Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

8-6 Truman makes his decision to use The Bombs

               SANTA FE – Every list of New Mexico's most important events includes The Bombs. They usually are listed as "most important." Below is a reprint from my World War II 60th anniversary series.

               At Potsdam, President Harry Truman received the news for which he had been waiting. "Operated on this morning. Results…already exceed expectations. Dr. Groves pleased." The test at Trinity Site had worked.

               Russia had been playing coy about entering the war against Japan. President Roosevelt and the Allies had been willing to accede to just about any demands to finally get Russia into the battle. To make matters worse, Japan also had been wooing Russia to enter the war on its side.

               Armed with this new information, Truman, who had not had a single war briefing prior to assuming the presidency three months earlier, entered the discussions with a banty-rooster confidence that astounded everyone. It was the beginning of his "Give-'em Hell Harry" routines.

               He let Josef Stalin know there would be no more entreaties from the United States for Russia to enter the war. Stalin knew that meant the United States had The Bomb, but he had no idea what Truman would do with it.

               There was some thought of a demonstration to show we had it, but we had broken Japan's Purple Code for top-level messages before the war even started and knew they knew we were in a race to see who could develop the bomb first.

               Japan didn't need a demonstration. Besides its diplomatic messages demonstrated that there were no circumstances under which it would surrender.

               Ever since we took Tinian, we had an airfield from which we could bomb Japan. The next steps were to take Iwo Jima and Okinawa so planes had a place to land on their return trip in case of trouble. The B-29 Superfortress was developed to fly from Tinian to Tokyo.

On a normal night's bombing run, nearly 1,000 would leave at the rate of one every 15 seconds. The bomb load was the biggest of any plane, but Gen. Curtiss LeMay kept pushing the envelope up to the point of overload. Many planes didn't make it off the ground and crashed in flames at the end of the runway.

The A bombs also were an overload so it was decided that the bomb for Hiroshima would be armed while in the air, rather than before taking off. An atomic bomb explosion on Tinian would wipe out the entire island, along with 20,000 troops and over 1,000 planes.

The crews that dropped the atomic bombs were extremely well prepared. They spent a year in training, unaware of the purpose until just before their missions.

The training unit was called the 509th Composite Bombing Group, under the command of Col Paul Tibbetts. The group trained at Wendover Air Base in Utah. After the war, it would be based at Roswell, New Mexico.

The group was a miniature, stand-alone air force and had priority over every other unit in the military. When it moved to Tinian, it had its own self-contained, air-conditioned section at a corner of the base. And no outsider was allowed through the gate, not even visiting generals.

On July 14, two days before "Fat Man" was tested in the New Mexico desert, "Little Boy" began its journey from Los Alamos to Tinian, arriving there aboard the USS Indianapolis, the fastest ship in our fleet. Four days later, the Indianapolis was torpedoed and sank.

The prime target was Kokura, but a late report of prison camps in the area shifted the target to Hiroshima. Numerous New Mexico prisoners had a ringside seat to that blast because Hiroshima also had nearby prison camps.

The year of training paid off. Last-minute preparations were almost  leisurely as Los Alamos scientists readied the bomb. The flight itself was a textbook performance. Nearly everything went just as planned.

Before the Enola Gay's historic flight, leaflets were dropped over the four possible targets, urging all civilians to evacuate. They were ignored. Forty square miles of industrial Hiroshima were leveled.


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