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

ON DECEMBER 6, 1944, Second Lieutenant Tatsuo Yokoyama had allowed a full hour for the walk from his gun battery on Mount Futaba to Hiroshima Castle for the monthly review of the city's defenses. The days were over when he would arrive at the meeting in a motor-pool car shared by junior officers. Only the most senior officers were entitled to use precious gasoline. Yokoyama did not mind the walk. It was his way of keeping in touch with the changing situation in the city.

The black-lettered signs directing military traffic to the port were faded. It was three years, lacking one day, since the commander in chief of the Japanese fleet, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, had boarded his flagship, anchored in the deep waters of the Inland Sea, to hear the first radioed reports from his forces attacking Pearl Harbor and British Malaya. A few days later he was given the news of the sinking off Singapore of the Prince o f Wales and the Repulse. But now the revered Yamamoto was dead, killed in 1943 when the plane in which he was traveling was shot down by American fighters, and Hiroshima harbor contained only submarines, no battleships.

Nor were there truckloads of troops winding their way through the streets of Hiroshima to the Hall of Triumphant Return, the Gaisenkan. Almost every Japanese soldier fighting in the Pacific had embarked through the Gaisenkan; now it was empty, waiting for their triumphant return.

Three years ago the jetties had been lined with thousands of civilians chanting exhortations to those departing troops; now almost all civilians in the area were employed by the port or military authority, and the departure of troops was done in secrecy.

Hiroshima's narrow streets had also undergone changes. There were fewer trucks and no taxis; apart from streetcars, bicycling or walking was the only way to get around.

Cafes offered a tasteless green tea, often served lukewarm because of increasing fuel shortages. Coke balls for hibachis were dampened with water to make them burn longer, and some restaurateurs devised a method of burning wet pages of newspapers with the coke.

The women of Hiroshima had never looked so drab. Most dressed like the men, in badly cut jackets and trousers. Only the girls in the red-light district continued to wear kimonos. There were thousands of prostitutes in the rat-infested houses of joy. But the nights when ten thousand soldiers en route to the Pacific would swarm through the area were gone.

For those who remained in Hiroshima, even washing was an unpleasant business. The only soap available was made from rice bran and caustic soda. It created a rash. Tooth powder was now a black-market commodity; the accepted substitute was a vile-tasting salty paste.

Movie houses and theatres were popular. The films and plays were often inferior, but the collective heat generated from several hundred people squashed together was a pleasant experience. At home, people solved the problem of keeping warm by baking flat stones in their stoves, wrapping them in layers of old newspapers, and placing the bundles next to their skin. As the stones cooled, the newspapers were removed layer by layer.

And yet, thought Yokoyama, the city was coping. Hiroshima itself was intact. He continued walking toward the castle. Suddenly he heard a loud, concerted shout. Yokoyama broke into a run. Rounding a corner, he saw a house collapse into the street. Instinctively he looked skyward. There were no airplanes.

Through the dust he saw a group of youths belonging to the Patriotic Volunteer Corps—boys and girls brought in from the country to work as laborers. Gathered around the house adjoining the collapsed building, some began to saw through the pillars supporting the house and others attached a stout rope to its ridgepole. One of the boys told Yokoyama they were creating a firebreak in case of air attack. In many parts of Hiroshima this demolition work had begun to cut swaths through the city.

For the mayor of Hiroshima, Senkichi Awaya, the order from Tokyo to create firebreaks was the hardest he had implemented since taking office in July 1943. Awaya had telephoned army headquarters and had been issued instructions as to which sections of the city were to be demolished.

Throughout this morning of December 6, 1944, Mayor Awaya's frequent meetings were punctuated by the crash of falling buildings. Finally, hardly able to hear himself speak, he stood at his second-floor office window and gazed down the street at the clouds of dust rising near the T-shaped Aioi Bridge. He wondered whether the bridge itself, the most striking in Hiroshima, might also be demolished on the army's orders.

He was reassured by his chief assistant, the immaculately dressed Kazumasa Maruyama. Without the bridges the army's movements within the city would be drastically curtailed; in an emergency it would be necessary to move troops quickly.

Together the two men watched the destruction. "Just three years—now this. And all because of the army."

For Mayor Awaya to have uttered such words in public would have invited imprisonment, even execution. But in private he and his assistant now talked openly about such matters. In the sixteen months they had worked together, each man had revealed himself to the other as a devout pacifist and fierce anti-militarist. They were also bound by strong personal ties. Awaya had acted as go-between during Maruyama's delicate negotiations with his future wife's parents. As a devout Christian, one of many in Hiroshima, Mayor Awaya had found it difficult to feel his way through the complicated by-play of such discussions, an integral part of Japanese marriage. But the mayor had completed the marriage contract to everyone's satisfaction.

Awaya wished his own wife and the children still at home in Tokyo could be with him; when he had moved to Hiroshima, they had remained behind so that the children's education would not be disturbed.

Awaya was one of the most popular mayors the city had known: free from any taint of corruption, easily accessible, and energetic in handling cases of civil injustice. But it was only here in his office with Maruyama, that he could dare to express himself freely. This morning Awaya spoke again of the "terrible decline in our city, which can be traced to the folly of the militarists."

In just nineteen days' time, on December 25, the Hirohito reign of showa would enter its nineteenth year. Both men agreed that showa, which means "enlightened peace," was now an ironically inept name. "We may have to pay dearly for the mistakes that have been made," Awaya said.

