“Little Boy” was the codename for the atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945 during World War II by the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, piloted by Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, Jr., commander of the 509th Composite Group of the United States Army Air Forces.
It was the first atomic bomb to be used in warfare. The Hiroshima bombing was the second artificial nuclear explosion in history, after the Trinity test, and the first uranium-based detonation. It exploded with an energy of approximately 15 kilotons of TNT (63 TJ). The bomb caused significant destruction to the city of Hiroshima and its occupants.
Little Boy was developed by Lieutenant Commander Francis Birch’s group of Captain William S. Parsons’s Ordnance (O) Division at the Manhattan Project’s Los Alamos Laboratory during World War II.
Parsons flew on the Hiroshima mission as weaponeer. The Little Boy was a development of the unsuccessful Thin Man nuclear bomb. Like Thin Man, it was a gun-type fission weapon, but derived its explosive power from the nuclear fission of uranium-235. This was accomplished by shooting a hollow cylinder of enriched uranium (the “bullet”) onto a solid cylinder of the same material (the “target”) by means of a charge of nitrocellulose propellant powder. It contained 64 kg (141 lb) of enriched uranium, of which less than a kilogram underwent nuclear fission. Its components were fabricated at three different plants so that no one would have a copy of the complete design.
After the war ended, it was not expected that the inefficient Little Boy design would ever again be required, and many plans and diagrams were destroyed, but by mid-1946 the Hanford Site reactors were suffering badly from the Wigner effect, so six Little Boy assemblies were produced at Sandia Base. The Navy Bureau of Ordnance built another 25 Little Boy assemblies in 1947 for use by the Lockheed P2V Neptune nuclear strike aircraft (which could be launched from, but not land on, the Midway-class aircraft carriers). All the Little Boy units were withdrawn from service by the end of January 1951.
Hiroshima before and after.
At the time of its bombing, Hiroshima was a city of both industrial and military significance. A number of military units were located nearby, the most important of which was the headquarters of Field Marshal Shunroku Hata’s Second General Army, which commanded the defense of all of southern Japan, and was located in Hiroshima Castle. Hata’s command consisted of some 400,000 men, most of whom were on Kyushu where an Allied invasion was correctly anticipated.
Hiroshima was a minor supply and logistics base for the Japanese military, but it also had large stockpiles of military supplies. The city was also a communications center, a key port for shipping and an assembly area for troops. It was a beehive of war industry, manufacturing parts for planes and boats, for bombs, rifles, and handguns; children were shown how to construct and hurl gasoline bombs and the wheelchair-bound and bedridden were assembling booby traps to be planted in the beaches of Kyushu. A new slogan appeared on the walls of Hiroshima: “FORGET SELF! ALL OUT FOR YOUR COUNTRY!”. It was also the second largest city in Japan after Kyoto that was still undamaged by air raids.
The center of the city contained several reinforced concrete buildings and lighter structures. Outside the center, the area was congested by a dense collection of small timber-made workshops set among Japanese houses. A few larger industrial plants lay near the outskirts of the city. The houses were constructed of timber with tile roofs, and many of the industrial buildings were also built around timber frames. The city as a whole was highly susceptible to fire damage.
The population of Hiroshima had reached a peak of over 381,000 earlier in the war but prior to the atomic bombing, the population had steadily decreased because of a systematic evacuation ordered by the Japanese government. At the time of the attack, the population was approximately 340,000–350,000.
On August 6, 1945, a mushroom cloud billows into the sky about one hour after an atomic bomb was dropped by American B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, detonating above Hiroshima, Japan. Nearly 80,000 people are believed to have been killed immediately, with possibly another 60,000 survivors dying of injuries and radiation exposure by 1950.
A Japanese woman and her child, casualties in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, lie on a blanket on the floor of a damaged bank building converted into a hospital and located near the center of the devastated town, on October 6, 1945.
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