Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Montage of images and link description. Race for the Superbomb Imagemap: linked to kids and home
The Film and More
Imagemap(text links below) of menu items
The American Experience
The Film & More
Reference
Interview Transcripts | Bibliography | Primary Sources


Harold Agnew on: The Hiroshima Mission
Harold Agnew Q: Were you actually on the mission? Were you on one of the planes?

HA: I flew on the Hiroshima mission in an airplane called the Great Artiste, actually, piloted by Sweeney, who piloted the box car on the Nagasaki mission. And Louis Alvarez had convinced Oppie [Robert Oppenheimer] that, well, maybe neither of these things would work and we ought to try to devise a way of measuring the yield, and that was a little -- that's pretty tricky because you couldn't be on ground. So we devised a method of dropping some blast gauges on parachutes and then telemetering the blast pressure of the impulse back to our plane, recording it, and then analyzing the results, and that's how we determined the yield.

So, there were three of us, Larry Johnson, Louis Alvarez, and myself. We each had a separate frequency that we tuned in on. Larry and I got a signal. Louis didn't. He was the boss, but that's okay. If we had missed it, he would have really chewed us out for not getting -- it was very tricky because the instruments had to come on. They were cold. They had to be heated, and then you had to search for your frequency. It was -- it wasn't easy. There was a lot of luck involved in whether you found your particular frequency and tuned in on your particular gauge. But at the same time, I brought some movie cameras along, and all the pictures you see were all mine.

After the bomb had been dropped, General Spaatz, who was head of the 20th Air Force, came up to visit where we were on Tinian, and a fellow from Cornell, Charlie Baker, had to give him a briefing on how all this took place, and what it was all about, and Spaatz came in at the head of echelon of generals, lieutenant generals, maybe three behind him, majors, generals, maybe six behind him. They all came marching in. Spaatz had one of these riding whips under his arm and stood there and Charlie Baker went through how all this worked, and he ended up opening up the little carrying case, which you have a picture of me holding, and showing the void inside, which is about the size of a medium size grapefruit. And he said, and this is the material from which we got the ten, fifteen thousand tons of high explosive equivalent, and Spaatz stood there looking him, and you can just see the wheels going around, this kid is making an ass out of me, and he finally said, young man you may believe that, but I certainly don't, turned around, walked out, with the whole phalanx of generals behind him. It just shows the level of understanding. It's pretty mind-boggling to think, when you have been thinking about chemical reactions where you have got a couple of electron volts in a reaction, and here you get two hundred and ten million - seventy million times more energy per molecule in nuclear energy.

back to Interview Transcripts



Program Description | Enhanced Transcript | Reference


THE FILM & MORE | SPECIAL FEATURE | TIMELINE | MAPS
PEOPLE & EVENTS | TEACHER'S GUIDE