The A-BOMB Decision

August 6th  2005 is the 60th anniversary of the first atomic bomb used in warfare.  While there are still people who second guess that decision, events surrounding two WW II Pacific operations will clearly demonstrate the wisdom to quickly win WW II against the Japanese Empire.

World War II in the Pacific

In February of 1945, after two months of steady ship and aircraft bombardment, three US Marine Divisions (3rd, 4th & 5th) invaded the 8 sq. mile island of Iwo Jima.  The 21,000 Japanese had dug deep into the volcanic rock and fought to the death with only a few hundred taken prisoner.  After 36  days of fighting, the US Marines suffered over 6,000 dead and almost twenty thousand wounded.  Those three Marine Divisions left Iwo Jima well below operational strength.

On April 1, 1945, after several months of naval bombardment from ships and planes, the 1st Marine (after a year of refitting following the battle of Pelieu) and the newly organized 6th Marine Divisions were joined by the US Army 7th Infantry Division and 96th ID for the initial invasion of the 500 sq mile island of Okinawa.  Defended by over 100,000 Japanese soldiers and tens of thousand of civilian volunteers, Okinawa proved to be the bloodiest battle of the war in the Pacific.

The US Navy had over a thousand ships supporting the Okinawa operation within a few hundred miles of a Japanese home island.  In desperation, the Japanese launched fifteen hundred kamikaze  attacks that sunk 34 ships of all types and damaged over 300 others. However, the US Marines had learned how to fight cave warfare on Iwo Jima. Final American casualties of over 12,000 killed (including 5,000 US Navy aboard ships) and 36,000 wounded were less than original estimates!!

During the ferocious fighting, nearly all of the 100,000 Japanese combatants were killed in action including 25,000 buried alive in caves.  An estimated 100,000 Okinawan civilians also perished in the 82 days of non stop battle.  The civilian wounded probably equaled the dead.  There appears little doubt that the human cost of invading any of the larger Japanese islands (with many times more military and civilian populations) would have been catastrophic.

Manhattan Project

The Manhattan Project resulted from a direct appeal to President Franklin D. Roosevelt from Albert Einstein when the Allies learned that the Germans under Heisenberg were working on an atomic bomb.  By the summer of 1945, the United States had produced three atomic (fission type) bombs from this very expensive project.  It was so top secret that VP Harry Truman did not learn about it until assuming the Presidency after FDR’s death.  Each bomb had the explosive power of almost 20,000 tons of TNT.  In late 1944 Colonel Paul Tibbets with 25 mission over Europe was selected to form the 509th Bomb Group that would be equipped with fifteen B-29’ specially modified to carry the 10 thousand pound atomic bomb.  Colonel Tibbets chose Wendover AAF Base, Utah for training with a proximity to the A-bomb project site in New Mexico.   In March 1945, the 509th flew their B-29’s  to Tinian island and awaited the USS Indianapolis that delivering the Uranium A-bombs named “Little Boy” .

On July 16, a plutonium bomb (considered the more difficult design) was successfully tested at Alamogordo, NM.  On August 6th, the 2nd bomb Little Boy was dropped ” over Hiroshima, Japan from a B-29 named “the Enola Gay” by Tibbets for his Mother.   The 3rd bomb (another Plutonium) was dropped 3 days later over Nagasaki, Japan. The Japanese surrendered on August 16, 1945.  The death toll from the two A-bombs was estimated at 150,000 people.

President Truman never looked back on that decision to use the A-bomb, and nuclear weapons have now been operational longer than any previous weapon system from the crossbow to gunpowder without another hostile use.