Paul W. Tibbets, Jr.

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Brigadier General United States Air Force Retired

1915 - 2007


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      Paul W. Tibbets, in his home in Columbus, Ohio  

Wednesday January 26, 2006


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Brig. Gen. Paul W. Tibbets

Paul Warfield Tibbets, Jr. was born in Quincy, Illinois on February 23, 1915.

Later his parents moved to Florida where, at the age of twelve, Paul had his first airplane ride. As part of an advertising stunt, he threw Baby Ruth candy bars, with paper parachutes attached, from a biplane flying over a crowd gathered at the Hialeah horse track near Miami. From that day on, Paul knew he had to fly.

He graduated from Western Military Academy in Alton, Illinois in 1933, and later attended the University of Florida and the University of Cincinnati where he majored in chemistry.

He entered the Army Air Corps on February 25, 1937 at Fort Thomas, Kentucky. Immediately thereafter, he entered flying school at Randolph Field, Texas and in February 1938 graduated from pilot school at Kelly Field, Texas. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. His first assignment was to Flight B, 16th Observation Squadron, Lawson Field, Fort Benning, Georgia.

In April 1941, Tibbets became group engineering officer of the 3d Attack Group, Hunter Air Field, Savannah, Georgia. On December 4, 1941, he received orders to join the 29th Bomb Group at MacDill Field, Florida. However, before reporting to MacDill he was placed on temporary duty to take 21 Douglas B-18s to Pope Field, Fort Bragg, North Carolina to form an anti-submarine patrol; it was not until February 1942, Tibbets actually reported for duty with the 29th Bomb Group at MacDill Field as engineering officer. After three weeks, he was made commander of the 340th Bomb Squadron, 97th Bomb Group, which was formed from a cadre taken from the 29th Bomb Group. From February until June 1942, he was in training for an overseas movement.

In June 1942, he arrived in England and immediately went into combat operations, flying 25 combat missions in Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses, including the first American Flying Fortress raid against occupied Europe. In October 1942, Tibbets was given the special assignment of flying General Mark Clark to make his rendezvous with the French in preparation for the invasion of North Africa. Upon his return from this trip, he was retained to ferry General Dwight D. Eisenhower and his staff to Gibraltar on the night of the invasion. Tibbets then flew General Clark to Algiers where General Clark took control of the invasion forces.

For the next 30 days, Tibbets conducted bombardment missions in the North African area under the direct control of the British, pending build-up of the American bomber forces.

He led the first heavy bombardment mission in support of the invasion of North Africa. In November 1942, Tibbets reverted to control of the Twelfth Air Force and, with the arrival of the remainder of the 97th Bombardment Group, resumed normal combat operations in the Sahara Desert area. In January 1943, he was reassigned to the Twelfth Air Force Headquarters at Algiers as assistant operations officer in charge of bomber operations under then Colonel Lauris Norstad.

In March 1943, he returned to the United States for the purpose of participating in the B-29 program. This flight test work with the Boeing factory and Air Materiel Command continued until March 1944 at which time Tibbets was transferred to Grand Island, Nebraska as director of operations under General Frank Armstrong who started a B-29 instructor transition school. In September 1944, he was assigned to the Atomic Bomb Project as the Air Force officer in charge of developing an organization capable of employing the atomic bomb in combat operations, and mating the development of the bomb to the airplane. In this function, he was also charged with the flight test development of the atomic bomb itself. As these developments progressed, Tibbets was further charged with the tactical training of the bombardment organization and their deployment into the combat theater of operations.

Tibbets requisitioned 15 new Boeing B-29 Superfortresses and specified they be stripped of turrets and armor plating except for the tail gunner position; that fuel-injected engines and new technology reversible-pitch propellers be installed; and the bomb bay be re-configured to suspend, from a single point, ten thousand pounds. Such an airplane would fly higher, faster, and above the effective range of anti-aircraft fire.

Tibbets selected a B-29 bombardment squadron, the 393rd, in its final stage of training, and Wendover Army Air Field located on the Utah/Nevada border for "starters". The 393rd BG was fully equipped and the base had a fully manned "housekeeping" group. Wendover Field was isolated but close enough to Los Alamos to work together. The Salton Sea was an ideal distance for bombing practice.

Then on December 17th, 1944, formal orders were issued activating the 509th Composite Group, consisting of seven subordinate units. In March 1945 the First Ordnance Squadron, a unit designed to carry out the technical phases of the group responsibilities, became part of the 509th. The personnel count now exceeded 1500 enlisted men and some 200 officers. Quietly, the group started moving overseas to Tinian Island in the Marianas chain.

