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

RADAR Officer Beser, like most of the 509th, heard the news of Roosevelt's death on April 12, 1945, over the radio. Beser quickly turned it off. "By switching off the radio, I believed I could deny the truth. Roosevelt had been leading us for so long that his death was impossible to accept."

That evening members of the officers' and enlisted men's clubs on the base made their gesture: there would be no gambling or drinking until Roosevelt was buried. Bob Lewis touched a popular emotional chord with his words. "I never met the guy. But I felt that I had lost a great buddy."

For many of these young men, who could hardly remember when he had not been President, the thought of an America without FDR in the White House was difficult to imagine. Gradually, though, talk turned to the new President, Harry Truman. Of most immediate concern to the 509th was his attitude toward the prosecution of the war. Everybody at Wendover knew where Roosevelt had stood. They could quote from his speeches, with their recurring theme that the enemy must be pursued to its lair. Roosevelt had almost lived to see the pursuit reach Berlin.

But would Truman be so keen to conquer Tokyo?

ON THE first morning of his presidency Truman awoke at his customary hour of 6:30. It was Friday the thirteenth, a hot, sticky day. It struck him that a President of the United States could not concern himself with the weather unless it affected important issues. He had to run the country.

Truman showed himself a swift decision maker. That morning he dealt quickly and surely with certain domestic issues and was briefed by members of the Cabinet. Then, at 2:30, James Byrnes, who had been the director of war mobilization for Roosevelt, arrived. Truman reminded Byrnes that there now was no Vice-President. If Truman died or became seriously incapacitated, the Secretary of State would succeed him. Would Byrnes like that post? he asked.

It was a surprising offer in view of their previously cool relationship, but in asking Byrnes to become first in line of succession to the presidency, Truman was displaying the political skill that made him so formidable. He wanted Byrnes on his side.

Byrnes accepted.

Then, speaking in a voice that Truman felt was one of "great solemnity," Byrnes made a startling and mysterious announcement. "Mr. President, we are perfecting an explosive great enough to destroy the whole world. It might well put us in a position to dictate our own terms at the end of the war."

EVER since the news of Roosevelt's death had first reached Major General Seizo Arisue, head of Imperial Army intelligence in Tokyo and Japan's acknowledged spy master, he had been busily building up a psychological profile of Truman. Aided by wire-service copy and transcripts of monitored broadcasts, Arisue came to an unexpected conclusion: Truman was going to be even tougher than Roosevelt. The new President would, in Arisue's estimation, "overwhelm the old man"— Admiral Kantaro Suzuki— who had recently become prime minister of Japan.

A week before Roosevelt died, a serious political crisis had erupted. General Kuniaki Koiso, a compromise premier, had suggested to the military that they allow him a share in their decision-making. The generals refused. Koiso resigned. He was replaced by Admiral Suzuki, a hero of the Russo-Japanese War, whose frail body bore three bullet marks— a legacy of the days he had fallen afoul of right-wing extremists in the army.

General Arisue would have been astonished to know that the emperor himself had charged Suzuki with the task of finding a means— short of outright surrender— of ending the war.

Within hours of accepting office, Suzuki had received alarming news. Japan's ambassador in Moscow had cabled that the Soviet Union did not intend to renew its neutrality pact with Japan, but would allow it to lapse automatically in one year. Finding an acceptable means of ending the conflict became even more urgent.

The prospect of a negotiated peace was also on Arisue's mind. On the day Roosevelt was being buried on the other side of the world, he had learned that his arch rival, the head of Imperial Japanese Navy intelligence, was trying to contact Allen Dulles, European director of the Office of Strategic Services, through Bern, Switzerland. The OSS would relay a message to Washington. The reasoning of his naval counterpart coincided with his own. Truman was a hard-liner; it would be better to settle with him now, while Japan still had some bargaining power left. The American bombing offensive; the sea blockade; the relentless ground-fire barrage which had now crept to within a thousand miles of Tokyo —to Okinawa, where a fierce and bloody battle was raging for the last major island between the enemy and Japan's westernmost mainland island, Kyushu —all these would ultimately weaken Japan to the point where unconditional surrender would be the only alternative.

