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Bockscar 050809-F-1234P-003.jpg
Bockscar nose art: the Fat Man silhouettes represent four pumpkin bomb missions (black) and the atomic bomb drop on Nagasaki (a red symbol, fourth in the line of five symbols)
Type B-29-36-MO Superfortress
Manufacturer Glenn L. Martin Company, Omaha, Nebraska
Serial 44-27297
In service April 1945 to September 1946
Preserved at The National Museum of the United States Air Force, Dayton, Ohio

Bockscar (sometimes called Bock's Car) is the name of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) B-29 bomber that dropped a Fat Man nuclear weapon over the Japanese city of Nagasaki during World War II in the second and last nuclear attack in history. It was one of 15 Silverplate B-29s used by the 509th, built at the Glenn L. Martin Company Aircraft Plant at Bellevue, Nebraska at Offutt Air Force Base, and delivered to the USAAF on 19 March 1945. It was assigned to the 393d Bombardment Squadron, 509th Composite Group to Wendover Army Air Field, Utah in April 1945.

Bockscar was used in 13 training and practice missions from Tinian and three combat missions in which it dropped pumpkin bombs on industrial targets in Japan. It dropped a Fat Man nuclear bomb over the city of Nagasaki on 9 August 1945, piloted by the 393d Bombardment Squadron's commander Major Charles W. Sweeney, with a blast yield equivalent to 21 kilotons of TNT. About 44% of the city was destroyed, 35,000 people were killed, and 60,000 were injured.

Bockscar returned to the United States in November 1945. In September 1946, it was given to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. The aircraft was flown to the Museum on 26 September 1961, and its original markings were restored (nose art was added after the mission).[1] Bockscar is now on permanent display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Dayton, Ohio next to a replica of a Fat Man.

Airplane history

Bockscar at Dayton before it was moved indoors. On the Nagasaki mission, it flew without nose art and with a triangle N tail marking, rather than the circle arrowhead shown here.
Bockscar with temporary triangle N tail marking on 9 August 1945, the day of its atomic bombing mission

Bockscar, B-29-36-MO 44-27297, Victor number 77 was one of 15 Silverplate B-29s used by the 393d Bombardment Squadron of the 509th Composite Group. It was built by the Glenn L. Martin Company in Bellevue, Nebraska at Offutt Air Force Base as a Block 35 aircraft. It was one of 10 modified as a Silverplate and redesignated "Block 36".[2]

Silverplate involved extensive modifications to the B-29 to carry nuclear weapons. The bomb bay doors and the fuselage section between the bomb bays were removed to create a single 33-foot (10 m) bomb bay. British suspensions and bracing were attached for both shape types, with the gun-type suspension anchored in the aft bomb bay and the implosion-type mounted in the forward bay. Weight reduction was also accomplished by removal of gun turrets and armor plating. These B-29s also had an improved R-3350-41 engine. The Silverplate aircraft represented a significant increase in performance over the standard variants.[3]

Bockscar was delivered to the United States Army Air Forces on 19 March 1945, assigned to Captain Frederick C. Bock and crew C-13, and flown to Wendover Army Air Field, Utah in April.[2] The name chosen for the aircraft and painted on it after the mission was a pun on the commander's name.[4] It left Wendover on 11 June 1945 for Tinian where it arrived 16 June. It was originally given the Victor number 7, but it was given the triangle N tail markings of the 444th Bombardment Group as a security measure and had its Victor changed to 77 to avoid misidentification with an actual 444th aircraft.[5] Bockscar was used in 13 training and practice missions from Tinian and three combat missions in which it dropped pumpkin bombs on industrial targets in Japan. Bock's crew bombed Niihama and Musashino, Tokyo, and First Lieutenant Charles Donald Albury and crew C-15 bombed Koromo.[6]

Atomic bomb mission

Mission and crew

Bockscar was flown on 9 August 1945 by the crew of B-29 The Great Artiste, piloted by Major Charles Sweeney, commander of the 393d Bombardment Squadron, and co-piloted by First Lieutenant Charles Donald Albury, the normal aircraft commander of Crew C-15.[7] The Great Artiste was designated as the observation and instrumentation support plane for the second mission, and B-29 Big Stink was the photographic aircraft, flown by Group Operations Officer Major James I. Hopkins, Jr. The mission's primary target was the city of Kokura where the Kokura Arsenal was located. Its secondary target was Nagasaki, where two large Mitsubishi armament plants were located.[8]

