Unedited silent footage of Nagasaki bombing

From preparing the bomb to dropping it—the explosion is a few seconds after 8:40. [Video Link]

This silent film shows the final preparation and loading of the "Fat Man" bomb into "Bockscar," the plane which dropped the bomb on Nagasaki. It then shows the Nagasaki explosion from the window of an observation plane. This footage comes from Los Alamos National Laboratory. I have not edited it in any way from what they gave me except to improve the contrast a little — it is basically "raw." I have annotated it with some notes on the bombing and what you can see — feel free to disable it if you don't want it.

I suggest leaving them on. This is the first time I've ever seen a video benefit from YouTube annotations! [via Nuclear Secrecy and MeFi]

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  1. oldsma says:

    I'm glad they didn't paint it with a funny or pinup picture, write a rude slogan on it, or joke around.

    I have mixed feelings about dropping the bombs. I think they have a decent case that in total, that cost fewer lives than a ground war in Japan. I think that there must have been another way to use the bomb to head off the invasion without dropping it on people, though. (If I recall, one issue was that they weren't sure it would work, so they didn't want to call a big demo and then have a dud.)

    War calls for such sickening calculations.

  2. Two things struck me, watching this.

    First, those guys weren't dealing with an "atomic bomb". Or, you know, they were, but not culturally. All the legitimate fears and science fiction and political posturing and everything else that we think of when we think of "atomic bomb" didn't exist yet. Depending on the kinds of clearances these guys had, they might even have really had a good idea, scientifically, of what they were working on. It's a big ass bomb. But, to many of them, that's all it is. Just another bomb. That happens to be gigantic and that they've been told is big enough to potentially change the course of the war. And it's the middle of a really brutal campaign in the Pacific, so these are also guys that are pretty hardened to bombing and death at this point. Basically, I'm surprised they didn't paint a naked lady on it. Not because they're assholes. But because of all the stuff they didn't know and all the personal context they were dealing with. I'd love to know what they did write.

    Second, the boiling glowing fire when that thing explodes, before it all turns to white cloud is the most horrifying thing I have ever seen.

  3. While I sympathize with the sentiment (while it seems to be more or less inevitable at a population level, when you send a bunch of young adults to go forth and kill that they'll still keep joking and otherwise carrying on because the alternative just isn't tenable); but the one thing that makes me a trifle uncomfortable (though it's far from confined to your post, it runs through the entire 'talking about the atomic bombings' genre) is the tendency to set the atom bombs apart, as something special, different, somber, historically unique.

    I'm always a bit nervous that that tendency, while it looks and feels like the opposite, is whitewash. Atomic warheads were, by far, the most effective bombs the US fielded during WWII, per bomb; but allied (and in practice, American; because we had the industrial base to field that many aircraft) policy explicitly endorsed "Saturation bombing" of civilian population centers, and if you have enough of them mundane high explosives and incendiaries will flatten a city just as well(better, in fact, the firebombing of Tokyo was more lethal and destructive, though it took far more bombers).

    Given the capabilities of later, cold war era nuclear and thermonuclear weapons, I can see why the actual use of such takes on a certain special salience; but it seems important not to overemphasize that to the exclusion of the fact that those bombings were not an aberration; but just two more cities on the list of civilian population centers deliberately annihilated by the allied air forces.

  4. You can't look at these moments without the snarl of Cold War politics buzzing in the background, but they are awesome. I mean this in the actual sense of "inspiring awe," not the trite term for anything more than mundane. The FAT MAN design, shown here used implosion of shaped charges to achieve criticality and runaway reaction that killed all those people. Basically, they detonated some dynamite around a hollow "ball" of fissile material, which crushes the ball and makes it supercritical and kills the whole world.

    Now consider hydrogen bombs--consider what they are. We are igniting a small star so we can convince others of our strength. We have come from agile apes than can throw rocks really well to literally constructing stars that we throw at each other over territorial disputes.

  5. I know a single word that proves our democratic government is capable of committing obscene, gleefully rabid, racist, yahooistic murder, of unarmed men, women, and children. Murders wholly devoid of military common sense. The word is a foreign word, the word is Nagasaki. —Kurt Vonnegut

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