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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Tibbets on Hiroshima

Colonel Paul W. Tibbets piloted the Enola Gay during the 509th Composite Group‘s mission to drop the Little Boy bomb over Hiroshima. The following excerpt includes his eyewitness account of the mission

Document Type:
Paul Tibbets and Dutch Van Kirk after the Hiroshima mission. Courtesy of the Joseph Papalia Collection.

From Operational History of the 509th Bombardment

At 0245 Tinian time on Monday, 6 August 1945, Col Tibbets and crew took off in the Enola Gay. The crew consisted of the following people: SSgt George R. Caron, tail gunner; Sgt Joe S. Stiborik, radar operator; SSgt Wyatt E. Duzenbury, flight engineer; PFC Richard H. Nelson, radio operator; Sgt Robert H. Shumad, assistant engineer; Maj Thomas W. Ferebee, group bombardier; Capt Theodore J. Van Kirk, navigator; Col Paul W. Tibbets, pilot and commander; Capt Robert A. Lewis, copilot; Lt Jacob Beser, radar countermeasures officer; and weaponeers, Captain William S. Parsons (US Navy) and Lt Morris R. Jeppson. The two other 509th planes that accompanied the Enola Gay included the instrument aircraft, the Great Artiste, piloted by Major Charles Sweeney and a third B-29, equipped with photographic equipment, commanded by Major George Marquardt.

As the crew approached the mainland of Japan, the weather was clear for the visual drop requirement. Col Tibbets described the final minutes before the drop: We made the final turn to 272 degrees magnetic course for 14 minutes (72 NM). Ferebee checked the bomb sights and said “I have the aiming point in sight.” Van Kirk checked and agreed. The crew put on the dark goggles and turned on the tone for the instrument plane to know exactly when the bomb was released. Two small corrections were made and we finally released the bomb.

At precisely 0815:17 Japan time, the Enola Gay released the first atomic bomb over the target of Hiroshima. The Little Boy uranium bomb fell from 31,600 feet, detonating 43 seconds later, 600 yards in the air over the city. In a millisecond, a force of 20,000 tons of TNT was released, generating a fireball of heat equivalent to 300,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature of the ground beneath the burst reached an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 degrees Centigrade and the heat rays caused flash burns up to 13,000 feet away. Nearly 80,000 people were killed instantly, and almost every building within a 2-mile radius was obliterated.

Immediately after the release Col Tibbets said:

I made the required 155-degree turn away from the target and found my goggles made it so dark that I could not see the instruments, so I took them off. The tail gunner called, “Here it comes.” I had a peculiar taste (electrolysis) in my mouth and saw a bright hue. The first shock wave hit with a force of 2½ Gs, followed by a 2-G shock and a smaller third shock wave. It was a very sobering event, as we turned back over the target to take camera photos of the area. A boiling, tumbling, rolling cloud rose up from the ground. The cloud went up rapidly and was 10,000 feet above us and climbing by the time we had turned around. Down below all you could see was a black, boiling nest. I didn’t think about what was going on down on the ground—you need to be objective about this. I didn’t order the bomb to be dropped, but I had a mission to do.

More Historical Resources:

Tom Ferebee, Paul Tibbets, Dutch Van Kirk, and Bob Lewis. Courtesy of the Joseph Papalia Collection.

Paul Tibbets and the Enola Gay. Courtesy of the Joseph Papalia Collection.

Paul Tibbets 

Paul Tibbets with other members of the 509th.