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5: Tsutomu Yamaguchi - The Atomic Man

Cody and Greg discuss Tsutomu Yamaguchi, a man that survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima during WW2. They discuss the atomic bombs and the actual events of the day leading up to the bombing and after the bombing took place.

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Episode Information

Today we’ll be discussing Tsutomu Yamaguchi, the atomic man. Yamaguchi was actually in Hiroshima on the day it was bombed by the US with the dropping of Little Boy, the first atomic bomb ever used in armed conflict.

 

There were undoubtedly numerous atrocities committed throughout the Second World War, both by Axis and Allied powers, depending on your point of view. We know of the holocaust, obviously. As well as the bombing of Pearl Harbor due to the terrible Michael Bay film. And in the future, I have an episode planned that will discuss a number of WW2 atrocities in-depth, which will tie into today’s episode. But today, since this is a minisode, we’re going to discuss Yamaguchi specifically, and his experiences. 

Who Was Yamaguchi

Yamaguchi was an engineer employed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, an engineering, electrical equipment, and electronics company. Most of us know the name Mitsubishi, but some don’t know that it is a huge corporation of multiple smaller companies. (Kind of like Virgin, but with a much longer history.)

 

Prior to his employment with Mitsubishi, Yamaguchi had actually served in the military, but he was reportedly pulled out of service due to his knowledge of engineering. He apparently found a unique way to design ship hulls. Which never happened to me during my military enlistment. No one decided to pull me out due to my singing abilities. Although I was chosen to sing the American and Turkish national anthems multiple times, a few times against my will.

Why were the bombs dropped?

I’d like to touch a little bit on why the actual bombs were dropped. I won’t go into too much detail, because we’ll likely talk a bit more about the bombs in the main episode on WW2 atrocities. 

 

The atomic bombs were the product of the Manhattan Project, which was the codename for the secret American project used to look into the use of nuclear weapons. This project was spurred on by President Franklin Roosevelt after he received a letter from Albert Einstein which warned that the Nazi forces were likely already at work developing a nuclear weapon themselves.

 

But what actually led to the USE of the atomic bombs was a mixture of a few things. One was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. There were two main motives for this attack. Firstly, American had cut off oil exports to Japan the same year, which nearly crippled Japan’s Navy (Japan received 80% of their oil from America). They hoped that their attack on Pearl Harbor would destroy the US Pacific Fleet, allowing Japan free reign in the Pacific. Secondly, Japan also wanted to take over all US and European controlled Asian territories in the Pacific, creating an “Asia for Asians”. Unfortunately for Japan, this attack just caused America to dive face-first into WW2. 

 

Another reason for the use of the bombs was that Japan had resisted their surrender until 3 months AFTER WW2 had ended with VE Day. This created a situation I like to refer to as a militarised dick measuring contest, and America decided to whip out every single inch.

What are the bombs?

Before discussing the events of Yamaguchi’s day, we’ll touch on a bit of info about the atomic bombs. The Manhattan Project created 2 separate atomic bombs, each performing in different ways. I’m going to avoid discussing the truly in-depth science behind the way these bombs work, but I’ll talk a bit about their makeup. 

 

The first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and was codenamed Little Boy. This bomb weighed 9,700 lbs and used highly enriched uranium as its fuel source. The bomb contained a total of 140 lbs of uranium. Its explosion force was equivalent to 15,000 tons of TNT, or 30,000,000 lbs of TNT, or 13,607,771 kg of TNT.

 

The second bomb was codenamed Fat Man. This bomb was dropped on Nagasaki 3 days after Little Boy. This bomb weighed 10,800 lbs and used highly enriched plutonium as its fuel source. It contained 13.6 lbs of plutonium, which was about the size of a football (American football). The plutonium core was surrounded by 5,300 lbs of high explosives. This bomb was considered 10 times more efficient (if that’s the proper word) than Little Boy. Its explosive force was equivalent to 21,000 tons of TNT, or 42,000,000 lbs of TNT, or 19,050,880 kg of TNT.

Events of Hiroshima

Now we’ll get into Yamaguchi and his experience’s in Hiroshima. Most of this information comes directly from Yamaguchi’s own words written in an essay easily found if you try Googling it. A few months prior to the bombing, Yamaguchi had been sent by his boss at Mitsubishi to Hiroshima on business. He had left his wife and 3-year-old son behind at home, and he was accompanied by two of his colleagues. 

