1. The AAF forum will close permanently on December 1, 2017. I no longer have the time to manage a project like this, obviously, or give it the attention that it deserves. I still think fondly of the early days in 1998 when this all got started. A small, but eager group of tech savvy 1st and 2nd generation descendants made great friends with the last of the WWII veterans thru the newfangled internet. They're all gone now. It's time for me to turn the page. Thanks for being along for part of the ride. I'm sorry it got so bumpy in the end.
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216th AAFBU (Special) Manhattan Project role censored from history, Part I

Discussion in '216th AAFBU (Sp)' started by 25Kingman49, Oct 1, 2017.

  1. 25Kingman49

    25Kingman49 Well-Known Member

    The primary reason for this 216th Units history censorship traces initially back to what in brief was known as the “Smyth Report” for its author Henry DeWolf Smyth. The actual official title is “Atomic energy for military purposes; the official report on the development of the atomic bomb under the auspices of the United States Government, 1940-1945” (a good reason for the abbreviated title). This document can be viewed and downloaded here.

    https://archive.org/details/atomicenergyform00smytrich (17 MB)

    This Wiki page for Dr. Smith, Ph.D. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_DeWolf_Smyth offers some background, however fails to explain that Dr. Smith became a “tool” of General Groves with censorship of Top Secret development material omitted from his report. This report was written long before weapons fell from the sky over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With the unprecedented news release by President Truman and announcement about atomic bombs after Hiroshima the Smyth Report was rapidly released to the public.

    It was decided near the end of this report being written (including consultation with many parties from Los Alamos and others inside the Manhattan Engineering District (MED) that all technical data related to weapon development and weapon delivery development would be omitted from the report. In essence this report provided to the world the basic atomic energy knowledge “already known” to nuclear physicist across the globe but including nothing that might advance weapons development by others. I think most American’s would understand and agree with this redaction of sensitive material to preserve national security.

    To drive this point home General Groves added a forward to Smyth’s report (attached) which defined the rules and limitations of material provided within this report and further made it a crime to seek further atomic bomb material not covered within the Smyth Report, reads in part:
    “All pertinent scientific information which can be released to the public at this time without violating the needs of national security is contained in this volume. No requests for additional information should be made to private persons or organizations associated directly or indirectly with the project. Persons disclosing or securing additional information by any means whatsoever without authorization are subject to severe penalties under the Espionage Act.”

    One of the casualties of this redacted / restricted data was the history and involvement of the 216th AAF Base Unit (Special) during the Manhattan Project at Wendover Field, Utah. Everything they did was related to weapons development. Specifically the Flight Test Section (FTS) who drop tested the prototype weapons (developing bombing tables for the use of both weapons by the 509th CG) under command of Major Clyde S. Shields, reporting to Col Heflin. The other half of the 216th “Special” was the Special Ordinance Detachment (SOD) under command of Capt. Henry Howard Roerkohl, also reporting to directly to Col Heflin. These were the prototype atomic bomb (both types) assemblers at Wendover sequestered in a top secret clearance area on the south side of the Air Base about 2 miles away from the main aircraft parking apron.

    Post Hiroshima and Nagasaki the 509th CG was not as restricted in speaking with the public about their mission (in general). They became the atomic bomb poster children to the worldwide public because of their weapon delivery over Japan helping to bring the Pacific war to an end. Over time “folklore” if you will at least in the public eye the 509th CG became responsible for (all development & delivery). Many in the 509th and specifically those in the 393rd Squadron may not have known the full truth about what was being developed by the 216th back at Wendover but Tibbets certainly did. To his date of death Tibbets never acknowledged any participation by the 216th or Col. Heflin taking and keeping all the credit for himself and the 509th CG, and 393rd Squadron. That myth has been busted!

    Tibbets is not the only “scoundrel” on this topic sucking up credit for the atomic bomb project. General Groves might be the worst in his publication “Now It Can Be Told: The Story Of The Manhattan Project”. Of course the 216th is never mentioned, nor are the majority of the other “little” people involved in the project. One might be lead to believe that Groves crafted these weapons on his own with little help from others, and for those who did help if not for his leadership it would have all disintegrated (might be a sliver of truth in that last thought).

