|At 8:15 am on 6 August 1945 an American B-29 Superfortress dropped a 12.5-kiloton atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The city was obliterated and more than 130,000 people perished. In the aftermath of this attack the White House released a press statement to the media revealing the existance of the Allied nuclear weapons program for the first time: "The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East."
However, renewed Allied demands for Japan's unconditional surrender continued to be ignored by Tokyo and so a second atomic attack was launched on 9 August. The primary target of this attack, Kokura, could not be located due to thick cloud cover and so the B-29 and its crew changed course for their secondary target, the city of Nagasaki. At 11:00 am the B-29 reached the city and dropped a 22-kiloton bomb. The hills surrounding Nagasaki saved a significant portion of the city from the full effects of the devastating blast, but at least 35,000 people were killed and thousands more injured. Six days later on 15 August 1945 the Japanese Emperor, Hirohito, broadcast Japan's decision to surrender to the Japanese nation.
With the Japanese surrender Allied plans for an invasion of Kyûshû in November 1945 to be followed up by the invasion of Honshû in March 1946 were abandoned. Australian troops had been earmarked to take part in this final campaign against the Japanese home islands alongside New Zealand, British and American troops.
Debate over the morality of the decision to use the atomic bomb and the influence it had on the Japanese decision to surrender continues to this day. However, most of the Australian soldiers, sailors and airmen serving in August 1945 reacted to the news with nothing but relief at the thought that they would no longer have to risk their lives against an enemy who had long since proven his willingness to fight to the death. This sentiment is largely reflected in the statements below.
Corporal Geoffrey Holmes, 2/12th Battalion AIF (Milne Bay 1942 and Buna/Sanananda 1942-43)):
Well, I think it was a good thing, as far as we're concerned. It saved a lot of our lives. The atom bomb saved thousands, millions perhaps. Of course, knowing that ... the people concerned, and their actions, they would never have surrendered. It would have been just the same thing as happened at Buna or anywhere else, you had to kill them to beat them. And I'm still not too sure whether they're beaten now. That's another side.
Colonel Stan Sly, 55th/53rd Battalion AMF (Sanananda 1942-43 and Bougainville 1944-45):
We foresaw a long arduous years of fighting ahead of us and we reached a stage where, in early '45 I think, the strategy of the day was...or what's going to happen in the long, distant future, the 'Jap' will fight it out, right back on his own shores and he'll have to be dug out from his own dunghill. And we saw the, not the possibility, but the probability, we would have to go back into open-warfare again and land on Japan to actually defeat him, that was the general opinion, and I think that was being admitted. So much so, that one officer per battalion, was taken back to Australia to re-learn open-warfare tactics and I was the officer chosen from our battalion to go back to Brisbane, back to Beenleigh, to the LHQ Tech...Senior Officer's Tech School to re-learn our tactics of open-warfare, that we would have to eventually get a firm base in China perhaps, to land to attack Japan.
What time were you going back to?
I'm going back to May '45 here...no it would be a little bit earlier than that, it would be March, April, May about that period, because I was sent home to Beenleigh for a six weeks course, on open-warfare.
And what happened at the end of that six weeks?
I was flown back to Bougainville, and got back there in readiness and we were organizing...or the corps...Lieutenant General Savige was our Commander at that time, we were organizing a divisional attack down south across the Buin and when 'the [atomic] bombs' came in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, that averted a catastrophe because had we gone ahead with that attack, the divisional attack down at Buin, he'd have cut us to ribbons because when General Kandor, the Japanese commander of the Bougainville area, when he finally observed the surrender dictated by the Emperor Hirohito, our party and Lenny Goodwin one of our officers, went with the party to accept the surrender, it was revealed that, Kandor revealed that he had 28,000 left then and we had worked them down, in our mathematics from fifteen, which the "Yank" gave us, down to twelve and he had 28,000 sitting waiting for us down there. When I say, "on the Island" the majority of which were in the Buin area, he had approximately 3,000 in a central sector, and he would've had roughly 2,000 up in the Surigan Peninsula, so he had 20,000 odd waiting for us, to do a divisional attack there. So we are very very thankful to the atom bomb.
Major Stan Morton, Salvation Army Philanthropic Welfare Worker, 9th Division AIF:
Do you remember hearing about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and what you felt about that?
Well I've ... I've been asked that question, casually, on more than one occasion, and, while I hate the thought of atomic weapons of any kind or description, I think we've got to admit that the dropping of both those bombs possibly saved thousands and thousands of lives. I am sure the Japanese would not have given in when they did if it had not been for the dropping of those bombs, and while I would hate to think that we'd ever have a war and they'd be used again, yet I would not say that I was totally against what happened on that occasion.
I saw the devastation caused by the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima. It was a film taken by a war correspondent, it was shown to us up on Morotai Island, There were ... I suppose 2000 or 3000 troops attended an outdoor cinema. When we saw the devastation I can assure you we were devastated ourselves. Usually when you went to an outdoor cinema the noise on going back to your tents was colossal. Shouting and singing. On this particular night we went back in complete silence. People weren't speaking to each other, they just walked along, deep in thought.
When you see an area where ... at the centre of the dropping of the bomb everything was complete devastation, there was not even debris lying around the centre, it was all burnt up. And then, as it sort of reached the outskirts of where the blast went, you saw then broken buildings. But in the centre there was nothing left at all. And with a normal bomb you can be just a matter of yards away, and if you're in a bit of a depression it won't affect you. Shrapnel and that will go over your head, but the bomb won't affect you at all, the blast might be a bit hard to take. But with an atomic bomb nothing will save you, because everything within that area is just integrated [disintegrated]. I've never seen anything like it, and, as I say, we went back to our tents deep in thought, and it made us think very, very deeply.
