LATE on the night of August 5, some of the crewmen on Tinian went to the mess hall to sample the dishes Perry's cooks had prepared. Tibbets, Ferebee, and Van Kirk ate several plates of pineapple fritters.
After eating, Ferebee got heavily involved in a poker game. Van Kirk occupied his time making sure all his navigational instruments were in his flight bag; Caron sat and thought of his wife; Nelson read the latest copy of The Reader's Digest; Shumard tried to sleep; Stiborik went to church; Parsons and Jeppson went over a checklist of what they would do once they were airborne; Lewis prowled around outside the combat crew's lounge, where the final briefing would be held at midnight.
Tibbets had assigned Jake Beser to brief William Laurence, The New York Times reporter attached to the Manhattan Project. Beser's vivid descriptions helped Laurence later to collect a Pulitzer Prize for his work. Beser was still talking when, shortly before midnight, he was called away to the briefing.
Outside the lounge, scientist Ed Doll handed Beser a piece of paper with numbers on it specifying the frequency the bomb's radar was to use. The numbers were written on rice paper, explained Doll, so that Beser could swallow the message if he were in danger of being captured.
At midnight Paul Tibbets walked to one end of the lounge and addressed the twenty-six airmen who would be flying with him to Japan. Twelve, including himself and the two scientists, Parsons and Jeppson, would be on the Enola Gay. He reminded the crews to wear their goggles at the time of the explosion.
Then, in a few crisp sentences, he spelled out the rules for the mission.
"Do your jobs. Obey your orders. Don't cut corners or take chances."
The weather officer stepped forward and gave the forecast: the route to Japan would be almost cloud free, with only moderate winds; clouds over the target cities were likely to clear at dawn. Then the communications officer read out the frequencies to be used on various stages of the mission and gave the positions of rescue ships and planes.
At 12: 15 a.m. Tibbets beckoned to Chaplain Downey, who invited the gathering to bow their heads. He read the prayer he had composed for this moment:
"Almighty Father ... we pray Thee to be with those who brave the heights of Thy heaven and who carry the battle to our enemies. ... May they, as well as we, know Thy strength and power, and armed with Thy might may they bring this war to a rapid end. . . that once more we may know peace on earth. May the men who fly this night be kept safe in Thy care, and may they be returned safely to us.... Amen."
At 1: 12 trucks picked up the crews of the two observer B-29s. Three minutes later a truck picked up the crew of the Enola Gay. Tibbets and Parsons sat up front with the driver. Squeezed in the back were Van Kirk, Ferebee, Lewis, Beser, Jeppson, Caron, Shumard, Stiborik, and Nelson. They all wore pale green combat coveralls; the only identification they carried were dog tags.
At 1:37 the three weather-scout planes— Straight Flush, Jabbit III, and Full House—took off simultaneously from separate runways on North Field. At 1:51 Top Secret took off for its standby role at Iwo Jima.
Duzenbury had spent every minute since the midnight briefing with the Enola Gay. He always took at least two hours for his pre-flight check, for whatever Tibbets and Lewis might have thought, the flight engineer "knew she was my ship."
First, Duzenbury walked slowly around the bomber, checking it visually, "watching out for the slightest thing that didn't look normal," making sure even that every rivet was in place on all the control surfaces. Then, around 1:00 a.m., Duzenbury went aboard the Enola Gay, checklist in hand.
At his own station behind Lewis' seat, Duzenbury inspected his instrument panel. Then he stepped into the cockpit and examined the controls, switches, and dials. After he had verified that all was in order, he made his way back into the spacious area he shared with Navigator Van Kirk and Radio Operator Nelson. Now it also contained Jeppson's console for monitoring the bomb.
Duzenbury opened a small, circular, airtight door situated just below the entrance to the long tunnel that led to the after end of the plane. Swinging feet-first through the hatch, he found himself in back of the bomb.
Using a flashlight, he crawled to the right side of the weapon and onto the catwalk that ran along the length of the bay; from there he had his first overall view of the world's most expensive bomb. Two billion dollars had gone into its development. But to Duzenbury, who had been a tree surgeon before enlisting, it resembled a long, heavy tree trunk. The cables leading into it from Jeppson's monitoring panel, and its antennas, made it look like no bomb he'd ever seen before.
