“Little Boy” and “Fat Man”

The two atomic bombs dropped on Japan to close World War Two have been steeped in controversy ever since.

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Fat Man on the left. Little Boy, on cart, at right.

The bombs were the product of the “Manhattan Project” that started in 1942 under Major General Leslie Groves.  This was a joint project with Britain and Canada and was a further development of the British “Tube Alloys” program.  By most counts it was the third most expensive weapons system of the war, after the German V2 and American B-29. Given that the bombs were dependent on the B-29 as a delivery system this is a massive national effort.

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The seeming unending “controversy” is perhaps understandable since these are, by far, the most destructive weapons ever deployed and the only atomic weapons ever used.  But I don’t think study of the time and events needs to go too deep to realize there was never a reasonable expectation they wouldn’t be used. The initial impetus for the weapons was a desire to develop them before Germany could.  But by early 1945 it was clear there was no need to use them against Germany due to a rapidly approaching defeat.
Japan however, was fighting with increasing fanaticism and desperation.  Employing suicide pilots against ships and continuing resistance past the point of no hope it was obvious a final victory would be very costly in lives.  Our signals intelligence and code breaking of the period was also extremely good; we knew in mid-1945 that there were Japanese leaders ready to sue for peace, but they were not a majority and were not making policy. (I highly recommend “Marching Orders” by Bruce Lee for a thorough look at American signals intelligence in the war, especially in the closing events).
Japan was under a complete naval and air blockade and her cities were being burned to the ground. Japanese territory was falling rapidly to allied assault.  Japanese leadership was seriously discussing their national destruction as if it was the “honorable” course of action.
American leadership was ready to accommodate them, while hoping for a less cataclysmic solution.  Enter the bomb.  At the time, most people with knowledge of the project regarded the bombs simply as really big bombs.  Understanding of radiation, fall out, and the world changing aspects of nuclear weapons were pretty limited.  We had a new weapon, and an enemy who needed a reality check; NOT using them would have been pretty unthinkable. Not to mention a betrayal of trust for the hundreds of thousands of Soldiers and Marines getting ready to invade the islands.
No doubt, in the aftermath, many have regretted ever letting that particular genie out of the bottle.  But faced with the cost of an invasion it seems likely the bombing DID save lives, both American and Japanese.

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Just a little scale perspective. Fat Man was a large piece of ordnance. Not as big as a British “Grand Slam”, but big enough the B-29 was the only American bomber for the job.  Maybe some day I’ll have a B-29 to pose with it…

I do need to mention that was another element in the final Japanese decision to surrender.  The Soviet declaration of war was nearly as big a shock to Japanese leaders as the bombing. Many had apparently clung to a *unrealistic* hope that the Soviets would help negotiate some sort of compromise peace.  Those hopes were discredited concurrent with the atomic bombings.  So facing ruin and no options changed the balance of power within the Japanese government.  At least enough to say surrender vs fight to utter annihilation became a total toss up. Hirohito himself cast a tie breaking vote to end the war.

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Little Boy is obviously much less massive.

The two bombs used represent very different technologies.  Little Boy was a Uranium bomb. It used a rifle type detonator that slammed one mass of Uranium 235 into another.  This was considered a simple type of weapon that wasn’t even tested prior to use. But Uranium 235 is very difficult to process and that really became a prohibitive factor in building any more such bombs.
Fat Man was a plutonium bomb. It was triggered by firing multiple masses of Plutonium into a central core.  This detonator was considerably more complicated to produce and was the reason for the world’s first atomic test at Alamogordo NM.
Much is often made of saying the Nagasaki bombing exhausted the American supply of atomic bombs. This is only partly true.  There were elements for a third bomb being prepared for transport to Tinian when Japan surrendered, and series production of Fat Man type bombs was on the immediate horizon.

The bombs shown here are from the vintage Monogram B-29 Superfortress kit.  They are extremely easy to assemble little items, greatly complicated by poor molding and fit issues.  I spent far more time filling and sanding, filling and sanding, and filling and sanding again than I did with “assembly”!  And in the end, its still obvious I’m no “master builder”.

I have mentioned before that I am getting started with a basement remodel project at home that will shut down my modeling entirely for a few months. I’m not sure if I might get something else done before that break; I hope so, but don’t bet on it!

~ Dave

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Posted in Miscellaneous, USA | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Programming Note

No doubt things have been slow at PlaneDave this year. Obviously I have no one to blame but myself.  The Dave-cave is a total disaster just now as we get ready for a big basement remodel this winter.  Since that includes the model shop, actually more than includes, a model shop makeover is high on the agenda; but it will be slow going, or no going, for some months yet. I do still squeeze a few minutes of modeling in on most weekends, but I expect little to actually get done for a while.
Readers may have noticed the B-29 at the top of my workbench pile.  Those familiar with the vintage Monogram kit may not be surprised when I say I may have one short little feature of a completed add-in before the shop shuts down completely for a bit.

