On this date 70 years ago, a B-29 Superfortress piloted by Colonel Paul Tibbets ushered in the Atomic Age when the first atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The B-29, named Enola Gay after Tibbets’ mother, took off from the tiny island of Tinian accompanied by two other B-29’s containing instruments and cameras. The sky over the primary target, Hiroshima, was clear and the bomb, nicknamed “Little Boy” was dropped at 8:15AM.

The initial blast and subsequent firestorm caused by the sixteen kiloton explosion killed nearly a third of the population of the city, an estimated 70-80,000 people. Others succumbed to radiation poisoning in the months and years ahead.

There is much debate around the use of the atomic bomb to essentially end the war in the Pacific. While scenarios are argued over, there is no doubt that an invasion of the Japanese main islands would have cost many more lives than those taken by the atomic blasts and that the conventional firebombing of Tokyo was far more devastating to human life and property. Considering that 20,000 Japanese soldiers were killed and only 216 taken prisoner during the Battle of Iwo Jima, it is self-evident that the casualties to the Japanese people during an invasion would have been monumental. After a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki three days later, the Empire of Japan finally surrendered and World War II ended.

Not be be lost in this retrospective is the fact that the scientists working on the Manhattan Project were responsible for an incredible technical achievement in designing and building an air dropped atomic bomb in 3 years. Atomic technology was unknown before the Manhattan Project and then changed the world forever early on the morning of August 6th, 1945.

Pencil on Canson watercolor paper — click on the image for a larger version.

The Enola Gay now resides at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Centre where she has been carefully restored.