Although this is a well-documented story, it has a few new nuggets.
An extremely Interesting dialog!
Scroll to the end for the pilots best
conclusions. Excellent read!!
Here's a bit of American history yet to reach the history books -- an
2002 interview by writer Studs Terkel with Paul Tibbets, the pilot of
B-29 that dropped the first atom bomb. It's fascinating.
Studs was a Chicago based newspaper & TV columnist and I read some
stuff in which he was a working mans historian.
The Manhattan Project (Off-The-Cuff Interview)
Studs Terkel: We're seated here, two old gaffers. Me and Paul Tibbets,
years old, brigadier-general retired, in his home town of Columbus, Ohio,
where has lived for many years.
Paul Tibbets: Hey, you've got to correct that. I'm only 87. You said
ST: I know. See, I'm 90. So I got you beat by three years. Now we've
a nice lunch, you and I and your companion. I noticed as we sat in that
restaurant, people passed by. They didn't know who you were. But once
a time, you flew a plane called the Enola Gay over the city of Hiroshima,
Japan, on a Sunday morning - August 6 1945 - and a bomb fell. It was the
atomic bomb, the first ever. And that particular moment changed the whole
world around. You were the pilot of that plane.
PT: Yes, I was the pilot.
ST: And the Enola Gay was named after...
PT: My mother. She was Enola Gay Haggard before she married my dad, and
dad never supported me with the flying - he hated airplanes and motorcycles.
When I told them I was going to leave college and go fly planes in the
Air Corps, my dad said, "Well, I've sent you through school, bought
automobiles, given you money to run around with the girls, but from here
you're on your own. If you want to go kill yourself, go ahead, I don't
a damn." Then Mom just quietly said, "Paul, if you want to go
airplanes, you're going to be all right." And that was that.
ST: Where was that?
PT: Well, that was Miami, Florida. My dad had been in the real estate
business down there for years, and at that time he was retired. And I
going to school at Gainesville, Florida, but I had to leave after two
and go to Cincinnati because Florida had no medical school.
ST: You were thinking of being a doctor?
PT: I didn't think that, my father thought it. He said, "You're
going to be
a doctor," and I just nodded my head and that was it. And I started
that way; but about a year before, I was able to get into an airplane,
it - I soloed - and I knew then that I had to go fly airplanes.
ST: Now by 1944 you were a pilot - a test pilot on the program to develop
the B-29 bomber. When did you get word that you had a special assignment?
PT: One day [in September 1944] I'm running a test on a B-29, I land,
meets me. He says he just got a call from General Uzal Ent [commander
the Second Air Force] at Colorado Springs, he wants me in his office the
next morning at nine o'clock. He said, "Bring your clothing - your
B4 bag -
because you're not coming back." Well, I didn't know what it was
pay any attention to it - it was just another assignment.
I got to Colorado Springs the next morning perfectly on time. A man named
Lansdale met me, walked me to General Ent's office and closed the door
behind me. With him was a man wearing a blue suit, a US Navy captain -
was William Parsons, who flew with me to Hiroshima - and Dr Norman Ramsey,
Columbia University professor in nuclear physics. And Norman said: "OK,
we've got what we call the Manhattan Project. What we're doing is trying
develop an atomic bomb. We've gotten to the point now where we can't go
much further till we have airplanes to work with."
He gave me an explanation which probably lasted 45, 50 minutes, and they
left. General Ent looked at me and said, "The other day, General
[Commander General of the Army Air Corps] offered me three names."
the others were full colonels; I was a lieutenant-colonel. He said that
when General Arnold asked which of them could do this atomic weapons deal,
he replied without hesitation, "Paul Tibbets is the man to do it."
"Well, thank you, sir." Then he laid out what was going on and
it was up to
me now to put together an organisation and train them to drop atomic weapons
on both Europe and the Pacific - Tokyo.
ST: Interesting that they would have dropped it on Europe as well. We
didn't know that.
PT: My edict was as clear as could be. Drop simultaneously in Europe
the Pacific because of the secrecy problem - you couldn't drop it in one
part of the world without dropping it in the other. And so he said, "I
don't know what to tell you, but I know you happen to have B-29s to start
with. I've got a squadron in training in Nebraska - they have the best
record so far of anybody we've got. I want you to go visit them, look
them, talk to them, do whatever you want. If they don't suit you, we'll
you some more." He said: "There's nobody could tell you what
you have to do
because nobody knows. If we can do anything to help you, ask me."
"Thank you very much." He said, "Paul, be careful how you
responsibility, because if you're successful you'll probably be called
hero. And if you're unsuccessful, you might wind up in prison."
ST: Did you know the power of an atomic bomb? Were you told about that?
