Childhood & Early Life
Paul Warfield Tibbets Jr. was born on February 23, 1915, in Quincy, Illinois, U.S., to Paul Warfield Tibbets Sr. and Enola Gay Tibbets. At age 5, he relocated with his family to Iowa, where his father worked as a confections wholesaler. The family again shifted to Hialeah, Florida, when Tibbets was 8.
Tibbets developed an interest in flying in his childhood. He boarded an airplane in 1927. It was piloted by Doug Davis and dropped candy bars to the crowd that attended the ‘Hialeah Park Race Track’ races.
His family returned to Alton, Illinois, in the late 1920s. In 1933, he graduated from the ‘Western Military Academy.’ Following this, he studied at the ‘University of Florida’ in Gainesville. In 1934, he became an initiated member of the ‘Sigma Nu’ fraternity’s ‘Epsilon Zeta’ chapter. Meanwhile, he took training in private flying at the Opa-locka Airport in Miami.
Tibbets initially wanted to become an abdominal surgeon. As the ‘University of Florida’ had no medical school at that time, Tibbets completed his second year from the university and then took a transfer to the ‘University of Cincinnati’ to finish his pre-med studies. He, however, dropped out from the university after 1.5 years, to become a pilot in the ‘United States Army Air Corps.’ He then got enlisted in the ‘United States Army.’
Continue Reading Below
Initial Career in the Military
After qualifying for the ‘Aviation Cadet Training Program,’ Tibbets enlisted in the army at ‘Fort Thomas,’ Kentucky, on February 25, 1937. His primary and basic flight training was undertaken at ‘Randolph Field’ in San Antonio, Texas. Delegated as a second lieutenant, Tibbets earned his pilot rating at ‘Kelly Field’ in San Antonio in 1938.
He was assigned to the ‘16th Observation Squadron’ following his graduation. He was elevated to the position of first lieutenant while he was stationed at the U.S. army post of ‘Fort Benning.’
Second World War Engagements
During 1940–1941, he worked as the personal pilot of Brigadier General George S. Patton, Jr. He was transferred to the ‘3rd Bombardment Group’s ‘9th Bombardment Squadron’ at ‘Hunter Field,’ Savannah, Georgia, in June 1941. There, he served as an engineering officer and flew the ‘A-20 Havoc.’ He was elevated to the position of captain later.
According to the orders received in December 1941, Tibbets joined the ‘29th Bombardment Group’ at ‘MacDill Field,’ Florida, and took training on the ‘Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.’
In early 1942, he was made the commanding officer of the ‘97th Bombardment Group’s ‘340th Bombardment Squadron.’ In July that year, the group emerged as the ‘Eighth Air Force’s first heavy bombardment group that was to be deployed to the U.K. Posted at ‘RAF Polebrook,’ the group received intensive training during the first week of August that year. Tibbets was made the deputy of Colonel Frank A. Armstrong Jr. after the latter replaced group commander Lieutenant Colonel Cornelius W. Cousland.
The first American daylight heavy bomber mission saw Tibbets flying the lead bomber ‘Butcher Shop’ on August 17, 1942, with Armstrong as his co-pilot, while raiding in Rouen in Occupied France, against a marshaling yard. Again, on October 9 that year, he led the first American raid in Europe, which had over 100 bombers.
When Major General Carl Spaatz, the commander of the ‘Eighth Air Force,’ was directed to choose two of his best pilots for a covert mission, he selected Tibbets and Major Wayne Connors. Accordingly, Tibbets first flew Major General Mark W. Clark to Gibraltar from Polebrook and then the supreme allied commander, Lieutenant General Dwight D. Eisenhower, to Gibraltor a few weeks later. After Tibbets flew 43 combat missions, in January 1943, he was made the bomber operations assistant of Colonel Lauris Norstad and the assistant chief-of-staff of operations (A-3) of the ‘Twelfth Air Force.’
In February 1943, he returned to the U.S. after his name was recommended following a request made by the chief of the ‘United States Army Air Forces,’ General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, to provide an experienced bombardment pilot who could help in developing the ‘Boeing B-29 Superfortress’ bomber. In March 1944, a year after the developmental testing of the bomber, Tibbets was made the director of operations of the ‘17th Bombardment Operational Training Wing.’
