I have noticed that all tragedies are unexpected by those destined to suffer the most. Just after 8 in the morning of Monday, 6 August, 1945 , 14 year old high school student Yoshie Oka was at her job in the communications bunker of the air defense command of the Chugoku Military District Headquarters. This young girl, drafted into a position of responsibility, knew almost nothing about the war which was consuming her life, and was unaware of any alternatives to the corrosive 30 years of militarism which now offered her no future
As this alert, like all the alerts before, faded away, the regimented boredom returned. Yoshie may have been a mature 14 year old, but she was still a 14 year old. And that is why, when there was a sudden burst of unusual “bright, white light” through the window above her, she looked up.
The source of the light was 1,900 feet above the city, where a 4 inch cylinder of uranium 235 was fired into a set of 7 uranium 235 rings, causing less than a kilogram of the uranium to undergo fission. The resultant release of energy instantly killed every living thing withing 2 miles. Among the first to die were the 3,243 staff members of the 2nd Imperial Army headquarters, evaporated at their morning calisthenics, on the parade grounds of Hiroshima Castle.
At 8:16 a.m. that Monday morning an engineer at the Atago (Green) Hill transmitters of the Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai (NHK) broadcasting corporation in Tokyo (above), noticed that his telephone line feed to the Hiroshima station had been disconnected. He tried to establish another line, and when that failed he tried to contact his counterpart in the port city 400 miles to the southwest. But every line was dead. The engineer assumed it was another air raid, and expected the lines would eventually be repaired.
Just after 8:35 that morning another technician, this one working for the national telegraph office, found his cables abruptly interrupted just to the north of Hiroshima. He began contacting the small suburban railroad stations around the city, attempting to localize the outage. But he heard only garbled reports of some kind of large explosion (above), and many injured. Dutifully the engineer forwarded the reports to the headquarters of the Japanese General Staff, and then began coordinating teams to find and repair the damage.
Yoshie Oka awoke on the floor of the concrete bunker. The air was filled with dust. Everything in the room had been thrown about, the furniture over turned, the radio equipment and phones tossed onto the floor. All of the other girls and soldiers working around her were either dead or injured. Despite her own injuries Yoshie managed to stand, and staggered out the open door (above). .
Looking down the hill, Yoshie was stunned to see the entire city of Hiroshima was on fire. Everything in sight, buildings, trees and people, was broken, flattened and burning, all the way to the sea. Nothing looked real.
Lowering her eyes she saw an old soldier lying on the mounds of earth piled against the sides of the bunker. Instinctively she bent down to help him, and realized he was badly burned. But the soldier pushed her away, and groaned, “We've been hit by a new kind of bomb”.
Propelled by the dieing man's words, Yoshie staggered back into the bunker and kept grabbing phones until she found one that worked. It was connected to the Fukuyama regional defense command. She told the man who answered, “The whole of Hiroshima had been annihilated.” He demanded, "I don't understand what you are saying. What do you mean, annihilated?”
The high school girl shouted into the phone, “We've been hit by a new type of bomb!". So the “inital report” received by the Japanese military high command in Tokyo before 8:45 that Monday morning was, “Hiroshima has been attacked by a new type of bomb. The city is in a state of near-total destruction.”
By mid morning, after the headquarters of the 2nd Army failed to respond to repeated calls on land lines or radio, a junior headquarters staff officer was ordered to fly to Hiroshima, contact Field Marshal Shunroku Hata, and report back. Three hours later, with his two seat Kayaba Ka-1 observation plane still 100 miles north of the city, the officer realized he was seeing an enormous mushroom cloud (above), drifting slowly away. After circling the city until low fuel forced the plane to land, the officer reported by radio that Hiroshima was 80 to 90% destroyed, and still burning.
Within the hour Naval Minister Admiral Misumasa Yonai (above), member of the Supreme Council, received a military summary. “Today 3 B-29s flew over Hiroshima at a high altitude at about 08:25 and dropped several bombs.... A terrific explosion accompanied by flame and smoke...The concussion was beyond imagination and demolished practically every house in the city. Present estimate of damage. About 80% of the city was wiped out, destroyed, or burned.... Casualties have been estimated at 100,000 persons.” Admiral Yonai assumed that, like most first combat reports, it was exaggerated. That night the Emperor was told a “special bomb” had “flattened most parts” of Hiroshima.
