Today marks the anniversary of the first use of atomic weapons in war, when the Japanese city of Hiroshima was almost completely destroyed by an atomic bomb, dropped by a US B-29 Superfortress bomber, known as the Enola Gay on 6 August 1945. The bomb, dubbed 'Little Boy', was followed three days later by the 'Fat Man' atomic bomb, which was dropped on the nearby city of Nagasaki.
Together, they killed more than 129,000 people, mostly civilians, although the effect of the bombs were not immediately known by Allied forces. A contemporary BBC report said: "An accurate assessment of the damage caused has so far been impossible due to a huge cloud of impenetrable dust covering the target."
Roughly half the total deaths happened in the following two to four months as the toll from radiation exposure took the lives of those who had survived the initial explosions.
The debate as to the use of these weapons has continued to this day, with one side arguing that the killing of so many innocent civilians is never justified, with the other saying that the use of atomic bombs hastened the Japanese surrender and brought a swift end to the Second World War, thereby savings many people's lives in the process.
Borne out of the Manhattan Project, a joint research and development programme between the US, UK, and Canada, the bombings sparked an international arms race which saw several more countries develop and test nuclear weapons, most notably the Soviet Union. The huge proliferation of weapons between the US and the USSR throughout the Cold War saw the entire doctrine of waging war change from the way the Second World War had been fought.
A new concept of 'Mutually Assured Destruction' took hold, which posited that nuclear weapons had become so powerful that no nation would ever attempt to use them, because retaliation would see their enemy reciprocate and both sides destroyed. The ultimate deterrent. This thinking still holds sway with today's nuclear powers and is the reason these incredibly costly, but never used, weapons are maintained.
A 1951 article from Overseas, which was written at a time when the UK was scrambling to create its only nuclear deterrent, speaks volumes of the paranoia of the Soviet threat during the Cold War: