The recent release of the Hollywood movie "Oppenheimer" , brought to my mind an avalanche of related thoughts, not mentioned in the movie, about the dropping of the first atomic bomb.I was not born then.The 'Little Boy'- Thin Man was the original name- and the 'Fat Man' were the names given to the atomic bombs by the Americans which were used in Japan. Why the Americans gave those funny names- which doesn't look funny to me- anyway?
The American bomber aircraft which dropped the bomb at Hiroshima was named as 'Enola Gay'.But who gave this strange name for this bomber? The pilot did.His name was Paul Tibbitts. He chose the name to honour his own old mother! Finally was it a honour or dishonour for her, I don't know.Because Paul who thought himself to be a hero to his country men finally decided not to have an engraved grave fearing backlash from protestors for years to come!
On August 6, 1945 the 'Little Boy' was dropped over Hiroshima!Three days later on August 9 the 'Fat man' was dropped over Nagasaki! The world was never the same again!!In fact, Nagasaki was not the original primary target but another city named Kokura.But on that fateful day Kokura was in morning fog! As such the pilot mistakenly or otherwise targeted secondary Nagasaki- which culminated a new expression 'Kokura's luck'!!
I hope this article will enthuse especially the youngsters of the new gen on the subject. Many oldies of my generation as well may not be aware of these historical facts, many of them were classified information once.For example America decided not to include Albert Einstein , one of the their greatest Physicists to chair or even include in the team of ' Manhattan Project' formed to build the first atomic bomb!! America decided to drop atomic bombs in Japan in spite it was explicitly clear that Germany didn't have one as they surrendered unconditionally!! Why?
Models of Fat Man and Little Boy on display at the Bradbury Science
Museum Los Alamos National Laboratory. Image courtesy of Los Alamos National Laboratory.
From Pupil Hall, Manhattan to Los Alamos desert, New Mexico desert....
On atomic theory, a forerunner of making such a bomb, a number of scientists have contributed.Among them John Dalton and Frederick Sodely, both English scientists of 18th century and Pierre and Marie Currie, French scientists and Rutherford the New Zealand scientist of early 19th century stand out. There could be others.Interestingly HG Wells, an English scientific fiction writer wrote about an atomic bomb as early in 1914 in his novel 'The World Set Free'. There were efforts for splitting atom in France, Italy, Japan and Germany from late 19th and 20th centuries.
As the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, many leading Jewish scientists fled from that country for safe havens.In spite of this exodus, German Scientists Hahn and Strassmann could lead an operation there for making an atomic bomb. Leo Szilard, a leading German scientist came to US and joined University of Chicago in 1942 and joined efforts to make the bomb. Prior to that in 1939 scientists of Columbia University could conduct a nuclear fission experiment successfully in the basement of a Physics lab named Pupil Hall, right in the heart of Manhattan very close to Broadway! Hardly few knew that then, even in US!
In August 1939, Albert Einstein wrote an official letter drafted by Szilard to then US President Franklin D Roosevelt warning the impending danger of the Germans if successful in making an atomic bomb.Though US took serious efforts only after they entered the WWII, a committee was formed which eventually gave birth to the secret move named 'Manhattan Project' to make a bomb in 1942 !Leslie Groves, an officer from US Corps of Engineers headed it while the team of scientists was headed by Robert Oppenheimer, another German Jew who migrated to America. Interestingly Albert Einstein was sidelined by the Govt since he was thought to be left leaning politically and US Army intelligence didn't clear his name!!He was listed as a security risk!!However on July 16 1945 in the desert named Los Alamos near New Mexico,US the first nuclear test took place code named 'Trinity'! Robert Oppenheimer, father of nuclear bomb didn't live long as a hero there!
From Los Alamos desert to Hiroshima and Nagasaki...
Harry Truman came to the seat of Presidentship in US soon after the death of President Roosevelt on April 12,1945. Team Manhattan was ready with bombs as they recommended a short list of cities of Japan including Hiroshima and Kokura to be bombed as primary targets.They selected the cities, least affected by bombing thus far, so that the effects of the bombs could be measured better and the world could see possibly the might of a new military power on earth!
Meanwhile it was known that Germany was no more a nuclear threat as the country surrendered to the Allied forces on May 7,1945. As such two petitions signed by Leo Szilard and other 59 scientists involved including Robert Oppenheimer in making the atomic bombs urged the US President , commander-in- Chief in July 1945 not to use the atomic bomb in Japan.Unfortunately such petitions never reached the President as Leslie Gores, Head of military sat on it!!
Both bombs were were transported to Tinian Island, Japan which was under command of American Forces on the ship USS 'Indianapolis' for assembly on July 26, 1945. Four days later this very ship was torpedoed by the Japanese Forces is another hardly known part of history!On August 6, 1945 at 2.00 AM the American Bomber B29 Superfortress named Enola Gay left the Japanese isle of Tinian and headed for Hiroshima.At 08.15 AM local time the 'Little Boy' exploded! Three days after on August 9 the second bomber named as 'Bock's Car' dropped the 'Fat Man' over Nagasaki at 11.02 AM local time!The name of second bomber was so given by the pilot Frederick Bock who was selected to drop the Fat Man at Nagasaki.But on that fateful day due to technical reasons another pilot Charles Tweeny did that, could be another twist in the history!
Enola Gay is 'proudly' exhibited at National Air and Space Museum at Washington DC while Bock's Car is on display at US Air Force Museum,Ohio. I have seen Enola Gay in full sheen which is displayed at Washington but could not appreciate for some reason. But the meaningful funeral silence maintained by the visitors at Peace Memorial at Hiroshima which I could experience 6 years back, lingers in my mind to this day!