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Charles W. Sweeney

Charles Willaim Sweeney

Bock's Car pilot flew both A-bomb strikes

It was 8:15 a.m. Aug. 6, 1945. Maj. Charles Sweeney was flying his plane - the Great Artiste - near Lt. Col. Tibbets' bomber Enola Gay. An atomic bomb - dubbed "Little Boy" and loaded with a uranium core made in Oak Ridge, Tenn. - dropped from the Enola Gay's belly.

Three canisters dropped from the Great Artiste. Parachutes unfurled, leaving sensors in those canisters ready to send data on the blast, heat and radiation to scientists on the Great Artiste.

Little Boy exploded some 1,900 feet above Hiroshima.

"We saw this tremendous flash. It was the brightest thing I'd ever seen," Sweeney recalled.

Though Sweeney's back was to the explosion, the light "just obliterated the whole sky. We got various concussions in waves - rings of hot air whacking against the airplane."

As the B-29s turned to head back to Tinian, the crews could not see through the monstrous, mushrooming cloud covering the city.

"It boiled up with every color of the rainbow," Sweeney said.

Sweeney figured Tibbets would lead the second atomic raid on Japan, using the "Fat Man" bomb with its plutonium core.

But on the evening of Aug. 6, Tibbets told Sweeney the mission was his.

Bad weather was coming in after Aug. 9, and American commanders wanted a second bomb dropped as soon as possible to convince the Japanese the United States had a huge arsenal of atomic bombs.

Kokura was the primary target, Nagasaki the backup.

The field order explicitly stated that while radar could be used as an aid, the "crew was to bring the bomb back to base" if the target was obscured and the bomb could not be dropped visually.

Sweeney's first thoughts were the Japanese would be suspicious of any trio of B-29s flying at high altitude after Hiroshima.

But Tibbets said the same tactics would be used. "I had too much faith in him to worry about it," Sweeney said.

Sweeney decided to swap planes with Capt. Fred Bock to avoid the time-consuming hassle of removing the scientific measuring equipment from the Great Artiste. That put Sweeney in command of Bock's Car.

Until the Enola Gay dropped the Hiroshima bomb, no one realized how destructive an atomic bomb would be.

After seeing pictures from Hiroshima, the mission's weaponeer, Navy Cmdr. Frederick Ashworth, said he and other crew members realized for the first time they would drop a bomb that could wipe out an entire city. "We had a different attitude from the Hiroshima guys," he said.

Fat Man almost did not make it to its Aug. 9 date, according to Richard Rhodes' book, The Making Of The Atomic Bomb.

On the night of Aug. 7, a Navy technical officer and an Army technician discovered to their horror they could not connect a firing unit on Fat Man's front to a cable threaded through the bomb's innards to a radar unit on its tail.

They found a "female" plug in the firing unit and another "female" plug on the cable. The cable had been threaded through the bomb backward.

Disassembling the bomb to reverse the cable would take a day, and they would miss the Aug. 9 deadline.

Without telling anyone, the two got a soldering iron and extension cords. They secretly removed the two plugs on the cable and swapped them so everything fit.

Printed by permission from the Tri-City Herald

Thanks to George Beckett.

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