British Mission Embodies International Collaboration
In 1943, Britain supplied the Manhattan Project with several of her most talented nuclear scientists. Approximately two-dozen of these men came to Los Alamos, making valuable contributions to the development of the world's first nuclear bombs.
Initially, Nobel Laureate James Chadwick, discoverer of the neutron, led the British contingent at Los Alamos. The British Mission, as this group was collectively known, included prominent scientists such as William Penney, Geoffrey Taylor, Earnest Titterton, and James Tuck.
Austrians, Danes, Poles and Germans Arrive
Several European refugees, who had fled Nazi persecution on the continent, also joined the team. Included amongst them was the Austrian, Otto Frisch, the two Danes, Niels Bohr and his son Aage, and Joseph Rotblat, a Pole. Klaus Fuchs, an outstanding theoretical physicist and native of Germany, also came to Los Alamos as part of the British Mission. He played a prominent role in the development of the implosion bomb, but repeatedly passed classified information to the Soviet Union. The man who recruited Fuchs, Rudolf Peierls, a fellow German theorist, also came to Los Alamos and eventually succeeded Chadwick as leader of the British Mission.
Each member of the British Mission played a part in the success of the Los Alamos project. Many of the British scientists helped develop the implosion bomb, which was tested in July 1945 in south-central New Mexico. Peierls and Fuchs helped spearhead research on the hydrodynamics of implosion and Tuck co-invented the high explosive lens system that would compress the bomb's fissile core. Taylor, an expert in blast wave phenomena, predicted how the bomb would behave during the test. Penney, who served on the committee tasked with selecting potential targets for the combat missions, developed diagnostic methods to measure the force of the blast. Other British Mission scientists made contributions by serving as laboratory leaders. Frisch, Peierls, George Placzek (a Czech), and Egon Bretscher (a Swiss) all led groups during the war.
Celebrating War's End British Style
After the atomic strikes against Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese government quickly capitulated. The British scientists had played key roles in building the bombs and, as such, became embedded in the social fabric of wartime Los Alamos. After the armistice the British wives threw a formal party to celebrate, preparing a traditional British meal of soup, steak, kidney pie, and trifle. After dinner, guests enjoyed a three-act play Tuck had written, which culminated in a reenactment of the Trinity test.
Not long after the war, congress passed the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, which outlawed nuclear collaboration with foreign states. The atomic partnership that had produced the world's first atomic bombs temporarily came to an end, and matters only grew worse when Fuchs was arrested in Britain for espionage in 1950. Only eight years later, however, the United States and United Kingdom would renew their nuclear ties by signing the Mutual Defense Agreement. The collaborative spirit of the World War II enterprise continues to inspire these nations' efforts.