The city was inadequately prepared for an air raid. There were insufficient bomb shelters; the few evacuation routes out of the city could easily become clogged: Nor did Awaya feel the fire lanes would provide adequate protection. "The lanes can only hope to stop the city's being destroyed all at once." There was one aspect, however, that Awaya believed they should be grateful for. "The rivers dividing our city provide excellent natural firebreaks. And if necessary, the citizens could take refuge in those rivers from the heat."

MEANWHILE, ON THE streets below, Anti-aircraft Officer Yokoyama picked his way around the demolished buildings and continued on toward the meeting in the castle.

Three hundred and fifty years old, surrounded by a moat, Hiroshima Castle was the centre-piece of a vast military complex. Within its keep were the divisional and regional army headquarters, along with some forty thousand men. The area also contained an infantry training school, a hospital, and ammunition and supply depots. This multipurpose installation was adjoined by dozens of factories. To the south of the castle was the civilian defense headquarters, responsible for alerting the city in case of air attack.

On the castle grounds, Yokoyama found the mood optimistic. Officers and men talked only of great victories to come. Nobody drew attention to shell casings made from inferior metals or to the near-empty fuel tanks of the half-tracks and armored cars.

The mood at the defense review meeting was equally buoyant. Hiroshima, like all other Japanese cities, was ready to meet the enemy. There was loud agreement with the words of the elderly officer who spoke last. "Let the American bombers come—and soon. They will fall from the skies under our guns!"

His eyes swept the room, lighting on the coterie of young antiaircraft officers that included Yokoyama. "The honor will fall to you to strike the first blows. Do not fail. We will repeat the success of Pearl Harbor."

Or DECEMBER 17 the five, squadrons at Wendover became formally unified under Tibbets as the 509th Composite Group, attached to the 315th Bombardment Wing of the Second Air Force. Ferebee and Van Kirk joined the 509th's headquarters staff as group bombardier and group navigator respectively. They rarely flew now, spending their time preparing and analyzing training programs. When they did fly, they usually went with Lewis, replacing his regular bombardier and navigator.

Lewis' crew continued to return one of the best flying records, their main competition coming from Eatherly's crew and one commanded by the effervescent Major Charles Sweeney.

MESS OFFICER Charles Perry decided that this first Christmas of the fledgling 509th would be a memorable one. He surveyed his resources: rows of plump farm turkeys and cured hams, trays of mince pies and scores of huge Christmas puddings.

The elements had also contributed to the festive mood. Overnight, heavy snow had fallen, and at the main gate shivering MPs fashioned a couple of snowmen. Beyond the gate, in their home, the Tibbets family were unwrapping Christmas presents. Tibbets had given Lucie a gift he had purchased at the last moment. He was always at a loss about what to buy his vivacious wife, one of the many small reasons that their marriage was foundering. Lucie, a warmhearted southern belle from Georgia, felt that her husband was unromantic, often cool and distant. She could not understand why he seemed to place his work ahead of her and the children. Once she had complained to Beser, who used to babysit for the Tibbetses, that "Paul never seems to have time to sit down and talk. And when he does, it's only about work."

Tibbets' preoccupation with work carried over to his choice of Christmas presents for his small sons. Paul, Jr., and baby Gene both received models of B-17s.

By noon on Christmas the officers' club was full. Paul and Lucie Tibbets held gracious court; for the moment their private tensions and troubles were put aside. Soon a number of the officers were happily gathered around the club radio, singing carols along with Bing Crosby in Hollywood.

Three days after Christmas, General Groves sent for Tibbets to come to Washington. The top-secret notes of their conversation show the project chief's confidence in the 509th's commander.

Tibbets gave June 15, 1945, as the date he would be ready to deliver an atomic strike. Groves accepted it without demur; the question was then raised "as to what the weather conditions would be over Tokyo between June 15th and 15 July." It was the first time the Japanese capital had been openly spoken of as a target for atomic attack.

There might be a weather problem. The secret notes recorded that "rain could be expected frequently [over Tokyo] up to August 15 [1945]. It is not desirable that missions be made in rain." Apart from weather considerations, Groves set out the governing factors in target selection:

The targets chosen should be places the bombing of which would most adversely affect the will of the Japanese people to continue the war. Beyond that, they should be military in nature, consisting either of important headquarters or troop concentrations, or centres of production of military equipment. . . . To enable us to assess accurately the effects of the bomb, the targets should not have been previously damaged by air attacks.

Groves doubted that Tokyo would meet all these requirements. For one thing, there was the likelihood that the city would be heavily bombed in the coming months with conventional weapons. Personally he favoured Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, a "historical city and one that was of great religious significance to the Japanese." With an estimated population of a million, Kyoto, Groves reasoned, "must be involved in a tremendous amount of war work." Therefore, it would be a legitimate target.

Further, he found Kyoto was "large enough to ensure that the damage from the bomb would run out within the city, which would give us a firm understanding of its destructive power."

Ten days before, at a meeting in Oppenheimer's office at Los Alamos, Groves had decided that the gun-type firing mechanism of the uranium bomb was so reliable it need not be tested before it was used on the enemy. However, the more complicated mechanism in the plutonium bomb would need proving. That was to be done at the Alamogordo firing range, in the New Mexico desert, on a date still to be decided.

Alone in his office on December 30, Groves wrote a memo to his superior, General George Marshall, chief of staff:

It is now reasonably certain that our operations plans should be based on the gun-type bomb, which, it is estimated, will produce the equivalent of a ten thousand ton TNT explosion. The first bomb ... should be ready about 1 August, 1945.

Groves had committed the Manhattan Project to a date.

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