Brigadier General Paul W. Tibbets, Jr.
|Birth name||Paul Warfield Tibbets, Jr.|
February 23, 1915|
Quincy, Illinois, United States
|Died||November 1, 2007
Columbus, Ohio, United States
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch|| United States Army
United States Air Force
|Years of service||1937–1966|
|Commands held||340th Bombardment Squadron
509th Composite Group
308th Bombardment Wing
6th Air Division
|Awards||Distinguished Service Cross
Legion of Merit
Distinguished Flying Cross (2)
Air Medal (4)
|Other work||Charter Pilot and President of Executive Jet Aviation|
Paul Warfield Tibbets, Jr. (February 23, 1915 – November 1, 2007) was a brigadier general in the United States Air Force, best known for being the pilot of the Enola Gay (named for his mother), the first aircraft to drop an atomic bomb in the history of warfare. The bomb, code-named Little Boy, was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.
Tibbets enlisted in the army in 1937 and qualified as a pilot in 1938. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor he flew anti-submarine patrols over the Atlantic. In February 1942, he became commanding officer of the 340th Bombardment Squadron, 97th Bombardment Group, equipped with the Boeing B-17 bomber. In July 1942 the 97th became the first heavy bombardment group to be deployed as part of the Eighth Air Force, and Tibbets became deputy group commander. He flew the lead bomber for the first American daylight heavy bomber mission against Occupied Europe on August 17, 1942, and the first American raid of more than 100 bombers in Europe on October 9, 1942. Tibbets was chosen to fly Major General Mark W. Clark and Lieutenant General Dwight D. Eisenhower, to Gibraltar. After flying 43 combat missions, he became the assistant for bomber operations on the staff of the Twelfth Air Force.
Tibbets returned to the United States in February 1943 to help with the development of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber. In September 1944, he was appointed commander of the 509th Composite Group, which would conduct the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After the war he participated in Operation Crossroads, and was involved in the development of the Boeing B-47 Stratojet bomber. After his retirement from the Air Force, he worked for Executive Jet Aviation.
Paul Warfield Tibbets, Jr., was born in Quincy, Illinois, the son of Paul Warfield Tibbets, Sr., and his wife, Enola Gay Tibbets. When he was five years old, the family moved to Davenport, Iowa, and then to Iowa's capital, Des Moines, where he was raised, and where his father became a confections wholesaler. Later on, his family had moved to Miami, Florida, to escape from harsh midwestern winters. Young Paul was very interested in flying. One day his mother agreed to pay one dollar to get him into an airplane at the local carnival. In 1927, when he was 12 years old, he performed his first flight, dropping candy bars to the crowd of people attending the races at the Hialeah Park Race Track.
In the late 1920s, business issues forced Tibbet's family to return to Alton, Illinois, where he graduated from Western Military Academy in 1933. Later he attended the University of Florida in Gainesville, and was an initiated member of the Epsilon Zeta Chapter of Sigma Nu fraternity in 1934. During that time, Tibbets was taking private flying lessons. After his undergraduate work, Tibbets had planned on becoming an abdominal surgeon. He attended the University of Cincinnati for a year and a half, before changing his mind and enlisting in the United States Army to become a pilot in the United States Army Air Corps.
Early military career
Having been educated at a military school and college, and having some flight experience, Tibbets qualified for the Aviation Cadet Training Program. On February 25, 1937, he enlisted in the army at Fort Thomas, Kentucky, and was sent to Randolph Field, San Antonio, Texas, for primary and basic flight instruction. During his training, his performance showed he was an above-average pilot. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant and received his pilot rating in 1938 at Kelly Field, Texas.
After graduation, Tibbets was assigned to the 16th Observation Squadron and based at Lawson Field, Georgia, with a flight supporting the Infantry School at Fort Benning, where he met Lucy Wingate. The two were married in a Catholic seminary in Holy Trinity, Alabama on June 19, 1938. While stationed at Fort Benning, Tibbets was promoted to first lieutenant, and served as a personal pilot for Brigadier General George S. Patton, Jr., in 1940 and 1941.
