Back to How Wars Are MADE | Issues index | Sweet Liberty HOME PAGE

From Major Jordan's Diaries


The "Bomb Powder" Folders

     In my capacity as Liaison Officer, I began helping the Russians with necessary paper work and assisted them in telephoning various factories to expedite the movement of supplies to catch particular convoys. I soon got to know Eugene Rodzevitch, the field man who visited the plants and reported daily by phone as to possible expectations of deliveries.

     As Colonel Kotikov communicated with many different officials of the Soviet Government Purchasing Commission, their names became more and more familiar to me. For instance, Mr. I.A. Eremin, a member of the Commission, was in charge of raw materials. Others were B.N. Fomin, in charge of powder and explosives in the military division; N.S. Formichev, assistant chief to Mr. Eremin in the chemical division under raw materials; and A.D. Davyshev, in charge of electric furnaces.

     These names appeared more and more frequently, because we were destined to accumulate chemicals and chemical plants in increasing intensity in the months ahead. Major General S.A. Piskounov was chief of the aviation section, with his assistants, Colonel A. P. Doronin, in charge of medium bombers; and Colonel G. E. Tavetkov, in charge of fighter pursuit planes. I got to know the latter two officers very well.

     Few of the American officers who came in casual contact with the Russians ever got to see any of their records. But the more I helped Rodzevitch and Colonel Kotikov, the more cordial they became. It became customary for me to leaf through their papers to get shipping documents, and to prepare them in folders for quick attention when they reported back to Washington.

     At this time I knew nothing whatever about the atomic bomb. The words “uranium” and “Manhattan Engineering District” were unknown to me.

     But I became aware that certain folders were being held to one side on Colonel Kotikov’s desk for the accumulation of a very special chemical plant. In fact, this chemical plant was referred to by Colonel Kotikov as a “bomb powder” factory. By referring to my diary, and checking the items I now know went into an atomic energy plant, I am able to show the following records starting with the year 1942, while I was still at Newark. These materials, which are necessary for the creation of atomic pile, moved to Russia in 1942:

Graphite: natural, flake, lump or chip, costing American taxpayers $812,437.

Over thirteen million dollars’ worth of aluminum tubes (used in the atomic pile to “cook” or transmute the uranium into plutonium), the exact amount being $13,041,152.

We sent 834,989 pounds of cadmium metal for rods to control the intensity of an atomic pile; the cost was $781,472.

The really secret material, thorium, finally showed up and started going through immediately. The amount during 1942 was 13,440 pounds at a cost of $22,848.*

*On Jan. 30, 1943 we shipped an additional 11,912 pounds of thorium nitrate to Russia from Philadelphia on the S.S. John C. Fremont. It is significant that there were no shipments from 1944 and 1945, due undoubtably to General Groves’ vigilance.

Regarding thorium the Smyth Report (p. 5) says:

“The only natural element which exhibit this property of emitting alpha or beta particles are (with a few minor exceptions) those of very high atomic numbers and mass numbers, such as uranium, thorium, radium, and actinium, i.e., those known to have the most complicated nuclear structures.”

     It was about this time that the Russians were anxious to secure more Diesel marine engines which cost about $17,500 and were moving heaven and earth to get another 25 of the big ones of over 200 horsepower variety.

     Major General John R. Deane, Chief of our Military Mission in Moscow, had overruled the Russians’ request for any Diesel engines because General MaCarthur needed them in the South Pacific. But the Russians were undaunted and decided to make an issue of it by going directly to Hopkins who overruled everyone in favor of Russia.

     In the three-year period, 1942-44, a total of 1,305 of these engines were sent to Russia! They cost $30,745,947. The engines they had previously received were reported by General Deane and our military observers to be rusting in open storage. It is now perfectly obvious that these Diesels were post-war items, not at all needed for Russia’s immediate war activity.

     Major General Deane, an expert on Russian Lend-Lease, has this to say in his excellent book, The Strange Alliance, which bears the meaningful subtitle, “The Story of Our Efforts at Wartime Cooperation with Russia”:

With respect to Russian aid, I always felt that their mission (that is, the mission of Harry Hopkins and his aide, Major General james H. Burns) was carried out with a zeal which approached fanaticism. Their enthusiasm became so ingrained that it could not be tempered when conditions indicated that a change in policy was desirable . . .
When the tide turned at Stalingrad and a Russian offensive started which ended only in Berlin, a new situation was created. We now had a Red Army which was plenty cocky and which became more so with each successive victory.
The Soviet leaders became more and more demanding. The fire in our neighbor’s house had been extinguished and we had submitted ourselves to his direction in helping to extinguish it. He assumed that we would continue to submit ourselves to his direction in helping rebuild the house, and unfortunately we did. He allowed us to work on the outside and demanded that we furnish the material for the inside, the exact use of which we were not allowed to see. Now that the house is furnished, we have at best only a nodding acquaintance. [1]

     It is true that we never knew the exact use to which anything sent under Russian Lend-Lease was put, and the failure to set up a system of accountability is now seen to have been an appalling mistake. But could anything be more foolish than to suppose that the atomic materials we sent have not been used for an atomic bomb which materialized in Russia long before we expected it?

     The British let us inspect their installations openly, and exchanged information freely. The Russians did not. Our Government was intent on supplying whatever the Russians asked for, as fast as we could get it to them – and I was one of the expediters. And when I saw “our Government,” I mean of course Harry Hopkins, the man in charge of Lend-Lease, and his aides. We in the Army knew where the orders were coming from, and so did the Russians. The “push-button system” worked splendidly; no one knew it better than Colonel Kotikov.

