On 6 August 1945 at 8:15 A.M., the Enola Gay released a uranium-charged bomb, nicknamed “Little Boy” over Hiroshima, an act which killed over 100,000 people. Three days later, another plane dropped a plutonium-charged atomic bomb, dubbed “Fat Man” upon Nagasaki. Another 40,000 lost their lives. On 15 August, Japan surrendered, bringing about an end to World War II.
The Enola Gay is a Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber, named for Enola Gay Tibbets, the mother of the pilot, Colonel Paul Tibbets, who selected the aircraft while it was still on the assembly line. On 6 August 1945, during the final stages of World War II, it became the first aircraft to drop an atomic bomb. The bomb, code-named “Little Boy,” was targeted at the city of Hiroshima, Japan, and caused unprecedented destruction. Enola Gay participated in the second atomic attack as the weather reconnaissance aircraft for the primary target of Kokura. Clouds and drifting smoke resulted in Nagasaki being bombed instead.
After the war, the Enola Gay returned to the United States, where it was operated from Roswell Army Air Field, New Mexico. It was flown to Kwajalein for the Operation Crossroads nuclear tests in the Pacific, but was not chosen to make the test drop at Bikini Atoll. Later that year it was transferred to the Smithsonian Institution, and spent many years parked at air bases exposed to the weather and souvenir hunters, before being disassembled and transported to the Smithsonian’s storage facility at Suitland, Maryland, in 1961.
In the 1980s, veterans groups began agitating for the Smithsonian to put the aircraft on display. The cockpit and nose section of the aircraft were exhibited at the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) in downtown Washington, D.C., for the bombing’s 50th anniversary in 1995, amid a storm of controversy. Since 2003, the entire restored B-29 has been on display at NASM’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.
Enola Gay was personally selected by Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., the commander of the 509th Composite Group, on 9 May 1945, while still on the assembly line. The aircraft was accepted by the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) on 18 May 1945 and assigned to the 393d Bombardment Squadron, Heavy, 509th Composite Group. Crew B-9, commanded by Captain Robert A. Lewis, took delivery of the bomber and flew it from Omaha to the 509th’s base at Wendover Army Air Field, Utah, on 14 June 1945.
Thirteen days later, the aircraft left Wendover for Guam, where it received a bomb-bay modification, and flew to North Field, Tinian, on 6 July. It was initially given the Victor (squadron-assigned identification) number 12, but on 1 August, was given the circle R tail markings of the 6th Bombardment Group as a security measure and had its Victor number changed to 82 to avoid misidentification with actual 6th Bombardment Group aircraft. During July, the bomber made eight practice or training flights, and flew two missions, on 24 and 26 July, to drop pumpkin bombs on industrial targets at Kobe and Nagoya. Enola Gay was used on 31 July on a rehearsal flight for the actual mission.
The partially assembled Little Boy gun-type nuclear weapon L-11 was contained inside a 41-inch (100 cm) x 47-inch (120 cm) x 138-inch (350 cm) wooden crate weighing 10,000 pounds (4,500 kg) that was secured to the deck of the USS Indianapolis. Unlike the six Uranium-235 target discs, which were later flown to Tinian on three separate aircraft arriving 28 and 29 July, the assembled projectile with the nine Uranium-235 rings installed was shipped in a single lead-lined steel container weighing 300 pounds (140 kg) that was securely locked to brackets welded to the deck of Captain Charles B. McVay III’s quarters. Both the L-11 and projectile were dropped off at Tinian on 26 July 1945.
In an interview in 1995, Captain Theodore Van Kirk, the Enola Gay’s navigator, spoke of the moments following the release of the 10,000 pounds Little Boy. The plane lurched upward and picked up speed. “Almost everyone was mentally calculating to themselves how long it had been from the release. Some were thinking it might be a dud.” A brilliant light, “like a photographer’s flash,” finally came, followed closely by two intense shock waves. “The first one was like sheet metal cracking. We saw a large white cloud almost up to our altitude. Some people saw various colors in it near the base.” (Singer, Karen. Remember, June/July 1995, pp 14)
Enola Gay‘s crew on 6 August 1945, consisted of 12 men. The crew was:
Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, Jr. – pilot and aircraft commander
Captain Robert A. Lewis – co-pilot; Enola Gay’s regularly assigned aircraft commander*
Major Thomas Ferebee – bombardier
Captain Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk – navigator
Captain William S. Parsons, USN – weaponeer and mission commander.
First Lieutenant Jacob Beser – radar countermeasures (also the only man to fly on both of the nuclear bombing aircraft)
Second Lieutenant Morris R. Jeppson – assistant weaponeer
Technical Sergeant George R. “Bob” Caron – tail gunner*
Technical Sergeant Wyatt E. Duzenbury – flight engineer*
Sergeant Joe S. Stiborik – radar operator*
Sergeant Robert H. Shumard – assistant flight engineer*
Private First Class Richard H. Nelson – VHF radio operator*
Source: Campbell, Richard H. (2005). The Silverplate Bombers. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 0-7864-2139-8. p. 30. Asterisks denote regular crewmen of the Enola Gay.
For the Nagasaki mission, Enola Gay was flown by Crew B-10, normally assigned to Up An’ Atom:
Captain George W. Marquardt – aircraft commander
Second Lieutenant James M. Anderson – co-pilot
Second Lieutenant Russell Gackenbach – navigator
Captain James W. Strudwick – bombardier
Technical Sergeant James R. Corliss – flight engineer
Sergeant Warren L. Coble – radio operator
Sergeant Joseph M. DiJulio – radar operator
Sergeant Melvin H. Bierman – tail gunner
Sergeant Anthony D. Capua, Jr. – assistant engineer/scanner
Source: Campbell, 2005, p. 134.