July 11, 2023

Gen. Marshall and Gen. Groves, August 1945

Gen. Marshall and Gen. Groves, August 1945

"Not to Be Released ... Without Express Authority from the President"

On Aug. 10, 1945, after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Gen. Leslie Groves wrote a memorandum to Army Chief of Staff George Marshall that a third bomb “of the implosion type” would be ready to ship Aug. 12 or 13, earlier than the original date of Aug. 24. The bomb would be ready to use in “the first suitable weather after 17 or 18 August.”


J. Robert Oppenheimer and Gen. Leslie Groves at the site of the first atomic explosion in New Mexico, 1945. (Atomic Archive photo)

On reading the memo, Marshall made a handwritten notation, “8/10/45    It is not to be released over Japan without express authority from the President. G Marshall.”

Memorandum from Gen. Leslie Groves to Gen. George Marshall.

This memo was handed from Groves to Marshall, and Groves recommended that Marshall authorize him to delay the shipment of the third bomb to give the Japanese government time to surrender. Delaying until noon Aug. 13 was orally agreed upon, according to Groves’ records.

The deadline arrived with no word from Japan. Groves tried to get in touch with both Secretary of War Henry Stimson and with Marshall but could reach neither. He talked with Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. Thomas Handy, and neither man felt he had the authority to “further delay the shipment.”

Groves asked Handy to inform Marshall that he “was exceeding my instructions and in the absence of any word from him would not ship any fissionable material for the third bomb until I could see him.”

I don’t know where Stimson was that morning, but I know that Marshall was at the White House; among awards presented was Lt. Gen. Jacob Devers with an oak leaf cluster to his Distinguished Service Medal. Marshall’s calendar was full that morning. Surely there must be more to the story, as such a vitally important conversation would not be forgotten.

Gen. George Marshall’s appointments for Aug. 13, 1945.

Groves did note that “some days later General Marshall told me how glad he was that I had taken the action I had.”

Before becoming director of library and archives at the George C. Marshall Foundation, Melissa was an academic librarian specializing in history. She and her husband, John, have three grown children, and live in Rockbridge County with three large rescue dogs. Melissa is known as the happiest librarian in the world! Keep up with her @MelissasLibrary.