    It seems I have been a Manhattan Project, 509th CG, Wendover Field student forever. I too for years bought into this narrative that the 509th CG did everything. There were some early signs that this was likely untrue that frankly went right over my head at the time. The book “The Silverplate Bombers….” By Richard H Campbell (2005) https://www.amazon.com/Silverplate-Bombers-History-Registry-Configured/dp/0786421398 was a key where in some large detail (compared to other authors this topic) Dick writes about the involvement of the 216th and the Silverplate aircraft devoted to their weapon test program. Hindsight is always 20/20 looking back at those days an how blind I remained to the truth.

    In June of 2012 I was introduced to Darrell Dvorak via this forum. He had been studying his father-in-law Col. Clifford J. Heflin hoping to publish an article about his service within the Manhattan Project. He eventually dragged me kick and screaming into the light, where the vail of darkness was lifted regarding the true role of the 216th at Wendover Field in the development of the atomic bombs. We became colleagues to some degree (NOT related to his Air Power History articles) more related to the apparently missing history and documents of the 216th (Sp) at Wendover.

    Related to that goal on 17 July 2012 I launched my initial FOIA requests seeking General Orders and Special Orders issued under Col. Clifford Heflin’s Command from 19 January 1945 – 22 October 1945 at Wendover Field. This request was directed to the Department of Energy / National Nuclear Security Administration (DoE/NNSA). The thought here with this initial request to NNSA was to discover any national security /classified document issues with these records and act accordingly. Rather abruptly the NNSA informed me (without official letter of reply) that their archives did not contain the records sought in my FOIA request, and further directing me to the USAF for a possible location of these records.

    On or about 24 July 2012 I initiated a new FOIA request with the USAF, via AFHRA, Maxwell, AFB. The archivist assigned to my request was Cathy Cox who performed her duty in-depth even calling me by phone requesting additional information which might aid her search of the AFHRA archive for the documents I was seeking. After what I believe to be an honest exhausted archive search by Cathy Cox and others including checking behind filing cabinets Cathy issued this final “somewhat shocking” official USAF response on 14 August 2012 to my request.

    anonymous; FOIA number 2012-05090-F AFHRA ref # RFI # 2012-22105 response - Copy.jpg

    As suggested in the AFHRA response a request for this data was also submitted to the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History. The response by David Hoover, Curator and Collections Manager was the same, no files or documents found.

    NARA, College Park was also a consideration with a similar request issued to that archive (without FOIA stipulation). Again the response was the same issued by Mr. R. E. Cookson, Archivist.

    National Archive response 216th AAFBU (Sp) records, name edit.jpg

    Additional requests to Los Alamos National Laboratory archivist Alan Carr, and also to the Nuclear Testing Archive with Lead Archivist Martha DeMarre yielded the same result. These requests were made just in case NNSA was giving me the brush off even though filed with FOIA protection.

    Contact via email was eventually established in August 2013 with Fletcher Whitworth, Office of Quality Management, Office of Classification, Department of Energy. Fletch has been extremely supportive searching other possible archive locations and offering leads, as well as personally snooping around College Park with his "Q" clearance. And still to date these 216th AAFBU (Sp) Manhattan Project records remain not found.

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Oct 3, 2017
  2. 25Kingman49

    25Kingman49 Well-Known Member

    216th AAFBU (Special) Manhattan Project role censored from history, Part II

    In essence this AFHRA response specifically indicated that all 216th AAF Base Unit (Special) records during the Manhattan Project period at Wendover Field do not exist in the files of the AFHRA, Archive. 216th records at Wendover prior to and after the Manhattan Project period are present and archived at AFHRA. To say the least, this was disappointing news. As recorded earlier other archives have also been exhaustively searched for these records yielding no positive results.