On the afternoon of August 5th, 1945, President Truman gave his approval to use the weapons against Japan. By the time the plane left, its familiar arrowhead tail motif had been changed on both sides to the letter "R" in a circle, the standard identification markings for the Sixth Bomb Group. The idea behind the change was to confuse the enemy if they made contact, which they did not. At 02:30 A.M. August 6th, the B-29 nicknamed Enola Gay by Tibbets lifted off North Field with Colonel Tibbets and his crew en route to Hiroshima, Japan. At exactly 09:15 plus 7 seconds (08:17:17 Hiroshima time) the world's first atomic bomb was released. The course of history and the nature of warfare were changed.

With the end of the war in September 1945, Colonel Tibbets' organization was transferred to what is now Walker Air Force Base, Roswell, New Mexico, and remained there until August 1946. It was during this period that the Bikini Bomb Project took place, with Colonel Tibbets participating as technical adviser to the Air Force commander. He was then assigned to the Air Command and Staff School at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, from which he graduated in 1947. His next assignment was to the Directorate of Requirements, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, where he subsequently served as director of the Strategic Air Division.

In June 1950, Colonel Tibbets was assigned to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, and from July 1950 until February 1952, was Boeing B-47 Stratojet project officer at the Boeing Airplane Company, Wichita, Kansas, where the service test of the B-47 to determine its operational suitability took place. From February 1952 until August 1954, he was commander of the Proof Test Division at Eglin Air Force Base. Tibbets then received orders assigning him to the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, from which he graduated in June 1955. His next assignment was director of war plans, Allied Air Forces in Central Europe at Fontainebleau, France. In February 1956, he returned to the United States as commander, 308th Bombardment Wing, Hunter Air Force Base, Georgia.

In January 1959, Tibbets was reassigned to MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, where he assumed command of the 6th Air Division. He was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General. In February 1961, General Tibbets was assigned to Headquarters U.S. Air Force as Director of Management Analysis (redesignated as Directorate of Status Analysis effective March 27, 1961). In July 1962, General Tibbets was assigned to the Joint Staff, Organization of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as Deputy Director for Operations, J-3. In June 1963, with reorganization of the Operations Directorate, Joint Staff, General Tibbets became Deputy Director for the National Military Command System. In August 1964 General Tibbets was assigned as the assistant commanding offer to the U.S. supply mission to India based in New Delhi.

Upon return to the United States, General Tibbets retired from the U.S. Air Force on August 31, 1966. He had completed more than 29 and one-half years of service, but he was not through flying. Initially he resided in Geneva, Switzerland, operating three Lear jets throughout central Europe. There, he helped to educate the air ministries about the jet's uses. He also advised the air ministries about the aviation controls and guidelines they later instituted within their countries. Back in Columbus, Ohio in 1970, he joined Executive Jet Aviation, an all-jet air taxi service company, where he served in different capacities. He rose up the corporate ladder to become Chairman of the Board in 1982. The company changed ownership in 1985 and he retired again. During these 15 years, Paul Tibbets acquired almost 400 hours in Lear Jets, flying with an Air Transport Pilot rating.

Since his second retirement, General Tibbets enjoys speaking about his career in aviation. He is very active making public appearances all of the United States, as well as signing copies of his book Return of the Enola Gay.



General Paul W. Tibbets, Jr.


Paul Tibbets was born Feb. 23, 1915, son of Enola Gay and Paul Warfield Tibbets in Quincy, The Tibbets family moved to Florida when Paul was nine. On a memorable summer day, a barnstorming pilot, Doug Davis, let old Paul ride in his Waco 9 airplane and toss Baby Ruth candy bars to the crowds at Hialeah racetrack and Miami Beach. Tibbets always traced his interest in aviation to that day. In 1928 at the age of 13, he entered Western Military Academy (WMA), where Butch O'Hare attended at the same time.

He enrolled in the University of Florida at Gainesville in 1933, more or less to follow his family's plan for him to pursue a medical career. With this goal still in mind, he transferred to University of Cincinnati after his sophomore year, where he continued to take flying lessons. After some major soul-searching, and a difficult conversation with his father, he decided that his heart was not in medicine, but rather in aviation.

On February 25th, 1937, Paul enlisted as a flying cadet in the Army Air Corps at Fort Thomas, Kentucky. A year later he got his pilot wings at Kelly Field, Texas and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant. He graduated first in his class, and elected multi-engine Observation duty, because he thought Observation would offer him more independence. From 1938 through 1940, while at Fort Benning, he flew O-46 and O-47 observation planes and B-10 bombers.