But Arisue and the other moderates did not believe Japan should surrender unconditionally. He believed that there must at absolute minimum be a guarantee of the emperor's safety and continuing omnipotent rule.

Arisue did not even trust the navy to achieve this fundamental requirement in its maneuvering in Switzerland. He cabled the military attache in Bern, Lieutenant General Seigo Okamoto, and told him to contact Dulles.

ON TRUMAN'S desk was a letter from Secretary of War Henry Stimson. It had arrived the day before, April 24, and read, in part, "I think it very important that I should have a talk with you as soon as possible on a highly secret matter."

Truman had arranged an appointment for midday. Promptly at noon the Secretary of War arrived. Stimson said he was expecting one other person. Five minutes later General Groves appeared. He had slipped in through the back door to avoid the journalists stationed in and around the executive mansion.

Stimson said that he wished to discuss details of a bomb equal in power to all the artillery used in both world wars. He began to read from a prepared memorandum.

"Within four months we shall in all probability have completed the most terrible weapon ever known in human history, one bomb of which could destroy a whole city. Although we have shared its development with the United Kingdom, physically the U.S. is at present in the position of controlling the resources with which to construct and use it and no other nation could reach this position for some years. Nevertheless, it is practically certain that we could not remain in this position indefinitely."

Stimson explained that the theory behind the bomb was widely known, then went on to conjure up a nightmare that could come to pass.

"We may see a time when such a weapon may be constructed in secret and used suddenly and effectively. . . . With its aid, even a very powerful unsuspecting nation might be conquered within a very few days by a very much smaller one. . . . The world in its present state of moral advancement compared with its technical development would be eventually at the mercy of such a weapon. In other words, modern civilization might be completely destroyed."

The United Nations was holding its founding conference in San Francisco. Stimson had anticipated Truman's raising this matter. He continued to read from his memo.

"To approach any world peace organization of any pattern now likely to be considered, without an appreciation by the leaders of our country of the power of this weapon, would seem to be unrealistic. No system of control heretofore considered would be adequate to control this menace."

Stimson then stated that in spite of all this urging of caution, he still favored using the bomb against Japan; if it worked, it would shorten the war. The meeting ended with Truman's agreeing to the formation of a panel of specialists, to be known as the Interim Committee, to draft essential post-war legislation and to advise him on all aspects of atomic energy. Stimson agreed to be its chairman.

Meanwhile, over the preceding weekend, the 509th had made its usual journey into Salt Lake City, and complaints were being received in the duty office. Eatherly had raced his roadster, hub to hub, against that of his flight engineer; they passed a whiskey bottle back and forth from one car to the other at close to ninety miles per hour. A number of fliers took rooms in the Hotel Utah and held noisy parties. On Monday the Salt Lake City police department contacted Wendover with a long list of breakages, assaults, and traffic violations. Tibbets managed to placate the civilian authorities. But the symptoms were clear: the 509th Composite Group had reached the breaking point.

The time had come to leave Wendover.

In Tibbets' mind, there was another good reason for their departure. He had come to the conclusion that the scientists were "tinkering" with the atomic bomb; they seemed "concerned with producing a perfect weapon instead of being satisfied with the one they had and using it to end the war." Tibbets could imagine the physicists "still tinkering" after the war was over, "and the whole damn thing would have been a waste of time."

The 509th's base was reserved on Tinian, and the thought of seeing action again exhilarated Tibbets. But the prospect of what could happen if he actually ordered the 509th to be mobilized worried him. "Groves might have me stripped of my command, posted to Alaska, even sign court-martial papers."

