strategic use of the nuclear weapons.
H That is the information I wanted. The problem now is whether or not, assuming the Japanese do not capitulate, continue on dropping them every time one is made and shipped out there or whether to hold them up as far as the dropping is concerned and then pour them all on in a reasonably short time. Not all in one day, but over a short period. And that also takes into consideration the target that we are after. In other words should we not concentrate on targets that will be of the greatest assistance to an invasion rather than industry, morale, psychology, etc.
S Nearer the tactical use rather than other use.
The effects of nuclear radiation on human beings were not fully understood at that time, and the two aides appear to have very little idea of how lethal nuclear fallout can be.
H From this on more or less of the timing factor, how much time before the troops actually go into that area do you think would be the safety factor? Suppose you did get a dud or an incomplete explosion, what safety factor should you consider, one, two, or three days?
S I think we are sending some people over to actually measure that factor. I think certainly by within 48 hours that could be done. Everything is going so fast. We would like to train people and get them in a combat spirit to do that. I think the people we have are the best qualified in that line. Of course, as you say, if it is used back in a kind of reserve line or in a reserve position or a concentration area but that you wouldn't be up against right away.
The conversation ends with General Hull soliciting the opinion of General Groves on how to best use the bombs in the future:
H I would appreciate if you you would discuss that angle with General Groves. I would like to have his slant on it. That is the question, how do we employ it and when do we employ it next? It has certainly served its purpose, those two we have used. I don't think it could have been more useful than it has. If we had another one, today would be a good day to drop it. We don't have it ready. Anyhow within the next ten days the Japanese will make up their minds one way or the other so the psychological effect is lost so far as the next one is concerned in my opinion, pertaining to capitulation. Should we not lay off a while, and then group them one, two, three? I should like to get his slant on the thing, General Groves' slant.
Thankfully, Japan agreed to surrender on August 15, 1945, two days after this grisly conversation. All plans to use more nuclear weapons on Japan were rendered moot. The nuclear age version of Pandora's box was slammed shut and has remained closed. These early plans did foreshadow the development of tactical and strategic nuclear weapons during the Cold War. This transcript also foreshadows the struggle of the human mind to fully comprehend how terrible the effects of these weapons would be if they are ever used again.
The original transcription is hard to read and barely intelligible in spots. A retyped version is posted here:
An older direct link to the original document is here:
A more recent link is here:
This document can also be obtained by typing "1945-08-13" as a search parameter, for both the Earliest and Latest Document Dates, at this URL:
Note that the document misspells Colonel Seeman's name as "Colonel Seaman".
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