Anecdotes of WWII
Talk about atrocities, how about baby-on-a-bayonet? Did the pilots/bombers who flew over Hiroshima and Nagasaki have any regret?
Editor’s Note: These quotes and anecdotes were sourced from various comments in a discussion at quora.com.
Paul Tibbets dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. Many people do not know he bumped the regular Aircraft Commander, Bob Lewis, to the copilot’s seat before takeoff. Lewis did not like it, but he followed orders.
This still happens today. Any high-profile mission has a surplus of volunteers—not a shortage.
Paul Tibbets started his career with a different kind of bombing. As a young man, he flew low over beach crowds in an open cockpit biplane. He “bombed” them with Baby Ruth candy bars.
Tibbets was a pre-med student because his parents wanted him to become a doctor. But he never liked medicine. He soon dropped out of college and joined the Air Corps. Before he left, a professor told his class:
Some people have too much empathy to be doctors. These people cannot stay detached enough to perform their critical duties. Sometimes there is a bigger purpose which requires you to set aside human emotion.
During pep talks before bombing missions, Tibbets often mentioned this
Tibbets led large bombing raids in Europe, North Africa, and the Pacific.
In 1975, General Tibbets told a reporter: I am proud the Bomb worked as
perfectly as it did. I sleep clearly every night.
In 1995, Tibbets complained about the Smithsonian Institution. The
Smithsonian had created an exhibit which focused on Hiroshima casualties rather than the brutality of Japanese military forces. General Tibbets called it a damn big insult.
In 2005, General Tibbets told a reporter: We knew the Bomb was going to kill people right and left. But my one driving interest was to do the best job I could so we could end the war as quickly as possible.
General Tibbets’ grandson, Paul W. Tibbets, flew the B-2 at Whiteman AFB, Missouri. He became Commander of the 393rd Bomb Squadron, his grandfather’s former unit. He was later promoted to Brigadier General.
In 2014, he became Deputy Director for Nuclear Operations at Offutt AFB, Nebraska.
I flew in SAC. My father flew in SAC before me. He was assigned to the 456th Bomb Group before SAC existed.
My wiseass copilot joked:I guess strategic bombing is the family business.<
Civilians would routinely ask “Hiroshima” questions, especially after a few cocktails. People assumed SAC aircrews lived under tremendous strain. They surmised we were filled with emotional turmoil and dread.
The idea of dropping hydrogen bombs on Russians, Iranians, or North Koreans must cause us terrible insomnia and guilt.
Here is the truth…
If the President gives the order, those people will be vaporized.
When the Air Tasking Order (ATO) arrives from the Pentagon, Aircraft Commanders will compete and politick to be chosen for those attack missions.
As aircrews, we spent our entire careers preparing for wartime sorties. No pilot wants to relax at the Club while his buddies launch and fulfill their duty.
Many civilians asked us about Hiroshima because they wanted to hear a touchy-feely answer. A few believe America should offer a heartfelt apology to the Japanese Emperor.
Don’t hold your breath, Pal.
Some Americans want our military to protect the nation from harm—without killing Bad Guys. In the real world, that does not work. It has not worked for 65 centuries.
In World War II, many young Americans never came home.
Japanese atrocities against the Chinese.
The Japanese murdered 30 million innocent civilians.
20 million people died in China. Another 3.5 million were butchered in the Dutch East Indies.
Everywhere they went, the Japanese brought death and destruction.
General Curtis LeMay told reporters: The Japs killed 2,400 Americans at Pearl Harbor. They started this war—not us.
We will kill every Japanese if that is what it takes to win this war.
President Roosevelt was a genial politico, but a muscular Commander-in-Chief. Roosevelt was much more involved in strategic bombing than most people realize.
FDR spoke German and French. He studied in Germany as a student. On October 9, 1938, Roosevelt listened to Hitler’s Nuremberg Speech.
After listening to the broadcast, the President was now fully convinced: Hitler was a lunatic.
On November 14, 1938, FDR convened a meeting at the White House with all
his top Generals and Admirals. He said: Aircraft! We are going to build
thousands of long-range bombers. And we are going to start today.
The military officers were all surprised. Only Harry Hopkins expected these
President Roosevelt came from a long line of Navy men. He had been Assistant
Secretary of the Navy. His son, James, won the Navy Cross for extraordinary
heroism in the Marine Corps during World War II. President Teddy Roosevelt
had written books about Navy operations including The Naval War of 1812.
Roosevelt set aside his family’s personal history. A massive investment in air
power arose from that 1938 meeting. It signaled a sea change in the U.S.
military which persists today.
Throughout the war, President Roosevelt applied direct pressure to build more
bombers and drop more bombs. He said in 1942:
Germany and Japan asked for it. Now they are going to get it.
General Henry “Hap” Arnold was born and raised in Pennsylvania. The Wright
Brothers taught him to fly in 1911. He received his nickname from a movie
crew. As a young officer, he moonlighted as a stunt pilot.
In 1914, he was assigned to an infantry unit in the Philippines. His quarters adjoined those of First Lieutenant George C. Marshall.
General Arnold was Chief of Staff of the Air Corps from 1938–1941. He later
became the only 5-star General in the history of the Air Force.
