Steel mill worker reveals blocking view of U.S. aircraft on day of Nagasaki atomic bombing

Furnaces at Yawata Steel Works, seen in this photo taken in October 1945, survived an air raid. (Mainichi)
Furnaces at Yawata Steel Works, seen in this photo taken in October 1945, survived an air raid. (Mainichi)

KITAKYUSHU, Fukuoka -- As the 69th anniversary of the Nagasaki atomic bombing approaches, a former mill worker in the present-day city of Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture, spoke about his untold story on how he burned coal tar to block the view of U.S. aircraft as they were about to drop the A-bomb on the city.

The United States initially set the Fukuoka Prefecture city of Kokura, today's Kitakyushu, as the first target for the atomic bombing on Aug. 9, 1945. However, U.S. aircraft flying over Kokura on that day had to change their target to Nagasaki due to low visibility over the skies of Kokura.

While stories related to the incident have been rarely told in consideration of A-bomb victims in Nagasaki, three former employees of Yawata Steel Works -- present-day Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. -- have recently told the Mainichi Shimbun about the project to create a smoke screen over the sky to protect the city from bombing.

Of the three workers, Oita resident Satoru Miyashiro, 85, who worked at a can factory in the steel mill at around the end of the war said he burned coal tar to lay a smoke screen on Aug. 9, 1945.

Miyashiro was at the office next to the factory on that day when he heard a radio broadcast, saying a few U.S. aircraft were flying northward. As an air-raid siren went off, his supervisor told him to start the incinerator, in which oil drums filled with coal tar were lined up. After confirming black smoke shooting up into the air, Miyashiro evacuated to an underground vault. When he returned to the office after the B-29 bombers had flown away, Miyashiro learned that the city of Nagasaki had been attacked by a "new kind of bomb."

Miyashiro said about two days before the Nagasaki attack Yawata steel workers learned that Hiroshima had been wiped out by the "new bomb" from their colleagues who had come back to Yawata via Hiroshima. He thought the next target would be his city as there were arms factories located in the area.

Satoru Miyashiro explains how he burned coal tar on Aug. 9, 1945 to block the view of U.S. aircraft over the skies of Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture, in this picture taken in the city of Oita. (Mainichi)
Satoru Miyashiro explains how he burned coal tar on Aug. 9, 1945 to block the view of U.S. aircraft over the skies of Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture, in this picture taken in the city of Oita. (Mainichi)

According to U.S. military documents that have been collected by former professor Yozo Kudo of the National Institute of Technology, Tokuyama College, two U.S. aircraft, one carrying the A-bomb, reached the skies of Kokura at 9:55 a.m. on Aug. 9. They attempted to drop the bomb three times, but pilots could not see the target which was blocked by "fog and smoke." They then decided to switch to a second target, Nagasaki, and dropped the bomb there at 10:58 a.m.

Meanwhile, documents kept by the former Defense Agency say the Imperial Army's western military command headquarters issued preliminary warnings for an air raid on 7:48 a.m. on that day, and two minutes later, it issued an air-raid siren. Miyashiro is believed to have turned the incinerator on at this time.

Two other workers at Yawata mill also saw the incinerator. They told the Mainichi that they saw a pile of oil drums, cut up in half, that had been filled with coal tar. Coal tar is a by-product in steel making, and it produces black smoke when burned.

A meteorological record from an observatory in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, says that the local weather for Aug. 9, 1945 was fine. The observatory recorded mild fog over the Kokura area, just across the Kanmon Channel.

Records of Kitakyushu city history say that the fog and smoke that prevented the atomic bombing on Kokura had been caused by not only clouds, but also smoke from the Yahata air raid on the morning of Aug. 8, and winds carried smoke toward Kokura. However, there is no evidence to support this theory. There is a record of residents saying the smoke from the Aug. 8 air raid had disappeared by the next day as an evening shower had struck the area.

Nagasaki University professor emeritus Hideo Fujisawa, 80, believes that the black smoke from the burning coal tar, mixed with air-raid smoke and ash as well as steam caused by the rain the day before, could have blocked the U.S. aircraft's view. He said, "It should be noted that Yawata mill workers had been alerted by their own information that Hiroshima had been bombed."

(Related link)

Family of U.S. POW reflects on life after Japanese city spared nuclear devastation

http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20140827p2a00m0na007000c.html

July 26, 2014(Mainichi Japan)

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