The Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Events Leading to the Atomic Bombings
During World War 1, Japan was part of the Allied coalition, and she was awarded the Islands of Tinian and Saipan after the war with Germany. Japan made these Islands their colonies and started to grow sugar on them as their primary industry.
Near Saipan was the Island of Guam, just 135 miles away, and the US took over Guam from Spain after winning the Spanish/American War of 1899.
The day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, 1941, the Japanese military and their Saipan guides invaded Guam and quickly acquired the Island for its expanding Empire. Since Guam was a territory of the United States, the captured US service members were treated inhumanely, and approximately 15 percent of the population was killed. Today there is a large museum on Guam that showcases the Japanese atrocities and brutal military occupation of Guam during WWII.
For over a year, the Japanese military conquered one nation after another and swept through Asia and the Pacific. The two turning points of the War in the Pacific were:
- In The Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942, Japan lost four mightiest aircraft carriers, 300 planes, and 2,500 of some of their best sailors. No longer could Japan dominate the Pacific after this tremendous naval defeat.
- The Battle of Guadalcanal ended in Feb of 1943. The Japanese army lost 30,000 men, their air force lost over 600 planes, and 24 of their Navy warships sank. This battle stopped the Japanese expansion in the Pacific and secured the communication and shipping lines for the Allies with Australia.
As the US and her Allies started taking back Islands in the Pacific, Japan turned its attention to fortifying Guam, Tinian, and Saipan into military fortresses. Japan knew that if they lost these strategically located islands, the US and their Allies could use the Islands to bomb Japan with their land-based aircraft. These islands became the last defense of Japan’s central Pacific perimeter.
The US estimated that taking these three Islands would take a lot of firepower and personnel and sent a fleet of 535 warships and an invasion force of 127,000 service members. The Battle of Saipan began on June 15, 1944, and lasted for 24 days, resulting in 30,000 Japanese soldiers being killed along with all four of their commanders and 480 of their aircraft being destroyed. The US forces lost 3,000 service members and over 10,000 wounded.
So many US personnel were lost on Saipan that after the war, the US dedicated the 400-acre American Memorial Park, which is adjacent to the central city of Garapan. The National Park Service and its non-profit Pacific Historic Parks run and help maintain the Park for the citizens of Saipan.
Once the US Marines took the Saipan’s airfields, they immediately launched the invasions of Tinian and Guam. Guam was the larger of the two islands and gave the most resistance, which ended on August 10. 1944. Japan lost with approximately 18,500 killed and 1250 soldiers wounded, and the US lost over 1.800 service members killed and 6,000 wounded.
Airfields in Saipan, Tinian, and Guam were expanded, and US bombers flew on a battle mission to Japan every 15 to 20 minutes until the war’s end. Because the Japanese cities were made of wood, incendiary bombs would cause giant firestorms that would destroy most of a town, 64 of Japan’s largest cities were targeted for these missions.
After the significant battles of Saipan, Guam, Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, the US knew the fanaticism of the Japanese military. With the end of the European war ending on May 8, 1945, US’s full attention was on ending the War in the Pacific. The US Military Intelligence estimated that an invasion of Japan could take years and cost the Allies between 1.7 to 4 million casualties and 800,000 dead service members. As a result of these predictions, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his top military commanders decided to use their new atomic weapon against the Japanese. England and Canada were advised, and they agreed with the military decision.
On July 26, 1945, an ultimatum was given to the Japanese Emperor and its military commanders for “unconditional surrender or suffer prompt and utter destruction”; otherwise, the US would release a new type of weapon upon a major Japanese city. The Japanese chose to ignore the ultimatum.
Hiroshima was chosen because of its large urban areas, industrial factories, and military facilities. This new atomic weapon was top secret and massive in size; it was decided to use the Island of Tinian as the launching airfield. A huge hole was dug in the runway, and large electronic jacks were used to lower the bomb into its hole. The bomber aircraft’s name was Enola Gay, and she was back over the hole, and the atomic bomb was lifted and secured to the bomber’s underside. Their crew knew they would have a six-hour flying time to their Japan target, and two other B-29s accompanied her.
On August 8, 1945, “Little Boy,” an enriched uranium fission bomb, was dropped on Hiroshima with truly devastating results; over 129,000 people died in the blast, and thousands died later from their burns and radiation poisoning. Because the bomb detonated in the air, the radius of destruction was 1.5 miles in each direction, with fires reaching out 4.5 miles, resulting in 70 percent of all Hiroshima buildings being flattened.
After the bombing of Hiroshima, President Roosevelt went on the radio and announced the use of the US’s new weapon; he acknowledged that if our enemies had developed it first, it would have been used against our country to end WWII. He again called for the Japanese unconditional surrender or “continue to expect a rain of ruin from the air.” This was a widely delivered speech in the US, and it was intercepted by the Japanese military and their news outlets.
For the next three days, Prime Minister Suzuki of Japan refused the request for surrender. Thus, the US President and his top military commanders decided to select another major Japanese city and chose Nagasaki due to its vast naval bases.
On August 9, 1945, another US bomber left the Island of Tinian for Japan with “Fat Boy,” a plutonium implosion-type nuclear bomb, resulting in 226,000 casualties and the destruction of Nagasaki. This bomb was more powerful than “Little Boy,” but due to the drop’s hilly location, the destruction radius was just under a mile, causing fires that spread throughout the wooden city by high winds. Like Hiroshima, Nagasaki was destroyed beyond recognition.
Shocked by the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Emperor of Japan and his top military generals surrendered on August 15, 1945. A few days later, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan.
On Sept 2, 1945, the government of Japanese signed the instrument of surrender on the USS Missouri Battleship, effectively ending World War II.
So many US personnel were lost in the battle for Saipan and Guam that after the war, the US dedicated the 400-acre American Memorial Park in Saipan, which is in the central city of Garapan. On Guam, other War Memorials were established during significant battles. To this day, National Park Service and its non-profit Pacific Historic Parks run and help maintain these Saipan and Guam parks, memorials, and visitor centers.