He was crossing Hiroshima on a public tram when he heard the droning sound of an aircraft engine in the skies above.
|Twice bombed, twice survived|
He was unaware that the engines belonged to the US bomber, Enola Gay, and that it was just seconds away from dropping a 13 kiloton uranium atomic bomb.
Yamaguchi was just stepping off the tram as the plane approached its target at 8.15am on 6 August, 1945. He glanced up at the sky and noticed it pass overheard. He also saw two small parachutes. And then, quite without warning, all hell broke loose.
‘[There was] a great flash in the sky and I was blown over.’
The massive nuclear warhead had exploded less than three kilometres from the spot where he was standing.
|A blinding flash of light|
Seconds later, he passed out. The explosion ruptured his eardrums and the flash of light left him temporarily blinded.
|Hiroshima after the attack|
|Enola Gay's return|
|Nagasaki after the attack|
His boss and his co-workers listened with horrified amazement as he described the unbelievable destruction that a single warhead had managed to cause. He told them how the bomb had melted metal and evaporated entire parts of the city. His boss, Sam, simply didn’t believe him.
‘You're an engineer,’ he barked. ‘Calculate it. How could one bomb...destroy a whole city?’
At the exact moment when he said these words - 11.02am - there was a blinding white flash that penetrated to the heart of the room. Yamaguchi’s tender skin was once again pricked with heat and he crashed to the ground. ‘I thought that the mushroom cloud followed me from Hiroshima,’ he said later
The US Airforce had dropped their second nuclear warhead, ‘Fat Man’, named after Winston Churchill. It was much larger than the Hiroshima device - a 25-kiloton plutonium bomb that exploded in the bowl of the valley in which Nagasaki is situated.
|A model of the Nagasaki bomb|
Yamaguchi’s survival of both nuclear explosions was little short of miraculous. Yet it was later discovered that he was one of 160 people known to have lived through both bombings.
|He survived both of these|
|Fellow Nagasaki survivors|
Yamaguchi became an outspoken opponent of nuclear weapons until he was well advanced in years, at which point he began to suffer from the long-term effects of the exposure to radiation. His wife developed liver and kidney cancer in 2008 and died soon after. Yamaguchi himself contracted acute leukemia and finally died in 2010 at the age of 93.
His longevity was extraordinary, as he knew all too well. He viewed his long life as a ‘path planted by God’.
‘It was my destiny that I experienced this twice and I am still alive to convey what happened,’ he said towards the end of his life.
My new book, Russian Roulette, is now published in the USA. Available from amazon, barnes&noble and all good independent publishers.
|Now published in USA|
‘With this marvellous, meticulously researched and truly ground-breaking account of British spies working in Lenin's stripling Soviet Union, Giles Milton - with his best book so far - reminds us of a time when the spying game was dangerous, fun and - dare one say it - even cool.' Simon Winchester, author of The Men who United the States and The Professor and the Madman.