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Local Connection To Upcoming 75th Anniversary

Part of the Project A team on Titian after the “Little Boy” atomic bomb had been dropped on Japan. After the photograph was taken the group working on “Little Boy” left for the United States. The rest stayed and continued work on the “Fat Man” atomic bomb that was dropped a few days later. Harlow Russ of Jamestown is the fourth from the left in the bottom row. Photo from the Fenton History Center.

In the next few days, there will be some stories in the media about observing the 75th anniversary of three events in history.

Included in the stories will be the names of airplanes, the Enola Gay and Bockscar, along with the pilots’ names, Colonel Tibbetts and Major Sweeney, and geographic names of Tinian, Hiroshima, and Nagaski. It was 75 years ago that the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan with the end of World War II announced days later with the surrender of Japan.

This story does have a tie to our local history. One name that probably will not be included in the stories is Harlow Russ. This name takes us back for another look at the Jamestown High School yearbook of 1931. Harlow Russ was graduated from JHS in the class of 1931. He then went to the University of Alabama and earned a degree in Aeronautical Engineering. After a few job changes, he ended up at Lockheed Aircraft Corporation.

His four lines in the JHS yearbook are “The fellow of standards, Respected by all; He’ll always be here, At Opportunity’s call.” For him, opportunity’s call came on November 21, 1944. He received a telegram asking him to call Mr. Baer of US Engineers. After the call, he received various instructions to call and/or to meet others. Finally he received a large brown envelope with more information. After reading the contents his immediate reaction was “anyone would be crazy to turn down an offer to go an unknown location to do unspecified work on an unknown war project.”.

He turned in his resignation to Lockheed and on December 7, 1944, proceeded to the Santa Fe office as directed. He was then sent to “the Site.” Here he was introduced to the many security restrictions, as well as, the actual work taking place at the Site. He was assigned to the O-4 Group, the Engineering Group of the Ordinance Division. Their mission was “to convert the bomb-physics packages (gadgets) into practical designs for airborne weapons that could be assembled at advanced bases, be carried in a B-29 aircraft and dropped on the enemy.” Russ’s group worked in the FM (Fat Man) program which was then far from producing a final design for a bomb. Another group had accomplished a design for the LB (Little Boy) bomb. These were the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan in August of 1945.

The cover of the book by Harlow W. Russ about his experience with design of, and preparation of the Fat Man atomic bomb. Harlow Russ was a member of the Jamestown High School Class of 1931. A copy of this book is part of the collection of the Fenton History Center.

Harlow Russ was involved in the final design of the Fat Man bomb. He was a division leader at Los Alamos Site “Y” of the Manhattan Project. But he went even further by being assigned to Destination “O”. He was one of four chosen for the Site “Y” Advance Party to Destination. Project Alberta or Project “A” was formed to carry out the delivery operations at Destination. Project A personnel were mostly from Site “Y”. They and the First Technical Service Detachment, 509th Composite Group, 20th Air Force, U.S.A. (and a few Japanese who had gone into hiding after the United States captured the island) became the occupants of Destination “O”, known as Tinian, an island in the Marshalls group in the Pacific. It was from Tinian that the Enola Gay and Bock’s Car, with their support aircraft, left on the runs to drop the atomic bombs on Japan.

On August 8, 1945, “with only Roger Warner [leader of the Atomic Bomb Preparation Group] inside the building to observe and hold the flashlight, I [Harlow Russ] installed the vent tubes leading from the vent holes in the case to the manifold, and the armor-plate tail-cone cover, with its desiccant package, was installed to close the case.” The bomb was ready! Next was to move it outside and spray the bomb with three coats of sealing material. Then everyone signed their names on the bomb case. Next step was to move the bomb to the loading pit and hoist it into the airplane. Then the pullout wires were attached and the airplane and bomb were ready for the flight on the following morning. The flight airplane and the flight encountered some problems, but all were overcome and the bomb was dropped on the alternate target of Nagasaki.

Harlow Russ continued to work at Los Alamos Laboratory until his retirement in 1979. Russ published a book, Project Alberta; The Preparation of Atomic Bombs for use in World War II, copyrighted in 1984 and 1990. It is from this book, that most of the information for this article was taken. The book is a very interesting read and the descriptions of the places, people, and activities are filled with personal details and memories of Harlow Russ, member of the JHS Class of 1931.

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