Most people will know the name ‘Enola Gay’ the plane that dropped the 1st Atomic bomb on Hiroshima but surprisingly not that many people will have heard of the plane that dropped the bomb on Nagasaki, some even think that Enola Gay dropped both.
Bockscar, sometimes called Bock’s Car, is the name of the United States Army Air Forces B-29 bomber that dropped a Fat Man nuclear weapon over the Japanese city of Nagasaki during World War II in the second – and last – nuclear attack in history. One of 15 Silverplate B-29s used by the 509th, Bockscar was built at the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Plant at Bellevue, Nebraska, at what is now Offutt Air Force Base, and delivered to the United States Army Air Forces on 19 March 1945. It was assigned to the 393d Bombardment Squadron, 509th Composite Group to Wendover Army Air Field, Utah in April.
When the United States made the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan on Monday, August 6, 1945, the hope was that this action would end the war. The bomb, nicknamed “Little Boy”,
was dropped by the B-29 Superfortress bomber Enola Gay.
And although it took a second atomic bomb to force Japan to surrender, the Enola Gay’s name has gone down in history as the plane that was responsible for ending WWII.
But the crew of the Enola Gay only dropped the first bomb. Three days later, on Thursday, August 9, a second atomic bomb, this one nicknamed “Fat Man” was dropped on Nagasaki. The B-29 that delivered this, the final blow to the Japanese, was known as Bockscar.
Originally, The Great Artiste commanded by Major Charles W. Sweeney was the plane scheduled to drop the second atomic bomb. Sweeney and his crew C-15 had previously flown The Great Artiste with the Enola Gay on her flight to Hiroshima on August 6, carrying instrumentation to record and support the mission. Upon their return Sweeney and his crew began to prepare for their turn. The next mission was planned for August 11 but due to a poor weather forecast, the commanders decided to move the attack up by two days, setting a new date of August 9. Sweeney and his crew had been doing training runs in Captain Bock’s plane Bockscar while The Great Artiste was to have its instruments removed and installed in another plane.
However, when the mission date moved forward, it did not give the ground crews enough time to do the transfer, so it was decided that Sweeney and Bock would switch planes. Hence, Bock and his crew flew The Great Artiste in a support role on the mission and Sweeney and his crew, aboard Bockscar, became the primary unit to drop the second atomic bomb on Japan.
The primary target for the August 9 bombing mission was the industrial city of Kokura. However, when the Bockscar arrived over the city with Fat Man ready to be deployed, the crew found that visibility over the city was obscured by clouds and smog. Sweeney’s orders were specific in that the atomic bomb had to be dropped visually on the target.
Failing to spot their target after passing over Kokura three times, Sweeney decided to proceed to the secondary target of Nagasaki. At 11:02am, Fat Man, the atomic bomb with 14.1 lbs of plutonium-239, was dropped. The bomb detonated about 43 seconds later at an altitude of about 1,540 feet above the ground. Approximately 40% of Nagasaki was destroyed
Although Fat Man was considered a more powerful bomb than Little Boy, the hilly terrain helped to deaden the destruction whereas Hiroshima was flat and open and thus suffered much greater devastation. What twist of fate saved the people of Kokura and yet doomed so many citizens of Nagasaki?
It’s also known that many survivors of the Hiroshima bombing made their way to Nagasaki only to experience the second terrifying explosion all over again. Many of them did not survive the second time.
The failure to drop the Fat Man at the precise bomb aim point caused the atomic blast to be confined to the Urakami Valley. As a consequence, a major portion of the city was protected by the intervening hills, but even so, the bomb was dropped over the city’s industrial valley midway between the Mitsubishi Steel and Arms Works in the south and the Mitsubishi-Urakami Ordnance Works in the north. An estimated 35,000 people were killed and 60,000 injured during the bombing at Nagasaki.Of those killed, 23,200-28,200 were Japanese munitions workers, 2,000 were Korean slave laborers, and 150 were Japanese soldiers.
Because of the delays in the mission and the inoperative fuel transfer pump,Bockscar did not have sufficient fuel to reach the emergency landing field at Iwo Jima, so Sweeney flew the aircraft to Okinawa. Arriving there, he circled for 20 minutes trying to contact the control tower for landing clearance, finally concluding that his radio was faulty. Critically low on fuel, Bockscar barely made it to the runway at Yontan Airfield on Okinawa. With only enough fuel for one landing attempt, Sweeney and Albury brought Bockscar in at 150 miles per hour (240 km/h) instead of the normal 120 miles per hour (190 km/h), firing distress flares to alert the field of the uncleared landing. The number two engine died from fuel starvation as Bockscar began its final approach. Touching the runway hard, the heavy B-29 slewed left and towards a row of parked B-24 bombers before the pilots managed to regain control. The B-29’s reversible propellers were insufficient to slow the aircraft adequately, and with both pilots standing on the brakes, Bockscar made a swerving 90-degree turn at the end of the runway to avoid running off the runway. A second engine died from fuel exhaustion by the time the plane came to a stop. The flight engineer later measured fuel in the tanks and concluded that less than five minutes total remained.
After the war, Bockscar returned to the United States in November 1945 and served with the 509th at Roswell Army Air Field, New Mexico. It was nominally assigned to the Operation Crossroads task force,Operation Crossroads was a pair of nuclear weapon tests conducted by the United States at Bikini Atoll in mid-1946.
But there are no records indicating that it deployed for the tests. In August 1946, it was assigned to the 4105th Army Air Force Unit at Davis-Monthan Army Air Field, Arizona, for storage.
At Davis-Monthan it was placed on display as the aircraft that bombed Nagasaki, but in the markings of The Great Artiste. In September 1946, title was passed to the Air Force Museum (now the National Museum of the United States Air Force) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. The aircraft was flown to the Museum on 26 September 1961,and its original markings were restored.Bockscar is now on permanent display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Dayton, Ohio. This display, a primary exhibit in the Museum’s Air Power gallery, includes a replica of a Fat Man bomb and signage that states that it was “The aircraft that ended WWII”.
In 2005, a short documentary was made about Charles Sweeney’s recollections of the Nagasaki mission aboard Bockscar, including details of the mission preparation, titled “Nagasaki: The Commander’s Voice
This last bit is not the take away from the history of the Bockscar, although I don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories, it wouldn’t be hard to come up with one here.
Looking at all the twists in the story.
- The crew was changed from the Great Artiste to Bockscar
- The intended target had been Kokura
- After the war it was part of a task force conducting nuclear tests(although not actively)
- Mix in the fact that it served at the Roswell Army field
One could be forgiven for believing that the UFO that allegedly crashed in Roswell was maybe there to observe the ‘weapon of mass destruction’ that was based there.
I don’t really believe this is the case but it does make an intriguing theory and story.