Enola Gay, a Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber, was used to drop the world’s first atomic bomb over the city of Hiroshima. The “Little Boy” bomb caused unprecedented destruction, killing an estimated 30 per cent of the city’s population.
Enola Gay was personally selected for the mission by Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, Jr - a brigadier general in the United States Air Force - while still on the production line. Tibbets named the aircraft after his mother, Enola Gay Tibbetts, who had always supported her son’s decision to give up a medical career to become a military pilot.
The name was painted on the aircraft on 5 August after Tibbetts assumed command of the bomber. The following day, Tibbetts piloted Enola Gay from North Field, in the Mariana Islands, to Japan. The bomber was accompanied by two other B-29s: The Great Artiste, carrying instrumentation; and a then-nameless aircraft later called Necessary Evil, which was commanded by Captain George Marquardt and used to take photographs. Enola Gay carried “Little Boy” - a bomb that weighed five tonnes and had the explosive force of 20,000 tonnes of TNT.
After a six hour flight, Enola Gay reached Japan’s coastline. Hiroshima was targeted because of its importance as a military base, centre for manufacturing and the fact it did not have an allied POW camps. The weather also played a part - on the morning of 6 August the city was waking up to clear skies.
The US weather reconnaissance bomber, Straight Flush, was spotted over the city and air-raid sirens sounded across Hiroshima. However, the city’s residents had witnessed many other B-29 crews fly over city, dropping ‘pumpkins’ - harmless orange test bombs the same shape as an atomic bomb. As a result, few people bothered to head to air raid shelters.
At 7:50am the bomb crew were nearing Hiroshima. At 8:15 Enola Gay dropped the bomb. Tibbets was trained in how to turn the plane as fast as possible to get as far away from the blast as possible.
The Little Boy took 43 seconds to fall from the aircraft. The bomb was detonated 2,000 feet, or 600 metres, above Hiroshima, flattening five square miles of the city in seconds.
When Enola Gay returned safely to its base on Tinian it was greeted with great fanfare. Tibbets was the first to disembark, and was presented with the Distinguished Service Cross on the spot.
See also: Hiroshima
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