“What was that?
– blind girl, near Alamogordo, New Mexico, July16, 1945
All posts tagged atomic bomb
The days were finally starting to get a little longer. As the gray sky started to lighten we moved out past American front lines, climbing down a ways to cross a short flat. It was open rocky terrain and everyone felt self-conscious in our fashion ensembles of wet dark green.
The company advanced slowly in one double line up to the next hill, across the valley American troops had been watching for so many days. At the base three patrols split off, one to either side and the third moving up to the peak. The patrol I was with advanced cautiously around the right side of the hilltop. Just over the crest we found about a dozen shallow fighting holes. Abandoned shovels, packs, and a few rifles were left there in and around the holes. Also in the holes were three dead bodies.
It looked like the Japanese had moved up to that line the day before, or the previous night, and made a temporary fighting line. There was no fighting so the soldiers there had died of existing injuries. Outwardly they looked bloated, as if they’d been dead for days. A few odd large sores were visible on the head and hands of a couple of them. The private next to me tipped the helmet off one with the point of his bayonet, and clumps of thin dark hair came off with it.
Our senior sergeant growled out a quiet reminder about booby traps, and we left the bodies and materiel there for others to clean up. We advanced slowly through the rocks and leafless brush down the back slope of the hill. Over the next four hundred yards we found six more bodies, soldiers in ragged uniforms, some with whole limbs wrapped in dirty bandages. Most looked like they collapsed while crawling on all fours, away from our lines.
We had gotten ahead of the center patrol, and it was there from our left that one live solider came stumbling toward us. He moved out from behind the dark boulder he’d been leaning on in a staggering half-awake walk. His pathetic form did not carry a gun, and no one fired at him. His uniform was dirty like the others, but straight and neat, topped with a sharply creased brown cap. He had been their commander.
The young officer raised his sword with one wavering arm. One could see from twenty feet away that it was a cheap stamped steel model. The Japanese were mass-producing them for every new officer to make him feel like part of the ‘warrior elite.’ His jaw fell and the sores in this warrior’s cheeks opened to expose the tortured flesh inside his mouth. He attempted to yell but only made a raspy mewl. He was almost upon our left column.
The point man on that side froze, horrified and mesmerized by the almost inhuman apparition. At the last second he raised the butt of his rifle and deflected the sword’s feeble blow. The imitation samurai blade was slowly raised again, and a Thompson barked out a long burst. The second man in the patrol line put his slugs all clean through the officer’s wrecked body. That lifeless body fell at once into a disorganized heap of parts, barely recognizable as a human corpse.
[The first full day of the nuclear age dawned with American patrols missing and out of communication.]
Forest fires burned through the night, keeping a hazy glow above the northern horizon. Morning recon plane flights say that quarter to whole mile diameter areas were burned out. The bombs made clearings in the trees more thorough than area bombing and shelling could accomplish with thousands of rounds.
Light but steady winds had carried smoke and ash to the northeast. This put it all back over Japanese lines or empty rugged forest. Another reminder went out that fresh water sources from the high central forest, which was most of the supply for our lines, were not to be trusted.
By this morning radio traffic was largely back to normal. A few radios had simply quit working after the blasts, mostly ones that had been set up with units far forward. The battalion I was with was not the only one who had sent scouts forward against orders.
Our own scouting patrol finally made it back, escorted by a larger rescue patrol which had gone out after dark. Word is that they made contact with some Japanese. Both sides surprised the other in the dark and exchanged ineffective fire for almost an hour.
The original patrol had been up on a small ridge, looking out over the plain east of Takachihono-mine, when the first bombs went off. They got down behind the ridge but it was right in line with the last bomb and offered little protection from its flash. Their radio was completely shot.
They reported scattered Japanese activity all over after the bombs.
Positions up on the mountain all came alive ready for an expected rush. The American patrol hid for the day, planning to slip back at night. They would have come back fine without the rescue party.
I got all this second-hand. Both patrols were taken away into quarantine as soon as they got back by members of the 6th Infantry Division. That division did land yesterday, but not as a unit. They broke up into teams which went out to most American front line positions.
Teams of the 6th carried an array of bizarre looking equipment. They had portable radiation detectors, hand held units with shoulder bag batteries. Some machines rolled on two-wheel carts. Another looked like an industrial vacuum cleaner (which it was – it sucked up soil samples to pass through an enclosed analyzer).
