509th Composite Group HQ, Tinian, Mariana Islands · August 6, 1945

For several months the U.S. had dropped more than 63 mil­lion leaf­lets across Japan, warning civil­ians of devas­tating aerial bombings. Many Japa­nese cities suffered ter­rible damage from napalm bombs that set their wood-frame buildings on fire. On August 1, 1945, some 80 per­cent of Hachioji, a rail choke point near Tokyo, was burned out by napalm. Sixty-five per­cent of Nagaoka was wasted the same day. Nearly 100 percent of Toyama was incinerated.

On this date in 1945 things were dif­ferent. Hiro­shima, a city of 280,000 civil­ians and 43,000 sol­diers on the Japanese mainland of Honshū, was incin­er­ated by a five-ton ura­nium-filled bomb code­named “Little Boy,” the first of two atomic bombs ever dropped on an enemy nation. A blinding flash lasting per­haps a tenth of a second created an ex­plo­sion that blew out win­dows 6‑1/2 miles from the epi­center and sent a mas­sive column of debris and smoke miles high.

Allied forces were poised for inva­sion hun­dreds of miles from the Japa­nese Home Islands when the first atomic bomb ex­ploded. Remem­brance of the horri­fic casu­alt­ies in­flicted by a fanat­i­cal enemy on Amer­i­cans assaulting Japan’s off­shore islands of Iwo Jima and Oki­nawa (Febru­ary 19 to June 22, 1945)—nearly 70,000 dead and wounded—fore­bode worse num­bers ahead, as high as one mil­lion Allied service­men and mil­lions more Japa­nese. Presi­dent Harry S. Truman and Amer­i­can com­manders fretted that a war-weary public might have neither the patience nor the stom­ach for a Japa­nese-style Arma­ged­don on Japan’s home turf. After the Hiro­shima bombing, the White House issued a state­ment that pro­mised Japan “a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on earth” if the country’s mili­tary leader­ship did not end the war in 48 hours on U.S. terms. To a group of Chris­tian leaders Tru­man ex­plained his motives for de­ploying the atomic bomb: “When you have to deal with a beast you have to treat him as a beast.”

Japa­nese leaders had ex­pected, in­deed planned for a bru­tal, no-holds-barred land inva­sion begin­ning in October. But nothing in their past experi­ence or in their wildest imag­i­na­tions had pre­pared them for this level of aerial im­mo­la­tion. The deadly new weapon sys­tem was the equi­va­lent of 220 fully loaded B‑29s dropping their loads in an instant. Within minutes 40,000 Hiro­shima men, women, and chil­dren died mostly in the fire­storms set off by the enor­mous blast, while a further 90,000–166,000 victims would die of burns and radiation poisoning within days or weeks. Survivors of the blast, Hibakusha (lit. “explosion-affected people”), often succumbed months or years later to leukemia or other cancers or passed malignant genetic diseases onto their children.

Hiroshima Atomic Bomb: Delivering a Foretaste of National Apocalypse

Hiroshima mushroom cloud taken 4.3 miles northeast of ground zeroHiroshima mushroom cloud taken 6.2 miles east of ground zero

Left: Ground level photograph of the Hiro­shima mush­room cloud taken from approx­i­mately 4.3 miles north­east of ground zero. “Little Boy,” as the ura­nium‑235 bomb was nick­named, deto­nated 1,900 feet above the Shima Hos­pital and 550 yards from the bombar­dier’s aiming point, the Aioi Bridge. Three days later another mush­room cloud appeared over the city of Naga­saki, the pro­duct of “Fat Man,” as the plutonium‑239 bomb was called. The following day Japan capitulated.

Right: Lost image found in Honkawa Elemen­tary School in 2013 of the Hiro­shima mush­room cloud, believed to have been taken 20–30 minutes after deto­nation from about 6.2 miles east of ground zero. Some 400 Hon­kawa students and more than 10 teachers were victims of the bomb blast.

Hiroshima mushroom cloud taken 50 miles awayLittle Boy prior to loading

Left: The best-known photographs of the bomb’s after­math were taken from the air by one of three B‑29s that left Tinian in the Mari­ana Islands in the pre­dawn hours of August 6, 1945, for Hiro­shima. This aerial photo­graph is less well known, taken about one hour after the atomic bomb deto­nated over Hiro­shima. “Little Boy” was carried by the Enola Gay, a modi­fied B‑29 Super­for­tress (con­figured to carry an atomic bomb) piloted by thirty‑year‑old Col. Paul Tibbets, Jr. Tibbets had devel­oped his flying skills as a pilot for the U.S. Eighth and Twelfth Air Forces over Europe and North Africa. In March 1943 Tibbets returned to the States to test-fly the new Super­fort­ress, earning him the nickname “Mr. B‑29.”

Right: “Little Boy” on trailer cradle before being loaded into Enola Gay’s bomb bay. The Enola Gay’s bomb bay door is visible in the upper right-hand corner of the photo. Of the 131 lb of ura­nium‑235 in the bomb, less than 2 lb under­went nuclear fis­sion. But the force of the ex­plo­sion was roughly equivalent to 15,000 tons of TNT.

Hiroshima Chamber of Industry and Commerce BuildingHiroshima, March 1946

Left: The Hiroshima Chamber of Industry and Commerce Building was the only building remotely close to standing near the center of the atomic bomb blast of August 6, 1945. It was left unrepaired as a reminder of the event.

Right: Eight months after the atomic bomb was dropped, Hiroshima was still a city of ruins, the visible evidence of the world’s first use of nuclear weapons in war.

Well-Done Documentary on the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, August 6 and 9, 1945

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