Friday, August 6, 2010

Amazing times in the history of Aviation - The Atomic Bombing of Nagasaki

Today we "celebrate" the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. History has debated and will continue to debate whether it was an action that was good or bad. On the one hand you have the people that state that Japan would have never given up thanks to the Bushido code and the desire of the military for Japan to fight to the last man. Indeed, during the invasion of Okinawa, hundreds of thousands of civilians hurled themselves off the cliffs rather than surrender to American soldiers. Soldiers refused to surrender, instead dying in suicide attacks or dying by self inflicted injuries committed in ritual suicide.

On the other hand, there are others who look to the uselessness of the gesture. Japan was finished and had nothing to fight with. Whole cities were being burned with Incendiary attacks. The firebombing of Tokyo killed far more people than the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima initially did.

However, forgotten in history was that there was a second raid on a second city. Nagasaki was long a port of entry to Japan dating back to the 1500's It was here the Imperial Japan permitted foreigners to enter its country until the opening of Japan by Perry in the 1800's. For 200 years, the only way one could get into Japan was by way of Nagasaki. There existed armament plants and shipyards to be sure. But there also existed the largest Christian Cathedral in the East and a large population of expatriate foreigners, stranded by the war or having chosen to remain there in spite of the war. Nagasaki had been and remained the center of Christianity in Japan since the Portuguese first landed in the 1500's.

Having completed the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the architect of the campaign, General Curtis LeMay, who would later rise to command the Strategic Air Command during the Cold War, searched for other targets. He only had one other bomb available and the target had better be a good one.

Meanwhile, the Soviets, with whom the civilian leadership of Japan had hoped to make peace with began to invade Manchuria. The hope that Japan would be able to use the Soviets to negotiate their way out, plus the increasing paranoia of the military leadership, made a negotiated peace on Japan's terms impossible.

The other Bomb, which was named "Fat Man" for the obvious reasons of its shape, was what was termed an Implosion Bomb. The original "Little Boy" device used over Hiroshima was crude but effective and required only relatively small amounts of Uranium 235. Little Boy was termed a "Gun Weapon" in that it involved two lumps of Uranium located at either end of a tube. High explosives propelled one chunk of Uranium into the other which fused and then resulted in a critical mass which then yielded the Nuclear detonation. Fat Man was far more complex.

Fat Man had a sphere of Plutonium in the middle of a segmented sphere of of High Explosives. The goal in the reaction was to compress the Plutonium in such a way that would yield the critical mass which would result in the Nuclear Explosion. Fat Man had been demonstrated in principle at the first nuclear test at Trinity.

The aircraft designated to carry this device was named "Bocks Car." Originally flown by Captain Fredrick C. Bocks for which the aircraft was named, the aircraft in this mission was flown by Major Charles W. Sweeney. Originally Sweeney's aircraft, "The Great Artiste" was slated to perform the mission, but it had been equipped for support duties, photography and measurement of the blast. Rather than waste the time to switch the equipment back into Bocks Car and have The Great Artiste do the bombing it was elected to switch the crews instead. This led to some original confusion as to the actual aircraft that performed the bombing. However, it is settled that Bocks Car did the bombing.

Bocks Car took off on the morning of August 9, 1945 on the last wartime atomic bombing mission in history. Its original target was not Nagasaki, but Kokura. Kokura was a Castle town dating back to ancient Japan, whose warrens produced armaments, shells, and missiles for the Japanese war effort. In July 1945, the Japanese began to assemble Chemical Weapons in Kokura in the event they were needed to repel the eventual Allied Invasion. However, weather obscured the city and Sweeney turned to his secondary target, Nagasaki. Fortune had spared the Castle City.

However, to Sweeney's frustration, clouds also obscured Nagasaki as well. The Bocks Car's bombardier Kermet Beahan searched in vain for a break in the clouds. However, fortune was not to smile on Nagasaki or its Catholic Cathedral, or its torpedo factory, or its POW camp. No. At 11:01, Kermet reported a break in the clouds that let him sight on his Aiming point. He pushed his trigger and Fat Man was let go as the Bocks Car swung desperately away and sped away from the impending blast. Forty-Three seconds later at an altitude of 1500 feet of about 440 meters above Urikami Valley, which served as the main industrial area of the city, the High Explosives in Fat Man triggered. It crushed the Plutonium sheathed within it and upon reaching the critical mass, the Plutonium detonated.

The area covered was smaller than Hiroshima in spite of the Fat Man device being more powerful. In comparison to contemporary atomic weapons, Fat Man was small, about 21 kilotons of TNT. A W76 Thermonuclear warhead of today carried by the Trident SLBM as an example would yield a 100 Kiloton blast with a Thermonuclear explosion. The smaller area was due to the hilly nature of Nagasaki and much of the city was protected by hills surrounding the valley. Killed in the initial blast were between 50,000 to 70,000 people along with at least 13 POWs and in a very hideous irony, an unknown number of the survivors of the Hiroshima bombing who had been evacuated to Nagasaki, some of whom survived. Due to its large Catholic population, the Fat Man bomb probably killed more Christians in Japan than had all the emperors in all of Japan's history.

Today, Nagasaki is a thriving port city, the church has been rebuilt, but the legacy remains. There is a Peace Park and Atomic Museum just like its counterpart in Hiroshima, but in large part, Hiroshima gets all the "glory" if one can use that term for the atomic campaign on Japan. Nagasaki is largely forgotten in the remembrances of the Atomic Bomb. There were two or possibly three other devices available and the US contemplated another raid as early as the 17th or 18th of August, but such was not to be. Japan surrendered on August 14th, 1945 with the Emperor telling his people that the Americans were using a "most cruel bomb" and that Japan had "to endure the unendurable." In the lead up to the announcement, a rebellion of the military to prevent the surrender was put down. Even to the end, the Military wanted to fight on in spite of the bomb.

After the war, what devices remained were expended in testing on targets at Bikini with the Able and Baker tests as part of Operation Crossroads. The tests left the Island of Bikini irradiated and uninhabitable to this day. Bocks Car eventually made it back to the United States and was retired in 1946. It was displayed for a time, in the markings of "The Great Artiste" at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base where it was labeled as the aircraft that took part in the Nagasaki Raid. In 1961, she was flown to the National Museum of the USAF in Dayton, Ohio where it was restored to its original markings and is now on display. In contrast to the restored Enola Gay and its subdued display at the National Air and Space Museum, Bocks Car is labeled as "the aircraft that ended World War II."

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I am interested in CNG vehicles because they are good for the environment and aren't powered by dead Marines. I still have a little hope for the world. Read the musings and enjoy.