In June 1941, Tibbets transferred to the 9th Bombardment Squadron of the 3d Bombardment Group at Hunter Field, Savannah, Georgia, as the engineering officer, and flew the A-20 Havoc. While there he was promoted to captain. In December 1941, he received orders to join the 29th Bombardment Group at MacDill Field, Florida, for training on the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. On December 7, 1941, Tibbets heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor while listening to the radio during a routine flight. He remained on temporary duty with the 3d Bombardment Group, forming an anti-submarine patrol at Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina, with 21 B-18 Bolo light bombers.
War against Germany
In February 1942, Tibbets reported for duty with the 29th Bombardment Group as its engineering officer. Three weeks later he was named commanding officer of the 340th Bombardment Squadron, 97th Bombardment Group, equipped with the B-17. It was initially based at MacDill, and then Sarasota Army Airfield, Florida, before moving to Godfrey Army Airfield in Bangor, Maine.
In July 1942 the 97th became the first heavy bombardment group of the Eighth Air Force to be deployed to England, where it was based at RAF Polebrook. It had been hastily assembled to meet demands for an early deployment, and arrived without training in the basics of high altitude daylight bombing. In the first weeks of August 1942, under the tutelage of Royal Air Force veterans, the group received intensive training for its first mission. The group commander, Lieutenant Colonel Cornelius W. Cousland, was replaced by Colonel Frank A. Armstrong, Jr., who appointed Tibbets as his deputy.
Tibbets flew the lead bomber for the first American daylight heavy bomber mission on August 17, 1942, a shallow penetration raid against a marshalling yard in Rouen in Occupied France, with Armstrong as his co-pilot. On October 9, Tibbets led the first American raid of more than 100 bombers in Europe, attacking industrial targets in the French city of Lille. Although a bombing failure resulting in numerous civilian casualties, the mission was hailed an overall success because it reached its target against stubborn opposition. Of the 108 aircraft in the raid, 33 were shot down or had to turn back due to mechanical problems.
In the lead up to Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa, the commander of the Eighth Air Force, Major General Carl Spaatz was ordered to provide his best two pilots for a secret mission. He chose Tibbets and Major Wayne Connors. Tibbets flew Major General Mark W. Clark to Gibraltar while Connors flew Clark's chief of staff, Brigadier General Lyman Lemnitzer. A few weeks later Tibbets flew the Supreme Allied Commander, Lieutenant General Dwight D. Eisenhower, there. "By reputation", Stephen Ambrose wrote, Tibbets was "the best flier in the Army Air Force".
After Tibbets had flown 25 combat missions against targets in France, the 97th Bomb Group was transferred to North Africa as part of Major General Jimmy Doolittle's Twelfth Air Force. For Tibbets, the war in North Africa introduced him to the realities of aerial warfare. He claimed that he saw the real effects of bombing civilians and the loss of his brothers in arms. In January 1943, Tibbets, who had now flown 43 combat missions, was assigned as the assistant for bomber operations to Colonel Lauris Norstad, Assistant Chief of Staff of Operations (A-3) of the Twelfth Air Force.
Tibbets did not get along well with Norstad, or with Doolittle's chief of staff, Brigadier General Hoyt Vandenberg. In one planning meeting, Norstad wanted an all-out raid on Bizerte to be flown at 6,000 feet (1,800 m). Tibbets protested that flak would be most effective at that altitude. When challenged by Norstad, Tibbets said he would lead the mission himself at 6,000 feet if Norstad would fly as his co-pilot. Norstad backed down, and the mission was successfully flown at 20,000 feet (6,100 m).
War against Japan
When General Henry H. Arnold, the Chief of United States Army Air Forces, requested an experienced bombardment pilot to help with the development of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber, Doolittle recommended Tibbets. Tibbets returned to the United States in February 1943. At the time, the B-29 program was beset by a host of technical problems, and the chief test pilot, Edmund T. Allen, had been killed in a crash of the prototype aircraft.
