Evil: How the Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Began and How it Ended

75 years ago, on August 6 and 9, the Americans carried out the first atomic bombing in history. The victims of this deadly weapon were the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That day will forever remain in history as the beginning of a terrible tale. For 75 years, the world has been living under the sword of Damocles, under the threat of a war that could destroy the planet. “Izvestia” remembered how the so-called U.S. Manhattan Project ended.

Manhattan babies.

The Americans were the first to bring the atomic project, the so-called Manhattan Project, under the direction of physicist Robert Oppenheimer and General Leslie Groves. They got a lot of help from the war. During World War II, only the U.S. could make such investments. More than $2 billion – at that time an unthinkable amount. To it should be added the cost of intelligence (largely helped by the data obtained from Germany), to mobilize the best scientists and engineers from around the world.

The atomic bomb “Podtuchka” is installed on a special tower at the Alamogordo test site. July 1945

By midsummer 1945, they managed to construct three atomic bombs – Little Thing, Little Boy, and Fat Man. The first one was being prepared for a test explosion, the two others were originally intended for Japan. The “Thing” exploded over the desert at the Alamogordo test site in New Mexico. At the Potsdam Conference, President Harry Truman, full of pride, informed Stalin of the successful test of the “weapon of supernatural power.


The Soviet leader, contrary to American hopes, reacted to the news in cold blood. In fact, he was aware of American nuclear developments – and, despite the hardships of the postwar devastation, had already given the go-ahead for an atomic project in the USSR. But few people in those days imagined that in a month atomic weapons would be used under military conditions, against Japanese cities…

A model of the atomic bomb “Little Boy” dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945

By early August 1945, Japan was on the brink of defeat. Marshal Alexander Vasilevsky’s troops were ready to corner the Kwantung Army in Manchuria. U.S. General Douglas MacArthur devised an operation to invade Japan, codenamed “The Fall. Both he and U.S. Commander-in-Chief Dwight Eisenhower were opposed to the use of the new deadly weapon. Most scientists were also opposed, believing that atomic weapons should remain a psychological means of pressure on the enemy, and that using them in military conditions was both immoral and dangerous.


But, by all accounts, continued fighting would have taken the lives of about a million American soldiers. And two of the highest-ranking politicians in the United States, President Harry Truman and Secretary of State James Byrnes, decided to use the Manhattan Babies against the Japanese. Of course, they had another reason for doing so. The Americans needed to show the world, and above all the Soviet Union, strengthened after the Victory, that a new era was coming and that only one power, the United States, would be its hegemon. Let us not forget the third reason for the suicide bombing: to some extent it was revenge for the Japanese attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor in December 1941. That disaster was well remembered in the United States.

Hiroshima instead of Kyoto, radiation sickness instead of dysentery, the first nuclear strike instead of a simple reconnaissance operation

The demise of Hiroshima.

At first the Americans were inclined to the rather humane idea of dropping a bomb on the almost deserted rice fields. But Truman decided that such a demonstration would not impress either the Japanese or the Russians. What was needed was a public outcry – so that the whole of Japan would shudder with horror and the whole world would understand “who was the boss. The target for the atomic bomb was selected from among the heavily populated industrial cities. Truman believed that if one was to use atomic weapons – then with maximum effect – so that large factories would be reduced to ashes, cities would lie in ruins, tens of thousands of people would perish – for the edification of others. He may not have been a bloodthirsty man. But, with his unique weapons, he felt his own permissiveness and wanted to seriously shock the world.

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A U.S. B-29 Enola Gay bomber at Tinian Island Air Force Base

American B-29 Enola Gay bomber at the US Air Force base on Tinian Island

Under extreme secrecy, the atomic bombs were delivered to Tinian Island, home to a major U.S. military base. There were two of them – “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” – 16-18 kilotons and 21 kilotons in TNT equivalent. No other state has ever had such a powerful destructive power. Is it necessary to explain that the Soviet Union, then an ally of the United States, received no information about these maneuvers. But the Red Army was fighting the Japanese at the urgent request of the American side, which was heard at all three conferences of the “Big Three”. Our soldiers and officers were doing their allied duty by openly informing the Americans about their operations. And the “brothers in arms” were holding a stone behind their backs.

The American pilots who flew that mission certainly thought they were doing a good deed for all mankind. They were putting an end to years of World War II – no more and no less. That is why before the flight they visited the temple and received from the commanders ampoules with poison – in case of disaster in order not to be taken prisoner.


On August 6, at 8:15 a.m., the hands of the clock stopped for hundreds of thousands of Hiroshima residents. The American B-29 bomber dropped the atomic bomb on the city from 9 kilometers high. The plane was piloted by Paul Warfield Tibbetts – Junior – a 30-year-old pilot, who was considered the best ace of the American Air Force. The plane was called “Enola Gay” – after the pilot’s mother. As scientists predicted, the “Kid” fell for exactly 45 seconds and exploded about 500 meters to the ground, spreading a powerful energy of destruction around it.

