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Lethal Rehearsal

Aug. 3, 2015

Today we begin a series of special reports to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two. In this week in 1945 the US dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Not many people know about the practice runs before the atomic attacks, when American air crews dropped stand-ins for the real thing. Survivors and a team of researchers are working to tell people about these lethal rehearsals and the damage they caused.

Tomomi Hashimoto begins our series, “The War, 70 Years On,” with this special report on the so-called “pumpkin bombs.”

Eleven days before the bombing of Hiroshima, junior high school teacher Shigeko Tatsuno was with her students in Osaka. At 9:26 AM, a single US bomber flew by. Then, something fell from the plane.

"I saw one plane and thought that bombers would follow. But it was just a single plane and all of a sudden, it dropped a bomb. All I remember is this ripping, explosive sound. I was stunned.”

The bomb killed 7 people, including her good friend.

Even after the war, few people understood the purpose of these missions. The US government classified them as top secret. But as the related documents were declassified, the story emerged.

Yui Tanaka, from the Osaka International Peace Center says, "July 26, that’s the day they attacked Osaka. This word, “special” means “practice bombs."

“Pumpkin bombs”, or 10,000lb. blockbusters were used on these missions. The special weapons were called pumpkin bombs because of their shape. The sole purpose for flying these missions was training pilots to drop the atomic bombs. The Osaka bomb was the same size and weight as the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. But it was packed with ordinary explosives.

Yozo Kudo is a retired professor. He’s spent over 20 years researching pumpkin bombs.

"Atomic bombs were completely new weapons for the US forces, so they had all kinds of concerns about dropping them. The bomber crews needed to become acclimatized to the atmospheric conditions over Japan, and practice identifying targets.

They decided to fill the practice bombs with explosives because they thought witnessing the destruction would give the crews a psychological boost."

In July, a seminar on pumpkin bombs was held in Osaka. Kudo and other researchers shared their findings. It was the first time anyone had attempted to put all the information together and build a clear picture of the damage. Participants found that bombs were dropped on 49 places. They included heavily populated cities such as Tokyo, Osaka and Kobe. More than 400 people were killed.

A week after the seminar, people gathered in Osaka to remember the victims of the attacks. They observed a moment of silence.

Tatsuno recalled a friend who was killed by a pumpkin bomb.

"I prayed to my friend before coming here today and promised to tell people about her."

Tatsuno wants young people in particular to learn about the victims of the practice bombs and the atomic attacks that followed.

"I keep asking myself why my friend and the others had to die. I realized that’s what happens in wartime.

I want young people to think about this tragedy. "

It’s not surprising that few people know about the so-called “pumpkin bombs.” The US kept information about them under wraps for many years. But it’s a different story when it comes to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There can’t be many people who don’t know what happened to those 2 cities in August 1945.

A recent NHK poll shows that only a third of those surveyed can give the correct dates for the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

NHK surveyed about 1000 people in Japan by phone in late June. The poll showed that a growing number of people don’t know the exact dates of the bombings. Only 30 percent of those polled answered correctly that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6th. The figure was 69 percent in Hiroshima.

26 percent of those responding knew that Nagasaki was bombed on Aug. 9. The figure was 59 percent in Nagasaki.

Of course that doesn’t mean that people don’t know about the bombings. But, there are some dates in history that we should never forget; August 6th and August 9th 1945, for example.