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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Nuclear Combat - August 1945

President Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945 and Harry Truman assumed the Presidency and inherited the responsibility for final nuclear weapon decisions. The first was regarding plans to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. The Target Committee, composed of Groves' deputy, two Army Air Forces officers, and five scientists including one from Great Britain, met in Washington in mid-April 1945. Their initial intention was to select cities that had not previously been heavily damaged by the Twentieth Air Force's conventional-weapon bombing campaign, but such pristine targets had become scarce. Finally they tentatively chose 17 cities, in a list that included Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

For several years there had been dissent among scientists and political leaders over the morality and necessity of using atomic bombs against Japan. There was no ignoring, however, the fanaticism of Japanese soldiers, demonstrated at Tinian, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and other Pacific islands. An invasion of Japan would be extremely difficult and would inevitably result in the loss of thousands of American lives, as well as Japanese, civilians as well as military.

By August 1945, U.S. Navy submarines and aerial mining by the Army Air Forces (AAF) severely restricted Japanese shipping. The AAF controlled the skies over Japan and the AAF's B-29 bombing attacks crippled its war industry. A plan for the invasion of Japan had been drawn up; Operation Olympic was scheduled for November 1945. Estimates of Allied casualties ranged from 250,000 to a million with much greater losses to the Japanese. To repel invaders, Japan had a veteran army of some two million ready, an army that had already shown its ferocity and fanaticism in combat. Some 8,000 military aircraft were available that could be used for devastating Kamikaze (suicide) attacks on U.S. ships. The draft had been extended to include men from age 15 to 60 and women from 17 to 45, adding millions of civilians ready to defend their homeland to the death, with sharpened sticks if necessary.

Experience throughout the Pacific war had shown that Japanese combat casualties had run from five to 20 times those suffered by the Allies, particularly in the battles of the Philippines and Okinawa. Whatever the predicted Allied losses, the potential Japanese military and civilian casualties would have been staggering. Whether Japan would have surrendered prior to invasion without the use of the atomic bombs is a question that can never be answered. Using the history and projections available to him, President Truman made the grave decision to use the atomic bomb in an effort to end the war quickly, thus avoiding a costly invasion.

The directive releasing the atomic bomb for use was sent to General Carl Spaatz, commander of the Strategic Air Force in the Pacific. The directive had been approved by Secretary of War Henry Stimson and Army Chief of Staff George Marshall, and presumably by President Truman. It listed the targets to be attacked and included Hiroshima and Nagasaki, among others; and it referred to the possible use of more than one bomb. Hiroshima was an industrial area with a number of military installations. Nagasaki was a major port with shipbuilding and marine repair facilities. In general, the participants in the decision to use multiple bombs considered that such employment would enhance the psychological effect on the Japanese government and would be conducive to ending the war without the need for an invasion, a paramount objective.

The world entered a new era when on August 6, 1945 the crew of the B-29 Enola Gay released an atomic bomb over Hiroshima. The yield was 12.5 KT.

The devastation caused by the bomb brought no response to the demand for unconditional surrender, and conventional bombing raids continued.

On August 9th, with Sweeney at the controls, B-29 Bockscar took off before dawn from the island of Tinian with a second atomic bomb aboard (only two bombs were available). The primary target was the city of Kokura, but clouds obscured it. With fuel running low due to a fuel transfer problem, Sweeney proceeded to the secondary target, Nagasaki, a leading industrial center. The yield was 22 KT.

Even after the second atomic bomb attack, disagreement raged within the Japanese government between peace advocates and those who urged continued resistance. Shortly after the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan's Emperor Hirohito was convinced that further resistance was futile and took an unprecedented step in modern Japanese history by intervening to bring about the surrender of his nation to save the lives of his people from additional attacks and the bloody land invasion that was sure to come.

Some attribute Japan's final demise to the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Others maintain the fire bomb raids, continued naval blockade, and entry of the Soviet Union into the war against Japan would have had the same effect within a few weeks-forcing Japan's leaders to recognize their nation's grim fate. President Truman had authorized use of the atomic bombs in an attempt to shock the Japanese and avoid Allied troop casualties [one million or more, by one estimate] that would result from invading Japan.

An attempted coup by militant extremists failed and on 14 August 1945 Japan surrendered unconditionally. In a break with tradition, Emperor Hirohito announced the surrender in a recorded radio message. Japan accepted the terms of the July 26th Potsdam Declaration calling for unconditional surrender, terms which the Japanese had rejected previously. This was the first time the Japanese people had ever heard their emperor's voice, and some Japanese officers committed suicide upon hearing his decision.

On August 28th, U.S. aircraft began landing the first occupation forces at Tokyo. B-29s now were flying relief missions, dropping food, medicine, and other supplies to U.S. Allied prisoners at some 150 Japanese prisoner of war (POW) camps.

Most [though far from all] Americans generally felt no moral dilemma over the dropping of the atomic bombs. The surrender ended more than a decade of Japanese aggression in Asia and the Pacific. After three and one-half years of brutal warfare following Pearl Harbor, Americans anxiously awaited the homecoming of surviving service personnel and a return to peacetime normalcy. To an American POW working in a coal mine near Nagasaki when the atomic bomb detonated, the bomb meant survival. He weighed only 98 pounds after 40 months of captivity.

After almost four years of war, resulting in the loss of three million Japanese lives and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan signed an instrument of surrender on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Harbor on 02 September 1945. As a result of World War II, Japan lost all of its overseas possessions and retained only the home islands. Manchukuo was dissolved, and Manchuria was returned to China; Japan renounced all claims to Formosa; Korea was granted independence; the USSR occupied southern Sakhalin and the Kuriles; and the United States became the sole administering authority of the Ryukyu, Bonin, and Volcano Islands.

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Page last modified: 24-07-2011 04:33:23 ZULU