The atomic bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th & 9th in 1945 remain the only use of nuclear weapons for warfare in mankind’s history. Six days later, Japan announced its surrender to the allies, effectively ending World War II. This event has seen much debate over the years, and likely will continue to do so throughout the future.
One of the people involved with the bombings was 2nd Lt. aircraft navigator Russel Gackenbach. Now 93, he flew into the heart of Japan on August 6th, as “Little Boy“, the 9,700lb (4,400kg) uranium-235 atomic bomb was dropped onto Hiroshima. While chaos ensued all around, Gackenbach managed to fire off some photographs of the detonation on his personal camera, which he’d taken on the flight with him.
They were told little of their mission, other than where to go and what the targets were, under very tight security. Unaware of exactly what this new type of bomb was, nothing could really prepare them for what they saw. With more power than 20,000 tonnes of TNT, it decimated Hiroshima in an instant. Flying at 30,000 feet, the atomic cloud reached even higher than they were.
But, throughout this, Gackenbach had the presence of mind to pull out his camera, and photograph what he saw.
Gackenbach claims that due to a film processing mistake, the two photographs he captured are now the only two photos in existence that show the start of the explosion.
He describes the events with vivid detail. Remembering it like it was just yesterday, not 70 years ago. They didn’t really comprehend the magnitude of the event at the time. It wasn’t until they were shown photographs of Hiroshima in the days that it hit them.
We never really talked about what we did—I stayed mute for a very long time. Even during our reunions, we only talked about each other and the time we spent together.
Looking back at the event 70 years later, I still believe the right decision was made and I think that President Truman knew that as well. Can you imagine if people found out we had a device that would save millions of lives and did not use it? He would have been in a peck of trouble.
– Russel Gackenbach
Gackenbach says that believes that the right decision was made. He also does not regret the part he played in these events.
Whatever your thoughts on the event itself, I’m glad he had his camera with him. Images like these serve as a stark reminder why we shouldn’t even consider such action again in the future.
You can read more about Gackenbach’s story on the Airman magazine website.