But it did shorten the war. When we think of what could have happened, the thousands that still could have died, the greatest sorrow I think that's come to everybody, that so many civilians were involved, and I think that's the point that we've got to look at. And I would sincerely hope and pray that a tremendous amount of thought and discussion would go on before ever another one was dropped.
Able Seaman Harry Peacock, Royal Australian Navy:
I used to go down to Yokohama from Tokyo on the train to collect the films - there was a big American PX and film exchange and I used to go down on the train to collect the films and I was ... it didn't matter where you were in Japan - how they ever lived I don't know - but the whole place was blasted to hell. There wasn't a thing left standing. They took us up to Hiroshima and we went aboard about a five-storey concrete building, there was nothing inside it only the concrete. They took us up there and showed us and as far as you could see right round was all flattened with that bomb. Nagasaki was a bit lucky. They tell me that the bomb drifted up the valley a bit before it went off. But, oh, I don't know, I saw a couple of the Japs up there that I used to be friendly with - one of the Australians in the telephone exchange - like we sort of took over everything up there. What we didn't have the Yanks did and this bloke that I knew was in the telephone exchange and he had a couple of Japs working for him and one of them showed us his back and he's absolutely covered in weals. He said that he got into a culvert and it was only his back exposed and it was absolutely burnt to shreds - these great big weals like as thick as your finger laid across his back. He reckoned it was a terrible heat from the bomb.
Was he in pain at that time?
No, not at that time, he was all healed up by then, see. But he didn't sort of resent us or anything. You know, I would have thought that he would have resented us for doing all this to him but, you know, he was quite ... In fact, we had a lot of 'em on board, they were so poor up there that they had nothing, and we employed a lot of them on board the ship.
Canon Charles Sherlock, RAAF Chaplain:
What about your attitudes to Hiroshima and Nagasaki? And perhaps the bombings of the German cities as well?
Yes. yes. That still leaves me with a ....leaves me with a ... you know, an imponderable problem as to was it right or was it wrong? I suppose I'm not near enough to the actual origin, you hear the stories that come out, that there was misinformation, that they were not to bomb and they did bomb. It's very hard to know.
And yet I suppose that the immediate horror of that, if it saved years of further war, is its own justification. You think of what would have been the alternative, would this island-hopping business have continued, the number of people, you know, being physically tortured, or suffering, or things of this nature. Was it true that that one act, and of course it killed thousands of people, and they were innocent people, I mean they were not ... they were not in the hostilities themselves, that's a very big moral question, and I ... I don't know the answer to that, honestly, I don't know whether it was justified or otherwise.
Sometimes looking back I think it ... certainly at the time ... looking back I was in Japan ... I was in New Guinea at the time of the ending of the war in Europe, and I remember taking a thanksgiving service in our squadron, and for the neighbouring squadrons at that time. And the psalm for that particular day in our prayerbook started off, `If the Lord not be on our side, now may Israel say', (laughs). I said I couldn't quite agree with that, but I just said ....
Just say that again - `If the Lord ... ?
'If the Lord had not been our side, that's how the psalm started off, you know, would the enemy ... would have risen up quickly against us. But I didn't take that as a text, although it was actually in the psalm for the day.
But I thought then a sense of relief. Well the war in Europe has ended. Think of the untold bombings that had taken place in England, and yet ... our bombings in Germany, one thought of the sacrifices that had been made. And one wondered then what would be the end of the Pacific conflict. I didn't visualise that it would end so quickly after that, I could think of, you know, another few years before they got to Japan. And having had the experience of this hard slog through New Guinea and leaving these isolated areas behind. And one could then find prisoners there who were emaciated, or one could be conscious of the fact that would there be some kind of revival of those ... those forces, would they rise up again?
There was some criticism of MacArthur's philosophy of leaving, you know, settler areas in Japanese control and pressing on forwards. And had that had to continue for many, many years you can wonder at the privations and the difficulties that would have existed. Now was it justified, one fell act, you know, one bomb? Killing so many people, and those innocent people, I mean now I suppose is the ..is the question that you have to ask yourself, and it's hard to know.
It's a pretty heavy question to put on you at the end of the interview. (Laughs). There may not be ....
No, well I ... I can't give a truthful answer. In some ways I can think, `Yes, it was justified', but ... but did the people who were perpetrating it know they were going to cause such tremendous devastation to so many people? I mean was that ... was that known to the pilot who took the bomb, was he acting under orders? Did the people who gave the order realise the horror which would arise from it? What was in the mind of that pilot as he flew that plane that distance? You know, did he really know what he was going to really, you know, fulfil himself? They're the kind of moral problems, and it's awfully hard to know the answer to them.
But when you think of the ... the devastation that war did cause in so many areas of human life, when you think of children who've grown up without a father because of this, you say, `Well now, has it been the end of all wars?' I suppose it hasn't, because we've had the Korean conflict, the Vietnam struggle that's come since. The unease that exists in the world today. Is the threat of nuclear violence today proving to be the deterrent which we hoped it would be? I mean we certainly haven't ever got back to the stage of using the bomb again, either in Vietnam or in Korea. I suppose that's judgement in one way that it's become unacceptable to do that.
And yet the Western powers and the Russian powers apparently still believe that there has to be some kind of a deterrent. I mean the bomb has not been abolished, I mean the threat is there. But whether or not the experience of what has happened will ever prevent it happening again, I mean that's the hope of many people, my hope certainly.
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