At about 2:30 the next morning, Tuesday, 7 August, Tokyo time, American radio from San Francisco began broadcasting a statement by President Harry Truman. “Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima and destroyed its usefulness to the enemy. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of TNT....In their present form these bombs are now in production and even more powerful forms are in development. It is an atomic bomb.” Truman went on to provide considerable detail on the history of the Manhattan Project, its size and scope, before adding, “Let there be no mistake; we shall completely destroy Japan's power to make war.”
The 53 year old Foreign Minister, Shigenori Tōgō (above), began to pester the army for details on Hiroshima, but was told the devastation had by caused by “a conventional bomb with extraordinary destructive power.” But Togo was a veteran of battles with the Army. He had retired as Foreign Minister in 1942, when it became clear he could not influence Prime Miister Heidki Tojo, and had only returned to the Ministry in late 1944 after a personal appeal by new Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki. Togo recognized that the enthusiastic flood of news on allied radio stations was proof it had been an atomic bomb. And he now set out to leverage the Army's stubborn refusal to admit that, to convince the Supreme Council “Gang of Six” to end the war.
The next morning, Wednesday 8 August, 1945, 240 B-29 bombers out of Guam, escorted by 140 P-51D fighters out of Center Field on Iwio Jima, drooped 1,400 pounds of bombs on the “Pittsburg of Japan”, the steel works at Yawata, near the northern tip of Kyushu. This was the third bombing of Yawata, and opposition was so light the P-51's were released to strafe ground targets of opportunity, which is when 24 year old Lieutenant Marcus E, (Jack) McDilda of Dunnellon, Florida, a member of the 46th fighter squadron, was hit by ground fire. McDilda's plane was too badly damaged to make the 4 hour flight back to Iwo, so he bailed out over Osaka Bay, and was promptly captured.
Marched blindfolded through the burned out waste land of Osaka, McDilda was beaten and pummeled by civilians until he reached the Osaka Honmachi, the Osaka jail and local headquarters of Kempei Tai, the military police, where professionals took over. Tied to a chair, McDilda was tortured for hours while his captives asked about the atomic bomb (above). The Lieutenant pleaded ignorance, and the beatings continued. But when an officer put a sword to his throat, threatening to behead him. McDilda “had an epiphany” and confessed details of the bomb's design, even revealing that the United States had a stockpile of 100 atomic bombs, and that Tokyo was to be the next target. After a telephone call, McDilda was blindfolded again, and flown to the capital.
At 1:30 that afternoon, Minister Togo traveled through the devestated streets of Tokyo, where 120,000 had died in the March fire bombings, to met with the Emperor in the bomb shelters below the Imperial Palace. The Minister's argument was logical. “The atomic bomb has not only revolutionized modern warfare....This is to be used as the turning point in bringing an end to the war”
Emperor Hirohito (above), agreed. “We must not miss a chance to terminate the war by bargaining for more favorable conditions now...So my wish is to make such arrangements as will end the war as soon as possible". Togo left the meeting feeling for the first time he had a chance to break the deadlock on the Supreme Council.
The next morning, Thursday, 9 August, First Lieutenant Jack McDilda found himself left alone in a room at the Tokyo headquarters of Kempei Tai (above), not far from the Imperial Palace. After a few minutes a Japanese man wearing a pinstriped suit entered and said in clear English, . “I am a graduate of CCNY, and most interested in your story about the atomic bomb.” So the exhausted pilot recounted what he had told his interrogators in Osaka. The atomic bomb, he explained, was constructed of atomic pluses and minuses, divided by a sheet of metal. When the bomb was released, the metal plate fell away and the pluses and minuses collided and produced the atomic explosion. The man then asked why McDilda was telling such an outrageous lie. The jig was up.
McDilda explained he lied because he was being tortured, and threatened with death. So he told his captors whatever they wanted to hear. He then added that his tent mate on Iwo had a couple of years of college chemistry, and McDilda had repeated what little he had remembered from the explanation that man had given the night before his last mission. The man in the pinstriped suit thought for a moment and then began to laugh. McDilda laughed with him. Then the Lieutenant was led off to his cell and fed. Behind him, the Japanese physicist ordered that McDilda be classified as a high priority prisoner and held (safely) for possible future interrogation. Meanwhile, the war continued.