From the Archives, 1945: The terrible fate of Hiroshima

First published in The Age on August 8, 1945


City Lying in Ashes and Rubble


Hiroshima after the atomic bomb hit in 1945.Credit:AP/Stanley Troutman

Photographs of Hiroshima taken after the atomic bomb raid reveal a terrible story. The area destroyed in this single volcano lies in ashes and rubble, with here and there a reinforced wall left sadly standing.

A communique issued from the headquarters of General Spaatz announces that four and one-tenth square miles, or 60 per cent., of Hiroshima, which is as large as Brisbane, was wiped out by the bomb.

The announcement is based on reconnaissance photographs, which showed additional damage outside the completely destroyed area.

Answering a question why Hiroshima, rather than Tokio, was chosen as the first target, an army spokesman replied: “Maybe we did not want to risk hitting Government buildings and destroying the people who may make the decision to surrender.”

Tokio Radio’s version of the raid said the impact was so terrific that practically all living things, human and animal, were literally seared to death. All the dead and injured were burned beyond recognition.

The ‘Little Boy’ atomic bomb, the type detonated over Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.Credit:AP/US Department of Defence

The broadcast added that the effect of the bomb was widespread. Those out of the doors were burned to death, and those indoors were killed by indescribable pressure and heat, Houses and buildings were smashed, including emergency medical facilities.

Another broadcast warned the Japanese homeland to brace itself for new atomic bomb attacks. Osaka Radio said since it was presumed that the enemy would continue to use the new bomb the authorities would point out measures to cope with it immediately this was possible.

A special session of the Japanese Cabinet has been called to discuss “internal and foreign matters.”

The photographs show clearly that Hiroshima’s heart has been wiped out by a giant bulldozer. Only a few concrete structures believed to be air raid shelters remained standing, but even they have been burned inside. Seven river streams and several manmade firebreaks, including one three blocks wide, which were among the best seen in Japan, failed to stop the flames.

Photographs also show smoke formations absolutely new to experienced photo observers. From a base of black smoke like a rugged mountain, a graceful mushroom column of white smoke soared to 20,000 feet. At the top of the column before it billowed out into a mushroom effect air currents had seemingly decapitated it and left a smokeless space of nearly 1000 feet.

An expert said there was no comparison between a normal conflagration and a fire caused by the atomic bomb. He recalled that when Yokohama was burned it looked as though smokepots were burning throughout the city, whereas an immense smoke and dust mushroom plumed over Hiroshima.

As the atomic bomb dropped squarely on the centre of Hiroshima the Super-Fortress crew which carried it felt the concussion like a close explosion of flak although they were 10 miles from the target. Colonel Paul Tibbets, the pilot, described the explosion as tremendous and awe-inspiring. Colonel Tibbets, who was specially trained for the mission, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross as he stepped from the plane after returning.

Ticklish Work

Captain W. Parsons, the US Navy ordinance expert, who designed the atomic bomb, said he began in June, 1943, to perfect an explosive that could be carried with comparative safety in a plane from the time required to fly from the Marianas to Japan.

“The atomic bomb cannot be controlled like other bombs,” he said. “It must be checked and patted to the last minute by the weaponeer. This will be the case until it is more fully developed.”

Details of the bombing were disclosed at a press conference attended by General Spaatz, who said the bomb was the most revolutionary development in history. General Spaatz was obviously highly elated, and added: “If I had had it in Europe it would have shortened the war by six or eight months.”

Major-General Le May said if the bombs had been available there would have been no need for D-Day in Europe.

General Spaatz announced that more Super-Fortresses from the Marianas were ready to follow with atomic bombs. He added that a leaflet campaign would inform the Japanese people that they would be atom-bombed, and could expect more in the near future.

Generals Spaatz and Le May left no doubt that they believed the air forces could beat Japan into unconditional surrender with this new and terrible weapon, which General Spaatz likened to 2000 Super-Fortresses fully loaded with incendiary and demolition bombs.

Future Targets

The US Army and Navy Air Forces have reached a generally satisfactory understanding concerning future air targets in the Japanese homeland. They will have been divided into areas. The Army will strike in one area, while the Navy hits another. Super-Fortresses will pound targets jointly selected.

The bomb dropped on Hiroshima was so small that it could have been carried by a fighter plane.

Tokio Radio claims that Hiroshima was an open city, and says authorized bombing was a violation of international law, which forbids belligerents an unlimited choice in the means of destruction.

The radio quoted the religious leader Toyohika Nagawa, who contrasted the bombing with “Japan’s careful and thoughtful air raids on Shanghai and Nanking.”

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