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|On This Day 6th Aug 1944|
The world’s first atomic attack takes place.
At 0245 hours local, Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, Commanding Officer of the 509th Composite Group, pilots the Martin-built, Boeing B-29-45-MO Superfortress, s/n 44-86292, named ENOLA GAY ( after Tibbets’ mother), off the runway at North Field, Tinian Island, Mariana Islands; at 2-minute intervals, 2 observation B-29s follow, Major Charles W Sweeney’s GREAT ARTISTE and Captain George W Marquardt’s Number 91.
ENOLA GAY is carrying a uranium fission bomb, nicknamed "Little Boy," with a yield in the area of 12,500 tons (11,340 metric tons) of TNT. The bomb has several inscriptions scribbled on its casing, one of which reads, "Greetings to the Emperor from the men of the Indianapolis" (the heavy cruiser that transported the bomb casing to the Marianas and was subsequently sunk). Seven B-29s had been designated for the mission. One was a spare that was to stand by at Iwo Jima where there were facilities for unloading and reloading the bomb in case of an abort.
Three were weather planes that had been dispatched in advance of the attack to determine weather conditions over the three proposed targets, i.e., Hiroshima, the primary; Kokura, the secondary; and Nagasaki, the tertiary.
The Twentieth Air Force, with other missions scheduled, would provide air-sea rescue service, but no plane except those on the mission was to approach within 50 miles (80.5 km) of the target from 4 hours before to 6 hours after the strike, even for rescue purposes. Thereafter 2 photo reconnaissance F-13 Superfortresses were to take photographs. The ENOLA GAY and the two observation aircraft rendezvoused at Iwo Jima and began to climb to bombing altitude.
At 0710 hours, the "bomb commander and weaponeer," Commander William B. Parsons, USN, and his assistant, Lieutenant Morris R. Jeppson, armed the bomb. At 0815 hours, Tibbets received a weather report from the aircraft over Hiroshima: "2/10 lower and middle, and 2/10 at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters)" thus sealing the city’s doom. The initial point (IP) is reached at 0911 hours and at 0915 hours (0815 hours Japan time), the atomic bomb is released over Hiroshima at 31,600 feet (9,632 meters); it explodes 50 seconds later at an altitude of 1,900 feet (579 meters); 80+% of the buildings are destroyed and over 71,000 people (Japanese figures; US figures say from 70,000 to 80,000) are killed. After an uneventful return flight, ENOLA GAY lands on Tinian at 1458 hours local, followed within the hour by the 2 observation B-29s.
The force of the explosion was unlike anything ever seen. Birds burnt up in mid-air. People died in a myriad of ways: their skin peeled off, their brains, eyes and intestines burst, or they burnt to cinders standing up.
A Jesuit priest reported: "In the Hakushima district, naked, burnt, cadavers are particularly numerous. Frightfully injured forms beckon to us and then collapse." A history professor said "I climbed Hikiyama Hill and looked down. Hiroshima had disappeared." President Truman, on board the cruiser USS AUGUST on his way back from Potsdam, said: "This is the greatest thing in history." It is not the most devastating air attack of the war. The March fire raids on Tokyo have had a larger effect.
The Japanese Army refuses to automatically acknowledge the Atomic Bomb at Hiroshima. They send an investigation team to find out the cause and possible defences. This report will not be received until August 12.
Although there is tremendous destruction and death, it is still less than the firebomb raid on Tokyo during the predawn hours of 10 March 1945 when 279 B-29s dropped 1,665 tons (1,510 metric tons) of incendiaries on the Tokyo urban area from 4,900 to 9,200 feet (1,494 to 2,804 meters) destroying 267,171 buildings, about 25% of the total in the Tokyo area, rendering over 1 million persons homeless, killing 83,793 and wounding 40,918.
Historians are still divided over whether it was necessary to drop the atomic bomb on Japan to end World War II.
Here is a summary of arguments on both sides:
Why the bomb was needed or justified:
• The Japanese had demonstrated near-fanatical resistance, fighting to almost the last man on Pacific islands, committing mass suicide on Saipan and unleashing kamikaze attacks at Okinawa. Fire bombing had killed 100,000 in Tokyo with no discernible political effect. Only the atomic bomb could jolt Japan’s leadership to surrender.
• With only two bombs ready (and a third on the way by late August 1945) it was too risky to "waste" one in a demonstration over an unpopulated area.
• An invasion of Japan would have caused casualties on both sides that could easily have exceeded the toll at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
• The two targeted cities would have been firebombed anyway.
• Immediate use of the bomb convinced the world of its horror and prevented future use when nuclear stockpiles were far larger.
• The bomb’s use impressed the Soviet Union and halted the war quickly enough that the USSR did not demand joint occupation of Japan.
Why the bomb was not needed, or unjustified:
• Japan was ready to call it quits anyway. More than 60 of its cities had been destroyed by conventional bombing, the home islands were being blockaded by the American Navy, and the Soviet Union entered the war by attacking Japanese troops in Manchuria.
• American refusal to modify its "unconditional surrender" demand to allow the Japanese to keep their emperor needlessly prolonged Japan’s resistance.
• A demonstration explosion over Tokyo harbor would have convinced Japan’s leaders to quit without killing many people.
• Even if Hiroshima was necessary, the U.S. did not give enough time for word to filter out of its devastation before bombing Nagasaki.
• The bomb was used partly to justify the $2 billion spent on its development.
• The two cities were of limited military value. Civilians outnumbered troops in Hiroshima five or six to one.
• Japanese lives were sacrificed simply for power politics between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
• Conventional firebombing would have caused as much significant damage without making the U.S. the first nation to use nuclear weapons.