Nevertheless, Tibbets asked the base telephone exchange to connect him with Air Force Command Headquarters in Washington. Once plugged through to his liaison officer, his message was brief. "This is Silverplate. We are ready to move."

The matter was soon arranged. The 509th's main ground-echelon force would leave Wendover for embarkation at Seattle on May 6. The bomber crews would fly out to the Pacific later.

Then Tibbets received a call from Groves in Washington, ordering him to fly there at once. Tibbets expected big trouble.

"As I came through the door he erupted. Who the hell did I think I was, ordering my outfit overseas? For ten solid minutes he raked me over the coals.... Suddenly he stopped and gave me a big smile and said, `You've got us moving!' He was tickled to death I had done it. With my planes gone, there was no way the scientists could keep tinkering, testing their toy."

Tibbets returned to Wendover. He had moved into the officers' club after his wife and children had vacated their house just outside the base gates; all the men's families had departed as the 509th prepared to move to Tinian. Lucie wrote that she and the boys had settled in "just fine" with her mother. Tibbets was pleased, but had been too busy to reply. He hoped his wife would understand.

He was being driven hard —his mind was a whirl of conferences and high-level telephone conversations —and he was glad of an excuse for a trip to Omaha to do what he called "a little shopping" at the Martin bomber plant. The code name Silverplate ensured that he would be able to do something few other fliers in the air force could: he was going to choose his own personal B-29, the one he intended to use on the first atomic mission.

At the closely guarded plant, the senior assembly-line foreman escorted Tibbets down the production line. Regularly they paused to clamber up the scaffolding to look at a bomber. Once, Tibbets turned to the foreman and said the B-29 they were inspecting looked fine. The foreman shook his head. "First shift," he said, signifying a bomber whose assembly had been started by men who had just returned to work after their days off. Workers still recovering from two days of drinking and partying were not quite at their best; they sometimes produced a bomber "where all the nuts and bolts haven't been double-checked."

Tibbets moved on.

The foreman stopped at another B-29. Gangs of riveters swarmed over the fuselage. Tibbets climbed into the cockpit. It was already fitted with its leather seats. He sat down and looked out through the domed nose at the bustling factory floor.

The foreman's shout was reassuring. "This is the one for you."

The plane's assembly had been started by men who were working at their peak, where "even the screws on the toilet seat were given an extra turn." The foreman told Tibbets this was the best plane in the factory. His words sealed the transaction.

A delivery date was agreed upon. Tibbets told the foreman that he would send Lewis and his crew to pick up the plane. Until it was given a name, the plane would be called only by its number, 82.

WHEN Antiaircraft Officer Tatsuo Yokoyama reached Hiroshima Airport on April 28, he found that the army transport he planned to take to Tokyo had left early. He was told to wait outside the operations room for his name to be called.

Hiroshima's busy airport was being expanded to meet the growing demands of the military. It was crammed with their aircraft. Yokoyama watched a group of youngsters in cut-down overalls file out to a transport plane. Waiting to greet them was a handsome young flying officer, Second Lieutenant Matsuo Yasuzawa, one of the air force's most experienced instructors. Every pilot Yasuzawa trained now was meant to be a kamikaze. The average age of these youngsters was sixteen. Yasuzawa was flying them to an airfield about a hundred miles from Hiroshima, on Kyushu, where they would receive their final training. Afterward they would leave for Okinawa, where nearly a thousand kamikaze pilots had died, sinking or damaging over a hundred American ships.

Yasuzawa hated having to remain behind as an instructor, but he was considered too valuable to lose. He had the ability to teach a recruit the rudiments of flying in ten days. As a consequence, young kamikaze pilots were being given only ten hours' tuition. They barely knew how to fly.

Today, as he settled himself at the controls of his well-used transport, Yasuzawa felt that when the war ended, he would still be preparing schoolboys for combat, and would never have experienced it himself.