PT: No, I didn't know anything at that time. But I knew how to put an
organisation together. He said, "Go take a look at the bases, and
back and tell me which one you want." I wanted to get back to Grand
Nebraska, that's where my wife and two kids were, where my laundry was
and all that stuff. But I thought, "Well, I'll go to Wendover [Army
Airfield, in Utah] first and see what they've got." As I came in
hills, I saw it was a beautiful spot. It had been a final staging place
units that were going through combat crew training, and the guys ahead
were the last P-47 fighter outfit. This lieutenant-colonel in charge said,
"We've just been advised to stop here and I don't know what you want
do... but if it has anything to do with this base, it's the most perfect
base I've ever been on. You've got full machine shops, everybody's
qualified, they know what they want to do. It's a good place."
ST: And now you chose your own crew.
PT: Well, I had mentally done it before that. I knew right away I was
to get Tom Ferebee [the Enola Gay's bombardier] and Theodore "Dutch"
Kirk [navigator] and Wyatt Duzenbury [flight engineer].
ST: Guys you had flown with in Europe?
ST: And now you're training. And you're also talking to physicists like
Robert Oppenheimer [senior scientist on the Manhattan project].
PT: I think I went to Los Alamos [the Manhattan project HQ] three times,
each time I got to see Dr Oppenheimer working in his own environment.
Later, thinking about it, here's a young man, a brilliant person. And
a chain smoker and he drinks cocktails. And he hates fat men. And General
Leslie Groves [the general in charge of the Manhattan project], he's a
man, and he hates people who smoke and drink. The two of them are the
first, original odd couple.
ST: They had a feud, Groves and Oppenheimer?
PT: Yeah, but neither one of them showed it. Each one of them had a job
ST: Did Oppenheimer tell you about the destructive nature of the bomb?
ST: How did you know about that?
PT: From Dr Ramsey. He said "The only thing we can tell you about
it's going to explode with the force of 20,000 tons of TNT." I'd
1 lb of TNT blow up. I'd never heard of anybody who'd seen 100 lbs of
blow up. All I felt was that this was gonna be one hell of a big bang.
ST: Twenty thousand tons - that's equivalent to how many planes full
PT: Well, I think the two bombs that we used [at Hiroshima and Nagasaki]
more power than all the bombs the Air Force had used during the war on
ST: So Ramsey told you about the possibilities.
PT: Even though it was still theory, whatever those guys told me, that's
what happened. So I was ready to say I wanted to go to war, but I wanted
ask Oppenheimer how to get away from the bomb after we dropped it. I told
him that when we had dropped bombs in Europe and North Africa, we'd flown
straight ahead after dropping them - which is also the trajectory of the
bomb. But what should we do this time? He said, "You can't fly straight
ahead because you'd be right over the top when it blows up and nobody
ever know you were there." He said I had to turn tangential to the
expanding shockwave. I said, "Well, I've had some trigonometry, some
physics. What is tangency in this case?" He said it was 159 degrees
either direction. "Turn 159 degrees as fast as you can and you'll
to put yourself the greatest distance from where the bomb exploded."
ST: How many seconds did you have to make that turn?
PT: I had dropped enough practice bombs to realize that the charges would
blow around 1,500 ft up in the air, so I would have 40 to 42 seconds to
159 degrees. I went back to Wendover as quick as I could and took the
airplane up. I got myself to 25,000 ft, and I practiced turning, steeper,
steeper, steeper and I got it where I could pull it round in 40 seconds.
The tail was shaking dramatically and I was afraid of it breaking off,
didn't quit. That was my goal. And I practiced and practiced until,
without even thinking about it, I could do it in between 40 and 42 seconds,
all the time. So, when that day came...
ST: You got the go-ahead on August 5.
PT: Yeah. We were in Tinian [the US island base in the Pacific] at the
we got the OK. They had sent this Norwegian to the weather station out
Guam [the US's westernmost territory] and I had a copy of his report.
said that, based on his forecast, the sixth day of August would be the
day that we could get over Honshu [the island on which Hiroshima stands].
So we did everything that had to be done to get the crews ready to go:
airplane loaded, crews briefed, all of the things checked that you have
check before you can fly over enemy territory.
General Groves had a brigadier-general who was connected back to Washington
DC by a special teletype machine. He stayed close to that thing all the
time, notifying people back there, all by code, that we were preparing
airplanes to go any time after midnight on the sixth. And that's the way
worked out. We were ready to go at about four o'clock in the afternoon
the fifth and we got word from the President that we were free to go:
'em as you wish." They give you a time you're supposed to drop your
target and that was 9:15 in the morning, but that was Tinian time, one
later than Japanese time. I told Dutch, "You figure it out what time
have to start after midnight to be over the target at 9 am."
