Turf wars

One of the features of early British atomic history was an almighty battle between the scientists and the engineers. Mostly they worked well together but John Cockcroft and Christopher Hinton, the mighty titans who presided over a remarkable nuclear expansion, were so different in temperament that their organizations reflected them and, frankly, often went to war. In 1951 Hinton, sick of what he saw as tardy and incomplete scientific research by Harwell’s team, inveigled his own R&D department. Listen to “Monty” Finniston, Harwell’s redoubtable metallurgist, buttonholing Cockcroft about this latest development:

The [R&D branch of Risley] has just issued its intended programme of work. The contents of this document, which was not sent to you, are surprising in a number of respects, some of which I list below. In the first place, the work which has been and is going on at Harwell has apparently been ignored. This tendency was already evident from the Progress Reports issued by [Risley] where work already done by Harwell was repeated and reported by [Risley] as if new. Secondly, the programme details work which is of a fundamental character, and in which [Risley] has no immediate interest … Thirdly, all the work can apparently proceed at high priority. … Although I believe the research programme as detailed to be unrealistic, the issue raises more acutely than ever before the question: “What is the function of [R&D Risley]?” … It was evident from the first scheme proposed by [Risley that they] had a different conception of the functions of their Development Branch, since they introduced a research element, the need for which was queried by several people at the time. I understand that both [Penney] and yourself objected to these proposals at the [AEC], but the present organisation … will not differ much from the original scheme. … If it is claimed that Harwell is not doing its job satisfactorily … the deficiencies of the Harwell programme should be detailed by Risley. This should be considered criticism, not the ill-founded comments to which Metallurgy Division and I believe other divisions has been subjected in the past.

Finniston, Harold M. 1951. Finniston to Cockcroft, Oct. 24, 1951. AB 6/616. National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom
Finniston memo