68 years ago, high above the city of Hiroshima, the crew of the 509th Composite Group B-29 Enola Gay, led by the Group Commander, 29 year old Colonel Paul Tibbets, unleashed a single bomb.

The devastation unleashed upon Hiroshima by this single blast was unprecedented in all of human history. Other cities, Tokyo in particular, had seen more damage, but never so instantaneously.

Three days later, a similar fate would befall Nagasaki. And 8 days later, Japan would sue for peace. The cataclysm of the 20th century, World War II, would come to a sudden halt. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, who knew in their bones that the invasion of Japan was just ahead, were suddenly free to consider that they might actually live, return home, and possibly even grow old.

Warfare would be forever changed. Every conflict since has seen the major powers strive to fight and win, and yet not so decisively that another major power would feel the need to resort to the ultimate in conflict resolution.


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24 responses to “Hiroshima

  1. ultimaratioregis

    One particular MM2 who had already made eleven landings was training in June and July of 1945 for the beaches of Kyushu (from which he rightfully figured survival was unlikely).

    That the fate of the two cities was terrible in no way mitigated the necessity of the events.

  2. scottthebadger

    A few years ago, the Mayor of Nagasaki got into trouble by saying that he didn’t know what other choice the Americans had.

  3. themavf14d

    I had the chance to meet Col. Tibbets when I was in college. He’s from Quincy, IL. I spent about half an hour with him talking flying. I didn’t ask him about the mission because I figured everyone else did. I got some of the finer points of flying the B-29.
    As a side note, years ago his Grandson flew B-2s with the 509th BW in MO. Full Circle.

    • ultimaratioregis

      Wow. And to think he was a 29 year old Colonel. Commanding a bomber squadron at 27, and a group at 29. What a different world.

      Today, 27 is barely old enough to be weaned from your parents’ insurance nipple.

  4. Paul L. Quandt

    Japanese who really think about it thank whatever God(s) they believe in for those two bombs. If there had been an invasion, it is quite likely that there would no longer be a Japanese people.


    • scottthebadger

      That is what the Imperial High Command believed. In July of 1945, they had worked out the correct beaches on Kyushu we would assault in Operation Coronet. The went to the Emperor, and said, ” Your Majesty, they’re coming, and we can’t stop them. We can make it expensive, and influct 500,000 to 1,000,000 casualties upon them, but it will cost us at least 20,000,000 dead. The Japanese race may no longer exist after the battle, but the World will remember that we stood up the Americans.”

      I find it preferable that by killing 300,000 of them, we ended the War, and did not have to kill 20,000,000 of them.

    • ultimaratioregis

      Or lose 1.0 to 1.5 million Americans doing it.

    • scottthebadger


  5. Pingback: Hiroshima, la morte e l’uomo | Pensieri Scomposti

  6. Esli

    As URR said, a Group Commander at 29??? Holy cow.

    Thinking back to a different world that was much closer to WW2 than now, in the early 70s, my oldest brother was writing a paper in junior high school on this mission. He wanted to interview Tibbets, so he just looked him up in the phone book, called him up and arranged for an interview.

    • LeMay started the war as a fairly junior Captain and ended as a Major General. The expansion of the AAF required a lot of promotion. The operators got the promotion and the hangers on got what was left.

      Lemay, for example, was under Possum Hansel in England while Hansel was a BG and LeMay a lowly Col. Lemay relieved Hansel in the Pacific as a MG, and Handsel was still a BG.

      In fairness to Hansel, he was one of Arnold’s fair haired boys who did the long range planning and projections for the war and the number of AC that would be required. LeMay praised the group because they were very close to what was required. Hansel got the ax for something that almost got LeMay. The jet stream played havoc with ops, and Hansel was driven batty because of problems with the B-29, particularly the engines. LeMay had real headaches working out operating procedures to make the bomber work properly, and he also made the decision to make the fire raids because of atmospheric conditions, particularly the jet stream which gave few problems in the ETO, but drove them up a wall in the NW Pacific over Japan.

      This will make some mad, but it needs to be pointed out that the nukes did not induce the Japs to surrender. The Japs were putting out feelers nearly a year before they actually surrendered, but they required that the Emperor be recognized as head of state and that he would not be molested. The Japs fought on until the Allies agreed to that condition.

      Eisenhower, and MacArthur were both against dropping nukes. Eisenhower felt that the US would be stained by dropping so fearsome a weapon when they were already down. MacArthur raged as only MacArthur could rage. LeMay succinctly stated that the bombs were not needed. We could range the islands completely unmolested and destroy anything we wished.

      Nor was invasion necessary. We already had them in a ring of steel they could not penetrate. They were already starving. All we had to do was maintain the blockade and the islands would fall of their own accord.

      In the end, all we had to do was recognize the Emperor. The war could have ended 6 months earlier if there had been a slight bit of flexibility. Thousands more would have lived, Jap and Allied. All it took was getting Acheson and his gang of idiots out of the way.

    • ultimaratioregis

      Sorry, QM, but a lot of the Japanese “peace feelers” story is a fallacy. None were official, and none represented the power brokers in the government. By that measure, Germany had put out peace feelers starting in 1943, the Soviets in 1941 and 42, and England in 1940.

      Invasion was eminently necessary. Japan was nowhere near collapse, and was prepared for the long haul. The combat power Japan had in store horrified the US occupation force. It was orders of magnitude more and more sophisticated than we had accounted for in our estimates. They meant to fight it out.

  7. The other problem with QM’s post is that we didn’t have the time to wait the Japanese out. Americans of the time wanted the war over. NOW.

    Not to mention taking that much time would have allowed the Soviets into the game. Not a good idea.

    One of the things the Japanese dodged was that we were going to use gas during the invasion. I don’t doubt the Empire had its own supply, and it would have gotten really ugly after that.

    As for the young generals; in 1939 the Army Air Corps had about 22,000 men. In 1941 they had 152,000. By August 1945 (IIRC) the strength was around 2.5 million. If you were an officer in 1939 you were darn near guaranteed promotion after expanding 1000%.

    • ultimaratioregis

      Casey, you are right as rain.

      I have been hearing about the starvation and imminent collapse of North Korea since the first big crop failures of the early 80s. I am going to retire next Spring after 28 years of commissioned service, and they haven’t collapsed yet.

  8. Ultimaratioregis, the Japanese did make sincere diplomatic requests to stop the war. The word was Unconditional Surrender. Those sincere requests were turned down because of our associations with the Russians and for other reasons that were not strategic in nature. The Russians were already in the Pacific ball game and our inability to agree to a conditional surrender — that the emperor would remain the emperor — caused more US deaths before the bombings and led directly to the later conflicts in China and Korea.

    The bottom line is that war in the Pacific Theater dragged on until 1945 for unreasonable political reasons and not because the Japanese would not surrender.

    • ultimaratioregis

      You will have to show me any proof that the Imperial Japanese Government sent out any diplomatic feelers that had the backing of either the Army, the Navy, or the Emperor.

      The Pacific War dragged on because the Japanese refused surrender. Nothing in the way they fought the war tactically, operationally, or strategically gives the slightest hint that Japan would have accepted capitulation without total defeat. Even after the second device, there was a significant group of Army officers that tried to prevent the Emperor from addressing the Japanese people to announce surrender. Not the stuff of ending hostilities short of either total victory or total defeat.

      I am not sure the murdered of Nanking, Manila, Shanghai, or any other location which suffered under Japanese occupation would consider Unconditional Surrender to be “unreasonable”.

  9. Ultra, the Japanese made peace applications in Switzerland. You should read “I Saw Tokyo Burning.”

    • ultimaratioregis

      My point is that the diplomatic efforts that resulted in “peace feelers” had not the backing of the Army, the Navy, or the Emperor. Which meant that, even if they had been favorably received by the Allies, they would have amounted to nothing and probably cost the lives of those diplomats who authored them.

      Again, nothing in the way the Japanese fought the war at any level, certainly not in the accumulation of combat power to defend the home islands, including the training of the civilian populace to resistance, is at all consistent with any notion that Japan would have made peace short of annihilation. Even after the second bomb was dropped, today in history, in fact, it was five contentious days before peace was accepted, and then over the objections of a substantial number of military officers.

  10. “On June 22, the Emperor personally attended a meeting of the Supreme War Council in the Imperial shelter under the ruins of the palace. He interviewed the six men present, heard their reports and insisted on the importance of finding ways to end the war as soon as possible.” extracted from: I Saw Tokyo Burning

    There were sincere efforts made well prior to June 22, 1945 that had the Emperor’s backing. They are listed in other documents that I don’t have access to now. Were there those who wanted to keep the war going? Yes. Could they have done so against the Emperor’s wishes? No. The Emperor was where the buck stopped — and if you moved against him, your fellow soldiers would kill you or offer you seppuku. That is exactly what happened in the tumultuous days you mentioned.

    Japan’s military might was wasted. Their navy was not able to put to sea. Their inter-island ships were unable to continue their trade. Their air force was unable to control points of airspace for even a limited amount of time. Their defensive plans were for remaining military organizations, hastily trained recruits and civilians to man suicide boats and to use bamboo spears to defend the beaches. Bamboo spears versus BARs comes out on the poor side for the Japanese. They did not have the means to command and control any large battle field such as an invasion beach. Had the Emperor wanted to continue the war the landings would have been bloody and then the remainder would have been small time mop up. Note: Remember the hideous casualty estimates for invading Iraq. It didn’t happen and the same could have been true for Japan in 1945.

    It was a US political decision to continue the war, not a military decision and that decision was based on unconditional surrender propaganda.


    • ultimaratioregis

      I suggest you read the after-action reports about the strength of military force that awaited the US in the invasion of the home islands. Also, the interrogation summaries of Japanese Army and Navy officers shed some light on what was in store for us.

      Your assertion that the “mop-up” after the lodgement would have been “small time” defies each and every eyewitness account of the occupation forces, and certainly the character of Japanese forces in every place they fought. That you would compare them to Iraqis tells me you have some reading to do.

      Guadalcanal, New Britain, New Guinea, the Admiralties, Saipan, Tarawa, Guam, Roi-Namur, Peleliu, Kwajalein, Manila, Burma, every last place the Allies fought the Japanese, they fought to the last, without quarter asked or given. The “Saipan Ratio” for casualty estimates was wildly optimistic compared to the REAL ratios of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Using those casualty rates, the estimates would have increased three-and-a-half fold.

      Even at the end, in August, 1945, Army Officers plotted against the Emperor in order that no announcement of surrender be given.

    • Sorry, but URR is correct, and you are not.

      Bamboo spears versus BARs comes out on the poor side for the Japanese.

      And yet, they were fully prepared to do battle under such circumstances.

      The June 22 and subsequent feelers were attempts to achieve a negotiated settlement, not a surrender. The Japanese had at that time still convinced themselves it was possible they would be able to negotiate an end to the war that let them hold their Chinese conquests, the very conquests that had driven Japan and the US to war in the first place. The one thing the Japanese didn’t do was offer to surrender.

      To assume the US ignored Japanese efforts to end the war is to assume the politicians involved were very foolish men. They weren’t. By no means perfect, they were however, serious, intelligent men. Not one single action by the Japanese indicated an actual attempt to end the war on anything approaching terms that would be acceptable to the US Government, and far more importantly, the American people.

      Of course the decision to continue the war was a political one. Absent the absolute conquest of an enemy, all decisions to end wars are political. Just because the US was becoming far more capable while the Japanese were becoming more and more a hamstrung in their efforts in no way diminishes the ardor with with the Japanese fought. Did you not notice that the casualties and intensity of the fighting was increasing month by month?

      So the Japanese were attempting to “negotiate” an end to the war. Given that the US Government had a very fresh memory of the Japanese government “negotiating” a peace plan in 1941 even while the First Mobile Air Fleet approached Pearl Harbor, is it any wonder our government might have been skeptical?

  11. I have read the after action reports from both sides. As soon as the Emperor said to stop fighting the Japanese stopped.

  12. xbradtc, I am not blaming the US. I only pointed out facts that most Americans are not aware of. That is all.