Other odd contraptions could only be hauled on dedicated trucks, some of which looked hurriedly improvised. Men of the division tell me some civilian ‘eggheads’ came along. They stayed back near the beach, along with lead-lined gunless tanks which can roll out into the blast areas directly once we get there.
[Witnesses to history, Tuttle and the soldiers around him didn’t know what the first use of nuclear weapons would mean, for them or anyone else.]
I stole a glance around and saw that everyone, to a man, was watching the unusual bomb run with me.
They say it was 9:12 am local time when the first bomber released its load and triggered the others to follow suit immediately after. Some men say they saw all five bombs in the air. I for one caught only a glimpse of the first giant steel ball just after it was released. I watched that pair of B-29s turn and dive steeply, right toward my vantage point. The other pairs pulled the same maneuver, leaving in whichever different direction would keep them best clear of the coming blasts. The first pair passed back overhead still diving, engines ripping madly at the air to pull the bombers away from danger. The high flying sentries continued to orbit over the area, a little to the south.
I was eyeballing the two laggards, which had passed the first pair on their way out. A great flash lit them up, brighter than a clear noon sun. Instinctively, though against instructions, I turned north toward the source of the light. In close succession, above the hills and trees in between, another four flashes lit up across the horizon. Each was similar to how the blast from a big navy 16 inch shell lights up the night, but this was in broad daylight.
An ethereal dome formed and spread out around each blast site, visible only by its effects. Cloud layers alternately formed or vanished as the dome passed. Walls of dust and smoke pushed out along the ground around each blast, quickly visible over the near faces of the mountains north of us. A flattened ball of burning air raised up over each of the sites I could see, shedding and re-swallowing smoky clouds as it roiled up through the hole each bomb had made in the atmosphere.
I remembered the late pair of bombers and picked them up again roughly over Karakuni-dake. The laden one had released its bomb and they had turned together to the east. Due north of my location they caught the first blast wave. Both planes suddenly jumped forward and up, while banked into a right turn. With their full profile facing the shock, they were hopelessly damaged instantly. Closer observers say one plane lost most of the right wing before being sucked directly into its partner. Debris rained over the 11th Airborne Division’s former staging area.
The last bomb detonated high over Takachihono-mine, barely two miles from the former front lines of the 40th Infantry Division.
I wrote some time ago about an ‘earthquake’ from artillery bombardment. I thought it was modest hyperbole, but it was not remotely close. Today a real earthquake moved the ground under our feet starting a few minutes after the first bombs went off. A great crack from each explosion was heard, followed by continued crackling that took some time to soften into an echoing rumble. Some men thought they felt the wind shift for a moment.
Men began to talk over the sounds, some of them excitedly whooping, some asking what it meant. The company captain had already gathered his officers and they were pointing at the burning mountains and marking up their maps.
Each explosion had been capped by a flattened ball or rolling donut of smoke and fire which rose steadily over a perfect column of hot smoke and steam. The ball shape stayed together until almost out of sight high in the sky. By then a great haze had spread over the entire horizon. Fires raged around each blast zone. A slight wind carried the smoke to the northeast, away from us and mostly across all the Japanese lines.
Today we conclude this series of specific references behind the details in X-Day: Japan. These are not formal citations, as they are not all root sources and the book is not an academic volume. The use of real historical elements for X-Day: Japan serves to educate the reader about the time, add interest to the story, and honestly it just made the thing easier to write!
November 23, 1945
Jumbo air-to-ground rocket,
November 27, 1945
1st Cavalry Division,
December 3, 1945
December 8, 1945
M26 Pershing tank next to M4 Sherman tank (models),
December 9, 1945
War Department Technical Manual TM-12-247,
Military Occupational Classification of Enlisted Personnel,
December 10, 1945
U.S. Army Center of Military History style guide,
December 11, 1945
Battle Formations – The Rifle Platoon, for NCOs (1942)
December 21, 1945
Hospitalization and evac plan for Operation Olympic,
Logistic Instructions No. 1 for the Olympic Operation, 25 July 1945
USS Sanctuary, hospital ship AH-17
December 22, 1945
Russian communists vs Chinese communists,
– Tom Clancy, The Bear and the Dragon
Chiang Kai-shek quote on the communists vs the Japanese,
December 23, 1945
Sakura-jima and its volcanoes,
December 25, 1945
USS Hazard, minesweeper AM-240 [MUSEUM SHIP],
January 17, 1946
Radiation detection equipment,
July 18, 1945
PBY-4/5 Catalina flying boat,
Consolidated Aircraft plant in San Diego,
Consolidated Aircraft plant production and products, B-24 and PB4Y-2,
December 24, 1945
Pearl Harbor survivors, trapped under USS West Virginia,
[On this day Tuttle witnessed a big to-do with traveling VIPs and had dinner with a one of the base officers to talk about it.]
