75 Years ago today…

| August 5, 2020

Col Paul Tibbets waving from Enola Gay before leaving for the bombing of Hiroshima

Colonel Paul Tibbets flew his B-29 heavy bomber “Enola Gay” over Hiroshima, Japan 75 years ago today. At 0815 local time on 8/6/45 (1915 hours EDT 8/5/45) his bombardier Major Thomas Ferebee released their top-secret payload. Their payload was so secret only he, Tibbets, and the weaponeer Navy Captain William “Deak” Parsons knew what was on board. The remaining crew had been given dark glasses and were told only to expect a bright flash.

Strike Order 5 August, 1945, 509th Composite Group, US Army Air Force

During the flight to Hiroshima, Parson crawled into the cramped bomb bay of the Superfortress to arm their payload, receiving the Silver Star medal for it. After Ferebee, who also received a Silver Star for the mission, released their single bomb, it fell for 44.4 seconds before that bright flash happened.

What followed was only the second detonation of an atomic bomb and the first to be used in warfare. The bomb blew up with the force of about 16,000 tons of TNT. The bomb was timed to burst in the air, maximizing destructive potential and minimizing radioactive fallout.

Hiroshima bomb blast, 2-5 minutes after detonation

The blast instantly vaporized everything within a mile and caused near total destruction and massive fires in an area about 4.4 square miles. Sixty-nine percent of the buildings in the city were destroyed and another 6-7% were damaged. Between 70,000 and 80,000 people in the heavily populated city were killed by the blast and resultant firestorm (of a population somewhere around 350,000). Tens of thousands more suffered injuries including burns and radiation sickness.

Tibbets would be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross by General Carl Spaatz (commander of US Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific) after landing. He was hailed as a hero and even invited to the White House.

The horrible effects of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and days later Nagasaki, convinced the Japanese to end the war. The Japanese were preparing to fight to the last man, woman, and child as the Allies moved toward invading the mainland. The Japanese, their organized military, local militias, and even the citizenry themselves, were told being organized to fight and resist the invasion. Throughout the many battles in the Pacific Theater the Japanese troops had They finally surrendered unconditionally on August 15, 1945.

The nuclear bombings cost the Japanese hundreds of thousands of casualties, but averted the Allies from having to invade. Plans had been drawn up to invade the Japanese mainland with about 6,000,000 (six million!) men, an order of magnitude bigger than the Normandy Landings in the year prior.

Estimates of the human cost to the Allies for the invasion ran upwards of 1,000,000 casualties. The atomic bombing thus saved millions of Allied men’s lives, and though it did cost the Japanese dearly, it likely averted hundreds of thousands of casualties on their side as well were the Allied invasion of the mainland to have happened. Most histories remark only on how terrible the bombings themselves were without pointing out the alternative was much worse.

Casualty estimates led the US Army in WWII to order more than 1.5 million Purple Heart medals. During that war 1 million or so had been used, leaving 500,000 in stock. Since the horrific invasion of Japan never happened, the excess inventory of Purple Hearts are still being issued to this day.

Category: Air Force, Historical, Purple Heart, Silver Star, War Stories, We Remember

Comments (33)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. 11B-Mailclerk says:

    We never did convince Japan or the Japanese to surrender.

    We convinced one man, Emperor Hirohito, to surrender. They almost overthrew him for it. The coup was in process when a bombing mission disrupted it.

    -one- man decided “enough”. One man spared tens of millions a horrible fate.

  2. 26Limabeans says:

    And yet, countries like Iran want to do that to their neighbors.

  3. ninja says:

    Thank You, Mason, for sharing this.

    Let us also never forget the brave Sailors of the USS Indianapolis who in 1945 “received orders to undertake a top-secret mission of the utmost significance to national security: to proceed to Tinian island carrying the enriched uranium (about half of the world’s supply of uranium-235 at the time) and other parts required for the assembly of the atomic bomb codenamed ‘Little Boy’, which would be dropped on Hiroshima a few weeks later.”

    “In July 1945, Indianapolis completed a top-secret high-speed trip to deliver parts of Little Boy, the first nuclear weapon ever used in combat, to the United States Army Air Force Base on the island of Tinian, and subsequently departed for the Philippines on training duty. At 0015 on 30 July, the ship was torpedoed by the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-58, and sank in 12 minutes. Of 1,195 crewmen aboard, approximately 300 went down with the ship. The remaining 890 faced exposure, dehydration, saltwater poisoning, and shark attacks while stranded in the open ocean with few lifeboats and almost no food or water. The Navy only learned of the sinking four days later, when survivors were spotted by the crew of a PV-1 Ventura on routine patrol. Only 316 survived. The sinking of Indianapolis resulted in the greatest single loss of life at sea from a single ship in the history of the US Navy.”

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Indianapolis_(CA-35)

    War Is Indeed Hell.

    Never Forget.

