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Photos and captions 3-13 courtesy of AtomicTraveler.com (photos by Masood Karimipour of Saipan)
Tinian Island is a small island, less than 40 square miles, a flat green dot in the vastness of Pacific blue.
Fly over it and you notice a slash across its north end of uninhabited bush, a long thin line that looks like an overgrown dirt runway. If you didn't know what it was, you wouldn't give it a second glance out your airplane window.
On the ground, you see the runway isn't dirt but tarmac and crushed limestone, abandoned with weeds sticking out of it. Yet this is arguably the most historical airstrip on earth. This is where World War II was won. This is Runway Able:
On July 24, 1944, 30,000 US Marines landed on the beaches of Tinian. Eight days later, over 8,000 of the 8,800 Japanese soldiers on the island were dead (vs. 328 Marines), and four months later the Seabees had built the busiest airfield of WWII - dubbed North Field - enabling B-29 Superfortresses to launch air attacks on the Philippines, Okinawa, and mainland Japan.
Late in the afternoon of August 5, 1945, a B-29 was maneuvered over a bomb loading pit, then after lengthy preparations, taxied to the east end of North Field's main runway, Runway Able, and at 2:45am in the early morning darkness of August 6, took off.
The B-29 was piloted by Col. Paul Tibbets of the US Army Air Force, who had named the plane after his mother, Enola Gay. The crew named the bomb they were carrying Little Boy. 6 1/2 hours later at 8:15am Japan time, the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.
Three days later, in the pre-dawn hours of August 9, a B-29 named Bockscar (a pun on "boxcar" after its flight commander Capt. Fred Bock), piloted by Major Charles Sweeney took off from Runway Able. Finding its primary target of Kokura obscured by clouds, Sweeney proceeded to the secondary target of Nagasaki, over which, at 11:01am, bombardier Kermit Beahan released the atomic bomb dubbed Fat Man.
Here is "Atomic Bomb Pit #1" where Little Boy was loaded onto Enola Gay:
There are pictures displayed in the pit, now glass-enclosed. This one shows Little Boy being hoisted into Enola Gay's bomb bay.
And here on the other side of ramp is "Atomic Bomb Pit #2" where Fat Man was loaded onto Bockscar.
The commemorative plaque records that 16 hours after the nuking of Nagasaki, "On August 10, 1945 at 0300, the Japanese Emperor without his cabinet's consent decided to end the Pacific War."
This is where World War II ended.