On August 6, 1945, the first atomic bomb used in war was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later the second, and hopefully last atomic bomb utilized in war, was dropped on Japan. The primary target of the second bomb, Kokura, was obscured by thick clouds and smoke making the secondary target, Nagasaki, the unfortunate quarry.
Nagasaki was on the target list to replace a military and industrial city, Kyoto, because American Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson, admired the city of Kyoto since traveling there decades earlier for his honeymoon.
Two weeks earlier at the Potsdam Conference the United States, along with Great Britain and China, commanded Japan to surrender unconditionally or face ‘prompt and utter destruction.’ As fiery mushroom clouds billowed thousands of feet above Japanese soil, people on the ground reported first seeing Pikas (brilliant flashes of light) followed by Dons (loud booming sounds). The Empire of the Sun had fallen victim to ‘Prompt and utter destruction.’
Prelude: By the summer of 1945, Japan was beaten up but not beaten. Her economy lay in ruins as did most of her major cities. The fishing fleet only produced 22% of their 1941 catch; the low yield of the rice harvest dated back to the famine of 1909; malnutrition was rampant; and Japan’s raw materials were dwindling. As Admiral Yamamoto feared, American assembly lines out-produced the tiny island nation of Japan and all those thousands of guns and ships and planes and men were en route for the finale of World War Two. Yet, stubborn Japan fought on.
A casualty ratio of 5:1 favored the Americans early in the war, but the battle for Okinawa dropped that ratio to an uncomfortable 2:1. Every general, ground pounder and politician understood that an invasion of Japan would bring horrific casualties to both sides. Predictions varied, but most military and civilian leaders figured Allied casualties ranging between 1.5 and 4 million, including 1 million fatalities. Vice-Admiral Takijiro Onishi of Japan predicted indigenous casualties at a staggering 20 million.
To lessen the casualties for Americans, General George Marshall even contemplated the use of chemical and biological weapons. Stockpiles of cyanogen chloride, poison gas, mustard gas, and phosgene were in Luzon under the control of General MacArthur. A massacre of Biblical proportions was in the making. Hopes to avoid the expected carnage were pinned on a new bomb. But would it really work?
Admiral William Leahy suggested to President Truman in 1945, “That is the biggest fool thing we have ever done. The Atomic bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert on explosives.” The ‘explosives expert’ was wrong. On July 14, 1945 at 5:29am, the ‘gadget’ did ‘go off’ in the Jornada del Muerto Valley near Los Alamos, New Mexico.
The blast generated heat 10,000 times greater than the surface of the sun. Desert sand melted; a boiling mushroom cloud rumbled 7.5 miles into the atmosphere. The project director, Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, realizing the redoubtable potential for the new weapon, stated, “I am become death, the Destroyer of Worlds.” Harvard Physics Professor Kenneth Bainbridge was less poetic yet more forthright, suggesting to Oppenheimer, “Now we’re all sons-of-bitches.”
A short 23 days later, Colonel Paul Tibbets lifted the heavy-laden B-29 Enola Gay off of North Field on the island of Tinian. Enola Gay carried only one bomb, a gun-type uranium atomic bomb called Little Boy plus twelve cyanide pills in the cockpit for the crew, just in case. The target was Hiroshima. Three days later on August 9, Major Charles Sweeney piloted the B-29 Bockscar to deliver a second atomic bomb on Japan, a plutonium implosion device called Fat Man. Finding his primary target, Kokura, socked-in by bad weather, Sweeney diverted to his secondary target, Nagasaki.
The Death of Two Cities:
Hiroshima, August 6, 1945 at 0809: Colonel Tibbets releases control of Enola Gay to bombardier Major Thomas Ferebee. Ferebee lines up the Aioi Bridge, his aiming point 31,000 feet below. At 0815, he pushes the button that drops Little Boy. Exactly 44.4 seconds later a blinding flash detonates 1,900 feet above the city. A crosswind pushed the bomb off course by 800 feet. Instead of the Aioi Bridge, Little Boy explodes over the Shima Surgical Clinic.
People simply disappear, vaporized into engraved shadows on concrete walls. Of 90,000 buildings only 28,000 remain standing. Of 200 doctors only 20 remain, of 1,780 nurses only 150 remain; a mere one hundred and seventy trained medical personnel to deal with a city now reduced to a nuclear wasteland. Twelve American airmen imprisoned at a police headquarters only 1,300 feet from the hypocenter perished; eight died instantly, two were executed, and the police left two remaining injured airmen near the Aioi Bridge where they were stoned to death.
A high school student, Yoshie Oka, called the communication command center to report her uninhibited account, “Hiroshima has been attacked by a new type of bomb. The city is in a state of near-total destruction.” The blast was an airburst, meaning the force of the weapon was mostly downward instead of sideways. As a result several reinforced concrete buildings escaped total destruction, such as the now-famous Genbaku (A-bomb) Dome 490 feet from ground zero.
