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

From Major Jordan's Diaries


“Don’t Make a Big Production”

     Colonel Kotikov’s first concern, each morning, was to visit the chart room in the Operations Office. A huge map, showing the route from Great Falls to Fairbanks, had been mounted on the magnetized steel wall which held in position small metal markers, on each of which hung a tag bearing the number of each plane en route. The markers were moved forward by a WAC assistant, on a ladder, in accordance with teletype advice coming in. Colonel Kotikov could read the situation at a glance.

     Toward the end of April, 1943, there was an unusual congestion of Airacobra pursuit planes at our field. We usually handled about 400 a month, in comparison with 80 medium bombers and 15 cargo ships in the same period; the Airacobras were used as anti-tank weapons by the Russians. There was always a chronic shortage of American pilots, but in 1943 the demand was ravenous – in the Atlantic, in the Pacific, in Europe, in Asia, and in the American system of global air transport which was a wonder of the war.

     Now, to Kotikov’s disgust and fury, as many as 200 Airacobras were stacked up on the field. The markers clustered on the map as thick as bees. When he criticized us for allowing the situation to develop, I pointed out that the Russians had troubles, too; this he took as an insult. “Never, never,” he shouted, “does Russia have shortage of pilots!” He said he could order 10,000 Russian pilots to Great Falls in a matter of days. “And you’ll have to feed them!” he said with satisfaction.

     He made life miserable for Colonel L. Ponton d’Arce, commander of Gore Field. “We’ve got to have more pilots,” he yelled. Colonel d’Arce assured him that the problem had been taken personally in hand by Major General Harold L. George, chief of the Air Transport Command; and the head of his Alaskan Wing, Brigadier General William H. Tunner. The Russian’s contempt was supreme. “Bah, promises!” he snarled.

     And then, all of a sudden, something happened. Two days later, out of inbound craft tumbled strange new fliers, bewildered and annoyed. Some had been snatched from well-earned rest between trips to Ireland. Others hailed from bases in Puerto Rico, Long Beach, Boca Raton, Oklahoma City. Test Pilots had been plucked from Wright Field. There were even a few prodigies with instrument certificates; such defiers of storm and darkness were rare as hen’s teeth. The group totaled about twenty, in contrast to the mere three General Tunner had scraped together.

     Few of the pilots had ever heard of Great Falls, and all were dumfounded by its extensive facilities and operations. “What the hell’s going on here?” they muttered. Some were disturbed at finding they were to pilot Airacobras to Alaska, almost a synonym for the North Pole. Scarcely one had driven a pursuit plane since flight training days, so we set up a refresher course in take-offs and landing. After a short time the emergency squad vanished as if it had never been.

     Word was prompt to arrive at headquarters of the Air Transport Command, and there was an uproar. It was absolutely forbidden to procure pilots except through ATC which alone could judge the whole situation and decide which emergency was most critical in the entire war effort. Colonel d’Arce informed me had had been reproved for “going outside channels,” and asked whether I was the one who called in the extra pilots.

     Colonel Kotikov, to whom I appealed, promptly stated that he was responsible. He had simply got tired of waiting and gone “straight to Mr. Hopkins.”

     “So that’s how it was,” Colonel d’Arce scowled bitterly.

     One morning a few weeks later, I was standing at my usual post beside Colonel Kotikov’s desk. At his elbow lay a stack of folders with which I had long been acquainted. They were held together with elastics. On the outside binder was pasted a typewritten label in English, “Re: Experimental Chemicals.” While telephoning to Washington, the Colonel would often cry out: “Chemicals!” I would fetch the sheaf of documents from his wife, who as his secretary kept them in a locked drawer.

     This portfolio was the apple of his eye. Mrs. Kotikov took it home every night. I sometimes stopped by the Pennsylvania Apartments in the morning and drove them to work. I once saw Mrs. Kotikov drag the dossier from a hiding-place under the mattress, while her husband was pulling on his handsome boots of black leather.