Sweeney and crew C-15 had flown Bockscar in three test drop rehearsals of inert Fat Man assemblies in the eight days leading up to the second mission, including the final rehearsal the day before.[9] The Great Artiste had been designated in preliminary planning to drop the second bomb, but it had been fitted with observation instruments for the Hiroshima mission. Moving the instrumentation from The Great Artiste to Bockscar would have been a complex and time-consuming process, and the second atomic bomb mission had been moved up from 11 August to 9 August because of adverse weather forecasts, so the crews of The Great Artiste and Bockscar exchanged aircraft. The result was that the bomb was carried by Bockscar but flown by crew C-15 of The Great Artiste.[10]

Kokura and Nagasaki

During pre-flight inspection of Bockscar, the flight engineer notified Sweeney that an inoperative fuel transfer pump made it impossible to use 640 US gallons (2,400 l; 530 imp gal) of fuel carried in a reserve tank. This fuel would still have to be carried all the way to Japan and back, consuming still more fuel, but replacing the pump would take hours. Moving the Fat Man to another aircraft might take just as long and was dangerous, as well, as the bomb was live. Group Commander Colonel Paul Tibbets and Sweeney therefore elected to have Bockscar continue the mission.[11][12]

Preserved Tinian "bomb pit #2", where Fat Man was loaded aboard Bockscar

Bockscar took off from Tinian's North Field at 03:49.[13] The mission profile directed the B-29s to fly individually to the rendezvous point, changed because of bad weather from Iwo Jima to Yakushima Island, and at 17,000 feet (5,200 m) cruising altitude instead of the customary 9,000 feet (2,700 m), increasing fuel consumption. Bockscar began its climb to the 30,000 feet (9,100 m) bombing altitude a half hour before rendezvous.[11] Before the mission, Tibbets had warned Sweeney to take no more than 15 minutes at the rendezvous before proceeding to the target. Bockscar reached the rendezvous point and assembled with The Great Artiste, but The Big Stink failed to appear. As they orbited Yakushima, the weather planes Enola Gay and Laggin' Dragon reported both Kokura and Nagasaki within the accepted parameters for the required visual attack.[14][15][16]

Sweeney continued to wait for The Big Stink at the urging of Commander Frederick Ashworth, the plane's weaponeer who was in command of the mission, even though it was longer than 15 minutes.[15] Bockscar and The Great Artiste then proceeded to Kokura, 30 minutes away. The delay at the rendezvous resulted in clouds and drifting smoke from fires started by a major firebombing raid the previous day by 224 B-29s on nearby Yahata,[17] covering 70% of the area over Kokura and obscuring the aiming point. Three bomb runs were made over the next 50 minutes, burning fuel and exposing the aircraft repeatedly to the heavy defenses of Yawata, but the bombardier was unable to drop visually. By the time of the third bomb run, anti-aircraft fire was getting close; Second Lieutenant Jacob Beser was monitoring Japanese communications and reported activity on their fighter direction radio bands.[18]

The mushroom cloud as seen from one of the B-29s on the mission

The increasingly critical fuel shortage led Sweeney and Ashworth to reduce power to conserve fuel, and to divert to the secondary target at Nagasaki. The approach to Nagasaki 20 minutes later indicated that the heart of the city's downtown was also covered by dense cloud. Ashworth decided to bomb Nagasaki using radar, but a small opening in the clouds at the end of the three-minute bomb run permitted him to identify target features, according to Bockscar's bombardier Captain Kermit Beahan. Bockscar dropped the Fat Man at 10:58 local time;[15] it exploded 43 seconds later with a blast yield equivalent to 21 kilotons of TNT at an altitude of 1,650 feet (500 m), approximately 1.5 miles (2.4 km) northwest of the planned aiming point, resulting in the destruction of 44% of the city.[19] The failure to drop the Fat Man at the precise bomb aim point caused the atomic blast to be confined to the Urakami Valley, and a major portion of the city was protected by the intervening hills. Nevertheless, it was dropped over the city's industrial valley midway between the Mitsubishi Steel and Arms Works in the south and the Mitsubishi-Urakami Ordnance Works in the north.

An estimated 35,000 people were killed and 60,000 injured during the bombing at Nagasaki.[20] Between 23,200 and 28,200 were Japanese munitions workers, 2,000 were Korean slave laborers, and 150 were Japanese soldiers.[21][22][23]

