I corresponded with Bill Patterson, editor of The Heinlein Journal, who provided some additional detail on science fiction writers’ contribution during WWII. But first, he begins with a correction to my earlier anecdote regarding Heinlein’s story “Solution Unsatisfactory”:
The story about government agents checking out a writer’s sources for atomic information does not relate to Heinlein or to “Solution Unsatisfactory” — that was, after all, before the war and before any security restrictions; it happened to Cleve Cartmill who found FBI agents waiting for him in John Campbell’s office during the war. The name of the story that appeared in ASF escapes me at the moment.
Patterson continues with the following additional detail on the war effort:
Second, you have assumed that Heinlein, de Camp and Asimov wound up working at NAES because of some attempt to get sf writers, and this is not quite correct. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, RAH took off for New York to use John Campbell’s place as a base from which to seek some kind of military post. He was ultimately unsuccessful in this — the reason given was that he was an “old lunger” (TB patient) and the Navy didn’t want old lungers in contact with active duty personnel, or at least that was doctrine at the time. He felt it was rather that he had offended the head of the Department of the Navy in an incident in his political career. He and Campbell and several others talked about what they would do in the war effort. Heinlein put out feelers and was pulled in by his friend Albert Scoles who was then running the Materials Center at the Naval Air Experimental Station at Mustin Field in Philadelphia, to act as a Civilian Engineer until his reactivation could come through. At that time L. Sprague de Camp, who was also trained as an engineer, was going to Naval Officer school. Heinlein suggested that Scoles tap him as well. And Asimov, a graduate chemist, was also at loose ends, so Heinlein suggested that Scoles recruit him as well. During Heinlein’s time at NAES, he is widely credited with acting as a personnel recruiter, and these two were simply the ones we know about, and they were recruited because they had useful engineering skills. It happened that Heinlein’s social life had mutated into hanging out with his writer colleagues, so that’s how it all came about.
Now, I don’t have all the details about the Kamikaze task force, but there were several SF writers in it, and it does seem to be true that they were recruited for their writerly imagination. It appears that the group RAH headed was outside of regular channels and they hoped for fast results from unorthodox thinkers. But the war was over before anything useful could be produced and implemented. However, there were more and other people at these group meetings than the sf writers we’re familiar with (including Sturgeon and Hubbard and at least occasionally Campbell).
So far as I know the imagination of sf writers was Heinlein’s idea, and it may never have entered into anything official. The most likely scenario is that somebody thought that the official group in Naval Intelligence would never produce anything (or at least not timely) and King or someone on his staff authorized another operation on the Q-T that became the Kamikaze group. It’s not entirely impossible that King contacted RAH directly, but it’s not likely either. King had been RAH’s captain in the Navy from 1930-1932. He was advanced to head the Naval War by Roosevelt, apparently over the objections of his advisors, but that is a matter of public record so I won’t go into it here.
Thanks to Bill for the clarification and additional information!