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WWII A-Bombings, August 1945

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The news of the first A-bombing slowly filtered through to the world at war in the Pacific, in early August 1945.

News of the bomb, dropped on 6 August, was confused. Was it true that it was "one plane, one city"? Was it a myth? Gradually the story came out.

For service people scattered across the Pacific the overall feeling was one of relief. They would not have to participate in an invasion of the Home Islands of Japan. The death toll incurred in the fight for the island of Okinawa had brought home the ferocity with which the Japanese forces had prosecuted their war. The WWII General Slim General Slim noted: "If five hundred Japanese were ordered to hold a position, we had to kill four hundred and ninety-five before it was ours – and then the last five killed themselves." Their troops had indeed gone to their end defending Okinawa: 97% of their force died in combat. What would have a final invasion have cost, for attackers as well as defenders?

The first A-Bomb was dropped by a B-29 Superfortress, the high-flying four engine bomber. Armadas of them had already wreaked havoc across Japan for the previous year. This time though, the B-29 was one of a small group of aircraft, only one of which - the Enola Gay - was carrying a weapon. There was some doubt it would work: the A-Bomb had only been tested once before at ground level, and never air-dropped. Japanese fighters and AA guns were no threat to the high altitude B-29. At 08:15am the bomb was dropped over Hiroshima.

Detonation and devastation occurred almost simultaneously seconds later. Heat, light, and radiation flashed out across the flat landscape. Thousands of civilians and military workers died within a few seconds, and many more over the next few months. The city’s buildings were vaporised or blasted flat. The flash was so great the shadows of some who died were ingrained into concrete as if they had been X-rayed onto a film negative.

Over the next few days millions of leaflets were dropped across Japan urging surrender and telling people of the new weapon. The Imperial leadership was not convinced. Maybe there was only one such bomb. The second, dropped over Nagasaki, on the 9 August, showed the Allies could now stand off and inflict terrible destruction at no cost to themselves.

The Japanese government surrendered, although a military coup attempted to take control to fight on.

In the Northern Territory, the fighting had moved north over a year before. The Territory was a vast transit centre for the troops and supplies pouring into the attack theatres. The war against Germany had ended months previously, and the focus had moved to the Pacific.

The Territory, with over 50 airfields, was a corridor through which hundreds of thousands of military people, aircraft, ammunition, food, and equipment was being moved. It was still on the defensive, but the last Japanese aircraft had been shot down on a reconnaissance flight over Darwin airfields in June 1944.

The war hesitated, and then halted. Across the Pacific millions of Japanese military men were ordered to lay down their arms and surrender – and they obeyed. The military effort shifted to contain them, and talk began of Occupation. The A-bombs had ended the war.

Glass bottle melted by the blast at Hiroshima. Japanese Peace Memorial Museum (photograph courtesy of Tom Lewis)
This picture taken from Yoshiura on the other side of the mountain north of Hiroshima shows the smoke rising from the atom bomb explosion. Note the radiation spots almost ruining the film. (USAAF).