Soon after Yasuzawa's transport trundled into the air, a navy fighter-bomber landed and taxied toward the communications room. Officers ran to meet it. Out of the cockpit climbed an immaculate figure in a white navy uniform. It was Captain Mitsuo Fuchida —one of Yokoyama's heroes —the pilot who had led the raid on Pearl Harbor and who was now the Imperial Navy's operations officer. He had come to Hiroshima to attend an army-navy liaison conference. Yokoyama bowed deeply as Fuchida walked by. The flying ace did not return the greeting. Yokoyama doubted whether Fuchida even noticed him.

Shortly afterward Yokoyama was told there would be no seat available for him that day to Tokyo. He left the airport, his mind still filled with the image of Fuchida. It would cheer him on the five-hundred-and-fifty-mile journey he must now make by train if he was to go home on leave to visit his parents.

Across the city, in his Hiroshima home, Mayor Senkichi Awaya listened as his wife and eldest boy told of the rigors of their nightlong train journey from Tokyo.

The mayor's assistant, Maruyama, sought to reassure Mrs. Awaya. "Here you will be safe. Hiroshima is not a large city. They will bomb other places first. By the time it is our turn to be attacked, the war will be over."

That afternoon the train carrying Yokoyama left for Tokyo. Six months had passed since he had last made the journey. Nothing had prepared him for the changes he now saw: city after city bore the marks of incendiary bombing. As he came closer to Tokyo, even the darkness could not conceal the destruction.

Leaving the Shimbashi railway station, Yokoyama set out to walk to the southern suburbs, where his parents lived. His route took him past the Imperial Hotel, designed by the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The Imperial had survived the great Tokyo earthquake of 1923, but now it was a gutted ruin. Farther on, the Ginza —the business and nightlife heart of Tokyo —was a scorched wasteland of ashes and craters.

Yokoyama realized that he had been misled; the newspapers and radio had given no inkling of the scale of the destruction. For the first time he felt betrayed by the army. He could see clear evidence that Japan was incapable of winning the war.

Eventually he reached his parents' home. The house was intact, but Yokoyama wondered how long it would remain so. The American bombers seemed intent on working their way outward until all of Tokyo was destroyed. Wearily he entered the house, convinced that Japan must make peace or face extinction.

IN Kure, the naval port southeast of Hiroshima, the wife of the submarine commander Mochitsura Hashimoto tried to awaken her husband. An air-raid alert had just sounded. Kure harbor, on the Inland Sea, held most of Japan's remaining warships and was a priority target for American bombers.

It was time to go to the shelter. Cradling her three small sons in her arms, Hashimoto's wife called with increasing urgency. Hashimoto continued to sleep. Nothing short of an earthquake would awaken him after his last, traumatic voyage. When the Americans landed on Okinawa, Hashimoto was ordered to the area to attack enemy shipping. During the seven days there, his submarine, I.58, was attacked fifty times. The longest period it was surfaced was four hours in the middle of the night, barely long enough to ventilate the ship and recharge its batteries.

Hashimoto had just missed seeing the cruiser U.S.S. Indianapolis limp from the scene of battle. It was returning to San Francisco for repairs, having been badly mauled by a kamikaze.

Like the Indianapolis, I.58 had taken a beating. But only when Hashimoto reached his base at Kure on April 29 had he learned that his was the sole Japanese submarine to return safely from Okinawa. He was also informed that I.58 would have to remain in dock for a major inspection.

Too tired to care, Hashimoto had stumbled home to bed. Now, all his wife's urgent calling did not awaken him. Then she heard the familiar drone of aircraft engines overhead. Clutching her children, Mrs. Hashimoto lay down beside her sleeping husband and listened to the sounds of war.

PRECISELY at 9:00 a.m. on May 8, 1945, President Truman broadcast live to the American nation. In London and in Moscow, Churchill and Stalin gave their people the news at the same time.

Germany had surrendered unconditionally. For the first time in modern history, the entire armed forces of a nation became prisoners of war.

