7. Activation (September 1, 1944 — June 27, 1945)
From 'Ruin From The Air' by Gordon Thomas & Max Morgan Witts

Shortly after dawn on June 19, a dull rumble awoke Second Lieutenant Tatsuo Yokoyama. The sound came from within Mount Futaba. Construction gangs were using compressor tools to burrow inside the base of the hill for an underground communications complex.

The destruction he had witnessed on his last visit to Tokyo had left Yokoyama badly shaken. He spent the days training his men and surveying through his binoculars the signs that Hiroshima was now the linchpin in the defense of the whole western half of Japan. By road, rail, and sea, in defiance of American bombers and submarines, men and supplies were pouring into the city. After further training and fitting out, they were moved to their forward positions on the island of Kyushu. Located in Hiroshima, in charge of all troops in the west, was the man who had been chosen by the Imperial Army high command to save Japan from defeat: Field Marshal Shunroku Hata, one of the most successful and respected commanders in all Japan.

Hata had set up his Second General Army Headquarters at the foot of Mount Futaba, not far from Yokoyama's protective anti-aircraft guns. By the middle of June his headquarters staff of some four hundred men included many of the best military brains in the country. They planned to wage a war of attrition the like of which the world had never witnessed.

Under Hata's command, Kyushu was gradually turned into an armed fortress; from the Goto Archipelago in the west to the Osumi Islands in the south, a system of interlocked defenses was being erected. They stretched back from the coast, layer upon layer, devised to cause the maximum casualties to the enemy. Linking it all was a complicated communications network, controlled from Hiroshima — Hata's headquarters.

The city itself was a beehive of war industry, manufacturing parts for planes and boats, for bombs, rifles, and handguns. Hata planned that when invasion came, every man, woman, and child in western Japan would carry a weapon. Children were shown how to construct and hurl gasoline bombs. The wheelchair-bound and bedridden were assembling booby traps to be planted in the beaches of Kyushu. A new slogan appeared on the walls of Hiroshima: FORGET SELF! ALL OUT FOR YOUR COUNTRY!

For the main thrust against the invaders — "the great climactic battle" — Hata had under his command some seven hundred thousand men, many of whom were already in place on Kyushu. Minoru Genda, the architect of the Pearl Harbor raid, had recently arrived at Kyushu as commanding officer of a large, newly formed fighter group. In addition, there were about five thousand aircraft standing by, ready to be used as kamikazes.

In Hiroshima, forty thousand troops had their headquarters in the castle. About four miles away, at the port of Ujina, another five thousand soldiers, mostly marines, were perfecting their own seaborne kamikaze tactics. Hundreds of small craft, most the size of rowboats, were being fitted with motors, filled with explosives, and concealed in coves around the bay. If an invasion force arrived, the boats would be brought out of hiding, and each, manned by its crew of one, would be steered into a troop-carrying landing craft to blow up on impact.

On Kyushu, airplane bombs would be fitted with proximity fuzes similar to the ones being perfected at Los Alamos. When the Americans came, it was planned that the bombs would be exploded at mast height above the warships and landing craft, so as to cause maximum casualties.

The fuze had been developed by Dr. Tsunesaburo Asada, possibly Japan's most imaginative scientist. Asada had also worked on atomic research until it was decided that it would take ten years to produce atomic weapons because Japan did not have the essential raw uranium. Now Asada was at work on a death ray, a machine designed to project an invisible beam that would pluck an aircraft out of the sky either by shattering its propellers or killing its crew, but the device was only in the experimental stage.

Nevertheless, Japan's immediate defenses were formidable. Hata believed that although it was impossible for Japan to defeat America, so also it could be made impossible for America to defeat Japan. He hoped that once the Americans sampled the welcome he was preparing, they would come to the negotiating table and drop their demand that Japan surrender unconditionally.

