National Park Service
The Archeology of the Atomic Bomb
A Submerged Cultural Resources Assessment of the Sunken Fleet of Operation Crossroads at Bikini and Kwajalein Atoll Lagoons
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James P. Delgado

The end of the Pacific War, and hence World War II, was brought about by the surrender of Japan following the dropping of atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These were, respectively, the second and third nuclear detonations on the surface of the planet. The first bomb was detonated at Alamagordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945, at 5:30 a.m. The second bomb was detonated over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, at 8:15 a.m. The third bomb was detonated over Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, at 10:58 a.m. The fourth and fifth bombs were detonated during the atomic tests at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

The first large-scale atomic weapons effects tests conducted by the United States, the "Able" test detonation of July 1, 1946, at 9:00 a.m. local time at Bikini, and the "Baker" test detonation of July 25, 1946, at approximately 8:35 a.m. local time, were the first two of the three-part "Operation Crossroads" tests. (The third detonation, the "Charlie" test, was cancelled.) Formulated at the war's end and approved by President Harry S Truman on January 10, 1946, Operation Crossroads was not only the first of more than 850 publicly announced atomic weapons tests. It was a major demonstration of the power of the bomb and of the nation that had produced and used it, the United States. The name was selected because the atomic bomb represented a "crossroads"--from conventional to nuclear war.

Joint Task Force One press release photo of the target area at Bikini, 1946. (U.S. Naval Institute)

The tests involved assembling a fleet of 242 ships, 42,000 men, 156 airplanes, and tens of thousands of tons of equipment, ordnance, and material at Bikini, as well as relocating the 162 residents of the atoll--beginning an odyssey that has earned for these displaced people the sobriquet of "nuclear nomads" of the Pacific. Observers from Congress, from other nations (including the Soviet Union), and representatives of "U.S. press, radio, pictorial services, magazines, etc." made these tests the most public and the most reported of any nuclear weapons tests. [1] The inherent message of nuclear weapons was underscored at Bikini, and has since become increasingly the subject of public debate and concern as the progeny of the Manhattan project multiplied until by 1986, according to one nonofficial estimate, the United States had manufactured 60,000 warheads of 71 types for 116 different weapons systems. [2]

Initially, the development and use of atomic weapons was welcomed and celebrated in the United States because the destruction of two Japanese cities had brought a fierce enemy to his knees through the fear of rapid annihilation. The toll of fighting at Palau, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa was still vividly recalled. Many thousands of American lives would have been lost in a bloody invasion of the Japanese home islands. Consciences were salved when the death toll at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, while terrible, was less than the number of Japanese civilians killed in the B-29 fire-bombing raids on Tokyo, Nagoya, and Kobe. Soon, however, as historian Paul Boyer has noted, a grim realization set in. Moral implications of the use of the atomic bomb troubled some observers. More pragmatically, many realized that the bomb was a world-threatening weapon. The spectre of nuclear armageddon overshadowed the globe, and in the United States, the understanding that the bomb could also someday be used against the United States brought the first chills to the Cold War. General H. H. "Hap" Arnold, head of the U.S. Army Air Forces, was the first to publicly prophesize that World War III would not last as long as World War II; World War III would be over in hours, with no one left to determine who had won.

Widespread comprehension of the bomb's grim reality was not immediate. It took many years, the detonation of a nuclear bomb by the Soviet Union, and the development of vast arsenals of more potent nuclear weapons with the capacity to kill every living thing on earth several times over, for fear to set in. Yet until then, people accepted the bomb as a deadly and powerful beneficial force. At the very beginning, though, the message was clear. In 1946, a press report noted that while "a large number of scientists are looking forward to the forthcoming explosion...[the] least curious...are the atomic scientists. They take a poor view of the entire operation, maintaining that the explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki have perfectly well demonstrated the basic fact that the atomic bomb is too powerful a weapon to leave outside the confines of international control and that Operation Crossroads will simply underline this truth...." [3] The commander of Joint Task Force One which conducted Operation Crossroads was Vice Adm. William Henry Purnell Blandy. Blandy, writing in the foreword to Bombs at Bikini, the "official" public report on the tests, noted "the atomic bomb is definitely not 'just another weapon;' its destructive power dwarfs all previous weapons. Observers at Bikini saw the bomb sink great steel warships and, with its penetrating nuclear radiation, reach into ships' interiors to kill test animals. The explosions in air and underwater were very different spectacles, but their end results mean the same: death and destruction on an enormous scale." [4]

