[WORLD WAR II, HIROSHIMA BOMBING]. LEWIS, Robert A., Captain, U.S. Army Air Corps, Co-pilot of the B-29 bomber the Enola Gay. Autograph logbook signed, entitled "Bombing of Hiroshima Aug. 6, 1945," containing a minute-by-minute account of the historic "Little Boy" mission which dropped the world's first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, WRITTEN IN FLIGHT OVER THE PACIFIC AND OVER THE TARGET, 6 August 1945. 11 pages (comprising front and back covers, inside front cover and 8 text pages), small folio (9¼ x 6 in.), in ink and pencil in a War Department "Line of Position" notebook, bound in cloth-backed paper wrappers, 14 additional text pages with Lewis's "History of the 509th Bomb Group" (10 August 1945), upper cover with Lewis's hand-lettered title, a list of the crew, etc., REAR COVER WITH LEWIS'S SIGNED PENCIL SKETCH OF THE MUSHROOM CLOUD OVER HIROSHIMA (labeled with time: 0930 hours), minor wear to wrappers, corners bumped, otherwise in excellent condition.
"MY GOD WHAT HAVE WE DONE...THE GREATEST EXPLOSION MAN HAS EVER WITNESSED": THE VIOLENT BIRTH OF THE ATOMIC AGE: THE "ENOLA GAY" CO-PILOT'S IN-FLIGHT LOGBOOK OF THE MOMENTOUS MISSION WHICH DELIVERED "LITTLE BOY," THE FIRST ATOMIC BOMB, TO HIROSHIMA, AUGUST 6, 1945
The atomic age, some would say, began with crucial early experiments by scientists including Niels Bohr, Lise Meitner, Enrico Fermi and Robert Teller in the late 1930s, or with Albert Einstein's and Leo Szilard's famous letter of August 2, 1939 (see lot 161) warning President Franklin D. Roosevelt that "extremely powerful bombs of a new type" might be created from the physicists' new understanding of atomic theory and the application of his own famous equation of equivalence E=mc2. The Manhattan Project was initiated in response to that letter, and its massive, secret research and production efforts culminated in the fall of 1945 in the operational deployment of "Little Boy," the world's first atomic weapon. For most of us, though, the atomic age begins with a single cataclysmic event: the detonation of the first atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima, at 8:16 a.m., August 6, 1945. Lewis's log is a unique first-hand record of the violent birth of the atomic age. It constitutes--with the sole exception of the navigator's log, which numerically recorded the aircraft's course, airspeed, latitude and longitude--THE ONLY IN-FLIGHT, FIRST-HAND ACCOUNT OF THE BOMBING OF HIROSHIMA.
The B-29 chosen for the momentous mission, with the name Enola Gay in large letters on its nose, took off in pre-dawn darkness from the U.S. airbase at Tinian Island in the Marianas at 2:45 a.m. Piloting the four-engine aircraft was Col. Paul Tibbetts, the Commanding Officer of the 509th Composite Group, a unit specially formed and trained in the highest security for this special mission. Flying as co-pilot was Capt Robert A. Lewis, of Brooklyn, New York. In the aircraft's bomb-bay rested a single 9,000-pound bomb unlike any other ever carried into combat.
The youthful ten-man crew had trained for almost a year for this "very special mission" that "might end the war," but only Col. Tibbetts and the radio operator had detailed knowledge of the nature and potential destructive power of the mysterious weapon they carried. In fact, not even the team of scientists who had designed, built and installed the bomb knew whether the device would explode as planned, or could calculate its destructive potential. The crew and the two special technicians who accompanied them on this flight had been advised, though, of the possibility that the airplane itself might be blown apart when the bomb detonated. If they experienced engine failure or were shot down, Col. Tibbetts carried cyanide capsules to distribute to each man to prevent their revealing, under interrogation, anything about the top-secret weapon or their mission.
On the inside cover, two days after the mission, Lewis explains the creation of this unique historic record: "This log was a last minute request of William L. Laurence-(Science editor) N.Y. Times. He had been ordered to be aboard, but arrived in Tinian too late. He asked me to keep some notes of the Mission." (According to another account, Laurence was bumped from the mission entirely, see R. Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, p.706.) Lewis notes that "a great deal of the notes were written in almost complete darkness. Halfway through I ran out of ink," and explains that the occasional pencil corrections "were made by Mr. William Laurence" (after their return to base). Lewis, apparently fearing the log might be confiscated, due to strict security regulations, camouflaged his log by disguising it as a letter to his parents; at the front writes "Dear Mom and Dad," and at the end adds "Love to all Bud." (Laurence accompanied the subsequent mission to bomb Nagasaki, and his own account has been occasionally reprinted (see Bombs Away, ed. S. M. Ulanoff, New York, 1971, pp. 461-470.)
Lewis's narrative begins under the heading "Little Boy Mission #1 Briefing at 2400...We started engines at 0227 and taxied out to take off at 0235. Then we got off the ground at exactly 0245...at the last minute before take-off our cruising altitude had been changed...which meant possibly a rougher trip." On the long flight to the north, he notes, "nothing unusual was encountered," while the two bomb technicians made final adjustments to the bomb: "A 0320 Items 1-11 were completed...by Capt Parsons..." He records interphone conversations between the navigator and radio operator, who were "shooting bearings on the northern Marianas...The fact is 45 minutes out of our base everyone is at work." Col. Tibbetts remained at the controls: "Col Tibbetts has been hard at work with the usual tasks that belong to the pilot of a B-29." Dawn arrives: "By 0552 it is real light outside," and they climb to 9,000 feet: "We'll stay here until we are about 1 hr. away from the Empire." The bomber headed northwest, over Saipan and Iwo Jima and made rendezvous with two other B-29s equipped with observation and photographic gear. Together the three aircraft gradually climbed to an altitude of 30,000 feet. Lewis reflects that "everyone will be relieved when we have left our bomb and get half way home, or better still all the way home..." The two special technicians on board the aircraft successfully armed the bomb as they approached their target: "at 0730 we are loaded, the bomb is now alive and it's a funny feeling knowing its right in back of you." The mission planners had designated a primary target (Hiroshima) and two secondary targets in case of unfavorable weather conditions. Two scout planes radioed back information on atmospheric conditions over the targets. As Lewis records: "We received a report that our primary is the best target, so we will make a run on Hiroshima. Right now we are 25 miles from the Empire..."
"Landfall was 8.50...as we are approaching our IP [Initial Point]...the Col. [Tibbetts] and I are standing by and are giving the boys what they want. There'll be a short intermission while we bomb our target." Then Lewis gives "a brief blow by blow description of the bomb run. We turned off our IP and had about a 4 minutes run on a perfectly open target...[Major] Tom Ferebee [the bombardier] syncronized on his briefed A.P. [Aiming Point] and let go..." At 8:15 the bomb, code-named "Little Boy," fell earthwards from the aircraft's open bomb bay. "For the next minute no one knew what to expect, the bombardier and the right seat jockey or Pilot [Tibbetts] forgot to put on their dark glasses and therefore witnessed the flash which was terrific..." The bomb's detonation occurred at exactly 8:16:02 a.m. Lewis records that "15 seconds after the flash there were two very distinct slaps [air turbulence] that was all the physical effects we felt. We then turned the ship so we could observe results, and there in front of our eyes was with out a doubt the greatest explosion man has ever witnessed. The city was 9/10 covered with smoke ...and a column of white cloud, which in less than 3 mins. reached 30,000 feet and then went up to 50,000..." The stunned Lewis gropes for words to express his astonishment and shock: "I am certain the entire crew felt this experience was more than anyone human had ever thought possible. It just seems impossible to comprehend. Just how many did we kill? I honestly have the feeling of groping for words to explain this or I might say My God what have we done. If I live a hundred years I'll never quite get those few minutes out of my mind..."
Lewis adds that "everyone on the ship is actually dumbstruck, even though we had expected something fierce..." He observes that the massive cloud was still visible: "even after an hour and a half, 400 miles from the target." Finally, he reports, "we then headed home..."
Less than a month before, scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer--who played a key role in the Manhattan Project--was a witness to the first top-secret test of the atomic bomb at the Trinity site in the New Mexico desert, and experienced the same awe expressed by Lewis: "It was extremely solemn," he recalled. "We knew the world would not be the same... I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita...'Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds'."
Mankind, like Lewis himself, would find it impossible in the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing to erase from its collective consciousness "those few minutes" which demonstrated with horrific impact the terrifying destructive powers of man's new atomic weapon. The decision to drop the bomb was, in all likelihood, the most important act of Harry S. Truman in his nearly eight years as President. The wisdom of that momentous decision has been and will continue to be passionately debated, but "for good or ill," as historian D.W. Brogan has observed, "Truman was the President who opened Pandora's box by deciding to bomb Hiroshima."
Provenance: Capt. Robert A. Lewis (d.1983) (sale, Parke-Bernet, 23 November 1971, lot 278, $37,000) -- Philip D. Sang (sale, Sotheby Parke-Bernet, 14 November 1978, lot 597, $85,000).