In the national rejoicing for V-E Day, most Americans momentarily forgot Japan. Truman did not. He had thoroughly briefed himself on his predecessor's position toward a Japanese surrender and had come to the same conclusion: as with Germany, only unconditional surrender was acceptable for Japan. Pearl Harbor and reports of Japanese atrocities against American prisoners of war made such an uncompromising attitude virtually inevitable.

U.S. monitors listening to Japan Radio had picked up a report of a recent statement by Prime Minister Suzuki. Although secretly charged by the emperor to end the war, Suzuki had delivered an astonishingly militant speech to the Diet, stating that unconditional surrender was totally unacceptable. Japan must fight to the very end.

Truman answered Suzuki at a press conference.

"The Japanese people have felt the weight of our land, air and naval attacks. So long as their leaders and the armed forces continue the war, the striking power and intensity of our blows will steadily increase, and will bring utter destruction to Japan's industrial war production, to its shipping and to everything that supports its military activity.

"The longer the war lasts, the greater will be the suffering and hardships which the people of Japan will undergo—all in vain. Our blows will not cease until the Japanese military and naval forces lay down their arms in unconditional surrender.

"Just what does the unconditional surrender of the armed forces of Japan mean for the Japanese people? It means the end of the war. It means the termination of the influence of the military leaders who brought Japan to the present brink of disaster. It means provision for the return of soldiers and sailors to their families, their farms and their jobs. And it means not prolonging the present agony and suffering of the Japanese in the vain hope of victory.

"Unconditional surrender does not mean the extermination or enslavement of the Japanese people."

It was a clear statement of the U.S. government's position: surrender unconditionally or face Armageddon. Truman's warning was dismissed by the Japanese as propaganda. Japan Radio repeated the nation's determination to fight on.

Truman could only reflect, They have been warned.

Four days later, on May 12, senior navy and army officials and scientists from the Manhattan Project met in Washington to clarify operational details of the atomic mission. The proximity fuzes would probably be set to detonate about two thousand feet above the ground; if the weather over the target made it impossible to bomb visually, the weapon should be brought back, inevitably involving some risks to the base; if for any reason it was found necessary to jettison the bomb, care must be taken that this was not done in waters near American-held territory, since "water leaking into the gun-type bomb will set off a nuclear reaction."

Specific targets were also discussed at the meeting. The emperor's palace in Tokyo was considered, but not recommended. Finally, four cities were earmarked for possible atomic attack. They were, in order of preference, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Yokohama, and Kokura. All four cities were "reserved"; bombing of them by conventional weapons was henceforth prohibited.

On June 1 the Interim Committee, under the watchful eye of Secretary of War Stimson, was holding its most crucial meeting in a month. The committee's distinguished scientific panel was present. The members were Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, Ernest Lawrence, and Arthur Compton.

The others listened intently as Oppenheimer revealed details of both types of bomb—the uranium gun-type weapon, and the plutonium bomb, which would undergo testing at Alamogordo in seven weeks' time. Each would achieve its principal effect by a blast that might be felt up to a mile or more away from the explosion. In answer to a question, Oppenheimer stated the bomb would be ideal for use against a concentration of troops or war plants and that it might kill "about twenty thousand people."

Shortly afterward the meeting adjourned for lunch.

No notes were taken during the meal, and who said what would forever remain a matter of dispute. According to physicist Arthur Compton, he asked Stimson whether it might be possible to arrange a non-military demonstration of the atomic bomb so that the Japanese would see the futility of continuing the war. Both Lawrence and Oppenheimer were said to have been skeptical; the latter doubted that any demonstration could be startling enough to convince the Japanese to surrender.

Later Stimson reportedly argued that our effort to obtain surrender would be seriously damaged by announcement of a demonstration that was followed by a dud—and this was a possibility. Furthermore, there were no bombs to waste, and it was vital that a sufficient effect be obtained quickly with those we had.

