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NETSACS webinar - RDX and Holston Ordnance Works During World War II
Abstract: In the shadow of what happened at Oak Ridge during World War II, it is not completely surprising that the events that occurred in Kingsport and at Holston Ordnance Works have largely gone unnoticed and unrecorded in the history of global conflict. And yet, only 150 miles from Oak Ridge, the men and women of this area accomplished one of the production miracles of World War II---the mass production of the super-explosive RDX which was the most powerful explosive in the world until the atomic bomb.

Researchers at the Woolwich Arsenal succeeded in producing the highly sensitive compound ((cyclotrimethylenetrinitramine), and called it RDX for short. They desensitized the sensitive explosive by blending it with TNT and adding a pinch of beeswax. The end result was called Composition B (60% RDX, 39% TNT, and 1% beeswax). However, the Woolwich system used 11 pounds to nitric acid to make 1 pound of RDX, and it was only made in small batches.

Tennessee Eastman Corporation entered the picture in November 1941. TEC was not an explosives company, but it was so successful that it was asked in January 1942, after “much soul-searching” (Perley S. Wilcox), TEC agreed to work on the most powerful explosive then known. At the Wexler Bend Pilot Plant, Eastman employees worked around the clock to produce RDX (including the gung-ho attitude of H. G. Stone). TEC then asked to make Composition B at the Horse Creek Pilot Plant (Hershey chocolate kisses). In June 1942, the Government asked TEC to design and operate what became “the giant Holston Ordnance Works.”

Jun 9, 2021 05:00 PM in Eastern Time (US and Canada)

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