3. Fission ( August 3, 1945 — 8:16 a.m. August 6, 1945)
From 'Ruin From The Air' by Gordon Thomas & Max Morgan Witts

IN HIROSHIMA, Lieutenant Colonel Kakuzo Oya arrived at Second General Army Headquarters at 7:00 a.m. to read over the intelligence report he intended to submit to Hata's com munications meeting in two hours' time. While he checked the report, Colonel Kumao Imoto and other senior officers arrived. After Lieutenant Colonel RiGu and Colonel Katayama joined them, they would all go to the officers' club, where the meeting was to be held. Field Marshal Hata was still at home, praying at the family shrine.

Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, hero of Pearl Harbor, who had been in Hiroshima for the past ten days discussing defense plans for the expected American invasion, would miss the gathering of dignitaries. The previous afternoon he had been summoned to deal with some technical snags at the navy's new headquarters in Nara, near Kyoto.

In the countryside west of Hiroshima, Dr. Kaoru Shima's house calls demanded more time than he had anticipated. Revising his schedule once again, he hoped to be back in his Hiroshima clinic around noon.

At the Japanese fighter base at Shimonoseki, some one hundred miles southwest of Hiroshima, Second Lieutenant Matsuo Yasuzawa, the instructor of the kamikaze pilots, started the engine of his two-seater training plane. He was flying a major to Field Marshal Hata's communications meeting in Hiroshima, where he expected to arrive before 8:00 a.m.

Yasuzawa checked that his passenger was strapped in, received clearance to take off, and commenced the forty-minute flight to Hiroshima. Yasuzawa's course was roughly at right angles to that of the Enola Gay, now approaching Japanese airspace.

At 7:09 a.m. Radio Hiroshima interrupted its program with an air-raid alert. Simultaneously, the siren wailed its warning across the city. Everybody tensed for the series of intermittent blasts that would indicate an imminent attack.

THE Japanese could not know it, but Claude Eatherly's Straight Flush did not in itself warrant an alert. As the Hiroshima siren sounded, the weather scout reached the designated initial point, just sixteen miles from the Aioi Bridge. At 235 miles per hour, at a height of 30,200 feet, the Straight Flush made a straight run toward the aiming point, following exactly the course Tibbets and Ferebee had selected for the Enola Gay.

Eatherly looked for a break in the clouds. Immediately ahead he saw a large opening. Six miles directly below, the city was so clear that his crew could see patches of greenery.

Whooping with delight, Eatherly flew across Hiroshima. Above the city's outskirts, he turned and made another pass. The break in the cloud was still there, a huge hole ten miles across. Shafts of light shone through the gap, as if to spotlight the target.

Aboard the Enola Gay, now at 26,000 feet and still climbing steadily, Radio Operator Nelson switched off the IFF (Identification, friend or foe) frequency. A minute later, at 7:25 a.m., he received a coded message from the Straight Flush. "Cloud cover less than 3/10ths at all altitudes. Advice: bomb primary."

After Tibbets read the message, he switched on the intercom and announced, "It's Hiroshima."

Minutes later the two planes checking the weather over Nagasaki and Kokura reported conditions there. Nelson took the tran-scribed messages to Tibbets, who shoved them into his coveralls pocket. He told Nelson to send a one-word message to Uanna on Iwo Jima.


On board the Straight Flush, just about to leave Japanese air-space, a debate broke out. Eatherly, like the pilots of the other two weather-scout planes, had instructions to return directly to Tinian. Instead, according to his flight engineer, Eugene Grennan, Eatherly switched on the intercom and proposed that they orbit until Tibbets passed them, "and then follow him back to see what happens when the bomb goes off."

Grennan suggested this "wouldn't be smart." According to him, somebody else argued that "if Tibbets and the others get knocked out of the sky by the shock wave, we should be there to report what happens." Everybody started arguing. Then Eatherly said,

"Listen, fellas, if we don't get back to Tinian by two o'clock, we won't be able to get into the afternoon poker game."

In the end the consensus was that staying to watch one bomb drop wouldn't be much of a thrill. "What would we see?" asked Eatherly. The crew of the Straight Flush decided to give the bomb a miss.

At 7:31 A.M. the all clear sounded in Hiroshima. People relaxed, lighted kitchen stoves, prepared breakfast. Warrant Officer Hiroshi Yanagita, the Kempei Tai leader who had rounded up some of the American POWs now in Hiroshima Castle, did not hear the air-raid alert. He was in bed, sleeping off the effects of Field Marshal Hata's party the previous night.

