Brigadier General Paul Tibbets

Ok so I admit I read obituaries. This one from yesterday’s Guardian is compelling reading.

“Just after 8.15am Japanese time, on August 6 1945, six miles above Hiroshima, a Boeing B29 bomber, the Enola Gay, commanded by Colonel Paul Tibbets, who has died aged 92, carried out the world’s first atomic attack. Of 320,000 people in that city that morning, 80,000 died immediately or were badly wounded by the A-bomb, nicknamed “Little Boy”. The site of the explosion reached a temperature of 5,400°F. Days later, thousands of incinerated, blackened cadavers still adhered to the streets.”

What a first paragraph!

Later in the piece this fact caught my eye.

“It (the bomb) symbolised global war. Some of its uranium was from the Congo, confiscated from the Belgians in 1940 by the Germans and snatched from Soviet-occupied Germany in 1945 by an Anglo-American special unit. ”

As did this one. Tibbets christening the B29 as Enola Gay after his mother.

“Tibbets’ thoughts, he confided in his autobiography, had turned to his “courageous red-haired mother, whose quiet confidence had been a source of strength to me since boyhood”. ”

Cyanide pills, tingling teeth and birds igniting in mid-air…

“Until Enola Gay’s arrival over Hiroshima, the most taxing part of the flight had been the takeoff, when Tibbets had held 65 tons of B29 on the runway for two miles before pulling it into the air. He had been given cyanide pills for the crew – in case they came down over Japan – and anti-flash goggles for the A-bomb itself. “My teeth told me more emphatically than my eyes of the Hiroshima explosion,” Tibbets wrote: there was a tingling sensation, as his fillings interacted with the radioactivity.

In the city, wrote Richard Rhodes in his definitive The Making of the Atomic Bomb, ‘birds ignited in mid-air. Mosquitoes and flies, squirrels, family pets crackled and were gone. The fire balls flashed an enormous photograph of the city at the instant of its immolation fixed on the mineral, vegetable and animal surfaces of the city itself.'”

And finally…

“One of his grandchildren, Paul W Tibbets IV, became the mission controller of a B2 Stealth bomber.”

As I said it’s a compelling read. But I was left not knowing what to think. This man flew a plane that dropped a bomb that killed 80,000 people. He loved to fly; did what he was ordered to do; never lost a night’s sleep thinking about it; and lived to be 92 years old. I’m not sure I would have wanted to meet him and I don’t think I admire him but he is an integral part of the story of the atomic bomb and I’m glad to have read about his life.


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