The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Shielding, or Screening From Blast
In any explosion, a certain amount of protection from blast may be gained by having any large and substantial object between the protected object and the center of the explosion. This shielding effect was noticeable in the atomic explosions, just as in ordinary cases, although the magnitude of the explosions and the fact that they occurred at a considerable height in the air caused marked differences from the shielding which would have characterized ordinary bomb explosions.
The outstanding example of shielding was that afforded by the hills in the city of Nagasaki; it was the shielding of these hills which resulted in the smaller area of devastation in Nagasaki despite the fact that the bomb used there was not less powerful. The hills gave effective shielding only at such distances from the center of explosion that the blast pressure was becoming critical - that is, was only barely sufficient to cause collapse - for the structure. Houses built in ravines in Nagasaki pointing well away from the center of the explosion survived without damage, but others at similar distances in ravines pointing toward the center of explosion were greatly damaged. In the north of Nagasaki there was a small hamlet about 8,000 feet from the center of explosion; one could see a distinctive variation in the intensity of damage across the hamlet, corresponding with the shadows thrown by a sharp hill.
The best example of shielding by a hill was southeast of the center of explosion in Nagasaki. The damage at 8,000 feet from X consisted of light plaster damage and destruction of about half the windows. These buildings were of European type and were on the reverse side of a steep hill. At the same distance to the south-southeast the damage was considerably greater, i.e., all windows and frames, doors, were damaged and heavy plaster damage and cracks in the brick work also appeared. The contrast may be illustrated also by the fact that at the Nagasaki Prefectural office at 10,800 feet the damage was bad enough for the building to be evacuated, while at the Nagasaki Normal School to which the Prefectural office had been moved, at the same distance, the damage was comparatively light.
Because of the height of the bursts no evidence was expected of the shielding of one building by another, at least up to a considerable radius. It was in fact difficult to find any evidence at any distance of such shielding. There appeared to have been a little shielding of the building behind the Administration Building of the Torpedo Works in Nagasaki, but the benefits were very slight. There was also some evidence that the group of buildings comprising the Medical School in Nagasaki did afford each other mutual protection. On the whole, however, shielding of one building by another was not noticeable.
There was one other peculiar type of shielding, best exhibited by the workers' houses to the north of the torpedo plant in Nagasaki. These were 6,000 to 7,000 feet north of X. The damage to these houses was not nearly as bad as those over a thousand feet farther away from the center of explosion. It seemed as though the great destruction caused in the torpedo plant had weakened the blast a little, and the full power was not restored for another 1,000 feet or more.