     When the chemical dossiers were complete and ready for Moscow, together with kindred folders on “Metals,” Kotikov refused to trust them to an ordinary messenger. His courier was a luminary of the Soviet Purchasing Commission, Semen Vasilenko, who was known in this country as an expert chemist but turned out to be Russia’s authority on pipes and tubes. (The gaseous diffusion plant at Oak Ridge and the Hanford Plutonium Works use many miles of pipes.)

     My diary later showed * that Vasilenko flew from Great Falls in a special plane carrying about 4,000 pounds of “diplomatic mail.” He and the cargo were protected by three Russian guards, whom I recorded as Leonid Rykounin, Engeny Kojevnicov and Georges Nicolaiev.

* see pages 158, 159 (Chapter 15 - Conclusion)

     After Vasilenko’s arrival from Washington, Colonel Kotikov led him to an Airacobra standing about one city block’s distance from the nearest building, with an open view on every side. They spread the papers out on one of the wings of the plane, and the two men discussed them for an hour.

     This precaution was due to the Colonel’s pet bogy, dictagraphs. There were no dictagraphs in the field, but that did not stop him and his aides from searching for them every day in lamp fixtures and telephone books, and behind calendars and pictures. They even sounded the walls. I gathered it was not American spies that he feared but Soviet police agents.

     One morning in April 1943, Colonel Kotikov asked whether I could find space for an important consignment of nearly 2,000 pounds. I said: “No, we have a quarter of a million pounds’ backlog already.” He directed me to put through a call to Washington for him, and spoke for a while in his own tongue. Then he put a hand over the mouthpiece and confided to me in English: “Very special shipment – experimental chemicals – going though soon.”

     There was an interval of Slavic gutturals, and he turned to me again. “Mr. Hopkins – coming on now,” he reported. Then he gave me the surprise of my life. He handed me the phone and announced: “Big boss, Mr. Hopkins, wants you.”

     It was quite a moment, I was about to speak for the first time with a legendary figure of the day, the top man in the world of Lend-Lease in which I lived. I have been careful to keep the following account as accurate in substance and language as I can. My memory, normally good, was stimulated by the thrill of the occasion. Moreover, the incident was stamped on my mind because it was unique in my experience of almost 25 months at Newark and Great Falls.

     A bit in awe, I stammered: “Jordan speaking.” A male voice began at once: “This is Mr. Hopkins. Are you my expediter out there?” I answered that I was the United Nations Representative at Great Falls, working with Colonel Kotikov.

     Under the circumstances, who could have doubted that the speaker was Harry Hopkins? Friends have since asked me whether it might not have been a Soviet agent who was an American. I doubt this, because his next remark brought up a subject which only Mr. Hopkins and myself could have known. He asked: “Did you get those pilots I sent you?”

     “Oh yes, sir,” I responded. “They were very much appreciated, and helped us in unblocking the jam in the Pipeline. We were accused of going out of channels, and got the dickens for it.”

     Mr. Hopkins let that one go by, and moved on to the heart of things.

     “Now, Jordan,” he said, “there’s a certain shipment of chemicals going through that I want you to expedite. This is something very special.”

     “Shall I take it up,” I asked, “with the Commanding Colonel?”

     “I don’t want you to discuss this with anyone,” Mr. Hopkins ordered, “and it is not to go on the records. Don’t make a big production of it, but just send it through quietly, in a hurry.”

     I asked how I was to identify the shipment when it arrived. He turned from the phone, and I could hear his voice: “How will Mr. Jordan know the shipment when it gets there?” He came back on the line and said: “The Russian Colonel out there will designate it for you. Now send this through as speedily as possible, and be sure you leave it off the records!”

     Then a Russian voice broke in with a demand for Colonel Kotikov. I was full of curiosity when Kotikov had finished, and I wanted to know what it was all about and where the shipment was coming from. He said there would be more chemicals and that they would arrive from Canada.

     “I show you,” he announced. Presumably, after the talk with Mr. Hopkins, I had been accepted as a member of the “lodge.” From his bundle on war chemicals the Colonel took the folder called “Bomb Powder.” He drew out a paper sheet and set a finger against one entry. For a second time my eyes encountered the word “uranium.” I repeat that in 1943 it meant as little to me as to most Americans, which was nothing.