ST: That'd be Sunday morning.
PT: Well, we got going down the runway at right about 2:15 am and we
off, we met our rendezvous guys, we made our flight up to what we call
initial point, that would be a geographic position that you could not
mistake. Well, of course we had the best one in the world with the rivers
and bridges and that big shrine. There was no mistaking what it was.
ST: So you had to have the right navigator to get it on the button.
PT: The airplane has a bomb sight connected to the autopilot and the
bombardier puts figures in there for where he wants to be when he drops
weapon, and that's transmitted to the airplane. We always took into account
what would happen if we had a failure and the bomb bay doors didn't open:
had a manual release put in each airplane so it was right down by the
bombardier and he could pull on that. And the guys in the airplanes that
followed us, to drop the monitoring instruments, needed to know when it
going to go. We were told not to use the radio, but, hell, I had to. I
told them I would say, "One minute out," "Thirty seconds
seconds" and "Ten" and then I'd count, "Nine, eight,
seven, six, five, four
seconds", which would give them a time to drop their cargo. They
was going on because they knew where we were. And that's exactly the way
worked, it was absolutely perfect.
After we got the airplanes in formation, I crawled into the tunnel and
back to tell the men. I said, "You know what we're doing today?"
said, "Well, yeah, we're going on a bombing mission." I said,
going on a bombing mission, but it's a little bit special." My tailgunner,
Bob Caron, was pretty alert. He said, "Colonel, we wouldn't be playing
atoms today, would we?" I said, "Bob, you've got it just exactly
So I went back up in the front end and I told the navigator, bombardier,
flight engineer, in turn. I said, "OK, this is an atom bomb we're
dropping." They listened intently but I didn't see any change in
faces or anything else. Those guys were no idiots. We'd been fiddling
round with the most peculiar-shaped things we'd ever seen.
So we're coming down. We get to that point where I say "One second,"
the time I'd got that second out of my mouth, the airplane had lurched
because 10,000lbs had come out of the front. I'm in this turn now, tight
I can get it, that helps me hold my altitude and helps me hold my airspeed
and everything else all the way round. When I level out, the nose is a
little bit high and as I look up, there the whole sky is lit up in the
prettiest blues and pinks I've ever seen in my life. It was just great.
I tell people I tasted it. "Well," they say, "what do
you mean?" When I
was a child, if you had a cavity in your tooth, the dentist put some mixture
of some cotton or whatever it was and lead into your teeth and pounded
in with a hammer. I learned that if I had a spoon of ice-cream and touched
one of those teeth, I got this electrolysis and I got the taste of lead
of it. And I knew right away what it was.
OK, we're all going. We had been briefed to stay off the radios: "Don't
a damn word, what we do is we make this turn, we're going to get out of
as fast as we can." I want to get out over the sea of Japan because
they can't find me over there. With that done we're home free. Then Tom
Ferebee has to fill out his bombardier's report and Dutch, the navigator,
has to fill out a log. Tom is working on his log and says, "Dutch,
time were we over the target?" And Dutch says, "Nine-fifteen
seconds." Ferebee says: "What lousy navigating. Fifteen seconds
ST: Did you hear an explosion?
PT: Oh yeah. The shockwave was coming up at us after we turned. And the
tailgunner said, "Here it comes." About the time he said that,
we got this
kick in the ass. I had accelerometers installed in all airplanes to record
the magnitude of the bomb. It hit us with two and a half Gs. Next day,
when we got figures from the scientists on what they had learned from
the things, they said, "When that bomb exploded, your airplane was
half miles away from it."
ST: Did you see that mushroom cloud?
PT: You see all kinds of mushroom clouds, but they were made with different
types of bombs. The Hiroshima bomb did not make a mushroom. It was what
call a stringer. It just came up. It was black as hell, and it had light
and colors and white in it and grey color in it and the top was like a
folded-up Christmas tree.
ST: Do you have any idea what happened down below?
PT: Pandemonium! I think it's best stated by one of the historians, who
said: "In one micro-second, the city of Hiroshima didn't exist."
ST: You came back, and you visited President Truman.
PT: We're talking 1948 now. I'm back in the Pentagon and I get notice
the Chief of Staff, Carl Spaatz, the first Chief of Staff of the Air Force.
When we got to General Spaatz's office, General Doolittle was there, and
colonel named Dave Shillen. Spaatz said, "Gentlemen, I just got word
the President that he wants us to go over to his office immediately."
the way over, Doolittle and Spaatz were doing some talking; I wasn't saying
very much. When we got out of the car we were escorted right quick to
Oval Office. There was a black man there who always took care of Truman's
needs and he said, "General Spaatz, will you please be facing the
And now, facing the desk, Spaatz is on the right, Doolittle and Shillen.
course, militarily speaking, that's the correct order: because Spaatz
senior, Doolittle has to sit to his left.
