Atomic At 8.15 on the morning of 6th August 1945, the Japanese city of Hiroshima was devastated by the first atomic bomb to be used as a weapon of war. The bomb, nicknamed `Little Boy’, was dropped from the USAAF B29 bomber `Enola Gay’ and exploded some 1,800 feet above the city.
Delivering the equivalent of around 12.5 kilotons of TNT, the bomb reduced 5 square miles of the city centre to ashes and caused the deaths of an estimated 118,000 people within the first four days following the blast. Many were instantly vaporised by the explosion, others died afterwards from the effects of burns and radiation.
DESTRUCTION AT NAGASAKI
A general view of Nagasaki looking towards the hypocentre, a mile behind the Mitsubish Armament and Steel Works, seen across the Urakami River in the centre background. In the foreground is the shell of the Mitsubishi Woodworking Plant, which was unharmed by the blast, but was gutted by fire.
The two atomic explosions had the effects desired by the Allies. On 10th August the Japanese government indicated its readiness to accept defeat, subject to certain conditions. On 14th August it finally accepted the demand for unconditional surrender. The following day was declared `Victory over Japan’ or VJ Day, although it was not until 2nd September that the final Japanese surrender was signed, thereby bringing the Second World War to a formal close.
THE POTSDAM CONFERENCE
Winston Churchill, President Truman and Stalin met at the Potsdam conference in July 1945. Their terms for ending the war with Japan hinged on the nation’s acceptance of unconditional surrender.
S President Truman and senior government officials had been aware since June 1945 that atomic weapons were likely to be available in the very near future. In light of Japan’s apparently uncompromising response to the Potsdam Declaration, and the predicted spiralling casualty costs of `Downfall’, there was little hesitation in activating the American plans for the use of “special bombs” on Japan.
THE COST OF VICTORY
Looking back on these events some time later, Lieutenant General Leslie R Groves, former director of the `Manhattan Project’ that had developed the first A-bomb, commented:
“The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended World War II. There can be no doubt of that. While they brought death and destruction on a horrifying scale, they averted even greater losses – American, English, and Japanese”.
It was a view that generated controversy then and after as to the justification or otherwise of the use of such weapons on largely defenceless civilian targets, at such terrible cost. But the nuclear genii, once out of the bottle, could not be put back in. The ever-present threat of a nuclear option in the superpower stand-offs of the Cold War defined global politics after 1945. Hiroshima and Nagasaki raised the spectre of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) that has haunted the world into our present times.