Top image: The devastated downtown of Hiroshima with the dome of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industry Promotion Hall in the distance. Photo from the National Archives.
In July 1945, Germany surrendered and the war in Europe ended. However, Japan refused to abide by the terms of the Allied Potsdam Declaration. It seemed to American leaders that the only way to force Japan's unconditional surrender was to invade and conquer Japanese lands. Although an estimated 300,000 Japanese civilians have already died from starvation and bombing, the Japanese government has shown no sign of surrender. Instead, bugged US intelligence revealed that as of August 2, Japan had already stationed more than 560,000 troops and thousands of suicide planes and boats on the island of Kyushu to counter an expected US invasion of Japan. Additional reports correctly assumed that the Japanese military intended to execute all American prisoners in Japan in the event of an Allied landing. These astounding numbers heralded a more costly battle for the United States than any previous one in the war. By comparison, US forces suffered 49,000 casualties, including 12,000 men killed, while confronting fewer than 120,000 Japanese soldiers during the Battle of Okinawa Island in April–June 1945. A third of the island's pre-war population also died in the campaign. American casualties on Okinawa weighed heavily on the minds of American planners anticipating the invasion of Japan. Japan's leaders hoped to prevail not by defeating American forces but by inflicting massive casualties, thereby breaking the resolve of the American public.
This was the situation faced by United States President Harry S. Truman in the summer of 1945 when he authorized the use of the world's first atomic bomb. Faced with intelligence reports of Japan's commitment to keep fighting, Truman and his military advisers were determined to use all the weapons at their disposal to end the war immediately. Consequently, neither Truman nor any of his advisers ever debated itAnd yesAtomic bombs should be usedas themiWhere fromthey must be used. In the spring of 1945, the US government convened a committee of scientists and military officials to determine the best way to use the bombs. This group unanimously stated that there was no guarantee that demonstrating the bombs to the Japanese in a deserted area would convince the Japanese leadership to surrender. Convincing Japan to surrender as soon as possible was crucial, since the United States had only two atomic bombs available in July 1945 and the additional weapons would not be operational for several weeks. Meanwhile, thousands of Chinese, American, and Japanese soldiers died every day as the war raged on.
As a result, Truman approved longstanding plans for the US Army Air Force to drop nuclear bombs on a list of preselected Japanese cities. The destination list excluded Tokyo and Kyoto due to their political and historical importance. Instead, the target of the first bomb was Hiroshima, a fan-shaped city of approximately 550,000 that sprawled across the Ota River estuary. The city also housed the headquarters of the Japanese army defending the island of Kyushu, as well as various wartime industries.
At 2:45 a.m. Monday, August 6, 1945, three American B-29 bombers from the 509th Composite Group took off from an airfield on the Pacific island of Tinian, 1,500 miles south of Japan. Colonel Paul Tibbets piloted the lead bomber "Enola Gay" which carried an atomic bomb nicknamed "Little Boy". Despite the nickname Bomb, she weighed nearly 10,000 pounds. This overheadEnola GayHe used more than three kilometers of track to climb. At 7:15 a.m., the bomber's crew rigged the bomb and the aircraft began climbing to a bomb altitude of 31,000 feet.
The B-29 Superfortress Enola Gayon on Tinian Island. US Army Air Force photo
Meanwhile, in Hiroshima, Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto woke up at 5 a.m. Hiroshima time, one hour behind Tinian. Tanimoto was a Hiroshima Methodist pastor and "a little man who talks, laughs, and cries quickly." Tanimoto was a thoughtful and cautious man who had sent his wife and baby to the relative safety of a northern suburb. Tanimoto stayed in town to move transportable items from his church to the safety of a suburban property. Due to several air raid warnings the night before, he had slept poorly. Hiroshima had not yet suffered US bombing, but his luck was not to last. That morning, Tanimoto agreed to help a friend move a large closet full of clothes to the suburbs. As the two men were lugging the furniture through the streets, they heard an air raid siren wail. The alarms went off every morning when American weather planes flew overhead, so the men weren't too concerned. They continued through the streets of the city with their handcarts. When the couple arrived at their destination, “there was no aircraft noise. The morning was still; The place was cool and beautiful.”
At 8:14 a.m. Hiroshima time, theEnola Gaycame over the city. The Aioi Bridge, which bombardier Thomas Ferebee used as a target, was clearly visible through the plane's sights. Ferebee took control of the bomber and opened the bomb bay doors. Just after 8:15 a.m., Ferebee untied Little Boy and the bomb fell from theEnola Gay. The plane jumped nearly 10 feet from the sudden weight loss. Tibbets immediately regained control of the aircraft and made a sharp 155 degree turn. He had been practicing this difficult maneuver for months because he had been told he had less than 45 seconds to extricate his plane from the ensuing explosion. Not even the scientists who designed the bomb were sure that was the caseEnola Gaywould survive the shock waves of the explosion.
