Nagasaki’s Nuke was Supposed to be Dropped on Kokura

Nagasaki - Before and After the Nuclear Explosion photo
Nagasaki before and after 1945 bombing. Public domain image.

On August 9, 1945, the B-29 bomber Bockscar dropped a 21 kilotons nuclear bomb on Nagasaki, Japan. It detonated at an altitude of about 550 meters (1,800 feet) over the city and killed an estimated 40,000 people and injured about 25,000 more.

But that wasn’t plan A.

“Fat Man” Nuclear bomb photo
A post-war “Fat Man” model. Public domain image.

Three days earlier, on August 6, the Enola Gay B-29 bomber had dropped the “little boy” bomb on Hiroshima, killing an estimated 90,000-140,000 people. Kokura was the secondary target, if for some reason it had been impossible to nuke Hiroshima.

Hiroshima photo
Hiroshima, in the aftermath of the bombing. Public domain image.

Back to August 9, the Bockscar was flying over Kokura but it was impossible to visually see the target because of clouds and smoke coming from an earlier fire-bombing of the neighboring city of Yahata. So they moved to their secondary target which was Nagasaki.

The people of Kokura avoided nuclear death twice within 3 days, once because the Enola Gay‘s primary target wasn’t cloud-covered, and once because the Bockscar‘s primary target was. People were doing their laundry, going to work, making love while plans were made – and almost carried out – to nuke them.

I wonder how they felt when they later learned about it.

Kokura photo
What Kokura looks like today. Credit: T.J.M., Creative Commons license (BY-NC).

See also:

14 Responses to “Nagasaki’s Nuke was Supposed to be Dropped on Kokura”

  1. Ben Schiendelman Says:

    No source, nothing? I’ve been to all three cities, and visited the museums in both, and the US documents they have under glass cases there tell a pretty different story.

  2. Ben Schiendelman Says:

    (in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki)

  3. Michael Graham Richard Says:

    My original source, where I first learned about this, was in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

    Online it is mentioned in these places, among others:

  4. Ben Schiendelman Says:

    Great! Thanks.

    Next time source in the article! 🙂

  5. Michael Graham Richard Says:

    You’re right, of course. I usually always have sources. I guess I was on a roll with that post and hit “publish” more quickly than usual.

  6. Peter Says:

    I remember reading a biography of the founder of Toyota, and it mentioned that he was stationed in Kokura that day. He knew what happened, and how lucky he was to survive.

  7. Joel Embry Says:

    Mr. Richard:

    I can tell you as someone who’s father was a American Prisoner fo War in the hell hole known as Fukuoka #3 located several thousand yards from Kokura drop zone and who would not be alive today if not for the alternate distruction of Nagasaki I felt tickled pink:)

  8. Matthew Says:

    “People were doing their laundry, going to work, making love while plans were made”.

    Lovely imagery, but far from the actual truth of near starvation and forced labor to produce armaments and materials for the Japanese war machine. It’s also not traditionally Japanese custom to “make love” during daylight hours.

  9. Michael Graham Richard Says:


    Point taken. My goal was not to pretend that war-time Japan was a wonderful paradise and that outside forces tried to destroy it. I was just trying to picture people living their every day lives unaware that they came so close to nuclear annihilation.

    If their every day lives were really bad on top of that, it just makes it even worse.

    And custom or not, I bet in every city of any size, there are always people “making love” somewhere 😉

  10. Tae Says:

    “And custom or not, I bet in every city of any size, there are always people “making love” somewhere”


  11. jerry delavega Says:

    I would love to learn the “different story” that Ben speaks of above.

  12. progressive reading glasses Says:

    Kind of sad story. How did the men could build such a weapon…?

  13. John Says:

    I visited Hiroshima August 6th 2008 on the anniversary of the first Atomic bomb dropped on an entire civilian population. Google tropixblue, Hiroshima.

  14. tropixblue Says:

    I went to the memorial services on the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in August 2008,

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