• Weird History

The Full-Resolution Photo of The Nagasaki Mushroom Cloud Is Breathtaking

The US nuclear attack on the Japanese city of Nagasaki in 1945 was devastating, resulting from America's decision to persist in attacks on Japan's islands until the country surrendered. While many people in Nagasaki were evacuated in the days leading up to the tragedy, thousands remained and were either killed or sustained severe trauma in its wake. United States forces dropped the missile on the city on August 9, just three days after the nuclear attack on Hiroshima.

Photos of Nagasaki post-attack are both terrifying and hauntingly beautiful, particularly those that capture the mushroom cloud that hovered above the site of the impact. Fred J. Olivi, copilot of the Bockscar, the plane that dropped the "Fat Man," described what he witnessed:

I've never seen anything like it! Biggest explosion I've ever seen... This plume of smoke I'm seeing is hard to explain. A great white mass of flame is seething within the white mushroom shaped cloud. It has a pinkish, salmon color. The base is black and is breaking a little way down from the mushroom."

Following WWII and the US's attacks – as well as a great deal of fatality, hardship, and nuclear fallout – the people of Nagasaki rebuilt the city. 

  • This Was The Earliest Image Of The Blast Taken From The Ground

    Photo: Hiromichi Matsuda / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    This image, taken on August 9, 1945, shows a mushroom cloud hovering over Nagasaki. The photo was taken by Hiromichi Matsuda a mere 15 minutes after the United States dropped a plutonium bomb on the city. The photographer was stationed in Koyagi-jima, located approximately 5 miles from Nagasaki.

    Experts believe this image was the first to be taken of the blast from the ground.

  • The Weapon Was Code-Named "Fat Man" And Dropped From A Boeing B-29

    Photo: U.S. Department of Defense / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Bockscar, the Boeing B-29 that transported Fat Man, departed at 3:49 am with the intention of dropping its cargo on Kokura, not Nagasaki. The United States had already hit Hiroshima, and plans for the second attack were very similar. Two B-29s were deployed in advance to monitor the weather, while two more B-29s flew alongside Bockscar to help with instrumentation needs and to photograph the mission. 

  • The Crew Located Their Target By Sight Alone

    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The crew on the Bockscar was ordered to locate their target the old-fashioned way – with their eyes rather than radar. They feared that using radar wouldn't accurately pinpoint the right target. If the weapon was dropped even a mile or two off course, it wouldn't have the intended effect. So, the crew attempted to visually locate what they deemed a suitable spot.

    Due to the heavy smoke and haze that was covering it, they had difficulty seeing the ground from their altitude.

  • Nagasaki Wasn't The Initial Target

    Photo: Charles Levy / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The United States initially wanted to target Kokura, another Japanese city about 210 kilometers (130 miles) from Nagasaki. For a myriad of reasons, Nagasaki became the target of tragedy. Primarily, Bockscar was 30 minutes late to depart on its mission due to poor visibility.

    The day before, a raid on Yahata, a city near Kokura, resulted in numerous fires and excessive smoke. In addition, a steel company was burning coal tar with the purpose of reducing visibility through its black smoke. Clouds in the sky worsened these conditions.

    As a result, 70% of the area over Kokura was hidden from view. The crew on the Bockscar passed over the city three times looking for their target. Because they were running out of fuel, they abandoned Kokura and changed course to Nagasaki.