Here he met George Patton, then a Lieutenant Colonel, and destined to become the world-famous tank General in World War Two. While Tibbets was a lowly Second Lieutenant, they went skeet shooting together. Patton was a fierce competitor and did not take it lightly when he lost a few quarters competing with Tibbets.

Paul Tibbets learned a whole new approach to flying in 1941, when he began to fly the Army's new attack bomber, the A-20. While earlier bombers has sought refuge in altitude, the development of radar and the A-20's mission, forced the A-20 pilots to fly on the deck, barely 100 feet off the ground. He was flying over the skies of Georgia, listening to a commercial radio station, when he heard the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Amidst the rapidly changing priorities of early 1942, Tibbets (now a Captain) found himself in a squadron of B-18's destined for anti-submarine duty over the Atlantic. He soon transferred to the four-engine B-17 Flying Fortress, as commander of the 40th Squadron of the 97th Bomb Group (Heavy).

In February 1942, Paul became the Squadron Commander of the 340th Bomb Squadron, 97th Bombardment Group, destined for England. He flew 25 missions in B-17s, including the first American Flying Fortress raid against occupied Europe. In November of that year he was in Algeria leading the first bombardment missions in support of the North African invasion.

After the Allies established themselves in Algeria, Tibbets' B-17 group was based first at Maison Blanche (outside Algiers), then at Tafaraoui, and then at Biskra. In early 1943, he was transferred to the 12th Air Force, under General Jimmy Doolittle, where they wrestled with the challenges of the B-26 Marauder, a good plane, but one that was "a handful" for many pilots. It was during this time that Tibbets first crossed paths with Lauris Norstad, a politically adept officer who, in the post-war years, stymied Tibbets' Air Force career.

In Sept. 1944, he reported to Colorado Springs for a top secret assignment - to organize bombardment group to deliver the atomic bomb. Following a detailed personal interview, he was introduced to General Uzal Ent and Professor Norman Ramsey, who explained the project to him. Tibbets force, the 509th Composite Group, included 15 B-29's and 1,800 men. The 509th settled on Wendover, Utah as their base. Due to its remote location, it was ideal for security. From his old B-17 crew in Europe, he selected Tom Ferebee (bombardier), Sgt. George Caron (tail gunner), Dutch Van Kirk (navigator), and Sgt. Wyatt Duzenberry (flight engineer). These men were assigned to Tibbets' airplane. Bob Lewis flew as co-pilot. As Tibbets could get any men and any planes he needed, the 509th quickly filled out, and the entire organization was complete by Dec. 1944.

By May, 1945, Tibbets and the 509th had moved out to the Pacific, to the island of Tinian in the Marianas. As it was shaped something like the island of Manhattan, the Army engineers named the base facilities with names like Broadway and Forty-second Street. Tibbets' group bivouacked in the "Columbia University district." Tinian was ideal; its 8,500 foot runways were among the longest in the world at the time. Tibbets ran into various confrontations, on issues from maintenance to training, stemming in part from the secrecy of the operations. He flew back and forth to the States three times between May and July, but missed the first atomic test at Alamogordo because he had to return to Tinian to persuade General Curtis LeMay not to switch the atomic mission to another outfit.

The cruiser Indianapolis dropped anchor off Tinian and unloaded a 15-foot wooden crate on July 26th. Inside was the atomic bomb, complete except for a second slug of uranium that a B-29 later delivered. Having delivered its load without incident, Indianapolis moved on toward the Philippines. Though intelligence reports assured Captain Charles McVay that the route from Guam to Leyte was safe, there were Japanese submarines active in the area. Four days after departing Tinian, Indianapolis was sunk by a Japanese submarine.

Dropping the atomic bomb, without the shockwave destroying the B-29, would be the primary challenge. The scientists estimated that a B-29 could survive the shockwave at a distance of eight miles. Flying at 31,000 feet, the B-29 would already be six miles in the air. To gain the extra distance, Tibbetts determined that a sharp 155 degree turn would be the best maneuver. In less than 2 minutes, the B-29 would reverse it direction and fly five miles; Another critical concern was accuracy; using the Norden bombsight, the bombardiers would have to put the bomb within 200 feet of the aiming point. Another challenge was to navigate over water and land; the transition could be disorienting. So Tibbets and his men trained for this navigation in Cuba. The Cuba training exercise gave him the opportunity to fly his mother, Enola Gay Tibbets, in a C-54 transport plane to visit him, surviving and even enjoying a turbulent flight, complete with St. Elmo's Fire.

