By Sunday, August 5, 1945, everything was ready. The clouds that had hung
over Japan's home islands for a week were clearing. Tomorrow would be the day.
Please "click" here for complete mission
Aircraft 44-86292 had not yet been named. Tibbets got a painter to brush
"ENOLA GAY" in bold black capitals just below the pilot's window on
the aircraft's port side. It was his mother's maiden name and Paul Tibbets's way
of honoring her for standing by his side in an often rocky early career.
Just after noon that Sunday, the Mk-1 atomic bomb--nicknamed Little Boy, in
spite of its ten-foot-length, two-foot-diameter, and four-and-a-half-ton
weight--was removed from its heavily guarded assembly hut on Tinian's North
Field and loaded into the modified bomb bay. Tibbets watched every move and
recalls thinking in disbelief that this single bomb was claimed to have the
explosive power of two hundred thousand of the 200-pound bombs he had dropped
over Europe and Africa three years before. But so far, Tibbets was the only
member of the 509th to know that secret. A few of the others would have to be
told before day's end.
Besides the Enola Gay, six other aircraft were to participate in the mission.
Three were weather planes to be dispatched ahead of the others.
commanded by Claude Eatherly, would be on her way to Hiroshima; Jabbitt III
(no Photo available),
with John Wilson in charge, would fly to Kokura; and
Full House, piloted by
Ralph Taylor, would head for Nagasaki. Hiroshima was the prime target, but if
clouds prevented visual sighting of landmarks, Kokura and Nagasaki were
potential alternate targets. Charles Sweeney's
The Great Artiste and George Marquart's unnamed aircraft
No. 91 (later named Necessary Evil) carried cameras and special instrumentation
and were to escort the Enola Gay to her target. The seventh and final aircraft
in order of takeoff would be Top Secret, piloted by Chuck McKnight. He was to
fly only as far as Iwo Jima, to stand by as needed.
Note: For a complete listing of more than 80
photos of the 509th, "click" here!
That evening the seven crews taking part in the mission gathered for the
preflight briefing shortly after supper. Later, at 11:00 P.M., the crews of the
Enola Gay and the two planes that would accompany her to her target received a
final briefing. This was the first time they were told the expected power of the
bomb they would drop. They were stunned; but the enormity of the explosion
explained those violent escape maneuvers they had been practicing immediately
after bomb release, procedures they had all practiced to perfection.
Tibbets had chosen Theodore "Dutch" Van Kirk as his navigator and
Thomas W. Ferebee as his bombardier. Both had flown with Tibbets on bombing
missions over Europe during the early years of the war. Other members of Enola
Gay's crew were Robert A. Lewis, copilot; Wyatt E. Duzenbury, aircraft flight
engineer; George R. "Bob" Caron, tail gunner; Joseph A. Stiborik,
radar operator; Richard H. "Junior" Nelson, radio operator; Robert
Shumard, assistant aircraft flight engineer; Jacob Beser, "Raven"
operator / radar officer; Navy captain William S. "Deak" Parsons,
weapons officer on loan from the Manhattan Project, which had built the bomb;
and his assistant, Morris R. Jeppson, proximity fuse specialist. The names of
all except the last three, whose functions were largely related to the bomb,
would later be stenciled on the aircraft's side to chronicle their
participation on this historic flight.
Of the mission on which they were about to embark, Dick Nelson, a
twenty-year-old kid on the crew at the time, today recalls, "You knew it
was big, you just didn't want to mess anything up.... When we were in the air
somebody said ... this bomb cost as much as an aircraft carrier.... Well, ...
then you really get the monkey on your back."