Then I was taken by this man and put in the chair that was right beside
President's desk, beside his left hand. Anyway, we got a cup of coffee
we got most of it consumed when Truman walked in and everybody stood on
their feet. He said, "Sit down, please," and he had a big smile
on his face
and he said, "General Spaatz, I want to congratulate you on being
Chief of the Air Force," because it was no longer the Air Corps.
said, "Thank you, sir, it's a great honor and I appreciate it."
President said to Doolittle: "That was a magnificent thing you pulled
off of that carrier,"
and Doolittle said, "All in a day's work, Mr. President." And
looked at Dave Shillen and said, "Colonel Shillen, I want to congratulate
you on having the foresight to recognize the potential in aerial refueling.
We're gonna need it bad some day," and Shillen said, "Thank
you very much."
Then he looked at me for 10 seconds and he didn't say anything. And when
finally did, he said, "What do you think?" I said, "Mr.
President, I think I
did what I was told." He slapped his hand on the table and said,
damn right you did, and I'm the guy who sent you. If anybody gives you
hard time about it, refer them to me."
ST: Anybody ever give you a hard time?
PT: Nobody gave me a hard time.
ST: Do you ever have any second thoughts about the bomb?
PT: Second thoughts? No. Studs, look. Number one, I got into the Air
Corps to defend the United States to the best of my ability. That's what
believed in and that's what I worked for. Number two, I'd had so much
experience with airplanes. I'd had jobs where there was no particular
direction about how you do it, and then of course I put this thing together
with my own thoughts on how it should be because when I got the directive
that I was to be self-supporting at all times.
On the way to the target I was thinking: I can't think of any mistakes
made. Maybe I did make a mistake: maybe I was too damned assured. At 29
years of age I was so shot in the ass with confidence, I didn't think
was anything I couldn't do. Of course, that applied to airplanes and
people. So, no, I had no problem with it. I knew we did the right thing
because when I knew we'd be doing that I thought, yes, we're going to
lot of people, but by God we're going to save a lot of lives. We won't
to invade [Japan].
ST: Why did they drop the second one, the Boxcar [bomb] on Nagasaki?
PT: Unknown to anybody else - I knew it, but nobody else knew - there
third one. See, the first bomb went off and they didn't hear anything
of the Japanese for two or three days. The second bomb was dropped, and
again they were silent for another couple of days. Then I got a phone
from General Curtis LeMay [Chief of Staff of the Strategic Air Forces
Pacific]. He said, "You got another one of those damn things?"
"Yessir." He said, "Where is it?" I said, "Over
in Utah." He said, "Get
it out here. You and your crew are going to fly it." I said, "Yessir."
sent word back and the crew loaded it on an airplane and we headed back
bring it right on out to Trinian and when they got it to California
debarkation point, the war was over.
ST: What did General LeMay have in mind with the third one?
PT: Nobody knows.
ST: One big question. Since September 11, (2001) what are your thoughts?
People talk about nukes, the hydrogen bomb.
PT: Let's put it this way. I don't know any more about these terrorists
than you do, I know nothing. When they bombed the Trade Center, I couldn't
believe what was going on. We've fought many enemies at different times.
But we knew who they were and where they were. These people, we don't
who they are or where they are. That's the point that bothers me. Because
they're gonna strike again, I'll put money on it. And it's going to be
damned dramatic. But they're gonna do it in their own sweet time. We've
got to get into a position where we can kill the bastards. None of this
business of taking them to court, the hell with that. I wouldn't waste
seconds on them.
ST: What about the bomb? Einstein said the world has changed since the
PT: That's right. It has changed.
ST: And Oppenheimer knew that.
PT: Oppenheimer is dead. He did something for the world and people don't
understand. And it is a free world.
ST: One last thing, when you hear people say, "Let's nuke 'em,"
these people," what do you think?
PT: Oh, I wouldn't hesitate if I had the choice. I'd wipe 'em out. You're
gonna kill innocent people at the same time, but we've never fought a
war anywhere in the world where they didn't kill innocent people. If the
newspapers would just cut out the shit: "You've killed so many civilians."
That's their tough luck for being there.
ST: By the way, I forgot to say Enola Gay was originally called number
How did your mother feel about having her name on it?
PT: Well, I can only tell you what my dad said. My mother never changed
expression very much about anything, whether it was serious or light,
when she'd get tickled, her stomach would jiggle. My dad said to me that
when the telephone in Miami rang, my mother was quiet first. Then, when
was announced on the radio, he said: "You should have seen the old
belly jiggle on that one."
--------Isn't that a heck of a history lesson?---------
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