Eizo Nomura was in the reinforced basement of a concrete building 560 feet from the epicenter. Recognized as the closest known survivor, Eizo lived into his late 80s. Akiko Takakura was in the sturdily built Bank of Hiroshima, 980 feet from ground zero, when Little Boy exploded. She, too, survived the attack. Survivors of the attack are called hibakusha, meaning the ‘explosion-affected people.’ Tsutomu Yamaguchi was 1.9 miles from the blast. In town on business, Yamagachi suffered severe burns to his left side and spent the night in Hiroshima. The following morning he returned home, to Nagasaki, one day before Fat Man fell on the city. Exposing himself to radiation, Yamaguchi searched all day and night for surviving relatives. A double-hibakusha, Yamaguchi died in 2010 at the age of 93.
The sturdy and tolerant Gingko Biloba trees survived the atomic blast. A species dating back 280 million years, the Gingkos quickly mended and are still alive in Hiroshima today. The first plant to bloom after the explosion was the Oleander, now the official flower of Hiroshima. The Japanese used the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to conceive the mythical money-making atomically-spawned monster, Godzilla.
Notwithstanding, five square miles of Hiroshima were totally wiped out. Within 2 to 4 months the death toll climbed from an estimated 90,000 to 166,000 from burns and radiation. A 76,000 estimation gap says a lot about the futility of nuclear warfare.
On August 9, Major Charles Sweeney sat behind the controls of the B-29 Bockscar. Fat Man, a plutonium atomic bomb, crammed the bomb bay. The primary target, Kokura, was obscured by smoke, clouds, and thick black coal tar smolder purposefully burned by the Yawata Steel Works to complicate targeting by American bombers. Major Sweeney made three frustrating and potentially life-threatening runs over the city, life-threatening due to the flight engineer having discovered the reserve fuel tank pump to be defective. Bockscar was running out of fuel.
Sweeney diverted to the secondary target, Nagasaki, it too found to be obscured by cloud cover. Before a decision could be made to abort the mission or utilize a radar approach, bombardier Captain Kermit Beahan noticed a last minute break in the clouds. Beahan released Fat Man at 11:01. The bomb detonated 47 second later in the Urakami Valley, 1.9 miles off target. As a result, the surrounding hills protected the major portion of Nagasaki but intensified the heat to over 7,000 degrees and produced winds estimated at over 600 mph. Perhaps as historic irony, the atomic blast demolished the Mitsubishi-Urakami Ordnance Works, the factory that assembled the type 91 torpedo used to sink our ships at Pearl Harbor.
Again, the ludicrous estimates of a nuclear war showed discrepancies on a massive scale: death tolls range from 39,000 to 80,000 - another 41,000 margin of error in human lives. Approximately 25% of the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were conscripted Korean laborers. As many as 13 POWs perished, but one American POW, Joe Kieyoomia, survived the blast due to the protection tendered by his concrete cell. Twenty four Australian POWs also survived.
The crew aboard Bockscar was on borrowed time. Without sufficient fuel to reach the emergency airfield on Iwo Jima, Sweeney was forced to attempt a landing on Okinawa. One engine died on final approach, and instead of the normal 120mph landing Bockscar hit the runway at 150mph. The B-29 swerved to the left towards a row of parked B-24s. Sweeney and his copilot wrestled with the controls and steered the bomber away from the B-24s. Then both men stood on the brakes trying to halt their massive plane. Major Sweeney made a quick 90-degree turn at the end of the runway as another engine conked out, but Bockscar finally sputtered to a stop. The remaining two engines had less than five minutes worth of fuel.
American code breakers intercepted a mindboggling message from the Japanese cabinet after the first bomb demolished Hiroshima. Japanese atomic scientists who examined the debris of that once thriving city had confirmed the explosive device to be atomic, yet the Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Soemu Toyoda, speculated that only one or perhaps two more bombs were in existence. Due to his speculation, the Japanese cabinet resolved to accept continuing attacks and even admitted that, “There will be more damage but the war would go on.” Soemu Toyoda was mistaken. After the Nagasaki bombing, two more Fat Man devices would be available by August 11 and August 14 for shipment to Tinian. One more readied by August 19 with 3 more readied in September and another 3 readied in October.
A couple minutes after midnight on August 9, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and invaded Manchuria. With Russia at the doorstep and atomic bombs annihilating Japanese cities, Emperor Hirohito broke the deadlocked cabinet with his imperial vote and accepted Allied demands for surrender, advising his subjects, “We must endure the unendurable and suffer what is not sufferable.”
The war was over. The final death toll in WWII was horrendous: 50 to 80 million human beings had died from combat, disease and famine, or worked to death in labor camps, POW prisons, or concentration camps. A speculative gap of 30 million people. Perhaps such a gap is adequate in history books, but not if the gap includes your family and loved ones.
Utilization of the two atomic bombs spawns heated debate even today and will continue to be a subject of second-guessing intellects in future discussions. But one must consider the fact that these ‘debaters’ today did not serve in WWII, they were not part of the invasion forces poised to assault mainland Japan, nor were they in the unenviable position to have to achieve the difficult decision of who is to die and who is to live. That should be God’s decision, but mankind has a nasty habit of placing humans on the wrong throne.