August 6th 1945 - At 8.15am on August 6th the US B10 bomber, Enola Gay, dropped its 5-ton Uranium-235bomb. It detonated 2000 feet above Hiroshima, taking 43 seconds to fall from the aircraft that was flying just over 31,000 feet. The “Little Boy” as the device was known, contained around 15 kilotons of TNT. The target, Aioi Bridge, was missed by 800 feet and instead it exploded above Shima Surgical Clinic. Around 80,000 people, 30% of the population, were killed instantly and many more thousands in the months that followed. 4 square miles of the city were left devastated and in rubble. Over 90% of doctors and nurses were killed or injured. Colonel Paul Tibbets and the 11 crew members on board the Enola Gay flew a further 11.5 miles before the aircraft was buffeted by the force of the explosion.
On August 9th a second atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki. This device was called “Fat Man”, some say after Winston Churchill, although this is denied by the scientist who made it, Robert Serber, who said it was due to its shape. The intended target was Kokura but because of cloud cover the crew could not get a “visual” on the target as they were told they must. Nagasaki was the second target and there was cloud cover of this city too. With fuel levels low the decision was taken to drop the bomb anyway after a brief “visual”. This explosive contained 21 kilotons of TNT and killed 40,000 instantly. Due to the topography of the city, with its amount of water especially, the damage to civilians was slightly less.
On 15th August (14th in the USA) the Japanese surrendered. On September 2, 1945, a formal surrender ceremony was performed in Tokyo Bay, Japan, aboard the battleship USS Missouri. Emperor Hirohito offered to take the blame for what had happened when he met with General MacArthur later that September. His offer was turned down and the Americans used him to push through reforms to the political system to make it more democratic.
Incredibly over 100 people are believed to have survived both these explosions but only 1 of these has been officially recognized by the Japanese government. This is Tsutomu Yamaguchi who was 29 at the time these events took place. He was an engineer for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and worked as an oil tanker designer based in Nagasaki. He had been on secondment in Hiroshima for three months with two colleagues, Akira Iwanaga and Kuniyoshi Sato. It was the final day of their work there and they were heading to the train station to go home. Yamaguchi realized that he had left his travel permit back at the hotel and went to get it. His colleagues continued to the station. After retrieving the documents he was returning when just before 8.15am he noticed a bomber flying overhead. This was not uncommon in the area as there were a lot of military personnel around. He then noticed 2 small parachutes making their way to earth. Suddenly there was a rush of blinding light, sound, wind and heat and he was knocked to the ground. The explosion had taken place 3km away from where he was. He suffered burst eardrums, temporary blindness and burns to his upper body. He managed to get to the underground shelter where he met up with his two colleagues and stayed for the night. The following day they made their way back to the station, and witnessed the devastation all around them.
On the 9th August, just three days later, he was back at work in Nagasaki, bandaged up but keen to return. He had a meeting with his boss who was incredulous about the fact that one bomb could cause the devastation that Yamaguchi was describing. He informed Yamaguchi that as a scientist he should not believe in such things. As they were discussing the legitimacy of the claims, at 11.08, the air raid sirens went off. As they prepared to make their way out there was another blinding light. Yamaguchi was to say later that he thought the mushroom cloud had followed him from Hiroshima. The explosion had occurred 3km away for a second time and, due to the reasons mentioned earlier, he came through almost completely unscathed.
Yamaguchi spoke little about his experiences until he wrote a book about it in his eighties that included poems, called “Raft of Corpses”. He also became a staunch supporter of nuclear disarmament, speaking at film premieres about the events and giving other talks on the subject. His wife died from cancer at the age of 88 and he died of stomach cancer at the age of 93 in 2010. His daughter said that originally he had only registered as a survivor of the Nagasaki bombing as he felt that by registering for both it would have been disrespectful to those who were not so fortunate.
Common belief has it that the dropping of the bombs was to bring the war against Japan to a swift conclusion. That is probably correct. The moral argument for dropping the bomb has, and will continue to be, debated. However by August 1945 relations between the Soviet Union and the West had deteriorated. The bombings came just 4 days after the end of the Potsdam conference which included the US President, Harry Truman, the leader of the Soviets, Josef Stalin, and the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, just before he was defeated in the 1945 election by Clement Atlee. At this conference suspicion was growing between the sides and much of Eastern Europe was in the hands of the Soviet Army. Many believe that by dropping these devices the Americans were also demonstrating their new weapon of mass destruction and posturing to the East. Stalin had not been informed of Operation Manhattan, the code name for the atomic bombs, until this conference. The Cold War had begun. By August 1949 the Russians had not only developed their own bomb similar to “Fat Man” but also detonated it, shocking the world and the USA who did not think they could produce one until the 1950s. The arms race had begun too.