Saturday, August 4, 2012

Enola Gay

You may already know it but August 6th is the anniversary of the atomic bomb.  Yeah I know, not something you planned on celebrating, right?  Me neither.  But it's a part of history that interests me and something we should at least remember.  I've already reviewed books about the scientists and the bomb itself and the people of Hiroshima, as well as a really good book about the last two years of the war. Here's one about the plane and crew who actually dropped the bomb - Enola Gay: The Bombing of Hiroshima by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan Witts.

Enola Gay: The Bombing of HiroshimaIn 1944 Air Force pilot Colonel Paul Tibbetts was approached by General Leslie Groves about assembling a unit for a super secret mission with possibilities of ending the war. He was given no guarantees for his personal safety or that it would even happen - only that if it worked he would be a hero, and if not... well, he was on his own. He assembled his unit, which eventually became known as the 509th Composite, with men he knew and trusted. They set up training in Wendover, a forsaken desert spot on the Utah/Nevada border, a place Tibbetts deemed perfect because his men would hate it. While he knew some particulars about the Manhattan Project and the atomic bomb, none of his men were given much information - and they were told if they said anything they could face prison time. This book follows the progress of the project mostly from the point of view of those involved with Col. Tibbetts and the crew of the B-29 named Enola Gay. Mr. Thomas also includes some brief details of the men's lives after the war, information on a number of Japanese individuals in Hiroshima, and some background on FDR and Truman and their early involvement.

Mr. Thomas tries very hard to keep an objective view of the events which ended the war with Japan and avoids vilifying anyone. He presents the facts and recollections of those involved giving a good idea of what it was like at the time and some insights into the various personalities. It's an engrossing and easy read and the build up to the bombing is exciting and tense. It's interesting to read how dangerous just taking off from a tiny little coral island with such a large and heavy bomb was, and the process of arming it shortly before it was dropped (and the very brief second thoughts the crew member responsible for that had), and the unusual instructions the crew was given to go into a steep dive and put as much distance and speed as they could between them and the target. Dark goggles and bracing for a shockwave made them realize it was going to be big, but no one had any idea how big. Unfortunately, the book falters after that and the aftermath is treated only in the lightest manner and details are few, making it feel somewhat anti-climatic. Nonetheless, a good book I recommend for those interested.

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