On two days in August 1945, U.S. planes dropped two atomic bombs — one on Hiroshima, one on Nagasaki, the only times nuclear weapons have been used. Their unprecedented destructive power incinerated buildings and people and left lifelong physical and psychological scars on survivors and on the cities themselves.
“Practically all living things, human and animal, were literally seared to death,” an AP story reported. A few days later, Japan announced its unconditional surrender. World War II was effectively over.
Seventy years later, AP is making stories about the bombings and surrender available, along with photos.
Washington, Aug. 6
An atomic bomb, hailed as the most terrible destructive force in history and as the greatest achievement of organized science, has been loosed upon Japan.
President (Harry) Truman disclosed in a White House statement at 11 a.m. Eastern War Time today that the first use of the bomb — containing more power than 20,000 tons of TNT and producing more than 2,000 times the blast of the most powerful bomb ever dropped before — was made 16 hours earlier on Hiroshima, a Japanese army base.
(Tokyo Radio announced that Hiroshima was raided at 8:20 a.m. Monday (7:20 p.m. Sunday, United States Eastern War Time). That is about the time the bomb was dropped, but the Tokyo broadcast, recorded by the FCC, made no mention of any unusual destruction. It reported only that “a small number” of American B-29s attacked the city on southwestern Honshu with incendiary and explosive bombs.)
The raid on Hiroshima, located on Honshu Island on the shores of the Inland Sea, had not been disclosed previously although the 25th Air Force on Guam announced that 580 Superforts raided four Japanese cities at about the same time.
The atomic bomb is the answer, President Truman said, to Japan’s refusal to surrender. Secretary of War (Henry) Stimson predicted the bomb will prove a tremendous aid in shortening the Japanese war. Mr. Truman grimly warned that “even more powerful forms (of the bomb) are in development.”
“If they do not now accept our terms, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air the like of which has never been seen on this earth,” he said.
The War Department reported that “an impenetrable cloud of dust and smoke” cloaked Hiroshima after the bomb exploded. It was impossible to make an immediate assessment of the damage.
President Truman said he would recommend that Congress consider establishing a commission to control production of atomic power within the United States.
“I shall make recommendations to Congress as to how atomic power can become a powerful and forceful influence towards the maintenance of world peace,” he said. Both Mr. Truman and Stimson, while emphasizing the peacetime potentiality of the new force, made clear that much research must be undertaken to effect full peacetime application of its principles.
The product of $2,000,000,000 spent in research and production, the atomic bomb has been one of the most closely guarded secrets of the war. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill gave the signal to start work on harnessing the forces of the atom. Mr. Truman said the Germans worked feverishly, but failed to solve the problem.
Meantime, American and British scientists studied the problem and developed two principal plants and some lesser factories for the production of atomic power.
The president disclosed that more than 65,000 persons now are working in great secrecy in these plants, adding: “We have spent $2,000,000,000 on the greatest scientific gamble in history — and won. We are now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japs have above ground in any city. We shall completely destroy Japan’s power to make war.”
The President noted that the Big Three ultimatum issued on July 26 at Potsdam was intended “to spare the Japanese people from utter destruction,” and the Japanese leaders rejected it. The atomic bomb now is the answer to that rejection, and the President said: ‘They may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.”
Mr. Truman forecast that sea and land forces will follow up this air attack in such numbers and power as the Japanese never have witnessed. The President said that this discovery may open the way for an entirely new concept of force and power. The actual harnessing of atomic energy may in the future supplement the power that now comes from coal, oil and the great dams, he said.
“It has never been the habit of the scientists of this country or the policy of this government to withhold from the world scientific knowledge,” Mr. Truman said. “Normally, therefore, everything about the work with atomic energy would be made public.”
That will have to wait, however, he said, until the war emergency is over.
Guam, Aug. 9
The world’s second atomic bomb, most destructive explosive invented by man, was dropped on strategically important Nagasaki on western Kyushu Island at noon today.
Crew members radioed that results were good, but Gen. Carl A. Spaatz said additional details would not be disclosed until the mission returns.
Gen. Spaatz’s communique reporting the bombing did not say whether only one or more than one “mighty atom” was dropped.
The first atomic bomb destroyed more than 60 percent — 4.1 square miles — of Hiroshima, city of 343,000 population, Monday, and radio Tokyo reported “practically every living thing” there was annihilated.
Although the second A-bomb was dropped on the day Russia went to war with Japan, it was not believed there had been any plan to make the two simultaneous.
Nagasaki, which had 211,000 population 10 years ago, is an important shipping and railway center. It was hit first by China-based B-29s a year ago this month and was heavily attacked by Far East Air Force bombers and fighters only last July 31 and on the following day.
Nagasaki, although only two-thirds as large as Hiroshima in population, is considered more important industrially. With a population now estimated at 255,000, its 12 square miles are packed with eave-to-eave buildings, which won it the name “sea of roofs.”
It was vitally important as a port for transshipment of military supplies and the embarkation of troops in support of Japan’s operation in China, Formosa, Southeast Asia and the southwest Pacific. It was highly important as a major shipbuilding and repair center for both naval and merchantmen. The city also included industrial suburbs of Inase and Akunoua on the western side of the harbor and Urakami. The bombing area is nearly double Hiroshima’s.
Japanese perished by uncounted thousands from the searing, crushing atomic blast that smashed Hiroshima, photographic and other evidence indicated today.
The Tokyo radio, which said that “practically all living things, human and animal, were literally seared to death,” reported that authorities were still unable to check the total casualties.
