Paul Tibbets

Commander of the 'Enola Gay'


Paul Warfield Tibbets, pilot: born Quincy, Illinois 23 February 1915; married (two sons); died Columbus, Ohio 1 November 2007.

Well before the event that sealed his place in history, Paul Tibbets had the reputation of being "the best flier in the [US] air force". But his lasting distinction was only partially due to his skill as an aviator. Tibbets was the pilot and commander of the Enola Gay, the B-29 aircraft that dropped the first nuclear bomb in history, on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945.

The mission's origins began in September 1944 when Tibbets, then already a colonel, was chosen to head the special air unit that would carry out "Project Alberta" – the codename for the plan to deliver the atomic weapon that was being developed at Los Alamos, New Mexico, under the ultra-secret Manhattan Project.

By the time the bomb was successfully tested in July 1945, Hitler's Germany had been defeated and Japan was left as America's sole enemy, and the obvious target for any use of an atomic weapon. Tibbets, then aged 30, was sent to the Pacific, and after several practice runs, and a full-scale dummy mission, the attack was set for 6 August.

The day before, Tibbets formally christened his specially modified B-29 Superfortress – victory number 82 and serial number 44-86292 – the Enola Gay, after his mother. Shortly before 3am local time the following morning, the plane took off from Tinian island in the Northern Marianas for the six-hour flight north to Hiroshima.

At 8.15am the Enola Gay and its crew of 14 discharged the five-ton "Little Boy" bomb over Hiroshima – the first time that man had used a nuclear weapon against his fellow human beings. Technically, the mission was flawless. In the blast that signalled the dawn of a new era of mass destruction, a city was obliterated, between 70,000 to 100,000 people died, and numberless others were injured.

Like President Harry Truman who ordered the attack, Tibbets never expressed regret over his role, whatever the controversy that has raged ever since. It was his patriotic duty, he insisted, to carry out an attack that shortened the war.

"I'm not proud that I killed 80,000 people, but I'm proud I was able to start with nothing, plan it and have it work as perfectly as it did," he said years later. "You've got to take stock and assess the situation at that time. We were at war, and you use anything at your disposal. There are no Marquess of Queensberry rules in war". And, he added, "I sleep clearly every night."

Tibbets had joined what was then called the Army Air Corps in 1937, when he enlisted as a flying cadet at Fort Thomas, Kentucky. In 1942 he was named commanding officer of the 340th Bomb Squadron of B-17 Flying Fortresses, which operated out of Britain against Nazi Germany. Two years later, he was reassigned to the US, to test-fly the new longer-range Superfortresses that would carry out the missions against Hiroshima and, three days later, against Nagasaki.

Tibbets retired from the US Air Force in 1966 – but not before becoming the unwitting subject of a diplomatic incident when he was appointed military attaché to the US embassy in New Delhi. The assignment was scrapped after all India's political parties protested at his presence. In later life, he headed an air-taxi company based in Columbus, Ohio.

Rupert Cornwell

News
people
News
people And here is why...
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsWelsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Life and Style
The spring/summer 2015 Louis Vuitton show for Paris Fashion Week
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

Time to stop running

At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence