IN THE first millisecond after 8: 16 a.m., a pinprick of purplish red light expanded to a glowing fireball hundreds of feet wide. The temperature at its core was 50 million degrees centigrade. At ground zero—the Shima clinic—directly beneath the detonation, the temperature reached several thousand degrees centigrade.
Of the estimated 320,000 civilians and soldiers in the city, some 80,000 were killed instantly or seriously wounded. Most deaths occurred in the four square miles around the Aioi Bridge, containing the city's principal residential, commercial, and military quarters. About one-third of the casualties were soldiers.
The stone columns flanking the entrance to the Shima clinic were rammed straight down into the ground. The entire building collapsed, its occupants vaporized.
The flash heat started fires a mile away, and it burned skin two miles distant.
Out of a total of 76,327 buildings, 70,000 were destroyed. All utilities and transportation services were wrecked. Over 70,000 breaks occurred in the water mains. Only sixteen pieces of fire-fighting equipment survived to plug into the ruptured system.
Two hundred and seventy of the city's 298 doctors, and 1654 of its 1780 nurses, were killed or injured. Only three of the city's fifty-five hospitals and first-aid centers remained usable.
The largest single group of casualties occurred around Hiroshima Castle, about nine hundred yards from the epicenter, where, out in the open, several thousand soldiers and one American POW were directly exposed to the blast. They were incinerated, their charred bodies burned into the parade ground. A similar fate be-fell thousands of others laboring on the fire lanes.
Hiroshima Castle was totally destroyed. The mortality rate for its occupants was about 90 percent. Among the casualties were the schoolgirls on duty in the communications center, and most, although apparently not all, of the American POWs.
The extreme temperatures set alight Radio Hiroshima and burned out trolley cars, trucks, and railroad rolling stock. Stone walls, steel doors, and asphalt pavements glowed red-hot. The heat burned the black lettering from books and newspapers, and fused clothing to skin. More than a mile from the epicenter men had their caps etched onto their scalps, women their kimono patterns imprinted on their bodies, children their socks burned onto their legs.
The blast clogged six of the city's sewer pumping stations, affected the water table beneath the ground, and sent a whirlwind of glass through the area of destruction.
Almost all of this happened in the time it took Bob Caron to blink shut behind his goggles—his first, invol untary response to the flash.
Every man in the Enola Gay saw the light and was overwhelmed by its intensity.
Tibbets could taste the brilliance. "It tasted like lead."
An ethereal glow illuminated the instruments in the cockpit, on Duzenbury's panel, on Nelson's radio, on the racks of instruments before Beser.
By the time Caron opened his eyes, the flash had gone. Taking its place was something equally stunning. It was, in Caron's words, "a peep into hell."
A Fire storm raged in Hiroshima. From within an area now over a mile wide, a monstrous, seething mass of red and purple began to rise into the sky; the column was sucking into its base superheated air, which set fire to everything combustible.
Lieutenant Colonel Oya recovered consciousness to find himself lying face down on the floor in the devastated Second General Army Headquarters. The blast had hurled Oya ten feet from the window, and the heat rays had severely burned the back of his head and neck. Blood oozed from his skin where it was punctured by slivers of glass.
On Mount Futaba, slightly farther away, Second Lieutenant Yokoyama had no recollection of the initial flash, the searing blast of heat. His first memory was of standing, almost naked, outside his quarters, brandishing his ceremonial sword and screaming for his gun crews to open fire. But there was nothing for them to shoot at. Yokoyama turned to look down on Hiroshima and became aware of "a strange dense fog enveloping the city."
About one mile from ground zero, Kazumasa Maruyama had been felled by a stone pillar. When he regained consciousness, darkness was descending on Hiroshima as the great mushroom cloud blotted out daylight. Staggering to his feet, Maruyama stumbled back to his home. He would remember nothing of the journey.
Not far from where Maruyama fell was the man he had served so faithfully—Mayor Awaya. The mayor's house was wrecked and on fire. Mayor Awaya, his thirteen-year-old son, and three-year-old granddaughter had been killed instantly; his wife would die later. The following day Maruyama would dig out of the smoldering ruins what remained of the mayor's body.
FROM HIS VANTAGE point in the tail of the Enola Gay, Bob Caron was the first to see a frightening phenomenon developing. A great, circular mass of air was rising, traveling at the speed of sound, toward the Enola Gay. Stupefied, the tail gunner shouted a warning, but his words were unintelligible.
Caron was the first man ever to witness an atomic bomb's shock wave, created by air being so compressed that it seemed to take on physical form. It looked to Caron as if "the ring around some distant planet had detached itself and was coming up toward us."