Checking everything as he went, he continued along the cat-walk, past the nose of the bomb, and back along the other side. When he reached the fins, he noticed two unusual containers that, he thought, shouldn't have been there. Almost unconsciously, he kicked them.
The flight engineer had not been told they held the explosive Powder and tools Parsons would use later to arm the bomb!
He was about to remove the containers when a bright shaft of light shone through the hatch into the bomb bay. Puzzled, Duzenbury climbed back into Van Kirk's compartment. The light filled the area. Duzenbury walked forward into the cockpit and stopped, openmouthed.
The Enola Gay was ringed by floodlights. Interspersed between the klieg-light stands and mobile generators were close to a hundred people—photographers, film crews, officers, scientists, project security agents, and MPs. Dumbfounded and a little annoyed, Duzenbury turned back to his checklist. The lights and cameramen had been ordered by Groves, who wanted a pictorial record of the Enola Gay's departure. Only space had prevented a movie crew from flying on the mission.
Now Tibbets and his men arrived. Photographers converged on them. He had been warned in a message from Groves that there would be
"a little publicity," but in his view, "this was full-scale Hollywood premiere treatment. I expected to see MGM's lion walk onto the field or Warner's logo to light up the sky. It was crazy."
With a touch worthy of an epic production, the "extras" on the asphalt formed an avenue for the "stars" in the crew.
The 509th's commander complied with shouted requests to turn this way, that way, to smile, "look busy." Shumard and Stiborik bowed in mock obsequiousness.
The reporter Bill Laurence asked Lewis to keep a log of the Enola Gay's flight, which The New York Times would later publish. Lewis then addressed the crew. Nelson later recalled,
"He said, 'You guys, this bomb cost more than an aircraft carrier. We're gonna win the war, just don't screw it up. Let's do this really great!' He made it clear that as far as he was concerned, we were still his crew, and we were doing it for him."
Caron had planned to take his camera along, but in the excitement he had left it on his bunk. Yet in the end he would take the most historic pictures of all. An army captain thrust a plate camera at him and told him, "shoot whatever you can over the target."
At 2:20 a.m. the final group photo was taken. Tibbets turned to the crew and said, "Okay, let's go to work."
Beser climbed up the ladder and through the hatch behind the Enola Gay's nose wheel. He was followed by Ferebee and Van Kirk, who, like Caron, were wearing baseball caps; Shumard and Nelson wore GI work caps; Stiborik a ski cap.
Finally only Parsons and Tibbets remained below, talking to Farrell. Suddenly the general pointed to Parsons' coveralls. "Where's your gun?"
Parsons had forgotten to draw a weapon from supply. He motioned to a nearby MP, who unstrapped his gun belt and handed it over. Parsons buckled it around his waist and clumsily climbed up the nose ladder. Like the others, he wore beneath his coveralls a survival vest, a drinking-water kit, first-aid package, and emergency food rations. Over this came a parachute harness with clips for a chest chute and a one-man life raft. On top was an armor-like flak suit for protection against shell fragments.
Unknown to the others, Paul Tibbets carried a small box in a pocket of his coveralls. Inside the box were twelve capsules-each containing a lethal dose of cyanide. At the first sign of trouble over Japan, Tibbets was to distribute the capsules to the men on the plane. He would then have to explain the alternatives they faced before capture. He would say,
"If you were shot down, can you imagine the measures the Japanese would take to find out what you were doing? So if you don't want to go through the torture, the best way out is with the gun or with the capsules."
As he said good-by to General Farrell, Tibbets had a more immediate concern-the possibility of crashing on takeoff, as he had seen so many planes do on Tinian. The Enola Gay was the most thoroughly checked aircraft in the world. But no check could ensure against the last-minute failure of some crucial component.
Smiling and looking relaxed, Tibbets boarded the Enola Gay. When he reached his seat, he automatically felt his breast pocket to make sure his battered aluminum cigarette case was there. He regarded the case as a lucky charm and never flew without it.
Caron strapped himself in at his twin rear guns. For luck he carried a photograph of his wife and baby daughter. Assistant Flight Engineer Shumard, squatting in one of the waist blister turrets, had with him a tiny doll; across from him, at the other turret, were Stiborik and Beser. They did not believe in talismans, though Stiborik thought his ski cap was as good as any.