On Mount Futaba, Tatsuo Yokoyama kept his men at their anti-aircraft gun post. He thought it strange that the lone plane had circled and made a second run high over the city.

He ordered a breakfast of rice, soup, pickles, and stewed vegetables to be served to the gunners at their posts, and had a similar meal brought to his quarters.

Inside Hiroshima Castle, bowls of mush were left on the cell floors of the American prisoners.

At the Shima clinic, the staff changed shifts while patients had breakfast, which, as was the custom in Japanese hospitals, had been prepared and served by their relatives. By 7:35 most of these relatives were hurrying from the clinic to put in another long day for the war effort.

At 7:40 Matsuo Yasuzawa's two-seater aircraft landed at the airport after a short, undemanding flight. Yasuzawa now had to find out for his passenger where Hata's communications meeting was being held. He felt like an errand boy.

The Korean prince, Lieutenant Colonel RiGu, had waited until Yasuzawa's trainer passed overhead before mounting his handsome white stallion. The sound of engines made the horse nervous. There was still over an hour before Hata was scheduled to open the communications conference. At a gentle trot, RiGu's stallion took him toward the Aioi Bridge and Second General Army Head-quarters.

In the center of Hiroshima, at 8:00 a.m., hundreds of youths began work on the fire lane leading to the Aioi Bridge.

Close by, on the grounds of Hiroshima Castle, many of the city's forty thousand soldiers were doing their morning calisthenics. Not far from them a solitary blindfolded American was also being exercised.

FIFTY miles from the Aioi Bridge the Enola Gay flew at 30,800 feet, followed by the two observer planes. Van Kirk called out tiny course corrections to Tibbets.

At 8:05 a.m. Van Kirk announced, "Ten minutes to AP."

In his cramped tail turret Bob Caron tried to put on his armored vest. Hemmed in by his guns and holding the unwieldy camera he had been given just before take-off, he gave up the struggle and put his protection from flak on the floor.

Beser was monitoring the Japanese fighter-control frequency. There was no indication of activity. Stiborik was glued to his radar screen. Shumard was peering out of a waist blister turret, also on the lookout for fighter planes.

Ferebee settled himself comfortably on his seat and leaned forward against the special bombardier's headrest that he and Tibbets had designed months before at Wendover.

Parsons and Jeppson knelt at the bomb console. All the lights remained green. Parsons rose to his feet and walked stiffly toward the cockpit.

Jeppson stood up and buckled on his parachute. He saw Nelson and Van Kirk look at him curiously. Their parachutes remained stacked in a corner.

Van Kirk called out another course change, bringing the Enola Gay on a heading of 264 degrees, slightly south of due west. At 31,060 feet and an indicated airspeed of 200 miles per hour, the bomber roared on.

Van Kirk called Tibbets on the intercom. "IP."

Exactly on time, at the right height and predetermined speed, Van Kirk had navigated the Enola Gay to the initial point.

It was 8:12 a.m.

At that moment, at Saijo, nineteen miles east of Hiroshima, an observer spotted the Enola Gay, The Great Artiste, and No. 91. He immediately cranked the field telephone that linked him with the communications center in Hiroshima Castle and reported the planes. One of the schoolgirls manning the center telephoned the Hiroshima radio station. The announcer wrote down the message.

"Eight-thirteen, Chugoku Regional Army reports three large enemy planes spotted, heading west from Saijo. Top alert."

The announcer rushed to a nearby studio. It was now 8:14.

Tibbets spoke into the intercom. "On glasses."

Nine of the twelve men slipped the Polaroid goggles over their eyes and found themselves in total darkness. Only Tibbets, Ferebee, and Beser kept their glasses up on their foreheads, enabling them to work.

Before covering his eyes, Lewis made a notation in his log. "There will be a short intermission while we bomb our target." With thirty seconds to go, Ferebee shouted that Hiroshima was coming into his viewfinder. Beser informed Parsons that no Japanese radar was threatening the bomb's proximity fuze.

Tibbets spoke quickly into the intercom. "Stand by for the tone break — and the turn."

