Twenty-one days after Oppenheimer’s successful atomic bomb test, at the Trinity site in New Mexico, 280 miles from Tucson, Col. Paul Tibbets was at the controls of the B-29, Enola Gay, named after his mother. The slender 9,700-pound uranium bomb was armed and secured in the plane bomb-bay shoot. The war machine was flying 15 and a half miles east of the Japanese 2nd Army Headquarters and the military naval base at Hiroshima when the early morning sun first gleamed off the white buildings and combat ships below. Flying at an altitude of 30,700 feet, nearly 6 miles up at a speed of 330 mph, Tibbets and his crew were minutes away from their IP, identifiable landmark aiming point, the “T bridge” in the city’s heart.
In Japan, the time was 8:15 a.m., plus 17 seconds after a 2,000-mile flight, only 17 seconds off the prearranged target flight plan. The bombardier had his left eye pressed against the Norton viewfinder of the bombsight when the sound of the pneumatic bomb doors opened automatically. “Little Boy” slipped its hitch and dove away into history. In 43 seconds, the bomb exploded at the preset altitude of 1,890 feet above the ground. To the crew, it seemed like an eternity.
The plane was instantly lighter, and the B-29 noise soared sharply upward as Tibbets executed the getaway strategy to put as much distance as possible for the aircraft from the nuclear explosion. It was a 155-degree diving right turn with a 60-degree bank and placed great strain on the plane and crew, causing the tail gunner to say that it felt like he was the last man in a game of crack-the-whip. With the four engines at full power, the craft rapidly lost 1,700 feet, heading away from the target. Tibbets was flying America’s biggest bomber like a fighter plane.
In atom-splitting fury, a fireball began to rise like a boiling furnace, with the inner temperature estimated to be one hundred million degrees Fahrenheit. A minute later, the first shock wave hit the aircraft as it headed eastward, about 9 miles from the explosion point. The wave was moving at the speed of sound, 1,100 feet a second, punching the Enola Gay with violent force.
And then there it was, the growling, bellowing atomic cloud thrusting higher and higher, alive, clawing for air and altitude as it attacked God’s heaven. The giant purple mushroom cloud rose above the burning, bubbling tar smudge of a city already soaring beyond 45,000 feet, more than 3 miles above the aircraft’s altitude. The cloud continued to grow in height and was still visible an hour and a half after the B-29 flew southward away from Hiroshima. They flew 400 miles when the tail gunner said the plume was no longer visible.
On board the flight, everything the crew said was recorded during the bomb run. Remarkable personal descriptions, beyond their understanding, were carefully saved, and the wire spool recording was officially turned over to an Army information officer upon arrival at Tinian airbase. It has never been heard of sense.
Col. Tibbets said, “As we viewed the awesome spectacle below, we were sobered by the knowledge that the world would never be the same. War, the scourge of the human race since time began, now held terrors beyond belief, I reflected to myself that the kind of war in which I was engaged over Europe in 1942 was now outdated.” He added, “Now, certainly, we have developed the ultimate argument for keeping the peace.” Most would have thought this would have ended the war. But not the Japanese.
The Japanese immediately minimized the city’s loss, inciting even encouraging the citizens to fight on. Later that evening, a Tokyo radio news bulletin claimed, “A few B-29s hit Hiroshima city at 8:20 a.m. and fled after dropping incendiaries and bombs. The extent of the damage is now under survey.” A broadcast report from the following day indicated “some damage” occurred in the city. Later, the Government of Japan admitted in more accurate detail, “It seems that the enemy used a new type of bomb.”