CIC investigates the aftermath of the atomic bombs

The library tower of the exhibit hall surrounded by destruction (William Brand Simpson Collection, USAICoE Document Collection).
The library tower of the exhibit hall surrounded by destruction (William Brand Simpson Collection, USAICoE Document Collection).

CIC investigates the aftermath of the atomic bombs

by Fiona G. Holter, USAICoE Staff Historian
U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence

On August 6, 1945, the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, in an attempt to bring the Second World War to an end. Seven months later, in March 1946, the Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC) sent a team to both Hiroshima and Nagasaki to gather information on the after-effects of the bombings.

On August 6, 1945, a B-29 bomber dropped a uranium bomb on the city of Hiroshima, followed by a plutonium bomb on Nagasaki three days later. In March 1946, the Supreme Commander Allied Powers (SCAP) sent a team of CIC agents under Special Agent in Charge William B. Simpson to investigate the destruction in both cities in support of a special research committee.

Special Agent Simpson prepared an annotated photographic account as part of the investigation of the devastated cities, noting that, despite efforts of locals to mitigate damage by creating firebreaks, destruction was widespread. Out of 90,000 buildings in the city, 62,000 were completely demolished and 6,000 others had irreparable damage. Simpson reported a handful of more modern buildings, reinforced with concrete, were still standing and could be repurposed, but the interior of the buildings had been burned from the blast. The scene in Nagasaki was similar to Hiroshima, with damage as far as the eye could see. The only exception was Nagasaki’s business district, which was protected by ridges across the east side of the valley.

The worst destruction Simpson noted was the human wreckage. Despite warnings provided by the U.S. military prior to dropping the bombs, thousands remained in the cities. Hiroshima’s population was estimated to be 380,000, with about 255,000 still in the city that fateful morning. His report estimated more than 90 percent of people within 2,000 feet of the center of explosion and more than 50 percent within one mile of the explosion were killed. By his estimation, the original figures given by Allied Headquarters—78,150 killed, 37,425 wounded, and almost 14,000 missing—was far from accurate.

Special Agent Simpson’s report explained Hiroshima was chosen as a target for the atomic bomb because the Japanese Army headquarters for the Chugoku region with the headquarters for the Japanese Second Army were within one mile of the target location. By targeting these headquarters, the U.S. was able to destroy the communications and command center for all of southern Japan, effectively leading to Japan’s surrender and the end of the war in the Pacific. However, he cautioned justifying such an act of destruction as the only means to the unconditional surrender.

In August 1955, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum opened in the center of the city. The site once housed the Prefectural Science and Industry Exhibit Hall, which had been mostly destroyed except for a library tower with a domed roof. Today, the museum honors the victims of the calamity, calling for peace and the elimination of nuclear weapons by educating visitors about the destruction they cause. Simpson noted that while the U.S. had no comparable memorial of the event, his investigation, as well as others conducted by Army intelligence teams, contributed to a 1977 international symposium that reflected on the consequences of nuclear warfare.

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