The First Atomic Bomb: History Of Invention And Use

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 In 1939, the 32nd president of the USA, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was notified by US intelligence that Germany was on actively implementing mechanisms In order to make a nuclear bomb of their own. This led to the establishment of the Advisory Committee on Uranium, a unit tasked with harnessing and weaponising uranium. Based on the committee’s findings, the US began funding research for the physicists, Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard, which was concentrated on uranium enrichment and nuclear chain reactions. The name was altered to be the National Defence Research Committee in 1940 and changed again to finally be the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) in 1941. In the same year, after the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbour one of the United States’ most important naval bases. This move was a surprise attack from the Japanese as rising tensions between the two nations from Japan’s global expansion towards the east Asian countries meant that conflict was inevitable. This led to America’s immediate retaliation toward the Japanese as the US entered WWII on the side of the Allied powers to fight the Axis. The Army Corps of Engineers combined with the OSRD with FDR’s approval, and the project morphed into a military initiative with scientists providing an aiding role. 

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The OSRD created the Manhattan Engineering District in 1942, basing it in NYC U.S Army Colonel Leslie R. Groves was appointed to lead the project. Fermi and Szilard successfully enriched uranium for the production of uranium-235, for use in the bombs. On December 28th, 1942, the FDR approved the creation of the secret Manhattan project to combine these research efforts with the goal of weaponising nuclear energy. Remote research facilities were established in Washington, New Mexico and Tennessee as well as sites in Canada, for these tests to be performed. The US had brilliant minds like the Theoretical physicist Albert Einstein with his innovative research and his equation (E=mc2) which accelerated research into the bomb and the ‘father of the atomic bomb’ J. Robert Oppenheimer another theoretical physicist who led the scientific end of the secret Manhattan project to manufacture the first atomic bomb. Robert J. Oppenheimer was named Director of the Los Alamos Laboratory in northern New Mexico in 1943. He was already working on the concept of fission energy alongside Edward Teller and others. The Los Alamos Laboratory, the creation of which was named Project Y, was formally established on January 1st, 1943. The complex would be the bomb testing site. On July 26, 1945, in a remote desert location near Alamogordo, NM, the first atomic bomb was detonated successfully, this was nicknamed The Trinity Test done two days after the surrender of Nazi Germany, created a mushroom cloud 40,000 feet high and quickly ushered in a terrifying new age of destructive warfare

On August 6th, 1945, after the all-clear from Harry Truman, the B-29 bomber ‘Enola Gay’ utilised the uranium-core bomb, the Little Boy. It detonated 1828.8 m above Hiroshima with a blast yield of 15 kilotons of TNT and instantly incinerated 80,000 people and devastating most of the city.

3 days later, on August 9th, ‘Fat Man’ is dropped on Nagasaki with a blast yield of 21 kilotons of TNT, killing an estimated 75% of people immediately and 60-70% of the city laid in ruins.

Hiroshima was chosen for its opportunity to be studied on for the effects on an atomic bomb on a city and the city had not been targeted by any US forces beforehand, not to also mention its military significance.

The original target for the 2nd bomb was Kokura, a city which produced munitions for the war. But due to heavy cloud cover, the bomber diverted to the backup target that was Nagasaki, and dropped the bomb into a valley, sparing much of the city, but still devastating it. Before this, the US had considered Operation “Downfall”, to invade mainland Japan, Operation Downfall was the codename given for the Allied invasion of mainland Japan. It was split into 2 parts: Operation Olympic and Operation Coronet, Operation Olympic would capture the Southern Islands Operation Olympic started with the capture of the Southern Islands, as the captured Japanese island of Okinawa as a strategic location for the invasion in November 1945.

Operation Coronet would have succeeded Olympic in 1946 the objectives were to capture the Kanto Plain, East of Tokyo. The airbases conquered in Kyushu would provide the allied troops with air support. Japan’s geography made the invasion areas obvious and they planned accordingly. Operation Ketsugo, where the Japanese had planned an all-out defence of Kyushu, with little left in the reserves for any future operations.

Casualties were estimated to be up to 1 million to multiple millions of Allied lives and up to 31.5 million trained civilian conscripts plus the Japanese army ready to die for the emperor and defend Japan.

According to Charles Maier, a history professor at Harvard University. After the surrender of Nazi Germany, the Japanese would still not agree to an unconditional surrender. There was an option to invade Japan (Operation Downfall) but that would be very costly so the American president Truman was convinced he had no other choice and that other ways to get Japan to surrender would’ve resulted in up to 10 million Japanese lives lost. The Americans wanted the war to end before the Soviet Union could enter Japan, in a different scenario if Truman had decided to put off the atom bomb option. The war would’ve ended, with herculean levels of bloodshed, then at some point in 1946 Truman would’ve revealed the existence of the bomb to the grieving American public, and the president of the United States would have to explain to thousands of grieving families members and wounded servicemen that he decided not to use it because he thought it was too cruel to drop on the enemy, even after a surprise assault, a global war fuelled endeavours of global dominated, hundreds of thousands of Americans killed and wounded in two scenarios, and years of gruesome firebombing. This would’ve unquestionably lead to the impeachment of Truman

The Postdam Conference

Held near Berlin, from July 17-August 2, 1945, it was mainly addressing problems in Europe but this led to discussions of a Japanese surrender. On July the 26th, 1945, Truman, Churchill and Chiang Kai-Shek issued the document that outlined the terms of surrender for Japan. The ultimatum stated that, if Japan did not surrender immediately, it would face “prompt and utter destruction” and it had to be tried for its war criminals and their cruelties towards their prisoners. The Japanese rejected these demands and reaped the consequences of it with the bombs in August.

