after the discovery, in 1939, of fission
in uranium by the German scientists Otto
Hahn and Fritz Strassman, the American government
launched a massive research program at Los
Alamos, New Mexico, with a view to developing
an atomic bomb. The first of these was tested
near Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16,
1945. Less than a month later, another bomb
- nicknamed "Little Boy" - was
loaded into a B-29 bomber, Enola Gay,
which on August 6 was one of three aircraft
that headed for the Japanese city of Hiroshima.
Adrian Weale's account
of what followed is based on the testimony
of the crew, including that of the pilot,
Colonel Paul Tibbets; the co-pilot, Captain
Robert Lewis; the navigator, Major "Dutch" van
Kirk; the bombardier, Major Thomas Ferebee;
the weaponeer, Captain "Deke" Parsons;
the radar officer, Lieutenant Jacob Beser;
and the tail-gunner, Sergeant Bob Caron.
Enola Gay reached its bombing altitude
at 7.40 a.m. and ten minutes later achieved
landfall to the east of Hiroshima. Now cruising
at an equivalent groundspeed of about 325
miles an hour, they made time quickly towards
their target. At 8.12 a.m., van Kirk announced
that they were at the initial point; at the
same time, the aircraft were visually sighted
by ground observers based to the east of
Hiroshima. As Tibbets steadied the plane
for the final approach, a message was being
cranked out from a local air defence centre:
8.13 Chugoku Regional Army Reports three
large enemy planes spotted, heading west
from Saijo. Top Alert.
The final run was the responsibility of
Ferebee. According to Tibbets:
Twelve miles from the target, Ferebee
called, "I can see it!" He clutched
in his bombsight and took control of the
plane from me for a visual run. . . .
[he] had the drift well killed but the
rate was off a little. He made two slight
corrections. A loud "blip" on
the radio notified the escort B-29s that
the bomb would drop in two minutes. After
that, Tom looked up from his bombsight
and nodded to me: it was going to be okay.
He motioned to the radio operator to give
the final warning. A continuous tone went
out, telling [the escorts]: "In fifteen
seconds she goes."
The tone was heard by all the other aircraft
on mission, including the weather scouts
and Top Secret, the stand-by plane
on Iwo Jima. Major McKnight, Top Secret's
pilot, told the communication officer, who
radioed back to the 509th:
It's about to drop.
At exactly 8.15:17 a.m., the "Little
Boy" was released from the bomb bay
of the Enola Gay. The plane lurched
upwards as the weight of the 9,000 lb bomb
ceased to bear on it, but it still seemed
to Ferebee as if the bomb was keeping pace
with them. He watched through the nose as
it began to fall away:
It wobbled a little until it picked up
speed, and then it went right on down just
like it was supposed to.
As the bomb left, Tibbets needed to get
the Enola Gay as far from the bomb
I threw off the automatic pilot and hauled Enola
Gay into the turn. I pulled anti-glare
goggles over my eyes. I couldn't
see through them; I was blind. I threw
them to the floor.
bomb continued falling, its in-built radar
methodically measuring the distance from
the ground as it fell towards the T-shaped
Aioi bridge, described by Tibbets as "the
most perfect aiming point I had seen in the
whole war"; its outer casing scrawled
with messages from the 509th ground crew,
including: "Greetings to the Emperor
from the men of the Indianapolis." At
5,000 feet the barometric safety switch operated
and, as the "Little Boy" reached
1,900 feet, the proximity fuse fired, sending
the U235 bullet down the short barrel of
the gun assembly into its U235 target. The
super-critical mass was formed, drenched
in neutrons by the polonium/beryllium initiator,
and an uncontrolled chain reaction went through
eighty generations before the expanding uranium
core was too large to sustain it.
As Tibbets strained to get Enola Gay away
to the south, "A bright light filled
the plane." Watching, stunned, from
his position in the rear of Enola Gay,
Sergeant Bob Caron, the tail gunner, noticed
a strange ripple in the air coming towards
him. He tried to shout a warning but was
too incoherent; the first shock wave hit
them. Tibbets was astonished:
We were eleven and a half miles slant
range from the atomic explosion but the
whole airplane crackled and crinkled from
the blast. I yelled "Flak!" thinking
a heavy gun battery had found us.
The sons of bitches are shooting at us!
Caron saw the second shock wave:
There's another one coming!
Van Kirk thought the sensation was:
very much as if you've ever sat on
an ash can and had somebody hit it with
a baseball bat . . . the plane
bounced, it jumped and there was a noise
like a piece of sheet metal snapping.
Tibbets realized what was happening:
Okay. That was the reflected shock-wave,
bounced back from the ground. There won't
be any more. It wasn't Flak. Stay calm.
Tibbets ordered Beser to start recording
the crew's impressions of the blast,
starting with Caron, the only one looking
directly at the bomb when it exploded:
column of smoke is rising fast. It has
a fiery red core. A bubbling mass, purple
grey in colour, with that red core. It's
all turbulent. Fires are springing up everywhere,
like flames shooting out of a huge bed
of coals. I am starting to count the fires.
One, two, three, four, five, six... fourteen,
fifteen... it's impossible. There are
too many to count. Here it comes, the mushroom
shape that Captain Parsons spoke about.
It's coming this way. It's like
a mass of bubbling molasses. The mushroom
is spreading out. It's maybe a mile
or two wide and half a mile high. It's
growing up and up and up. It's nearly
level with us and climbing. It's very
black, but there is a purplish tint to
the cloud. The base of the mushroom looks
like a heavy undercast that is shot through
with flames. The city must be below that.
The flames and smoke are billowing out,
whirling out into the foothills. The hills
are disappearing under the smoke. All I
can see now of the city is the main dock
and what looks like an airfield. That is
still visible. There are planes down there.
Lewis pounding my shoulder, saying, 'Look
at that! Look at that! Look at that!' Tom
Ferebee wondered about whether radioactivity
would make us all sterile. Lewis said he
could taste atomic fission. He said it
tasted like lead.
Watching, Lewis cried out:
My God! Look at that son-of-a-bitch go!
But in the log that he was keeping of the
mission, he wrote:
My God, what have we done?