Admiral W. H. P. Blandy, commander of Joint Task Force One. (National Archives)

Operation Crossroads was interpreted as a defensive measure to the American public. Testing the effect of the atomic bomb on warships and their crews would specifically "improve our Navy." According to Bombs at Bikini,

We want ships which are tough, even when threatened by atomic bombs; we want to keep the ships afloat, propellers turning, guns firing; we want to protect the crews so that, if fighting is necessary, they can fight well today and return home unharmed tomorrow....the unequalled importance of the atomic bomb....shakes the very foundations of military strategy. [5]

However, the concept of the bomb's deployment against ships was as an offensive weapon. Admiral Blandy told the Senate Committee on Atomic Energy on January 24, 1946, "The ultimate results of the tests, so far as the Navy is concerned, will be their translation into terms of United States sea power. Secondary purposes are to afford training for Army Air Forces personnel in attack with the atomic bomb against ships and to determine the effect of the atomic bomb upon military installations and equipment." [6]

The history of the war, beginning with the surprise attack on the fleet at Pearl Harbor, and a hard four-year fight at a tremendous cost instilled a strong sense of the best defense being offense. The atomic bomb provided the strongest offensive capability available, and nuclear deterrence and the Cold War invocation of the necessity of nuclear capability were first aired for Operation Crossroads:

The tests stand out clearly as a defensive measure. We are seeking to primarily learn what types of ships, tactical formations and strategic dispositions of our own naval forces will best survive attack by the atomic weapons of other nations, should we ever have to face them. By no stretch of the imagination can such steps of caution and economy be taken as a threat of aggression. If, because of such a false assumption, we failed to carry out these experiments, to learn the lessons which they can teach us, our designers of ships, aircraft and ground equipment, as well as our tacticians, strategists and medical officers would be groping their way along a dark road which might lead to another and worse Pearl Harbor. [7]

In April 1946, Admiral Blandy, reporting that "some of our leading scientists" agreed that "other nations with even a moderate degree of industrialization can manufacture atomic bombs in a few years....our Armed Forces must be kept modern, and one of the first steps in modernizing them is to learn the full capabilities of any new weapon which may be brought against them." [8] Among the more interesting aspects of Operation Crossroads was the inclusion of foreign observers from 11 countries, among them the Soviet Union, a rival for global influence.


The news of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima started discussions among naval circles as to the new weapon's effect on ships; this question was posed on the floor of the Senate on August 25, 1945, when Senator Brien McMahon of Connecticut stated:

In order to test the destructive powers of the atomic bomb against naval vessels, I would like...Japanese naval ships taken to sea and an atomic bomb dropped on them. The resulting explosion should prove to us just how effective the atomic bomb is when used against the giant naval ships. I can think of no better use for these Jap ships. [9]

The idea of using the bomb against ships was not new; "even in 1944, Los Alamos scientists were looking into the possibilities of eventually atomic-bombing Japanese fleet concentrations," specifically the Japanese naval base at Truk Lagoon, but by that late date the Imperial Japanese Navy was already decimated by conventional warfare. [10] American submarines waged a terrible war of attrition: disastrous sea battles and bombing raids sank most Japanese capital ships, leaving a pitiful remnant of the once formidable fleet at war's end.

The destruction of the 48 surviving surface warships of the Imperial Japanese Navy surrendered at war's end was guaranteed regardless of whether or not the atomic bomb was used. [11] The new Japan would be demilitarized and its remaining vessels sunk or scrapped. On August 28, 1945, Fleet Adm. Ernest J. King, Commander in Chief of the U.S. Fleet, recommended that the remaining Japanese vessels be destroyed. Lt. Gen. B. M. Giles, on MacArthur's staff in Tokyo, followed Senator McMahon's lead and proposed on September 14, 1945, that atomic bombs be used to sink the Japanese ships. The proposal was supported by Maj. Gen. Curtis LeMay, architect of the fire-bombing raids on Japan. Gen. H. H. "Hap" Arnold concurred, and asked the Navy on September 18 that "a number of the Japanese vessels be made available to the Army Air Forces for use in tests involving atomic bombs and other weapons." [12]

