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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)  1  of  12
 

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.

 

Remants of the hydraulic lift used for loading can be seen at the bottom, as well as rebar “access” steps to the pit off to the right.

 

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.

  • Grote

    Had no idea about any of this. Very very cool.

  • Andy L

    Is the only hotel on Tinian Island still just that Casino for the Chinese, or are there other options now? I have always been interested in staying overnight to see what scuba diving the island might have.

    • Henry Cooper

      There may be some sort of “homestay-style” operation there on-island that I’m unaware of, but other than the Dynasty Casino the only option I’ve heard of is Fleming Restaurant & Hotel. Might be worth a look.

      http://bit.ly/1iVGUcC

      Hope this helps.

      • London K

        Flemings is awesome – the cafe is incredible – perhaps the best food on the island – a little more able to cater to mainland American tastes than elsewhere – not that local isn’t good to. Try the tinian chili on your breakfast eggs – it is incredible. The little store just next door carries just about anything you will need for your stay in Tinian. The staff is really nice and helpful – and Deb Fleming is the best – can’t ask for a nicer person. We did not stay at the hotel but based on everything else on the property it will be the place we stay next trip.

        • Deb

          +1 Deb Fleming

        • Henry Cooper

          Thanks for the follow-up on this, London. It’s always good to hear firsthand on places like this. – How recent (/long ago) was it that you were there (if you don’t mind my asking)? Just for reference here. Thanks.

          • London K

            Henry, no problem, happy I could contribute to this interesting article/conversation on one of my favorite vakay spots!
            This was back in 2010, me and my girlfriend were staying there for an overseas shoot. No clue how it is now, but if Deb is still around, I’m sure it’s still great.