World War II in the Pacific
Hiroshima, the City
The Hiroshima garrison was established in 1873 to govern Western
Japan as one of five Army districts and manned with the 11th Infantry
Regiment. In 1886 the Hiroshima garrison was expanded to the Fifth Division.
When the Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1894, the Fifth Division
was the first to go and the harbor used to send many military
units to the front. On September 15, the Meiji Emperor moved the
Imperial Headquarters to Hiroshima Castle along with the Imperial Cabinet,
and the temporary capital expanded the military installations.
In 1904, the Russo-Japanese War found Hiroshima again a large-scale
army base of operations and the city prospered as wars and incidents
occurred: Manchurian Incident, the Shanghai Incident, and the China
In 1941 the army and navy of Japan launched an attack on the
American fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and on the British on the
Malay Peninsula. Hiroshima military installations and heavy industries were
rapidly developed to support the army and to support the nearby massive
Kure naval shipyard, home of the Imperial Japanese Fleet.
When Japan recognized that a decisive battle on the mainland was
likely, the First General Headquarters was placed in Tokyo and the
Second General Headquarters at Hiroshima.
"In 1944, the U.S. forces occupied Saipan, the last strategic
point of the Japanese army on the south Pacific front, and established
an air base from which to attack the mainland of Japan. In November,
full-scale air raids were begun, devastating the cities of Japan one
after the other.
"Under such conditions, Hiroshima City began the evacuation of
students above the third grade of elementary school and of other
citizens whose presence was not essential. With the threat of
incendiary bombings, demolition of buildings to make fire lanes was
carried out on a wide scale." 13,300 households had been dismantled
by time of the bombing.
"The city seemed to have led a charmed life. By rights it should have received two or more 500 B-29 raids which befell all other cities of military significance whereby Army and Navy facilities were totally destroyed along with industry
and housing. They did not know the city was being spared by design.
"The air defense system of Hiroshima was supposed to be
impregnable, suitable for a military base, and without parallel in
other cities. The citizens were assiduous in intense anti-air raid
drills. However, it was all useless in the face of the atomic bomb."
The population of Hiroshima at the time was about 310,000,
plus 40,000 military and 20,000 daytime workers from the suburbs for
at total of about 370,000 people. The bomb was 10 feet long,
2'-4" in diameter, weighted 9,000 pounds, dropped from 31,600 feet
and exploded at 2,000 feet with the force of 20K tons of TNT,
the weight of the Enterprise. The entire Second Japanese Army
was destroyed to a man plus others for a total of 66,000 killed
along with 4 sq miles of buildings destroyed.
"The reconstruction of Hiroshima began with relief activities,
mainly by the Army, immediately after the bombing. They removed the
countless dead bodies in the first four or five days, cleared the
principle roads for truck traffic and of course helped to house and
treat the wounded. Many, already weakened by wartime near starvation, died.
"Since the war was still going on, it was urgent to restore
the functions of the important military bases. Emergency measures
were taken to restore communications, electricity, and transportation.
"As the army, which had been the main force in the reconstruction
work, was disbanded at the end of the war, the work stagnated. The
city government, almost totally destroyed by the bombing, was not
capable of taking over the reconstruction work. ..."
"About a month after the A-bomb was dropped, ... a typhoon
hit the city. It raged from the middle of the night on September 17
to the next morning. The burnt city was completely submerged and
the air raid shelters and shacks, in which the A-bomb survivors
lived, were destroyed."
Much of the history of Hiroshima is condensed from, and all quoted
passages are from, "Hiroshima Peace Reader" by Yoshiteru Kosakai,
chief editor of the Hiroshima City Historical Collection
and director of the Hiroshima City Archives Library,
published by Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation in 1980.
At the Potsdam conference, an Allied declaration called for
Japan's unconditional surrender under threat of destruction.
Japan did not respond to the ultimatum and the threat was delayed by
weather until Aug 6 before it was delivered on Hiroshima.
Although the atomic bomb was a powerful and efficient weapon, the 60,00 people
killed was on the progression of the numbers killed by conventional weapons:
London (1,436, May 10-11, 1941, 550 planes),
Pearl Harbor (2,403, Dec 7, 1941, 384 planes) and on Germany
Cologne (59,000 made homeless, May 30, 1942, 1,130 RAF planes),
Hamburg (40,000, July 1943, 1,500 planes) and
Dresden * (135,000, Feb 13-14, 1945, 1,200 allied planes)
and those that increasingly descended on
Tokyo starting with 97,000 killed on March 9, 1945, from 334 B-29's, and rained on other industrial cities.
The number killed at Hiroshima was less than those of a one-day of conventional attack.
Only one uranium bomb was created, it was started before
plutonium had been discovered and harnessed. The test bomb at
Yacca Flats and all the following atomic bombs were made from plutonium.
These were clean bombs, that is, the radiation killing range was
less than the blast killing range. That significant radiation deaths
later occurred from the Hiroshima bomb were unexpected ;
radiation deaths from Nagasaki a few days later were small.
A concerted effort was undertaken to make the atomic bomb an issue to mitigate the Japanese initiation of the war.
Destruction by an atomic blast by one airplane was somehow made
different than blasting with TNT and shrapnel or firebombs
from a thousand planes, day after day, for months on end.
There are people who believe the US started the War by
sinking a Japanese submarine off Pearl Harbor. The sub was
trying to enter Pearl Harbor to coordinate destruction of the
American fleet with the bombers from six Japanese aircraft carriers.
And the very young think the Japanese must have attacked Pearl
Harbor to avenge the dropping of a bomb on Hiroshima, because
nobody would just start an unprovoked war. Well, it happened.
About 55,000,000 people died in WW2. The overlapping Sino-Japanese
War may have taken 50,000,000 lives.
Japan has a history of disasters, the Kanto Earthquake, 1 Sept 1923, killed 100,000 people in Tokyo leaving two million homeless.
This was followed by 2,500 murdered by vigilantes.
* More recently published numbers for Dresden are on the order of 25,000 civilian deaths.
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About this page: Hiroshima - War history of the City.
Last updated on: Aug 28, 2009. Kanto earthquake ; Dresden note.
January 17, 2008. Emphasized target was elimination of 2nd Army. Note: death number 60,000 killed; an additional 6,000 died later attributed to the bombing.
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Add, 550 planes on London 10May'41.
December 7, 2002 -- added, the city seemed to have a charmed life.