Project Alberta: A Division of the Manhattan Project

Charles Skolds
March 14, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017


Fig. 1: Enola Gay, the B-29 that carried Little Boy to Hiroshima. (Source: Wikimedia Commons )

The Manhattan Project was the most prominent research and testing program of the US Army for nuclear weapons during World War II. [1] It was the largest technological project of its time, drawing upon the resources of the Corps of Engineers and bringing together the best minds of America, all during the chaotic time of a world war. Although J. Robert Oppenheimer is credited as the director of the core research and design of the bomb, major parts of the assembly and crafting of tertiary components for the bomb were the Army's responsibility. [1] The Project itself was so large in scale that it had to be divided into separate projects, each with their own specific job. Therefore, Project Alberta, headed by Captain William Parsons, was established to carry out all activities related to combat delivery of both the gun assembly and implosion bombs. [1]

The Project

The project itself was focused on the assembly and modifications of compartments and planes in order to house the nuclear bombs, a majority of all this done on the island of Tinian in the Mariana Islands. [2] This location was determined in December 1944, 4 months before the creation of Project Alberta, due to its strategic proximity to Guam and its two airfields. The team was made up of a variety of Navy, Army, and civilian employees, totaling 51, all of whom eventually arrived in late July following the Trinity Tests. [3]

The majority of the project was testing the delivery system for the bomb, using modified B-29s and high-explosive Pumpkin bombs as practice, transporting these similarly sized explosives to certain Japanese targets over the course of a couple months. [2] The first nuclear bomb, Little Boy, was expected to have delivering capabilities by August 1st 1945, however Parsons and the project experienced major setbacks, including an accidental release of a bomb and 4 crash landings by B-29s on Tinian. [2] Eventually, Little Boy was completed in time for the orders to drop on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, where Parsons himself flew on the B-29, shown in Fig. 1, to help ultimately deliver the largest detonation of war in human history.


Although much of the Manhattan Project and Project Alberta were designed to end the war as quickly as possible, there will always be the debate about the ethics of nuclear warfare. Specifically, for Project Alberta, the radiation exposure on workers in various division of the Manhattan Project pose the question of the Army's consideration for the health of its employees. A study done on 26 workers from the Los Alamos laboratory found 8 workers to have contracted some form of cancer after 50 years, 3 of which succumbed to the cancer beforehand. [4] However, the study itself concludes that more information is needed to determine whether working at the facility was a direct cause of the cancer. With the ethical implications aside, overall Project Alberta was a core division that directly helped toward the success of the Manhattan Project, quickening the end of the war and creating a new world of incredibly powerful explosives.

© Charles Skolds. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] V. C. Jones, Manhattan: The Army and the Atomic Bomb (Department of the Army, 1985).

[2] R. H. Campbell, The Silverplate Bombers (McFarland and Company, 2005).

[3] Y. Goldberg, "Project Alberta," Physics 241, Stanford University, Winter 2016.

[4] G. L. Voelz et. al., "Fifty years of Plutonium Exposure to the Manhattan Project Plutonium Workers: an Update," Health Phys. 73, 611 (1997).