Little Boy fell nearly six miles in 43 seconds before exploding at 2,000 feet. The bomb exploded with the force of more than 15,000 tons of TNT directly over a surgical clinic 150 meters from Aioi Bridge. Less than 2 percent of the uranium in the bomb reached fission, but the resulting reaction enveloped the city in a blinding flash of light and heat. The temperature on the ground hit 7,000 degrees Fahrenheit in less than a second. The bomb vaporized people half a mile from Ground Zero. Bronze statues melted, roof tiles melted and the exposed skin of people miles away were burned by the intense infrared energy released. At least 80,000 people died instantly.
A mushroom cloud rises over Hiroshima after the atomic bomb detonated at 9:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945. Library of Congress photo.
Reverend Tanimoto saw “a tremendous flash of light in the sky… from east to west, from the city to the hills. It looked like a sheet of sunlight.” Being three kilometers from the epicenter of the blast, Tanimoto had a few seconds to throw himself between two large rocks in the garden of his friend's house. "He felt sudden pressure and then splinters, pieces of boards and pieces of tile fell on him." The house had collapsed, along with the concrete wall that surrounded the garden. Under a huge cloud of dust, the day grew darker and darker.
A view of Hiroshima after the bombing. Photo from the National Archives.
VonEnola Gay, Tibbets and his team saw "a giant purple mushroom" that "had already reached an altitude of 45,000 feet, three miles above our altitude, and still simmered like something terribly alive." Although the plane was already miles away, the cloud seemed to swallow up the bomber that created it. "Even more frightening," says Tibbets, "was the sight of the floor underneath. Fires erupted everywhere at the base of the cloud in a swirling mass of smoke that looked like bubbling hot tar... The city we had seen so clearly in the sunlight a few minutes before was now an ugly stain. It had completely disappeared under that terrible blanket of smoke and fire.
Destroyed fire engines in the rubble of Hiroshima. Photo from the National Archives.
In the minutes, hours and days after the bombing, Hiroshima survivors desperately sought to locate loved ones and care for thousands of wounded. Some people were badly burned, while others who appeared unharmed later died agonizingly from radiation poisoning. Thousands of people were buried in the rubble of their homes. Most of the buildings in the city were built of wood with tiled roofs. Almost all concrete buildings in the city center were completely destroyed.
A Japanese burn victim from atomic bombing. Photo from the National Archives.
President Harry Truman was aboard the cruise ship USSAugustaReturning from the Potsdam Conference when he heard of the successful detonation of the bomb. He immediately shared the news with his helpers and the ship's crew. As the information spread around the world, Allied soldiers around the world felt as if they had been granted a pardon from a death sentence. The end of the Second World War finally seemed in sight.
Accountability & Finance. National World War II Museum has earned a 90% for the Accountability & Finance beacon.Did the United States warn Japan about the atomic bomb? ›
Leaflets dropped on cities in Japan warning civilians about the atomic bomb, dropped c. August 6, 1945. TO THE JAPANESE PEOPLE: America asks that you take immediate heed of what we say on this leaflet.Why did they put the ww2 Museum in New Orleans? ›
Why is the Museum located in New Orleans? New Orleans is home to the LCVP, or Higgins boat, the landing craft that brought US soldiers to shore in every major amphibious assault of World War II.What is the biggest ww2 Museum in the world? ›
The Fagen Fighters Museum in Granite Falls, Minn. is hosting surviving WWII veterans at its Saturday airshow for a Q & A. GRANITE FALLS, Minn. — Hang a left at the alfalfa field outside Granite Falls and you'll find the biggest World War II museum to ever be built in the middle of nowhere.How many ww2 veterans are still alive? ›
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Yes, you can re-enter.Was the atomic bomb a war crime? ›
Hiroshima: Atomic Blast That Changed The World Turns 75 The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were said at the time to be justified as the only way to end World War II. Seventy-five years later, legal experts say they would now be war crimes.What if the US had not dropped the atomic bombs on Japan? ›
The result would lead to many more casualties for both the Allies and Japan, possibly even surpassing the over 200,000 civilians who perished from the bombs. Eventually, after more years of fighting, the war, in all likelihood, would have still ended in the Allies' favor, but not without further losses.How long was Hiroshima uninhabitable? ›
The restoration process took approximately two years and the city's population, which had dwindled to about eighty thousand after the bombing, doubled in a short time.What happened to the ww2 Museum in Natick MA? ›
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