- Jun 2011
- The Old Dominion
Regarding who knew what about the atomic bomb, D. Clayton James' The Years of MacArthur, Vol. II 1941-1945, on page 775, tells us of MacArthur being informed of the bomb:I think the salient point here is that none of these folks as far as I understand, even knew of the existence of the atomic bomb before one was dropped. That applies to Eisenhower, Macarthur, Nimitz and whoever else wasn’t “in the loop” (which was pretty much everyone). It was a surprise to them.
"Brigadier General Thomas Ferrell was sent by the War Department at the end of July to inform him of the atomic bomb and to direct him to keep the skies clear of FEAF aircraft over the specified cities . . .
“According to one source*, MacArthur reacted with ‘quiet indignation' when he learned that Eisenhower had known of the atomic bomb long before he was told.
“*from an interview with Col Sidney F. Mashbir conducted by Col Virgil Ney, 6 July 1971.”
That seems pretty definitive, including a followup cite of a postwar interview with one of MacArthur's intelligence officers.
Eisenhower, indeed, learned of the bomb while at the Potsdam Conference. From his own Crusade in Europe, page 443:
"I had a long talk with Secretary Stimpson who told me that very shortly there would be a test in New Mexico of the atomic bomb ... The results of the successful test were soon communicated to the Secretary by cable. He was extremely relieved ... In any event, it was decided that unless Japan surrendered promptly in accordance with the demands communicated to the Japanese Government from Potsdam the plan for using the atomic bomb would be carried out."
So, while perhaps told only at the last minute, MacArthur was informed that the bomb(s) would be used and the probable targets. His opinion of their use, which some like to bandy about, really isn't cogent to whether or not he was notified before their use.
Of course, Eisenhower wasn't the only one who knew before MacArthur.
E. B. Potter's Bull Halsey, page 343, describes how Halsey got the news between 16 and 19 July 1945 and indirectly leads to the conclusion that Nimitz already knew:
"One of the officers transferred from Service Squadron 6 came with a message. Rear Admiral William R. Purnell, as an emissary from CinCPac, brought Halsey information that the Twentieth Army Air Force was going to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. This was the first time Halsey heard of the bomb."
Potter also confirms on pages 381 and 382 of Nimitz, that the CinCPac had been informed of the atomic bomb program back in February 1945 by Commander Frederick L. Ashworth, bearing a message from Admiral E.J. King. The message said that the bomb would be available in the Pacific Theater about August 1, 1945. And, on page 384:
"On July 25, a plane carrying Captain William S. Parsons, a naval ordnance expert, landed on Guam. Parsons had with him films of the world's first man-made atomic explosion . . . Before an awed audience that included Admiral Nimitz, Admiral Spruance, General LeMay and selected officers of their staffs, Parsons showed his movies of the great fireball rising over the desert."
Parsons, of course, was the "weaponeer" on the Hiroshima mission and Ashworth was weaponeer on the Nagasaki mission.
And evidently the word spread a bit. An assistant operations officer aboard the TF38 flagship, Shangri La, operating off the coast of Japan, recounted how Halsey and McCain shared messaging via blinker on various subjects, operational and otherwise. Around the time of the Hiroshima event he recalled some of these messages were along the lines of “. . . any word, yet?”
The operations types, USN and USAAF, were well aware that certain targets had been proscribed, for example, the following message sent 3 July 1945:
032226 JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF TO MACARTHUR NIMITZ AND ARNOLD
WARX 26350. EYES ONLY. KYOTO, HIROSHIMA, KOKURA and NIIGATA will not be attacked by any forces under your command unless further directions are issued by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Para. Knowledge of the above instructions will be limited to the minimum number of persons to carry out the instructions.
It would have been more than a little difficult to adhere to this order without letting your operations/planning types know certain targets were fobidden. And then the plot thickened, a message on 2 August 1945:
021036 CINCPAC ADVANCE HQ TO COM3RDFLT, CTF 94, CTF 95, info CTF 38, COMFAIRWING 1, COMFAIRWING 18, COMGEN USASTAF
A special operation will be conducted by the 509th Bomb Group on 4 or 5 August at a time to be announced later. No ship or aircraft of the Pacific Fleet will come with 50 miles of NAGASAKI, KOKURA, or HIROSHIMA from 4 hours before to 6 hours after the announced time. Acknowledge.
The next day came
030212 CINCPAC ADVANCE to COMINCH
NIMITZ TO KING ONLY.
Cities of KYOTO HIROSHIMA KOKURA and NIIGATA were reserved for special attack with which you are familiar. SecWar directed substitution NAGASAKI for KYOTO. Understand reason being that the latter is an important cultural center he did not want destroyed. Request I be informed if KYOTO is to remain immune from normal bombing attacks. Assume also JCS are familiar with fact that POW camp is at NAGASAKI.
Note the "with which you are familiar," this on 3 August 1945. And then, the same day . . .
031332 CINCPAC ADVANCE to COM3RDFLEET
NIMITZ TO HALSEY ONLY
It is imperative that there be no interference with operations of 509th Bomb Group. Although their objective has been indicated it may be changed. It is accordingly directed that you send no planes over KYUSHU or western HONSHU until specifically authorized by me. It is my intention to give you freedom of action as soon as the special mission has been completed. At this time it appears the task will be completed on the 5th and you can strike as you currently plan on the 6th. Will keep you informed.
Para. After your next attack desire your fleet return to port in order that it may be ready to renew operations in late August.
The next day, 4 August
040612 COMGENUSASTAF TO CINCPOA CINCAFPAC
EYES ONLY NIMITZ AND MACARTHUR
Operational intention is to strike primary HIROSHIMA at 060945/K (-10) or secondary KOKURA at 061010/K or tertiary NAGASAKI at 061030/K. A firm decision confirming the times listed above will leave this headquarters by 051430/K. It is mandatory that no friendly aircraft enter a 50 mile zone around the three targets scheduled for attack between the hours 060545 and 061700 if firm decision confirms the above target times.
On, yeah, for those not used to reading these things, the “06” as in “. . . hours 060545 and 061700 . . .” refers to the hours of 0545 to 1700 on 6 August.
So, there was chatter that something was about to happen and the folks at the top of the food chain were aware, had been briefed, and, some anyway, seen film of the Trinity test, of what that “something” was.
And on 9 August . . . wheee, here’s a would have, could have, should have for those so inclined to “what if,” questions (and I am not one of those so inclined):
090326 COMAF 20 to CINCPAC ADVANCE COMUSASTF
APCOM 5449. KIRKPATRICK TO NIMITZ AND SPAATZ
Note: this is extract of copy to Washington: In view of the effects at TRINITY and HIROSHIMA which far exceeded optimistic expectations, Burnell, Parsons and Farrell believe question of targets should be reviewed immediately. The subject was discussed with NIMITZ and SPAATZ today at GUAM and both concurred in our views expressed below.
Para. Because of great potency targets should where practicable be at least 3 miles on a side. Targets with partially burned out areas having large remaining population and some industry offer greatest possibilities for psychological effects. We consider the “Scare Radius” go be at least 10 miles. It is recommended that the War Department should no longer require visual bombing but leave decision to field command. Every effort will be made to get best bombing conditions. We consider remaining approved targets with exception of KOKURA as inadequate or improperly shaped areas. We do not want to waste any of the effects. It is recommended that the list be revised to include several large cities. It is expressly recommended that the region of TOKYO be included as a target.
Lastly, if anyone wants to pretend that there was no planned coordination between the Soviets and the US in the final throes of the Japanese, they should avail themselves of the message traffic on operational coordination found in the CinCPac Gray Books where the traffic related to establishing coordination and operational boundaries between US and USSR forces appears in laborious detail starting about 24 July 1945 .