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Germany surrendered before the nuclear bomb was ready for production. The Allies had a Germany first policy: if the German government hadn't surrendered, Hiroshima wouldn't have been the first city to be nuked. It would have been a German city.

The surrender came well before the bomb was finished. Is it known which city would be targeted? Did they discussed this topic already?


I'm well aware the A bomb reached the production stage months after the German surrender. What I want to know if there was any planning before the surrender to drop the bomb somewhere in Germany. Or if this was in the planning stage.

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    The targeting committee did not meet until after the European surrender. A possible list may have been made, but not a final decision.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 1:01
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    Flagged as hypothetical; given @JonCuster's comment I'm inclined to agree. I suspect you could edit this to make it historical.
    – MCW
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 1:09
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    nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB162/6.pdf may be of interest.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 1:19
  • @JonCuster can you make this into an answer?
    – Jos
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 3:17
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    Good question, but you might want to remove this part: "The surrender came half a year before the bomb was finished." Germany surrendered in May 1945 (Hitler killed himself April 30, surrender instrument was signed May 7.) The Trinity test was in mid July and Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed in early August. The surrender was before the first bomb was ready, but only by a matter of a couple of months.
    – reirab
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 20:55

4 Answers 4

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For practical purposes, the decision to deploy all B-29 bombers in the Pacific Theatre had an untended side effect: Only Japan could be targeted by the Manhattan Project deliverables. Both Little Boy and Fat Man were 10 feet long and over 5 tons, significantly beyond the delivery capabilities of either the B-17 (3 ton maximum payload) or B-24 (4 ton maximum payload) even at minimum range. This left only the B-29 as a capable American bomber, and by its deployment only the Pacific Theatre as delivery zone.

General Groves discussed these points after the war in a recall of an interview with F.D.R.:

.... The plan had always been to bomb Japan because we thought the war in Germany was pretty apt to be over in the first place and in the second place the Japanese building construction was much more easily damaged by a bomb of this character than that in Germany. I urged President Roosevelt that it would be very difficult for various reasons.

The main one was that the Germans had quite strong aerial defense. They made a practice, as every nation does, that when a new plane came into the combat area, that they would run any risk that they could to bring such a plane down so that they could examine it and see what new ideas had come in so that they could make improvements and also would know the characteristics of the plane so that they could prepare a better defense against it. We had no B-29’s in Europe. If we had sent over a small squadron or group as we did against Japan of this type, everyone of them would have been brought down on the first trip to Germany. If they hadn’t been, it would have been through no lack of effort on the part of the Germans.

The alternative would be to bring a large number of B-29’s over to to England and that would have been a major logistical task and the other possibility would have been to have used a British plane which would not have been a bit pleasing to General Arnold and also would have created a great many difficulties for our general operation because then it would be an Allied operation with the United States furnishing the bombs and everything connected with it but using a British plane and a British crew to actually drop the bomb and it would have raised a tremendous number of difficulties.

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    From your answer it sounds that it would have been possible to target Germany first, just awkward for logistical and political reasons.
    – DrMcCleod
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 7:25
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    Re: "This left only the B-29 as a capable Allied bomber" should probably be "American bomber". The Avro Lancaster was easily capable of carrying that bombload (or more, e.g. Earthquake and Grand Slam bombs). The decision not to use it (as noted in the quote) was a political one.
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 9:48
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    @PieterGeerkens The Grand Slam bombs were 26'6" long and weighed 10 tonnes and were carried by adapted Lancaster B Mk1s.
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 11:35
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    @user0123456789 radiation damage wasn't really considered, what was considered was blast and thermal damage (fire). At the time (and for decades after) radiation wasn't considered as a major effect of nuclear weapons, and until the intentional development of increased fallout weapons (cobalt salted bombs) and enhanced radiation weapons ("neutron bombs") it was considered more of an obstacle than a benefit for planners as it (and especially the fallout) made deployment close to friendly forces harder.
    – jwenting
    Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 16:26
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    @PieterGeerkens yes, but they weren't the main military purpose for nuclear weapons. Rather radiation was considered at worst an undesirable side effect, at best an extra area denial effect.
    – jwenting
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 6:07
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I found it, thanks to the comment of @Jon Custer:

The targeting committee did not meet until after the European surrender. A possible list may have been made, but not a final decision.

