From Oppenheimer's office, a telephone call was made to the guardhouse at the entrance to Los Alamos, ordering the sentries to let the approaching convoy leave unhampered.
A closed black truck was accompanied by seven cars. Four men sat in each car. Beneath their coats were pistols in shoulder holsters; on the floor were shotguns and rifles. The men had orders to shoot to kill anybody who attempted to stop the convoy.
In the car immediately behind the truck rode two army officers. Their field artillery collar insignia were upside down—an indication of the hurry with which Major Robert Furman, a Princeton engineering graduate attached to the Manhattan Project, and Captain James Nolan, a radiologist at the Los Alamos hospital, had assumed their disguises. The two men were beginning a journey scheduled to end on Tinian. They had orders not to let out of their sight an irreplaceable fifteen-foot-long crate containing the atomic bomb's inner cannon, and a bucket-shaped, lead-lined cylinder, two feet high, containing the uranium projectile, both now being carried in the truck ahead of them.
Only a mile down the mountain road from Los Alamos, near-disaster struck when the car in which Furman and Nolan were travelling blew a tire and slued out of control. The truck screeched to a halt. Security agents cocked their guns.
The car was brought under control; its tire was changed and the journey resumed. In a cloud of dust the convoy reached Albuquerque's airfield, where three DC-3s were waiting. Furman and Nolan were given parachutes and boarded the center plane. The crate and cylinder were put on the same plane; they, too, had their own parachutes. In the event of an emergency, the crew had been instructed to jettison the crate and cylinder before the passengers.
The planes reached Hamilton Field, San Francisco, without incident. A new team of agents then escorted the crate, the cylinder, and the men to their next means of transport—a heavy cruiser whose recent battle scars, earned at Okinawa, were hidden under a fresh coat of paint. It was the Indianapolis.
Knowing little about ships, Furman and Nolan were impressed by the cruiser's towering superstructure, blissfully unaware that the ship's center of gravity was believed to be too high and that if she ever took a clean torpedo hit, she could capsize and sink in short order. She was a curious choice to carry the crucial components of the world's most sophisticated weapon.
Pure chance had decided on the Indianapolis. She was available, and, from the standpoint of speed and space, she was right. But nobody could be sure how well the cruiser had recovered from the mauling she had received at Okinawa.
She had a new port quarter, new radio and radar equipment and fire-control mechanisms. She also had a new crew. Captain Charles McVay, the ship's forty-six-year-old commander, and some of his senior officers were still there, but almost half her complement of officers and two hundred and fifty enlisted men had come aboard as replacements for the veterans of Okinawa.
Captain William Parsons arrived from Los Alamos to brief McVay. He spelled out the mission in words McVay would always remember. "You will sail at high speed to Tinian, where your cargo will be taken off by others. You will not be told what the cargo is, but it is to be guarded even after the life of your vessel. If she goes down, save the cargo at all costs, in a lifeboat if necessary. And every day you save on your voyage will cut the length of the war by just that much."
Mystified, but asking no questions, McVay boarded his ship.
For Furman and Nolan the journey to Tinian would have all the trappings of a luxury cruise. There would be nothing to do except take turns sitting in their spacious cabin, watching over the bucket containing the uranium projectile. It had been welded to the cabin floor. The fifteen-foot-long crate carrying the cannon was lashed to the deck and guarded around the clock by marines. With an armed man at each corner, the crate resembled a bier. Gossip spread to every corner of the ship. Bets were laid that the mystery cargo was anything from a secret rocket to gold "to bribe the Japs to quit."
Captain McVay knew as little as his men about what his ship was carrying or why she was making this headlong dash to the Marianas. He sent for Nolan, who, as Parsons had suggested, told the captain he was not a gunnery officer but a medical orderly, and that as such he could state "the cargo contained nothing dangerous to the ship or crew."
McVay looked at Nolan and said, "I didn't think we were going to use bacteriological weapons in this war."
Nolan did not reply, leaving McVay as baffled as ever.
The Indianapolis weighed anchor and passed under the Golden Gate Bridge, outward bound.
AT WENDOVER, Paul Tibbets watched a transport plane touch down, rolling past the three B-29s still on the base. The plane carried a Manhattan Project courier who shuttled between Washington, Wendover, and Los Alamos, carrying instructions too secret to be delivered by other means. Today the courier brought news that parts of the atomic bomb had been delivered to the Indianapolis. The remaining parts—including the target, the lump of uranium to be placed in the muzzle of the gun inside the bomb—were to be flown to Tinian by the crews still at Wendover.
The operation was code named Bronx Shipments. Tibbets often wondered who invented the endless cover names that were given everybody and everything associated with the project. He was still surprised each time Groves came on the telephone with the words, "This is Relief."
Today's memo confirmed a recent one from judge (Captain Parsons) giving details of how the target for Little Boy (the uranium bomb) should travel to Destination ( Tinian ). Little Boy was also known as the gadget, the device, the gimmick (an expression Tibbets favored), the beast (often used by scientists now critical of the project), S-1 (preferred by Stimson), and "it" (used by the 509th, still mystified about what, exactly, the weapon was).
Groves had originally called the uranium bomb Thin Man, after Roosevelt. When the bomb's gun barrel was shortened, Groves renamed it Little Boy. The plutonium bomb, from its conception, was known as Fat Man, after Churchill.
To keep track of who was who and what was what in the codified world of the Manhattan Project was not easy, but these instructions to Tibbets were clear. One of the B-29s at Wendover was to carry certain of the remaining bomb parts to Tinian; others would travel on board C-54 transport planes of the 509th.
Tibbets assigned crews for the flights and then prepared to travel to Alamogordo for the test-firing of the plutonium bomb. Packed and about to leave, he received an urgent message from Tinian, signed by Tom Ferebee, the one man above all others in the 509th whose judgment Tibbets trusted. Ferebee urged Tibbets to fly at once to Tinian to deal with a major crisis. It looked as if the 509th were going to be dumped from the atomic-bomb ticket. Pausing only to notify Groves that he would not be at Alamogordo, Tibbets set off on the flight to Tinian. He had not spent the past months working himself to the bone only to have someone snatch the atomic mission from him at the last moment.
NINE miles from the base camp at Alamogordo, New Mexico, where Groves and Oppenheimer spent the early-morning hours of July 16, the plutonium bomb stood on a hundred-foot-high steel scaffold.
The test-firing of the world's first atomic device had been scheduled for 2:00 a.m., but lightning and showers had led to its delay. And because of the weather, the B-29 Tibbets had ordered to be in the air at the time of the explosion was grounded. There would therefore be no way of knowing what effect such a bomb would have on the airplane that would drop it over Japan.
The test was rescheduled for approximately 5:30 a.m., Mountain War Time.
Heavy rain could prevent the test-firing, a cause of mounting tension for Groves and the scientists. A primary concern was the effect a postponement would have on the schedule for bombing Japan. Although the first combat bomb would be of the uranium type-there had never been any idea of testing that one-it was necessary to ensure that the plutonium bomb would work and to gauge its probable effectiveness.
At 5:25 a.m. those of the four hundred and twenty-five scientific observers at the base camp who were out in the open took up their positions, lying flat on the earth, faces down, feet toward the expected blast. At 5:29 the last in a series of automatic timing devices took over. There were forty-five seconds to go.
Oppenheimer and his senior staff waited tensely in a concrete bunker. Groves was in a slit trench a short distance away; he wanted to be separated from the others in case of trouble.
From another dugout a man spoke into a microphone linked to the four lookout posts around the camp.
"Zero minus ten seconds."
A green flare flashed from the ground.
"Zero minus five seconds."
A second flare flashed.
Silence and darkness reigned once more over the desert.
At 5:29:45 everything happened at once, too fast for the human eye to distinguish. No one saw the first flash of cosmic fire. What they saw was its dazzling reflection on surrounding hills. It was, according to, The New York Times:
A light not of this world, the light of many suns in one . . . climbing in a fraction of a second to a height of more than eight thousand feet, rising ever higher until it touched the clouds, lighting up earth and sky all around with a dazzling luminosity. . . . A great ball of fire about a mile in diameter, changing colors from deep purple to orange, expanding, growing bigger, rising, an elemental force freed from its bonds after being chained for billions of years. For a fleeting instant the color was unearthly green ... as though the earth had opened and the skies had split. One felt as though one were present at the moment of creation when the Lord said: "Let there be light."