Just after 1:00 A.M., the crews drove a Jeep out to the flight line. When
Dutch Van Kirk, then aged twenty-four, remembers that late-night scene with the
aircraft lit up by spotlights, he thinks of a Hollywood premiere. Dick Nelson
likens it to a supermarket opening, "Klieg lights and all kinds of
photographers.... You're almost embarrassed." But as Dutch is quick to add,
this scene had not been staged by news reporters. The Manhattan Project needed
to document the event for history. For that purpose, New York Times science
writer William L. Laurence, who had been given a leave of absence from his
newspaper to write the official history of the atomic bomb effort, had just
flown in that morning, though arriving too late to be included on the mission.
Some of the men were excited or disturbed by all the attention. For Tom
Ferebee, who seems imperturbable, "The only difference between that and
other missions I'd flown was that there's an awful lot of people around the
airplane and floodlights ... which I didn't expect.... There wasn't much
excitement as far as I was concerned. It was just another mission."
The most famous photo coming out of this session is that of a smiling Paul
Tibbets, sticking his head out the pilot's window, just above the "O"
in "ENOLA GAY." He is waving with his right hand at the nighttime
crowd surrounding the plane--none of whom he can presumably see against the
glare of the lights focused on him and brilliantly reflected off his aircraft's
polished surface. The picture taking continued until close to 2:00 A.M., when
Tibbets called a halt so they could go ahead with their preflight preparations.
Van Kirk recalls the mission as, "Rather routine, really. And one of the
reasons for it was it went exactly according to plan.... Any time you have a
good plan and everything goes according to it, ... things do appear to be
routine, and that's how our mission went." Takeoff took place as scheduled
at 2:45 A.M. Tibbets held the aircraft at low altitude while Captain Parsons
crawled back to arm the bomb. When they reached Iwo Jima, Tibbets circled the
island to let the other two airplanes catch up, and with them on his wings, he
gradually climbed to altitude. They had a seventeen-hundred-mile trip ahead to
Hiroshima and the crew took turns napping. This would be a thirteen-hour-long
round-trip mission, and for a while there was little to do.
Claude Eatherly, whose plane had preceded them, reached Hiroshima, found the
weather clear, and radioed back. Then he turned home. Hiroshima now was the
As the Enola Gay approached the city, the crew could clearly see it from more
than fifty miles away. Van Kirk recalls Ferebee making a long bomb run, probably
eight or nine minutes, eventually setting his sights on the target, the landmark
T-shaped Aioi bridge. He remembers thinking, "If we'd ever sat on a bombing
heading like this over Europe for this long a time, they'd have really blasted
us out of the sky. But there was no opposition."
As the bomb dropped, the aircraft jumped, relieved of its weight, and Tibbets
went into his sharp turn. Forty-three seconds later, as the bomb reached
detonation altitude preset at 1,890 feet above ground, the sky lit up. Even with
dark goggles over the crew's eyes, they felt as though someone had sparked a
flashbulb in their eyes. The shock wave arrived another forty-five seconds
later. This was the moment of truth. The aircraft rocked, but withstood the
blast. The immediate danger was over. Meanwhile, the mushroom cloud was rising
faster than anything any of them had ever seen, soon reaching an altitude of
nine miles, three miles above their own cruising altitude. Down below, Nelson
recalls, "The town was just a big mess of flame and dust." Van Kirk
says it "looked like a pot of bubbling tar." There wasn't much to be
discerned, so the three aircraft turned and headed for home. Nelson recalls
their saying, on the way back, "that the war was over.... We couldn't see
how they could possibly go on any longer ... with this device."
Looking back, Ferebee says, "We don't think we should be glorified or
the airplane be glorified. Just ... show what it did in that period of time.
Things are much different now, and people look at things much different. But
it's got to be considered in the time period that it happened."
The Enola Gay's copilot, Bob Lewis, did consider it at the time. As the last
entry in the log he had been asked to keep of the mission, he wrote, "My
The Hiroshima mission did not end the war. Despite the scale of destruction,
the Japanese did not immediately give up. Nelson thinks, "It required
something else, and that something was the second bomb.... The second bomb was a
necessity.... It did show that we had more than one weapon." He feels that
the bomb dropped on Nagasaki "worked--because three days later they did