    • Mason says:

      Indianapolis is one of those horror stories of surviving the battle and dying waiting for rescue. I can’t imagine the horrors in those waters.

      It’s also a horror story in that Captain McVay was scapegoated by the Navy. The only captain to face a court martial for the loss of his ship to enemy action in combat. Even with the Japanese sub skipper testifying on his behalf (imagine to guy who tried to kill you being your biggest defense witness). Though convicted, he was later cleared and promoted to RADM before retiring, it haunted him until his suicide in 1968.

    • FuzeVT says:

      QUINT: Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into her side, Chief. We was comin’ back from the island of Tinian to Leyte. We’d just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in 12 minutes. Didn’t see the first shark for about a half-hour. Tiger. 13-footer. You know how you know that in the water, Chief? You can tell by lookin’ from the dorsal to the tail. What we didn’t know, was that our bomb mission had been so secret, no distress signal had been sent. They didn’t even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, Chief, sharks come cruisin’, so we formed ourselves into tight groups. It was kinda like you see in the calendars, you know the infantry squares in the old calendars like the Battle of Waterloo and the idea was the shark come to the nearest man, that man he starts poundin’ and hollerin’ and sometimes that shark he go away… but sometimes he wouldn’t go away. Sometimes that shark, he looks right into ya. Right into your eyes. You know the thing about a shark? He’s got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll’s eyes. When he comes at ya, he doesn’t even seem to be livin’ until he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white and then… ah then you hear that terrible high-pitched screamin’. The ocean turns red, and despite all the poundin’ and the hollerin’, they all come in and they rip you to pieces.

      You know by the end of that first dawn, lost a hundred men. I don’t know how many sharks, maybe a thousand. I don’t know how many men, they averaged six an hour. On Thursday mornin’, Chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player. Boson’s mate. I thought he was asleep. I reached over to wake him up. He bobbed up, down in the water, he was like a kinda top. Upended. Well, he’d been bitten in half below the waist.

      At noon, the fifth day, a Mr. Lockheed Ventura swung in low and he saw us. He was a young pilot, lot younger than Mr. Hooper. Anyway he saw us and he come in low and three hours later a big fat PBY comes down and start to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened. Waitin’ for my turn. I’ll never put on a lifejacket again. So, eleven hundred men went into the water. 316 men come out, the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945.

      Anyway, we delivered the bomb.

      • SFC D says:

        I had never heard of the Indianapolis before that scene. I was also 12, so no big surprise. Hit the Encyclopedia Britannica and read all about it. I can’t imagine going through that.

        • FuzeVT says:

          Encyclopedia Britannica
          My parents still have their set. I showed my 15 year old just last weekend. I said this was Google when I was a kid.

  4. Sparks says:

    Thank you, Mason. Yes, it is rarely remembered the reason for these bombs. It was not to test a new weapon nor expand the military-industrial complex. It was quite simple. To save lives. Those of our troops, first and foremost but also, often forgotten is the number of Japenese troops and civilians who would have needlessly died trying to defend their Emperor’s misled ideas. Even their leading military commanders new the end was far past and only a matter of time. Several had mentioned a peaceful surrender rather than the inevitable decimation of their homeland by an invasion. The cost in their lives had we invaded would have been several-fold higher than those lost in the bombings and the destruction of the entire Japanese island would have been unprecedented compared to the likes of Dresden.

    It is a memorable day indeed. I do not forget the words of my parents. They were not saddened in their memories of these events. They were instead joyful that the war was over for them and the world. That my father would come home from Europe and my several Uncles from the Pacific. Had this not happened, my father said he had no doubt he would have been sent to the Pacific for the invasion. It was a heavy thought that rested on all his fellow soldiers. Thankfully, he came home.

  5. A Proud Infidel®™ says:

    IMHO the use of the A-bombs spared far more Japanese lives than American. I’ve seen a couple of comments on other sites suggesting that we need to atone for the use of it to which I replied that the Japanese never expressed regret for things like the Rape of Nanking, the Bataan Death March, the actions of Unit 731,…

  6. USMC Steve says:

    Years ago I saw some documents regarding the Marine portion of the landings. The operations order after the 6th day no longer mentioned the 1st, 2nd, 3rd Marine Divisions, who would have landed in the first wave. The historian I was talking to said that was because they were expected to no longer exist by then.

    • Mason says:

      Can you imagine the fighting that went on in the hedgerows on France if the Germans wouldn’t surrender or retreat and the French people were fanatically fighting against you as well?

      It really would have been like all the island campaigns. Meat grinders for our boys and the only prisoners being taken were the Japanese who were too wounded to continue fighting.

      • USAFRetired says:

        A couple things came to mind on reading this. There is a chance I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the Atomic Bombing. My father entered the Marine Corps at the tail end of WWII and might have seen service during the invasion of the mainland. As it was he didn’t see overseas service until the Vietnam War.