    This shipment was the one and only cash item to pass through my hands, except for private Russian purchases of clothing and liquor. It was the only one, out of a tremendous multitude of consignments, that I was ordered not to enter on my tally sheets. It was the only one I was forbidden to discuss with my superiors, and the only one I was directed to keep secret from everybody.

     Despite Mr. Hopkins’ urgency, there was a delay of five weeks. On the morning of June 10th, I caught sight of a loaded C-47 which was idling on the runway. I went over and asked the pilot what was holding him up. He said he understood some kind of special shipment was still to come. Seven years afterward the pilot identified himself to the press as Air Forces Lieutenant Ben L. Brown of Cincinnati.

     I asked Colonel Kotikov about the plane, and he told me the shipment Mr. Hopkins was interested in had just arrived at the railroad yards, and I should send a truck to pick it up. The consignment was escorted by a Russian guard from Toronto. I set down his name, and copied it later in my diary. It was Vladimir Anoufriev. I identified him with the initials “C.C.” for “Canadian Courier.”

     Fifteen wooden cases were put aboard the transport, which took off for Moscow by way of Alaska. At Fairbanks, Lieutenant Brown has related, one box fell from the plane, smashing a corner and spilling a small quantity of chocolate-brown powder. Out of curiosity, he picked up a handful of the unfamiliar grains, with a notion of asking somebody what they were. A Soviet officer slapped the crystals from his palm and explained nervously: “No, no – burn hands!”

     Not until the latter part of 1949 was it definitely proved, from responsible records, that during the war Federal agencies delivered to Russia at least three consignments of uranium chemicals, totaling 1,465 pounds, or nearly three-quarters of a ton. Confirmed also was the shipment of one kilogram, or 2.2 pounds, of uranium metal at a time when the total American stock was 4.5 pounds.

     Implicated by name were the Lend-Lease Administration, the Department of Commerce, the Procurement Division of the Treasury, and the Board of Economic Warfare. The State Department became involved to the extent of refusing access to files of Lend-Lease and its successor, the Foreign Economic Administration.

     The first two uranium shipments traveled through Great Falls, by air. The third was dispatched by truck and railway from Rochester, N.Y., to Portland, Ore., and then by ship to Vladivostok. The dates were March and June 1943, and July, 1944. No doubt was left that the transaction discussed by Mr. Hopkins and myself was the one of June, 1943.

     This was not merely the largest of our known uranium deals with the Soviet Union, it was also the most shocking. There seemed to be no lengths to which some American officials would not go in aiding Russia to master the secret of nuclear fission. For four years monopoly of the A-bomb was the cornerstone of our military and overseas policy, yet on September 23, 1949, long in advance of Washington estimates, President Truman announced that an atomic explosion had occurred in the Soviet Union.

     In behalf of national security, the Manhattan Project during the spring of 1943 clapped an embargo on America exports of uranium compounds. But zealots in Washington appear to have resolved that Russia must have at all costs the ingredients for atomic experiment. The intensely pro-Soviet mood of that time may be judged from the echoes in later years.

     For example, there was Joseph E. Davies, Ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1936-39, and author of a book and movie of flagrant propaganda, Mission to Moscow. In an interview with the Times-Herald of Washington for Feb. 18, 1946, he was quoted as saying:

“Russia, in self-defense, has every moral right to seek atomic bomb secrets through military espionage if excluded from such information by her former fighting allies!”

     There also was Professor Harold C. Urey, American scientist, who sat in the innermost circle of the Manhattan Project. Yet on Dec. 14, 1949, in a report of the Atlantic Action Committee, Dr. Urey said that Major Jordan should be court-marshalled if he had removed anything from planes bound for Russia.

     When American supplies were cut off, the device of outmaneuvering General Groves was to procure the materials clandestinely from Canada. * Not until 1946 did the commander of the Manhattan Project learn from the Un-American Activities Committee that his stockade had been undermined.

* The government of Canada frowned on uranium sales, but thought the U.S. has the right to determine whether Russia should have the precious product. In fact, it would appear that Canada’s alertness rather than ours prevented further shipments.