 

This was quite a while since the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the war had progressed to bombing raids on the Japanese mainland. When describing the landscape from the train to Hiroshima, Yamaguchi recalled expecting to see multiple fuel warehouses on the coast, but all had been reduced to rubble due to the American bombings. However, up to this point, the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been largely unaffected.

 

After arriving in Hiroshima, Yamaguchi and his colleagues reported to the Hiroshima Shipyard. The shipyard was described as army barrack-like office, steel-framed plant, small docks such as

repair docks, and a big sandy field that surrounded the plant. The three men settled in and had a few days of relative peace in the city. But throughout these peaceful days, the men spent some of their free time digging fox holes in the sandy field surrounding the plant, on the offchance the American’s decided to, you know, bomb them, or something. 

 

One morning at work, Yamaguchi describes heard the blast of the air raid. He and all of the other employees ran to their fox holes. He said that a distant bombing noise could be heard until he saw a giant armada flying directly towards them. Yamaguchi was frozen with fear until the armada suddenly changed course and flew towards the nearby Kure naval port. A two-hour battle ensued between the armada and the anti-air guns and battleships. Following the battle, Yamaguchi found that the Kure naval port had been completely destroyed. 

 

Following this attack, air raids became more prevalent, and by July people had started evacuations. Still, up to this point, both Hiroshima and Nagasaki were both unaffected. Even so, the cities were on blackout orders at night. It was around this time that Yamaguchi started having horrible nightmares where he was killed over and over again. He stated that when he awoke from these nightmares, he began to wonder how he would kill his wife and child. People apparently feared how they would die more than if they would die.

 

Eventually, Yamaguchi’s work had come to an end in Hiroshima, so he and his colleagues planned to return home. They were, unfortunately, held up on returning until August 6th, the day of the bombing. The three men made their way to the bus terminal, but just before boarding, Yamaguchi noticed that he had left an important seal that he needed for his job back in his dormitory. He rushed back to retrieve the seal, found it, placed it in his and decided to have a cup of tea with a neighbour before making his way back to the bus terminal. (Which seemed quite rude to his colleagues to me.)

 

He took a tram to a separate station which he would need to walk from to get back to the bus station. After arriving at the tram terminal, he crossed a wooden bridge on his way to the bus terminal. It was at this moment that Yamaguchi caught sight of a woman in trousers walking towards him, and thought he heard the faint roar of a B29 bomber in the distance. The woman, who was about 20 meters away from Yamaguchi, looked into the sky with a look of terror and dismay. He followed her gaze and looked in the same direction. He couldn’t see the B29, but he heard a nose-dive-like sound in the sky and saw 2 small parachutes falling towards the ground. 

 

Yamaguchi dove into a nearby trench, and no sooner had he laid down than he felt an enormous bombing roar shoot through his whole body. He felt an unbearable heat on his side and was lifted into the air for an almost unbelievable amount of time. His wife and child flashed through his mind and he passed out. All of which happens in an instant. He never saw the woman in trousers again.

Yamaguchi awoke in a separate trench from the one he dove into. After collecting himself, he made his way to the shipyard plant, in hopes of finding his two colleagues. He arrived at the shipyard and did eventually find them. Yamaguchi stayed near here receiving first aid treatment until he and his colleagues were allowed to leave. It was at this time that Yamaguchi decided that he had to make it home to wife and children. Now, Greg, I left out a bit of specific information earlier that’s pretty pertinent to the story. Yamaguchi’s home was Nagasaki, the second nuclear target for the Americans.

Events of Nagasaki

After arriving in Nagasaki, Yamaguchi found that his arm was severely swollen and he needed to receive medical attention. He saw a nearby doctor who cut into his arm to drain the pus and alleviate the swelling. He was bandaged up and then he made his way to his home and reunited with his family

 

On August 9th, 3 days following the first bombing, Yamaguchi went to work early (because that’s what people do in Japan). He was asked by all of his employees about the bomb and how to survive it and so forth. He then went to see if boss. His boss told him that he couldn’t believe one bomb could have destroyed an entire city. As he said this, there was another flash of light. Instinctively, Yamaguchi dove beneath the desk as a blast came through the entire building. This time, Yamaguchi was able to avoid most of the blast and make his way out of the building into a nearby air-raid shelter.

Following the Bombs

After surviving both bombs, Yamaguchi was laid off by his company due to restructuring. He went on to be an avid proponent of nuclear disarmament. Although he is not the only survivor fo the atomic bombs, Yamaguchi is recognised as the only person to have survived the actual blasts of both bombs. 

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