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Sidenote to History: Tinian’s Atomic Bomb Pits
Most people over the age of, say, 25 I would guess are familiar (even if only vaguely) with the names of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the place these two cities hold in history.
Quite a few I’m sure have also heard of the Enola Gay (and perhaps, to a lesser extent, even the Bockscar).
Fewer can probably name the code names given to the atomic bombs that these two B-29 bombers carried. (Little Boy and Fat Man, for those interested.)
And it is truly the rare few (history buffs I imagine) that know these bombers took off from captured Japanese airfields on the island of Tinian, a tiny rock in the Pacific located near the U.S. territory of Guam.
And yet the vast majority are unaware of the minor sidenote to history that are the atomic bomb pits.
(Click on slideshow for additional info)
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Ferry service to Tinian from Saipan—the largest and most developed of the Northern Mariana islands, and about a 45-minute flight from Guam—was discontinued a few years back, so access now is only by air.
Two small competing airlines with ticket counters beside one another offer alternating flights every 15 minutes or so throughout the day. Visual flight rules are in effect, so flights are only during daylight hours and weather permitting. Ticket prices on both are near identical, and you should be able to catch a flight almost immediately just by walking in.
The islands of Saipan and Tinian are surprisingly close, and so the flight is just a quick 10-minute trip from takeoff to landing.
WWII airfield (North Field) on Tinian as seen today on approach…
...and as it looked in 1945.
The atomic bombs were much larger and heavier (9,700 lbs and 10,300 lbs, respectively) than traditional bombs, and as such could not be loaded conventionally. Pits had to be dug into the tarmac, the bombs placed in the ground, and then the bombers dragged over them so that they could be loaded.
The glass covering of these bomb pits—Little Boy (left) and Fat Man (right)—can be seen here, as well as their proximity to one another.
View down Runway Able, from which the bombers took off.
Even today, these historic runways are occasionally cleared of overgrowth and used for U.S. military drills and practices.
While the vast majority of the U.S.’ footprint here from WWII has been removed, a good number of WWII Japanese structures and infrastructure still remain.
Inside one of the many Japanese air raid shelters left standing on Tinian.
Japanese air operations building at North Field as it is today… and as it would have looked back then.
(Note: This link is to a similar air operations building on Tinian after it had been captured and converted to U.S. military use.)
A day trip (or even a half-day) is more than enough to take in Tinian’s historical sites. As the island is quite small, everything can be leisurely explored within 3–5 hours.
Saipan also has quite a few WWII sites that warrant a visit, so a few days there should be definitely considered.
Here, part of the old Japanese hospital (completed in1926), which is now the island’s history and culture museum.
Prior to touring the island, I strongly suggest the brilliant American Memorial Park’s visitor center and WWII museum as a starting point.
Partially submerged WWII U.S. Sherman tank that still rests several hundred yards off of Saipan’s Garapan Beach.