Atomic mushroom over Hiroshima. August 6, 1945.

Atomic mushroom over Hiroshima. August 6, 1945

The explosion wiped out 90% of the city blocks and about 100,000 people. Tens of thousands more died later from radiation and starvation. For the city had become a dead space, lacking food, water, with everything contaminated. Hundreds of apocalyptic recollections of surviving Hiroshima residents remained with terrible details: thousands of people died in terrible agony. It was in those days that mankind was first confronted with the problem of the mysterious radiation sickness.

Hiroshima after atomic bombing

Hiroshima after the atomic bombing

A nuclear mushroom was visible at a distance of 600 km! The world had not yet seen such a spectacle. Unless read in the most violent science fiction novels. And Tibbetts and navigator Theodore Van Kirk, as they recalled, involuntarily burst out an enthusiastic exclamation.

“Fat Man” in Nagasaki.

After the Hiroshima horror, the Americans did not achieve their goal: Japan shrank in terror, but did not capitulate. And exactly three days later, on August 9, U.S. Air Force pilot Charles Sweeney took another bomber into the sky. His target was the city of Kokura. But… He was saved by clouds that made this Samurai outpost invisible to the pilots. “Lucky as Kokura,” was the saying in Japan a few weeks later. Sweeney received new orders to move on Nagasaki. Even the fact that prisoners of war, including US citizens, were working at the docks there did not stop the Americans.

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Sweeney executed the order flawlessly. At 11:2, the atomic bomb number three was dropped on Nagasaki, one of the most famous ports of Japan. The “Fat Man’s” explosion was more powerful. But if all of Hiroshima was turned into a pile of ruins, the damage inflicted on Nagasaki was not so total: the hilly terrain of the city helped. But several tens of thousands of people died at once. Fires broke out in the city. By the end of the year, the number of Nagasaki residents who died of wounds and illnesses exceeded 140,000.

The ruins of Nagasaki

Only after this strike did the Japanese begin to prepare for capitulation. Emperor Hirohito’s statement said that the enemy had a cruel weapon, capable of destroying all inhabitants of the country. Well, the Americans got their way.

A month after the tragedy, the crew that bombed Nagasaki walked through the ruins of the city. They saw human skulls and animal skeletons among the ruins, saw burned, dying people in the streets, and felt the “disgusting stench.” But even these pictures did not change their attitude toward what had been done. All of them remained supporters of a nuclear strike on Japan.

Victims of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki

The victims of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki

In the late 1940s, the Japanese were able to calculate: two bombs killed 200,000 people. In the 21st century, new estimates were made, adding those who died of burns and radiation sickness to the victims of the atomic attack. The number of victims increased more than twice – up to 450 thousand.

The ruins of Nagasaki

For the Japanese the memory of the national tragedy has become sacred. And more important than all monuments and museums was the story of Sadako Sasaki, a girl who survived the Hiroshima tragedy at the age of two. She survived. But nine years later she showed signs of radiation sickness. She knew an old legend: he who folds a thousand cranes from paper, will recover from any disease. A whole year – until her death – she made cranes. In Hiroshima, in the Peace Park, a statue of a girl with a paper bird in her hand – a symbol of Japanese misfortune and hope. The girl with the cranes was well known in the Soviet Union – even though our countries were not allies during the Cold War.

“I sleep peacefully…”

In the first weeks after the bombings, the Soviet press reported on the fighting in Japan in great detail, but was silent about the power of the new weapons. Our country was unfolding its own atomic project – and the leaders decided not to frighten the people with information about the American monopoly on atomic weapons. But soon after the surrender of Japan, the former allies became enemies. After that, during the Cold War, the history of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was perceived in the USSR separately from the Soviet-Japanese war. As an inhuman gesture of threat directed primarily against the Soviet Union. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese became victims of nuclear blackmail by the “Red Moscow. For four years America had a monopoly on the atomic bomb. It was not an easy time for the Soviet Union.


The shadow of a man sitting on the steps of the stairs in front of a bank in Hiroshima, 250 meters from the epicenter at the moment of the explosion.

But the Truman administration did not consider an indirect result of the atomic bombings – the anti-war movement, largely directed against Washington, was growing worldwide. Truman tried to portray the “peace activists” as “Soviet agents,” but that was self-defeating. Hundreds of famous writers, thinkers, artists, scientists, among them members of the Manhattan Project, opposed the “atomic apocalypse” not because of Soviet recruitment, but because they saw the fate of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And they understood the danger for mankind in playing carelessly with the atom. Frederic Joliot-Curie, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Ilya Ehrenburg, Duke Ellington and even the young French politician Jacques Chirac signed the proclamation banning atomic weapons.