        The subject of Peleliu came up recently and we are just passed the 75th anniversaries of IWO Jima and Okinawa. I still remember one of the talking heads in the days just after 9/11 offering their uneducated opinion that the US had never faced fanatics like the Muslim extremists who had perpetuated the attacks on the twin towers and the Pentagon.

        My first thought was they should talk to the Marines from WWII.

      • Anonymous says:

        Take all the casualties we had in World War II– double it. Taking Japan, just by itself, would’ve cost as many as casualties as we’d had already.

        Germany took 2.5 million dead from the time Allied forces reached German territory until surrender. Estimates for Japan were 5- 10 million.

  7. The Other Whitey says:

    My Grandma always said that we had COL Tibbets & Crew to thank for Grandpa coming home. The more I learn about what happened, the more I believe she was right.

    I don’t know if their paths ever crossed, but my Great-Uncle Ollie was an aircraft maintainer in the 97th Bombardment Group, of which Tibbets commanded the component 340th Bombardment Squadron. I haven’t been able to determine which squadron Uncle Ollie was assigned to. I wish I could find them now, but he had a box full of B&W photos he took in England and North Africa during his time with the 97th, including quite a few of the Group’s B-17s (“The Queen of the Sky,” according to Uncle Ollie’s handwritten caption on the back of one of them).

    • USAFRetired says:

      97th BG and 340 BS started out as part of 8AF moved to 12AF and ended up as part of 15AF at war’s end. The Might 8 AF Museum outside Savannah GA may have personnel rosters in their archives for the time up to Sep 1942 they were part of 8AF.

  8. Herbert J Messkit says:

    To add to the casualty estimates, all across China, and SE Asia large areas were still controlled by Japanese forces. I have read of estimates of over 1000 people a day were dying Of starvation and neglect in prison camps. The war needed to end now

  9. 26Limabeans says:

    Thank you Harry Truman.

    • FuzeVT says:

      An old artillery captain.

      • 26Limabeans says:

        He once disobeyed orders and saved an adjacent arillery group
        that was an unaware sitting duck. His commander threatened
        a Courts Martial but nothing came of it.
        I would like to think that event helped shape his decision
        to use the Atomic Bomb.
        The right man at the right time twice.

    • 5th/77th FA says:

      ^This^ And as others have commented, might have been a number of us never born. Papa’s Battery had already been told that they would leave the ETO and become part of the Home Islands Invasion Force. They were on the road march to the port when VJ Day was announced.

      Having been a part of the Nuclear Arms of this Country I’d just like to say that those idiots that think a “limited” nuclear war is viable, I’m glad we never had to test that theory out.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes.

  10. FC2(SW) Ron says:

    I actually met Robert A. Lewis’ (the co-pilot) son Robert A. Lewis Jr at an event in Jersey. He was working for a satellite downlink company and we had a need to expand communications from remote locations. Very unassuming man that I engaged in conversation with. Hearing what is was like growing up as the child of a person who made history but was barely known was interesting. He said his dad always had a cleaver comeback full of pearls of wisdom. He talked about the log and some of the thoughts his father had as he wrote it during the mission. Really cool stuff. You never know who you’ll meet!

  11. Ex Coelis says:

    Fact: as a kid and after reading several library books about Hiroshima, the Bomb scared THE absolute ‘effing beejeezus outta me. Yup, lost a lot of childhood sleep over that one.
    Fast forward, many years later – yours truly is now into collecting Manhattan Project collectables and other Nuclear era memorabilia(nope, no ‘pits’ or other bomb or missile parts in the collection…). And predictably, frequent hunting on eBay feeds that collection/addiction. But seventy five years later, the echoes of this profoundly historical event can still be felt in places that we barely knew it touched. Case in point –

    https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/hiroshima-bombing-apology-nwt-community-waits-1.5673591

    I’m part Cree but I have a lot of Dene friends at the Native Canadian Center

    But I found this website today and it made me smile –

    http://glh.unitar.org/

  12. CCO says:

    My family tree would likely be much smaller if we had been forced to invade Japan.

    There was, I suppose, a third alternative that might have been not as bad as invading, for most of the allies. We could have just waited for the Air Force and the surface Navy (including naval air) to finish starving the Japanese to death. I don’t know how how much worse it would been in China and Southeast Asia, as mentioned above.

    • 11B-Mailclerk says:

      We were building up huge stockpiles of gas. Guess who was the intended recipient?

      The nukes did less damage than the firebomb raids. But nukes meant one plane per city, not a few hundred planes.

      Those two bombs prevented tens of millions of deaths, possibly a hundred million.

      • Mason says:

        Truman nixed the idea of using chemical weapons against the population of Japan, but was apparently open to using napalm or similar to destroy the crops.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

    “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” –Yamamoto

  14. Wilted Willy says:

    It was also my dear departed mother’s birthday!
    I never ever forgot her birthday!!