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Remember Hiroshima

Today, Tuesday, 6th August 2019 is the 74th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The following is a detailed account of what happened that day.

For the residents of Hiroshima, the 6th August 1945 was the day to end all days; the dawn of a new age of horror, when night came in the morning and the most depraved of all the weapons used in the war, was unleashed upon her unsuspecting people.

As her citizens both military and civilian, went about their early morning activities, busily preparing for their day, travelling to work, riding in buses, travelling on trams, children on their way to elementary school, the temperature rose quickly to twenty-eight degrees centigrade.

What began as a bright, sunny Monday morning, gave no hint to the death and destruction that was shortly to follow. At 7.00 am, fourteen year-old Masako Yamada cheerfully said goodbye to her mother and set out to join her school friends. Her class had been ordered to help with the demolition parties clearing fire breaks across the city in anticipation of American bombing.

As she left the house, she heard the all-too-familiar sound of the air-raid sirens warning people of approaching aircraft. Masako looked up above to see a lone B-29 bomber streaking across the sky; not unusual, she thought; they were often seen running reconnaissance missions; no need to be concerned.

Half a mile away, Dr. Kano had just finished breakfast and settled back on the balcony of his private clinic, beside the Kyo Bridge to read the morning paper. He too, looked up when he heard the sirens and saw the bomber passing over. Like Masako, he was not concerned. B-29’s were passing over Hiroshima every day, on their way to some other city in Japan.

Twenty miles away on the island of Miyajima, Shigeko Suzuki sat with her parents in the kitchen of their home enjoying breakfast. In one way or another, some four hundred thousand people went about their normal routine that morning, most of them steadfast in their belief that Japan was winning the war, and that soon the soldiers would be coming home, victorious.

Above them, at 30,000 feet, Major Claude Eatherly, of the 509th Composite group, piloting Straight Flush, radioed his weather report to the command pilot of Enola Gay several miles to the south…  ‘Cloud cover less than three-tenths at all altitudes. Advice: Bomb primary.’  That message sealed the city’s fate and the lives of 130,000 people. Had the weather report been unfavourable, Enola Gay would have proceeded to either Kokura or Nagasaki.

On the ground, it was 7.30 am, Straight Flush could no longer be heard or seen and the all-clear siren sounded, advising people that it was safe to resume normal duties. Few had even bothered to take shelter. Masako Yamada met up with her school friends and arrived at their prearranged location while Dr. Kano continued reading his paper on the balcony overlooking the Ota River.

To the south, and climbing to 31,000 feet, Colonel Paul Tibbets, piloting the aircraft  he renamed Enola Gay after his mother, was leading a group of three B-29’s on the most important and by far the most expensive mission the United States had ever mounted. The Manhattan Project, first begun in 1942 and culminating in the production and successful testing of nuclear fission at a cost of two billion dollars, was about to change the world forever.

 ‘It’s Hiroshima,’ Tibbets announced to the crew through the intercom. The long night’s flight was over. Now, the months of intense training and the realization that this mission was itself historic in nature brought them all to a new level of anticipation. Each man aboard Enola Gay was there for a specific purpose; each a specialist in his field. Thirty-five minutes later and within sight of the city, Colonel Tibbets set his course for the bomb run.

As they approached from the east, Tibbets’ group bombardier, Major Tom Ferebee, took control of the aircraft, piloting from the bomb bay, and manoeuvred the M-9B Norden bombsight, the most advanced of its kind ever constructed, into position. The target was the Aioi Bridge, so chosen because it was so easily recognized from aerial photographs, forming a perfect T-shape with the Ota River. Just minutes before release, Ferebee could see the city’s suburbs appear beneath him as he made a slight adjustment to his delivery angle to compensate for the wind. At 8.15am local time, he flipped the switch that released ‘Little boy’,a 9000lb uranium bomb, the first ever constructed, from the pneumatically operated bomb bay doors of Enola Gay.

Three minutes earlier, in the hills east of Hiroshima, the lookout at the Matsunaga monitoring post reported three high flying aircraft tracking west toward the city. One minute later, the air raid warning centre at Saijo confirmed the sighting and telephoned the communication centre in the bunker underneath Hiroshima Castle. From there a frantic attempt by a schoolgirl in the bunker to relay the sighting to the local radio station, in an attempt to warn people to seek shelter, was too late.