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Hell on Earth: the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

August 6 and 9, 1945, were the worst days in Japanese history. American atomic bombs, sarcastically named “Little Boy” and “Fat Man,” were dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The first blow struck Hiroshima – the explosion killed instantly about 80,000 people, several tens of thousands simply disintegrated into molecules, leaving only dark silhouettes on the walls and stones.

Three days later, the “Fat Man” bomb exploded half a kilometer above the city of Nagasaki. The death toll was about the same as in Hiroshima – about 60,000. REN TV reports about the first use of nuclear weapons in the history of mankind and its consequences.

Reasons for the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

In the summer of 1945, despite the surrender of Germany, the Japanese army kept fighting hard. The final decision on the atomic bombing of Japanese cities was made after Japan had rejected the demands of the Potsdam Declaration (on behalf of Great Britain, the USA and China) on unconditional surrender in July 1945. The new American president Harry Truman ordered to bomb one of the cities – Hiroshima, Kokura, Niigata or Nagasaki – at the first opportunity, and the next target as the bombs arrived.

On July 26, the cruiser Indianapolis delivered the atomic bomb “Little Boy” to the American base on Tinian Island. On July 28, George Marshall, chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, signed an order for the operational use of nuclear weapons. This order, drafted by Manhattan Project military chief Leslie Groves, called for a nuclear strike “any day after the third of August, as soon as weather conditions permit.” In the following days, the components of the atomic bomb “Fat Man” were airlifted to Tinian.

Why Hiroshima and Nagasaki

It is no coincidence that Hiroshima was the main target of the bombings. In 1945 it was an important port, industrial and military center. It produced components for Japanese aircraft and ships, bombs, rifles and pistols. The headquarters of the 59th Army, the 5th and 224th Divisions, and, most importantly, the headquarters of the Second Command, the grouping of forces which was to meet the Allied forces in the event of their landing in southern Japan, were located in the city. The headquarters of Marshal Shunroku Hata, head of the Second Command, was located in Hiroshima Castle, which meant that if the bombing was successful, the Allies could decapitate the enemy’s main strike force. In addition, Hiroshima was a supply base and logistics center for the Japanese army.

At the same time, Hiroshima was not immediately chosen as the main direction of the strike. At first, Kyoto city, which had three times the population – about one million people – was discussed as the number one target. But, as former American ambassador to Japan Edwin Reischauer recalled, U.S. Secretary of War Henry Stimson had once spent his honeymoon in Kyoto and, as a sentimental gesture, crossed the ancient Japanese capital off the list. Hiroshima became the main target, and Nagasaki took Kyoto’s place.

Hiroshima’s fate was also decided by the fact that the city met all the criteria for maximum casualties and destruction: a flat location surrounded by hills, low buildings and flammable wooden buildings.

The Bombing of Hiroshima

Prior to August 6, 1945, Hiroshima had never been seriously bombed – only a few random bombs fell on the city, causing little damage. The worst thing that could happen to the city and its inhabitants happened at 08:15 a.m. One minute earlier, the pilot of an American B-29 bomber, Paul Tibbetts, had dropped an atomic bomb on the center of Hiroshima. According to survivors, “all hell broke loose on the ground.”

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The bomb weighed 4.4 tons and measured 3 meters long and 71 centimeters in diameter. Unlike most modern bombs made on the implosive principle, the “Kid” was a cannon-type bomb – that is, simple to calculate and manufacture and virtually failsafe. The bomb contained 64 kilograms of extremely expensive highly enriched uranium, of which about 700 grams, or slightly more than 1% was directly involved in a nuclear chain reaction. The nuclei of the remaining uranium atoms remained intact because the rest of the uranium charge was dispersed by the explosion and did not have time to participate in the reaction.

“Giant Pillar of Purple Fire.”

Surviving eyewitnesses recalled that they first saw a flash of bright light, followed by a wave that scorched everything around them. Everything around the epicenter of the explosion instantly turned to ash.

Birds flying by were burned into the air, and dry combustible materials (such as paper) were ignited up to two kilometers from the epicenter. The light radiation burned dark patterns of clothing into the skin and left silhouettes of human bodies on the walls. At least 80,000 people died at once.

Numerous small fires that simultaneously broke out in the city soon merged into one large fire tornado, creating a strong wind toward the epicenter. The fire tornado engulfed more than eleven square kilometers of the city, killing all those who did not manage to escape within the first few minutes after the explosion.

Survivors poured out of Hiroshima in a steady stream. According to the Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shimbun, “those fleeing the fires resembled crowds of the dead coming from beyond.

