509th Composite Group HQ, Tinian, Mariana Islands August 9, 1945

Despite the shockwaves that Hiroshima’s destruction on August 6, 1945, sent through Imperial circles, Japan’s govern­ment refused to agree to an uncon­di­tional sur­render; their leaders insisted on precon­ditions, chief among them pro­tecting the “pre­ro­ga­tives” of Emperor Hirohito as Japan’s “sovereign ruler.” (Had there been no Japa­nese foot-dragging or had the Truman admin­is­tra­tion finessed a diplo­matic approach sooner for pro­tecting the post­war status of the emperor, would the Pacific War have been over before the first or maybe the second atomic bombing?) The Soviet decla­ra­tion of war against Japan early on August 9 and a fast-moving Red Army inva­sion of the Japa­nese pup­pet state of Man­chu­kuo (Chinese Man­chu­ria) and North Korea (the Soviets had rede­ployed an addi­tional 170,000 troops and hun­dreds of tanks and guns to Man­chukuo’s border on July 28) shattered any expec­ta­tion that Japan’s large Kwan­tung Army on the Asian main­land could hold back her enemies’ con­ven­tional forces, now num­bering well over one million men. Yet even these events failed to move Japan’s fire-breathing warlords.

After dropping millions of leaflets and after hours of radio broad­casting from Amer­i­can-held Saipan Island warning Japan of further devas­ta­ting raids following Hiro­shima’s destruc­tion, to no avail (the 48‑hour dead­line to hear back had expired), the U.S. settled on exploding a second, more power­ful atomic device over Kokura (present-day Kita­kyūshū) on this date, August 9, 1945. (Kokura on the southern­most Japa­nese island of Kyūshū was the loca­tion of a chemi­cal wea­pons plant and one of the largest arse­nals still standing in Japan.) Bocks­car, the B‑29 carrying “Fat Man,” as the nearly 10,000 lb pluto­nium‑239 bomb was nick­named, circled Kokura three times but did not drop its lethal pay­load due to cloud cover, indus­trial haze perhaps, and smoke drifting east over the city after an incen­di­ary raid by over 200 B‑29s on nearby Yahata (Yawata), “the Pitts­burgh of Japan,” less than 24 hours before.

Owing to fuel constraints, Bockscar turned south and flew to its back­up tar­get, Naga­saki, a small indus­trial port city that existed mostly for mili­tary manu­fac­turing, also on Kyūshū. That city was also covered by the same storm system over Kokura, but at the last minute the bom­bar­dier was able to secure the required visual con­tact with the tar­get through a hole in the clouds. The bomb destroyed about 44 per­cent of Nagasaki, killed perhaps 35,000, and injured 60,000 out of 263,000 who were there that day. Further aerial immo­la­tion of Japa­nese cities was averted in part by a nine-day U.S. pro­pa­ganda cam­paign that included radio broad­casts and air-dropping 5–6 mil­lion leaf­lets that graph­i­cally described what remained of the two cities. The leaflets caused conditions close to panic in some cities.

By now U.S. air raids had killed 600,000 Japa­nese civil­ians. The car­nage stopped at noon August 15 (Tokyo time), 1945, when Hiro­hito addressed his sub­jects by radio in courtly, Orwel­lian double­speak. A lover of peace (the name of his reign, Shōwa, means “bright peace”), Hiro­hito said it was “far from Our thought either to infringe upon the sover­eignty of other nations or to em­bark upon terri­torial aggran­dize­ment.” Approxi­mately 4.4 mil­lion mili­tary and 24 mil­lion civil­ian deaths later, the emperor had no words of apol­ogy for what he and his sub­jects had done to “assure Japan’s self-preser­va­tion and the stabi­li­zation of East Asia.” The words “sur­render” and “defeat” never crossed his lips, which left some lis­teners won­dering if Japan had sur­rendered or if the emperor was exhorting his sub­jects to resist the anti­ci­pated enemy inva­sion. But surren­der Hiro­hito did on August 15, ending World War II and his nation’s nearly half-century of aggres­sion, death, and destruc­tion in Asia and the Pacific.

Nagasaki: Object of America’s Second Atomic Bomb, August 9, 1945

"Bockscar" crew, photo taken two days after Nagasaki bombingNagasaki atomic bomb: Mitsubishi Steel and Armament Works after destruction

Left: Bockscar and crew delivered their own version of death and destruc­tion when dropping “Fat Man” on Naga­saki on August 9, 1945. Twenty‑five-year-old Maj. Charles W. Sweeney, Bocks­car’s comman­der, stands in the second row wearing the dark jacket. Bocks­car and Enola Gay were “Silver­plate” B‑29s, which were specially modi­fied to carry atomic wea­pons at extreme flight dis­tances. (For in­stance, tail guns and armor were removed to save weight.) They were two of 15 Silver­plate B‑29s used by the 393nd Bom­bard­ment Squad­ron, 509th Com­po­site Group, which carried out the two lethal bombings. Inter­est­ingly, Capt. Frede­rick Bock, whose last name was turned into the moni­ker for the B‑29 Sweeney borrowed that fate­ful day, piloted instead The Great Artiste, the Silver­plate used to collect scien­ti­fic data and photo­graph the effects caused by “Fat Man” exploding over its target. Bockscar can be seen today at the U.S. Air Force Museum near Dayton, Ohio, while Enola Gay is part of the National Air and Space Museum Col­lec­tion’s at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chan­tilly, Vir­ginia. A repre­sen­ta­tion of The Great Artiste is on static dis­play at the “Spirit Gate” of White­man Air Force Base, Missouri, now home base of the 509th Operations Group.