By early August, 1945, plans for the first atomic mission were set. Seven Boeing Superfortresses would take part, including the primary, a standby, a photo plane, one with scientific instruments to measure the blast, and three others that would scout ahead. Bombing would be visual, rather than by radar. Possible target cities included Hiroshima, Kokura, Niigata, and Nagasaki. Until this time, Tibbets' own plane had been simply number 82, when he decided to name it Enola Gay, after his confidence-building and loving mother.


Awards and Decorations

Distinguished Service Cross
Distinguished Flying Cross
Air Medal
Purple Heart
Legion of Merit
European Campaign Medal
Joint Staff Commendation Medal
American Defense Service Medal
W.W.II Victory Medal
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award
American Campaign Medal


The Twelve Men That Crewed The Enola Gay


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The Crew Of The ENOLA GAY

Capt. Robert Lewis - copilot
Maj. Thomas Ferebee - bombardier
Capt. Theodore Van Kirk - navigator
Lt. Jacob Beser - radar countermeasures
Capt. William "Deak" Parsons - weaponeer
2nd Lt. Maurice Jeppson - assistant weaponeer
Sgt. Joe Stiborik - radar
Staff Sgt. George Caron - tail gunner
Sgt. Robert Shumard - asst. flight engineer
Pfc. Richard Nelson - radio
Tech Sgt. Wayne Duzenberry - flight engineer


The Crew Of The Enola Gay

They got the word on Sunday morning, August 5. Conditions were go, and the next day would be the day. At the last minute, it was decided to complete the final assembly of the bomb in flight, thus eliminating the risk of it exploding if Enola Gay crashed on take-off. Navy Captain Deak Parsons, who had earlier opposed this idea, now suggested it, and persuaded the team that he could perform the difficult assembly in the cramped bomb bay of the B-29.

They loaded the bomb into the Enola Gay that afternoon. "Little Boy" was 12 feet long and 28 inches in diameter - bigger than any bomb Tibbetts had ever seen. Its explosive power equaled 20,000 tons of TNT; or roughly as much as two thousand Superfortresses could carry - all in a single bomb that weighed about 9,000 pounds. Deak Parsons practiced the delicate arming process. That night the crew was briefed, for the first time, on the nature of their weapon - an atomic bomb.

At 8:30 they received the coded message from Etherley's Strait Flush, flying over Hiroshima, "Y-3, Q-3, B-2, C-1." The message meant that cloud cover over Hiroshima, the primary target, was less than three-tenths. Tibbets gave the word to his crew, "It's Hiroshima." As they reached the coastline of Japan, no interceptors challenged them; the Japanese had become indifferent to small groups of B-29s. They crossed Shikoku and the Iyo Sea.

They looked down at the city below. The other crewmen verified that it was indeed Hiroshima. Tom Ferebee peered into his Norden bombsight, and cranked in the information to correct for the south wind. Tibbets reminded the crew to put on their heavy dark Polaroid goggles, to shield their eyes from the blinding blast. It had been calculated to have the intensity of ten suns. They easily spotted the distinctive T-shaped bridge that was their primary. 90 seconds before drop, he turned the controls over to Tom Ferebee, the bombardier. At 9:15AM (8:15 Hiroshima time), they dropped "Little Boy" and made a 155 degree diving turn to the right. Unable to fly the plane with the dark goggles, they shoved them aside.

43 seconds later, a tingling in Tibbets' teeth told him of the Hiroshima explosion: the bomb's radioactive forces interacting with his fillings. The bomb exploded at 1890 feet above the ground. Bob Caron, the tail gunner was the only crew member to see the fireball. Even wearing the goggles, he thought he was blinded. The plane raced away, while the shockwave from the explosion raced toward them at 1,100 feet per second. When the shockwave hit, it felt like a near-miss from flak. The mushroom cloud boiled up, 45,000 feet high, three miles above them, and it was still rising. They flew away, shocked and horrified at the sight below. The city had completely disappeared under a blanket of smoke and fire. They radioed back to headquarters that the primary target had been bombed visually with good results.

The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima was visible for an hour and a half as they flew southward back to Tinian. The crew talked about the effect of the atomic bomb on the war. They thought that perhaps the Japs would "throw in the sponge" even before they landed. Twelve hours after they had taken off, Tibbets and the crew of the Enola Gay touched down, to be greeted by all the military brass that could be mustered: General Carl Spaatz, commander of the Strategic Air Force; General Nathan Twining, chief of the Marianas Air Force; General Thomas F. Farrell and Rear Admiral W.R.E. Purnell, both with the atomic development project; and General John Davies, 313th Wing Commander. Spaatz pinned a Distinguished Service Cross on Tibbets as hedescended from the plane.

