Today, August 6, 2015, marks 70 years since the first atomic weapon was used during World War II. Whether or not an atomic bomb should have been used is still up for debate, but that’s not the purpose of this post. The stories of those that were near Hiroshima at the time aren’t very well known. Crews that were flying missions that day were limited and specifically directed to stay at least 50 miles away from Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Kokura, although they weren’t told why. Later on, the news about the atomic bomb broke. Reactions ranged from disbelief that such a thing was possible to hope that the war would soon be over. We have three eyewitness accounts from men of the 43rd Bomb Group, who were stationed on the island of Ie Shima and flying daily missions over Japan.
8/6-8/7/45 Account from Dick Wood, member of the 63rd Bomb Squadron
August 6th was the date of the Hiroshima bomb. Prior to hearing about it on Armed Forces Radio, none of us had ever heard of such a thing. The rumors about its devastation were awesome. Some said that an entire city of 300,000 had been wiped out (exactly the size of my hometown of Portland, OR); others said the ground had been made radioactive and that the area was uninhabitable for 40,000 years. Others said the atom bomb had hardened the Japanese resolve even more than it had been, and that when we eventually made our landings, there would be no prisoners taken by either side and that we could expect to be attacked by women, children, old people, etc.
It was rumored that Tokyo Rose had threatened immediate retaliation. This concerned us, because we had air raids almost every night, mainly from small planes flying very slowly or from others because they tended to drop on the airstrips, about ½ to 2 miles away. So nobody took the threats lightly, it being demonstrated each night that our small, heavily populated island could be hit. Rumors about attacks using poison gas circulated, and strangely enough, we were issued gas masks the day after Hiroshima. It was a type of gas mask none of us had ever seen before, and the means of putting it on was not at all obvious. Nevertheless, we all kept it close at hand as we went to sleep August 7th.
True to form, in the middle of the night we were awakened by the inevitable barrage from the 90s across the street. When we went outside to take a look, a large red flow in the sky was over Birch and Mocha strips. The next day I go a ride down to the air strip and saw several partially burned P-51s. A guy nearby said that 9 revetmented P-51s had been destroyed with a single bomb! His take was that the Japanese were working on something big too. (Later, I heard they had extensive research programs on thorium, which also could give fissionable material, but I’ve never heard that they got far enough along to consider its use.)
8/9/45 Excerpt of letter from M.L. Crabb, member of the 403rd Bomb Squadron
We were flying that day on a mission to Japan or the China coast (not sure). On our return Willis Bond called on the interphone that a volcano was erupting to our right. I remember it was a beautiful sight and on an angle leaning the same direction we were going (back to Ie Shima). It had a very large shaft and beautiful mushroom- all colors.
The reason Bond and the rest of us thought as much about it- we had seen many volcanoes in Central America and the Galapagos Islands. No one took a picture- not even the photographer on board.
We never knew what we had seen until we reached the state of Washington. We (part of our crew) were in the barber shop and I saw a drawing on the corner of Life Magazine of the bomb. That’s when we realized what we had seen.
I can’t remember what bomb drop we saw, but it must have been the first one or we would have thought more about what we had seen.
8/7/45 Narrative from Bud Lawson, member of the 65th Bomb Squadron
History records the day of Hiroshima as August 6, 1945. My flight record bears the date, August 7, 1945. There is no error. We were on the other side of the International Dateline. One fact is clear about this date. It was the beginning of the Atomic Age, a new era in world affairs, both militarily and politically speaking!
Our mission of this date started out to be a rather routine one. The target of our 65th Squadron B-24’s that day was Tsuiki Airdrome. Tsuiki is located on the northern part of the island of Kyushu on the Inland Sea. It is across the sea from Hiroshima and further West from it. The bomb bays were loaded with clusters of 12 pound fragmentation bombs. These were the armament we used to destroy the planes, trucks and other assorted vehicles at the base.
Lt. Bob Gaffney from Deputy, Indiana was the pilot: Ted De Federicis of Buffalo, New York, co-pilot; W.E. “Tom” Thomas, Chireno, Texas, Navigator. I am Eldon E. “Bud” Lawson, bombardier, then from Ravenwood, Missouri. Sgt. Norbert S. Michalowicz, Hamtrack, Mich. was the flight engineer; Vincent Mennella, Chicago, Ill. Waist Gun; Sylvester J. Bartell, Detriot, Mich. Ball Turret; James F. Wright, Minneapolis, Minn., Radioman; James H. Findley, Atlanta, Ga., Nose Turret; and Daniel B. McFarland, Longview, Texas, Tail Gunner.
Our flight route was up the East Coast of Kyushu, Southern Island of the Japanese Group. Flying north on this route we were headed almost directly toward Hiroshima on the Southern Coast of Honshu.
During the briefing for the flight we had been carefully warned not to fly directly over or near Hiroshima. We were told that a large number of Allied Prisoners were held there and every time an American plane was spotted some prisoners were executed in retaliation!
As we rounded the south tip of Kyushu we began to observe a strange looking white cloud over the horizon, but rising higher and higher. At first it resembled a large cumulus cloud, but soon it was apparent that it was not of natural origin. It began to appear in the shape of a huge mushroom, flattening out at the top. We had seen enough natural clouds and smoke from various explosions to know that we were looking at something far more stupendous than we had ever seen before. As we flew North toward the cloud we eventually could observe the cloud from it’s origin at the earth to the full height several thousand feet above our flight altitude.
To reach our target at Tsuiki, we turned West but still over the Inland Sea. Soon after we made this turn a Japanese Fighter plane overtook the formation, but flew two or three thousand feet above us. It was rather obvious that he was staying out of range of our guns. But, making his great move to defend his homeland, he dropped a couple of parachute incendiary bombs. As they drifted slowly down to our altitude they were miles behind us. He had not correctly calculated windage with his bombardment!!
Our mission was a total success. There were large numbers of planes on the ground and none of them moved. The frag bombs ripped them to shreds! Air and Naval blockades had virtually shut down Japan’s oil imports. Refineries and petroleum storage had been wiped out. What little gasoline they had left, they were saving for the final assault. This assault, of course never came thanks to the total impact of this day and the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. As we returned to our base at Ie Shima, Ryukus, we were in a joyous mood. Not knowing any more than what we had seen, we could still sense that this tremendous explosion was of a magnitude to bring about the war’s end. We were right about that!!