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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Enola Gay ! Paul Tibbets ~ and the tragic bombing of Hiroshima - an attack on humanity

The World of cinema is omnivorous – it has swallowed almost every subject from the trivial to great historical events, and then spewed them up.  Perhaps this tragic event was never taken as the core theme of a movie – heard of Enola Gay ?

In the 1980s, the Smithsonian began restoring the Enola Gay -  Over the years it had been disassembled, spread across multiple buildings, birds had nested in its engines, a turret had been smashed, its wheels had decayed, and its parts were corroded from being left out in the wind, sun and rain. Yet, workers invested an estimated 300,000 hours on the task, sorting through countless parts and polishing its aluminum skin until the iconic B-29 Superfortress — one of the most (in)famous planes in the world — once more took shape.

It is a Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber, named ‘Enola Gay’afterthe mother of the pilot, Colonel Paul Tibbets, who selected the aircraft while it was still on the assembly line. 70 years ago, on6th August 1945, during the final stages of World War II, it became the first aircraft to drop an atomic bomb. The bomb, code-named "Little Boy",  targetted  the city ofHiroshima, Japan, and caused unprecedented destruction. Enola Gay participated in the second atomic attack as the weather reconnaissance aircraft for the primary target of Kokura. Clouds and drifting smoke resulted in Nagasaki being bombed instead.

Paul Warfield Tibbets, Jr. (1915 – 2007), was a brigadier general in the United States Air Force. He  was the  pilot who flew the Enola Gay that  dropped Little Boy, the first atomic bomb used in warfare, on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.

After the war, the Enola Gay returned to the United States, where it was operated from Roswell Army Air Field, New Mexico. It was flown to Kwajalein for the Operation Crossroads nuclear tests in the Pacific.  Later  it was transferred to the Smithsonian Institution, and spent many years parked at air bases exposed to the weather and souvenir hunters, before being disassembled and transported to the Smithsonian's storage facility at Suitland, Maryland, in 1961. In the 1980s, attempts were made to put the aircraft on display, leading to an acrimonious debate about exhibiting the aircraft without a proper historical context. The cockpit and nose section of the aircraft were exhibited at the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) in downtown Washington, D.C., for the bombing's 50th anniversary in 1995, amid a storm of controversy. Since 2003, the entire restored B-29 has been on display at NASM's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. The last survivor of its crew, Theodore Van Kirk, died on July 28, 2014, at the age of 93.

On 5 August 1945, during preparation for the first atomic mission, Tibbets assumed command of the aircraft and named it after his mother, Enola Gay Tibbets, who had herself been named for the heroine of a novel. The name was painted on the aircraft on 5 August by Allan L. Karl, an enlisted man in the 509th. Hiroshima was the primary target of the first nuclear bombing mission on 6 August, with Kokura and Nagasaki as alternative targets. Enola Gay, piloted by Tibbets, took off from North Field, in the Mariana Islands, about six hours' flight time from Japan, accompanied by two other B-29s, The Great Artiste, carrying instrumentation, and a then-nameless aircraft later called Necessary Evil, commanded by Captain George Marquardt, to take photographs. The director of the Manhattan Project, Major General Leslie R. Groves, Jr., wanted the event recorded for posterity, so the takeoff was illuminated by floodlights. Tibbets reportedly even leaned out the window and waved for the cameras.

The great disaster – the mindless killing of mankind, went as planned at 08:15 (Hiroshima time) went as planned, and the Little Boy took 43 seconds to fall from the aircraft flying at 31,060 feet (9,470 m) to the predetermined detonation height about 1,968 feet (600 m) above the city. Enola Gay traveled 11.5 mi (18.5 km) before it felt the shock waves from the blast.  The detonation created a blast equivalent to 16 kilotons of TNT.  The radius of total destruction was about one mile (1.6 km), with resulting fires across 4.4 square miles (11 km2). Americans estimated that 4.7 square miles (12 km2) of the city were destroyed. Japanese officials determined that 69% of Hiroshima's buildings were destroyed and  70,000–80,000 people, or some 30% of the city's population, were killed by the blast and resultant firestorm, and another 70,000 injured.

The return to base of Enola Gay was celebrated with fanfare.  Tibbets was the first to disembark, and was presented with the Distinguished Service Cross on the spot. The killings were to continue – Hiroshima was to be followed by another disaster - originally scheduled for 11 August, it was brought forward by two days to 9 August owing to bad weather.

There were critics of the planned exhibit of Enola Gay too.  It brought o global attention many long-standing academic and political issues related to retrospective views of the bombings. Sad, that so many people were killed and the killers and killings  are being celebrated as part of history.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

4th Aug 2015.

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