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This Day in History: Bombs dropped on Japan

On this day in 1945, Americans drop an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. It was the second such bombing in a matter of days, following an August 6 bombing of the city of Hiroshima.


Japan had been given a chance to surrender, but it had refused.


Presumably, no one in Japan really knew what was coming. But you have to wonder whether anyone in America truly understood what was coming, either?

A mushroom cloud forms over Nagasaki

Captain William Parsons of the Manhattan Project briefed the crew of the Enola Gay (and others) before they departed on their historic mission to Hiroshima: “The bomb you are going to drop,” he told them, “is something new in the history of warfare. It is the most destructive weapon ever produced. We think it will knock out everything within a three mile area.”


Yes, it did. But it also shattered glass in suburbs twelve miles from the detonation site.


Unfortunately, the Japanese refused to surrender, even after Hiroshima. Thus, the second bombing at Nagasaki mere days later.


Nagasaki was not the original target. Instead, the intended target was an arsenal near the city of Kokura. In a twist of fate, American plans were changed by something as simple as the weather—and the stubborn refusal of smoke to drift away from Kokura. Early on August 9, the weather over the city was deemed acceptable, but Kokura was soon covered with smoke and haze. Matters became further complicated when the bomber began to run low on fuel as it circled the area.


It was decided to do one quick pass over Nagasaki before landing at the airfield at Okinawa. The clouds over Nagasaki weren’t too much better, but a break in the clouds allowed Captain Kermit K. Beahan to catch a quick glimpse of the city’s stadium. He had permission to bomb either city, so he decided to drop the bomb on Nagasaki.


One of his crew members later noted: “[T]here was no sense dragging the bomb home or dropping it in the ocean.”


The plutonium bomb dropped on Nagasaki produced an explosion 40 percent bigger than the uranium one dropped on Hiroshima.


The Department of Energy Office of History and Heritage Resources describes the effects: “Almost everything up to half a mile from ground zero was completely destroyed, including even the earthquake-hardened concrete structures that had sometimes survived at comparable distances at Hiroshima.”


To the extent that some damage was lesser than at Hiroshima, it was because of the steep hills surrounding the city. The force of the explosion was contained somewhat.


By the next day, Japan was ready to surrender on the condition that the “said Declaration does not compromise any demand which prejudices the prerogatives of His Majesty as a sovereign ruler.” President Harry Truman ordered a halt to the atomic attacks while negotiations commenced. On August 12, the United States agreed to accept the surrender, but required that any future government of Japan be established by the “freely expressed will of the Japanese people.”


The Japanese government didn’t answer right away, and conventional bombings resumed. Throughout this time, the United States was preparing a third bomb, just in case it was needed. But it also did something else: The United States began dropping leaflets across Tokyo. The leaflets described the terms that had been offered for ending the war.


Finally, on August 15, the emperor made an announcement on public radio: Japan would surrender.


It had been almost 4 years since the Japanese attacked us at Pearl Harbor. But now World War II was finally coming to an end.

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