6:00 am – Alarm / 6:30 am – Breakfast / 7:00 am Board Bus / 7:30 am Airport Checkin / 8:00 am Take-off from Saipan / 8:10 am Landing on Tinian … You start to get a sense of a very full, fast-paced day on Tinian … that turned out to be the #2 highlight of our overall tour.
Tinian is the smallest and least developed of the three populated islands in the Marianas chain. It lies just three miles south of Saipan … it’s capture was essential to prevent deadly artillery and plane attacks across the channel. Our group ended up flying over on four small chartered planes … ranging from 4 to 8-seaters. When we checked in to the airport, each of us had to step onto the baggage scale. We were assigned a specific seat on one of the four planes, assuring that the loads were properly balanced.
Day 9 – Packed into a 8-Passenger Twin Prop for Short Flight to Tinian Across 3-mile Channel from Saipan
Once airborne, we had great views of both islands … minutes later we landed at Tinian International Airport. First stop was at the northern end of Tinian at North Field and Runway Able. This was one of four 8,500′ runways built by the SeaBees to service the growing squadrons of B29’s … from here (and Guam & Saipan) it was 1,500 miles to finally take the war directly to the Japanese mainland.
Day 9 – Far End of Runway Able on Tinian … the Enola Gay Lifted Off at the Yellow Arrow, just 400′ Short of the Trees at the End of the 8,500′ Runway
When the Enola Gay, overloaded with the 9,000# Little Boy, Col. Tibbitts inched into the air just 400′ from the trees at the end of the runway. This North Field Complex became the largest on the island. These runways were in their original post-way condition after the field was abandoned.
Day 9 – Japanese Air Operations Building on Tinian
Our next stop was the large Japanese Air Operations Building. It was a sprawling 2-story structure that included a huge bath tub (and hot water heater) for the commanding General. The building varies from dilapidated to collapsed condition as the jungle continues it’s relentless struggle to retake the terrain.
Day 9 – Large Bomb Storage and Fuel Drum Bunker on Tinian … Took a Direct Hit.
Our next stop, during one of the few showers we experienced on the whole trip, was to a huge bomb and fuel drum storage facility built into a large cave. This bunker had experienced a direct hit … the interior was badly damaged with concrete and rebar scattered everywhere.
Day 9 – A-Bomb Loading Pit at North Field on Tinian Used by both Enola Gay and Bockscar
Now, for me, one of the special highlights of the trip … a visit to the A-Bomb loading pits located on a large tarmac adjacent to North Field. The 4-engine B29 was built low to the ground, with insufficient clearance to load the huge 9,000# “Little Boy” – the rifle-triggered Uranium-235 bomb. The solution was to dig a large pit … lower the bomb with hydraulics … pull the Enola Gay over the pit … raise the bomb into the specially modified bomb bay.
Redundancy was the standard practice throughout the A-bomb mission. On Tinian, there were two loading pits and lots of other duplication, just in case. In fact, there were also two loading pits on Iwo Jima, in case the Enola Gay (or Bockscar) was forced to land on Iwo en route to Japan. The Tinian pits had been filled in and were only restored to their original condition in the mid-1990s.
Day 9 – Foundations of A-Bomb Assembly Building #1 at North Field on Tinian where “Little Boy” was Assembled
Located adjacent to the loading pit tarmac were three Bomb Assembly Buildings, the first for the uranium “Little Boy”. Buildings 2 and 3 were for the Plutonium “Fat Man” bombs which used the concentric implosion technique for triggering. The bomb in Building 3 would have been available for delivery on August 18 … with many more in the pipeline.
Lunch was a delicious catered ribs and chicken BBQ under the palm trees bordering White Beach #1. If you remember, the Saipan invasion was 9-battalions abreast over very wide beaches. The logical invasion site (and best defended) was in Tinian Town, on the southwest coast. A big gamble paid off when the Marines chose to invade “with companies in column formation” over two very narrow beaches … White #2 (pictured – 160 yards) and White #1 (around the point – only 60 yards wide). There were major concerns that disabled landing vehicles could badly clutter the beaches. But good planning and thin defenses made for a successful landing.
Day 9 – Beautiful Tinian Landing Beach White #2 … Only 160 Yards Wide
Resuming our tour, we stopped at the site of a huge 6″-bore shore gun, housed in a cave and mounted on rails to allow for lateral movement. This gun also showed the effects of a direct hit that disabled it.
Day 9 – Huge 6″ Shore Gun on Tinian Poking out of a Large Cave
Just down the coast were more caves, and a camouflaged Japanese crematory. Unlike the Nazi Holocaust crematories, this one was used by the Japanese to cremate workers who had died, making it much more efficient to return their remains to their home island like Okinawa.
Day 9 – Japanese Crematory on Tinian
Day 9 – Bill’s Delaminating Right Shoe on Tinian … With the Hike up Suribachi Just Around the Corner
While walking White Beach during lunch, I notice that the sole of my right shoe was becoming delaminated … and I needed these shoes for the hike up Mt. Suribachi. As luck would have it, we drove through Tinian Town after lunch and made a stop at the Chinese run “U Save Supermarket.” Fortunately, they were more than just a grocery store … and I was able to buy a roll of duct tape and some Crazy Glue. The duct tape made for a great temporary repair … and I applied the Crazy Glue at the airport for a more permanent fix that got me all the way home.
Day 9 – Suicide Cliffs on Tinian,
Dropping Straight to the Rocks and Surf Below
Like Saipan and Guam, Tinian had its own suicide cliffs and associated memorial. These cliffs wee more consistent with images I had seen of steep cliffs dropping to jagged rocks and the surf far below. It is tragic how many, especially civilians including women and children, who believed the horror stories passed around about what would happen to them if they fell into American hands.
Day 9 – A Latte Stone – 1 of 12 that Made Up the Foundation for the House of Taga
On the outskirts of Tinian Town were the ruins of the House of Toga. The house was built atop a grid of 12 of these latte stones, much like raised houses build along hurricane coast line. This technology was part of the ancient Chamorans who migrated from the South Pacific. The huge stones (base / column / cap stone) were quarried by hand. Like the huge stones found at Stone Henge, it is amazing how these stones were cut out of solid rock, transported to the site and erected. Smaller versions of these same latte stones are found throughout the island.
Day 9 – A Short Fight Back to Saipan from Tinian with a Straight Shot to the Runway
Our exhilarating day of discovery ended with a short direct f;ought back across the channel with the Saipan airport clearly in sight as soon as we had taken off.
This was not the last flight of the day. Landing in Saipan, we grabbed our bags from the tour bus and checked in for our short United turbo-prop flight to Guam. The adventure continues … and we’re one day closer to Iwo Jima.