“From there I can only speculate.” I naturally encouraged his speculation. “MacArthur wants something, and is going to the highest levels to get it. Truman is away, still on a boat heading to Europe .” Commander Lambert poked the air with his fork to emphasize the next point, “It would be just like MacArthur to make an end-around play and put his guys in front of the real decision makers while the President is away.”
I asked rhetorically if they would be in such a hurry if it was a scheme planned in advance. The Potsdam conference was scheduled months before. It looked to me more like something had come up suddenly, and they wanted a quick decision, before some other impending thing happened.
Commander Lambert considered it a moment and agreed. “It’s one of those things we’ll probably never know about. Things will just happen one way, and we’ll never even think about how it could have been done differently, with who knows how different a result. People have a funny way of thinking about history as a string of inevitable outcomes.”
On that we also agreed, as we split the bill and looked for a ride back to base. My own flight out is due to leave tomorrow. After one last check of my luggage I will turn in and get ready for the long passage west to the other end of the world.
[The following is a portion of Tuttle’s entry for this historic day. He of course had no idea it was the day of the first atomic weapon test in history.]
I spent the afternoon idly shopping in town near the beach. The place is thick with servicemen, enough that the military has MPs out on patrol in addition to the local authorities. The retailers closest to the bases and barracks have adapted to cater to them, carrying supplies, trinkets, and services directly in the interest of a freshly paid solider or sailor. Prices that aren’t regulated are higher than they would be in a place not stuffed full of young men with new money burning holes in their pockets and little time to spend it.
I have my own agenda, which includes finding a new pair of field glasses, as mine got lent to a desperate young officer in France, who I expect kept them in use through a substantial portion of western Germany. I also want to add to my collection of local newspapers. It’s been a great way to make new friends, running a small lending library of home front newspapers.
It doesn’t matter where the it is from, or what size town, guys far away like to catch up on the little things that don’t make it into the news sheets that the military takes care to send forward. A race for county drain commissioner means more to a soldier than world geo-politics. A man in a dirt hole just wants to know that life back home is carrying on as always and waiting for his return.
My trip out is probably coming up soon, so I took a last stroll down the boardwalk, stopping in a souvenir stand to get my picture taken with my fake “medal.” After dinner in a crowded soda shop I picked up the photo print, headed back, and dumped the medal in a scrap bin at base – they say we need every bit of loose steel we can get.
Two of the afternoon papers I picked up have an identical short article off the wire about an explosion at an old weapons dump in New Mexico. It was north of Albuquerque, near a small town called Los Alamos. There were some chemical shells, and people are advised to stay away and possibly be ready to evacuate should the winds blow toxic fumes toward town. It’s disturbing to think about what might happen if unconventional weapons get unleashed in what remains of this conflict. They have been treated to undoubted technological development since the so-called “Great War.” I wonder to myself just what horrible weapons might still be unleashed in the fighting to come.
Hiroshima – Nagasaki Atomic Bombs Alternatives Illustrated in Journalistic Novel
70th Anniversary of Nuclear Weapons Use Renews Debate, X-Day: Japan Details Invasion from Ground Level
PRLog – July 10, 2015 – GREENVILLE, S.C. — Already an Amazon category best seller, X-Day: Japan will be officially relased with marketing support on July 16, 2015 – the 70th anniversary of the first atomic weapons test.
Many people have said ‘We should not have droped the bombs’. A few have asked, ‘What if we didn’t?’ Sparing nuclear attacks on Japanese cities would not a) end the war, nor b) make the atomic bombs go away. Any discussion of the debate is incomplete without mention of realistic alternatives.
X-Day: Japan follows a war correspondent across the World War Two Pacific and into the long-planned invasion of southern Japan. Other academic works and alternative histories have discussed the invasion and the politics around it. None of them have been told from a front line perspective, and none of them are supported by complete gaming of the battle.
Full of both human drama and political consequences, X-Day: Japan adds a major new facet to any discussion of the end of World War Two. Information about the book and the official preview can be found at
Supporting the launch, for a limited time the book is ON SALE for only $.99 (ebook) or $8.99 (paperback). It is available from Amazon.com and most e-book retailers.