This proposal met with a positive response from the Navy. As early as June 1945, the Navy's Bureau of Ships (BuShips) and Bureau of Ordnance (BuOrd) had recommended a "comprehensive program for testing high explosives against merchant and warship hulks, captured enemy vessels, and United States Navy combatant ships about to be stricken from the active list." [13] The Underwater Explosion Program had been approved by the Chief of Naval Operations, but the deployment of the atomic bomb changed the scope of the effort. On August 28, the same day Admiral King recommended destroying the Japanese ships, the Chief of the Bureau of Ships, Vice Adm. E. L. Cochrane, informed the Underwater Explosion Program staff that they "must be prepared to undertake broad-scale experiments with the atomic bomb to clear up its major influence on naval warfare" as their first priority. The Chief of Naval Operations was notified by BuShips and BuOrd that "full-scale testing...both underwater and above water, against ships of various types" using the atomic bomb was imperative. [14] At the same time, the United States Navy, which had built a formidable fleet of more than 1,200 ships during the war, was scaling down.

At the end of August 1945, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal suggested that the Navy would be reduced to a 400-ship force with 8,000 aircraft, with the remaining ships held in reserve. This situation provided the Navy with a large number of potentially expendable ships for weapons testing. Questioned about the atomic bomb, Forrestal strongly underscored the fact that the bomb would ultimately be put to use at sea, noting that "control of the sea by whatever weapons are necessary is the Navy's mission." The next day, The New York Times, reporting on the Navy's opposition to merging the War and Navy Departments, noted that the Navy was probably amenable to joint operations regarding "scientific developments," and prophesized that "it would not at all be surprising" within the next six months for a proposal "to test the effects of the new atomic bomb against warships. There has been speculation...whether the atomic bomb...might cause the bottoms of steel ships to disintegrate and thus sink the entire fleet...some Navy authorities say they would like to see such a test conducted against some of our old battleships, for, if the atomic bomb works this way, they want to know it." [15]

Given the Navy's strong interest in the bomb and its commitment to the Underwater Explosion Program and that program's priority being atomic testing, and with the Army Air Forces' proposal in hand, Admiral King agreed on October 16, 1945, to atomic bombing of the Japanese ships as a coordinated action of the Army and Navy under the control of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with "a few of our own modern naval vessels...included in the target array" for air and underwater detonations, following the advice and plans of the Underwater Explosion Program staff. [16] On October 24, The New York Times reported that the Navy was to test the bomb to assess its effect on ships both dispersed and "massed at anchorage as in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941." [17] It was not until December 10, 1945, however, that an official announcement of joint Army-Navy tests of the bomb was made. The New York Times, covering the announcement, stated that the details had yet to be worked out, specifically noting that the Army Air Forces "have been working aggressively to get a leading role in the experiment to make sure it would not be an all-Navy affair." [18] While hotly denied, the issue of Army-Navy competition was continually raised throughout the tests; a July 30, 1946, article in The New York Times quoted an unnamed Army officer's attacks on the "battleship mentality" of "die-hard" naval officers, noting "in the event of a future war...a Navy as we know it now will be utterly helpless on either side."

The concept of the tests was appealing for more than technical reasons; while "it is indeed routine to test each new weapon in all major applications," including against naval targets, "the novelty of the proposed test of the atomic bomb against naval vessels would lie in the unprecedented scale and world-wide importance of the tests." [19] Even more attractive was the overt symbolism of the atomic bomb destroying the surviving capital ships of the Japanese Navy; one early 1946 newspaper account, accompanied by an Associated Press photograph of 24 battered-looking submarines and destroyers, crowed "Trapped Remnants of Jap Fleet Face Destruction in United States Navy Atom-Bomb Tests." Another symbolic and significant aspect of the tests was a demonstration that the United States was now the world leader; it alone possessed the secret of nuclear power, it had a stockpile of atomic bombs capable of being used again, and it was sufficiently wealthy to expend three (the original number of planned detonations) of these bombs and nearly a hundred ships in the most costly and elaborate weapons tests performed on earth up to that time.