Landing and debriefing

The B-29 did not have enough fuel to reach the emergency landing field at Iwo Jima because of the delays in the mission and the inoperative fuel transfer pump, so Sweeney flew to Yontan Airfield on Okinawa. He circled there for 20 minutes trying to contact the control tower for landing clearance before concluding that his radio was faulty. Bockscar was critically low on fuel and barely made it to the runway, with enough fuel for one landing attempt. Sweeney and Albury came in at 150 miles per hour (240 km/h) instead of the normal 120 miles per hour (190 km/h), firing distress flares to alert the field of the uncleared landing. The number two engine died from fuel starvation as Bockscar began its final approach. The heavy B-29 touched the runway hard, then slewed left toward a row of parked B-24 bombers before the pilots managed to regain control. The reversible propellers were insufficient to slow the aircraft adequately, even with both pilots standing on the brakes, and Bockscar made a swerving 90-degree turn at the end of the runway to avoid running off the end. A second engine died from fuel exhaustion by the time that the plane came to a stop, and the flight engineer later measured fuel in the tanks and concluded that less than five minutes total remained.[24]

There was confusion over the identification of the plane following the mission. War correspondent William L. Laurence of The New York Times accompanied the mission aboard the aircraft piloted by Bock, and he reported that Sweeney was leading the mission in The Great Artiste. However, he also noted its "Victor" number as 77, which was that of Bockscar, writing that 77 was also the jersey number of football player Red Grange.[25] Laurence had interviewed Sweeney and his crew in depth and was aware that they referred to their airplane as The Great Artiste. None of the B-29s had names painted on their noses yet except for Enola Gay, a fact which Laurence noted in his account. He was unaware of the switch in aircraft, however, and assumed that Victor 77 was The Great Artiste.[4]

Current status

Engine controls

Bockscar returned to the United States in November 1945 and served with the 509th at Roswell Army Air Field, New Mexico. It was nominally assigned to the Operation Crossroads task force, but there are no records that it deployed for the tests. In August 1946, it was assigned to the 4105th Army Air Force Unit for storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona,[2] were it was placed on display as the aircraft that bombed Nagasaki—but in the markings of The Great Artiste. Title for the plane was passed to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio in September 1946; it was flown there on 26 September 1961[26] and its original markings were restored.[2] The Bockscar display is a primary exhibit in the museum's Air Power gallery, including a replica of a Fat Man bomb.[27] The 2005 documentary Nagasaki: The Commander's Voice presents Charles Sweeney's recollections of the Nagasaki mission aboard Bockscar, including details of the mission preparation.[28]

Crew members

Regularly assigned crew

Crew C-13 (manned The Great Artiste on the Nagasaki mission):[25][29]

  • Captain Frederick C. Bock, Aircraft Commander, Greenville, Michigan
  • First Lieutenant Hugh Cardwell Ferguson, Sr., Co-pilot, Highland Park, Michigan
  • First Lieutenant Leonard A. Godfrey, Jr., Navigator, Greenfield, Massachusetts
  • First Lieutenant Charles Levy, Bombardier, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Master Sergeant Roderick F. Arnold, Flight Engineer, Rochester, Michigan
  • Sergeant Ralph D. Belanger, Assistant Flight Engineer, Thendara, New York
  • Sergeant Ralph D. Curry, Radio Operator, Hoopeston, Illinois
  • Sergeant William C. Barney, Radar Operator, Columbia City, Indiana
  • Sergeant Robert J. Stock, Tail Gunner, Fort Wayne, Indiana

Nagasaki mission crew

Crew C-15. front row: Dehart, Kuharek, Buckley, Gallagher, Spitzer; back row: Olivi, Beahan, Sweeney, Van Pelt, Albury

Crew C-15 (normally assigned to The Great Artiste):[25][30]

  • Major Charles W. Sweeney, Aircraft Commander, North Quincy, Massachusetts
  • Captain Charles Donald "Don" Albury, Co-pilot (pilot of Crew C-15), Miami, Florida
  • Second Lieutenant Frederick "Fred" J. Olivi, Regular Co-pilot, Chicago, Illinois
  • Captain James F. Van Pelt, Jr., Navigator, Oak Hill, West Virginia
  • Captain Kermit K. Beahan, Bombardier, Houston, Texas
  • Master Sergeant John D. Kuharek, Flight Engineer, Sharpsburg, Pennsylvania
  • Staff Sergeant Raymond C. Gallagher, Gunner, assistant flight engineer, Chicago, Illinois
  • Staff Sergeant Edward K. Buckley, Radar Operator, Lisbon, Ohio
  • Sergeant Abe M. Spitzer, Radio Operator, Bronx, New York
  • Sergeant Albert T. "Pappy" DeHart, Tail Gunner, Plainview, Texas

Also on board were the following additional mission personnel:[25][31]

  • Commander Frederick Ashworth, USN, Weaponeer
  • Lieutenant Philip M. Barnes, USN, Assistant Weaponeer
  • Second Lieutenant Jacob Beser, Radar Countermeasures, Baltimore, Maryland (Beser flew on both atomic missions, serving as the radar countermeasures crewman on the Enola Gay on 6 August 1945 and on Bockscar on 9 August 1945).

