Nagasaki – the second atomic bomb

Trees on the nearby hills were smoking, as were the leaves of sweet potatoes in the fields. To say that everything burned is not enough. It seemed as if the earth itself emitted fire and smoke, flames that writhed up and erupted from underground. The sky was dark, the ground was scarlet, and in between hung clouds of yellowish smoke. Three kinds of colour – black, yellow and scarlet – loomed ominously over the people, who ran about like so many ants seeking to escape.

Atomic cloud over Nagasaki from Koyagi-jima by Hiromichi Matsuda
Atomic cloud over Nagasaki from Koyagi-jima by Hiromichi Matsuda

At Potsdam on the 26th July the Allies had issued a declaration calling on the Japanese to surrender or face:

the inevitable and complete destruction of the Japanese armed forces and just as inevitably the utter devastation of the Japanese homeland

After the Hiroshima bomb on the 6th August the United States had widely publicised the nature of the new bomb and its destructive power, its awesome potential was immediately recognised by people around the world. At the same time President Truman had re-inforced the Potsdam declaration with a more explicit message about what would happen if Japan did not surrender:

We are now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city. We shall destroy their docks, their factories, and their communications. Let there be no mistake; we shall completely destroy Japan’s power to make war.

It was to spare the Japanese people from utter destruction that the ultimatum of July 26 was issued at Potsdam. Their leaders promptly rejected that ultimatum. 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…

The Japanese government met on 7th August but were still not prepared to accept the Allied surrender terms.

With no sign of any surrender forthcoming from Japan, the military team responsible for the Atomic bombing programme were still under orders (at this time) to continue the bombing, using the bombs as they became available. They had the ‘Fat Man’ available and knew that a third bomb would become available later in August. Because of impending bad weather over Japan the decision to use ‘Fat Man’ was brought forward from 11th to the 9th August.

The original target for the second atomic bomb was the city of Kokura but this was obscured by smoke from a conventional American bombing raid on nearby Yahata the previous day. The B-29 ‘Bockscar’ piloted by Major Charles W. Sweeney therefore diverted to the secondary target, the city of Nagasaki.

In Urakami Hospital, Nagasaki, Dr Tatsuichiro Akizuki was just returning to his ward round which had been delayed by an earlier air raid warning. The two high flying planes seen approaching Nagasaki just before 11am had been assumed to be reconnaissance planes, and no air raid warning had been given:

I heard a low droning sound, like that of distant aeroplane engines. “What’s that?” I said. “The all-clear has gone, hasn’t it?” At the same time the sound of the plane’s engines, growing louder and louder, seemed to swoop down over the hospital. I shouted: “It’s an enemy plane! Look out – take cover!” .

As I said so, I pulled the needle out of the patient and threw myself beside thebed. ‘ There was a blinding white flash of light, and the next moment — Bang! Crack! A huge impact like a gigantic blow smote down upon our bodies, our heads and our hospital. I lay flat — I didn’t know whether or not of my own volition. Then down came piles of debris, slamming into my back.

The hospital has been hit, I thought. I grew dizzy, and my ears sang.

Some minutes or so must have passed before I staggered to my feet and looked around. The air was heavy with yellow smoke; white flakes of powder drifted about; it was strangely dark.

Thank God, I thought — I’m not hurt! But what about the patients? As it became brighter, little by little our situation grew clearer. Miss Murai, who had been assisting me with the pneumo-thorax, struggled to her feet beside me. She didn’t seem to have been seriously injured, though she was completely covered with white dust. “Hey, cheer up!” I said. “We’re not hurt, thank God!”

[ Akizuki struggled to make sense of what had happened because he realised that if they had received a direct hit then they would have suffered much more structural damage to the hospital.]

If the bomb had actually hit the hospital, I thought, they would have been far more badly injured. “What’s happened to the second and third floors?” I cried. But all they answered was “Help me! Help!”

One of them said: “Mr Yamaguchi has been buried under the debris. Help him.”

No one knew what had happened. A huge force had been released above our heads. What it was, nobody knew. Had it been several tons of bombs, or the suicidal destruction of a plane carrying a heavy bomb-load?

Dazed, I retreated into the consulting room, in which the only upright object on the rubbish-strewn floor was my desk. I went and sat on it and looked out of the window at the yard and the outside world. There was not a single pane of glass in the window, not even a frame — all had been completely blown away.

Out in the yard dun-coloured smoke or dust cleared little by little. I saw figures running. Then, looking to the south-west, I was stunned. The sky was as dark as pitch, covered with dense clouds of smoke; under that blackness, over the earth, hung a yellow-brown fog. Gradually the veiled ground became visible, and the view beyond rooted me to the spot with horror.

All the buildings I could see were on fire: large ones and small ones and those with straw-thatched roofs. Further off along the valley, Urakami Church, the largest Catholic church in the east, was ablaze. The technical school, a large two-storeyed wooden building, was on fire, as were many houses and the distant ordnance factory. Electricity poles were wrapped in flame like so many pieces of kindling.

Trees on the nearby hills were smoking, as were the leaves of sweet potatoes in the fields. To say that everything burned is not enough. It seemed as if the earth itself emitted fire and smoke, flames that writhed up and erupted from underground. The sky was dark, the ground was scarlet, and in between hung clouds of yellowish smoke. Three kinds of colour -— black, yellow and scarlet — loomed ominously over the people, who ran about like so many ants seeking to escape.

What had happened? Urakami Hospital had not been bombed — I understood that much. But that ocean of fire, that sky of smoke! It seemed like the end of the world. I ran out into the garden. Patients who were only slightly hurt came up to me, pleading for aid. I shouted at them: “For heaven’s sake! You’re not seriously wounded!” One patient said: “Kawaguchi and Matsuo are trapped in their rooms! They can’t move. You must help them!”

I said to myself: Yes, we must first of all rescue those seriously ill tubercular patients who’ve been buried under the ruins.

I looked southwards again, and the sight of Nagasaki city in a sea of flames as far as the eye could reach made me think that such destruction could only have been caused by thousands of bombers, carpet-bombing. But not a plane was to be seen or heard, although even the leaves of potatoes and carrots at my feet were scorched and smouldering. The electricity cables must have exploded underground, I thought.

And then at last I identified the destroyer— “That’s it!” I cried. “It was the new bomb — the one used on Hiroshima!”

This account first appeared in Tatsuichiro Akizuki: Nagasaki 1945: The First Full-length Eyewitness Account of the Atomic Bomb Attack on Nagasaki.

Nagasaki, Japan, before and after the atomic bombing of August 9, 1945.
Nagasaki, Japan, before and after the atomic bombing of August 9, 1945.