07 March 2016

The Atomic Bombing of Nagasaki

By: Francisco Meza

"I realize the tragic significance of the atomic bomb ... It is an awful responsibility which has come to us ... We thank God that it has come to us, instead of to our enemies; and we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purposes."
—President Harry S. Truman, August 9, 1945

Nagasaki, a large seaport in southern Japan, was of great wartime importance. This city’s broad-ranging industrial activity included the production of military equipment, ships, ordnance, and other war materials. The city’s four largest companies employed almost 90 percent of the labor force. 

The population of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945—the day of atomic bombing—was approximately 263,000. Fat Man, the atomic bomb set off over Nagasaki, was more powerful than Little Boy, the atomic bomb detonated over Hiroshima. While the blast yield of the Little Boy (Uranium-235 filling) had been about 15 Kilo Tons of TNT, the blast yield of Fat Man (Plutonium filling) was 21 Kilo Tons of TNT.

An Inoperative Fuel Transfer Pump Does Not Affect the Mission
On the morning of August 9, 1945, Fat Man was loaded into the bomb bay of Bockscar, a B-29 Superfortress. Major Charles W. Sweeney was the pilot, and Commander Frederick L. Ashworth was in charge of the bomb. During the pre-flight inspection, it was noticed that one of Bockscar’s reserve tank had an inoperative fuel transfer pump. But not much time remained before the scheduled departure. Replacing the defective fuel pump would take hours and shifting Fat Man was too risky. It would not be possible to use 640 US gallons of fuel, and this fuel would consume more fuel during the long flight. Despite this problem, the pilot elected to continue with the vital mission.

Nagasaki’s Date with Destiny: Dense Clouds and Drifting Smoke Obscure the Planned Target Kokura
Bockscar lifted off at 03:47. The primary target of the Allies had been Kokura. Instructions to drop Fat Man were clear: Sight the target. But dense clouds and drifting smoke obscured the aiming point at Kokura. Sweeney was forced to settle for the secondary target—Nagasaki—after making three bomb runs over Kokura that took 50 minutes. (The maximum time permitted for making bomb runs was only 15 minutes.)
Bockscar was burning precious fuel but more importantly, the aircraft was repeatedly exposed to the heavy air defenses of Yawata, a neighboring town. The pilot turned toward Nagasaki only when there was no break in the dense clouds at Kokura.

Nagasaki was also obscured by cloud. The pilot was ordered to make a radar approach if the target could not be sighted. But the bombardier found a gap in the clouds at the last minute. This hole in the clouds enabled him to visually sight the target. The Fat Man was let go and exploded at 11:02 (Nagasaki time) after a 43-second free fall. The atomic bomb went off at an altitude of about 500 m (1,650 ft). 

Detonation Point Missed by 2 Miles: Deaths Minimized
Due to poor visibility, Fat Man missed the intended detonation point by almost two miles (3 km). The powerful blast was confined to just the Urakami Valley in Nagasaki. The intervening hills safeguarded a major part of the city. Despite this, about 35,000–40,000 people were killed instantaneously. Burn injuries and radiation illnesses killed several thousand in the ensuing weeks. 

The explosion generated intense heat estimated at 7,050° F (3,900° C). The resulting winds were estimated to be around 624 mph (1,005 km/h). American airmen flying several miles from Nagasaki saw the “Mushroom Cloud” of the atomic blast rising 50,000 ft (15,240 m). Fat Man destroyed Nagasaki’s ordnance plant that manufactured torpedoes completely and damaged other industries severely. So, the atomic attack devastated the Japanese war machine’s ability to fight.

Japanese Public Warned to End the War
Even before Fat Man was dropped on Nagasaki, millions of leaflets were airdropped from US aircraft all over Japan. The Japanese public was warned that more atomic weapons that were similar to the one used in Hiroshima would be used repeatedly until the whole nation was wiped off. The Japanese were given only one alternative: End the war immediately. 

Six days after Nagasaki’s date with destiny, Hirohito, the Japanese Emperor blinked. The Japanese war machine had made its intention to fight till the very end absolutely clear. The nation’s top brass wasn’t willing to surrender. Hence, the Allies had planned to drop the third bomb on 19th August 1945. In fact, the allies had planned 12 atomic bombings in case the Japanese did not surrender. So the Fat Man curtailed the Allies’ casualties significantly. If you are ever in Hawaii there are plenty of Pearl Harbor tours that show how the US got into WWII.

Although the atomic bombing of Nagasaki resulted in widespread and instant death, it served a huge purpose. It ended WWII that would have perhaps killed several million more on each side.

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