Major General Thomas Francis Farrell (3 December 1891 – 11 April 1967) was the Deputy Commanding General and Chief of Field Operations of the Manhattan Project, acting as executive officer to Major General Leslie R. Groves, Jr.
Farrell graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a degree in civil engineering in 1912. During World War I, he served with the 1st Engineers on the Western Front, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the French Croix de guerre. After the war, he was an instructor at the Engineer School, and then at the United States Military Academy at West Point.
He resigned from the Regular Army in 1926 to become Commissioner of Canals and Waterway for the State of New York from 1926 to 1930, and head of construction and engineering of the New York State Department of Public Works from 1930 until 1941.
During World War II he returned to active duty as Groves’ executive officer in the Operations Branch of the Construction Division under the Office of the Quartermaster General. He went to the China-Burma-India theater to help build the Ledo Road.
In January 1945, Groves chose Farrell as his second-in-command of the Manhattan Project. Farrell observed the Trinity test at the Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range with J. Robert Oppenheimer. In August 1945, he went to Tinian to supervise the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Afterwards he led teams of scientists to inspect the effects of the atomic bombs.
In 1946 he was appointed chairman of the New York City Housing Authority. He subsequently worked as a consultant for the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority on projects such as the Cross Bronx Expressway. He was a member of the evaluation board for Operation Crossroads, and was an advisor to Bernard Baruch, the United States representative on the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission.
During the Korean War, Farrell returned to active duty once more, serving with the Defense Production Administration, and then with the Atomic Energy Commission as its Assistant General Manager for Manufacturing. He oversaw a vast increase in the Commission’s production capabilities before retiring again in 1951. From 1960 to 1964, he worked on the preparations for the 1964 New York World’s Fair.
Thomas Francis Farrell was born on 3 December 1891 in Brunswick, New York, the fourth of nine children of John Joseph Farrell, Sr., a farmer, and his wife Margaret née Connolly. Farrell was raised on the family’s 200-acre (81 ha) farm, where his father had an apple orchard, and raised pigs and dairy cattle. The children helped with the farm chores, and delivering the milk, but none stayed on as adults.
Farrell graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1912. His first professional job was working on the New York State Barge Canal. Seeing Irish workers being mistreated by bosses made him a staunch supporter of organized labor. He worked on the Panama Canal from 1913 to 1916.
Farrell joined the Corps of Engineers Officers Reserve Corps in 1916. He married Maria Ynez White in 1917 before departing for France with the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). He joined the 1st Engineers with the rank of second lieutenant, and departed from Hoboken, New Jersey on the USAT Finland on 6 August as the assistant supply officer with the rank of first lieutenant.
He became a captain and regimental supply officer in October, and subsequently, with the rank of major, commanded the 2nd Battalion from January to May 1918, Company F from May to July, and finally the 1st Battalion from July 1918.
Farrell participated in the Battle of Cantigny, the Aisne-Marne Offensive, the Battle of Montdidier-Noyon and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. The 1st Engineers’ main role was maintenance of the roads and construction of bridges in the 1st Division area, although detachments also employed Bangalore torpedoes to clear paths through barbed wire. However, during the Argonne battle, Farrell’s 1st Battalion was committed to the line as infantry.
For his leadership in the action that followed, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. His citation read:
for extraordinary heroism in action while serving with 1st Engineers, 1st Division, A.E.F., at Bois-de-Moncy, France, October 8–9, 1918.
On October 8 when ordered to take and hold Hill 269, which was strongly held by enemy forces, Major Farrell with great skill and with undaunted courage and determination led his battalion to the attack, seized and held this vital point despite the fact that he was attacked by greatly superior numbers on three sides and nearly surrounded by strong enemy forces who showed extraordinary determination to regain this highly important position.
He held the hill until reinforcements could reach him after darkness had fallen on 9 October 1918. His fearless leadership, utter disregard for his own safety, and complete devotion to duty raised the morale of his battalion to a high pitch and inspired them to acts of great endeavor.
Farrell was also awarded the Croix de guerre with palm for his actions, and the 1st Battalion received a citation from Major General Charles Summerall, the commander of V Corps. After the Armistice with Germany in November 1918, the 1st Engineers participated in the occupation of the Rhineland, with Farrell’s 1st Battalion basing itself at Ebernhahn.
The 1st Engineers returned to the United States in August and September 1919. After the war, Farrell joined the Regular Army. He served as an instructor at the Engineer School at Camp A. A. Humphreys from 1921 to 1924, and then at the United States Military Academy at West Point until 1926.