The observers were rooted to the ground by a mixture of fear and awe at the immensity of the spectacle. Oppenheimer remembered a line from the sacred Hindu epic, Bhagavad Gita . "I am become Death, the Shatterer of Worlds."
The sinister cloud continued to billow upward in one mushroom after another, finally disappearing into the dawning sky at well over forty thousand feet. At ground zero, the temperature at the moment of explosion had been 100 million degrees Fahrenheit, ten thousand times hotter than the sun's surface.
Within a mile radius of ground zero, all plant and animal life had vanished; around what had been the base of the tower, the sand had been hammered into a white-hot saucer five hundred yards in diameter. There had never before been sand like it on Earth. When it cooled, it turned into a jade-green, glazed substance unknown to scientists.
The steel scaffold, impervious to any heat known in the pre-atomic age, had been transformed into gas and dispersed. Groves turned to his deputy, Brigadier General Thomas Farrell, and predicted, "The war's over. One or two of these things and Japan will be finished."
In Potsdam, Truman received word from Stimson that the Alamogordo test had been so successful that a fake press release had been fed to the wire services claiming that an ammunition magazine had exploded, "producing a brilliant flash and blast," which had been observed over two hundred miles away. When Stimson met with Churchill the next day, he told the prime minister the good news from Alamogordo. Stalin called on Truman, but the President did not confide in him what he had just learned about the atomic bomb. Nor did he do so later that day, at the opening session of the Potsdam Conference.
Not that it mattered much. The Russians already knew about the bomb—through the treachery of a few scientists in the Manhattan Project who were feeding information to the Soviet Union. Even now, Russian scientists were attempting to catch up.
That night Truman discussed the Alamogordo results with Stimson, Secretary of State James Byrnes, Admiral of the Fleet William Leahy, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The military advised going ahead with the existing conventional plans for the invasion of the Japanese home islands.
The die was cast. There would be no further tests to indicate what the bomb might do in war. If the Japanese did not react positively to Truman's final appeal for surrender, then the responsibility was his to decide whether to use the new weapon.
Tom Ferebee met Tibbets when his plane landed on Tinian on July 18. His first words were, "It's really bad news, Paul. They're trying to tear your outfit apart."
A determined effort was under way to break up the 509th, and reassign the flying and ground crews to assist other groups on the island. Like Ferebee, Tibbets thought the trouble was caused by those who were envious of the 509th's special situation.
Matters were not helped by a brush Ferebee had just had with LeMay on Guam. The two men knew each other from Europe; their mutual respect was strong. While there was a considerable gap in rank between Major Ferebee and General LeMay, they had always spoken frankly to each other.
LeMay had succeeded in angering Ferebee by casting doubt on Tibbets' ability to fly the atomic mission. Ferebee had exploded. "Look, General, if Colonel Tibbets is not qualified, then I'm not qualified, so you don't have anybody qualified!"
LeMay had told Ferebee to cool down, but the bombardier was angered, not only by LeMay's remarks but by what he saw as an "attempt by the navy to have their man fly the mission."
Tibbets promised Ferebee that he would go to LeMay "tomorrow, and settle the whole shooting match once and for all." Late that evening Tibbets received a coded message. It was from Groves, telling him the Alamogordo test had been a success. Tibbets went to sleep knowing the "next atomic bang would be the real thing."
The confrontation the next day between Tibbets and LeMay was brief and direct. Tibbets explained that it was necessary for the 509th, to be left intact, that he hoped there would be no more"meddling," and that he intended' to fly the first atomic mission.
LeMay, who felt that once the operation moved to his area he ought to be in charge, could not understand why Groves and the others in Washington wanted to entrust the bomb to a unit that had not been tested in combat over Japan. But he could see that "to turn it over now to someone else was a little more than they could swallow." He agreed to Tibbets' request, with one proviso. He would send his operations officer, Colonel William "Butch" Blanchard, up on a training ride with Tibbets and his crew later that day—"just to satisfy the requirement that you guys know what you're doing."
