More than a year of research and hundreds of hours of labor have resulted in an extensive display of information about the making and dropping of the atomic bomb during WWII now open to the public at the B-29 Bombers on the Prairie Museum in Pratt.
Long, panoramic views of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan after the atomic bombs were dropped are now on display at the B-29 Bombers on the Prairie Museum in Pratt.
Available to the public just a few weeks ago, “The Dawn of the Atomic Age” exhibit tells the story of the development of the atomic bomb, the formation of the 509th Composite Bomb Group, the bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945 and Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945 and the impact it had on shortening the war, said museum volunteer Mark Martin, who along with wife Barb, did the research on this newest addition to the museum displays.
The new display features wall-size panoramas of the atomic destruction of both Japanese cities and an interactive video kiosk that allows visitors to learn about this important part of history, said Martin, a system engineer and audio/video specialist who does research and designs displays for the museum.
The panorama displays are courtesy of Professor Raymond Wilson, emeritus associate professor of physics at Illinois Wesleyan University who wrote a book on the impact of nuclear war on people and infrastructure. He convinced the Japanese to start reprinting the lithographs that were out of print since 1974. Wilson worked with the actual photographer of the Nagasaki photos, Martin said.
The Martins spent over a year and more than 500 hours of research on this project. Display space was limited so much of the information had to be condensed. It took over 160 hours to create and install the displays over the course of two months. Martin and wife Barb started research in January 2018 and it consumed them for an entire year. They kept finding more and more material.
The story starts in 1939 with the discovery of fission and covers the development of the bomb and the war through the end of the war in 1945.
The atom bomb pieces were gathered on the Island of Tinian in the Marianas Islands. The bombs were so big the bombs had to be loaded from trenches underneath the planes. They were so powerful, the bombs were armed after the planes were clear of Tinian. If something had gone wrong and a plane had crashed off shore with an armed bomb, it would have probably destroyed Tinian, Saipan and Guam, Barb said.
A portion of the story is dedicated to Brigadier Gen. Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the B-29 Enola Gay which dropped the “Little Boy” bomb on Hiroshima. Tibbets was stationed in Wichita and helped with the development of the B-29 and did flight testing. He was with the 509th Composite Bomb Group that trained at the Wendover Air Force Base in Wendover, Utah. Tibbets and his crew practiced their escape after dropping the bomb. They had just 43 seconds to get at least 8 miles away to avoid being knocked out of the sky by the shock wave, Martin said.
“They practiced that maneuver quite a bit to make sure they would survive,” Martin said.
Tibbets worked closely with the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb and helped with modifications on the bomb.
Information about Chuck Sweeney, the pilot of the B-29 Bockscar that dropped the bomb on Nagasaki is also included. Nagasaki was actually the alternate bomb target. Kokura was the primary target but cloud cover changed to target to Nagasaki, Martin said.
These cities, instead of Tokyo, were chosen because of their military importance. Much of Tokyo had already been destroyed by tens of thousands of incendiary bombs from thousands of missions. Over 500,000 people had been killed by these raids, Martin said.
One display now open at the Pratt museum tells the story of Tsutomu Yamaguchi who lived in Nagasaki but was in Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped. He survived the bombing and returned home to Nagasaki and survived the bombing there.
A portion of the display is dedicated to the decision to use the atomic bomb as a way to end the war. Research showed an invasion of Japan would cost the allies an estimated 1 million causalities while, by their own estimates, the Japanese death toll would be 20 million from combat and suicide.
The deaths from the atomic bombs were 130,000 in Hiroshima and 70,000 in Nagasaki and that does not include the people who died later from injuries and the effects of radiation.
It was a moral decision for President Harry Truman. It was the lessor of two evils considering the number of people who would die in an invasion of Japan, Martin said.
During his research, Martin discovered “Operation Downfall” an extensive plan for the invasion of Japan in November 1945. The decision to invade was made in May 1945. It would have been a massive land and sea invasion. Staging for the invasion was on Okinawa. A typhoon hit Okinawa after the Japanese surrender. Had they not surrendered and the invasion became necessary, the staging area would have been hit hard and it would have been a disaster similar to Pearl Harbor, said Barb Martin.
He was surprised to learn how dedicated the Japanese were to not surrendering. He found information that children were taught hand-to-hand combat using pointed sticks.
Martin said he was surprised how small the bombs were. The Hiroshima bomb was 15 kilotons and the Nagasaki bomb was 21 kilotons. To compare with bombs now, the biggest bomb the U.S. has detonated is 15,000 kilotons and the biggest Russian bomb is 50,000 kilotons.
Right now, there are 15,000 nuclear warheads in the world and 90 percent belong to the United States and Russia. About 5,000 are slated for demolition because of age and START, a bilateral treaty, signed in 1991, between the U.S. and Russia to reduce and limit the number of strategic offensive arms.
The B-29 Bombers on the Prairie Museum located at the Pratt Regional Airport at 82 Curran Road in the former Parachute Building. It is open from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays with other times available by appointment. For more information, call 620-672-1944 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.