Now I have a question for my readers.  Testors has discontinued the biggest part of the paint line I’ve used for many years.  Basically, my entire life I’ve used Testors enamel paints.  But its time for a change due to their corporate decision.  So the first part of the question is, is there a brand that uses the same base and can be mixed with Testor’s?  This would be by far the least traumatic fix for me!  If, as I expect, the answer is no, what is a good substitute?  I have some experience with Tamiya paints and use some of their special colors (clear colors, especially smoke, and metallics), so that might be the next easiest option.  But their color choices always seemed overly generic to me and I’m not sure if the range is broad enough for all the many variations of greens and browns I use!  Yes I’ve heard of custom mixing…
But anyway, what do you readers use?  What are its limitations and strengths?  What do you wish you used?
I look forward to feedback!

~ Dave 

Posted in Administrative | 6 Comments

A Day at Fort Mackinac

Another of my slightly off topic posts. But as I’ve said since way back, I love military history in general, so this seem’s good to me!

These days Mackinac Island is best known as tourist destination.  Grand Hotel, fudge and state highways with no motor vehicles allowed are what mostly come to mind.

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A view of Fort Mackinac from Marquette Park. Commonly thought of as the front side.

The Mackinac Straits area of Michigan actually traces a colonial history back to the very beginning of that era.  French fur traders and trappers frequented the area which led to an outpost, a Jesuit Mission and a French fort at modern day Mackinaw City known as Fort  Michilimackinac. After the French and Indian War (AKA the Seven Years War) ended in 1763 all French territorial claims in the north (modern day Canada and northern US) were ceded to Great Britain, so Fort Michilimackinac became a British possession.

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Reenactors demonstrate breech loading 1878 Springfield Rifles in Fort Mackinac’s parade ground.

Until the American Revolution.  During that war, the British decided the location was too vulnerable and moved the fort out to nearby Mackinac Island. Known as Fort Mackinac since, it is one of the first visible landmarks when approaching the island. The transfer was completed in 1781, just in time for it to be given over to the new United States after the war in 1783.

The only real combat related to the fort came during the War of 1812, and serves mainly to highlight British professionalism and American, well, not professionalism…

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A view from the fort wall overlooking Mackinac Island village.

The British landed well behind the fort and seized high ground that overlooked both the fort and village below it.  They threatened to shell the village, and the Americans promptly surrendered. In 1814 an American expedition landed on the island and attempted to replicate the British feat; but the British knew that trick and routed the force before it posed any threat. Two ships were left to besiege the island, but when British forces got low on supplies they captured the American ships to break the siege. With the end of the war in 1815, the British again turned the fort over to American forces.

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A view from the Fort’s west wall. The Grand Hotel is visible with the green roof to the right. Mackinac Bridge can be see in the center distance. This connects Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas. At the left most edge of the bridge, that is the northern tip of Michigan’s lower peninsula, is the reconstruction on its original site of Fort Michilimackinac.

In the years that followed, the military threat to the area rapidly diminished and business transitioned from fur trade to tourism.  During the American Civil War the fort was used as a VIP prison, for three people.  Which sort of puts an exclamation point on how the post had become a resort. In 1875 Mackinac Island became the second US National Park. Which meant the soldiers at the fort were pretty much Park Rangers before that particular service had even been established.  In 1895 the fort was finally decommissioned and the entire island was turned over to the state of Michigan as a State Park.  In the 1950s the State of Michigan got serious about restoring its landmarks and both Fort Mackinac and Fort Michilimackinac came into being in their current form.  That is, fully restored living history exhibits.

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Looking across a corner of the Fort to the Straits of Mackinac.

A trip to Mackinac is not only beautiful and fun, but it is rich in colonial and early American history.  The fort is, to me, the crown jewel of that experience.  But there is so much to see and learn in this area. I can’t recommend this highly enough.

Posted in Museums | Tagged | 14 Comments

Thunder Over Michigan – 2017

This year’s Thunder Over Michigan was held this last weekend; the first in September which made it Labor Day weekend and the first three day event I remember them doing.

As always, there were some familiar acts, and a few new things I hadn’t seen before.  My one small complaint is the length of the show, given that cost goes up every year I wish they would do more than a 3 1/2 hour show.  Add an act or two and get it up over four hours; that’s more what I expect for an airshow regardless of admission.

But overall it was a terrific show. For me, the biggest highlight was paratrooper reenactors.  50+ troopers jumped from 5 C-47s on Saturday.  I didn’t see Sunday; but Monday they had six C-47s joined by a C-46, unfortunately, due to high winds, there was no jump on Monday.  The fickle nature of such things…

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Reenactors jump from C-47s at Thunder Over Michigan.

