Nagasaki lies at the head of a long bay which forms the best natural harbor on the southern Japanese home island of Kyushu. The main commercial and residential area of the city lies on a small plain near the end of the bay. Two rivers divided by a mountain spur form the two main valleys in which the city lies. This mountain spur and the irregular lay-out of the city tremendously reduced the area of destruction, so that at first glance Nagasaki appeared to have been less devastated than Hiroshima.
The heavily build-up area of the city is confined by the terrain to less than 4 square miles out of a total of about 35 square miles in the city as a whole.
The city of Nagasaki had been one of the largest sea ports in southern Japan and was of great war-time importance because of its many and varied industries, including the production of ordnance, ships, military equipment, and other war materials. The narrow long strip attacked was of particular importance because of its industries.
In contrast to many modern aspects of Nagasaki, the residences almost without exception were of flimsy, typical Japanese construction, consisting of wood or wood-frame buildings, with wood walls with or without plaster, and tile roofs. Many of the smaller industries and business establishments were also housed in wooden buildings or flimsily built masonry buildings. Nagasaki had been permitted to grow for many years without conforming to any definite city zoning plan and therefore residences were constructed adjacent to factory buildings and to each other almost as close as it was possible to build them throughout the entire industrial valley.
Nagasaki had never been subjected to large scale bombing prior to the explosion of the atomic bomb there. On August 1st, 1945, however, a number of high explosive bombs were dropped on the city. A few of these bombs hit in the shipyards and dock areas in the southwest portion of the city. Several of the bombs hit the Mitsubishi Steel and Arms Works and six bombs landed at the Nagasaki Medical School and Hospital, with three direct hits on buildings there. While the damage from these few bombs were relatively small, it created considerable concern in Nagasaki and a number of people, principally school children, were evacuated to rural areas for safety, thus reducing the population in the city at the time of the atomic attack.
On the morning of August 9th, 1945, at about 7:50 A.M., Japanese time, an air raid alert was sounded in Nagasaki, but the "All clear" signal was given at 8:30. When only two B-29 superfortresses were sighted at 10:53 the Japanese apparently assumed that the planes were only on reconnaissance and no further alarm was given. A few moments later, at 11:00 o'clock, the observation B-29 dropped instruments attached to three parachutes and at 11:02 the other plane released the atomic bomb.
The bomb exploded high over the industrial valley of Nagasaki, almost midway between the Mitsubishi Steel and Arms Works, in the south, and the Mitsubishi-Urakami Ordnance Works (Torpedo Works), in the north, the two principal targets of the city.
Despite its extreme importance, the first bombing mission on Hiroshima had been almost routine. The second mission was not so uneventful. Again the crew was specially trained and selected; but bad weather introduced some momentous complications. These complications are best described in the brief account of the mission's weaponeer, Comdr., now Capt., F. L. Ashworth, U.S.N., who was in technical command of the bomb and was charged with the responsibility of insuring that the bomb was successfully dropped at the proper time and on the designated target. His narrative runs as follows:
"The night of our take-off was one of tropical rain squalls, and flashes of lightning stabbed into the darkness with disconcerting regularity. The weather forecast told us of storms all the way from the Marianas to the Empire. Our rendezvous was to be off the southeast coast of Kyushu, some 1500 miles away. There we were to join with our two companion observation B-29's that took off a few minutes behind us. Skillful piloting and expert navigation brought us to the rendezvous without incident.
"About five minutes after our arrival, we were joined by the first of our B-29's. The second, however, failed to arrive, having apparently been thrown off its course by storms during the night. We waited 30 minutes and then proceeded without the second plane toward the target area.
"During the approach to the target the special instruments installed in the plane told us that the bomb was ready to function. We were prepared to drop the second atomic bomb on Japan. But fate was against us, for the target was completely obscured by smoke and haze. Three times we attempted bombing runs, but without success. Then with anti-aircraft fire bursting around us and with a number of enemy fighters coming up after us, we headed for our secondary target, Nagasaki.
"The bomb burst with a blinding flash and a huge column of black smoke swirled up toward us. Out of this column of smoke there boiled a great swirling mushroom of gray smoke, luminous with red, flashing flame, that reached to 40,000 feet in less than 8 minutes. Below through the clouds we could see the pall of black smoke ringed with fire that covered what had been the industrial area of Nagasaki.
"By this time our fuel supply was dangerously low, so after one quick circle of Nagasaki, we headed direct for Okinawa for an emergency landing and refueling".
Despite missing the target by more than half a mile, the damage done by Fat Man was visibly a lot more than that done by Little Boy