He yelled again. At the same time, the great circle of air smashed against the Enola Gay, bouncing the plane higher. Tibbets grabbed the controls. But it was the noise accompanying the shock wave that caused him the greatest concern. Remembering his bombing missions over Europe, he thought that "an eighty-eight-millimeter shell had exploded" right beside him. He immediately shouted, "Flak!"
Ferebee, too, thought they were being shot at.
The two battle-hardened veterans frantically searched the sky for smoke puffs. Pandemonium broke out in the bomber. In less than four seconds, above the cacophony of voices on the intercom, Caron screamed, "There's another one coming!"
With a spine-jarring crash, the second wall of air hit the Enola Gay. Once more the bomber was tossed upward, tipping Nelson half out of his seat and sending Beser tumbling.
As quickly as it had arrived, the shock wave passed. The Enola Gay was back in calm air.
Tibbets addressed the crew. "Okay. That was the reflected shock wave, bounced back from the ground. There won't be any more. It wasn't flak. Stay calm. Now, let's get these recordings going. Beser, you set?"
"I want you to go around to each of the crew and record their impressions. Keep it short, and keep it clean. Bob, start talking."
"Gee, Colonel. It's just spectacular."
"Just describe what you can see. Imagine you're doing a radio broadcast."
With the Enola Gay beginning to orbit at 29,200 feet, eleven miles from Hiroshima, the tail gunner produced a vivid eyewitness account.
"A column of smoke rising fast. It has a fiery red core. A bubbling mass, purple-gray in color, with that red core. It's all turbulent. Fires are springing up everywhere, like flames shooting out of a huge bed of coals. I am starting to count the fires. One, two, three, four, five, six ... fourteen, fifteen ... it's impossible. There are too many to count. Here it comes, the mushroom shape that Captain Parsons spoke about. . . . It's like a mass of bubbling molasses. The mushroom is spreading out. It's maybe a mile or two wide and half a mile high. It's nearly level with us and climbing. It's very black, but there is a purplish tint to the cloud. The base of the mushroom looks like a heavy undercast that is shot through with flames. The city must be below that. The flames and smoke are billowing out, whirling out into the foothills. All I can see now of the city is the main dock and what looks like an airfield."
In a wide orbit the plane circled the cloud as it climbed toward sixty thousand feet. Tibbets was "surprised, even shocked. I had been expecting to see something big, but what is big? What I saw was of a magnitude and carried with it a connotation of destruction bigger than I had really imagined."
Beser confined himself to a few words for posterity. "It's pretty terrific. What a relief it worked." Nelson, Shumard, and Duzenbury used such words as "just awesome," "unbelievable," "stunning," and "shattering" to convey what they saw. Stiborik thought, "This is the end of the war." Ferebee and Parsons were too busy preparing the strike report to record their impressions.
In the tail, Caron took the photographs that would be used around the world, as the Enola Gay completed its first circle around the stricken city.
At HIROSHIMA Airport, Second Lieutenant Matsuo Yasuzawa emerged from the communications center and saw the Enola Gay, The Great Artiste, and No. 91 as three specks in the smoke-filled sky. "Humiliated and furious" that they had not yet been attacked by fighters or anti-aircraft fire, he determined to go after them.
Weaving his way past burning fuel trucks and aircraft, he ran toward the training plane he had landed in Hiroshima less than one hour before. Every plane he passed was severely damaged.
The airfield was over two miles from the epicenter, and the force of the explosion was largely spent by the time it struck the base. Even so, hardly a window was left intact, and many buildings suffered structural damage.
Yasuzawa reached his plane panting, out of breath, and shook his head in wonderment.
The plane was bent like a banana.
It had been broadside to the shock wave, which had blown out all the glass along one side of the cockpit and reshaped the fuselage into a shallow C. The tail was swung ten degrees off true, and the nose was similarly bent.
Yasuzawa climbed into the cockpit and pressed the starter button. The engine kicked and, incredibly, sputtered into life.
Then Yasuzawa saw a sight that made him shudder. Coming onto the airfield was the vanguard of a procession of "living corpses." Bleeding and blackened, their skins hanging in shreds, their hair scorched to the roots, the first survivors were seeking sanctuary. Many were naked, their clothes burned from their bodies. Some of the women carried babies.
Horrified, Yasuzawa looked away. There was now a new thought in his mind: He had to get out and report what had happened to Hiroshima.
He taxied his plane slowly to the runway, revved the engine, and released the brakes. When he pulled back the stick, the bent trainer sidled uncertainly into the air. Yasuzawa held it about three feet off the ground for a moment, then touched down again.
Now confident the plane would fly, he taxied back to the other end of the runway and was about to take off when out of the murk stumbled the officer he had flown earlier to Hiroshima. The officer insisted on going along. The pilot pointed to the precarious state of the plane, but the major would not be put off. He climbed into the seat behind Yasuzawa.
With both men leaning hard to the left, sheltering behind what little glass remained on that side of the cockpit, the misshapen trainer moved, crablike, down the runway. Almost at the end, Yasuzawa pulled back the stick, and the plane skewed into the air.
Over Hiroshima harbor, Yasuzawa turned back toward the city and the smoke. He knew that if he made one false move on the controls, "the plane would flip over and that would be the end."
As the plane climbed, the wind howled through the open cockpit. Yasuzawa, concentrating on keeping his distorted plane in the air, was conscious only of "a thick haze, dust and smoke and flames."
At two thousand feet he leveled out to do what Tibbets had done at a higher altitude—circle the city to estimate the damage. But where the Enola Gay had remained well clear of the cloud, Yasuzawa was now flying in and out of it, unaware of the risk to which he was subjecting himself and his passenger.
After about five minutes' reconnaissance, the intrepid pilot put the crippled plane on course for his air base, a hundred miles away.
There, after completing one of the most unusual flights in the history of aviation, he would exchange his extraordinary-looking aircraft for a transport plane and spend the rest of the day ferrying survivors out of Hiroshima.
ABOARD the Enola Gay, Nelson had already sent word that the mission was a success. Now Parsons handed him a second message that, when decoded, would tell General Farrell, waiting anxiously in the 509th's operations room on Tinian, the news he had been waiting hours to hear.
CLEAR CUT. SUCCESSFUL IN ALL RESPECTS. VISIBLE EFFECTS GREATER THAN ALAMOGORDO. CONDITIONS NORMAL IN AIRPLANE FOLLOWING DELIVERY. PROCEEDING TO BASE.
After a third and final circle around Hiroshima, Tibbets put the Enola Gay on course for Tinian. The Great Artiste and No. 91 formed up behind, and the three bombers headed down the "Hirohito Highway" for home.
CAPTAIN Mitsuo Fuchida, returning to Hiroshima in his navy fighter-bomber, wondered what force had created the strange cloud hovering over the city. He called the airport's control tower. There was no reply.
As he got closer, Fuchida saw that Hiroshima, the city he had left only the afternoon before, "was simply not there anymore. Huge fires rose up in all quarters. But most of these fires seemed not to be consuming buildings; they were consuming debris."
Fuchida would have no conscious recollection of landing his plane on the runway—the same one from which Yasuzawa had made his epic takeoff. His next memory would be of walking toward the airport exit, immaculately dressed in his white uniform, shoes, and gloves, and coming face-to-face with "a procession of people who seemed to have come out of hell."
Horrified, Fuchida walked into Hiroshima. The dead and the dying clogged the gutters; floated in the rivers, blocked the streets. Near the city's center, whole areas had simply disappeared; only the Industry Promotion Hall was still standing, with its dome completely burned out. Utterly depressed and exhausted by what he saw, Fuchida wandered aimlessly through the wasteland.
THE Enola Gay was three hundred and sixty-three miles from Hiroshima when Caron reported that the mushroom cloud was no longer visible. Only then did Tibbets catnap, leaving Lewis to fly the plane.
At 2:20 p.m., Tinian time, Tibbets was awakened by General Farrell calling from North Field tower to offer his congratulations. Refreshed after a can of fruit juice, Tibbets took over flying the bomber. At 2:58 the Enola Gay touched down at North Field. She had been in the air for just over twelve hours.
Two hundred officers and men were crowded on the macadam to greet her. Thousands more lined the taxiways. They cheered when Tibbets led the crew down through the hatch behind the nose wheel. All were swamped by cameramen and well-wishers.
General Spaatz walked up to Tibbets and pinned the Distinguished Service Cross on the breast of his coveralls. An officer took Caron's camera. The film was processed and rushed to Washington for worldwide distribution. Another officer took Beser's recorder.
The debriefing was a relaxed, informal affair, helped along by generous shots of bourbon and free cigarettes. By the time it was over, a welcome party, prepared by Mess Officer Perry, was in full swing.
Somehow, it didn't seem to matter. All Paul Tibbets and the other men on the Enola Gay wanted to do was sleep.
|« NEXT »||« Ruin from the Air »||« History »||« Library »|