At his radio station by the entrance hatch to the bomb bay, Nelson fished out a half-finished paperback and placed it on the table beside him. A few feet away, Navigator Van Kirk laid out his pencils and chart.
Forward of the navigator, Weaponeers Parsons and Jeppson sat on cushions on the floor, listening patiently to the final preparations for takeoff now going on around them. Finally Tibbets called up Duzenbury.
"All set, Dooz?"
"All set, Colonel."
Tibbets slid open a side window in the cockpit and leaned out. A battery of cameramen had come to photograph his face over the gleaming new name, Enola Gay.
"Okay, fellows, cut those lights. We've gotta be going."
Tibbets ordered Duzenbury to start No. 3 engine; when it was running smoothly, he ordered No. 4, then No. 1, and finally No. 2 engine to be fired.
Lewis scribbled a note on the scratch pad for The New York Times. "Started engines at 2:27 a.m."
The copilot looked across at Tibbets, who nodded. Lewis depressed the switch on his intercom.
"This is Dimples Eight Two to North Tinian tower. Ready for taxi-out and takeoff instructions."
"Tower to Dimples Eight Two. Clear to taxi. Take off on runway A for Able."
At 2:35 a.m. the Enola Gay reached her takeoff position.
The jeep that had led the bomber there now drove down the runway, its headlights briefly illuminating the fire trucks and ambulances parked along the airstrip.
At 2:42 the jeep flashed its lights from the far end of the runway, then drove to the side.
Tibbets told Lewis to call the tower. Its response was immediate. "Tower to Dimples Eight Two. Clear for takeoff."
Tibbets made a final careful check of the instrument panel. The sixty-five-ton Enola Gay, with seven thousand gallons of fuel, a five-ton bomb, and twelve men on board, would have to build up enough engine thrust to lift an overload of fifteen thousand pounds into the air. Tibbets decided he would hold the bomber on the ground until the last moment to gain every possible knot of speed before lifting it into the air. The copilot was feeling apprehensive; he, too, knew that the Enola Gay was well overweight, and he sensed that the next few seconds "could be traumatic."
Ferebee, on the other hand, felt completely relaxed, confident that Tibbets "had worked everything out."
Van Kirk looked at the second hand of his watch as it reached 2:44 a.m. Until the bomber was actually airborne, there was nothing for him to do.
At 2:45 Tibbets said to Lewis, "Let's go!" The Enola Gay began to roll down the runway.
Tibbets kept his eye on the rpm counter and the manifold-pressure gauge. With two-thirds of the runway behind them, the counter was still below the 2550 rpm Tibbets calculated he needed for takeoff; the manifold-pressure gauge only registered 40 inches — not enough.
In the waist blister turrets, Shumard and Stiborik exchanged nervous glances. Beser smiled back at them, oblivious of any danger. Far forward, at his panel, Duzenbury stirred uneasily. He knew what Tibbets was trying to do, but found himself wondering whether Tibbets "was ever going to take her up!"
Lewis stared anxiously at the set of instruments before him. "She's too heavy!" he shouted. "Pull her off — now!"
Tibbets ignored him, holding the bomber on the runway. Instinctively, Lewis' hands reached for his control column.
"No! Leave it!" Tibbets commanded. Lewis' hands froze on the wheel.
Beser suddenly sensed the fear Stiborik and Shumard felt. He shouted "Hey, aren't we going to run out of runway soon?" Lewis glanced at Tibbets, who was staring ahead at the break in the darkness where the runway ended at the cliff's edge.
Lewis could wait no longer. But even as his hands tightened around the control column, Tibbets eased his wheel back. The Enola Gay's nose lifted, and the bomber was airborne at what seemed to Lewis the very moment that the ground disappeared beneath them and was replaced by the blackness of the sea.
Watching the takeoff from his hiding place near the peak of Mount Lasso was Warrant Officer Kizo Imai. For the past ninety minutes he had observed the lights, the flashbulbs, the cameras, the people. He could not imagine what it all meant.
The bomber that was the center of all the attention had taken off from the runway that Imai had originally helped to build.
By 2:49 a.m. The Great Artiste and No. 91 were airborne, and Special Bombing Mission No. 13 was heading for Japan.
The Enola Gay and the observer planes were on the north-by-northwest course they would maintain for the first three-hour leg, to Iwo Jima. As the Enola Gay burrowed through the Pacific night, Ferebee relaxed in his seat. There would be another six hours before his skills as bombardier would be called into use.
