Where is Ground Zero in Nagasaki?

Feb 24, 2020 1 comments

On the morning of August 9, 1945, six B29 bombers took off from Mariana Islands, located more than 2,100 kilometers north of Tokyo. One of the aircrafts, Bockscar, was carrying the plutonium bomb, Fat Man. They were  headed for the ancient castle town of Kokura.

When the planes arrived at Kokura, they found the city obscured by clouds and smoke. By a strange stroke of luck, Kokura’s neighboring city, Yahata, was firebombed the night before, which destroyed more than one-fifth of the city’s urban center. The resulting fires engulfed both Yahata and Kokura with a thick cloud of smoke. Since the mission commander Major Charles Sweeney had orders to drop the bomb visually and not by radar, he turned south and went to his secondary target, Nagasaki.

Urakami Cathedral

The neighbourhood of Urakami Church. Photo: Shigeo Hayashi/ Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum

Nagasaki was also covered by dense cloud. With fuel running low, Sweeney debated whether to head to Okinawa and drop the bomb into the sea, or go for the bombing run using radar alone. At one minute past eleven, the cloud broke a small opening, allowing Bockscar's bombardier, Captain Kermit Beahan, to visually sight the target. Within seconds, Bockscar was relieved of its dreadful load. 47 seconds later, the 10,300-pound weapon detonated in a blinding flash, 500 meters above a tennis court, halfway between the Mitsubishi Steel and Arms Works in the south and the Nagasaki Arsenal in the north. An area of radius 1 mile was totally levelled. 6,200 workers out of 7,500 who were inside the Mitsubishi Munitions plant were killed.

About 500 metes north of the hypocenter, stood Urakami Cathedral, which was then the largest Christian church in the Far East. Despite being a Thursday, local believers had gathered at the church for mass in preparation for the upcoming Feast of the Assumption of Mary on August 15. It was reported that the parish priest, Saburo Nishida, was about to enter the church to receive the sacrament of penance and reconciliation, when the blast wave hit. The Cathedral collapsed and all those who were inside were killed instantly.

Nagasaki before the bombing.

Nagasaki about a month after the atomic bombing.

The destruction of the cathedral hit the religious community of Nagasaki the hardest, as they viewed it as a loss of spirituality. Nevertheless, on Christmas Eve that year, the survivors dug out the church bell from the ruins and rang it, and vowed to rebuild the church. A temporary church was erected on December 1, 1946, but it was to take another 13 years before the new Cathedral was completed.

Unlike Hiroshima, where the damaged dome was left as is, very little of the former Urakami Cathedral stands today at the site. Close by is the Nagasaki Peace Park, where part of the cathedral’s concrete wall can be seen. The hypocenter is marked by a monolith erected in 1968.

Urakami Cathedral

The collapsed dome of Urakami Church.

Urakami Cathedral

Urakami Church. Photo: Peterson H.J/ Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum

Urakami Cathedral

The neighbourhood of Urakami Church. Photo: Peterson H.J/ Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum

Urakami Cathedral

Urakami Church. Photo: Peterson H.J/ Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum

Urakami Cathedral

The new Urakami Cathedral. Photo: leodaphne/Shutterstock.com


  1. First I've heard of the Marianas being north of Tokyo.


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