Considerable interest in the tests by scientists assessing the weapon's effects was publicly touted. In July 1946, Life magazine reported that "a large number of scientists are looking forward to the forthcoming explosion....never having had a chance to test the effects of atomic energy in their own areas of knowledge," because they would have "a laboratory example of what may happen to the world and the animate and inanimate things on it in the event that war comes again." [20] Throughout Operation Crossroads, and well after, "scientific benefits" of the tests were stressed. These benefits were for the military, which learned from Crossroads and the hundreds of tests that followed to make stronger, deadlier nuclear weapons:

At Hiroshima and Nagasaki a few photographs and pressure measurements were made of the explosions, but almost nothing of value to physicists was learned. Physicists wanted actual values of the following: pressure, impulse, accelerations, shock-wave velocity, ranges and intensities of gamma radiation, decrease of the gamma radiation during the first few hours. And medical men, arriving at the scene late, found it difficult to tell what the early symptoms of the injured persons had been, and whether the injuries resulted primarily from flash burn, gamma radiation, or from secondary factors such as fires, and floods, and lack of food, over-exertion, and lack of medical attention. [21]

(1) DD Anderson
(2) SS Apogon
(3) BB Arkansas
(4) APA Carlisle
(5) APA Gilliam
(6) DD Lamson
(7) BB Nagato
(8) SS Pilotfish
(9) CL Sakawa
(10) CV Saratoga
(11) ARDC-13
(12) YO-160
(13) LCT-1114
(14) APA Banner
(15) APA Barrow
(16) APA Bracken
(17) APA Briscoe
(18) APA Brule
(19) APA Butte
(20) APA Carteret
(21) APA Catron
(22) APA Crittenden
(23) APA Dawson
(24) SS Dentuda
(25) APA Fallon
(26) APA Gasconade
(27) DD Holmes
(28) CVL Independence
(29) DD Mayrant
(30) DD Mustin
The Able Target Array, showing the actual point of detonation. Shaded vessels sank as a result of the blast. (click on image for a PDF version)

(31) BB New York
(32) BB Nevada
(33) SS Parche
(34) BB Pennsylvania
(35) CA Pensacola
(36) IX Prinz Eugen
(37) DD Rhind
(38) CA Salt Lake City
(39) SS Searaven
(40) SS Skate
(41) SS Skipjack
(42) DD Stack
(43) DD Talbot
(44) DD Trippe
(45) SS Tuna
(46) DD Wainwright
(47) DD Wilson
(48) LCM-1
(49) LST-52
(50) LSM-60
(51) YOG-83
(52) LST-133
(53) LCT-327
(54) LCT-332
(55) LCT-674
(56) LCT-816
(57) LCT-818
The Baker Target Array, showing the actual point of detonation. Shaded vessels sank as a result of the blast. Both illustrations were redrawn by Robbyn Jackson of the NPS Historic American Engineering Record from JTF-1 sketches. (click on image for a PDF version)

The Trinity detonation at the Alamagordo Air Base Range (now White Sands Missile Range) in July 1945 was a weapons proof shot; Hiroshima and Nagasaki were combat uses that had to be scrupulously analyzed after the fact for effect determinations. Operation Crossroads was of particular importance to the military; it was an opportunity for weapons scientists to assess, under a controlled environment, the effects of the bomb.

The bombs for Crossroads were delivered by the Los Alamos scientists who had also provided the bombs used for Trinity and against Japan. According to one report, the Crossroads bombs were drawn from the U.S. stockpile of nine implosion-type core devices; these weapons were nearly identical to the Mk III "Fat Man" bomb dropped on Nagasaki. [22] These weapons reportedly yielded a 23-kiloton effect, equal to 23,000 tons of TNT. ("Official" yield credited at the time was 20 kilotons.) The bombs "contained a proximity-fuze system of extremely great reliability, sensitivity, and absolute accuracy. The detonation system was set for an altitude of 515 feet." [23]

Initially three tests were planned in order to assess the effects of pressure, impulse, shock-wave velocity, optical radiation, and nuclear radiation particular to the bomb. The air burst was reportedly to duplicate the conditions of the drop on Hiroshima, this time over water. The second shallow underwater blast was to simulate an attack on a fleet at anchor. The third test (cancelled) was to take place in the lee of Oruk Island, off the atoll, in 1,000 to 2,000 feet of water, with a small number of vessels moored above the blast solely to test the underwater effect of the bomb.

