The best books about the atomic bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Robert O. Harder Author Of The Three Musketeers of the Army Air Forces: From Hitler's Fortress Europa to Hiroshima and Nagasaki
By Robert O. Harder

Who am I?

In May 1968, I arrived at my first duty station as a new B-52 navigator-bombardier. Later, at the bar, I was hailed by a booming voice from behind the beer taps. "Hi ya, lieutenant!" Moments later, he asked what I thought of the USAF so far. I said I was career-minded. ‘‘Hell, only the pilots get promoted; navigators get diddley-squat. Get out as soon as you can.” After he departed, the bartender came over. “Know who that was, lieutenant? He’s Tom Ferebee, the man who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima." The colonel had both underscored my dismal career prospects and instilled a lifelong passion for the subjects discussed in this book.


I wrote...

The Three Musketeers of the Army Air Forces: From Hitler's Fortress Europa to Hiroshima and Nagasaki

By Robert O. Harder,

Book cover of The Three Musketeers of the Army Air Forces: From Hitler's Fortress Europa to Hiroshima and Nagasaki

What is my book about?

While scores of books have been published about the atomic bombings that helped end World War II, little has been written about the personal lives and relationships of the three men who led the raids. Paul Tibbets, Tom Ferebee, and Ted “Dutch” Van Kirk exemplified what Life magazine meant when in 1942 it called the B-17 pilot, bombardier, and navigator ‘the three musketeers of the Army Air Forces.’ A former navigator-bombardier and pilot himself, Harder brings a fresh perspective to an otherwise well-known narrative. He provides a rare insider’s look at exactly who these three men were, how they were trained, what they meant to each other, and finally how everything coalesced into the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks.

The books I picked & why

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The Tibbets Story

By Paul W. Tibbets,

Book cover of The Tibbets Story

Why this book?

While researching my book, I was fortunate to become acquainted with the Tibbets family, including his second wife Andrea Quattrehomme and his grandson Brig. Gen. Paul W. Tibbets IV (USAF Ret.). Their co-operation, coupled with the details in this autobiography, was instrumental in revealing what the man was really like.

In 1937, Tibbets graduated from the Kelly Field, Texas pilot school, the “West Point of the Air." Among the first to deploy to Europe in 1942, he flew the lead plane in the initial heavy bomber raid against Fortress Europa. Additionally, he often flew as personal pilot to flag officers, including Gen. Dwight Eisenhower. After 43 combat missions he was rotated home to help development of the troubled B-29 program, which directly led to his selection as commander of the world’s first atomic bomber force.

The Tibbets Story

By Paul W. Tibbets,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Tibbets Story as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


My True Course: Dutch Van Kirk Northumberland to Hiroshima

By Suzanne Simon Dietz,

Book cover of My True Course: Dutch Van Kirk Northumberland to Hiroshima

Why this book?

When Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk, the Enola Gay’s crack navigator, decided to self-publish his memoirs, he was over 90. He told me he wanted it as a legacy to his family. Many of his friends, however, said he waited until everyone else was dead so he could have the last word! Knowing Dutch’s impish sense of humor, I suspect it was a little of both.

No matter. Sue Dietz has done a wonderful job of chronicling Van Kirk’s long and eventful life. Further, it allowed me a clearer window into the life of bombardier Tom Ferebee—Dutch’s lifelong best friend. Just as important, Sue was extremely generous in allowing me to liberally quote from her work; my book is the better for it. 

My True Course: Dutch Van Kirk Northumberland to Hiroshima

By Suzanne Simon Dietz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked My True Course as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


The Silverplate Bombers: A History and Registry of the Enola Gay and Other B-29s Configured to Carry Atomic Bombs

By Richard H. Campbell,

Book cover of The Silverplate Bombers: A History and Registry of the Enola Gay and Other B-29s Configured to Carry Atomic Bombs

Why this book?

Silverplate was the code name for the fifteen atomic-modified B-29 Superfortresses assigned to Col. Paul Tibbets’ 509th Composite (meaning totally self-contained, including its own military police and security detail) Group. The book explains the development, delivery, history, and registry of each Silverplate bomber, including the Enola Gay. Various bomb types (including practice) are discussed in detail.

Internal 509th squadron organizations are also explored, along with crew lists and individual aircraft names. Detailed training missions before the two drops are recorded. A must-encyclopedia for the atomic bombing aficionado. Foreward by Paul W. Tibbets.

The Silverplate Bombers: A History and Registry of the Enola Gay and Other B-29s Configured to Carry Atomic Bombs

By Richard H. Campbell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Silverplate Bombers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the year that World War II began, Albert Einstein sent his famous letter to President Roosevelt regarding the feasibility of a revolutionary uranium bomb. What was considered infeasible at the time was the development of aircraft capable of carrying an atomic device. This book documents the development and delivery of the Silverplate B-29 bomber, the remarkable airplane with capabilities that surpassed those of known enemy fighters of the time and was employed to release the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945.

The basic history of the Silverplate B-29, from conception to successful development, is set forth in the…

The 509th Remembered

By Robert Krauss,

Book cover of The 509th Remembered

Why this book?

A meticulously compiled coffee-table ‘yearbook’ of the 509th Composite Group, including over 850 photos of people, places, and planes, along with 346 pages of text. A sometimes hard-to-come-by collector’s volume that is always pricey, it is nevertheless worth every penny. One will discover information nuggets here that cannot be found anywhere else. A must-book for anyone interested in the 509th CG. As told by the veterans who dropped the atomic bombs on Japan.

The 509th Remembered

By Robert Krauss,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The 509th Remembered as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Now It Can Be Told: The Story Of The Manhattan Project

By Leslie R. Groves,

Book cover of Now It Can Be Told: The Story Of The Manhattan Project

Why this book?

Due to my book’s world-important subject matter, I felt it was important to lay a solid background foundation. General Groves’ autobiography, the commander of World War Two’s Manhattan Project, provided it. Working closely with Dr. J. Robert “Oppie” Oppenheimer at Los Alamos, New Mexico and Col. Paul W. Tibbets at Wendover Field, Utah, together they created an operational atomic bomb combat unit.

Groves was instrumental in not only co-ordinating work between Oppenheimer’s people (theory) and Tibbets crews (combat practical), he supervised construction of the uranium and plutonium bombs at Oak Ridge, TN and Hanford, WA, respectively. The book details the incredible complexity of the most ambitious and expensive engineering feat in history. The Manhattan Project changed all our lives—forever.

Now It Can Be Told: The Story Of The Manhattan Project

By Leslie R. Groves,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Now It Can Be Told as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

General Leslie Groves and J. Robert Oppenheimer were the two men chiefly responsible for the building of the first atomic bomb at Los Alamos, code name "The Manhattan Project." As the ranking military officer in charge of marshalling men and material for what was to be the most ambitious, expensive engineering feat in history, it was General Groves who hired Oppenheimer (with knowledge of his left-wing past), planned facilities that would extract the necessary enriched uranium, and saw to it that nothing interfered with the accelerated research and swift assembly of the weapon.This is his story of the political, logistical,…

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