STANDING with Groves and General Henry Arnold, air force chief of staff, in the latter's Pentagon office, Tibbets looked at the reconnaissance photographs of Hiroshima. Its rivers, bridges, harbor, the castle and adjoining military drill fields were all clearly visible. So were the roads, railroad, warehouses, factories, barracks, and private homes. Beyond the city lay the hills, cocooning Hiroshima on three sides. They provided an almost perfect natural enclosure to contain an atomic blast.

He noted the ground defenses, an irregular chain of gun posts stretching from Mount Futaba in the north-east to the harbor in the south. Speaking quietly and authoritatively, Tibbets delivered his judgment on the suitability of Hiroshima as a target.

"The various waterways give ideal conditions. They allow for no chance of mistaking the city. Hiroshima can be approached from any direction for a perfect bombing run."

Tibbets continued his careful assessment, now turning to reconnaissance photographs of the other Japanese cities.

This June 23 meeting was the latest in the series that were settling the crucial details of how best to defeat Japan. A few days before, LeMay had flown in from Guam to be briefed. Groves had spelled out to him the probable power of the bomb and the reason the potential targets had been chosen. LeMay barely reacted when Groves told him that, as head of the 21st Bomber Command, the actual operation would be entirely under his control, subject, of course, to any limitations that might be placed upon him by instructions. Only Groves knew that those instructions would be so worded that effective control of the operation would remain in his own hands.

LeMay announced he would want to carry out the strike using a single plane, for the Japanese were unlikely to pay serious attention to a solitary aircraft flying at high altitude and would probably assume it was on a reconnaissance or weather mission. Groves approved the idea. He did not tell LeMay that Tibbets had already come to a similar conclusion and that the 509th's training had been devised with that plan in mind. LeMay returned to Guam believing he would be responsible for delivering a weapon he didn't entirely have faith in. Nor was he convinced that the 509th was the best choice for the mission. One of his own Pacific combat-hardened crews might be preferable.

Tibbets had flown to Washington to attend this conference in Arnold's office unaware of LeMay's conclusions about the 509th. Having completed his evaluation of the reconnaissance photographs, he waited for questions. There were none.

The men stared at the photographs, their eyes going first to the glossy, thirty-inch-square prints of Hiroshima, then to those of Niigata and Kokura, the two other targets under consideration. Now they sat down to discuss with an air force meteorologist the likely weather conditions over the target. Ever since April, experts had been preparing summary charts of the conditions that could be expected over Japan in the coming months. The prognosis was poor. From June to September there was a maximum of only six days a month when cloudiness was likely to be three-tenths or less. For this period eight-tenths cloud could be expected for at least eighteen days in any month.

Bombing by radar had been rejected. After considerable study, an expert had concluded:

It is apparently quite possible to completely misinterpret the images on the radar screen; a section of rural Japan could be mistaken for a city. With radar bombing and a good operator, the chance of placing the bomb within a given 1,000 feet circle is about 1% to 2%. This figure takes into account the fact that the probability of entirely missing the target area is from 70% to 50%.

Bombing visually, however, Tibbets' own bombardiers were regularly dropping their practice bombs into a three-hundred-foot circle.

The air force meteorologist told the meeting that early August was probably the best time, between now and the end of the year, to drop the atomic bomb.

Tibbets liked the meteorologist's next suggestion.

"Suppose no weather forecast at all was made, but that the mission started out on a given day, preceded by spotter planes who would radio back weather reports to the bomber while it was in the air. The bomber could then proceed to that target showing the clearest weather."

Tibbets felt this would be a relatively simple procedure. The 509th could provide the weather planes, and he himself would be free to make the final decision — in the air, clear of outside interference, and with the very latest weather information — on which Japanese city would be bombed.

BOB Lewis and his crew, as instructed, had picked up No. 82 in Omaha and had flown the new bomber to Wendover.