A variety of preparations were made to handle logistics, relocation of the Bikinians, and the various scientific studies and tests that were performed at the atoll. The 242 vessels involved in Operation Crossroads were the subject of the most preparation: organized in three groups--target ships (combatant), target ships (auxiliaries), and support ships. These vessels were placed "in the best possible material condition" at Pearl Harbor, Bremerton, Terminal Island, Hunter's Point, Philadelphia, and at Bikini. [24]

A Mark III "Fat Man" bomb casing. (NPS, Candace Clifford)


Preparations for the tests involved surveys of structural and watertight integrity, installation of test equipment, stripping of armament and other items not required as test equipment, the removal of "certain items of historical interest or of a critical nature" from each ship--usually bells, nameplates, commemorative plaques, ship's silver sets--and their transfer to "the Curator of the Navy Department" in Washington, D.C. [25] The target ships were then loaded "with specified amounts of ammunition, fuel oil, gasoline, water....Ships were loaded as closely as possible to the battle or operating displacement of the ships. Varying percentages of the wartime allowance of ammunition and of the normal capacity of fuel oil and gasoline were carried in the ships' magazines and bunker tanks. All gasoline drums, airplanes loaded with gasoline, and similar items were placed in pans with coamings approximately 18 inches high to prevent dispersal of the gasoline." [26] In some cases emergency repairs were made to battle-damaged ships for the tests. USS Pennsylvania (BB-38), for example, had a cofferdam patch on the hull where a torpedo had holed the ship in August 1945. This patch was reinforced and tightened, and a special watertight box was built around a steam steering engine shaft which, if flooded, would be damaged if the shaft bearings were immersed in salt water. [27] Other preparations included the establishment of vertical and horizontal reference lines for list and twist determination, installation of deck compression gauges, installation of special boarding ladders on the shell plating from waterline to deck edge, and painting of frame numbers on the hull and decks. A full photographic record was made of all "special installations." [28]

Factors involved in selecting the ships ranged from specific types and methods of construction to specific materials. In its enabling directive, Joint Task Force One was instructed to include not only captured enemy vessels in the target array but to also test vessels "representative of modern U.S. naval and merchant types...." However, "it was not feasible to include vessels of all U.S. naval types--especially the most modern types." A range of vessels were selected to include welded and riveted construction and the evolution of ship compartmentalization; "although the older vessels have extensive subdivision, recent ships have more complete transverse water-tightness to high-level decks and incorporate principles of longitudinal framing." [29] Therefore, the final target array included for the most part vessels that were "over-age or of obsolete design--which would otherwise have been decommissioned and sold for scrap. However, a modern aircraft carrier and several modern heavy-hulled submarines were included also." [30] Five battleships were selected, one being the Japanese Nagato, which was presumably included solely to sink it. The U.S. battleships, all of a type made obsolete by the newer classes, were included because "although not of most modern design [they] possessed great resistance to battle damage" because of heavy hulls, torpedo-protection systems of multiple longitudinal bulkheads, heavy armor, double or triple bottoms, and some 600 watertight compartments. [31]

Four cruisers--two U.S., one German (Prinz Eugen), and one Japanese (Sakawa)--were included. The American-built ships were "excellent examples of prewar riveted construction, with structure somewhat heavier than any cruisers up to the latest 8-in. cruisers built during the war." Sakawa and Prinz Eugen were selected because "they represented the latest in cruiser design of Germany and Japan." [32] Sakawa was intended to sink, as was Nagato; both vessels were moored within a 1,000-yard perimeter of the designated zeropoint for both tests, while Prinz Eugen was moored outside of the immediate blast area. Saratoga and Independence, the two carriers, were selected to include an old, pre-war carrier and a modern, but less than satisfactory light carrier. (The Independence class, a wartime necessity, were light, hastily constructed ships.) Saratoga's selection was justified as follows:

Subdivision of the Saratoga was unusually complete; she had approximately 1000 watertight compartments. There were 22 main transverse bulkheads and two continuous longitudinal bulkheads extended 70 percent of the length. Two watertight platforms extended fore and aft of the machinery spaces. The underwater protection was very similar in arrangement to that of modern battleships and large carriers. An inner bottom above the bottom shell was fitted between the innermost torpedo bulkheads for about 80 percent of the length. [33]

The 12 target destroyers selected represented three immediate prewar types--the Mahan, Gridley, and Sims classes. The attack transports were "typical of modern merchant-ship practice, with good transverse subdivision.... These vessels were designed and built during the war and were essentially of all-welded construction, with very few riveted joints." [34] Target landing craft were included "more for the purpose of determining the effects of wave action than for determining direct effects of pressure on the hulls." [35]

Three reinforced concrete vessels were used--ARDC-13, YO-160, and YOG-83. These three vessels were selected for dispersal within the target array from a group of craft scheduled for disposal to satisfy the Navy's Bureau of Yards and Docks' interest "in the damage to reinforced concrete structures at Hiroshima and Nagasaki....The lack of suitable land areas at Bikini made construction of similar installations impractical, even if there had been time." [36] The eight target submarines were "selected from those scheduled for the reserve fleets or for disposal by scrapping. They represented the two major types [the Gato and Balao classes], light and heavy hull construction, built in recent years by [among others] the three submarine building yards of the Electric Boat Company and the naval shipyards at Portsmouth and Mare Island." [37] Some vessels were individually selected because of age, previous battle damage, and, occasionally, to replace ships selected but not available. LCT-705 and LCT-1013 were placed in the Able target array to serve as "catchers to collect samples of any fission products which might fall out of the atomic cloud." [38] The selection of 35 "major" vessels--from the battleships and carriers to the submarines--was publicly announced on January 24, 1946, at the first Crossroads press conference in Washington. [39]

Opposition to the tests surfaced for a variety of reasons, among them the destruction of the ships. One objection was to the cost of the various target ships: in March 1946, Admiral Blandy testified before the Senate Naval Affairs Committee that the construction costs for the target ships totaled $450 million, but noted that all the ships were obsolescent except for five submarines and the light carrier Independence. [40] Senator Scott Lucas of Illinois criticized the tests as a "grandiose display of atomic destruction" and argued that the target ships, if no longer useful for naval purposes, could be converted "into temporary homes for veterans." [41] One citizen, writing to protest the tests, was angry not over the loss of ships, but of valuable steel, and noted that airplane engineers tested models in wind tunnels and thus "do not need to destroy full size planes to see just what the planes will do under certain conditions....Scientists do not need to kill elephants to determine the reaction of chemicals and drugs. They use small mice." [42]

In response to criticism over the cost, Blandy responded on April 16 that the total costs of the tests would probably not exceed the total cost of "one large new ship," since the obsolete targets had been declared surplus and even if sunk "the cost for at least 90 percent would be only their scrap value," which the admiral estimated at $100 million. [43] In response to letters protesting the use of the target ships, Joint Task Force One's form letter response was that the ships were either obsolescent or "in excess of the number required to keep our post-war Navy at its proper strength." The letter emphasized that not all ships would be destroyed; even "those badly damaged...may be towed back to the United States and sold as scrap. Still others may be placed back into service...." [44] One letter writer wanted to place target ships in personal service: 11-year-old Max Ladewasser "and gang" wanted some of the ships presented to the children of the country; specifically "I would like to have a real P.T. boat which we could run on Lake Michigan." [45]

Some protests focused on the selection of individual ships as targets, specifically the battleships New York and Pennsylvania. When New York sailed from its namesake city in January 1946 for Bikini, the loss of the ship was lamented as veterans' groups and the state chamber of commerce lobbied to save it. "New York may lose forever its most useful and fitting war memorial unless something is done to prevent destruction of our century's Old Ironsides as an atom bomb target. This ship should be permanently on display in New York..." An unnamed officer stated that "I don't see why she couldn't have been given to the State, just as her sister ship, the Texas, was given to that State." [46] The response from Joint Task Force One was that while "it is regretted that such ships as the New York cannot be spared and exhibited as memorials, it is felt that this gallant battleship could perform no more valuable or distinguished service for our post-war Navy than it will render in the historic tests...." [47] It was also noted that "many other ships of the target group have equally glorious battle records and are similarly distinguished historically in their respective classes. It is sincerely regretted that such ships which have served with distinction in our Navy for so many years cannot be spared...." [48]