Where General Marshall was reserved and diplomatic, Hap Arnold was extroverted and blunt. He once chewed out a subordinate with such ferocity the man dropped dead on the spot. He later told General LeMay:
I liked your friend, General Hansell. But he failed to get results, so I fired him.
If you fail to get results, I will fire you.
The military is not Sunday School.
Arnold objected to FDR giving so many bombers to the British and other allies. Arnold believed the planes should be used to bolster American air power. He forcefully stated his opinion on numerous occasions.<
Finally, FDR had enough. In one meeting, the Commander-in-Chief told a roomful of officers (including Arnold):
If there is anyone here who does not fully support my bomber plans, I’ll find out soon enough. Then, I shall make him Governor of Guam.
Hap Arnold got the message. Loud and clear.
Even so, the Air Staff at the Pentagon retained their great admiration for President Roosevelt. FDR once suggested bombing Japanese volcanoes to release hot lava onto Japanese cities. General Arnold tactfully deep-sixed the idea.
In the Pacific, General LeMay significantly increased daily missions.
Despite this increase in sorties, Navy Admirals told LeMay he already had plenty of bombs in the Pacific. They did not see the need to stockpile additional ordnance.
LeMay was like Arnold—overly blunt. LeMay told the Admirals:
When we run out of bombs, I will tell my aircrews to play golf. Then, you can explain to Washington why the war has stalled.
The Admirals outranked LeMay. They were just as abrupt:
The Navy has higher priorities than delivering spare bombs for the Air Corps.
LeMay flew to Washington in a B-29. He landed at National Airport instead of Andrews Field. The B-29 had never been seen by most civilians. It caused a stir.
LeMay went directly to the Pentagon. He presented his plans on butcher paper.
Within hours, General Arnold and General Marshall were briefing the President. The decision was made quickly. President Roosevelt said:
LeMay gets whatever he needs. I want him to burn Japan to the ground.
LeMay gave his men one night with their wives. They returned to the war zone the next morning.
The Navy Admirals were very unhappy. LeMay had bucked the chain of command and gone around them. But they obeyed orders.
LeMay received his bombs—shipload after shipload. He surprised the Navy by using all of them. 90% of all U.S. bombs dropped in World War II fell on Japan.
General LeMay told his aircrews: Make the rubble bounce.
Admirals King, Leahy, and Nimitz later changed course. They became allies of LeMay after receiving new intelligence.
By the summer of 1945, U.S. code breakers were reading Japanese codes in near real-time. Hundreds of messages from the highest levels of Japanese government (including the Emperor) had been decoded. These cables repeatedly stated they were prepared to lose 20 million Japanese defending the southern island of Kyushu.
The Japanese cabinet had already extended the military draft to males aged 15 to 60. Female draftees were now aged 17–45. In addition, there was a new program to transform senior citizens and children into armed defenders. General Douglas MacArthur dismissed those intelligence decrypts as too pessimistic. MacArthur advocated a massive invasion of Japan to be led by a military genius. Himself.
Nimitz and the other Admirals disagreed. In the intercepted messages, they detected no signs the Japanese were ready to surrender. Nimitz thought an invasion of Kyushu would be 20 times worse than Okinawa. He sought to delay any invasion until 1946. Thus, Nimitz and the Navy became tacit supporters of LeMay’s strategic bombing campaign.
In June 1945, a Japanese General was tasked to train civilians to defend against invasion. Purely by coincidence, he established his headquarters in Hiroshima. When he saw the atomic bomb damage in August, he told Emperor Hirohito:
I cannot defend Japan in the face of such overwhelming weaponry.
Japan had it coming.
If someone wants to rewrite the history of Hiroshima and Nagasaki using politically correct BS, he should consult Ivy League academics. Not military veterans.<
In August 1945, Winston Churchill ridiculed idealists and armchair philosophers:<
I am surprised that very worthy people—but people who had no intention of proceeding to the Japanese front themselves—should adopt the position that rather than throw this atomic bomb, we should have sacrificed a million American and a quarter of a million British lives.
Churchill got it 100% right.
In 2022, we still owe a debt of gratitude to General Curtis LeMay and General Hap Arnold.
Millions of Americans and Britons are alive today because of strategic bombing in 1945.
Addendum 1 of 4: Casualty Data
Addendum 2 of 4: Gallup Poll
85% of the public approved of the atomic bombings in 1945
President Truman’s Chief of Staff told him in July 1945:
There is no decision to be made, Mr. President. If you order an invasion, there will be enormous casualties.
When the American public finds out you refused to drop these these special bombs—and they will find out—you will be impeached.
The Senate will not save you. Senators will lead the charge against you.
Addendum 3 of 4: SAC anecdotes
My buddy, John Loggia, is a real character. He was an Air Force weather officer before he graduated from pilot training.
Loggia was walking through an airport in civilian clothes. A bright-eyed young woman stepped up with a clipboard.
Sir, would you sign our Greenpeace petition? We want to ban thermonuclear weapons.
Loggia chuckled and said:
Ban them? Lady, I drop them!
A sweet old granny called my bomb wing one day. She somehow got connected to the Wing Commander. She said:
I read in the newspaper you are installing a large radio tower to talk with your bombers and tankers. That is a very bad idea.
If Russians get hold of our newspaper, that could make your entire SAC base a target.
Major Wynn: General, we have 180,000 pounds of fuel onboard. The jet could
General LeMay: It wouldn’t dare.