Right: The smokestacks of Nagasaki’s sprawling Mitsu­bishi Steel and Arma­ment Works. The plant was located about 2,500 ft down­river from ground zero. Naga­saki’s hilly ter­rain tempered the bomb’s destruc­tive effects, where­as Hiro­shima was flat and open and thus suffered much greater devastation.

Side 1 bombing leafletSide 2 bombing leaflet

Above: Front and back of leaflets that urged the country’s quick sur­render were dropped over Japan by the 509th Com­posite Group, a group that comprised B‑29 bombers and trans­port air­craft. The 509th was the United States Army Air Forces compo­nent of the Man­hattan Project under the command of 30-year-old Col. Paul Tibbets, Jr.

Nagasaki atomic bomb: "Fat Man" being placed on transport dolly, probably August 8, 1945Nagasaki atomic bomb: "Fat Man" in transit to airfield, Tinian, August 8, 1945

Left: After being assembled, “Fat Man” under­went a final pro­ce­dure outside the assem­bly building, where exte­rior cre­vices were filled with putty and then sprayed with seal­ant to main­tain the pro­per environ­ment within the device during the time it would take to deliver it over its target. Once the seal­ant appli­ca­tion had been sub­stan­tially com­pleted, workers began scrawling their names and mes­sages (some ob­scene) on the tail fin assem­bly and body of the device (nearly impos­sible to see in this image), in­cluding one from Rear Adm. William R. Pur­nell, who wrote: “A Second Kiss for Hiro­hito!” Pur­nell, one of the “Tinian Joint Chiefs,” was the U.S. Navy repre­sen­ta­tive on the Mili­tary Policy Com­mit­tee, the three-man com­mit­tee that over­saw the Man­hat­tan Pro­ject, and was the per­sonal repre­sen­ta­tive of Adm. Earnest J. King, Commander in Chief, United States Fleet.

Right: This photo shows “Fat Man” being towed to Tinian’s North Field under mili­tary police escort. On arrival the bomb was lowered by hydrau­lic lift into a bomb pit. Then Bocks­car backed up over the pit with bomb bay doors open and the bomb was raised into the plane’s belly. In the belly prior to take­off the bomb was armed. Before Bocks­car’s com­mander left on his mis­sion to Naga­saki, Sweeney ran into Adm. Pur­nell, who stumped him by asking the major to guess the cost of the bomb on his air­craft. Two billion dollars, Pur­nell stated. Sweeney answered the admiral’s second ques­tion corr­ectly when he esti­mated Bocks­car’s value at over a half-million dollars. “I’d suggest you keep those rela­tive values in mind for this mission,” Purnell told Sweeney.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki mushroom clouds, August 6 and 9, respectively

Left: At the time this photo was made, August 6, 1945, a cloud of radio­active mate­rials billowed 20,000 feet above Hiro­shima while it spread over 10,000 feet at the base of the rising column. Six planes of the 509th Com­po­site Group parti­ci­pated in the Hiro­shima mis­sion: one to carry the bomb (Col. Paul Tibbet’s Enola Gay); one to take scien­tific measure­ments of the blast (The Great Artiste under the com­mand of Maj. Charles Sweeney); and a third to take photo­graphs (Neces­sary Evil). The other three flew approxi­mately an hour ahead to act as weather scouts. Bad weather dis­quali­fied a target, as scien­tists insisted on a visual deliv­ery. The pri­mary target that day was Hiro­shima. Secon­dary and ter­tiary targets were Kokura and Nagasaki, respectively.

Right: Radioactive smoke and dust rose more than 60,000 ft into the air over Naga­saki after the city was bombed by the crew of Bocks­car on August 9, 1945. The U.S. had been unable to pro­duce enough ura­nium to make a second atomic bomb similar to the bomb dropped on Hiro­shima. Thus, for their second atomic war­head the Amer­i­cans were obliged to use a pluto­nium core and a wholly differ­ent trig­gering device to deto­nate the bomb. “Fat Man” had a blast yield equi­va­lent to 21,000 tons of TNT, a quarter more than the device dropped over Hiro­shima. The next day, August 10, the Japa­nese govern­ment pre­sented a letter of pro­test for the two atomic bombings to the U.S. govern­ment via the Swiss embassy in Washing­ton. It was not, how­ever, until after the war that the full mea­sure of the atomic horror sunk in. Per­haps that’s part of the reason why, 78 years after Hiro­shima and Naga­saki and the estab­lish­ment of nuclear wea­pon arse­nals by nine nations (at last count), the planet has not witnessed a third such horror.

Air Force Story (1953), “Air War Against Japan, 1944–1945, Hiroshima and Nagasaki A-Bombs” (May want to skip first minute)