After the welcoming formalities, they were debriefed and given a quick medical checkup. The interviewers were skeptical of their accounts of the blast. The news of the atomic bomb was promptly announced to the world. The Japanese were given an ultimatum, to accept the Potsdam call for unconditional surrender, or face further atomic attacks. Three days later, Chuck Sweeney, in Bock's Car, dropped the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki.

Not long after the surrender, Tibbets inspected the damage done to Nagasaki. He stayed in the Air Force, and participated in the development of the B-47, our first all-jet bomber. He learned to fly jets with Pat Fleming, a 19-kill Navy ace. In the early 1950's, he flew B-47's for three years. He advised on the making of the movie "Above and Beyond," and was pleased that the famous actor, Robert Taylor, played him. From the 1950's through the 1960's he had a number of overseas assignments, including France and India. After his retirement from the Air Force, he became president of Executive Jet Aviation in Columbus, Ohio.

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The Enola Gay was over Hiroshima, Japan at 31,600 feet when the worlds first atomic bomb was dropped from an aircraft. Two minutes later it exploded over the city at an altitude of about 2,000 feet. The bomb wiped out a circle 4.5 miles in diameter in the middle of Hiroshima.



Columbus, Ohio (August 6, 2005)


 - On this occasion, the surviving members of the Enola Gay crew would like the opportunity to issue a joint statement.

This year, 2005, marks the sixtieth year since the end of World War II. The summer of 1945 was indeed an anxious one as allied and American forces gathered for the inevitable invasion of the Japanese homeland. President Truman made one last demand, one final appeal. Together with Great Britain's Churchill, and Russia's Stalin, the President of the United States urged the Japanese to " proclaim the unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces The alternative," they said, "for Japan is prompt and utter destruction". Ignoring the obvious military situation, the Japanese Prime Minister Baron Kantaro Suzuki issued the Japanese refusal to surrender which included these words: " there is no other recourse but to ignore it [the surrender demand] entirely and resolutely fight for the successful conclusion of the war."

While it is certainly unfortunate this course of action was necessary, for the allies, at that moment in time, there was no other choice. Secretary of War Henry Stinson wrote, "The decision to use the atomic bomb was our least abhorrent choice".
President Harry S. Truman approved the order to use the atomic bomb. It was his decision and his hope to avoid an invasion of the Japanese homeland. An invasion that would have cost tens of thousands of Japanese and allied lives.

Winston Churchill concurred with the decision saying, "To avert a vast, indefinite butchery [the invasion], to bring the war to an end, give peace to the world, to lay healing hands upon its tortured peoples at the cost of a few explosions, seemed after all our toils and perils, a miracle of deliverance."

On August 6, 1945, the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay dropped the world's first atomic bomb on the island of Hiroshima hoping to expedite the end of World War II. The second atomic weapon was delivered over Nagasaki by the B-29 Superfortress Bocks Car three days later. The availability of those weapons in the American arsenal left President Truman no choice but to use them. To spare the world a horrific invasion and to save American, allied, and Japanese lives was literally the only course of prudent action.

The surviving members of the Enola Gay crew: Paul W. Tibbets (pilot), Theodore J. "Dutch" Van Kirk (navigator) and Morris R. Jeppson (weapon test officer) have repeatedly and humbly proclaimed that, "The use of the atomic weapon was a necessary moment in history. We have no regrets". They have steadfastly taken that stance for the past six decades.

"In the past sixty years since Hiroshima I have received many letters from people all over the world. The vast majority have expressed gratitude that the 509th Composite group consisting of 1700 men, 15 B-29s and 6 C-54s were able to deliver the bombs that ended the war. Over the years, thousands of former soldiers and military family members have expressed a particularly touching and personal gratitude suggesting that they might not be alive today had it been necessary to resort to an invasion of the Japanese home islands to end the fighting. In addition to Americans veterans, I have been thanked as well by Japanese veterans and civilians who would have been expected to carry out a suicidal defense of their homelands. Combined with the efforts of all Americans and our allies we were able to stop the killing," comments Brigadier General Paul W. Tibbets.

It is a sentiment upon which the surviving crewmen are unanimous.

In this year, 2005, we will observe the anniversary of the epic flight of the Enola Gay close to our homes and our friends. To our fellow veterans and the American nation we all echo one sentiment, "I pray that reason will prevail among leaders before we ever again need to call upon our nuclear might. There are no regrets. We were proud to have served like so many men and women stationed around the world today. To them, to you, we salute you and goodbye."


The History Of The B-29

The Enola Gay Story

The Atomic Bombs

"One Hell Of A Big Bang"




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