The First US Officer To View The Devastation Of The Atomic Bomb.

by Daniel Russ on May 30, 2010

B-29 Superfortress

A friend of mine works at a place downtown where I hang out and work on my computer. I told her about my blog and she told me her father was an Air Force pilot and he was the first man to fly bomb damage assessment over destroyed Japanese cities. Here in two parts are his own stories about that mission, the first American to see the devastation of both atomic and incendiary weapons upon the Empire of Japan. I transposed every letter, every misspelled word from this narrative of a (at the time) 25 year-old B-29 pilot and USAAF Captain. And I replicated letter for letter his colorful use of tense, case and syntax.

Here is the first part of Captain John Harvey’s first person narrative:

Do not know what day this is as we do not go by days anymore. Time is now judged by when we will go home or move from these parts.

You will be interested in a trip I took the day of the signing of the peace. A General McIntern whom I do not know, wanted to take a trip to the Empire, visiting various cities to see damage to Japan. Well, I got the job of fling him up there, so here is the trip:

We took off at 00:15 arriving Tokyo 07:00 at an altitude of 200, we spent 300 minutes over Tokyo. There are very few people, and less buildings standing. The word devastation may be over-used in this letter, and Tokyo is cleaned out and devastated. The General commented that is was more likely 70% destroyed than 52%. There is absolutely nothing left of value – not one factory is standing and we looked them over good for damage. Many buildings are standing, but a few have been gutted by fire. We flew over the main street of Tokyo at about 20 to 100 feet to above buildings to see what was damaged and those undamaged. (This was all the Generals idea, though I probably would have done it anyway).

From Tokyo we went across the river to Kawosaki the Pittsburgh of Japan and it looks it. Destruction was the same here. All the factories were ruined, homes burned and no sign of activity. By the way, early in my stay over here, I had a pretty hard time of it over Kawosaki, and four nights later again over Tokyo. Now I was cruising 200 – 400 feet over these same places. Next comes Yokohama and a very complete job it is. The downtown district is very modern, however these modern buildings are the only thing that isn’t flat with the ground. The Navy as you know, is in around Yokohama, and you can’t visualize it or even begin to realize its size. Transports are lined up 30 miles out, off to Tateyama, down past the island of O-Shima. There were 3 hospital ships docked in Yokohama to pick up prisoners of war but not much activity around them.

Leaving Yokohama to the Navy, we continued our trip which is to take us down to Hiroshima of atomic fame, 700 miles south of Tokyo, according to the route I flew. I went direct to Shimizu and Shizoka. These towns are as all the rest, burned flat. There is nothing left in these homes that used to have 100,000 to 200,000 people. Fields around the towns have even burns on them. This is explained by the fact that at night the fire became so intense that in a period of 35 to 40 minutes smoke was up to fifteen and sixteen thousand feet.   The ship that came along later, would sometimes skirt these thermols and get the outer edge of town. Now to explain a “Thermol”. When a city started to burn, nothing was going to stop it, and with around 200 ships helping every inch burn at the same time, created a draft, of which there is no parallel. Many ships that found themselves in a thermol, found popped rivets or a wrinkled skin upon landing. Myself, I have been through my share of them, but not because I wanted to.

Between Shiuzoka and Hamamatsu, we visited many of the smaller towns. In every town not burned, there were at least 3 and 4  bread lines.  Just off the coast here there were thousands of people wading, hunting for sea weed and snails to eat. It here we scared hell out of a group of Japs. Dove at them, chasing them all over the area. Went over one driving a byke down the road and the prop wash blew him and his byke head over byke for 10 feet. The women all seemed interested interested when we flew over, but the men, or I should say the older men, wouldn’t look at all. Workers in fields would stop work and start pointing up at us and some children would run.  I saw one fellow fall flat on his face when we went over, though we were at 600  feet then and my tail gunner reported he lay flat there for as far as we could see him. I might as well add here, that for five and one half hours I was flying over the Empire, it is a beautiful peaceful country, every bit of like pictures we see. Too bad Toyama got hold of it and the stupid people who inhabit the land.

Continued…

Nagasaki Before and After

Hiroshima Before and After

Captain John Harvey On WalletSized Photo

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