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SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (August 31, 1999 – Saipan Tribune)---In the years since the end of the war between Japan and the United States there has been widespread speculation that America had a third atom bomb ready to deliver if Japan did not surrender after the first two. It also has been rumored that the United States lost a bomb somewhere in the Pacific Ocean en route to Tinian. Thanks to a grant from the CNMI Council for the Humanities, supported in part by funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, these questions have now been put to rest.

Recently, many top secret World War II files held in the U.S. National Archives were declassified. Among them are the Tinian Atom Bomb Files. In these files are 43 photographs of the bombs being loaded into B-29s on Tinian. Copies of these previously classified photographs have been placed in the Northern Marianas College Archives. They are accompanied by hundreds of pages of original messages sent between Tinian and the mainland United States during the last months of the war. Together, they are a fantastic collection of previously unpublished information.

The photographs demonstrate how the bombs were constructed, lowered into the bomb pits and then raised into the Enola Gay and the Bock's Car. The files, when read chronologically, exude the emotions of a small cadre of civilian and military personnel who were given an impossible mission: take atomic theory and turn it into a military weapon that might end the war.

By February 1945, the American scientists, engineers and military personnel concluded that they would have the scientific and mechanical where-with-all to create enough fissionable material to drop an atom bomb by early August. Gen. Leslie Groves dispatched Col. Elmer E. Kirkpatrick to build the base on Tinian. Groves was head of the Manhattan Project, the umbrella organization created to build and drop atom bombs.

Kirkpatrick arrived in the Marianas at the end of March, just days before the bloody battle for Okinawa. The sight of thousands of men leaving for battle and hundreds of them returning maimed weighed heavily on his mind. He had been advised that the predicted November invasion of mainland Japan would require three million troops and cost one million casualties, not counting the Japanese. Kirkpatrick's job was to build the atomic base on Tinian and drop the bomb in time to prevent that invasion.

The Tinian Atom Bomb Files reveal that Kirkpatrick was able to build the base in just over two months. The 509th Composite Group began arriving in June. The first atomic device was exploded in New Mexico in late July. And on August 6 and 9, the only two atomic bombs ever used in warfare were launched from Tinian.

It is not possible here to relate all of the information included in the Tinian Atom Bomb Files. The following are only a few excerpts. Nevertheless, even these short clips clearly answer the question, "Did America have a third bomb, and if so, what happened to it?" Those interested in learning more about the subject are invited to read the rest of the files at the Northern Marianas College Archives. (Note: The quotes that follow are unedited transcriptions of the original documents.)

On August 9, the day the second bomb was launched, Gen. Thomas Farrel wrote from Tinian to Gen. Groves in Washington, D.C., "Strongly recommend that next Centerboard target be Tokio. More destruction would probably be obtained from choosing a clean target but it is believed that the psychological effect on the government officials still remaining in Tokio is more important at this time than destruction."

Clearly then, there was a third bomb, but the disposition of its use was not yet decided.

The next day Gen. Groves wrote to the Chief of Staff, "The next bomb of the implosion type had been scheduled to be ready for delivery on the target on the first good weather after 24 August 1945. We have gained 4 days in manufacture and expect to ship from New Mexico on 12 or 13 August the final components."

That same day, August 10, arrangements were made for the shipment of the third bomb to Tinian. "On 10 August 1945, at the direction of Capt. John A. King, this agent drove to Sacramento, California for the purpose of handling a shipment of one loaded FM (Fat Man bomb) in one B-29. At approximately 1100 Capt. King advised by telephone that Major Derry had called from Washington stating that the B-29 and all its contents was to be returned to Albuquerque."

President Truman was anticipating the Japanese surrender and did not want another bomb dropped unnecessarily. He recalled the B-29 and its deadly cargo from California to New Mexico. Thus the third bomb was not lost in the Pacific, but returned to the atomic testing grounds at Alamagordo. However, not everyone, even the general in charge of the project was aware of this decision.

On August 13 Groves wrote to Handy, "I will remind you Weds noon that I am ready to start shipment. I will arrange for planes so that they can depart from New Mexico on Thursday if the decision is to send the materials. This will change date in theater from subject to first good weather (16th to 20th)."

At this time Japan had still not yet surrendered, although information to that effect had been intercepted. In fact, Emperor Hirohito had advised his cabinet that he would personally call the war to an end.

On Aug. 14, Admiral Nimitz wrote to Admiral King, "In event capitulation request you arrange for Japanese ship meet me 20 miles 135 from Shima to lead my forces into Sagami Wan. Further request you hold threat of atomic bomb over enemy government as penalty for treachery."

On Aug. 21, a message was sent from Tinian to Oppenheimer, the physicist who was director of bomb development. "Such condition at the present time that assemblies could begin of active units as soon as arrival here of active material… General Groves has ordered that the personnel constituting Project A should not leave the theatre before the occupation of Japan is complete from a tactical standpoint."

On September 3 Kirkpatrick wrote to Groves, "… notice is given (to Parsons and Ramsey) that if the unexpected occurs and trouble is encountered a Triple "X" unit should be ready for immediate shipment to Destination (Tinian)."

In fact, the files reveal that Oppenheimer claimed he could deliver enough fissionable material to construct one bomb a month for as long as necessary.

Fortunately, the surrender agreement was signed. The U.S. army of occupation entered Japan without major incident. The war was declared ended.

On September 8, Kirkpatrick wrote to Commodore Parsons, "The demobilization of the Project "A" Establishment at Tinian was ended on 5 September…" It was completed by Sept. 20, just as efficiently as it was begun.

For additional reports from The Saipan Tribune, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Saipan Tribune.

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