The targeting committee was the key. Once I got that, I found its first meeting was on 02 May 1945.

After the German surrender, on 10-11 May the committee met again, and came up with a list of cities that could be targeted.

Conclusion: The A Bomb was developed with the Germany First policy in mind, but when the development was in its final stage, Germany was on the brink of surrendering. Hitler was dead, it was just a matter of time before the actual surrender. No need to drop a nuke on Germany.

Why this question?

Long ago (decades, actually) I read a convincing article that presented Nuremberg as prime target. I was thinking about this article, and wondered if this was historic. With the help of Jon Custer I can conclude that this article was bogus.

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The Battle of Kursk was July 1943, the Bombing of Berlin ran until March 1944, D-Day was 6 Jun 1944, and VE day was 8 May 1945.

General groves wrote 'Now it can be told' about his leadership of the Manhattan project and while a problematic source in a number of ways it includes chapter 19 'choosing the target' which indicates his tasking to identify target cities happened in Spring 1945 (Wikipedia has April, as source in answer). The 509th composite group to actually deliver the bombs was formed 17 December 1944.

By early 1945 the timelines to the Trinity test in July 1945 was reasonably clear, depending largely on the accumulation of sufficient material to actually make the weapon, with the actual bombings of japan happening in August 1945

Lining up events in Europe with the above it would seem a safe bet to planners in early 1945 that even if both parties invading Europe were substantially delayed, it would be likely that no large area targets/cities to usefully drop an atomic weapon on would exist mid year. As it was special action was taken to preserve potential atomic weapon targets in Japan from conventional bombing.

Groves writing in 'now it can be told' was already aware of the risks of fallout, so appears to have not even considered deployment of the first weapon in a tactical manner to support an attack, with the targeting choice being strictly strategic.

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    Somewhere I've seen a Manhattan project table comparing expected blast effects at various heights on Japanese construction vs European, but have not been able to track it down as a source since it would suggest at least some planning for use on Germany was done. Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 11:22
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    You can, however, make some estimates "the yield will be in the ballpark of X, doing Y damage to a Japanese paper house, and Z damage to a German brick house" quite early in your project, long before you actually start planning actual targets. Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 12:09
  • @GuntramBlohm yeah, there seems to have been quite early studies on how to optimize effects quite early, that was separate to the high level 'which city' discussions. Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 12:36
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First post on History, so this may be too hypothetical an answer (to go with a hypothetical question), but when I saw the question it immediately made me think of The Berlin Project by Gregory Benford. Basically an alternate history where the bomb is developed a little earlier to be dropped on Berlin. I realize this is fictional, but a lot of the material in the book is based on real people and real events, with just enough fictional elements to change the outcome. It is clear that the author did a lot of research regarding the physics and logistics and other aspects of creating the bomb. Whether he did much research vs. speculation as far as where to drop the bomb, I don't know.

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    Could you perhaps go into more detail about how this answers the question? Did the author discuss why Berlin would have been chosen perhaps?
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 5:58
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    Unfortunately, I can't remember as I read the book quite a while ago. I looked it up online to verify that I remembered the basic plot correctly but I can't say much more. Which I realize doesn't make this the greatest answer. Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 6:08
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    Berlin would have been as poor a target as Tokyo, and eliminated for many of the same reasons. Makes for good fiction, but not actual good combat strategy. Never mind that no American bomber deployed in the European theater could carry either the of the two Manhattan-project designs.
    – dotancohen
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 9:30
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    @dotancohen You may be right about Berlin being a bad choice. But I suspect that if the bomb project was somehow moved forward a year then the bombers might have been deployed differently. Commented Dec 23, 2022 at 0:20

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