Japan marks 77th anniversary of world’s first atomic bombing

by History Hit

On August 6 1945, an American B-29 bomber dubbed Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. It was the first time a nuclear weapon had been deployed in warfare and the bomb immediately killed 80,000 people. Tens of thousands more would later die of radiation exposure.

Three days later, another atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese city Nagasaki, instantly killing a further 40,000 people. Again, over time the number of fatalities increased considerably as the devastating effects of a nuclear fallout were played out for the world to see. 

The bombings are widely believed to have played a decisive role in convincing Japan to surrender and bringing about an end to World War Two – though this is an assertion that has been much debated. Here are 10 facts about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War Two.

1. There were five Japanese cities on the US’s initial hit list and Nagasaki was not one of them

The list included Kokura, Hiroshima, Yokohama, Niigata and Kyoto. It’s said that Kyoto was ultimately spared because US Secretary of War Henry Stimson was fond of the ancient Japanese capital, having spent his honeymoon there decades earlier. Nagasaki took its place instead.

The United Kingdom gave its consent to the bombing of four cities – Kokura, Niigata, Hiroshima and Nagasaki – on 25 July 1945.

2. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs were based on very different designs

The “Little Boy” bomb dropped on Hiroshima was made of highly enriched uranium-235, while the “Fat Man” bomb dropped on Nagasaki was made of plutonium. The Nagasaki bomb was regarded as the more complex design.

The different assembly methods for atomic bombs using plutonium and uranium-235 fission.

3. The codename for at least one of the bombs was taken from the film noir movie The Maltese Falcon

The bombs’ codenames, Little Boy and Fat Man were chosen by their creator Robert Serber, who apparently drew inspiration from John Huston’s 1941 film The Maltese Falcon.

In the movie, Fat Man is a nickname for Sydney Greenstreet’s character, Kasper Gutman, while the name Little Boy is said to derive from the epithet that Humphrey Bogart’s character, Spade, uses for another character called Wilmer. This has since been discredited, however – Spade only ever calls Wilmer “boy”, never “little boy”.

4. The most destructive World War Two bombing attack on Japan was neither Hiroshima nor Nagasaki

Operation Meetinghouse, the US firebombing of Tokyo on 9 March 1945, is considered the deadliest bombing raid in history. A napalm attack carried out by 334 B-29 bombers, Meetinghouse killed more than 100,000 people. Several times that number were also injured.

5. Before the atomic attacks, the US Air Force dropped pamphlets in Japan

It’s sometimes argued that this constituted a warning to the Japanese people but, in truth, these pamphlets didn’t specifically warn of an impending nuclear attack on either Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Instead, they only promised “prompt and utter destruction” and urged civilians to flee.

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