Press review copies are available on request.
Stone Lake Press
1085 Old Clemson Hwy.
Seneca, SC 29672
Shawn Mahaney, editor
sdmahaney at (project site domain given above)
[This is the preface from the book X-Day: Japan.]
Guide for the Modern Reader
The book Kyushu Diary was originally published in 1946, in which Walter F. Tuttle combined his own columns and other notes into an edited compilation. The second edition of 1952 was also by Tuttle’s own hand, with added footnotes, a map, some previously censored sections, and a post-script from the author. We are not calling this new book a 3rd edition. We have left Tuttle’s own 2nd edition of his compilation intact. X-Day: Japan starts with the second edition of Kyushu Diary and expands on it with extra features for a 21st century presentation.
The target audience of Walter F. Tuttle’s original Kyushu Diary is a newspaper reader of 1945. That person speaks a slightly different language from someone in the 21st century. That reader was persistently exposed to an argot of military affairs during six years of global war. Some of the words and concepts novel to that reader are mundane to us now, and many common phrases or jargon of that fast-changing time quickly became anachronistic or forgotten.
Tuttle wrote that “logistics” was a new word to many people then, as fielding a large army into undeveloped territory across a vast ocean was an unprecedented concept. In our modern post-jet-age economy, “logistics” is found in perky ad slogans of major companies.
Our modern world has been shaped by things we call “low intensity conflicts”, “limited war”, and “counter-terrorism operations”. These are all terms that would have been completely unknowable to a reader of the pre-nuclear 1940s. To help the modern reader bridge those gaps of time and language, we have included a section of brief historical context, and a small glossary.
Histories are generally either top-down views, summarizing the whole situation, or narratives from an individual perspective. Tuttle’s Kyushu Diary is at its heart a personal narrative. But Tuttle went to some trouble to paint a complete picture of the scene in the Pacific, from the home front all the way across to the battlefields in Japan, for the benefit of American readers who had been shown mostly news from Europe in the preceding years. Toward that effort we add this guide, additional maps, a list of further reading, and a judicious few additions to the text footnotes.
Tuttle believed in the spontaneous uncertainly of momentous events, which could turn out vastly different from changes in decision making or from natural flukes, and he was keen to communicate this to readers. In that spirit we also include a list of books of alternate histories or historical fiction novels, fantastic explorations of entirely possible what-ifs in this part of history. Popular topics in this genre are ‘What if we forced Japanese surrender by dropping atomic bombs on cities instead of military targets?’ and ‘What if we dropped atomic bombs on cities and they kept on fighting anyway?’
The book is not a parade of military hardware or a treatise on combined arms tactics. It does not get into any high level politics or command decisions. As before the war, Tuttle wrote about people and how they over came their own local problems. As a reporter he provided regular updates about the progress of each battle and the larger situation, but his real interest was in setting the stage for human stories to play out.
The text of Kyushu Diary varies considerably from the columns that were published under Tuttle’s byline during the war. The columns were worked over by many editors, and parsed out to fill some number of column-inches three days a week. Tuttle did not actually write to a format or deadline; he submitted when he could. The book was written directly from Tuttle’s own notes and original submissions. Many boring days are skipped, and some busy days have a dozen pages of dense material. That’s war for you.
Could American commanders be forgiven for sending troops so quickly into nuclear bomb sites? We’re not here to judge. We found there were many studies and formal guidelines on radiation exposure in the workplace in pre-war years. But those standards refer to sustained exposure to low doses, often internal.
It’s another thing altogether to study short-term external exposure during a military maneuver. And the criteria are radically different in a combat situation which is a life-and-death situation to begin with.
Before any workplace standards were put out, there was certainly no shortage of misguided or catastrophic applications of radioactive materials. One famous example is the story of the Radium Girls.
The U.S. Radium Corporation had a booming business making glow-in-the-dark watches and instrument faces through world war I. The products picked up a good reputation and sold well after the war. Their technicians handled bulk materials with long tongs and protective gear. But the people painting the instruments were mostly young women working bare handed, and who famously took up the practice of pointing the fine brushes with their lips.
The build up of radioactive materials in their bodies, mostly inside bones, was devastating. Their tragic story has endured, largely as an early labor rights campaign. It even became an unlikely play.
It should be pointed out that women were not the only victims of the early 20th century radium fad. Contraptions like this make old fashioned snake oil salesmen, and new-fangled diet pill promoters, look like harmless clowns.