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United States drops atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

HistoryLink.org Essay 1351 : Printer-Friendly Format

On August 6, 1945, the United States drops an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the first of two such dropped on Japan this week.  At  2:45 a.m. local time, on August 6, 1945, a B-29 Superfortress called Enola Gay, a warplane designed by the Boeing Airplane Company and modified at the company's Wichita, Kansas, plant, lifts off with two escort B-29s from Tinian, a small island in the Marianas.  The planes fly 1,500 miles to Japan and the Enola Gay drops the bomb.

Force from which Sun Draws its Power

That day, President Harry Truman (1884-1972) announced that the United States had dropped the bomb. The President said: “The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East ... . If they [the Japanese leaders] do not now accept our terms, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth” (Seattle Star, p 5).

The atom bomb was produced and constructed at three main sites: Oak Ridge near Knoxville, Tennessee; Richland, Washington; and near Santa Fe, New Mexico. At Richland, where residents worked exclusively on producing the atom bomb, the town increased in population from none to several thousand in two years.

How It Was Done

The mission to bomb Hiroshima began at 2:45 a.m. local time August 6, 1945. At that time a B-29 Superfortress named Enola Gay lifted off with two escort B-29s from a small island in the Marianas and flew the 1,500 mile trip to Japan. The Superfortress was a warplane designed by the Boeing Airplane Company, built by Martin at Omaha, and specially modified by Boeing at Wichtita, Kansas.

At liftoff from Tinian Island, Enola Gay pilot Colonel Paul W. Tibbets Jr. (1915-2007) and a few technicians knew that the plane was carrying the atom bomb. During the 6 1/2 hour flight the Colonel described to the rest of the crew the 10 1/2 foot long, 9,700 pound bomb, dubbed "Little Boy." As the planes approached Japan, the two B-29 escorts pulled out and the Enola Gay continued alone. At 9:15 a.m. at 31,000 feet elevation, the destination was reached and the bomb released.

Forty-three seconds later the atom bomb exploded at 1,850 feet over the city of Hiroshima where 343,000 people resided. The number of deaths that day was incomprehensible. Estimates ranged from 60,000 to 100,000. Radiation killed thousands more in the months and years to follow. Of the 76,000 buildings in the city, 70,000 were destroyed or damaged. An area of four square miles was vaporized.

The Atomic Age

The next day, on August 7 the Seattle Star wrote an editorial on the atomic bomb. Following is an excerpt:

“The best kept secret of the war! That was Hanford, the story of the making of the ‘atomic bomb.’ It is almost inconceivable that so many people could work on a project, so many people figure in making the bombs themselves and not one word leak out as to what actually was being manufactured there.

"The secret now unveiled is overwhelming. Note well the president’s warning words – ‘We must consider the establishment of an appropriate commission to control the production and use of atomic power within the United States.’ It is one of the greatest scientific advances in the history of man, if not the greatest. …

"This discovery makes it imperative that nations learn to get along with one another, makes ... [even the] talk of war, something that MUST be avoided. The atomic bomb is so powerful, so tremendous in its effect that man might eventually eliminate himself. ... A tiny nation like Switzerland, if it had the scientists, and prepared itself, might conceivably destroy a nation many times its own size.

"Thus it becomes necessary that nations must take steps to re-educate mankind, not in technology or mechanics – he’s all but gone too far there – but in psychology and sociology. There is a new premium placed on good sense and understanding between men. It forces this evolution for a plan of peace which must endure or result in the eclipse of man. … In other words, so terrible is this weapon that man’s first instinct must be NOT to rush into wars but to prevent wars” (Seattle Star, August 7, 1945).

After Japan's failure to surrender immediately, a second B-29, named Bock's Car, was dispatched on August 9 to drop a second atomic bomb, dubbed "Fat Boy," on the city of Nagasaki. The only wartime uses of nuclear weapons to date (1999) claimed over 100,000 lives and injured or sickened tens of thousands more.

Notwithstanding the fearsome novelty of atomic power, B-29 raids over Tokyo and other Japanese cities with conventional incendiary bombs were far deadlier. The Japanese surrender on August 10 (signed September 2) averted the one million additional civilian and combatant deaths that would have resulted from an Allied invasion of the Home Islands, according to military planners.

Sources:
“New Explosive’s Power Equal to 20,000 Tons TNT,” The Seattle Star, August 6, 1945, p. 1, 5; “Hanford Job Kept Secret to Workers” The Seattle Star, August 6, 1945, p. 1, 5; Seattle Star, August 7, 1945, p. 4; Time Editors, Great Events of the 20th Century (New York: Time Books, 1997), 32; Chronicle of America ed. by John W. Kirshon (New York: Chronicle Publications, ca. 1989), 726; Robert J. Serling, Legend & Legacy, The Story of Boeing and Its People (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992); Peter M. Bowers, Boeing Aircraft Since 1916 (London: Putnam, 1993); Boeing Historical Archives.


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Col. Paul Tibbets and the B-29 Enola Gay, 1945
Courtesy National Archives (Image No. (NWDNS-208-LU-13H-5)


 
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