“Their faces and hair were badly burned, their skin hanging down. They didn’t say anything, just moaned and asked for water,” Keiko Ogura, eight years old at the time of the bombing, recalled.

Reiko Yamada was three years older, her memories of the disaster no less gruesome:

“I was in the school garden when the bomb exploded. I was two and a half kilometers away from the blast. The neighborhood on the other side of the river was completely destroyed. From there, from the city center, people were running towards us, the whole road was full of them. Without receiving any medical attention, one by one they were dying under the scorching rays of the sun right on the road. To clear the road, piles of dead bodies were raked up like garbage and burned right in our school yard, by digging several ditches. Similarly, bodies were burned in the yards of other schools and just on vacant lots, and the whole town smelled like burning flesh.

The Bombing of Nagasaki

Nagasaki was the second city in Japan, after Hiroshima, to be bombed by the United States in August 1945. The original target of the B-29 bomber commanded by Major Charles Sweeney was the city of Kokura, located in the north of Kyushu Island. By coincidence, on the morning of August 9, heavy cloud cover was observed over Kokura, and Sweeney decided to turn the plane to the southwest and head for Nagasaki, which was seen as a backup.

Here too, bad weather was waiting for the Americans, but the plutonium bomb called “Fat Man” was eventually dropped. It was almost twice as powerful as the one used in Hiroshima, but inaccurate aiming and local terrain somewhat reduced the damage of the blast. Nevertheless, the consequences were devastating: at 11:02 a.m. local time, 60,000 residents of Nagasaki were killed and the city was virtually wiped off the face of the earth.

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Children’s Eyewitness Accounts of the Tragedy

Nine-year-old Reiko Nadeau managed to survive because her house was on the other side of the mountain from the epicenter.

“A blinding light hit my eyes, with khaki, yellow and orange colors mixed in. A moment later the light turned bright white. I remember feeling like I was alone in the world. Then there was a deafening roar. And I blacked out,” she recalled. she recalled.

All witnesses of the bombing talk about the bright white sky. For Nagasaki resident Shigeko Matsumoto, the morning of Aug. 9 was a happy one. After sitting in a bomb shelter for days, she could finally play outside with her peers. “There was no siren, so everyone went home. My brothers and I were waiting for our grandfather to pick us up. At 11:02 the sky turned bright white.” ,” Shigeko recounted. “Fatty” exploded just 800 meters away from her.

“I’ll never forget that hell: burnt bodies on the ground, eyes glistening. Thousands of corpses in the river, bloated, purple. I was terrified at the thought of staying there,” she confessed. ,” confessed the Japanese woman.

Her case was unique: at such a distance from the epicenter people died instantly.

Already by the end of 1945, due to the effect of radioactive contamination and other delayed effects of the explosion, the death toll in Nagasaki reached 80 thousand people. In Hiroshima the number was 166,000.

During the following years the number of those who died of radiation sickness continued to increase. This number is increasing every year and the figures are updated every August. According to figures announced in 2021, the total number of victims exceeded 350,000.

Hibakusha – Survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Thousands of survivors of the atomic bombings became known as hibakusha, “people exposed to the blast. But instead of support, they received only new difficulties: the Japanese authorities did not help them for many years, and people around them tried not to deal with hibakusha. This was because of fear of radiation – people knew that the bomb brought diseases, but they did not know why. As a result, survivors were not hired, and marriage was avoided for fear of the risk of having abnormal children. Many hibakushas had a lifetime of guilt over their deaths and faced severe psychological trauma.

Nevertheless, the Hibakusha have become an integral part of the history of the atomic bombings, not only because they are one of the few true nuclear weapons experts who have experienced the real effects of radiation, but also because they have become the main advocates for the destruction of these weapons.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki Now

Contrary to what experts predicted, both Japanese cities were restored in the shortest possible time. Daily life in them is now no different from life in any other major city in Japan.

In Hiroshima, the memory of the tragedy is honored: here is one of the few surviving buildings, which was not reconstructed and preserved as a memorial. The dilapidated dome of the former Chamber of Commerce and Industry Exhibition Center is located in the city’s Peace Memorial Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Every August 6, Hiroshima residents hold a special ceremony during which the mayor reads the Declaration of Peace.

Nagasaki was also rebuilt as quickly as possible. The city is shaped like an amphitheater with crooked streets, tiered houses, and hills surrounding an inner bay. Although the city was rebuilt virtually from scratch after the catastrophe, there are several areas in Nagasaki in which old buildings and 18th century Buddhist temple ensembles have survived.

Nagasaki today is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Japan. It is known as a picturesque port city that blends Japanese tradition with the Western Christian worldview.

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