Joint Task Force One press release chart depicting "scrap" costs of Operation Crossroads. (U.S. Naval Institute)

The criticism by some nuclear scientists that the tests would add little or nothing to the understanding of the bomb was in part based on their assertion that ships, as mechanically stronger structures than buildings, would remain afloat and undamaged, lessening fear of the bomb by people who expected the total destruction of the fleet prophesized by the press, thus creating a "feeling of false security." Two explosive weapons had already been detonated--Able and Baker's bombs were identical to the Nagasaki weapon. The "greatest weakness" of the tests, however, was that as of early February 1946,

no provisions are indicated for studying the effects of the bomb's radiation on ships' crews. What might happen in a real case, is that a large ship, about a mile away from the explosion, would escape sinking, but the crew would be killed by the deadly burst of radiations from the bomb, and only a ghost ship would remain, floating unattended on the vast waters of the ocean. If not killed outright, the crew may well suffer such strong radiation damage, as to become critically ill a few days later. [49]

This prescient comment's various implications were in part answered by the decision to place animals on the target ships to study the bomb's effects on them. Protests against the use of the animals were numerous; among the letters received were a few that grimly reflected on the use of enemy vessels as targets, with the addition of "Germans and Japanese who have been condemned to death by proper courts of jurisdiction." [50] One writer suggested that "in lieu of the 4000 innocent animals...a like or greater number of war criminals be used instead. It would seem to me to be more in keeping with the principles of justice and humanity to punish those responsible for the agonies the world was plunged into through their actions rather than to cause suffering to creatures whose only sin is existence at a lower biological level than our own." [51]

Considerable protest arose over the exposure Of animals aboard the target ships. Two goats aboard USS Niagara. (National Archives)

The target vessels were assembled at Bikini between May and June, 1946. They were moored at numbered berths, carefully arranged around the projected surface or ground zeropoint so that graduated scales of damage would be inflicted on the ships. A large number of vessels were required "in order to gain the greatest amount of useful information...and...determine the complete relationship between ship damage and distance from the explosion." The necessity of a large target fleet for Able test "was especially clear after it had been decided to drop the bomb from an was clear that there would be uncertainty as to the point of detonation." [52] Ninety-five naval vessels, representing the products of U.S., Japanese, and German shipyards, were selected as the target fleet for Operation Crossroads. This fleet consisted of two aircraft carriers, five battleships, four cruisers, twelve destroyers, eight submarines, nineteen attack transports (APAs), six LCVPs, five LSTs, one LSM, sixteen LCTs, seven LCIs, six LCMs, and three auxiliary barges, namely one YO, one YOG, and one ARDC. [53] It is important to note that 88 vessels, not the full number of target ships, were deployed in the Able target array. The number of U.S. combatant vessels used as targets was limited to 33 ships by Congressional legislation (H. Res. 307) authorizing the tests; "considerable public feeling developed to the effect that valuable vessels were going to be destroyed; Congress reacted by putting an upper limit to the number of U.S. combatant ships." [54] Though the landing craft and auxiliaries were naval vessels, they were not commissioned and hence were not counted; nor were the attack transports, which arguably were also not "combatant" ships, making 28 American-built "combatant ships" counting only the carriers, cruisers, battleships, destroyers, and submarines. Disappointment not withstanding, the press proudly reported at Bikini that the target fleet formed the world's fifth or sixth largest navy, with only the navies of the U.S., Great Britain, the Soviet Union, France, "and perhaps Sweden" surpassing it. [55]

Nevada, the target ship for Able. (Los Alamos National Laboratory)


The target arrays were selected "to provide the best instrumentation possible, rather than be placed in a tactical formation. This policy was approved for both tests." [56] The vessels were closely grouped together near the center of the array "because of the...decrease of pressure with increase in distance from the zeropoint." [57] The test array for the Able test included 24 vessels within the 1,000-yard radius of Nevada, the designated zeropoint, while 21 vessels were placed within the 1,000-yard radius of the point of detonation for the Baker test.