Working with the Boeing plant in Witchita, Kansas, Tibbets test flew the B-29, and soon accumulated more flight time in it than any other pilot. He found that without defensive armament and armor plating, the aircraft was 7,000 pounds (3,200 kg) lighter, and its performance was much improved. In simulated combat engagements against a P-47 fighter at the B-29's cruising altitude of 30,000 feet (9,100 m), he discovered that the B-29 had a shorter turning radius than the P-47, and could avoid it by turning away.
After a year of development testing of the B-29, Tibbets was assigned in March 1944 as director of operations of the 17th Bombardment Operational Training Wing (Very Heavy), a B-29 training unit based at Grand Island Army Air Field, Nebraska, and commanded by Armstrong. Its role was to transition pilots to the B-29. Tibbets taught two Women Airforce Service Pilots, Dora Dougherty and Dorothea (Didi) Moorman, to fly the B-29 as demonstration pilots.
On September 1, 1944, Tibbets reported to Colorado Springs Army Airfield, the headquarters of the Second Air Force, where he met with its commander, Major General Uzal Ent, and three representatives of the Manhattan Project, Lieutenant Colonel John Lansdale, Jr., Captain William S. Parsons and Commander Norman F. Ramsey, Jr., who briefed him on the project. Tibbets was told that he would be in charge of the 509th Composite Group, a fully self-contained organization of about 1,800 men, which would have 15 B-29s and a high priority for all kinds of stores. Ent gave Tibbets a choice of three possible bases: Great Bend Army Airfield, Kansas; Mountain Home Army Airfield, Idaho; and Wendover Army Air Field, Utah. Tibbets selected Wendover for its remoteness.
When the operation was still in the development stage the leading candidates to command the group designated to drop the atomic bomb had been Armstrong and Colonel Roscoe C. Wilson, the Army Air Force project officer providing liaison support to the Manhattan Project. Although an experienced combat veteran against German targets, Armstrong was in his forties and was severely injured in a fire in the summer of 1943, while Wilson had no combat experience and was qualified primarily by his engineering background and association with the project. Tibbets was considerably younger than both and had experience in both staff and command duties in heavy bomber combat operations, and was already an experienced B-29 pilot, thus making him an ideal candidate.
Tibbets, who received promotion to colonel in January 1945, brought his wife and family along with him to Wendover. He felt that allowing married men in the group to bring their families would improve morale, although it put a strain on his own marriage. To explain all the civilian engineers on base who were working on the Manhattan Project, he had to lie to his wife, telling her that the engineers were "sanitary workers". At one point Tibbets found that Lucy had co-opted a scientist to unplug a drain.
On 6 March 1945, concurrent with the activation of Project Alberta, the 1st Ordnance Squadron, Special (Aviation) was activated at Wendover, again using Army Air Forces personnel on hand or already at Los Alamos. Its purpose was to provide "skilled machinists, welders and munitions workers" and special equipment to the group to enable it to assemble atomic weapons at its operating base, thereby allowing the weapons to be transported more safely in their component parts. A rigorous candidate selection process was used to recruit personnel, reportedly with an 80% "washout" rate. Not until May 1945 did the 509th Composite Group reach full strength.
With the addition of the 1st Ordnance Squadron to its roster in March 1945, the 509th Composite Group had an authorized strength of 225 officers and 1,542 enlisted men, almost all of whom deployed to Tinian in May and June 1945. The 320th Troop Carrier Squadron kept its base of operations at Wendover. In addition to its authorized strength, the 509th had attached to it on Tinian 51 civilian and military personnel of Project Alberta, and two representatives from Washington, D.C., the deputy director of the Manhattan Project, Brigadier General Thomas Farrell, and Rear Admiral William R. Purnell of the Military Policy Committee.
The ground support echelon of the 509th Composite Group received movement orders and moved by rail on 26 April 1945 to its port of embarkation at Seattle, Washington. On 6 May the support elements sailed on the SS Cape Victory for the Marianas, while group materiel was shipped on the SS Emile Berliner. An advance party of the air echelon flew by C-54 to North Field, Tinian, between 15 and 22 May, where it was joined by the ground echelon on 29 May 1945. Project Alberta's "Destination Team" also sent most of its members to Tinian to supervise the assembly, loading, and dropping of the bombs under the administrative title of 1st Technical Services Detachment, Miscellaneous War Department Group.