When Ferebee reported that the bomb was on its way, Colonel Tibbets turned off the automatic pilot and immediately banked Enola Gay sharply sixty degrees to the right. At the same time, the second B-29, The Great Artiste dropped three aluminium canisters attached to parachutes, and its pilot Chuck Sweeney hard-banked to the left, both planes attempting to outrun the expected shockwave.

The blast-gauge canisters dropped from The Great Artiste would record vital information and relay details of the impact by radio signal back to the aircraft. The third B-29, Dimples 91, later renamed Necessary Evil, hung back some 18 miles to the south ready to view and photograph the results using a slow-motion camera.

The bomb dropped into the freezing air and began its deadly descent, set to detonate at 1850 feet, the height calculated by the scientists who built it, to inflict the maximum damage on the city of Hiroshima.

At ground level, just seconds after detonation, the impact was appalling. The temperature at the core reached greater than one million degrees centigrade, intensifying outward in a brilliant flash of light followed by a roiling display of electrically charged colours; reds, greens, yellows, purple. On the ground directly below, the temperature peaked at 3000 degrees centigrade, twice the heat required to melt iron. Those immediately exposed to the heat at the burst point were vaporized where they stood or turned into blackened, overcooked lumps of scorched char on the street.

Within a one mile radius of the hypocentre, all manner of life and matter melted in the thermal heat, clothes disappeared from human bodies and skin fell away from flesh like wrapping paper from a parcel. Human organs liquefied, boiled and vanished. Later estimates suggested 50,000 people died in the first few seconds. Cats, dogs, birds, pets and insects of all description, all plant life simply ceased to be.

The shockwave followed; a force of high pressure, initially greater than six tons per square metre travelling in excess of 7000 miles per hour propelled its way across the city, destroying everything in its wake. It demolished Hiroshima’s predominantly wooden structures in seconds, blowing out windows and sending splinters of glass into the seething fiery air, flying indiscriminately, piercing anything and anyone in its path.

The shockwave thundered in all directions, setting fire to everything it struck, but even worse, carrying with it, the deadly neutrons and gamma rays, that would poison the air and ground for years. As the entire city was set alight, the radioactive particles spread their silent, invisible legacy.

Aboard Enola Gay, Tail gunner, Sergeant Bob Caron watched in shock as the mushroom cloud climbed six miles high. As the cloud raced upward, Caron could see the shockwave materialize in the thermal heat and race toward the retreating planes now eleven miles away from the blast. Even at that distance and height, Enola Gay experienced strong turbulence, as the plane shook violently and the approaching shockwave battered against the fuselage now caught up in the expanding force of energy.

The mushroom cloud reached a height of 60,000 feet, a furious, boiling mass of fire radiating all the colours under the sun. On the ground eight miles from the hypocentre, tiles blew from roofs, windows smashed, homes were destroyed, and trees were incinerated. Everywhere fires started, catching residents in the foothills unawares as they came out of their homes to see what had caused the brilliant flash of light and the terrifying, thundering roar.

Then came the firestorm! As the air temperature soared, it rushed upward, sucking the oxygen along with it, leaving behind a vacuum. Cold air rushed in to fill the vacuum, creating a tornado that tore through the city at frightening speed dragging the fire, and the debris, as it hurled itself along, relentlessly and indiscriminately.

Masako Yamada was two miles from the hypocentre, inside a lunch-room shelter at the time of the blast. She was thrown to the ground and lost consciousness for several minutes. When she awoke, she was underneath a pile of rubble, the city was in darkness, covered by a thick pale of black cloud above, and fires were raging all around her. Dr. Kano’s clinic collapsed into the Ota River. He tumbled downward and found himself pinned between two wooden beams that threatened to either crush him or hold him steadfast such that when the tide rose, he would drown. Miraculously, both of them survived.

Across the Inland Sea on the island of Miyajima, Shigeko Suzuki and her parents were suddenly startled by the flash of light and a tremendous roar that rattled windows and shook the front door. She dived for cover underneath the table first thinking an unexpected typhoon had struck the Island. She waited until it passed, then ventured outside only to witness a huge mushroom cloud rise up above Hiroshima, some twenty miles away.

Above the inferno, Enola Gay flew out of the after-shock and made a left turn, Tibbets rewarding the crew with a panoramic view of the results of their months of long, hard training and the isolation experienced in the most top-secret of missions of the entire war. The crew crammed across to the starboard side of the aircraft, momentarily stunned into silence by what they saw.