     One afternoon Colonel Kotikov called me to the door of the hangar. He pointed to a small plane which bore a red star in a white circle. “Who owns this?” he asked. I recognized it as a Texaco plane, and explained that it belonged to an oil firm, the Texaco Company.

     What right had the Texas Company, he asked, to usurp the red star? He would phone Washington and have it taken away from them immediately. I grabbed his arm and hastily explained that the state of Texas had been known as the “Lone Star State” long before the Russian revolution. I said that if he started a fight about this star, the state of Texas might declare war on Russia all by itself.

     Kotikov wasn’t really sure whether I was joking, but he finally dropped the idea of phoning. I always remember with amusement that this was one of the few times that Harry Hopkins was not called upon for help.

     The various areas of Russia that were being built or rebuilt were apparent from the kind of supplies going forward on Lend-Lease. Many of the suppliers were incredibly long-range in quantity and quality. Here are some of the more important centers:

Soviet City   --   Nature of U.S.

                                 Lend-Lease Material

Chelyabinsk  --  Tractor and farm machinery

Chirchik    --      Powder and explosive factories

Kamensk   --     Uralski Aluminum manufacture

Nizhni Tagil  --   Railway car shops

Novosibirsk  --    Plane factory and parts

Magnitogorsk --  Steel mill equipment

Omsk   --          Tank center

Sverdlovsk --     Armament plants

     The Russians were great admirers of Henry Ford. Often the interpreter would repeat to me such statements of theirs as, “These shipments will help to Fordize our country,” or “We are behind the rest of the world and have to hurry to catch up.”

     It became clear, however, that we were not going to stay at Newark much longer. The growing scope of our activities, the expansion of Lend-Lease, the need for more speedy delivery of aircraft to Russia – all these factors were forcing a decision in the direction of air delivery to supplant ship delivery. It had long been obvious that the best route was from Alaska across to Siberia.

     From the first the Russians were reluctant to open the Alaskan-Siberian route. Even before Pearl Harbor, on the occasion of the first Harriman-Beaverbrook mission to Moscow in September, 1941, Averell Harriman had suggested to Stalin that American aircraft could be delivered to the Soviet Union from Alaska through Siberia by American crews. Stalin demurred and said it was “too dangerous a route.” It would have brought us, of course, behind the Iron Curtain.

     During the Molotov visit to the White House, Secretary of State Cordell Hull handed Harry Hopkins a memorandum with nine items of agenda for the Russians, the first of which was: “The Establishment of an Airplane Ferrying Service from the United States to the Soviet Union Through Alaska and Siberia.”

     When the President brought this up, Molotov observed it was under advisement, but “he did not as yet know what decision had been reached.”

     Major General John R. Deane has an ironic comment on Russian procrastination in this regard:

Before I left for Russia, General Arnold, who could pound the desk and get things done in the United States, had called me to his office, pounded the desk, and told me what he wanted done in the way of improving air transportation between the United States and Russia.

He informed me that I was to obtain Russian approval for American operation of air transport planes to Moscow on any of the following routes in order of priority: one, the Alaskan-Siberian route; two, via the United Kingdom and Stockholm; or three, from Teheran to Moscow. I saluted, said Yes, sir, and tried for two years to carry out his instructions. [2]

     Where the U.S. was not able to force Russia’s hand, Nazi submarines succeeded. Subs out of Norway were attacking our Lend-Lease convoys on the Murmansk route, apparently not regarded as “too dangerous a route” for American crews.

     A disastrous limit was finally reached when out of one convoy of 34 ships, 21 were lost. The Douglas A-20 Havocs, which were going to the bottom of the ocean, were more important to Stalin than human lives. So first we started flying medium bombers from South America to Africa, but by the time they got across from Africa to Tiflis, due to sandstorms the motors had to be taken down and they were not much use to the Russians. Nor were we able to get enough of them on ships around Africa to fill Russian requirements for the big offensive building up for the battle of Stalingrad.

     Finally, Russia sent its OK on the Alaskan-Siberian route. Americans would fly the planes to Fairbanks, Alaska: Americans would set up all the airport facilities in Alaska*; Soviet pilots would take over on our soil; Soviet pilots only, would fly into Russia.

     The chief staging-point in the U.S. was to be Gore Field in Great Falls, Montana. A few years before the war General Royce, who had been experimenting in cold-weather flying with a group of training planes called “Snow Birds,” had found that Great Falls, with its airport 3,665 feet above sea level on the top of a mesa tableland 300 feet above the city itself, had a remarkable record of more than 300 clear flying days per year, despite its very cold dry climate in the winter.

     If you look at a projection of the globe centered on the North Pole, you will see that Great Falls is almost on a direct line with Moscow. This was to be called the new and secret Pipeline. The Army called it ALSIB.

* Later it came out that we actually built bases for the Russians in Siberia. Colonel Maxwell E. Erdofy, the famous airport builder, and crews from the Alcan Highway project were ordered to Russia and kept in isolation and under Soviet guard as they build Siberian airports. I find no record anywhere of this work having been changed to Lend-Lease.



1 - The "Bomb Powder" Folders

2 - The Strange Alliance, John R. Deane, (Viking, 1947), pp. 90-91.

3 - Ibid, p. 78.

Continue with Chapter 3

Back to How Wars Are MADE | Issues index | Sweet Liberty HOME PAGE