Atomic bomb navigator has ‘no regrets’

By | August 7, 2010

Hiroshima bombingThe aftermath of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima

Today (August 6th) is the 64th anniversary of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, by the United States, during the World War II, on August 6th 1945. This was a decisive, and significant event in the history of mankind. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima, along with that of Nagasaki on August 9, is to date the only attack with nuclear weapons in the history of warfare. Here are ten facts about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki :

1. The bomb wasn't dropped just like that. The United States bombed Japanese cities for six months. This was followed by an ultimatum, which was ignored by the Shōwa regime. Then the decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki was made.

2. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima killed as many as 140,000 people, while the one dropped on Nagasaki killed as many as 90,000 people. People continued to die even after the bombings, due to secondary illnesses (for example, cancers) caused by the immense radiation. In both cities, the majority of the dead were civilians.

3. Six days after the bombing of Nagasaki, on August 15, Japan surrendered to the Allied Powers, ending World War II.

4. The date to bomb Hiroshima, August 6th, was chosen because clouds had obscured the target previously. The plane carrying the bomb was the Enola Gay. The bomb (known as "Little Boy") was dropped at 08:15 (Hiroshima time).

5. The bomb created a blast equivalent to about 13 kilotons of TNT. The radius of total destruction was about one mile, Fires resulting from the explosion spread out to an area of radius of about 4.4 miles …€  – listf

Just two bombs: 105,000 people dead, 94,000 wounded according to

TABLE A: Estimates of Casualties
Hiroshima Nagasaki
Pre-raid population 255,000 195,000
Dead 66,000 39,000
Injured 69,000 25,000
Total Casualties 135,000 64,000 the Japanese city of Hiroshima marks the 65th anniversary of the world’s first atomic bomb attack, a member of the US crew that dropped the weapon talks to the BBC’s Kristin Wilson about his memories of that day.

To his family and friends, the elderly man in a little retirement community in Georgia is just “Dutch”.

But 65 years ago on Friday, Lt Theodore Van Kirk was flight navigator for the Enola Gay on its mission to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

On the morning of 6 August, 1945 he, two of the closest friends and nine other Americans took off for the flight that launched the world into the nuclear age.

“I looked out the window and saw the just-rising sun and thought about what a beautiful morning it was over the Pacific,” he recalls, sitting in his home office surrounded by pictures, books, model planes, awards and mementos marking the mission.

The crew of the Enola Gay“We didn’t know at first what we were going to do. Just that maybe it would shorten the war.”

The bomb killed an estimated 100,000 Japanese, but it ended the war and precluded an invasion of Japan, and Mr Van Kirk says he has no regrets. None of them did.

“Look, we did what we had to do,” he says. “They were never going to give up. But I just could not see how they could continue the war and subject their people to that.”

He remained friends with bombardier Tom Ferebee and pilot Paul Tibbets until their deaths in 2000 and 2007 respectively. They flew 35 missions together. …

The cabin was quiet the whole way there. Unusually for friends so accustomed to jokes and pranks, there was no extraneous talk, no frivolity, only talk that involved the task at hand.

“Then Tom said, ‘I have it. I can’t make it any better than that. I’ve got it down the line.'” he recalls.

And the 9,400-lb bomb, named Little Boy, dropped from the plane.

The plane turned hard to the right to escape the blast they weren’t sure would even come. But Little Boy detonated 1,800ft above Hiroshima at 8.15am.

“For 43 seconds, nothing happened,” he pauses.

Shock wave

“And then there was an orange light so bright from the back of the plane that I think you didn’t have on goggles, you’d probably be blind.”…

The concussion rocked the plane like anti-aircraft fire. A second shock wave followed.

“It’s like when a rock hits a still pool of water,” he says. “That’s the best way I can describe it.”

After the shock waves subsided, Tibbets turned the plane around to survey. Contrary to reports, Mr Van Kirk flatly denies they circled the target. They just took a look before heading back, because everyone wanted a report, he says.

“General Rose wanted to know, the scientists wanted to know,” he says.

Mushroom cloud after Hiroshima bombing“Hell, Truman wanted to know.”

Radio operator Dick Nelson, the youngest of the crew at 19, sent word back to command: “Results Excellent.”

Bob Lewis, the co-pilot, kept a log of the flight, and is remembered for saying the infamous words, “My God, what have we done?”

Mr Van Kirk chuckles.

Yes, Bob did keep a log, he remembers.

Sea of rubble

“But I’m not going to tell you what Bob’s first thing was.” He pauses. “Let’s just say it was – more descriptive.”

Even as he sits surrounded by mementos, Mr Van Kirk says neither he nor his friends let that day define their lives.

“We never talked about it,” he says.

“We’d talk about playing golf or kids or just go visit each other.”

Every year around this time the calls start coming in, he says – requests to speak at high schools, events, public appearances.

“My life now is hectic,” he says. “And on the 6th it’ll get even crazier. But I won’t answer the calls that day. Not that day.”…

via BBC News – World News America – Enola Gay navigator has ‘no regrets’.

2 thoughts on “Atomic bomb navigator has ‘no regrets’

  1. Ann

    It’s “revisionist” history, write some historians about others who question the dropping of the atomic weapon was indeed only to save lives and end the war quickly, as President Harry Truman publicly claimed.

    But, it isn’t. The dropping of the atomic bomb was criticized from the very start by several investigators. It’s only in the last decade or so, however, as their research makes head way that the rebuff arises, calling it “revisionist.” (Stalin broke neutral ties with and attacked Japan on August 8, the day before Nagasaki was bombed. According to the “revisionists,” Japan was making attempts at surrendering before August 1945.)

    What is truly shocking is to realize that Hiroshima, Nagasaki and three or 4 other cities were the only cities left in Japan that not bombed, all of which were at least 50% destroyed, before the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

    After the capture of the Marianas Islands in the Pacific in the fall of 1944, Japan was within strategic bombing range of B-29s, “flying fortress.” The amount of death and devastation that occurred in Tokyo alone due to incendiary bombing (thanks to Curtis LeMay) was about equivalent, if not more, than that caused by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

    LeMay is often quoted as saying that had the Allies not won the war, they would be tried as war criminals. The point is that these bombing raids and the atomic bombs killed civilians and that was the very reason U.S. and U.K. criticized the Nazi and Japan at the start of the war. In certain way, war causes or spreads evil even to the “good guys,” and that evil is hard to wash off.

  2. Tom

    I’m slightly ashamed to say it, but it was the British and Americans (not the Nazis)who developed the strategy of systematically targeting civilians.

    While London was bombed at the beginning of the war, the Germans’ aim was to destroy the docks, not wipe out the civilian population as was the case in our attacks on Dresden, Hamburg, Tokyo etc.

Leave a Reply