On August 5, 1945, Tibbets formally named his B-29 Enola Gay after his mother. Enola Gay was personally selected by him while it was still on the assembly line. The regularly assigned aircraft commander, Robert A. Lewis, was unhappy to be displaced by Tibbets for this important mission, and became furious when he arrived at the aircraft on the morning of 6 August to see it painted with the now-famous nose art.
At 02:45 the next day, the Enola Gay departed North Field for Hiroshima, Japan, with Tibbets at the controls. Tinian was approximately 2,000 miles (3,200 km) away from Japan, so it took six hours to reach Hiroshima. The atomic bomb, code-named "Little Boy", was dropped over Hiroshima at 8:15 local time. Tibbets recalled that the city was covered with a tall mushroom cloud when the A-bomb was dropped.
Tibbets was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross by Spaatz immediately after landing on Tinian. He became a celebrity, with pictures and interviews of his wife and children in the major American newspapers. He was seen as a national hero who ended the war with Japan. There were, however, no parades or testimonial dinners for him or any of the other Enola Gay crewmen, although Tibbets later received an invitation from President Harry S. Truman to visit the White House. The 509th Composite Group was not awarded an Air Force Outstanding Unit Award until 1999.
The film Above and Beyond (1952) depicted the World War II events involving Tibbets, with Robert Taylor starring as Paul Tibbets and Eleanor Parker as his first wife Lucy. A 1980 made-for-television movie, somewhat fictionalized, told the story of Tibbets and crew. Patrick Duffy played the part of Tibbets and Kim Darby played Lucy. The film was called, Enola Gay: The Men, the Mission, the Atomic Bomb. Tibbets was also portrayed in the films Day One and The Beginning or the End.
An interview of Paul Tibbets appeared in the 1982 movie Atomic Cafe. He was also interviewed in the 1970s British documentary series The World at War, as well as the "Men Who Brought the Dawn" episode of the Smithsonian Networks War Stories (1995), and Hiroshima (2005).
Tibbets was interviewed extensively by Mike Harden of the Columbus Dispatch, and profiles appeared in the newspaper on anniversaries of the first dropping of an atomic bomb. In a 1975 interview he said: "I'm proud that I was able to start with nothing, plan it and have it work as perfectly as it did... I sleep clearly every night."
Post-war military career
The 509th Composite Group returned to the United States on November 6, 1945, and was stationed at Roswell Army Airfield, New Mexico. Colonel William H. Blanchard replaced Tibbets as group commander on January 22, 1946, and also became the first commander of the 509th Bombardment Wing. Tibbets was a technical advisor to the Operation Crossroads nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific, but he and his Enola Gay crew were not chosen to drop another atomic bomb.
Tibbets attended the Air Command and Staff School at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. On graduating in 1947 he was posted to the Directorate of Requirements at Air Force Headquarters. When the director, Brigadier General Thomas S. Power, was posted to London as air attaché, he was replaced by Brigadier General Carl Brandt, who appointed Tibbets as director of the Strategic Air Division. In this capacity, Tibbets became involved in the Boeing B-47 Stratojet program, and he subsequently served as B-47 project officer at Boeing in Wichita from July 1950 until February 1952. He then became commander of the Proof Test Division at Eglin Air Force Base, where flight testing of the B-47 was conducted. Tibbets was also the model for screenwriter Sy Bartlett's fictional character "Major Joe Cobb" in the film Twelve O'Clock High, and for a brief period in February 1949 was slated to be its technical advisor until his replacement at the last minute by Colonel John H. deRussy.
Tibbets returned to Maxwell Air Force Base, where he attended the Air War College. He then became Director of War Plans at Allied Air Forces in Central Europe Headquarters at Fontainebleau, France. His marriage to his first wife, Lucy Wingate, ended in divorce in 1955. His second wife was a French woman named Andrea Quattrehomme, whom he met during his posting there.