Following is the complete text of the Tokyo English-language broadcast as recorded by the Federal Communications Commission:
“With the gradual restoration of order following the disastrous ruin that struck the city of Hiroshima in the wake of the enemy’s new-type bomb on Monday morning, the authorities are still unable to obtain a definite check-up on the extent of the casualties sustained by the civilian population.
“Medical relief agencies that were rushed from the neighboring districts were unable to distinguish, much less identify, the dead from the injured.
“The impact of the bomb was so terrific that practically all living things, human and animals, were literally seared to death by the tremendous heat and pressure engendered by the blast. All of the dead and injured were burned beyond recognition.
“With houses and buildings crushed, including the emergency medical facilities, the authorities are having their hands full in giving every available relief possible under the circumstances.
“The effect of the bomb was widespread. Those outdoors burned to death, while those indoors were killed by the indescribable pressure and heat.”
The second world war, history’s greatest flood of death and destruction, ended tonight with Japan’s unconditional surrender.
Formalities still remained — the official signing of surrender terms and a proclamation of V-J Day.
But from the moment President Truman announced at 7 p.m. (EWT) that the enemy of the Pacific had agreed to Allied terms, the world put aside for a time woeful thoughts of the cost in dead and dollars and celebrated in wild frenzy. Formalities meant nothing to people freed at last of war.
To reporters crammed into his office, shoving now-useless war maps against a marble mantle, the president disclosed that:
Japan, without ever being invaded, had accepted completely and without reservation an Allied declaration of Potsdam, dictating unconditional surrender.
There is to be no power for the Japanese emperor — although Allies will let him remain their tool. No longer will the warlords reign, through him. Hirohito — or any successor — will take orders from MacArthur.
(From Tokyo just before midnight EWT came a broadcast saying Emperor Hirohito had told the Japanese people by radio that the Allies had begun “to employ a new and most cruel bomb” — the atomic bomb — and that to continue to fight “would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.”
(Hirohito said “this is the reason” the Japanese decided to get out of the war.)
Allied forces were forced to “suspend offensive action” everywhere.
From now on, only men under 26 will be drafted. Army draft calls will be cut from 80,000 a month to 50,000. Mr. Truman forecast that 5 million to 5.5 million soldiers may be released within 12 to 18 months.
The surrender announcement set in motion a whole chain of events. Among them:
To a Japanese government which once had boasted it would dictate peace terms to the White House, Mr. Truman dispatched orders to “direct prompt cessation of hostilities, tell MacArthur of the effective date, and hour, and send emissaries to the general to arrange formal surrender.
The War Manpower Commission terminated all manpower controls.
The Navy piled a $6,000,000,000 cancellation of contracts on top of a previous $1,300,000,000 cut in its shipbuilding program.
Congress was summoned back to work on Sept. 5, more than a month ahead of schedule, to get busy on unemployment compensation, surplus property disposal, full employment, government reorganization and the continuation or abolition of war agencies.
The Office of Censorship said it was getting ready to fold up. News, radio, and mail censorship are due to end on V-J Day.
Director Elmer Davis declared the life of the Office of War Information “soon will be over.”
A War Production Board official predicted that agency would go out of business once industry is on a solid footing.
Those were developments which on any other night would have commanded smash headlines. Those developments and surrender capped a week packed with some of history’s most stunning news:
The first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Russia’s declaration of war, another atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan’s offer to surrender if she could have her emperor and his sovereign prerogatives, an Allied declaration that he would become merely their instrument.
Surrender followed — at an instant when carrier planes of the mighty Pacific fleet were a few seconds from their targets in the Tokyo area. Pilots eager for a last lick at a weakening foe were reported to have gotten this word from Adm. William F. Halsey, who wants to ride Hirohito’s white horse through Tokyo streets:
“It looks like the war is over. Cease fighting, but if you see any enemy planes in the air shoot them down in friendly fashion.”
So tonight there was reason for rejoicing. A war-wracked world made the most of it. Three times President Truman had to come out on the White House porch to greet the tremendous crowds — 75,000 people by official estimate — who jammed the streets and parks around the executive mansion.
They jammed so tightly against the iron fence around the White House grounds it looked as if they were coming right on through, despite military police stationed at four foot intervals.
The chief executive spent half an hour dining with his staff. For him there was no personal celebrating, even with close friends.
For days, the national capital had taken surrender reports with complete calm and a generous portion of salt. At 7 p.m., not a minute before or a minute earlier, it gave way to utter abandon.
But across the Potomac in the Pentagon building, nerve center of the Army’s winning war, there wasn’t any jubilation. There was no one left except a couple of bored public relations officers answering phones.
As the great news became known, hundreds of Washingtonians raced to the White House to join hundreds already massed around the grounds.
Mr. Truman, accompanied by his wife, walked out on the porch and stepped up to a hastily erected microphone. He waved and smiled. Then he spoke:
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is the great day. This is the day we have been looking for since Dec. 7, 1941.
“This is the day when fascism and police government ceases in the world.
“This is the day for the democracies.
“This is the day when we can start up our real task of implementation of free government in the world.
“We are faced with the greatest task we ever have been faced with. The emergency is as great as it was on Dec. 7, 1941.
“It is going to take the help of all of us to do it. I know we are going to do it.”
For millions of Americans, for hundreds of millions of Allied people, his surrender announcement signified victory, peace and the eventual return of loved ones from war. To millions who sleep beneath stark white crosses, it meant their sacrifices had not been vain.