Now, as Tibbets went through the preflight checks on No. 82, Blanchard, seated behind him on a pile of cushions, was listening to each instruction, watching every response of the crew.
Lewis was in the copilot's seat. Van Kirk was at the navigator's table, Ferebee in the bombardier's position. Duzenbury was at the engineer's panel, Nelson at the radio, Shumard and Stiborik in the waist blister turrets, and Caron in the tail turret. In the bomb bay was a blockbuster filled with high explosives; the fuel tanks carried enough for the round trip from Tinian to Rota.
Tibbets taxied to the end of the airstrip, received clearance for takeoff, and sent No. 82 thundering down the central runway on North Field. Many crashes happened because an engine failed at the critical moment of takeoff. To demonstrate his skill in handling such an emergency, just as the wheels were about to leave the ground, Tibbets feathered an engine. He fought the bomber's yawing movement and deftly coaxed it into the air.
Then he ordered a second engine to be cut—on the same side.
"Yes, sir!" replied Duzenbury.
Pulled by only two engines, both on one wing, the huge plane, carrying its five-ton bomb, very slowly began to climb. Banking the B-29, dipping the wing with the silent engines toward Tinian, Tibbets offered Blanchard an excellent, view of what was now the world's largest operational airfield.
Blanchard was not interested in sightseeing; his eyes were on the two propellers gently windmilling in the air.
Tibbets winked at Lewis—and increased the aircraft's bank until the bomber seemed to be standing on one wing.
Blanchard called Tibbets on the intercom. "Okay, I'm satisfied with engine performance. Let's head for Rota."
Tibbets leveled off, and at full power the B-29 roared toward the island, arriving over the initial point at exactly the time Van Kirk had predicted. Tibbets called Blanchard. "Guess we can agree navigational error was nil."
"Now it's Ferebee's turn."
The bombardier was in the nose, head glued to the bombsight. From thirty thousand feet the blockbuster plummeted down. Blanchard watched it fall and hit. "It came so close to the target that there was no use even talking about it," Tibbets later said.
Then, without warning his passenger, Tibbets put the B-29 into the usual 155-degree turn. A strangled cry came from Blanchard. "What—what's happening?" Pinned to the cushions by centrifugal force, Blanchard felt the plane shudder as if it were going to pieces.
Tibbets shouted to him. "This is the only way I can make a tight turn. I've got to keep the tail stalling, and then I know I'm doing it right."
"That's enough. I'm satisfied!"
"Oh, no, we're not through yet!" Coming out of the turn, Tibbets yanked back the control column, sending the huge bomber up into a sickening stall. It hovered momentarily on its tail, then slid back, turned, and spun toward the ground.
Blanchard turned white. "You're going to kill us!"
Judging the moment perfectly, Tibbets brought No. 82 under control and headed back for Tinian. He touched down within fifteen seconds of Van Kirk's estimate.
Blanchard did not speak until his feet were firmly on the ground. "Okay. You've proved your point."
Now certain LeMay would pose no further challenge to his authority, Tibbets prepared to choose the crews that would fly the first 509th missions over Japan.
Tibbets chose ten crews. Each would fly separately, the purpose being to accustom the men to combat, and the Japanese to seeing single high-flying aircraft that dropped only one bomb.
The crews had orders that if their preselected targets were weather-bound, they must "under no circumstances" drop their blockbusters on Hiroshima, Kyoto, Kokura, or Niigata. Otherwise, their choice of alternative targets was unrestricted.
The first of the B-29s took off for Japan. One of them had engine trouble and had to jettison its bomb in the sea; five managed to drop their blockbusters in or around their target areas; four, including the Straight Flush, piloted by Claude Eatherly, found the weather so bad they were forced to seek other targets.
Eatherly chose Tokyo—and the emperor's palace—somehow oblivious of the fact that his plan was not only against U.S. policy, but that it could also affect the Potsdam Conference and, more important, strengthen the will to resist of every person in Japan.
Only one thought concerned Eatherly. If he succeeded, he would be guaranteed a place in history. He believed he might even end the war.
