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Watching the atom bombs go off from ships

Discussion in 'Atomic Bombs In the Pacific' started by Owen, Sep 27, 2016.

  1. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer I Point at Opana Staff Member Patron   WW2|ORG Editor

    Jun 5, 2008
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    But can we tell the difference between the Tsar Bomba and the Trinity test?

  2. lwd

    lwd Ace

    Jul 24, 2007
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    The Tsar Bomba was also detonated at ~2.5 miles above the ground (did the fireball actually touch the ground or not?). That would mean that the top of the fireball would be at an altitude of 5 miles. The site that the images come from seams to indicate that the fireball didn't touch the ground but did reach an altitude of almost 6.5 miles due to shockwave induced asymmetries. Using Google maps it's about 1200 miles from Helsinki to the test site. Not sure where the Finnish or Norwegian broken windows were though as the northern and closser parts of Norway and Finland are about half that distance from the site. The top of the fireball should then have been visible from ~220 miles.
  3. green slime

    green slime Member

    Nov 18, 2010
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    Fireball didn't touch the ground, but it had been intended to do so. The reflected energy, prevented the fireball from touching the ground.

    Otherwise I agree.

    Seeing either a "flash" from the detonation, or the glow from fireball, would be seen even further away (depending on atmospheric conditions).
  4. R Leonard

    R Leonard Member

    Oct 15, 2003
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    The Old Dominion
    This is from the rough draft of a missive my father wrote in January 1993 in response to an inquiry from an author working up his subject:

    “To begin I’ll account for my whereabouts in the days of your interest. I was a brand new fighter pilot in January 1941. Based on YORKTOWN CV-5 in June ’41, I put in a year on that ship until her sinking at Midway in Jun ’42. Chased German subs in the summer and fall of ’41 then went west after 7 Dec. Flew combat in various CV raids, Mandates, New Guinea etc. More combat in Coral Sea battle and Midway. Joined a new fighter squadron, VF-11, in Aug ’42; went to Guadalcanal for more combat. Returned stateside in the summer ’43 to help train and ready up new fighter squadrons for new carriers. In Nov ’44 was sent back to combat with orders to VAdm McCain’s staff. Remained in that assignment until Nov 1945.

    “My assignment in VAdm McCain’s staff was air operations assistant to Capt John S Thach who was the operations boss running Task Force 38, the main combat element of Adm W F Halsey’s Third Fleet. My main job was to write up the operations orders that assigned and apportioned air missions and tasks to several - as many as five - task groups that made up the force. I worked with Thach on many other operations related tasks some of the most important being organizing air defenses, developing fighter employment and tactics to meet the Kamikaze threat. Also there were new usages of our attack resources, switching away from warship targets to other objectives requiring dive bombing accuracy. For example, we were busy in July off Hokkaido working over steel plants, railroad ferries and dockside facilities.

    “McCain’s flagship in the summer of ’45 was SHANGRI-LA CV-38 stationed with 3 - 4 other carriers in Task Group 38.1. Stationed also in this task group was Adm Halsey’s flagship, MISSOURI BB-63.

    “This juxtaposition of the Fleet and Force flagships was important in that it permitted the two admirals to ‘talk’ to one another in a private way using a shielded signal lamp or by semaphore operated by trusted signalmen under the close scrutiny of each admiral’s ‘flag lieutenant,’ whose title really means something as far back in time as our Navy goes. This digression into the world of flag signals is made to afford understanding if how readily top commanders could speak and exchange ideas with some degree of privacy. It also explains why much of this type traffic never went into communications logs unless so directed. A pity because some of it was witty, informative, revealing and, in some cases, highly pertinent to the daily events. My admiral, McCain, was free in discussing such exchanges he considered useful to us operators, but we well understood that there was much we would never know. We knew we had his confidence by his every act, but we also were aware of his obligation to maintain Halsey’s privacy where affected. Thus we had an incomplete take on what in some cases spicy exchanges. They even used this system to bet against each other on the Santa Anita horse races - conditions permitting. Some lightness in high places helped de-intensify an otherwise grim time.

    “It was from just this type of exchange that I was alerted to the impending atomic bombing of Hiroshima. We had received normal radio notification of a special exercise (?) event (?) test (?) the heavy bombers had in prospect and adjusted our activities to keep our aircraft out of the proscribed areas. As we waited for something to happen, the Flag circuit was busy but unrevealing except for queries such as, ‘heard anything unusual yet?’ Both Halsey’s and McCain’s staffs had communications intelligence cells - experts who combed the radio spectrum for anything useful. Their targets were Japanese plain language radio programs as well as military tactical traffic and simple encryptions. The ‘real-time’ aspect of their ‘take’ was most useful to 3rd Fleet and fast carriers as we were at this time in a day to day employment trying to stifle Jap air capability and level any objectives that posed a threat to the Olympic invasion operations planned for the near future.

