Leslie Groves: Wikis


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Leslie Richard Groves
August 17, 1896 (1896-08-17)June 13, 1970 (1970-06-14) (aged 73)
Leslie Groves.jpg
MGEN Groves
Place of birth Albany, New York
Place of death Walter Reed Army Medical Center
Allegiance United States United States of America
Service/branch United States Department of the Army Seal.svg United States Army
Years of service 1918-1948
Rank Lieutenant General
Commands held Manhattan Project
Awards Distinguished Service Medal
Nicaraguan Medal of Merit
Other work Vice President Sperry Rand

Lieutenant General Leslie Richard Groves (August 17, 1896 – July 13, 1970) was a United States Army Engineer officer who oversaw the construction of the Pentagon and was the primary military leader in charge of the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb during World War II.[1]



Descended from French Huguenots who came to America in the 17th century, Leslie Groves was the son of a U.S. Army chaplain. He was born in Albany, New York, and educated at the University of Washington and MIT before attending West Point. Groves graduated in 1918, fourth in his class, and was commissioned into the Army Corps of Engineers, completing his engineering studies at Camp A. A. Humphreys (now Fort Belvoir), 1918–21. He married Grace Hulbert Wilson in 1922.

Groves worked in various assignments throughout the United States and served with distinction in Nicaragua. In October 1934, he was attached to the Office of the Chief of Engineers and received a promotion to captain. Following courses at the General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth (1936) and the Army War College (1939), he was promoted to major in 1940 and posted to the General Staff in Washington. He was deputy to the Chief of Construction and oversaw a number of projects including the construction of the Pentagon in 1940. In the same year, he was promoted to colonel.

By this time, Groves had developed a reputation as an officer of high intelligence, tremendous drive and energy, and great organizational and administrative ability, as well as considerable ruthlessness, arrogance, and self-confidence. His success in overseeing a huge number of construction projects costing billions of dollars during the mobilization period between 1940 and 1942 made him a natural choice to take charge of the fledgling atomic bomb program.


Manhattan Project

In September 1942, he was made a temporary Brigadier General and appointed military director of the nascent Manhattan Engineer District of the US Army Corps of Engineers, replacing the first director, Col. James Marshall, who had proved indecisive and slow in getting the project moving beyond the research stage. He provided the code name "Manhattan" himself from the Corps practice of naming districts after their headquarters' city. He had been seeking action overseas and was initially dubious about attaching himself to a controversial weapons project. Nevertheless he quickly threw himself into the project with all his energy.

Groves and Robert Oppenheimer

Groves was important in most aspects of the bomb's development, including determining the sites to be used, finally deciding on Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Hanford Engineering in Washington state, as the primary sites for theoretical research and materials production. He made critical decisions on prioritizing the various methods of isotope separation, acquiring raw materials needed by the scientists and engineers, and in creating the army air force bomber unit which would deliver the finished bombs to their targets. He advocated the choice of Kyoto as lead target, citing its tremendous cultural importance; he reasoned that the city's highly educated population would better appreciate the significance of the new weapon, thereby increasing its political impact. His wish to destroy the city was overruled by Secretary of War Henry Stimson, who had honeymooned there. He was involved in collecting military intelligence on German atomic research and helped determine which cities in Japan were chosen as targets. Groves also blanketed the Manhattan Project with an unprecedented degree of security (which, however, failed to prevent the Soviets from conducting a successful espionage program that stole some of its most important secrets).

Though his conservative, rigid temperament and cold, blunt manner alienated some of the scientists he worked with, he also worked with J. Robert Oppenheimer, the eminent Berkeley physicist who was in charge of Los Alamos, where the bomb was designed and assembled. Oppenheimer's brilliant, charismatic leadership was decisive in creating workable designs and getting them transformed into usable bombs.

Groves and Brig. Gen. Thomas F. Farrell, 1945

Groves was promoted to temporary Major General in 1944. After the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war with Japan, Groves was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.

As chief of the atom bomb program during the wartime emergency, Groves accrued an enormous amount of power. In the words of a subordinate, he "... planned the project, ran his own construction, his own science, his own Army, his own State Department and his own Treasury Department". In doing so Groves ran roughshod over many people and made many enemies, some of them quite powerful. These enemies eventually succeeded in drastically reducing Groves's power and authority as control over nuclear power was transferred from military to civilian hands (from the Manhattan District to the Atomic Energy Commission) in January, 1947.

For a time, Groves continued to play a role at Los Alamos as head of the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project, but he eventually realized that in the rapidly shrinking postwar Army he would not be given any assignment approaching in importance the one he had held in the Manhattan Project (such posts would go to combat commanders returning from overseas). He decided to leave the Army. He was promoted to Lieutenant General just before his retirement on February 29, 1948 in recognition of his leadership of the bomb program.

Some activists believe, incorrectly, that Groves was one of the early proponents of using depleted uranium. A memo alleged to be on that subject is often cited on the Internet. However, a close reading of the memo, which is actually a composite of several documents, including some pages not attributable to Groves, shows that the material under discussion was fission products, not uranium.[2]


Groves went on to become a Vice-President at Sperry Rand. He moved to Darien, Connecticut in 1948.[3] He retired from Sperry Rand in 1961 and moved back to Washington, D.C. He also served as president of the West Point alumni organization, the Association of Graduates. He presented General Douglas MacArthur the Sylvanus Thayer Award in 1962, which was the occasion of MacArthur's famous Duty, Honor, Country speech to the United States Military Academy Corps of Cadets in 1962. His account of the Manhattan Project, Now It Can Be Told, was originally published in 1962.[4]

In 1955, a reporter asked Groves how the secret of the atomic bomb was "so well kept" (apparently forgetting that it wasn't well kept from the Soviets) and recorded this reaction: "If you have ever been the object of his direct look, you will know why I dropped my pencil in utter confusion when he said, 'Mainly by not talking to reporters.'" The reporter laughed, Groves laughed and the interview went on.[3]

Groves suffered a heart attack caused by chronic calcification of the aortic valve on July 13, 1970. He was rushed to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he died at 11:15 PM that night.[5]

He is memorialized as the namesake of Leslie Groves Park along the Columbia River, not more than five miles from the Hanford Site in Richland.

Popular culture depictions

Groves and others at remains of the Trinity test

Leslie Groves's role in the Manhattan Project has attracted a continuing interest in film. These actors have portrayed Groves:

Eric Owens portrayed General Groves in John Adams' opera Doctor Atomic, in which Groves is a lead character.

Leslie Groves is a key figure in alternate history novels including Harry Turtledove's Worldwar series and Newt Gingrich's 1945.

See Also


  1. ^ Robert S. Norris, Racing for the bomb; General Leslie R. Groves, the Manhattan Project's Indispensable Man, 2002, Steerforth Press, 722 pages, is the definitive biography.
  2. ^ Brigadier General Groves Memo http://www.mindfully.org/Nucs/Groves-Memo-Manhattan30oct43a.htm
  3. ^ a b Colgate, Bernice, editor, "Our Interesting Neighbors", articles reprinted in book form (no year of publication or publisher given) from The Darien Review (1954-1957), "General Leslie R. Groves", from March 31, 1955
  4. ^ Groves, L. R., Now It Can Be Told: The Story of the Manhattan Project, Perseus Books, New York, 1975, ISBN 0-306-70738-1
  5. ^ Norris, Racing, 537.

External links


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