The next few days will mark the anniversaries of world history’s darkest events.
During the final stages of World War II, in August 1945, the first, and only, nuclear weapons used during wartime, fell on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
War in Europe had already ended with the surrender of Germany on May 8, 1945, but the Pacific War against Japan continued. On 26 July 1945, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, US President Harry S Truman, and the Chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Government Chiang Kai-shek, produced the Potsdam Declaration. This document outlined terms of Japanese surrender. In this ultimatum, it clearly stated that if Japan did not surrender, the country would face “prompt and utter destruction.”
War in Europe had already ended with the surrender of Germany on May 8, 1945, but the Pacific War against Japan continued.
By August 1945, the Japanese had still not surrendered and so, after the successful testing of two different atomic devices (The Manhattan Project), four possible targets were chosen within Japan; Hiroshima, Kokura, Nagasaki, and Niigata.
Hiroshima became the first target on August 6th 1945, because the weather was clear. At 8:15 a.m. the 509th Composite Group of the US Army Air Force took off in a Silverplate Boeing B-29 Superfortress called the Enola Gay. Targeting the Aioi Bridge, the bomb nicknamed ‘Little Boy’ exploded 1,900 feet above Hiroshima, missing the bridge by approximately 800 feet. Carrying 20,000 tons of TNT, the bomb flattened the city, and killed tens of thousands of civilians.
Only days later, on August 9th, the United States followed up their initial attack by dropping a plutonium implosion-type bomb from another B-29, Bockscar. Nicknamed ‘Fat Man’, this second device landed on Nagasaki, killing another 60-80,000 people. On August 15th Japan surrendered, and on September 2nd it signed the Instrument of Surrender, and thus ended World War II.
Although these two attacks ended the war, the after-effects were both far reaching and long lasting. Only half the deaths caused by the bombs happened on the days they were dropped. Within the first two to four months of the bombings, burns and radiation sickness killed approximately 90,000 people in Hiroshima and 60,000–80,000 in Nagasaki. It is estimated that within a further five years of the explosions, in Hiroshima alone, an additional 70,000 people had died from radiation poisoning.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.