Farrell resigned from the Regular Army in 1926, but remained in the reserves. The Governor of New York, Al Smith, appointed Farrell as Commissioner of Canals and Waterway for the State of New York. He was head of construction and engineering of the New York State Department of Public Works from 1930 until 1941.
He was considered as a possible candidate to replace Frederick Stuart Greene as Superintendent of Public Works, but Greene did not retire. The Great Depression led to a vast expansion of public works activity, both nationally and in New York. Major projects in New York included the 1939 New York World’s Fair and the construction of LaGuardia Airport.
In September 1943, the Chief of Army Service Forces, Lieutenant General Brehon B. Somervell, created a special India Committee to coordinate activities in the China-Burma-India theater with those of Army Service Forces back home. Farrell, now a colonel, was appointed to the committee to oversee construction.
The creation of a line of communications from India to China would be the largest engineer undertaking of the war. A number of new units were trained in the United States specifically for the task. In a reorganization later that year, Farrell became Chief Engineer of the Services of Supply in the China-Burma-India theater. In December he also became head of its Construction Division.
Farrell, who was promoted to brigadier general in January 1944, organized his command into two divisions and six districts.
He was in charge of the work inside India; construction of the Ledo Road itself was the responsibility of Colonel Lewis A. Pick.
In addition to this work, Farrell had to support Operation Matterhorn, the deployment of B-29 bombers to China and India, which involved the construction and expansion of a series of air bases. The B-29s required runways that were almost twice the size of those for the older B-17s, and he was forced to divert his resources to construct a 6-inch (150 mm) oil pipeline to the Matterhorn airfields.
To bridge the fast-following rivers of northern Burma, Pick and Farrell selected the H-20 Portable Steel Highway Bridge. Production of these had been discontinued in favor of the Bailey bridge, but Farrell’s technical arguments won out and the Corps of Engineers had to reinstate production of the H-20.
In view of these difficulties, Farrell obtained Bailey bridges from British sources. In the end, all the major bridges beyond the Irrawaddy River would be Baileys.
He also made the decision, controversial in Washington, to shift the terminus of the 6-inch (150 mm) oil pipeline from Calcutta to Chittagong in order to avoid crossing the Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers, and the dangers of concentrating too many vulnerable installations in the Calcutta area. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.
Farrell was promoted to the rank of major general in October 1945. He remained Deputy Commander of the Manhattan Project until he retired from active service in April 1946. He was appointed chairman of the New York City Housing Authority by Mayor William O’Dwyer on Robert Moses’s recommendation.
In the aftermath of the war, providing public housing, especially for returning veterans, was a major priority for the city. Unlike other projects of the time, New York City public housing was not racially segregated. Writing in 1950, Farrell declared, “New York’s public housing projects demonstrate that Negroes and whites can live together.”
He served as a member of the evaluation board for Operation Crossroads, and was an advisor to Bernard Baruch, the United States’ representative on the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission. In 1950, during the Korean War, Farrell returned to active duty with the Army once more, and served with the Defense Production Administration.
In July 1951, he was transferred to the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), the successor organization to the Manhattan Project, where he became the Assistant General Manager for Manufacturing. In this role, he oversaw a vast increase in the Commission’s production capabilities. The construction of new reactors at the Hanford and Savannah River Sites would eventually triple the production of nuclear weapons.
Farrell left the AEC and active duty Army again in February 1952. He subsequently worked as a consultant for the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority on projects such as the Cross Bronx Expressway. From 1960 to 1964, he worked on the preparations for the 1964 New York World’s Fair.
His children were Thomas, Barbara, Peter, Patricia, and Stephen. Thomas graduated from West Point in the class of 1942, received the Silver Star Medal and the Distinguished Service Cross, and reached the rank of captain before being killed at Anzio on 25 February 1944.
An Army port repair ship, the Thomas F. Farrell Jr., was named in his honor. Peter graduated from West Point in the class of 1950. He served with the Army in the Vietnam War, where he commanded the 6th Battalion, 56th Air Defense Artillery during the Tet Offensive. He retired from the Army in 1978 with the rank of colonel.
Farrell’s daughter, Barbara Vucanovich, was the first woman from Nevada to be elected to the United States House of Representatives, serving from 1983 to 1997. His granddaughter, Patricia Dillon Cafferata, served as Nevada State Treasurer from 1983 to 1987.
Farrell died at Saint Mary’s Hospital in Reno, Nevada, on 11 April 1967. His wife Ynez had died the year before. Ironically, the man who had spent a lifetime building things was principally remembered for the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.