Beser, exhausted from over forty hours without sleep, was slumped on the floor at the back end of the tunnel, quietly snoring. He would be needed to man his electronic surveillance equipment only after the Enola Gay passed over Iwo Jima.
Apart from routine orders, Tibbets had not been exchanging a word with Lewis. Both men were aware that Lewis had tried to take over at the crucial moment of takeoff. Acting instinctively, he had in no way intended to criticize Tibbets' flying ability. But he could not bring himself to say so. And although Tibbets recognized that his co-pilot's reaction had been that "of a man used to sitting in the driver's seat," he, too, could find no way of expressing himself. And so they sat in uncomfortable silence — Tibbets flying the plane, Lewis watching the instruments and adding to the log he was keeping. "Everything went well on take-off, nothing unusual was encountered," he wrote.
Caron called Tibbets on the intercom and received permission to test his guns. He had a thousand rounds to defend the Enola Gay against attack, and now expended fifty of them, the sound rattling through the fuselage. In the darkness he watched tracers falling toward the sea. Satisfied, he crawled into the rear compartment, where Stiborik was studying photographs of Hiroshima as the city would later appear on his radar screen.
Close to 3:00 a.m. Parsons tapped Tibbets on the shoulder. "We're starting."
Tibbets nodded, switched on the low-frequency radio in the cockpit, and called the tower at North Field. "Judge going to work," he said, using Parsons' code name.
As arranged, there was no acknowledgment. But at North Field, a small group of scientists studied a copy of Parsons' checklist.
The navy officer lowered himself down through the hatch into the bomb bay. Jeppson followed him, carrying a flashlight. The two men squatted just inside the bay and faced the tail end of the bomb. Parsons took his tools out of one of the boxes that Duzenbury had kicked during his preflight check.
Ferebee left his seat and came back to watch this critical stage of the mission. To him the two men resembled car mechanics, with Jeppson handing tools to Parsons. As each stage on the checklist was reached, Parsons used the intercom to inform Tibbets, who radioed the news to Tinian. But when it carne time to insert the gunpowder and electric detonator, Tinian was out of range of Tibbets' radio. For security reasons, he decided against using Nelson's more powerful transmitter, fearing that his messages would be picked up by Japanese monitors.
At 3: 10 Parsons began the delicate procedure, working slowly and in total silence, eyes and hands concentrating on the task. Gently he placed the powder, in four sections, into position. He connected the detonator. With sixteen measured turns, he tightened the breech plate, then the armor and rear plates.
The weapon was now "final" except for the last, crucial operation, which Jeppson would perform when he returned to the bomb bay and exchanged three green safety plugs for red ones. Until that was done, the weapon could not be detonated electrically — "unless, of course, the plane ran into an electrical storm."
At 3:20 the two men climbed out of the bomb bay. Parsons went forward and informed Tibbets they had finished. Then he sat on the floor beside Jeppson, who was checking the bomb's circuits on his monitoring console.
In the cockpit, Tibbets finally broke the silence by asking his copilot what he was writing. Lewis replied he was "keeping a record." Tibbets did not pursue the matter, and the two men continued to sit, not speaking; peering into the darkness.
At 4:01 a.m. Tibbets spoke to Sweeney and to Marquardt, who were following some three miles behind in The Great Artiste and No. 91 Each reported "conditions normal."
At 4:25 Tibbets handed over the controls to Lewis, unstrapped himself, and climbed out of his seat to spend a little time with each man on the plane.
Parsons and Jeppson confirmed that the final adjustments to the bomb would be made in the last hour before the target was reached. Tibbets chatted with Duzenbury for a few minutes and then moved on to Nelson. The young radio operator hurriedly put down the paperback he was reading and reported, "Everything okay, Colonel."
Tibbets smiled and said, "I know you'll do a good job, Dick." Nelson had never felt so proud.
Tibbets next watched Van Kirk make a navigational check. Ferebee joined them, and the three men speculated as to whether cloud conditions would allow them to bomb the 'primary'. Tibbets said that whatever Eatherly reported the weather over Hiroshima to be, he would still go there first to judge for himself.
Tibbets crawled down the thirty-foot padded tunnel that connected the forward and aft compartments of the Enola Gay. In the rear compartment were Caron, Stiborik, and Shumard, along with Beser, who was still asleep.