Eatherly circled at thirty thousand feet just south of Tokyo, while his navigator plotted a course that would allow the Straight Flush to drop its ten-thousand-pound high-explosive bomb directly on the emperor's palace. But the navigator, Francis Thornhill, was having trouble. Tokyo, like the original target, was socked in. The bombardier, Ken Wey, said he could see no gaps in the overcast.
"Then drop it by radar!" Eatherly commanded.
Wey lined up the Straight Flush for a radar drop and released the bomb. Eatherly, whooping with excitement, immediately threw the B-29 into a 155-degree turn, leaving Tokyo without seeing where the bomb had fallen.
That night, grouped around the radio, Eatherly and his crew listened impatiently to an English-language broadcast from Tokyo for the news they were all waiting to hear. Finally it came: the bomb had not hit the palace. Disappointed, Eatherly turned away from the newscast, his hopes for worldwide fame temporarily quashed
BEYOND THE COMPOUND fence, in the dark, Kizo Imai, the Japanese warrant officer in hiding on Tinian, waited until images flickered on the outdoor movie screen. Then, moving swiftly, he wriggled toward the high wire fence.
He found a gap in the barbed strands and eased himself through it, careful. not to snag his clothes. He would leave no clue for the guards who patrolled the 509th's compound.
Imai squirmed on his belly to the nearest Quonset hut, then carefully checked himself. The mud he had smeared on his face and neck was adequate; so was the sacking he had wrapped around his boots to deaden his footsteps. Imai doubted whether anybody could spot him in the darkness from more than a few feet away. And then, if he was lucky, he could kill before the alarm was raised; he carried a small knife in his belt for just such a purpose.
Like a dog sniffing for a bone, Imai's nose directed him to Mess officer Perry's kitchens. He found a door unlocked and sneaked inside. On the table were rows of cooked chickens. He grabbed a couple, stuffed them in his tunic, and darted outside as someone entered by another door.
He stealthily retraced his footsteps, stopping near the hole in the fence to rummage through a garbage can. Tonight's haul yielded a chunk of smoked sausage, a half-full jar of jam, some peanuts, and a few old newspapers. Imai stuffed his finds inside his tunic and trousers, and moved toward the wire.
A voice stopped him. The words were in English, but there was no mistaking the accent; it was the nightly English-language broadcast from Japan. His spirits raised, Imai fled into the jungle, eager to return to his cave to scan the stolen American newspapers for reports of a Japanese advance toward Tinian.
OSS DIRECTOR Allen Dulles was shown into Secretary of War Stimson's Potsdam quarters. Dulles had come to tell Stimson of the Japanese offer relayed to him by Jacobsson, and of his counterproposal—that America might allow Hirohito to retain his throne if he took a public stand now to end the war.
Stimson respected Dulles' judgment, but he believed it unlikely that peripheral peace feelers stemming from Switzerland could represent official Japanese thinking. He thanked Dulles for coming, but made it clear he had no faith in the Jacobsson connection.
Two days later, on July 22, Stimson called on President Truman in Potsdam to tell him that Washington had cabled that the uranium bomb would be ready for use at "the first favorable opportunity in August."
He then called on Churchill with a report from Groves of the success at Alamogordo. Churchill commented, "What was gun-powder? Trivial. What was electricity? Meaningless. The atomic bomb is the Second Coming in wrath."
Stimson made it clear the President intended to tell Stalin about the weapon, although he would "withhold all details." The prime minister agreed that the current situation should be used as "an argument in the negotiations" going on at Potsdam.
Back in his quarters, Stimson summoned the air force chief of staff, General Henry Arnold, and brought him up to date. Arnold suggested that in place of Kyoto, Nagasaki should be considered one of the potential targets—the first time the city had been ear-marked for possible atomic destruction.
To the prime minister, who was kept informed as events unfolded, the weapon was "a miracle of deliverance." It might make invasion unnecessary, and it could end the war in "one or two violent shocks." Now there would be no need to beg favors of Stalin or to rely on Russian intervention to help bring Japan to her knees.
Churchill concluded that "while the final decision lay in the main" with Truman, there was no disagreement between them. As he later put it:
"The decision whether or not to use the atomic bomb to compel the surrender of Japan was never an issue. There was unanimous, automatic, unquestioned agreement around the table."
But before resorting to its use, the Allies would offer Japan one last chance to surrender.
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