Ahead of them lay a further six hours flying time before returning to Tinian Island in the Mariana’s. As the radio operator sent a brief message to Tinian, reporting a successful mission, the B-29 and its two companions, tracked south-east away from the devastation they had inflicted.

Ninety minutes later aboard Enola Gay, now nearly 400 miles away, Tail gunner Bob Caron could still see the mushroom cloud. Amid the mixed cries of astonishment and wonder among the crew, Tibbet’s co-pilot Captain Bob Lewis, scribbled in his log, ‘My God! What have we done?’

This is an extract from John Kelly’s book, ‘Hiroshima Sunset.’

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15 comments

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  1. Brynn Mathews

    And we should never forget that it was the US government that not only bombed Hiroshima, but also Nagasaki….to try out a different type of nuclear bomb! The crew of Enola Gay would have been tried for war crimes if they hadn’t been on the winning side.

  2. Phil Pryor

    John Hersey’s book captured much of futility, agony, degradation and humiliation of people smashed beyond any fairness. It is a day to remember while gathering together some civilised reflection, some foresight, prudence, a sense of warning and revulsion. How can we stop the election or usurpation of primitives, savages, egomaniacs, empty shells of intellect, inadequate impostors, frauds, freaks…

  3. Keitha Granville

    There was never, and will never be, any excuse for man to perpetrate such horror on any other human.
    Nuclear weapons should be eradicated from the face of the earth.

    For me the only light out of this tunnel was the survival of my uncle, a POW, for he would not have survived a longer war.

  4. Gre Pocock

    My dad was up a coconut tree on New Britain putting up an aerial when his Warrant Officer put his head out of a lean to say Hey Ted ,they have dropped a bomb on Japan , my dad said hope it’s a fxxking big one.

  5. New England Cocky

    Agreed Bynn. But then Bomber Harris RAF would have suffered the same deserved fate fo his capet bombing strategy on German cities.

    Lest we forget.

  6. PeterF

    War is a crime.

  7. wam

    A measure of the American hatred is the tens of thousands of Japanese body parts mailed home.

    There was some rational for the Hiroshima bomb but the Nagasaki bomb was unnecessary and vicious.
    .
    I went to expo 70 and on to tour southern Japan. When I signed the Hiroshima visitor’s
    book the woman before me had written ‘better them than us’.

    No American or Australian rabbottian that I have spoken to has made comment on Wounded Knee or Bud Dajo much less the atomic bomb but I have no hesitation in saying they have the same opinion as that woman in Hiroshima.
    ps
    Yamaguchi was a lucky man.

  8. Kerri

    My family and I were in Hiroshima this January just passed. It was our third trip to Japan but our first to Hiroshima.
    We saw the dome and walked the full length of the reflection pool to the Memorial Cenotaph.
    As we walked an elderly Japanese lady walked beside us but slower. Only catching up to us when we stopped to take a photo or view something more closely. When we reached the Cenotaph we stopped to take photos and refer to our map to find the museum. The elderly lady had reached the Cenotaph and stood perfectly framed with the famous dome ruin inside the concrete arch. She seemed to be praying and left something on the table where many flowers and papers had been left, then slowly walked off to the rest of her day.
    This was no special occasion in the history of the WW2/Hiroshima event.
    I wondered how many times she did this? Annually? Monthly? Weekly? Daily?
    It brought home how real the whole Hiroshima story was, seeing a living person still clearly effected by the event.
    It still appalls me that a country could, with full knowledge and little responsibility inflict such horrors on another country and it’s peoples and still breathtakingly refer to itself as “the greatest country on earth”
    Thank you for your article John.

  9. Phil

    The debate about the use of nuclear weapons used in WW2 for some was humanity at its worse and for others sweet revenge. My dads brother was in Changi it destroyed him both physically and mentally. He was a large man of 15 stone an excellent boxer and an athlete, he returned to England at 6 stones suffering leg ulcers for the rest of his life. He never talked about the war such was his mental anguish. His only comment after being asked about the war and the atomic bomb was, you reap what you sow. My own father a veteran of the Sicily campaign and the D Day invasion. Well he was luckier than most of the poor bastards that had to cross the beaches in a hail of machine gun fire and mortars. He did however witness the lungs, livers, bowls, and other entrails being washed off the decks out through the scuppers of the landing craft as they returned for another load of soldiers to hit the beaches. He told me men praying while they pissed and shit themselves was not something he would ever forget.

