The third atomic bomb: Tokyo, 19 August 1945

On this day in 1945, the third atomic bomb was dropped on Tokyo. Or, rather, might have been had not Japan surrendered on 15 August. For a long time, I've believed that the two bombs used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the only ones which would be available for a month or two. But a comment at Edge of the American West pointed me in the direction of a memo recording the conversation between General John E. Hull and Colonel L. E. Seeman on 13 August, about atomic bomb production in the next few months. And it turns out that there was one ready to be shipped out to Tinian at that very moment. According to Seeman, it would be ready for use on 19 August.

As for where it would be used, I got that from the first chapter of Michael Gordin's Five Days in August: How World War II Became a Nuclear War. He says there that the third drop would 'probably' have been on Tokyo. That surprises me a little, given that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen from a list of cities spared from conventional bombing so that the effects of the atomic bombs could be better assessed. Tokyo wasn't on that list (the other cities were Kokura and Niigata). Perhaps the thinking was that two 'test' drops were enough, and that if no surrender followed, it was time for a higher-value morale target? It could be questioned how much of Tokyo was left to destroy after the 65 conventional (or fire) raids which had already taken place. Or perhaps a decapitating strike was intended, to take out Hirohito and his ministers? Though that might actually make surrender more difficult to organise.

Clearly I'll have to add Gordin's book to my to-read list ...

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