Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

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.

Local Photo ID: 243-HP-I-43 (NAID 175539537). Original Caption: “Aerial view of the densely built-up area along the Motoyasu-gawa looking upstream. Except for very heavy masonry structures, the entire area was devastated. Ground zero of the atomic bomb was upper right in the photo, opposite the second bend in the river.”
Local Photo ID: 243-HP-I-46 (NAID 175739135). Original Caption: “Looking north-northeast along Tera-machi, the Street of the Temples. This road is considerably wider than most roads found in residential areas. This district was completely ruined.”
Local Photo ID: 243-HP-I-45 (NAID 175739133). Original Caption: “Photograph of the downtown shopping district near the center of town. Only rubble and a few utility poles remained after the explosion and the resultant fires. This street was equivalent to the very famous Tokyo Ginza. Photo was taken facing east.”

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.

Local Photo ID: 243-NP-III-7-45
Local Photo ID:  243-NP-III-7-38
243-NP-I-I-21A and 21B
Local Photo IDs:  243-NP-I-I-21A and 243-NP-I-I-21B. Aerial photographs. Before and After Bomb over Nagasaki.
Local Photo ID: 243-NP-III-7-30


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.

Local Photo ID: 342-C-K6011 (NAID 148728174). Original Caption: “General view of Hiroshima, Japan as seen from vicinity of ‘zero’, shows complete devastation as a result of atomic bombing.” March 1946.
Local Photo ID: 243-HP-I-33-2 (NAID 22345677).  Caption: Hiroshima after Atomic Bomb drop.
Local Photo ID: 434-LB-8-XBD201308-03731 (NAID 39147850). Caption: Nagasaki, Japan after the atomic bomb detonation. Photograph taken March 17, 1948. John H. Lawrence Collection.
Local Photo ID: 434-LB-8-XBD201308-03718 (NAID 39147824). Caption: Nagasaki, Japan after the atomic bomb detonation. Photograph taken March 17, 1948. John H. Lawrence Collection.


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.

Local Photo ID: 330-CFD-DF-ST-99-05342 (NAID 6506414). Original Caption: “Lighted candles float down the river, past the Atomic Bomb Memorial, in Hiroshima, Japan as part of remembrance ceremonies of the atomic explosion in 1945. Exact Date Shot Unknown.”
Local Photo ID: 330-CFD-DN-ST-97-00261 (NAID 6495800). Original Caption: “A memorial marking the spot where 50 years ago the second atomic bomb was dropped on Japan which brought about the end of World War II. The hypocenter is 500 meters above the memorial.”
Local Photo ID: 330-CFD-DN-ST-97-00260 (NAID 6495799). Original Caption: “The People at Peace Memorial was erected by the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Lions Club International Association. It was dedicated on February 17, 1984.”
Agency-Assigned Number: P052716PS-0848 (NAID 157649766). Original Caption: “President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan participate in a wreath laying at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial in Hiroshima, Japan, May 27, 2016. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza).”

Additional Resources from the National Archives

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.

4 thoughts on “Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

  1. I remember the BBC movie about the second world war.
    They said that Japan was ready to surrender before America dropped bombs on them.

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