Ferebee watched the blacks and whites of the reconnaissance photographs transform themselves into greens, soft pastels, and the duller shades of buildings on the fingers of land that reached into the dark blue of Hiroshima Bay. The six tributaries of the Ota River were brown, the city's principal roads a flat metallic gray. A gossamer haze shimmered over the city, but it did not obscure Ferebee's view of the aiming point, the T-shaped Aioi Bridge about to coincide with the cross hairs of his bombsight.

"I've got it."

Ferebee made his final adjustments and turned on the tone signal, a continuous low-pitched hum, which indicated that he had started the automatic synchronization for the final fifteen seconds of the bomb run.

A mile behind, in The Great Artiste, the bombardier Kermit Beahan, prepared to switch open the bomb doors and drop the parachute-slung blast gauges earthward.

Two miles behind, Marquardt's No. 91 made a 90-degree turn to be in position to take photographs.

The tone signal was picked up by the crews of the three weather planes, heading back to base. It was heard on Iwo Jima by McKnight, still sitting in the pilot's seat of Top Secret. He told Uanna, "It's about to drop."

Precisely at 8:15:17 Enola Gay's bomb-bay doors snapped open, and the world's first atomic bomb dropped clear of its restraining hook.

The monitoring cables were pulled from the bomb, and the tone signal stopped. The Enola Gay, suddenly over nine thousand pounds lighter, lurched upward ten feet. Tibbets swung the bomber into a diving right-hand turn.

Ferebee shouted, "Bomb away," and turned from his sight to look down through the Plexiglas of the Enola Gay's nose.

He saw the bomb drop cleanly out of the bay and the doors slam shut. For a fleeting eyeblink of time, the weapon appeared to be suspended by some invisible force beneath the bomber. Then Ferebee saw it fall away.

"It wobbled a little until it picked up speed, and then it went right on down just like it was supposed to."

On the ground, Lieutenant Colonel Oya stood at a window of Second General Army Headquarters and peered up at the Enola Gay and The Great Artiste. The two bombers seemed to be diving toward the city.

Field Marshal Hata, having tended his garden and prayed at his shrine, was dressing for the communications meeting.

The Kempei Tai officer, Hiroshi Yanagita, snored in his bed. Tatsuo Yokayama, stripped to the waist in the midsummer heat, was raising a bowl of rice to his mouth, chopsticks poised. Tibbets continued to hold the Enola Gay in a steep power dive and right turn of 155 degrees. Sweeney's Great Artistewas performing an identical maneuver to the left.

Inside the bomb, a timer tripped the switch in the firing circuit, letting the electricity travel a measured distance toward the detonator.

Tibbets asked Caron if he could see anything. Spread-eagled in his turret, the gravitational force draining the blood from his head, the gunner could merely gasp, "Nothing."

Beser, also trapped by the violence of the maneuver, stared at his instruments. He could not lift his hand to activate the recorder. There were now twenty seconds left.

On the ground, Prince RiGu was cantering his horse onto the Aioi Bridge.

The announcer at Radio Hiroshima reached the studio to broad-cast the air-raid warning.

In the half-underground communications center at Hiroshima Airport, Yasuzawa asked where Hata's meeting was to be held. In the cockpit of the Enola Gay, Tibbets pulled down his glasses. He could see nothing. He yanked them off. In the nose, Ferebee had not bothered to put his on.

The Enola Gay was coming to the end of its breathtaking turn and was now some five miles from Ferebee's AP, heading away from the city. Tibbets called Caron. Again the tail gunner reported there was nothing to see.

Beser at last managed to switch on the recorder. Stiborik turned up the brightness on his radar screen so he could see it through his glasses. Duzenbury, his hand on the throttles, worried about what the blast would do to the Enola Gay engines.

Jeppson counted. Five seconds to go.

In the bomb, the third switch tripped at five thousand feet above the ground. The shriek of the casing through the air had now increased to a shattering sonic roar, not yet detectable below. On the ground, Kazumasa Maruyama was on his way to pick up Mayor Awaya, as he did every morning before work.

At Radio Hiroshima, the announcer pushed the button that sounded the air-raid siren and, out of breath, spoke into a micro-phone.

"Chugoku Regional Army reports three large enemy planes spotted, heading —"

The bomb's detonator activated 1890 feet above ground.

At exactly 8:16 a.m., forty-three seconds after falling from the Enola Gay, having traveled nearly six miles, the atomic bomb missed the Aioi Bridge by eight hundred feet and exploded directly over Dr. Shima's clinic.