Timeline #3 - The 509th; The
Special Mission #16
The SIX B-29's of the
- Bockscar", piloted by Maj. Charles Sweeney
carried the "Fat Man" plutonium bomb.
- "The Great Artiste", piloted by Capt.
Fred Bock, was assigned to drop the three instruments used to
measure the blast effects of the bomb.
- "The Big Stink", flown by Maj. James
Hopkins, carried the scientific observers.
- "Full House", flown by Capt. Ralph
Taylor, acts as a standby aircraft and flew to Iwo Jima in the event
of mechanical problems with Bockscar.
- "Up an' Atom", piloted by Capt. George
Marquardt, will act as a weather
plane and fly ahead to primary target of Kokura.
- "Laggin' Dragon", piloted by Capt.
Charles McKnight, will act as a weather plane
and fly ahead to the secondary target of Nagasaki.
The Mission's Timeline...
8/7/45 - The decision to drop the second bomb was made
on Guam. It's use was calculated to indicate that we had an
endless supply of the new weapon. Many say that the 3rd bomb would
actually not be ready until September. There is some differing of
opinion on this.
8/7/45 - Fat Man (F31) with high explosives and a
nuclear (plutonium) core was assembled by Navy Commander Ashworth.
In the rush to complete the bomb, the firing unit cable was installed
backwards, requiring B. J. O'Keefe to cut the connectors and reinstall
them at the very last minute.
8/8/45; 2:00 PM - Initial word was sent out that there
would be an upcoming briefing.
8/8/45; 10:00 PM - Fat Man is loaded into Bock's Car,
this time fully armed!
Note: The second mission was originally
scheduled for August 11th but because of weather concerns, it was moved
up two days to August 9th. This rescheduling also brought about a
change of aircraft. This switch created a great deal of confusion,
some of which still remains with us to this day. Maj. Sweeney was
in line to command the second mission. However, his aircraft, The
Great Artiste was still fitted with the special gear to drop the special
measuring instruments and it could not be made ready to carry the bomb
in time. Therefore, Tibbets made the quick decision to have the
crew of The Great Artiste carry the Fat Man bomb in another B-29 named
"Bockscar", so named for its pilot Fred Bock. Bock and
his crew would fly The Great Artiste. The decision made a lot of
sense. A simple switch of crews from one B-29 to another happened
all the time.
8/8/45; 11:00 PM - A pre-flight briefing was held for
all crew members of the three primary planes. Rendezvous point is
changed from Iwo Jima to Yakushima due to bad weather. In
addition, the altitude at which we were to fly to the Japanese Empire
was raised 17,000 feet from the normal 9,000 feet. A different
rendezvous point didn't mean much, but the higher altitude meant greater
fuel consumption. Two important directives were issued by Tibbets
at this briefing. (1) Wait no more than 15 minutes at the rendezvous
point before proceeding on to Japan and (2) Drop "Fat Man"
visually, ie., we must see the target!
8/9/45; Prior to take off, flight engineer Kuharek
notices the fuel pump for one of the reserve tanks on Bockscar is not
functioning. The crew deplanes while the situation is
discussed. The decision is made to carry on with the mission as
8/9/45; 2:58 AM - The two weather planes, Up an' Atom
and Laggin' Dragon, take off for their selected cities to monitor
8/9/45; 3:49 AM - Bockscar, piloted by Major Charles
"Chuck" Sweeney, lifts off from Tinian Island. This take
off was tricky, as the B-29 was loaded past a safe limit. Everyone
on Tinian, at one time or another, had witnessed a B29, heavily laden
with mines, crash and explode at the end of the runway when just one
engine was lost. As Bockscar sped down the 8,500 foot runway in
the dark of night, you can bet it was on the minds of the crew members.
8/9/45; 3:51 AM - The Great Artiste, piloted by Capt.
Fred Bock, leaves Tinian for Japan.
8/9/45; 3:53 AM - The Big Stink, piloted by Lt. Col.