Tibbets turned to the tail gunner. "Bob, have you figured out what we are carrying this morning?"
"Colonel, I don't want to be shot for breaking security." Tibbets smiled, recalling that September day at Wendover when Caron had promised not to "even mention I'm here."
"Bob, we're on our way now. You can talk."
Caron knew the Enola Gay was carrying a new super-explosive.
"Is it a chemist's nightmare?" he asked.
"No, not exactly."
"How about a physicist's?"
"Yes," Tibbets acknowledged, and turned to crawl back through the tunnel.
Caron reached out and tugged at his leg. "Just one question, Colonel. Are we splitting atoms?"
Tibbets stared at the tail gunner, then continued crawling up the tunnel.
Caron had recalled the phrase from a science journal he had once read. He had no idea what it meant.
Back in the cockpit, Tibbets took the controls and began the climb to nine thousand feet for the rendezvous with the two observer planes at Iwo Jima. Jeppson went into the navigator's dome; to the east he could see a waning moon flashing in and out of the cloud banks. Ahead, apart from a high, thin cirrus, the sky was cerulean. All his life Jeppson would remember the grandeur of this night as it began to fade into dawn. By the time the Enola Gay arrived over Iwo Jima, the whole sky was a pale, incandescent pink.
Exactly on time the Enola Gay reached the rendezvous point. Circling, Tibbets waited for the two observer planes. At 4:55, Japanese time, The Great Artisteand No. 91 joined the orbit, climbing up to the Enola Gay at nine thousand feet. With daybreak in full flood, the three bombers formed a loose V. Tibbets led the way toward Shikoku, one of the main islands of Japan.
Crossing the pork-chop-shaped Iwo Jima, Tibbets used his radio to call Major Bud Uanna in the communications center specially set up on the island below. "Bud, we are proceeding as planned."
Through the early-morning static came Uanna's brief response. "Good luck."
On Iwo Jima, McKnight and the crew of Top Secret relaxed. Their standby bomber was unlikely to be needed now.
At a comfortable two hundred and five miles per hour the Enola Gay, The Great Artiste, and No. 91 headed northward. Beser awakened from sleep, and Caron thrust a cup of coffee into his hands. Gulping it down, Beser checked his equipment. The dials he needed to see were arranged at eye level when he sat on the floor; instruments he would only listen to were in the racks that reached to the bomber's roof. The receivers, direction finders, spectrum analyzers, and decoders allowed him to monitor enemy fighter-control frequencies and ground defenses, as well as radar signals that could prematurely detonate the bomb. His special headset allowed him to listen to a different frequency in each ear.
Beser fiddled with the sets. Into one ear came the sounds of a ground controller on Okinawa talking down a fleet of bombers returning from a mission; in the other ear were brief air-to-air ex-changes between Superdumbos circling off the coast of Japan. Beser was relieved to hear that the rescue craft were on station.
Suddenly Beser saw the Japanese early-warning signal sweep by on a receiver dial. "It made a second sweep, and then locked onto us. I could hear the constant pulse as it continued to track us," he said later.
The element of surprise, which had been counted the Enola Gay's greatest protection, was gone.
The radar officer decided to keep the knowledge to himself.
"It wasn't Tibbets' worry at this stage. And it would be upsetting for the rest of the crew to have somebody say, 'Hey, they're watching us.' So I just used my discretion."
Sometime after 6:30 a.m., Japanese time, Jeppson edged along the catwalk in the bomb bay, moving to the middle of the bomb. Carefully he unscrewed the green plugs and inserted the red ones in their place, making the weapon viable. As he gave the last plug a final turn, even the ice-cool Jeppson had to reflect that "this was a moment."
He climbed out of the bay and reported to Parsons, who went forward and informed Tibbets. The colonel switched on the intercom and addressed the crew.
"We are carrying the world's first atomic bomb."
An audible gasp came from several of his listeners. Lewis gave a long, low whistle; now it all made sense. Tibbets continued.
"When the bomb is dropped, Lieutenant Beser will record our reactions to what we see. This recording is being made for history. Watch your language and don't clutter up the intercom."
He had a final word for Caron.
"Bob, you were right. We are splitting atoms. Now get back in your turret. We're going to start climbing."