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 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 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 on 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 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.

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 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 con­figured to carry atomic wea­pons. They were two of 15 Silver­plate B‑29s used by the 393nd Bom­bard­ment Squad­ron, 509th Composite Group, which carried out the two lethal bombings.

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, 75 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)