He was made the commander of the ‘509th Composite Group’ in September 1944. The group consisted of around 1,800 men who were supposed to be equipped with 15 ‘B-29s’ and were to be given high priority for any kind of military stores. They were to conduct the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tibbets chose the ‘Wendover Army Air Field,’ Utah, from the three options of bases given to him for this top-secret project.
Continue Reading Below
He was elevated to the position of colonel in January 1945. On August 5 the same year, he formally named his ‘Boeing B-29 Superfortress’ bomber “Enola Gay,” in his mother’s honor. The following day, according to the terms of ‘Operations Order No. 35,’ Tibbets, with Robert A. Lewis as his co-pilot, flew the bomber from the ‘North Field’ and reached Hiroshima after 6 hours. The atomic bomb ‘Little Boy’ was dropped over the city of Hiroshima, resulting in an almost complete destruction of the city. The attack marked ‘Little Boy’ as the first nuclear weapon used in warfare and the bomber as the first aircraft to drop an atomic bomb.
Tibbets received the ‘Distinguished Service Cross’ from Spaatz and became a national hero overnight, following the Hiroshima bombing. Many considered him responsible for ending the war with Japan. Major American newspapers published interviews and pictures of his wife and children. President Harry S. Truman invited him to visit the ‘White House.’ Later, in 1999, the ‘509th Composite Group’ received the ‘Air Force Outstanding Unit Award.’
Military Pursuits after the War
Following the war, Tibbets served as a technical advisor in the 1946 ‘Operation Crossroads’ nuclear weapon tests held at Bikini Atoll. He then graduated from the ‘Air Command and Staff School’ located in Alabama’s ‘Maxwell Air Force Base’ in 1947. Following this, he was inducted into the ‘Directorate of Requirements’ at the ‘Air Force Headquarters’ at the ‘Pentagon.’ He was made the director of the ‘Strategic Air Division’ of the ‘Directorate of Requirements.’
In the early 1950s, he remained involved in the development of the ‘Boeing B-47 Stratojet.’ From July 1950 to February 1952, he remained the ‘B-47’ project officer at ‘Boeing’ in Wichita. Later, he commanded the ‘Proof Test Division’ at the ‘Eglin Air Force Base’ in Valparaiso, Florida.
In June 1955, he graduated from the ‘Air War College’ in Montgomery, Alabama, and then served at the ‘Allied Air Forces’ in the ‘Central Europe Headquarters’ at Fontainebleau, France, as the director of war plans. In February 1956, he returned to the U.S. and took command of the ‘308th Bombardment Wing’ in Georgia’s ‘Hunter Air Force Base.’ He started commanding the ‘6th Air Division’ at the ‘MacDill Air Force Base’ in Florida from January 1958 and was elevated to the position of brigadier general the following year. Thereafter, he served as the director of management analysis on a tour of duty at the ‘Pentagon.’
He was made the deputy director for operations to the ‘Joint Chiefs of Staff’ in July 1962. He also became the deputy director of the ‘National Military Command System’ in June 1963. For 22 months, from 1964 till June 1966, he served as a military attaché in India. On August 31, 1966, he retired from the ‘USAF.’ He then worked for the air taxi company ‘Executive Jet Aviation.’ He served as a founding board member of the company and remained its president from April 21, 1976, till 1986. He retired from the company in 1987.
He released his memoir, ‘Flight of the Enola Gay,’ in 1989.He condemned the 50th anniversary exhibition of “Enola Gay” held at the ‘Smithsonian Institution’ in 1995. The following year, he was formally inducted into the ‘National Aviation Hall of Fame.’
Family & Personal Life
On June 19, 1938, Tibbets quietly married a department store clerk named Lucy Frances Wingate in a Roman Catholic seminary in Holy Trinity, Alabama, without the knowledge of his family and commanding officer. Their two sons, Paul III and Gene Wingate Tibbets, were born in 1940 and 1944, respectively. The couple divorced in 1955.
Tibbets met a divorcee named Andrea Quattrehomme while he was posted in France. The two married on May 4, 1956, and had a son named James.
Tibbets’s grandson, Paul Warfield Tibbets IV, is a former ‘USAF’ brigadier general.
Tibbets passed away on November 1, 2007. His body was cremated because he had earlier instructed that no funeral was to be held and no headstone was to be constructed for him, as he was skeptical that his resting place could be used by opponents of the bombing for protests and destruction. Following his cremation, his ashes were scattered over the English Channel.