     My share in the revelation was testimony under oath leading to one conclusion only – that the Canadian by-pass was aided by Mr. Hopkins. At his direction, Lend-Lease issued a certificate of release without which the consignment could not have moved. Lend-Lease channels of transportation and Lend-Lease personnel, such as myself, were used. Traces of the scheme were kept off Lend-Lease books by making it a “cash” transaction. The shipment was paid for with a check of the Amtorg Trading Corporation.

     Because the initial branch of the airlift to Moscow was under American control, passage of the chemicals across the United States territory could not be avoided, in Alaska if not Montana. On account of that fact, the cash nature of the project, it was necessary to obtain an export license from the Board of Economic Warfare.

     Such a document, covering a shipment of American origin, was first prepared. It was altered, to comply with the Canadian maneuver, by some BEW official whose identity has been concealed by the State Department. As amended, the license was issued on April 29, 1943. Its serial number was C-1643180.

     But two facts were forgotten: (a) public carriers use invoices, and (b) the Air Force kept tallies not only at Great Falls but Fairbanks.

     By diligent searching, freight and airway bills yielded incontestable proof that 15 boxes of uranium chemicals were delivered at Great Falls on June 9, 1943, and were dispatched immediately, in a Lend-Lease plane, to the Soviet Union.

     The shipment originated at Eldorado Mining & Refining Ltd. Of Great Bear Lake, and was sent through Port Hope, Ontario. It was authorized by a Canadian arms export permit, No. OF1666. The carrier was the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railway. Listed as consignee was Colonel A. N. Kotikov, resident agent of the Soviet Government Purchasing Commission at Gore Field, Great Falls.

     The story behind the story is as follows: On Feb. 1, 1943, Hermann H. Rosenberg of Chematar, Inc. New York City, received the first inquiry about uranium ever to reach his office. The applicant was the Soviet Purchasing Commission which desired 220 pounds of uranium oxide, 220 pounds of uranium nitrate, and 25 pounds of uranium metal. At that date Oak Ridge was under construction, but would not be in operation for another year.

     Six days earlier the war Production Board had issued General Reference Order M-285, controlling the distribution of uranium compounds among domestic industries like glass, pottery and ceramics. A loophole was left by overlooking the export of such materials for war purposes. The Russians claimed that they had urgent military need for uranium nitrate in medicinal research and for uranium oxide and metal alloys in hardening gunbarrel steel. There was nothing for the U.S. to do but grant an OK, since we did not want to imply that we were suspicious of Russia’s request.

     Uranium metal was unavailable. On March 23, at Rosenberg’s instance, the S. W. Shuttuck Chemical Co. of Denver shipped four crates, weighing 691 pounds, to Colonel Kotikov at Great Falls. The Burlington railroad’s bill of lading described the contents merely as “chemicals,” but it was accompanied by a letter from Rosenberg to Kotikov designating the contents as 220 pounds of uranium nitrate and 200 (not 220) pounds of uranium oxide. Since it was a Lend-Lease transaction, defrayed with American funds, no export license was required. The cargo was dispatched without friction along the Pipeline.

     But the War Production Board, from which clearance had been sought, alerted the Manhattan Project. It was too late to halt the Shattuck sale. General Groves reluctantly approved it on the ground that it would be unwise to “tip off” Russia as to the importance of uranium chemicals – a fact with which Moscow was only too familiar.

     During the investigation, I was embarrassed by the questions as to why tables of exports to the Soviet Union contained no mention of uranium. The Shattuck consignment was legitimate. It had been authorized by Lend-Lease, the War Production Board, and the Manhattan Project.

    Some months later I ran into John F. Moynihan, formerly of the Newark News editorial staff. A Second Lieutenant at the Newark Airport when I was there, he had risen to Colonel as a sort of “reverse press-agent” for General Groves. His duty was not to foster publicity but prevent it.

     “I heard you floundering about,” he said, “and wished I could tell you something you didn’t know. I was sent to Denver to hush up the records in the Shattuck matter. It was hidden under the phrase, ‘salts and compounds,’ in an entry covering a different metal.”

    General Groves moved rapidly to stop the leak through which the Shattuck boxes had slipped. By early April he had formed a nationwide embargo by means of voluntary contracts with chemical brokers. They promised to grant the United States first right to purchase all uranium oxide, uranium nitrate and sodium uranate received by the contractors.

