Atomic Bombing of Nagasaki

The first and only use of nuclear weapons in combat was in August 1945 when the United States dropped atomic bombs on two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The stunning destruction brought by these individual weapons, each delivered by a single airplane, convinced the Japanese government that continuation of the war was futile.

Utter destruction of Nagasaki by 9 August 1945 bombing with a single atomic weapon
Utter destruction of Nagasaki by 9 August 1945 bombing with a single atomic weapon.

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Visit the World War II Timeline for day-by-day events 1939-1945! See also WW2 Books.

Preparations for the Second Atomic Bombing

The 'Fat Man' plutonium core, and its initiator, left Kirtland Air Force Base (Albuquerque, NM) on 26 July 1945 in a C-54 transport plane, for delivery to the 509th Composite Group on Tinian Island. It arrived on Tinian on 28 July. The same day, three specially-modified B-29 Superfortress bombers flew from Kirtland carrying three Fat Man bomb assemblies, each encased in an outer ballistic shell. These arrived at Tinian on August 2, to be assembled into one complete weapon for the second bombing mission, originally scheduled for Kokura on 11 August (left photo is 'Fat Man' after assembly on Tinian.)

Nagasaki, 9 August 1945

Weather concerns after Hiroshima dictated a schedule change and the date of the second bombing was moved up. On 9 August 1945, three days after Hiroshima, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, a port city and leading industrial center in southern Japan. Major Charles W. Sweeney, who had piloted 'The Great Artiste' as an observation plane over Hiroshima, was at the controls of the B-29 'Bockscar' on the Nagasaki attack. A total of six B-29s from the 509th Composite Group base on Tinian made up the 9 August 1945 mission.

Sweeney took off before dawn with the second atomic bomb 'Fat Man' in the bomb bay. To eliminate the need to remove and reinstall complex observation equipment from 'The Great Artiste', Sweeney and Capt. Frederick C. Bock had exchanged aircraft. Thus Sweeney and his crew flew 'Bockscar', while 'The Great Artiste' repeated its role as the observation aircraft, but with Bock and his crew aboard.

The primary target for 9 August was the city of Kokura, but haze obscured that target. With fuel running low due to a fuel transfer problem, Sweeney proceeded to the secondary target, Nagasaki. There was enough fuel for only one bombing run, and a last minute break in the clouds allowed the bombardier to bomb visually as specified by the field order. The bomb was detonated at 11:00 AM Nagasaki time. With fuel critically low, Sweeney turned toward Okinawa where he landed to refuel before returning to Tinian.

The Nagasaki bomb exploded 1,650 feet above the city. A dense column of smoke rose more than 60,000 feet into the air. Nagasaki was 40 percent destroyed, and approximately 40,000 of its citizens were killed immediately plus another 30,000 died within a year from delayed effects. The plutonium bomb used at Nagasaki was higher yield that the uranium Hiroshima bomb (22 kilotons of TNT equivalent, vs. 15 kt. at Hiroshima), but the terrain of Nagasaki prevented greater destruction.

An invasion of the Japanese home islands was avoided by the atomic attacks upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki, doubtless saving many lives on both sides. The surrender on 14 August 1945 ended more than a decade of Japanese aggression in Asia and the Pacific and three and one-half years of brutal warfare following Pearl Harbor.

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