509th Composite Group


The Historic Timelines

Below is an hour by hour timeline of the Nagasaki Mission 

Timeline #3 - The 509th; The Nagasaki Mission

Special Mission #16

The SIX B-29's of the Nagasaki Mission:

  • 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 planned.

8/9/45; 2:58 AM - The two weather planes, Up an' Atom and Laggin' Dragon, take off for their selected cities to monitor weather conditions.

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 books.

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 problem!

8/9/45; 11:32 AM - Decision made to reduce power to conserve fuel and head for secondary target, Nagasaki, 95 miles to the south.

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 fails.

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 photographs.

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 Tinian.

 

 

 

 

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