At 8.15 AM on 6 August 1945 a B-29 bomber christened ‘Enola Gay’ after the pilot’s mother, dropped Little Boy- an atomic bomb containing 140lbs of uranium over the Japanese city of Hiroshima.
The bomb exploded 1,900 feet above the city with a yield of 12,500 tons of TNT. Or to put it another way, the equivalent of 2,000 B-29 bombers fully loaded with conventional weapons.
The temperature at the centre of the explosion reached 6 million degrees; about 4 times hotter than the heart of the sun.
A Japanese doctor tending to a patient in the hills outside the city remembered…
‘A dazzling flash penetrated my eyes. Violent heat hit my face and arms. I fell to the floor covering my face with my hands and crawled outside. I expected fire but saw only blue sky between my fingers. The trees were not moving. It was entirely quiet.
‘Then I saw a great fire ring floating above the city. Within moments there was a growing white cloud in the centre of the red ring. At the same time a long black cloud spread over the entire city and began to surge up the valley enveloping woods, paddy fields, farms and houses.
‘As the shock wave hit I was flung into the air. Around me shutters, screens and thatched roofs were whipped around as if paper. I flew thirty feet through the house ending up half buried by bits of roof and building rubble. My eyes, ears and even my mouth were filled with mud. After seeing to the injured household, I borrowed a farmer’s bicycle and headed to the city to report to the hospital.’
At this point he did not know over 90% of the city’s doctors and nurses were dead along with some 30% of the population.
His eyewitness report continues…
‘On the road a strange figure approached unsteady on its feet. I could not tell if it was male or female for the body was completely swollen. It had a curiously large head with no hair, swollen eyelids and lips covering almost half its face. It was covered in torn strips of rag that dripped water. After some moments I realised the rags were burned flesh and skin hanging like rawhide and the dripping water was blood.
‘It collapsed. I felt for a pulse. But there was none. When I looked up I was confronted by a nightmarish procession of burned and bloody survivors, rank upon rank of living dead staggering or crawling on their hands and knees.’
People caught within a half mile of the epicentre were vaporised. The only evidence of their existence was a permanent shadow created by the thermal blast.
After the flash came the shock wave travelling at 10,000 feet per second and with the force of 7 tons per sq. meter. It destroyed 60,000 buildings. As the doctor said, the shock wave stripped flesh from the bone leaving it dangling like ragged clothes.
The flash and the shock wave killed between 70,000 and 80,000 people. Many more died within the week of their injuries. As the remainder began to show signs of recovery, they were hit with a sudden high fever and began sweating copiously. Doctors were puzzled by the appearance of fresh lesions and patches of dead skin. Patients started bleeding from the mouth, eyes, ears and anus. These were the symptoms of previously unsuspected radiation poisoning that killed another 60,000 people before the year’s end.
The Allies decided to drop the bomb because they hoped to shorten the war by months and save countless thousands of soldiers’ lives. They warned the Japanese Government to expect utter devastating destruction, if they did not unconditionally surrender.
The Japanese Government’s response was to create a home guard of civilians armed with bamboo spears, instructed to fight to the death to resist the enemy invasion. They were not aware the Allies had developed an atomic weapon. Had they been, it would have made no difference. Their response to Hiroshima was… even of the Allies possessed a second atomic bomb, after the horror of Hiroshima public opinion would mean they dare not use it.
They did not know the morality of atomic war had already been extensively debated. There were many arguments for and against, including one that bluntly said… Why spend 2 billion dollars developing a weapon not to use it?
Yet, the clincher really was saving Allied lives through shortening the war by six months to a year.
Three days later on the 9th of August a second more effective design of a plutonium implosion bomb, christened Fat Man, was dropped on the city of Nagasaki. Its yield was almost twice that of Little Boy. Fortunately the steep hills surrounding the city helped contain the impact. Still, some 70,000 people died in the blast.
After Nagasaki, President Truman declared he would use no more atomic weapons against Japan.
On the 14 August the Japanese Emperor Hirohito instructed his ministers to accept the complete and utter surrender demanded by the enemy.