33 Photos Of The Hiroshima Aftermath That Reveal The Bombing’s True Devastation

Published March 20, 2018
Updated February 27, 2020
Published March 20, 2018
Updated February 27, 2020

These haunting Hiroshima aftermath photos of a city and its people vaporized bring visible the full weight of the world's first nuclear weapon.

Video Thumbnail For Youtube Video Megqtcz2fvc
Hiroshima Aftermath Mother And Child
Building In Hiroshima
Children Wearing Masks
33 Photos Of The Hiroshima Aftermath That Reveal The Bombing’s True Devastation
View Gallery

The blasts of air-raid sirens were a familiar sound for the approximately 245,000 residents of Hiroshima that still remained in the city center in August 1945 as World War II neared its conclusion. At the time, American B-29 bombers regularly (dubbed "Mr. B" by the Japanese) soared over the nearby coast en route to Lake Biwa, a strategic rendezvous point about 220 miles northeast of the city.

On the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, the siren sounded as it often did and some residents surely wondered if this was to be the day that "Mr. B" would unleash a load of explosives. Hiroshima was one of the few major Japanese cities that had been spared the wrath of United States airstrikes and there was a sense that something was coming.

Nevertheless, the alarm that morning probably only raised slight concern for many locals because the sirens had been sounding nearly every morning as U.S. weather planes floated in overhead. So Hiroshima residents went about their daily routines and the all-clear sounded soon after. Radar only picked up a small number of planes at high altitude, so no major threat was expected by the Japanese government.

But just after 8:15 a.m., a flash of blinding light erupted over the city. The U.S. had just dropped the atomic bomb.

"I saw a black dot in the sky," said survivor Fujio Torikoshi. "Suddenly, it 'burst' into a ball of blinding light that filled my surroundings. A gust of hot wind hit my face; I instantly closed my eyes and knelt down to the ground."

Almost instantly, some 80,000 people (30 percent of Hiroshima's population) were killed and at least 69 percent of the city's buildings were destroyed. The bomb (known as "Little Boy") detonated 1,900 feet above the city, flattening everything within a mile of ground zero and triggering fires across 4.4 square miles.

And because the all-clear had been sounded after the earlier air-raid warning, many people were outside when the bomb detonated. More than 50 percent of the casualties died from burns while many others who did not succumb to the initial blast or fires of the immediate Hiroshima aftermath later died of radiation exposure.

Meanwhile, because ground zero happened to be a hospital, many of the city's doctors and nurses were killed or injured in the blast. The city was thrown into chaos as those still alive scrambled to create makeshift hospitals to aid the wounded.

Footage captured in the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing.

Beyond those who were killed or injured, the true scale of the Hiroshima aftermath revealed itself for generations to come as health issues like birth defects and cancer continued to plague those exposed to a blast unlike anything the world had ever seen before.

See the devastation of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in the gallery above.

Following this look at the Hiroshima aftermath, read the story of Tsutomu Yamaguchi, the "hibakusha" (survivor) who lived through both atomic bombings. Then, learn why the Nagasaki bombing almost didn't happen and see some of the best color photos from World War 2.

Ian Dickinson
Ian Dickinson writes about nature, history, music, beer and anything else that pays the bar tab. His work has appeared on Earth Touch, Paste, ATI, and countless restaurant napkins.