Hopkins, lifts off.
8/9/45; 4:00 AM - Commander Ashworth, the Weaponeer,
opened the small hatch to the bomb bay and crawled inside. Approx.
15 minutes later he reappeared and said that he had changed the
"green plugs to red". He also said that we had to
maintain altitude because the bomb could pre-detonate if we dropped
below 5,000 feet. Lt. Barnes, the other Weaponeer, turned to the
black box that had been placed on the table beside Abe Spitzer, our
radioman. This box had lots of dials and lights and one big red
bulb that slowly blinked off and on. Lt. Barnes set on a small
stool in front of the box and never took his eyes off the blinking bulb
until we dropped "Fat Man" almost six hours later. When
asked at one point why he was so absorbed by the blinking light, Lt.
Barnes said that as long as it continued to blink slowly, everything was
ok with the bomb. If it started to blink rapidly, well......
8/9/45; 9:10 AM - Bockscar reached rendezvous point
and immediately spots The Great Artiste. The Big Stink is nowhere
in sight. Aircraft increased their altitude to 30,000 feet and
slowly circle Yakushima Island. 15 and then 20 minutes went by,
still no Hopkins on The Big Stink. Everyone was remembering
Tibbet's directive - wait no more than 15 minutes and then leave.
It was also during this circling that both weather planes reported that
both Kokura and Nagasaki had cloud cover but visibility was sufficient
for visual bombing.
8/9/45; 9:50 AM - After circling for 40 minutes,
Bockscar and The Great Artiste finally head in the direction of
Kokura. The Big Stink was nowhere to be seen. (Note: There is
still to this day differing stories of why The Big Stink failed to
rendezvous with the rest.) The additional 30 minutes that Bockscar
and The Great Artiste took to wait ended up costing the mission clear,
visual bombing conditions over Kokura. These crucial minutes saved
Kokura from utter destruction and placed Nagasaki forever in the history
8/9/45; 10:20 AM - B29's arrive at Kokura.
8/9/45; 10:40 AM - Target is in sight, but 7/10 cloud
cover is preventing visual run.
8/9/45; 10:45 AM - Three bomb runs are made on Kokura,
but each time the drop was called off. Animated discussions take
place amongst crew members as what to do next. Mention is made of
a fuel transfer pump problem that means the additional 640 gallons of
fuel stored in the tail was useless. Fuel is now becoming a real
8/9/45; 11:32 AM - Decision made to reduce power to
conserve fuel and head for secondary target, Nagasaki, 95 miles to the
8/9/45; 11:56 AM - Bockscar and The Great Artiste
arrive at Nagasaki.
8/9/45; 11:58 AM - Bombardier, Kermit Beahan, now
flying Bockscar, releases "Fat Man". Both planes take a
155 degree dive to their right and left respectively.
8/9/45; 12:02 PM - Fat Man explodes at an altitude of
1,840 feet with a force of 22,000 tons of TNT. Three shock waves
are felt by both planes.
8/9/45; 12:06 PM - Bockscar and The Great Artiste, now
low on fuel, head toward Okinawa. Real possibility exists for a
forced landing in the water. Attempt to raise air/sea rescue units
8/9/45; 1:00 PM - Okinawa is in sight. Attempts
to notify airfield of emergency landing fails. There were other
planes landing at the time on the only active runway. Finally,
Sweeney ordered flares to be fired and Bockscar headed in. They
landed at 150 MPH instaed of the normal 120 MPH. The number 2
engine ran out of fuel as they were on the runway.
8/9/45; 1:20 PM - Both The Great Artiste and Hopkins'
The Big Stink (now found) landed at Okinawa. As it turned out, The
Big Stink made its way to Nagasaki and arrived in time to take
8/9/45; 5:30 PM - All 3 B29's take off from Okinawa
for Tinian Island.
8/9/45; 11:30 PM - B29's arrive back at North Field on