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The Mission

The world entered a new era on Aug. 6, 1945, when the crew of the B-29 Enola Gay released an atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Japan. Maj. Charles W. Sweeney, commander of the 393rd Bomb Squadron, accompanied the Enola Gay on the mission, piloting the B-29 The Great Artiste as an observation aircraft. The devastation caused by the bomb brought no response to the demand for unconditional surrender, and conventional bombing raids continued. On Aug. 9, with Sweeney at the controls, B-29 Bockscar took off before dawn from the island of Tinian with a second atomic bomb aboard (only two bombs were available). To eliminate the need to remove and reinstall complex scientific equipment from The Great Artiste, Sweeney and Capt. Frederick C. Bock had exchanged aircraft. Thus Sweeney and his crew flew Bockscar, while The Great Artiste repeated its role as the observation aircraft, but with Bock and his crew aboard.

The primary target was the city of Kokura, but clouds obscured it. With fuel running low due to a fuel transfer problem, Sweeney proceeded to the secondary target -- Nagasaki, a leading industrial center. There was enough fuel for only one bombing run, and a last minute break in the clouds allowed the bombardier to bomb visually as specified by the field order. When the bomb detonated at 11 a.m. Nagasaki time, it felt as though Bockscar was "being beaten with a telephone pole," said a crew member. With fuel critically low, Sweeney turned toward Okinawa where he landed to refuel before returning to Tinian.

Click here to return to the Bockscar: The Aircraft that Ended WWII Overview.


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