75 years ago, in August 1945, the United States dropped the first and last atomic bombs used in warfare. The first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima at 8:15 AM on August 6th, and the second bomb was dropped over Nagasaki on August 9th at 11:02 AM. Whether or not the atomic bombs should have been dropped is a topic that is still debated. Despite the differing views, it is a fact that thousands of unsuspecting people were killed or injured by the bombs.
It is important to note that recorded death tolls are only estimates. That said, according to the Atomic Heritage Foundation, in Hiroshima, “between 90,000 and 166,000 people are believed to have died from the bomb in the four-month period following the explosion.” In Nagasaki, “it is estimated that between 40,000 and 75,000 people died immediately following the atomic explosion, while another 60,000 people suffered severe injuries.” Those who survived the bombs are known as the hibakusha. In the decades following the bombings, the hibakusha faced physical and emotional traumas, as well as extreme discrimination. As of 2019, it is estimated that there are 145,844 hibakusha still living.
Records held at the National Archives related to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings continue to serve as vital resources for researchers, educators, and the general public. The following selections are photographic records held in the Still Picture Branch that document Hiroshima and Nagasaki before and after the bombings. Additional resources from the National Archives are listed below.
Hiroshima – Before the Atomic Bomb
The following images are from Record Group 243, Series HP (243-HP): Photographs Used In The Report Effects of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima, Japan
The Physical Damage Division of the United States Strategic Bombing Survey (USBS) investigated conditions in the city from October 14 to November 26 in an effort to chart the physical damage created by the bomb. The division took photographs to illustrate their findings and USBS’s final three-volume report, Effects of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. The report was published in May, 1947. The photographs in 243-HP were used to illustrate the final report and show damage to buildings, utilities, and industries.
Nagasaki – Before and After the Atomic Bomb
The following images are from Record Group 243, Series NP (243-NP): Photographs used in Report on the Effects of the Atomic Bomb on Nagasaki, Japan
“Effects of the Atomic Bomb of Nagasaki, Japan” is a three volume report (similar to the report on Hiroshima) published in June 1947 by the Physical Damage Division of the USSBS and based on its survey of October 13 to November 20, 1945. The photographs document damaged buildings; devastated suburban and urban areas; before and after views of Nagasaki; the phenomenon of flash burning; damage to industrial, transportation and communications facilities; and damage to public and private structures, railroads, and utilities.
Photographs documenting the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki can be found in multiple records groups, including but not limited to: RG 77, RG 80, RG 111, RG 208, RG 127, RG 306, RG 342, and RG 434. More photographs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the bombings are available in our catalog here.
Memorials have been erected at the sites of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima atomic bombings. Photographs of those memorials are included within Record Group 330 and at the Obama Presidential Library.
Additional Resources from the National Archives
- More information about non-textual holdings related to Hiroshima is included in a previous blog post, Witness to Destruction: Photographs and Sound Recordings Documenting the Hiroshima Bombing.
The National Archives Museum, Featured Document Display: The Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
- From the Truman Presidential Library, The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb
- 77-BT: Photographic Prints of Atomic Bomb Preparations at Tinian Island. The series has been digitized and made available in the NARA catalog here.
- There are many records related to the atomic bombings, which are spread across various National Archives units. To read series descriptions of records related to Hiroshima, click here. To read series descriptions of records related to Nagasaki, click here.
Publication of Photographs Furnished by the National Archives Still Picture Branch (RRSS)
There are no known copyright restrictions on any of the images included within this blog post.
Generally, copies of photographic records held by the National Archives may be published without special permission or additional fees. The National Archives does not grant exclusive or non-exclusive publication privileges. Copies of Federal records, as part of the public domain, are equally available to all. A small percentage of photographs in our holdings are or may be subject to copyright restrictions. The National Archives does not confirm the copyright status of photographs but will provide any information known about said status. It is the user’s responsibility to obtain all necessary clearances. Any use of these items is made at the researcher’s or purchaser’s own risk.
Proper credit lines are encouraged in the interest of good documentation. They also help inform the public about government photographic resources that are available.
*Because so many of our requests for information cite credits and captions that appear in published works, the inclusion of a photo number in hard copy and electronic publications is of great assistance to both us and the public.
Examples of preferred credit lines are as follows:
- National Archives photo no. 80-G-32500
- Credit National Archives (photo no. 306-NT-186000)
- Courtesy National Archives, photo no. 26-G-3422
- National Archives (111-SC-202199)
If using a large number of our images, the National Archives will appreciate receiving copies of publications that contain our photographs. Such copies can be sent to the Still Picture Branch or the Library, National Archives and Records Administration.