    The uranium black-out was discovered by Rosenberg when he tried to fill another order from the Soviet Purchasing Commission, for 500 pounds each of uranium nitrate and uranium oxide. On April 23, 1943, Rosenberg was in touch with the Canadian Radium & Uranium Corp. of New York, which was exclusive sales agent for Eldorado Mining & Refining, Ltd., a producer of uranium at Great Bear Lake.

     An agreement to fill the Soviet order was negotiated with such dispatch that in four days Rosenberg was able to report victory to the Purchasing Commission. The shipment from Ontario to Great Falls and Moscow followed in due course.

    The Port hope machination had the advantage, among other things, of by-passing the War Production Board, which was sure to warn the Manhattan Project if it knew the facts, but could only be kept in ignorance because its jurisdiction ran only south of the border.

     General Groves was advised at once of the Soviet application for 1,000 pounds of uranium salts. He was not disturbed, being confident the embargo would stand. After declining to endorse the application, he approved it later in the hope of detecting whether the Russians would unearth uranium stocks which the Manhattan Project had overlooked. American industries were consuming annually, before the war, upwards of 200 tons of uranium chemicals.

    “We had no expectations,” General Groves testified December 7, 1949, “of permitting that material to go out of this country. It would have been stopped.” [1] So far as the United States was concerned, the embargo held fast. The truth that it had been side-stepped by means of resort to Canadian sources did not come to the General’s knowledge until three years later.

     Another violation of atomic security was represented by the third known delivery to Russia, in 1944. It proved to be uranium nitrate. During May of that year, Colonel Kotikov showed me a warning from the Soviet Purchasing Commission to look out for a shipment of uranium, weighing 500 pounds, which was to have travel priority. The Colonel was soon returning home. As the climax of his American mission, he proposed to fly the precious stuff to Moscow with his own funds.

     Disguised as a “commercial transaction” within American territory, the deal was managed by Lend-Lease. Chematar and Canadian Radium & Uranium abandoned in favor of the Procurement Division of the Treasury Department, although the Treasury, under regulations, had no authority to make uranium products available to the Soviet Union.

     Contractors were asked to bid, and the winner was Eastman Kodak Company. Somewhere in this process, the expected 500 pounds shrank to 45. Eastman Kodak reported the order to the War Production Board as a domestic commercial item.

     Whatever the motive, it was determined not to send the compound by air. After a Treasury inspection in Rochester, the MacDaniel Trucking Company drove it to the Army Ordnance Depot at Terre Haute, Ind., arriving July 24. *

     The shipment turned up in freight car No. 97352 of the Erie Railroad, and got to North Portland, Ore., on Aug. 11. By means of shifts not yet divulged, the uranium nitrate found itself aboard a Russian steamship, Kushirstroi, which left for Vladivostok on Oct. 3. Colonel Kotikov, who had planned a triumphal entry into Moscow with a quarter-ton of “bomb powder” as a trophy, gave up the project in disgust on learning that the shipment would be only 45 pounds.

*From the hearings of the Un-American Activities Committee, Dec. 5, 1949, p. 932: “MR. TAVENNER: Were there shipments of uranium passing through your field which originated at places other than Canada after you received the Canadian shipments? MR. JORDAN: I believe the other shipments came from Army Ordnance.”

     In charge of uranium purchases for the Manhattan Project in 1944 was Dr. Phillip L. Merritt. Appearing January 24, 1950, before the Un-American Activities Committee, Dr. Merritt swore he was taken by surprise, a day earlier, on discovering for the first time that the Eastman Kodak order had been shipped to Russian by way of Army Ordnance.

    General Groves was likewise uninformed. Asked as a witness whether it was possible for uranium shipments to have been made in 1944, he answered: “Not if we could have helped it, and not with our knowledge of any kind. They would have had to be entirely secret, and not discovered.” [2] He declared that there was no way for the Russians to get uranium products in this country “without the support of U.S. authorities in one way or another.” [3]

The Soviet Purchasing Commission appears to have had instructions to acquire without fail 25 pounds of uranium metal, which can be extracted from uranium salts by a difficult process requiring specialized equipment. Supported or advised by Lend-Lease, the commission for a whole year knocked at every available door, from the Chemical Warfare Service up to Secretary Stimson.

