Friday, August 3, 2012

Enola Gay on Tinian

The Enola Gay, with Necessary Evil (No. 91) on the far right. Because the aircraft
received its Circle R disguise on August 1 and the aircraft name on August 5th, it
can be concluded that this photo was taken after the mission, when the tail had
been painted back to its 509th identification.
There is probably no more well-known, iconic and controversial aircraft from WWII than the B-29 Enola Gay. So to find an original, non-official 1945 photograph of her on Tinian Island in a tiny, dark antique store, buried in a pile of other mundane photos, was a surprise indeed. In fact, when I picked up the photo, my brain registered simply "B-29", and I handed it to the owner to ring up. He took a closer look and recognized it for what it was (and raised the price, too).

Enola Gay (B-29-45-MO 45-86292) was one of 15 B-29s that were modified during construction under a program code-named Silverplate, and which included special provision for carrying nuclear weapons.

Enola Gay was assigned to the 509th Composite Group (which consisted of a single squadron, the 393rd), assigned at the time to the 313th Bombardment Wing, 20th Air Force. The group's aircraft identification symbol was a large arrowhead within a circle painted on the tail, but when flying active missions, the tails of its aircraft were repainted with the symbols of other B-29 combat units, for security purposes (it was suspected that there were Japanese spies on Tinian who were reporting activities of the 509th's aircraft back to Tokyo). Thus, for the Hiroshima mission, Enola Gay carried the circle-R of the 6th Bomb Group, as did B-29 Victor No. 91, Necessary Evil, which can be seen in the far right of the photo with its 6th BG disguise still on the tail. Enola Gay was originally assigned Victor number 12, but this was later changed to 82 so that it would not conflict with one of the 6BG aircraft.

The aircraft arrived in theater on July 6, 1945, and carried out a series of conventional bomb missions, including raids on Kobe and Koriyama, and practice atomic sorties. On these missions, the aircraft was commanded by Capt. Robert A. Lewis, and the plane hadn't been given a nickname. On August 5, 1945, Victor 82 was selected to be the weapons aircraft for OPERATION CENTERBOARD I, and as part of that assignment, 509th Group Commander Paul W. Tibbets Jr. elected to command the aircraft, bumping Lewis into the co-pilot's position. Tibbets then named the plane after his mother, Enola Gay Tibbets, over the objections of Lewis. The crew and the newly christened Enola Gay took off for their fateful mission at 0245 the next morning.

Enola Gay's last combat mission was as a weather scout plane three days later for the Nagasaki bombing mission. The 509th returned to the US on November 6, 1945, and was stationed at Roswell Army Airfield, New Mexico, where the unit eventually became the core of the new Strategic Air Command. Enola Gay was donated to the Smithsonian on July 4, 1949, and her last flight was on December 2, 1949, when she landed at Andrews AFB.

A color photo of Enola Gay in almost the same spot from the Joseph Papalia collection can be seen here.

In 2008, while writing a newspaper article on the number of aircraft from the Mojave area that are preserved at NASM, I had the privilege of spending a lot of time at the Hazy Center shooting just about everything that was there, including Enola Gay as she looks today.

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