National Museum of the United States Air Force display


  1. ^ Official USAAF photo dated 11 August 1945, two days after the mission, shows the aircraft with no nose art. See "photograph". National Museum of the US Air Force. Retrieved 6 May 2017.  at "Boeing B-29 Superfortress". National Museum of the US Air Force. Retrieved 6 May 2017. 
  2. ^ a b c d Campbell 2005, pp. 172–173.
  3. ^ Campbell 2005, pp. 8–15.
  4. ^ a b Campbell 2005, p. 222.
  5. ^ Campbell 2005, p. 19.
  6. ^ Campbell 2005, pp. 113, 139, 142.
  7. ^ "Charles Donald Albury dies at 88; copilot on the Nagasaki bomb plane". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times. 9 June 2009. Retrieved 29 March 2013. 
  8. ^ Sweeney, Antonucci & Antonucci 1997, pp. 193–195.
  9. ^ Campbell 2005, pp. 113–114.
  10. ^ "Reflections from above". University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh. Retrieved 9 May 2007. 
  11. ^ a b Sweeney, Antonucci & Antonucci 1997, pp. 204–205.
  12. ^ "The Story of Nagasaki". Retrieved 29 March 2013. 
  13. ^ Craven & Cate 1953, p. 719.
  14. ^ Sweeney, Antonucci & Antonucci 1997, pp. 210–211.
  15. ^ a b c Craven & Cate 1953, p. 720.
  16. ^ Campbell 2005, p. 30.
  17. ^ The Untold Story of How Japanese Steel Workers Saved Their City From the Atomic Bomb
  18. ^ Sweeney, Antonucci & Antonucci 1997, pp. 179, 213–215.
  19. ^ Wainstock 1996, p. 92.
  20. ^ Groves 1962, p. 346.
  21. ^ Nuke-Rebuke: Writers & Artists Against Nuclear Energy & Weapons (The Contemporary anthology series). The Spirit That Moves Us Press. 1 May 1984. pp. 22–29. 
  22. ^ Groves 1962, pp. 343–346.
  23. ^ Hoddeson et al. 1993, pp. 396–397.
  24. ^ Sweeney, Antonucci & Antonucci 1997, pp. 222–226.
  25. ^ a b c d Laurence, William L. "Eyewitness Account of Atomic Bomb Over Nagasaki". National Science Digital Library. Retrieved 28 March 2013. 
  26. ^ "Boeing B-29 Superfortress". United States Air Force. Archived from the original on 24 January 2015. Retrieved 29 March 2013. 
  27. ^ "Bockscar: The aircraft that ended WWII". United States Air Force. Archived from the original on 23 March 2013. Retrieved 29 March 2013. 
  28. ^ "Nagasaki". Michael Puttré. Retrieved 29 March 2013. 
  29. ^ Campbell 2005, p. 138.
  30. ^ Campbell 2005, pp. 141–142.
  31. ^ "The Story of Nagasaki". National Science Digital Library. Retrieved 28 March 2013. 


  • Campbell, Richard H. (2005). The Silverplate Bombers: A History and Registry of the Enola Gay and Other B-29's Configured to Carry Atomic Bombs. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-7864-2139-8. 
  • Craven, Wesley; Cate, James (1953). "Victory". In Craven, Wesley; Cate, James. The Pacific: Matterhorn to Nagasaki. The Army Air Forces in World War II. Volume V. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. pp. 703–758. OCLC 256469807. Retrieved 29 March 2013. 
  • Groves, Leslie (1962). Now it Can be Told: The Story of the Manhattan Project. New York: Harper & Row. ISBN 978-0-306-70738-4. OCLC 537684. 
  • Hoddeson, Lillian; Henriksen, Paul W.; Meade, Roger A.; Westfall, Catherine L. (1993). Critical Assembly: A Technical History of Los Alamos During the Oppenheimer Years, 1943–1945. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-44132-2. OCLC 26764320. 
  • Sweeney, Charles; Antonucci, James A.; Antonucci, Marion K. (1997). War's End: an Eyewitness Account of America's Last Atomic Mission. New York: Avon Books. ISBN 978-0-380-97349-1. 
  • Wainstock, Dennis D. (1996). The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb. Praeger Publishing. ISBN 978-0-275-95475-8. 

External links

  • Reflections from above: Fred Olivi's perspective on the mission which dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki
  • White Light/Black Rain Official Website (film)
  • Records of the Nagasaki Atomic Bombing

Coordinates: 39°46′55″N 84°06′32″W / 39.781976°N 84.108892°W / 39.781976; -84.108892

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