He returned to the United States in February 1956 to command the 308th Bombardment Wing at Hunter Air Force Base, Georgia. In January 1958, he became commander of the 6th Air Division at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. While there he was promoted to brigadier general in 1959. This was followed by another tour of duty at the Pentagon as director of Management Analysis. In July 1962, he was assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff as deputy director for operations, and then, in June 1963, as deputy director for the National Military Command System. In 1964, Tibbets was named military attaché in India. He spent 22 months there on this posting, which ended in June 1966. He retired from the United States Air Force (USAF) on August 31, 1966.
Later life and death
After his retirement from the Air Force, he worked for Executive Jet Aviation, a Columbus, Ohio-based air taxi company now called NetJets. He retired from the company in 1970 and returned to Miami, Florida. He later left Miami to return to Executive Jet Aviation, having sold his Miami home in 1974. He was president of Executive Jet Aviation from 1976 until his retirement in 1987.
The United States government apologized to Japan in 1976 after Tibbets re-enacted the bombing in a restored B-29 at an air show in Texas, complete with mushroom cloud. Tibbets said that he had not meant for the re-enactment to have been an insult to the Japanese. In 1995, he denounced the 50th anniversary exhibition of the Enola Gay at the Smithsonian Institution, which attempted to present the bombing in context with the destruction it caused, as a "damn big insult," due to its focus on the Japanese casualties rather than the brutality of the Japanese government.
The 393d Bomb Squadron was one of the two operational squadrons that formed part of the 509th Composite Group when Tibbets commanded it. His grandson, Colonel Paul W. Tibbets IV, USAF, a 1989 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy commanded the 393d Bomb Squadron, flying the B-2 Spirit, at Whiteman AFB, Missouri, from 2005 to 2007.
Tibbets died in his Columbus, Ohio, home on November 1, 2007, at the age of 92. He had suffered small strokes and heart failure during his final years and had been in hospice care. He had requested that his body be cremated and his ashes scattered over the English Channel. He was survived by his wife Andrea and three sons, Paul III, Gene and James.
Awards and decorations
Source: Ohio History Central.
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- Above and Beyond at the Internet Movie Database
- Enola Gay: The Men, the Mission, the Atomic Bomb (1980) (TV) at the Internet Movie Database
- Day One at the Internet Movie Database
- The Beginning or the End at the Internet Movie Database
- The Atomic Cafe at the Internet Movie Database
- The World at War at the Internet Movie Database
- Men Who Brought the Dawn at the Internet Movie Database
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- Goldstein, Richard (November 1, 2007). "Paul W. Tibbets Jr., Pilot of Enola Gay, Dies at 92". The New York Times. Retrieved November 1, 2007.
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- Ambrose, Stephen (1998). The Victors: Eisenhower and his Boys – The Men of World War II. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-85628-X.
- Campbell, Richard H. (2005). The Silverplate Bombers: A History and Registry of the Enola Gay and Other B-29s Configured to Carry Atomic Bombs. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 0-7864-2139-8.
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- Thomas, Gordon; Morgan-Witts, Max (1977). Ruin from the Air: The Enola Gay's Atomic Mission to Hiroshima. London: Hamilton. OCLC 491239101.
- Tibbets, Paul W. (1998). Return Of The Enola Gay. New Hope, Pennsylvania: Enola Gay Remembered. ISBN 0-9703666-0-4.
- 509th Composite Group (1945). History of 509th Composite Group – 313th Bombardment Wing – Twentieth Air Force – Activation to 15 August 1945. Tinian: 509th CG (AFHRA archived). Retrieved 1 February 2012.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Paul Tibbets.|
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Paul Tibbets|
- 509th Composite Group
- Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima
- BBC News item announcing Tibbets' death
- In pictures: Paul Tibbets
- Obituary, The Daily Telegraph, November 2, 2007
- Obituary, The Guardian, November 2, 2007
- Obituary, The Independent, November 2, 2007
- Obituary, The Times, November 2, 2007
- "Hiroshima; Enola Gay's Crew Recalls The Flight Into a New Era", New York Times, August 6, 1995