Privately he felt that "to expect a genuine surrender from the emperor and his military advisers, they must be administered a tremendous shock which would carry convincing proof of our power to destroy the empire. Such an effective shock would save many times the number of lives, both American and Japanese, that it would cost."

The Interim Committee came to the same conclusion. At the end of its deliberations, it offered three recommendations for the President about the first use of the atomic bomb: "It should be used as soon as possible; it should be used on a military installation surrounded by houses or other buildings most susceptible to damage; it should be used without explicit prior warning of the nature of the bomb."

While the President was being advised to act, some of the scientists who had helped make the awesome new weapon were trying to limit its use. There were those who preferred that Japan be warned; others insisted, as Arthur Compton had, that a public demonstration of the bomb might cause Japan's militarists to capitulate.

Several months before Roosevelt's death, Albert Einstein, who had been so vocal in 1939 about the need for an American atomic weapon, had argued that the world situation had changed, that the enemy could be beaten by conventional weapons. If America dropped the bomb, Einstein foresaw a worldwide armaments race.

On June 12 seven scientists from the Manhattan Project submitted a petition to Secretary of War Stimson urging a demonstration before observers from many countries. This petition—the Franck Report—was destined to become the most famous document concerned with the use of the atomic bomb. It was submitted, through channels, to the Interim Committee's scientific panel.

On June 16 the panel met in Los Alamos to consider the report. They acknowledged it was a fair-minded attempt to present all sides of a complex issue. But in the end the panel reported "with heavy heart" to the Interim Committee that "we can propose no technical demonstration likely to bring an end to the war; we see no acceptable alternative to direct military use."

The committee agreed with the conclusion of its scientific panel. The momentous Franck Report had been delivered, discussed, and discounted.

In the meantime, General Groves had received a summons to see Stimson at the War Department. Stimson asked Groves for the names of the Japanese cities reserved for possible atomic attack. Only recently revised, the list included Kokura, Hiroshima, Niigata, and Kyoto.

"The primary is Kyoto," Groves said.

Stimson then explained something Groves had never seriously considered.

"Kyoto is an historical city, and one that is of great religious significance to the Japanese. I visited it when I was governor-general of the Philippines and was very much impressed by its ancient culture. I will not approve that city."

During the same crucial period, the military heads of the armed forces had been perfecting their invasion plans for Japan, code named Olympic and Coronet. On June 16 the joint Chiefs of Staff arrived in Truman's office. With them came Stimson, Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy, and other senior advisers.

Olympic called for an initial assault against southern Kyushu on November 1, 1945, with a force of eight hundred thousand troops; Coronet was the plan for the invasion, five months later, of the Tokyo area of the island of Honshu, with a commitment there of about a million men.

Truman listened intently as Chief of Staff General George Marshall presented the case for invasion. Then Stimson summed up the prospects. "A landing operation would be a very long, costly, and arduous struggle on our part.... The terrain [is] one which would be susceptible to a last-ditch defense."

The possibility of a political settlement was raised by McCloy, who believed there were influential Japanese who did not favor the war. Stimson agreed that Japan was "not a nation composed wholly of mad fanatics" and that some sort of last-chance warning should be given before the actual invasion. Stimson was not yet sure whether or how this warning should be linked to the atomic bomb.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff listened, but expressed no opinion about the atomic bomb, except that if it was used, it should be dropped without prior notice. The matter was not pressed. Nobody, in McCloy's words, could even be "certain, in spite of the assurances of the scientists that `the thing would go off'." It was impossible to plan a meaningful strategy other than in terms of conventional warfare.

Truman reluctantly approved the invasion plans, aware that a million American lives could be lost as a result. His concern about casualties would doubtless have been even greater had he known that Japanese intelligence had anticipated the American plans and that at the very moment he was giving the go-ahead for the invasion of Kyushu, reinforcements were being rushed to that island.

Those forces, charged with repelling the Americans, now had their headquarters in Hiroshima.

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