     As a matter of fact, uranium metal was then non-existent in America, and for that reason had not been specified in the Manhattan Project’s embargo or named as a “strategic” material.

     Stimson closed a series of polite rebuffs with a letter of April 17, 1944, to the chairman of the Purchasing Commission, Lt. General Leonid G. Rudenko. But Moscow was stubborn. Under Soviet pressure, the commission or its American friends had an inspiration. Why not have the uranium made to order by some private concern?

     As usual, a roundabout course was taken. The commission first approached the Manufacturer’s Chemical Co., 527 Fifth Avenue, New York, which passed the order along to A.D. Mackay, Inc., 198 Broadway. By the latter it was farmed out to the Cooper Metallurgical Laboratory in Cleveland. According to Mr. McKay, neither he nor the Cooper concern suspected that their customer was the Soviet Union.

     But McKay reported the deal to the War Production Board, which warned the Manhattan Project. The latter’s expert on rare metals, Lawrence C. Burman, went to Cleveland, it is related, and urged the Cooper firm to make sure that its product was of “poor quality.” He did not explain why. But the metal, of which 4.5 pounds was made, turned out to be 87.5 per cent pure as against the stipulated 99 per cent.

     Delivery to the Soviet Union was then authorized of a small sample of this defective metal, to represent “what was available in the United States.” Actually shipped was one kilogram, or 2.2 pounds. The Purchasing Commission abruptly silenced its demands for pure uranium. But the powers that be found it suitable to omit this item, as well as the Rochester sale, from the 1944 schedule of exports to Russia.

     From the start, in contrast to the atmosphere prevailing in Washington, the Manhattan Project was declared by General Groves to have been “the only spot I know that was distinctly anti-Russian. [4] Attempts at espionage in New York, Chicago and Berkeley, California, were traced back to the Soviet Embassy.

     They convinced General Groves in October, 1942, that the enemies of our atomic safeguards were not Germans of Japanese, but Russians. “Suspicion of Russia was not very popular in some circles (in Washington),” he stated. “It was popular at Oak Ridge, and from one month of the time I took over we never trusted them one iota. From that time on, our whole security was based on not letting the Russians find out anything.” [5]

    That the Russians found out everything from alpha to omega, has been established by volumes of proof. Through trials in Canada, England and the United States there has been revealed the existence of an espionage network so enormously effective that Russia, scientists calculated, “should have been able to make a bomb considerably before September, 1949.” The network chief was the former Soviet Vice Consul in New York, Anatoli A. Yakovlev, who fled in 1946.

     In light of these disclosures, there stands in plain view the answer to a mystery that troubled James F. Byrnes, Secretary of State, at the Potsdam Conference. Following a session of the “Big Three,” on the afternoon of July 24, 1945, Harry S. Truman walked round the large circular table to Joseph Stalin’s chair. We had perfected a new bomb, he said, more powerful than anything known. Unless there was an early surrender, we would use it against Japan.

     Stalin’s only reply [writes Mr. Byrnes] was to say that he was glad to hear of the bomb and he hoped we would use it. I was surprised at Stalin’s lack of interest. I concluded that he had not grasped the importance of the discovery. I thought that the following day he would ask for more information about it. He did not… [6]

     On the contrary, Stalin probably knew more about the bomb than Truman and Byrnes together. Perhaps he was struck speechless by the simplicity of his American guests. What did they take him for, he may have been thinking, not to have informed himself to the last particular regarding a weapon bound to revolutionize war?

     As someone remarked bitterly: If we ever hear of Stalin’s death, we know that he died laughing.



“Don’t Make a Big Production”

1. Hearings, General Groves, p. 941.

2. Ibid., p. 945.

3. Ibid., p. 900.

4. Ibid., p. 948.

5. Ibid., p. 947.

6. Speaking Frankly, James F. Byrnes (Harper, 1947), p. 263

Continue with Chapter 7

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