It remains one of the most controversial US military decisions to this day.
During World War II, unimaginable devastation haunted nearly every region of the world. From the Holocaust victims who were starved, gassed, or tortured to death to the millions who were bombed with traditional munitions, there was loss of life around every corner. But, when it was decided that only the most dire of weapons could finally end the fighting in the Pacific Theater, the atomic bomb was deployed in Japan at Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945, and Nagasaki on August 9th- ending the war with most extreme weaponry available.
Witness accounts from that day show that people were simply going about their business when the bomb, code named “Little Boy”, was dropped on Hiroshima. While some areas were provided leaflets (dropped form American planes) that there was to be increased bombing at many cities across Japan, there remains a debate about whether residents of Hiroshima were warned of the atomic bomb.
Judging from the accounts we have many people appeared to have believed it would be a normal day in the city and were left stunned when the metropolitan area (nearly 5 square miles) was almost completely destroyed. No one was taking cover at the time of the atomic explosion.
The men inside the Enola Gay, the fortified Boeing B-29 Superfortress plane that carried the bomb, were all silent after the bomb was released from the aircraft. They had 45 seconds from deployment before the bomb went off, during which time Theodore Jerome “Dutch” Van Kirk, a crew member on the craft, noted that every person on the plane was either using their watch to count or was counting in their heads the seconds until explosion.
Van Kirk also revealed that he didn’t think the experimental bomb would even detonate properly.
The bomb did go off and it unleashed a wave of destruction that immediately killed 70,000 people and wounded many tens of thousands more.
The nature of atomic bombs meant that many people who were injured suffered missing skin or burned skin, with some bearing the patterns of their clothing on their skin as scars years later. Radiation from the nuclear explosion and slow medical response due to extreme damage of the city caused many more deaths in the days following the attack.
A cloud of darkness descended on Hiroshima since the bomb sucked all the dust and dirt of the city into it’s plume, which then mushroomed out from the ground up. At 5 minutes into the blast the mushroom cloud was still expanding. 3 hours after the initial explosion so-called “fire-winds” of up to 40 MPH decimated much of what had not yet been destroyed. In all around 69% of the city’s buildings were instantly destroyed, with another 7% badly damaged.
While the loss that day was unfathomable, there were many survivors who lived to tell of what happened when the bomb was dropped- and the aftermath that followed. A full surrender to the US by Japan came only 8 days after the destruction of Hiroshima and many have argued that the atomic bombs were the only things that could have ended the war once and for all.
You can see more of these eye witness accounts in the chilling video below from the BBC, which uses CGI to recreate what it would have been like on that fateful day.