The Enola Gay was the plane that on August 6, 1945 dropped the first nuclear bomb used in real combat on the city of Hiroshima and was named ‘Little Boy’. The aircraft, piloted by Colonel Paul Tibbets and with eleven other crew members, was accompanied on the mission by four other aircraft, two for reconnaissance and two that flew alongside it with measuring instruments and photographic work,
The Enola Gay would also participate in the Nagasaki operation (piloted by George W. Marquardt), as a reconnaissance aircraft for the primary target of the bombing, Kokura, which is currently part of the city of Kitakyushu (southwest). The bomber who dropped the ‘Fat Man’ atomic bomb on Nagasaki on 9 August 1945 was Bockscar.
Thirteen crew members were on board the aircraft, commanded and piloted by Charles W. Sweeney, who had already taken part in the attack on Hiroshima at the controls of the aircraft he was usually assigned, The Great Artiste. When the Bockscar arrived in Kokura, the city was covered with clouds and smoke from the fires following the bombing the previous day on nearby Yahata, now also part of Kitakyushu. The plane then headed for its secondary target, Nagasaki, accompanied by The Great Artiste and The Big Stink.
Both the Enola Gay and the Bockscar were Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers and part of the Silverplate, the code name for an aircraft with a modified atomic bomb bay. Both planes left from the North Field Air Base in Tinián (Northern Mariana Islands), under US sovereignty after its conquest in World War II and from where most of the planes that bombed Japan during the conflict left.
The nuclear bomb ‘Little Boy’, responsible for the devastation in Hiroshima, was built with uranium-235, the only natural fissile isotope of uranium. The device exploded at 8:15 AM at an altitude of about 600 meters. The detonation caused an explosion equivalent to 16 kilotons of TNT and is estimated to have destroyed about 70% of the city.
The ‘Fat Man’ bomb dropped on Nagasaki was mainly made of plutonium-239, a synthetic element. Its detonation system was more complex, so it was tested earlier in the so-called Trinity Test on 16 July 1945 in a desert area of New Mexico (USA). On August 9, ‘Fat Man’ was dropped on Nagasaki. It exploded at 11:02 AM at an altitude of about 470 meters, with a detonation equivalent to 21 kilotons of TNT. Over 40% of the city was destroyed.
The Hiroshima bomb immediately killed about 80,000 people, about 30% of the population at the time. At the end of 1945, the toll was about 140,000, and in the years that followed, the victims of radiation more than doubled.
At the time of the bombing, Hiroshima was a minor supply and logistics base for the Japanese imperial army, although there were some camps and two important enclaves of the division that commanded the defense of the south of the country in the vicinity.
Nagasaki has been one of the most important ports in southern Japan for centuries, and was important during World War II for its commercial activity, which included shipping, artillery and other military equipment. Some 40,000 people died at the time of the atomic bombing, and the figure would rise to more than 70,000 in the following months. It is estimated that both bombings are responsible for the deaths of about 400,000 people to date.