The Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Since 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the forces of the United
States and her allies had been at war with Japan. The combined land, sea and
air forces of the Allies fought back against Japan until only the Japanese
homeland remained in Japanese control.
On July 26, Truman issued the Potsdam Declaration, which called for Japan's
unconditional surrender and listed peace terms. He had already been informed
of the successful detonation of the first atomic bomb at Alamogordo, New
Mexico, ten days earlier. The Japanese were warned of the consequences of
continued resistance by the terms of the Potsdam Declaration, signed by
President Truman and by Prime Minister Attlee of the United Kingdom and with
the concurrence of Chiang Kai-Shek, President of the National Government of
When Japan rejected the ultimatum, Truman authorized use of the bomb.
Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson felt the choice of using the atomic bomb
against Japan would be the "least abhorrent choice." This would be weighed
against sacrificing the lives of thousands of soldiers. Military advisers had
told Truman that a potential loss of about 500,000 American soldiers was at
It was vital to produce the greatest possible blow upon the Japanese, if the
war was to be effectively shortened and the lives of the U.S. soldiers were
to be saved. The atomic bomb provided such a blow. The cities of Hiroshima
and Nagasaki were selected as targets after exhaustive study by military
specialists. Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been virtually untouched by the U.S.
and Allied bombing runs.
On August 6, 1945, at 9:15 AM Tokyo time, a B-29 plane, the "Enola Gay"
piloted by Paul W. Tibbets, dropped a uranium atomic bomb, code named "Little
Boy" on Hiroshima, Japan's seventh largest city. In minutes, half of the city
vanished. According to U.S. estimates, 60,000 to 70,000 people were killed or
missing, 140,000 were injuried many more were made homeless as a result of the
bomb. Deadly radiation reached over 100,000. In the blast, thousands died
The city was unbelievably devastated. Of its 90,000 buildings, over 60,000
were demolished. Another bomb was assembled at Tinian Island on August 6.
On August 8, Field Order No.17 issued from the 20th Air Force Headquarters
on Guam called for its use the following day on either Kokura, the primary
target, or Nagasaki, the secondary target. Three days after Hiroshima, the
B-29 bomber, "Bockscar" piloted by Sweeney, reached the sky over Kokura on
the morning of August 9 but abandoned the primary target because of smoke
cover and changed course for Nagasaki.
Nagasaki was an industrialized city with a natural harbor in Western Kuushu,
Japan. At 11:02 a.m., this bomb, known as the "Fat Man" bomb, exploded over
the north factory district at 1,800 feet above the city to achieve maximum
blast effect. Buildings collapsed. Electrical systems were shorted. A wave
of secondary fires resulted, adding to their holocaust.
Flash burns from primary heat waves caused most of the casualties to
inhabitants. Others were burned when their homes burst into flame. Flying
debris caused many injuries. A fire storm of winds followed the blast at
Hiroshima as air was drawn back to the center of the burning area. Trees
were uprooted. The bomb took the lives of 42,000 persons and injured 40,000
It destroyed 39 percent of all the buildings standing in Nagasaki. According
to U.S. estimates, 40,000 people were killed or never found as a result of
the second bomb. Highly penetrating radiation from the nuclear explosion
had a heavy casualty effect. Energy released by the explosion of this type
of atomic bomb used over Nagasaki is roughly equivalent to the power generated
by exploding 20,000 tons of TNT or 40 million pounds of TNT. It would fill
two good sized cargo ships.
In the early stages of the explosion, temperatures of tens of millions of
degrees were produced. The light emitted is roughly ten times the brightness
of the sun. During the explosion, various types of radiations such as gamma
rays and alpha and beta particles eminate from the explosion. These radiative
particles give the atomic bomb its greatest deadliness. They may last years
or even centuries in dangerous amounts. Gamma radiation and neutrons caused
thousands of cases of radiation sickness in Japan. First the blood was
affected, and then the blood making organs were impaired including the bone
marrow, the spleen and the lymph nodes. When radiation was severe, the
organs of the body became necrotic within a few days, marking the victim for
certain death within a short period of time.
Surveys disclosed that severe radiation injury occurred to all exposed
persons within a radius of one kilometer. Serious to moderate radiation
injury occurred between one and two kilometers. Persons within two to four
kilometers suffered slight radiation effects.
What the bomb had produced was concentrated chaos, from which no city or
nation could easily or rapidly recover. No significant repair or
reconstruction was accomplished until months later. On September 2, the
Japanese government, which had seemed ready to fight to the death, surrendered
unconditionally. Winston Churchill estimated that the lives of a million
Americans and two hundred and fifty thousand British soldiers and sailors
had been saved by this sudden shortening of the war.
Actual Nagasaki & Hiroshima bombing footage
available in Trinity and Beyond.
Monument at the Hiroshima ground zero site available in
Images from Hiroshima and Nagasaki are available in the book
How to Photograph an Atomic Bomb (Hard Cover & Soft Cover)