In Washington, Admiral Leahy, Chief of Staff to President
Truman, upon learning of the existence of a "special" bomb, remarked,
"This is the biggest fool thing we have ever done. The bomb will never
go off, and I speak as an expert on explosives."
A debate broke out among U. S. military planners over whether Japan
should be defeated by attrition or direct attack. General MacArthur and
Admiral Nimitz favored a direct assault. The Joint Chiefs of Staff
scheduled an invasion of Kyushu for October 1, 1945. It was estimated
that 1,500,000 troops, 36 divisions would be required with full
knowledge that causalities would be heavy.
Two days before the search effort for survivors of the Indianapolis
ended, a B-29 stationed on Tinian was positioned over a hole in the
ground about the size of a grave where the cargo delivered by the
Indianapolis would be lifted into the bomb-bay of an aircraft named the
Enola Gay. On August 6th, Colonel Paul Tibbets, of the 509th bomber
group and pilot of the Enola Gay, received his orders and in the early
morning hours roared down a runway built only a year before by the 107th
Naval Construction Battalion, bound for Hiroshima. The cargo the
Indianapolis delivered to Tinian would soon create an event that would
change the world. However, the men in the water still awaiting rescue,
knew nothing of the fate of Hiroshima and they waited only for their own
fate to deliver them from the torture they were experiencing, even if it
meant death. Fate had also cheated Japan, as the course of history might
have been changed had the I-58 sunk the Indianapolis and its secret
cargo before it reached Tinian.
The B-29-45-MD (# 44-86292) Superfortress lifted off Tinian at 2:45
a. m., August 6, 1945 for the six and one half hour flight to Hiroshima.
At 31,600 feet, with a ground speed of 328 m.p.h., a bomb weighing 9,700
pounds, measuring 129 inches in length, with a diameter of 31.5 inches,
containing 137.5 pounds of Uranium 235 was released and split into two
sections. After falling to an altitude of 800 feet, nuclear fission
began in one fifteen-hundredth of a micro-second. The firebomb that
erupted was the equivalent of thirteen thousand tons of T.N.T. and
thousands of degrees hotter than the surface of the sun. It melted
granite and vaporized people leaving only their shadows on the few
remaining buildings left standing in the city after the blast. This
single bomb left 118,661 dead, 30,524 severely injured, 48,606 slightly
injured and 3,677 missing. It exploded with the temperature of the
fireball at the outer edge reaching 1,800 degrees centigrade 15
milliseconds after the explosion, with the velocity of the shock at 100
meters per second one thousand meters from the epicenter. When released
over the city the temperature, at the instant of the detonation, reached
several million degrees. A few millionths of a second later the
surrounding air reached the point of white hot heat and in 1/10,000 of a
second an immense fireball was formed with a uniform temperature of
about 300,000 degrees. In less than one minute the atomic cloud had
reached a height of more than one half mile. At the hypocenter, iron
melted. Within nine hundred feet of the hypocenter the surface of
granite melted. Within one mile, railroad ties, fences and trees
ignited spontaneously. The fireball as seen from a distance of five and
one half miles from the point of burst had a luminosity ten times that
of the sun.
On August 9th, a second bomb, code named “Fat Man”, which was a
plutonium device and carried by the B-29, Bock’s Car, had as its
primary target the city of Kokura but bad weather forced the pilot to
the alternate target of Nagasaki. It was this second device detonated
over Nagasaki that finally convinced the Japanese that the war was lost
and surrender followed on August 15, 1945. The formal ceremonies aboard
the Battleship U. S. S. Missouri occurred on September 2, 1945 in Tokyo
By the time the war ended, fragments of the Japanese Army were
scattered and marooned on dozens of islands throughout the Pacific and
the Imperial Navy was at the bottom of the sea. As Admiral Toyoda
remarked, "I do not believe it would be accurate to look upon the atomic
bomb and the entry of Soviet Russia as direct causes of the termination
of the war. But I do think those two factors did enable us to bring the
war to an end without creating utter chaos in Japan."
The country was already in a chaotic state. The military was
impotent; the economy was wrecked and financially bankrupt. Starvation,
death and tragedy were everywhere in Japan. As Theodore Roscoe wrote in
his U. S. Naval Institute book,Submarine Operations, "The holocaustal
incandescence which consumed Hiroshima and Nagasaki could not blind
observers to the fact that the maritime Empire was already destroyed.
And long before the first mass air-raids smote Tokyo, many Japanese-held
harbors in the Southwest Pacific were as deserted as the bays of the
moon, and in many of Japan's home seaports there were vacant docks with
rusting bollards where only spiders tied their lines. The atomic bomb
was the funeral pyre of an enemy who had drowned."
It was finally over. More than a thousands days of war had ended
and the occupation of Japan began.
Captain Hashimoto was ordered to the United States after the war
to testify at Captain McVay's Court Martial. McVay was accused of
failing to zigzag during war-time conditions and for failure to issue
the abandon ship command in a timely manner.
The former submarine captain was flown to the United States and on
December 13, 1945 testified as to the events surrounding the sinking of
the Indianapolis. He later described his visit to the United States as
“pleasant”. Soon after the end of the war he became a Shinto Priest.
Captain McVay was later vindicated from any blame concerned with
the loss of his ship. All personnel involved in the failure to report
the ship's absence from Leyte were also exonerated. On November 6, 1968
in Litchfield, Connecticut, McVay committed suicide. He was found with a
pistol in one hand and a toy sailor attached to a key ring in the other.
The account of the sinking
of the Indianapolis recorded in the
Photos courtesy of: U.S. Natioal Archive