Team Whiteman remembers 74th anniversary of atomic bombing

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Parker J. McCauley
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

Seventy four years ago, President Harry S. Truman authorized the drop of two atomic bombs, effectively ending World War II in the Pacific theater.

The 509th Composite Group, activated on December 17, 1944, specifically for these missions, flew Silverplate B-29 Superfortresses, which were specially designed with less armor and defensive armaments so they could carry the weight of the bombs.

The 393rd Bombardment Squadron (Very Heavy) was the only tactical unit in existence before the 509th CG was activated. The U.S. Army Air Force established and activated the other units that fell under the 509th CG for the express purpose of the Silverplate missions.

Historic Operations

Col. Paul Tibbets Jr., the 509th CG commander, flew the Enola Gay and dropped the atomic bomb codenamed “Little Boy” on August 6, 1945 on Hiroshima, Japan.

On August 9, 1945, members of the 509th CG flew Bockscar over Nagasaki, Japan, and dropped the atomic bomb codenamed “Fatman”.

According to the History of the 509th CG, the primary target of Atomic Bombing Mission Number 1, was Hiroshima; with Nagasaki as an alternate.

The document provided a detailed account of the bombing of Hiroshima.

“The two escort planes, commanded by Major Sweeney and Captain Marquardt, observed the explosion through protective goggles,” the document reads. “They reported the flash after the explosion was deep purple, then reddish and reached almost 8,000 feet; the cloud, shaped like a mushroom, was up to 20,000 feet in one minute, at which time the top part broke from the ‘stem’, and eventually reached 30,000.”

The document continued their account of the explosion.

“The stem of the mushroom-like column of smoke, looking now like a giant grave marker, stood one minute after the explosion upon the whole area of the city, excepting the southern dock area,” according to the History of the 509th Composite Group. “This column was a thick white smoke, darker at the base, and interspersed with deep red.”  

The bombing destroyed large portions of Hiroshima, including a number of strategic targets such as the Army Division Headquarters and the Teikoku Textile Mill.

The mission targeting Nagasaki was originally intended to target Kokura after reports of clear weather from the weather reconnaissance crew. By the time  Maj. Charles Sweeney, aircraft commander of the Bockscar flew overhead, however, the cloud coverage was too heavy to allow for the requirement of visual bombing. He then diverted to the secondary target, Nagasaki.

The bomb hit approximately 500 feet south of the Mitsubishi plant in the target area. The Mitsubishi-Murakami Ordnance plant was destroyed along with 18 of the 21 smaller industries known to be in the area at the time.

“But the important damage went deeper than that,” according to the History of the 509th Composite Group. “Japan knew now that the atomic bomb apparently was available for continued use against her. Several days thereafter, terming it ‘national suicide’ to continue the struggle. Japan accepted the terms of unconditional surrender as defined in the now famous Potsdam Ultimatum.”

The Aftermath

The Red Army of the Soviet Union attacked the Imperial Japanese forces on August 9, 1945, across the frontier with Manchukuo, the Japanese puppet state in Manchuria in north-eastern China. The invasion crushed Japanese forces within the region and captured significant portions of land which would later set original frontlines for both the Chinese Civil War and the Korean War.

The 509th CG dropped a number of the ‘pumpkin’ bombs on Japan as their last operation of the war on August 14, 1945.

Japan announced their intention to surrender and capitulated on August 15, 1945 after an attempted military coup d’etat.

The Empire of Japan officially surrendered to the United States through Gen. of the Army Douglas MacArthur on the deck of the U.S.S. Missouri on September 2, 1945, in the Tokyo bay.

The Cold War began shortly after World War Two ended.

The 509th Composite Group eventually transformed into the 509th Bomb Wing following the war.

Heritage on Display

The 509th BW patch retains the double mushroom cloud due to it being the only unit to ever use nuclear weapons in combat.

 Several of the Silverplate B-29s are on display today. Enola Gay is located at the National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Washington, D.C., Bockscar is located at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

The 509th BW displays a B-29 painted to look like The Great Artiste at the Spirit Gate at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.

The original aircraft crash landed in 1949 in Labrador, Canada, and was scrapped despite its historical significance.