    I don’t know many people my age who think dropping the atomic bomb was a good thing. Btw I’m one of them. But I don’t judge the people that put their bollocks on the line for their families in WW2, that don’t. I wasn’t there and I don’t judge people that were. The Japanese leaders brought the carnage down on themselves. Some would say after the rape of Nanking, all is fair in love and war.

  10. Zathras

    Real history has shown the Japanese desperately wanted to surrender but only under the condition that the Emperor would be protected from trial and disgrace. The Russians were on their way from Europe and planning to attack Japan from the North while the USA attacked from the South and by that time the Japanese locals had been reduced to extracting alcohol from tree roots to run their engines, They were terrified that Japan would be partitioned by the two armies in the same way as East and West Germany.
    Meanwhile the Americans were eager to field test their two shiny new weapons before negotiating a surrender but also wanted to send the Russians “a message”, so it was more a political than a military exercise at that time.

    The allies claim that the bombs were necessary “to save lives” and the Japanese claim that they were forced to surrender (although they had already lost several cities due to firebombing) so the two lies support each other, despie some US military people since admitting the bombs were not really necessary.

    A lot of official WW2 history is false, including the fact (as revealed by the Chief Historian of the Australian War Museum) that we knew in 1942 that Australia was under no threat of invasion from Japan – a war-time secret but also a matter never officially corrected since.

    What’s most interesting is the fate of the US pre-invasion carbines stockpiled on a captured Japanese island and how they later quietly made their way to the Viet Cong to help them defeat the French and also to South Korea. Hollywood is not history.

  11. Old Codger

    Perhaps the best of the relevant books I have read is Hiroshima Nagasaki by the Australian historian Paul Ham. In his investigation of the Japanese government’s cabinet papers of the time, there seems little evidence of care for the people. The militarists were prepared to sacrifice the people. It was the threat of the Russians who might not be so lenient with the emperor (that war criminal) as would the Americans. However, since then the Americans have continued to justify the atomic bombings by persistently rewriting history. The dreadful thing is that the original Roosevelt inspired ‘unconditional surrender’ was adhered to right up to the end and then discarded. The war could have ended earlier.

    I agree that it is difficult for our generation who did not directly suffer at the hands of the Japanese to understand what those at the time must have felt. The Chinese have still not forgiven the Japanese. Iris Chang’s book ‘The Rape of Nanking’ is a distressing read. When I was visiting Nanjing (Nanking) I was advised not to go to the memorial as I would cry. Well, I did go and I did cry. Nor should the world ever forget what happened in Harbin at Unit 731. Even the worst of the nazi experimenters would not be able to match what the Japanese doctors did at Harbin. Those Japanese doctors were never brought to justice because they did a deal with the Americans and handed over their research findings into their butchery in exchange for freedom.

  12. Phil

    Old Codger.

    It is also wise to remind ourselves daily, many modern day Japanese will not forgive their leaders for their surrender during WW2. The militarists in Japan are still alive and well. Bushido is a code of the ‘ Warrior ‘ a concept most westerners don’t understand. As for the legitimate use of the bomb. That was a decision made in another time, historians and others so interested will debate it until the cows come home. There are no facts here just opinions. And an opinion and six bucks will still buy you a cup of coffee.

    If the Chinese or Indonesians make a move on Australia as is predicted by some historians and other militarists, we will not stop them by throwing Lamingtons at them. As Lance Barnard the minister of defense and war veteran in the Whitlam government correctly said “‘ Australia couldn’t defend Botany Bay on a hot summers day ” Or words to that affect.

  13. Brynn Mathews

    And Tom Uren, one-time deputy leader of the ALP under Gough Whitlam survived the bomb working as a POW in the Hiroshima coalmines and worked in the post-explosion clean-up. Tom was very strongly opposed to nuclear weapons and the whole nuclear energy cycle, which always tempts countries with reactors to make bombs. He didn’t have to read any scholarly books on the rights or wrongs of it.

  14. Phil

    Tom Uren also hated Bob Hawkes guts as his biography states. A fact that the Labor party luvvies hate. He was also an excellent boxer. Tom Uren had an opinion as well, they’re like arse holes every one has one.

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