    It was after this USAF, FOIA response that I started searching for progeny of 216th veterans still searching for 216th records perhaps held in private collections. First to be discovered was Keith Shields, son of Maj. Clyde S. Shields, CO 216th FTS. Keith held a personal archive of documents from his father’s records; (some of those documents attached) accounting for the accomplishments of the FTS.

    Next discovered as I recall was Jim Halloran, Jr. son of Pfc. James J. Halloran, MOS 747 (Airplane and Engine Mechanic). Jim actually found us via the AAF forum (in the pre-2015 crash days). Jim offered Special Order #275 from his father’s records issued Wendover Field, Utah 9 Oct 1945. This Order effectively transferred the 216th FTS to Kirtland, Field New Mexico postwar in an effort to place the weapons drop test function closer to Los Alamos

    These 2 document Maj Shields personnel mission list letter (attached), and Special Order #275 offer the closest to what might be considered as a 216th FTS roster (obviously incomplete over the full period at Wendover)

    The next contact was with the Capt. Henry Howard Roerkohl, CO Special Ordinance Detachment family. This was only possibly thru assistance from “our” Rolland Swank offering contact information. This was one of those reverse help scenarios where the family was completely unaware of Howard’s (as he was known within the family) role within the Manhattan Project. Another 216th veteran who took these atomic secrets to his grave. As such, little data was gained however many new photos of Capt. Roerkohl were supplied.

    Captain, later Major Henry Howard Roerkohl pictured here inside a building at the Wendover south base Tech Area.
    Capt. Henry Howard Roerkohl.JPG

    Regarding a resemblance of a roster for the 216th Special Ordinance Detachment at Wendover Field there is only one source (fraught with trouble and inaccuracies). One of Capt. Roerkohl’s subordinate officers Capt. James Les Rowe, postwar published a book titled “Project W-47” still available here https://www.amazon.com/Project-W-47-James-Rowe/dp/0960556206

    Rowe’s book is filled with accurate details about the atomic bomb development and Wendover base in the final months of WW II. Capt. James Les Rowe would in fact make the transfer with the SOD from Wendover to the new Sandia Base (later and presently Sandia National Laboratories) near Kirtland Field, all in an attempt to bring the nuclear weapons testing function closer to Los Alamos.

    The major problem with James Les Rowe’s book was his belief that the actual “Little Boy” combat weapon L-11 was assembled at Wendover and shipped to Tinian ready for combat use. This has been proven wrong from other documents and Tinian photos. This has led to the dismissal of James Les Rowe’s book to some degree, however the baby should not be thrown out with the bath water.

    Rowe, in his book does add a transfer order with a "limited postwar" roster of SOD personnel in Special Order #9 issued 7 December 1945 (attached). This effectively ends the Wendover Field involvement in nuclear weapons development. This Special Order #9 effectively transfers the 216th AAFBU (Sp) into Company “C” Santa Fe detachment 9812th TSU-CE, Manhattan District (welcome to Sandia Base, Albuquerque, NM).

    It is unfortunate that Capt. Rowe in his book in an addendum to this Special Order #9 (attached) was not able to spell the name of his commanding officer Capt. Roerkohl correctly, in stead spelled (Rhorkol).

    One further attempt to rebuild the 216th AAFBU (Sp) data that once existed on this forum.

    Scott M
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2017
  3. terveurn

    terveurn Active Member

  4. 25Kingman49

    25Kingman49 Well-Known Member

    Note, it appears B&N is shipping from the United Kingdom https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/th...chard-h-campbell/1110953966?ean=9780786469079

    The Silverplate Bombers: A History and Registry of the Enola Gay and Other B-29s Configured to Carry Atomic Bombs, By Richard H Campbell
    Amazon paperback https://www.amazon.com/Silverplate-Bombers-History-Registry-Configured/dp/0786469072 ($21 -$25)
    Amazon hardcover https://www.amazon.com/Silverplate-Bombers-History-Registry-Configured/dp/0786421398 ($89 and up used) New $210 and up

    Personally I prefer buying used books via Amazon, $89 is about right, for this book in hardcover, which hardly ever falls below $75.
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2017

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