Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Atomic Bombing Of Nagasaki - August 9th 1945

Hiroshima on the left and Nagasaki on the right
  On August 9th 1945 the United States dropped the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki Japan. The death toll estimates have ranged from as low as 20,000 to as high as 87,000. The death toll was not as bad as Hiroshima because hills shielded part of the city from the maximum effects of the blast. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima was code named (Little Boy) and the bomb dropped on Nagasaki was code named (Fat Man).  Little Boy was a uranium bomb built at Oak Ridge Tennessee and Fat Man was a plutonium bomb built at Hanford Washington.

Fat Man

  The bombing of Hiroshima has always overshadowed the bombing of Nagasaki. It is kind of like the first moon landing. Everyone was glued to their television sets for Apollo 11 but interest for the subsequent moon landings waned. With the exception of Apollo 13, and that was because of the drama of the astronauts near death experience. In many ways the story behind the Nagasaki bombing was much more interesting than the Hiroshima mission. It could almost be compared to the drama of Apollo 13. The only difference was that the world wasn't aware of the drama involved. Colonel Paul Tibbet's, who commanded the Hiroshima mission, had been handpicked. He was one of the best pilots in the Army Air Corps. Tibbit's however had  been the one to handpick the commander of the Nagasaki mission and he would later regret his choice. He picked Major Charles Sweeney. The mission was plagued with problems from the get go. Sweeney's B-29 was named the Great Artiste. It had been used as an observation plane for the Hiroshima mission. There was not enough time to convert it back to a bomber. So Sweeney and his crew was assigned to a plane called Bockscar. Sweeney and his crew were not familiar with Bockscar. Then it was discovered that a fuel pump was not working in one of the fuel tanks. It was decided to go on with the mission although the plane would be carrying 800 gallons of aviation fuel as dead weight and there was no way to use it. If Sweeney followed orders he would not need the extra fuel. He was to take off from Tinian Island and rendezvous with two other B-29's. The Great Artiste, still being used as an observation plane, and the Big Stink. Tibbit's warned him that no matter what happened he was not to spend more than fifteen minutes at the rendezvous point. The Great Artiste arrived at the rendezvous point but the Big Stink failed to appear. Sweeney remained at the rendezvous point far too long burning precious fuel.
Bockscar and crew

  The primary target for Bockscar and Fat Man was the city of Kokura. Nagasaki was the secondary target. When Sweeney finally decided to head for the target thirty minutes away Kokura was obscured by clouds and smoke from a fire bomb raid of a nearby city from the day before. Over the next fifty minutes Bockscar made three bomb runs but they couldn't find a break in the clouds and smoke. Japanese anti aircraft fire was getting close and enemy fighters were preparing to intercept. The increasing fuel shortage convinced Sweeney to switch to the nearby secondary target of Nagasaki. After a three minute bomb run the bombardier was able to visually drop the bomb through a small opening in the clouds. Unlike Hiroshima in which Little Boy was virtually on target, Fat Man was dropped 1.5 miles off the mark. This bomb was more powerful than Little Boy but because of the hills shielding the blast only 44% of the city was destroyed. The bomb destroyed most of Nagasaki's munitions factories and the lions share of the casualties were factory workers and soldiers. Because of the delays and the bad fuel pump Bockscar was unable to reach the emergency airfield at Iwo Jima and was forced to land on the recently captured island of Okinawa. The crew was breathing a huge sigh of relief because upon landing they realized that there was only five minutes of fuel remaining.

  Our schools and history books teach us that the two Atomic bombs ended World War II. That is not completely true.  Emperor Hirohito had more to do with ending the war than anything else. A solid case can be built that Hirohito should have been executed as a war criminal. However he was too valuable to the allies as a way to end the war without massive casualties and a means to governing a post war Japan. The Japanese military was perfectly willing to sacrifice every man, woman and child in defense of the homeland. Hirohito realized several grim facts. As a war criminal he would be placed on trial. He would suffer the pain and humiliation of imprisonment or even worse being hanged. This would be a bitter pill to swallow for a man that was viewed by his people as a God. He was so revered by them that they had never even heard his voice before. The Soviet Union had recently declared war on Japan and the Red Army was bowling over Japanese forces in the North. They had clashed with the Russians before the war and were soundly defeated. In the end this was ultimately instrumental in the Allies winning the war . If Japan and Germany had coordinated their military strategy they could have put Russia in a vice. With Germany invading from the west and Japan from the east. This possibility inspired Hitler to make the bad mistake of declaring war on the United States four days after Pearl Harbor. He had invaded Russia on June 22, 1941 and had nearly captured Moscow but the Russian winter and stiffening resistance had momentarily stopped the German invasion. Hitler was looking to the Japanese for opening a second front. Japan however had been spooked by the rough handling that they had received from the Red Army prior to the war. After Pearl Harbor they decided to focus on taking the oil, rubber and mineral rich islands of the pacific and countries of Asia like Korea, and Indochina instead.  They had invaded Manchuria and China prior to the war. Japan considered this to be more in their interest since they were a have not nation with few natural resources of their own. After the United States imposed an oil embargo on Japan just prior to the war Japan only had an 18 month supply of oil to power their Navy.

Emperor Hirohito

  Hirohito knew that Japan would eventually lose and cease to exist. More than likely it would be divided up into sectors of occupation just like Germany. So Hirohito made a prudent decision to surrender before this grim scenario came to pass. If the Soviets had not intervened it is not out of the realm of possibility that Japan could have made the American and British sacrifice so costly that they might have settled for some kind of armistice. In my view the atomic bombs did not intimidate the Japanese military as much as we like to think. The fire bombings had devastated Japan but the military was not ready to quit. There were huge areas in Asia such as Korea and Indochina where Japanese forces were still intact. The combination though of the Soviet invasion and the vastness of American military power convinced Hirohito that the jig was up.    


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