Over the past months Lewis had become increasingly protective of what he considered "his crew." He would allow no outsider to criticize them. Within the group there was an easy, first-name relationship between officers and enlisted men. Socially, Lewis spent considerable time in the enlisted men's club, often without his officer's jacket, but wearing one of Radar Operator Joe Stiborik's instead. Private Richard Nelson, a young radio operator, found it surprising that Lewis treated him as an equal.

Sergeant Robert Shumard, the tall, soft-spoken assistant flight engineer, had come to Lewis visibly upset one day, because an MP at Wendover had shot and killed his red setter dog. Lewis' anger was awesome; he verbally flayed the MP. His reaction increased the respect and affection the crew had for their unorthodox captain.

Some of his crew resented the intrusion of the bombardier Ferebee, the navigator Van Kirk, even Beser, and Lieutenant Morris Jeppson, of the ordnance squadron. On those rare occasions when Tibbets flew with them, Lewis was "demoted" to copilot. Even then he tried to make it clear that it was "his crew" that was flying the plane.

Sergeant Bob Caron felt that Lewis' over-possessiveness could create a problem when Colonel Tibbets came to fly the real mission. The tail gunner had no doubt that it would be Tibbets who would command that strike. Caron liked the days when the colonel flew,

"He was a gentleman, quiet and studious. Now Bob, he was a fine pilot, but he behaved like a cowboy."

Today, at the end of the runway at Wendover, Lewis held back the huge bomber, its tanks filled with seven thousand gallons of fuel for the long flight ahead, while he watched the rpm counter. The needle climbed to 2200 and remained constant.

No. 82 shuddered, protesting against the brakes that held it to the runway. Over the intercom Sergeants Shumard and Stiborik, in the waist blister turrets, confirmed that the wing flaps were set for takeoff. The flight engineer, Wyatt Duzenbury, reported all four engines functioning smoothly.

Satisfied, Lewis pushed the throttles forward to their full-power positions and released the brakes. The B-29 rushed down the runway at two hundred and sixty feet a second, carrying the men on the most exciting journey any of them had ever made.

Beneath them, in the bomb bay, were a variety of goodies from the Wendover PX. The ever-thoughtful Lewis, looking out for his crew, had suggested they stock up on any of the things they might miss in the Pacific. Nelson had picked up a pile of paperbacks, mostly thrillers. He planned to read a book on every mission he made over Japan. Caron had stowed away some good stationery for letters to his wife. Shumard had purchased a box camera to take some photographs.

Lewis eased the bomber into the air and began to circle over the base. He switched on the intercom. "Hold on! We're gonna buzz the tower!" Caron, in the tail turret, braced himself.

At full power No. 82 swooped down on Wendover. Shouting like dervishes, the crew encouraged Lewis to fly ever lower. He tipped the plane. Soon his port wing was only inches from the ground as the bomber made its madcap way across the airfield. Caron thought they "must have scared the pants off anybody watching, buzzing the field like a fighter plane."

The angry voice of the controller in the tower ordered Lewis to gain height at once, but the bomber continued on its low-level course, careering over the ground, its wing tip still only inches from destruction. It was, for Nelson, "a magnificent example of flying skill."

Lewis eased the bomber to its cruising height and headed south, already on Tinian were over twelve hundred men from the 509th and twelve of the B-29s.

The excitement on board Lewis' aircraft was unabated. None of the crew had ever been in a combat area. Most of their knowledge of the war had come from the movies and the Saturday Evening Post articles that Caron collected. To them, war was a "chance to do something for your country," to "bring peace to the world," or, as Lewis preferred it, "to go and beat hell outta the [enemy] like they tried to beat hell outta us at Pearl."

Lewis was not a bloodthirsty, vengeful young man; nor, indeed, were any of the crew flying south with him. They were, in Caron's words, "just average guys going to do a job."

Now, flying to what they hoped would be a tropical paradise, Lewis marked the moment of departure from Wendover.

"Tinian, here we come!"