The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki


Two types of burns were observed. These are generally differentiated as flame or fire burn and so-called flash burn.

The early appearance of the flame burn as reported by the Japanese, and the later appearance as observed, was not unusual.

The flash burn presented several distinctive features. Marked redness of the affected skin areas appeared almost immediately, according to the Japanese, with progressive changes in the skin taking place over a period of a few hours. When seen after 50 days, the most distinctive feature of these burns was their sharp limitation to exposed skin areas facing the center of the explosion. For instance, a patient who had been walking in a direction at right angles to a line drawn between him and the explosion, and whose arms were swinging, might have burns only on the outside of the arm nearest the center and on the inside of the other arm.

Generally, any type of shielding protected the skin against flash burns, although burns through one, and very occasionally more, layers of clothing did occur in patients near the center. In such cases, it was not unusual to find burns through black but not through white clothing, on the same patient. Flash burns also tended to involve areas where the clothes were tightly drawn over the skin, such as at the elbows and shoulders.

The Japanese report the incidence of burns in patients surviving more than a few hours after the explosion, and seeking medical attention, as high as 95%. The total mortalities due to burns alone cannot be estimated with any degree of accuracy. As mentioned already, it is believed that the majority of all the deaths occurred immediately. Of these, the Japanese estimate that 75%, and most of the reports estimate that over 50%, of the deaths were due to burns.

In general, the incidence of burns was in direct proportion to the distance from X. However, certain irregularities in this relationship result in the medical studies because of variations in the amount of shielding from flash burn, and because of the lack of complete data on persons killed outright close to X.

The maximum distance from X at which flash burns were observed is of paramount interest. It has been estimated that patients with burns at Hiroshima were all less than 7,500 feet from the center of the explosion at the time of the bombing. At Nagasaki, patients with burns were observed out to the remarkable distance of 13,800 feet.

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