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The second wave dropping before the first is down.

This was at least the third time Sherman tanks were promised for the land battle part, and the first time I’ve actually seen them deliver.  It was awesome to see two Shermans on the battlefield opposing a Hetzer, a Lynx light tank and a 222 armored car.

For flying demos we were treated to a Curtiss Hawk 81 this year.  That’s an early P-40, or Tomahawk for RAF fans.  For years there have been no shortage of later Warhawks or Kittyhawks (mainly E and N models).  But its a recent thing to have an airworthy B or C model (I think there are two now flying?).  For all the movies and reenactments I’ve seen that try to do Pearl Harbor or Flying Tigers, the Hawk 81 is most appropriate.  It is sleeker looking than the later models, and first impression I would say its quieter than the later models (I believe it had no supercharger, or it might just be that this example was particularly well tuned!)

We also had aerobatic displays with a Stearman (with wingwalker), Twin Beech (an unlikely type to see doing a loop!) and a Bearcat.  The Blue Angels were the headliners, and put on a terrific show as always.  Due to weather they did their low show on Saturday (louder, but less vertical) and the high show on Sunday and Monday.

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Blue Angels diamond making smoke.

~ Dave 

Posted in Air Show, Museums | Tagged | 1 Comment

Dunkirk

A Brief Commentary by a History Nerd

I’m sure most readers of this site are well aware of this summer’s rare treat, an epic summer blockbuster done as a serious take on a historic event.  I’ve been very excited to see this, and by and large it didn’t disappoint.

Last I knew it had 98% at Rotten Tomatoes and has drawn universally high praise.  It is riveting, intense and exciting without being grossly graphic.  It is well made by every traditional measure.  But I do want to air a couple of personal beefs; one the movie is being praised for, the other, well, critics have no clue…

The first is just that the time structure is confusing.  The movie is broken into land, sea and air components.  The land component covers a week of time, the sea is a day and air is an hour.  The stories are interwoven in such a way that they come together at the climax of the film.  This means some cuts like soldiers boarding a rescue ship at night, cut to one of the “little ships” crossing the channel in broad daylight.  I don’t mean to suggest this is impossible to grasp or any such, but it is an odd structure that requires some attention to follow.

My other complaint is bigger and may strike many as unusual.  Christopher Nolan apparently dislikes CGI and went to extremes to do more traditional film effects.  But this causes a couple problems with this subject that I think DO NOT serve the film well. A small issue will only be noticed by regular readers of this site (!).  The film’s “Messerschmitts” are all the same Spanish Ha1112s that have been film staples since “The Battle of Britain” in 1969.  This is a complaint only because with two actual Bf109E currently in flying condition it shouldn’t have been that hard to get digital models of the real thing.  A similar complaint applies to some of the ships that are clearly post war, or at least heavily modified in the post war period (too many antennas, too much enclosed superstructure, too modern armament).  All of this could have been fixed with CGI.
But the even bigger problem is one of scale.  Dunkirk, or Operation Dynamo, was a massive operation.  There were nearly 400,000 men trapped in the perimeter and lines of men awaiting transport for days on end.  There were over 800 ships (including 39 destroyers), about a third of which were sunk.  And it was the RAF’s first large scale commitment to battle with 3500 sorties flown. Yet for most of the movie we only saw a few scattered groups of soldiers on the beach, a few ships (which ALL seemed to sink…), and never more than three Spitfires.  This is a major failing of SCOPE! The movie often felt WAY too small.  And this is exactly what CGI is good for.  Let’s fill out those crowds, put some more ships in the water and put some whole squadrons of airplanes into the action. To be fair, the actual numbers were mentioned a few times.  But SHOW US!  That’s what movies are good for, it’s a visual medium.

I admit to nitpicking here.  The movie is tense, exciting and may introduce many viewers to a critically important event they mostly know nothing about.  Seriously, I’ve been amazed how many people said “what’s that about” when I mentioned my excitement for the movie.
Perhaps this nitpicking is why I prefer my history in books and reserve movies and television for fiction…

  ~ Dave 

Posted in Miscellaneous | Tagged , | 38 Comments

Memorial Day – 2017

For several years, my wife and I have attended the Civil War Remembrance at Greenfield Village on Memorial Day.  This is a well put together look at the Civil War era in this country featuring military actions, camps and music from a few thousand re-enactors.  Its not the largest gathering of its sort in the US, but thanks to the unique setting it is diverse and fascinating.

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Behind the scenes at the cavalry encampment.

 

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Countdown to Pearl Harbor by Steve Twomey

The attack on Pearl Harbor is already coming to be one of my most visited topics!  But I had to share a few words about this excellent book.

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Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , | 23 Comments