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HIROSHIMA & NAGASAKI: A-BOMB Destruction Viewed From Above

by former
Sgt. William E. Jones, 
5th AF aerial photographer

I was in Lincoln, Nebraska on 6 August, 1945 transferring from B-24s to the Queen of the Sky, a B-29, when another B-29, the Enola Gay, piloted by 30 year old Col Paul Warfield Tibbets, dropped "Little Boy" on Hiroshima. Three days later on 9 August, 1945, 25 year old Major Chuck Sweeney, piloting Bock s Car, dropped "Fat Man" on Nagasaki. I was sent home on a delay-en-route and then to Japan for the occupation.

Upon our arrival in Yokohama we went to Irumagawa Air Base northwest of Tokyo, and shortly we left for Fukuoka, the fifth largest city in Japan, on Kyushu, the southernmost island.

We were riding on a 42" gauge track civilian train with sparse accommodations. Most of the passengers were Japanese. They were cordial, polite, pleasant, and interesting. Many of them spoke some English, and it was just enough to communicate. All along the way we found the people to be inquisitive and at least somewhat friendly until we came to one city - Hiroshima.

We slowly rolled into the huge yard on the northeast corner of Hiroshima. We knew very little about the atomic bomb at that time except for the fact that a single bomb had killed thousands of people. We creaked to a halt opposite a station platform where a number of grim-faced people were standing. one boy in particular stood out. He was a teenager with red hair and combined Japanese/American features, a reminder that some of our people had long-standing connections with the Japanese. No one spoke, they just stared expressionless at our small group of Army Air Force Americans. on the opposite side (north) of our train was the rusting hulk of a steam locomotive buried cab down with the front end, about half of its length, sticking out of the ground almost perpendicular. How could this be? Why wasn't that engine just blown over on its side? Where was the crater that would surely be created by such a powerful bomb? We would not know for several years that "Little Boy," the first atomic bomb used in combat, was dropped from 32,700 feet and intentionally detonated at an altitude of 1,800 feet above the center of the city. An explosive force equivalent to thirteen kilotons of TNT had pushed downward on that locomotive, pushing the cab deep into the ground. Around three dozen reinforced concrete buildings that were still standing were irreparably cracked, and some near the hypocenter (the point under which a nuclear blast occurs) were driven into the ground as much as two feet.

Our train was parked on a siding that was almost exactly one mile from the hypocenter, and the tracks had followed an arc of about one third of a circle around the north side of the city. the blast had destroyed much of those tracks, and a very temporary single track had been laid on an unstable roadbed. Trains could only creep along that stretch of track. Because many trains were waiting on both the east and west ends, we remained parked for three or four hours until it was our turn to go. That is when I began to see the extent of the destruction. Although the debris had been pushed out of the streets almost immediately, the land around the center of the city remained piled with debris. Tar paper shacks had sprung up all over the outlying areas near the rail line. Some had cleared small areas for gardens, but most were surrounded with deep rubble. The stench of burning charcoal, cooking fish, and decomposing garbage was nauseating. The rest of the trip to Fukuoka was mostly uneventful. It was interesting when we passed under the sea in a tunnel going from Hikoshima on the southernmost top of the main island, Honshu, to Moji on the southwestern island of Kyushu. The next city was Kokura which had been the primary target for the second atomic bomb. Due to smoke from a fire bomb raid two days prior on the steel mills at Yawata obscuring the arsenal target area, and a shortage of fuel, 

[[image - black& white photograph of Sgt. William E. Jones with a camera]]
[[caption]] Author as a young Air Force photographer. (Photo: Jones)[[/caption]]

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[[image - logo, drawing of the head of an eagle]] 
Friends Journal
VOL. 21, NO. 3 FALL 1998
[[image - black & white aerial photograph of the destroyed city of Nagasaki, Japan]]
[[caption]] The hypocenter, the point under which a nuclear blast occurs, is marked on this photo of Nagasaki by a black "X". (Photo: Jones)[[/caption]]

the B-29 Bock scar went for the secondary target, Nagasaki. Today, the name Kokura cannot be found on maps because it became a part of Yawata tot he west. I have three WWII air navigation maps that do show Kokura. later I took aerial and ground photos at Yawata and saw that Yawata had suffered severe bomb damage.

We arrived at Fukuoka and were assigned to the Headquarters Squadron, Fifth Air Force, Fifth Fighter Command where we took over operations from the set-up group, and they were sent home to the States for discharge. I was immediately placed back on flying status, and as head photographer. I did most of the flying. I was soon assigned to photograph both atom bomb damaged cities. Little did I dream that I would be one of the few photographers to take low altitude aerials of both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

My first A-bomb city to photograph was Nagasaki which had been destroyed by the second bomb, the plutonium bomb "Fat Man," on 9 August, 1945. Colonel Fulcher was personally going to fly me in a Stinson L-5 observation plane. Another high ranking officer who was a friend of Col Fulcher, and happened to be at the field, wanted to go along. Since the plane was a tandem two seater, the Colonel authorized my regular pilot to prepare a second L-5 while he and his friend flew on ahead. I had never driven a truck, much less a semi-trailer fuel tanker, but I managed to get it started, circled tight, and ended up right by the nose of the L-5. Within half an hour we were off the ground. We circled Nagasaki at 500 to 1,000 feet altitude while I took 39 views.

Nagasaki was a major port with one of the world's largest shipbuilding yards. Mitsubishi Steel and Arms Works was at the southern end of the industrial valley, and the Mitsubishi Munitions plant was to the north. The hypocenter was in between, about 150 years north of Mitsubishi Steel which was the alming point. There were also four big Mitsubishi aircraft plants in the area. The shipbuilding yards were far to the south on the west side of the harbor, and the city business district was on the wast side of the harbor with the residential area farther east in a pocket of small mountains. Those mountains had protected the greater portion of the population and reduced the death toll. The pre-bomb population had been 195,000. Fat Man was dropped from about 32,000 feet and detonated at 1,750 feet with a force of 23 kilotons of TNT. Approximately 36,000 were killed and injuries later claimed 39,000 more lives.
As we circled I noticed that an area about a mile across was completely bare except for a few concrete reinforced buildings and the rusting twisted metal hulk of the Mitsubishi Steel plant. I later learned that the Mitsubishi Munitions plant had designed and built the special torpedoes that sunk our ships at Pearl Harbor. Most torpedoes dropped from planes skimming low over water sank 70 feet before returning to the surface. Peal harbor was only 40 feet deep. With more powerful motors and depth pressure controlled elevators, the special torpedoes maxed out at 35 feet and none were lot the harbor floor. 

Even the steel superstructure of the shipyards far to the south was turned to red rust. The business district across the harbor had been leveled, but the homes in the residential area to the east still stood, closely packed together, protected by a 1,400 foot high mountain to the north.

Upon returning to Itazuki Airfield we noted that the colonel wasn't back yet. It took almost an hour before he showed up. he told us that he was flying low, forgot to turn on the carburetor heat, the gas line froze up, and the engine quit. He found that he was heading almost straight into a runway which our engineers had made within a city block of the hypocenter. We had not noticed them waving their arms at us but my pictures show

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