IT was 75 years ago today that a Boeing B-29 Superfortress of the United States Air Force (USAF), nicknamed Enola Gay after the mother of its pilot Colonel Paul Tibbets, arrived over the Japanese city of Hiroshima at 8.15am.

The city of 350,000 people had been subjected to repeated air raid warnings for months and the night of August 5-6 was no different. The all-clear had sounded just after 7.30 am and thus most people were either already at work or on their way to work when the bomb exploded.

Even as the mushroom cloud soared above the city, the Japanese authorities were becoming stunned by the destruction the uranium-fuelled bomb – designated as Little Boy – was causing.

Some 4.7 square miles of Hiroshima was destroyed in the initial blast. Up to 80,000 people are believed to have died in that blast and the resultant firestorm, and around 70% of the city’s buildings were flattened. That included almost all of the housing, most of which had wooden walls in the Japanese style. In the city centre just six buildings, all of them built to earthquake-proof standard, remained standing.


THOUGH it was a military and industrial target as it was the headquarters of Japan’s main southern defence force, Hiroshima had been spared the devastation visited upon many other Japanese cities in the huge bombing raids that the USAF mounted as the Americans sought to end the war by crushing the spirit of the Japanese people.

In early July, the USAF commanders were told to avoid bombing Hiroshima and a few other cities. Having been relatively unscathed during the war, the military leadership wanted to see what would happen to Hiroshima once it had been hit by an atomic bomb. In other words, Hiroshima was an experimental test bed for the new weapon.


THE city’s main hospital having been destroyed, 90% of the medical staff of the city were dead. Stories that the Japanese authorities did not react quickly are untrue. Though many citizens, especially the burned and wounded, were seen to wander helplessly to and fro, by the afternoon the remaining police officers and volunteers had set up evacuation centres and a morgue that was soon overwhelmed.

Those citizens still able to walk were evacuated on boats, trains and trucks to nearby towns and cities in a relief effort coordinated by the Japanese army. Although the Japanese General Staff knew quite quickly what had happened, they still insisted on sending a pilot to report back to them. He flew over the city, and reported accurately that most of Hiroshima had disappeared. Most Japanese only found out about the Hiroshima Bomb after President Harry S Truman broadcast the news much later that night. On August 7, Japan’s top nuclear physicists arrived at Hiroshima and conducted tests which proved conclusively that Hiroshima had been attacked by an atomic bomb. they warned that the city would be radioactive for a long time. Nevertheless, the Japanese military leadership were convinced there was only one bomb and prepared to fight on. They were wrong, as was proven at Nagasaki on August 9. Incredibly, some 200 people who had been evacuated from Hiroshima to Nagasaki managed to survive the second bombing.


THAT is the real legacy of August 6, 1945. Amazingly, the developers of the bomb were unsure as to what radiation poisoning would occur, and after Japan surrendered, the US authorities tried to suppress news of it when people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki began to develop symptoms of radiation sickness.

Tens of thousands succumbed to radiation poisoning over the next few months while some lingered for years.

Worse was to come for the Hibakusha, as the survivors were named – it means ‘explosion affected’. Cancer of various types began to emerge several years after the bombings, and while there was no great increase in birth defects, some survivors suffered mental illnesses for years if not decades afterwards.

One study found that even 20 years after the events of August 6 and 9, 1945, survivors were showing much greater anxiety symptoms than the general population.

Perhaps worst of all was the fact that in both the short and long-term aftermath, Hibakusha suffered discrimination at work or in trying to marry outside their communities – even today, many Japanese worry that survivors and their children and grandchildren are contaminated with radiation.