The Story Behind: The Nuclear Cloud Over Nagasaki

Photograph/Charles Levy and Image Source/Wikimedia Commons

Photograph/Charles Levy and Image Source/Wikimedia Commons

This article was originally in May 2016.

Two days after the nuclear bomb was detonated in Hiroshima, Bockscar—a military vessel, arrived at Nagasaki on 9 August. It had one task, to set off what would be the last nuclear bomb used in warfare—the Fat Man. The United States, however, never intended to bomb Nagasaki and instead, had its eyes over Kokura, a city that housed Japanese arsenals. But on the designated day, the city was covered with heavy ground haze and smoke, and so, the Bockscar headed towards Nagasaki instead. There were problems here too. With just two hours worth of fuel left, pilot Charles Sweeney, was desperately looking for an opening in the cloud cover over Nagasaki, so that he could release the bomb. When he found it, the Fat Man was launched 1640 feet above ground level. Its effect was immediate and catastrophic.

Footage retrieved from the day shows the development of the mushroom cloud, from a pink and orange nuclear fireball, to white smoke. Sweeney described the scene as mesmerising and ominous. Lieutenant Charles Levy, who was in the accompanying plane to record the event, used a 5×4-inch camera to make the famous picture. It was later found out that the bombardier’s target wasn’t accurate, and was three quarters of a mile off target. While it was successful in destroying the Mitsubishi Steel and Arms Works, the bomb also ended up causing major civilian deaths and casualties. Amongst the places that were destroyed were several schools, hospitals, clinics and the famous Urakami Cathedral.

At the time, the American government estimated that 40,000 people were instantly killed and 40,000 more were severely injured. When this news reached the United States, President Harry S Truman was not pleased to learn that women and children were victims, instead of the intended Japanese military. The day after, the President declared that there would be no more strikes without his express authorisation. It’s interesting to note that if Japan hadn’t surrendered after Nagasaki, there were arrangements being made for a third bomb. The location though, was never set.

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