    “In hindsight I readily believe that Halsey and McCain were aware of the Manhattan effort and were thinking it was about time for a product to issue. So with the unusual orders to keep clear of several Japanese cities they were following the radio chatter intently. Thus, contrary to what others may have written, the carrier admirals were not taken by complete surprise, at least not the ones nearest to me in Task Force 38 when ‘the balloon went up’ that day in August 1945.

    “Those were perilous times. Even thought the war seemed to be winding down elsewhere, it was a real and savage thing the closer we came to the Japanese home islands. The nature of our employment forced increased exposure of ships and air people to the desperate defenders. A guided missile par excellance, the Kamikaze was breaking into our defenses; we were scrambling to counteract this smart bomb and were wildly extended as we came in close. Our best defense lay in attacking Kamikaze bases where we were fairly successful, but one escapee could give us fits and fatalities. To do our job we had to stand and take it. Worst of all it looked as though the Japanese were equipped and willing to go on indefinitely. The Japanese Navy has ceased to be a military factor, so we could concentrate on softening up the enemy for the final acts of the war. But this softening, a dangerous but unglamorous affair was costly, especially in flight leader losses.

    “I mentioned the warnings and restricted area orders incident to the Hiroshima bombing. I vaguely remember similar orders, or maybe one order covering all, when the time came for Nagasaki. There were instructions issued to us to also keep clear of Kyoto, a shrine city, though for no memorable reason. Anyway, the fast carriers were not likely to go urban unless specifically ordered. The one example of that specific I clearly recall was in a CINCPAC order which forwarded intelligence on electronics plants in the Tokyo area. There were photos and descriptions of plants suitable for and best attacked with dive bomber accuracy rather than B-29 area blasting. Some familiar names: Shibaura, Hitachi, Matsushita, Toshiba, I can remember. It was my job to develop and send the objective folders with rationale out to the task groups. We to this job in good heart as these plants were producing radar and electronic controls that had been increasing our flak losses. In the end, this campaign was to be OBE, but we felt good about it.

    “Army Air and fast carriers coordinated their campaigns enough to avoid interference. Our objectives were usually outside their areas and vice versa. I cannot remember any hurt feelings. I have no strong recollections of geographic restrictions being onerous. They were something like the weather - you just planned around it and eventually things would clear up. The significant differences between B-29 operations and fast carriers helped to keep interference a small factor. In the Philippines where we had to coordinate with TacAir the possibilities for friction were greater but that did not apply over Japan in the summer of ’45.

    “The account I have given here comes as that of a carrier fighter pilot in the summer of 1945 serving on the staff of CTF-38. My duty did not permit flying over hostile terrain at that time there was solace in having much to do with throwing the book at the Japs as my admiral applied his force to defeat them and end the war.

    “The staff was not very large - Vice Admiral, Rear Admiral, 2 captains, 2 commanders, 5 lieutenant commanders (I was the senior of them), some 8 to 9 lieutenants, maybe 10-12 lower ranks. As far as I know one of the commanders and I are the only ones left who were career navy - he USNA ’35 and I USNA ’38. We both had about the same amount of air experience, I joined the staff in November 1944 and he - now Adm Noel A M Gayler USN (Ret) - joined in April 1945.

    “TF-38 operations attending the 2 September signing of the instruments of surrender on board USS MISSOURI - For reasons of prudence it was decided to have the fast carriers remain off shore fully operational during the uncertain period of this event. A photograph I have of the ceremony signed by Adm Nimitz shows clearly the many attendees. There are all the senior officers of the TF-38 staff - McCain, Towers, Baker, Gingrich, Thach, and Hearn. At the same time there was Task Force 38 off shore operating as usual. We launched 450 of our battle proven planes to fly formation over the ceremony, over Tokyo, and back to sea. The task force in the absence of its leaders carried on. Later that wondrous day, when Noel and I had a chance to think and talk, we found ourselves abashed yet proud in the realization that our admirals had left us with the big stick, the exercise of the main military power at the scene should it have been needed. For us, two fighter pilots who had been in action from the earliest days it was a rousing way to end that fight.”

    I bought a copy of the author’s book before my father could find it and gave it to him. I did not even know he had contributed. After he read it he told me that only a snippet of what he wrote appeared in the book and that, from a letter a copy of which he could not find. He showed me this rough draft, evidently a follow-on, to the initial letter. I read it through and asked essentially the question raised in the initial post of this thread, “ . . . so you did not see the bombs go off?” His reply was, “no,” and he proceeded to explain that first of all they were no where near the scene, being hundreds of miles away and under replenishment. and that even with that, they did not know where nor when to look, much less what they would have been looking for had they known where or when.

    Glad I took the time to type this up, the rough draft is in pencil and a little difficult to decipher in places without a very bright light and a magnifying glass.
    lwd, mcoffee, Poppy and 2 others like this.

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