What immediate and post-war effects did the bombs have on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the rest of the world?

The immediate effects of both bombs saw the deaths, of 90,000 and 146,000 people in Hiroshima and 39,000 to 80 000 Nagasaki by the end of 1945 with roughly half off the deaths occurring in both cities on just the first day.

In Hiroshima and Nagasaki, most victims died without any anaesthetic or pain killer. Some of those support workers who entered the city also passed away from devastating radiation. 10 years later more victims began suffering from thyroid, breast, lung and other cancers at far higher rates than what was previously recorded.

In Hiroshima 90 percent of physicians and nurses were killed or injured; 42 of 45 hospitals were rendered useless; and 70% of victims had combined injuries, in most cases, severe burns to the skin. For solid cancers, the added risk relating to radiation exposure continued to increase throughout the lifespan of survivors even today, 75 years after the attacks. In Hiroshima the atomic bomb ‘little boy’ with a yield of 15 kilotons of TNT destroyed everything in a 4.4-mile radius of the detonation and the bomb dropped on Hiroshima ‘Fat Man’ had a TNT yield of 20 Kilotons. Pregnant women exposed to the bombs experienced higher rates of miscarriage and deaths among their infants. Increased rates of cancer and chronic disease were also recorded amongst the survivors. Newborns exposed to the radiation from while in the womb had higher rates of intellectual abnormalities and stunted growth, as well as a much higher risk of developing every single kind of cancer known to man.

In Nagasaki, nearby trees were uprooted, snapped off, scorched or stripped of leaves. Both cities were extensively destroyed over 67 percent of Hiroshima’s structures were destroyed and in Nagasaki nearly everything with 1/2 mile was immediately destroyed

In a diplomatic sense, the bombs effectively ended the war in the Pacific, and thus ended the Second World War. The bombs caused Josef Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union to ramp up efforts of the USSR’s own bomb project to get their own bomb. This provoked a nuclear arms race, starting after the first Soviet nuclear test, that would last until the collapse of the Union in 1991.

Due to these bombs and the Soviet’s invasion into Japanese control, Manchuria finally persuaded Emperor Hirohito to surrender despite fierce opposition to the decision from military leaders within Japan like Hideki Tojo, also 4 days before this decision, radical Japanese soldiers attempted a coup to prevent the surrender in which they failed. Japan lost 2.3 million soldiers and an estimated 800,000 civilians in WWII. General Korechika Anami ended his life through the honoured Japanese suicide, ‘seppuku’ after signing the surrender document with the rest of the cabinet on 14 August 1945. General Douglas MacArthur, who was made Allied commander, was sent to Japan to oversee its rehabilitation. The country found itself occupied for years by the United States, who introduced democratic reforms.

While many wanted Hirohito to be tried as a war criminal, MacArthur made a bargain with the emperor that included the implementation of a new Japanese constitution and the denouncement of imperial ‘divinity.’ Thus, Hirohito became a democratic figurehead, with the country eventually attaining political stability and becoming an economic leader.

What effects did the bombs have on the rest of the world?

The bombs helped begin the Cold War and the Nuclear Arms Race between the 2 Superpowers after the chaos of WW2: the USA and the USSR. External sources suggest the bombs were more directed toward the Soviets than Japan, as in, flexing to them of American technological might. However, the fact was, that the Soviets had known about this from as early as September 1941. Thanks to past endeavours of federal espionage, the Soviets managed to build a bomb of their own just 4 years after the US detonated theirs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nuclear Weapons played a crucial role in the strategic teachings of both NATO and the Warsaw Pact during the mid-late Cold War years. However, almost all Warsaw Pact guidelines assumed the green light for the usage of “tactical” nukes (bombs with a small warhead), while for NATO, there wasn’t as much of an emphasis on this. After the events of the cold war, the world was opened to an alarming new time, where any moment the world could quickly be devastated in a nuclear war. In this 21st century, the threat of nuclear war is taken very seriously. Nuclear Weapons played a crucial role in the strategic teachings of both NATO and the Warsaw Pact during the mid-late Cold War years. However, almost all Warsaw Pact guidelines assumed the green light for the usage of “tactical” nukes (bombs with a small warhead), while for NATO, there wasn’t as much of an emphasis on this. However, thankfully, both the US and Soviet Union saw the use of these weapons as having catastrophic effects on the human race and the world, and as such, they never went to war over such fears.

29 April 2022

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