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Monday, February 2, 2015

The Third Atomic Bomb

Everyone who knows something about Japan is probably aware that it was the recipient of two atomic bombs that effectively ended World War II.

There was the uranium-based Little Boy bomb dropped by the American Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber plane the Enola Gay above the skies of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

There was the plutonium-based Fat Man bomb dropped by the American Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber planer Bockscar that hit the ground in Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.

But was there to be a third atomic bomb? Yup. That's a photo above of the casing of the third, unused atomic bomb on Japan.

After the first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan kept news of the devastation fairly quiet amongst its population to stem panic.

Some survivors of that bomb were transferred to Nagasaki, arriving in time for the second atomic bomb to hit, being a handful of Japanese people to survive TWO atomic blasts.

Still, when the second bomb was delivered a mere three days after the first, one wonders WHY it took Japan until August 15, 1945 to surrender...

It didn't want to. Japan Emperor Hirohito DID want to surrender, to save Japanese lives, but its other war hawks were against surrender, fearing it would show weakness in the Japanese pride and culture - that whole death is better than surrender thing that Japan has stemming from its belief of 'death before dishonor' that its samurai warrior class had and was 'borrowed' by the U.S. Marines. 

The United States and its allies, were waiting for Japan's negotiations with the fledgling United Nations to surrender, and were hearing rumblings that they would not.

So on August 13, 1945, components for a third atomic bomb were readied to be shipped to Tinan, an American base on the island next to Saipan (near Guam) for another atomic bomb drop on Japan.

It was to take place on August 19, 1945.

While it was true that U.S president Truman wanted six more of the atomic weapons to drop on Japan as it marched in Tokyo--perhaps failing to understand that no one would need to march in on Tokyo then, the truth of the matter was that the United States simply did not have at the ready enough fissionable material to turn into weaponized material.  

If more was required, it would be a few more weeks... but there was enough for the third atomic bomb... it would have been similar in size and power as plutonium-based Fat Man bombed dropped on Nagasaki.

Despite Truman wanting bombs to drop on Tokyo - previously thought of as a no-no because of the lack of Japanese military constructs there - there were still other possible city targets on the Allies' list.

Back in April of 1945, the U.S. Target Committee had complied a list of targets:
  • Kokura, the site of one of Japan's largest munitions plants;
  • Hiroshima, an embarkation port and industrial center that was the site of a major military headquarters;
  • Yokohama, an urban center for aircraft manufacture, machine tools, docks, electrical equipment and oil refineries;
  • Niigata, a port with industrial facilities including steel and aluminum plants and an oil refinery, and:
  • Kyoto, a major industrial center.
These cities were left largely untouched during the nightly bombing raids, as it was decided that when it came time to drop the 'big one' they wanted to see how a virgin city would look afterwards, to better assess the damage of the atomic bomb(s).

You may notice that Nagasaki wasn't on that list.

The second atomic bomb target was actually Kokura, and it was to have occurred on August 11, 1945, but owing to bad weather expected to hit over that area on August 10, the attack date was moved up two days to August 9, 1945.

When Bockscar was in flight, the target was changed, thanks to excessive cloud cover over Kokura, to Nagasaki. Lucky for Kokura, bad luck for Nagasaki, who just so happened to be close and devoid of cloud cover that day.

In my mind, the next target would have been Kokura, since it was the initial second target.

Given that the third atomic bomb would have had to be assembled on Tinian, the date for Kokura's destruction was to be August 19, 1945.

Again... I am only guessing at the target, but the dropping of a third atomic bomb was scheduled for that date, regardless of the target city.

Two more Fat Man assemblies were readied, though keep in mind there was only enough fissionable material at this time for one.

The third atomic core was scheduled to leave the U.S.Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico for Tinian on August 15.

On August 14, 1945, Emperor Hirohito recorded his capitulation speech, which was then broadcast to the Japanese people via radio, announcing Japan was surrendering, effective immediately.

There was of course a bit of a rebellion by the hawkish Japanese militarists against the surrender, but it was put down.

While it was the first time that the majority of Japan had heard the voice of its Emperor that day, and while they were certainly shocked and ashamed that it was giving up, his words did spare his country and citizens a third devastating atomic bomb.

The third atomic bomb was in the process of being packed in Los Alamos, New Mexico for shipment to Tinian when on August 14, the order was suspended. 

For the record, three more atomic bombs were in the planning stages for deployment against Japan in September, with another three in October of 1945.

If anyone out there knows what the call sign would have been for the third atomic bomb, please let me know.

Andrew Joseph

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