Additionally, the Joint Chiefs of Staff required the target arrays to graduate the level of damage; "this involved dispersing the target fleet so that individual ships of each major type would be placed in positions ranging from close...for major appreciable distances...for light damage." [58] Since sufficient numbers of each type of vessel were not available, the best layout, geometric lines, bow and stern on, and broadside to the blast, was adhered to only for those ships that were present in large quantities--landing craft, destroyers, and attack transports. These ships were berthed at regular intervals along a single, curved (to keep one ship from partially shielding another) line extending radially from the designated zeropoint, which was 5,400 yards off the beach of Bikini Island. The battleship Nevada was selected as the zeropoint "target" for Able because it was "the most rugged ship available." [59]

The target arrays were different for each test. The Able target array consisted of 78 vessels; the Baker array consisted of 75. After the several vessels sank in the Able test, some of the ships in the "fringes" of the test area were shifted closer to the zeropoint to replace the lost vessels. Additionally, other vessels were placed farther out in the Able array to spare them from major damage since they were to be the primary targets in the Baker test; among these ships was the carrier Saratoga. [60] The Able test detonation, originally scheduled for May 15, was postponed six weeks to allow, according to some opinions, for Congressional observers to be on the scene. The Able test bomb, nicknamed "Gilda" for the recent Rita Hayworth motion picture of that name, and stencilled with the likeness of Miss Hayworth, was dropped from the B-29, "Dave's Dream," on the morning of July 1, 1946. The bomb missed the designated zeropoint, Nevada, probably because of, according to some experts, poor aerodynamics caused by its high-drag tail fin structure, detonating instead 2,130 feet from the target and 518 feet directly above and 50 yards off the bow of the attack transport Gilliam. [61]

Journalists aboard LCT-52 inspect USS Independence after Able. (National Archives)

The Able burst sank five vessels: the attack transports Gilliam and Carlisle, closest to the detonation, sank almost immediately. Two nearby destroyers, Anderson and Lamson, were also severely damaged and sank within hours, followed by the Japanese light cruiser Sakawa, which sank on July 2. Other vessels were severely damaged, the most dramatic damage occurring to the light carrier Independence and the submarine Skate, both of which were for all intents and purposes wrecked. Six ships were immobilized, and 23 small fires were started on various ships. The badly damaged ships were all within a 1000-yard radius of the zeropoint along with Hughes (DD-410), which was among the more damaged destroyers and later required beaching to avoid its sinking, the battleships Arkansas and Nagato, ARDC-13, and YO-160, all badly burnt and battered. The fears of the physicists opposed to the tests--that contrary to expectations the results would be less than cataclysmic, thus creating a false sense of security--were realized. The New York Times' account of Able noted that while the bomb had exploded with a flash "ten times brighter than the sun" over the target ships, "only two were sunk, one was capsized, and eighteen were damaged." [62] The foreign observers were unimpressed, reported the press; the Russian observers shrugged their shoulders and the Brazilian observer said he felt "so so" about the blast. [63] Of the 114 press representatives at Bikini, only 75 stayed for the Baker test.

Able's mushroom cloud towers over Bikini Atoll. (National Archives)

Able, from Bikini Island. USS Saratoga's deck burst into flame at the far left. (National Archives)

LSM-60 suspended the bomb detonated during Baker. (U.S. Naval Institute)

Following the Able detonation, Navy teams moved in to fight fires, reboard the ships, and tow sinking vessels to Enyu for beaching. As this work progressed, diving commenced on the sunken ships for "a full assessment of the damage done by the air blast." [64] The first dives were made on July 7, when Gilliam was dived on, followed by Carlisle, Anderson, and Lamson. Inspection of the ships, recovery of test gauges (particularly from Gilliam, which was the highest priority for instrumentation recovery because the ship was the accidental zeropoint for the blast), and underwater photography continued until July 14, when attention turned to the preparations for the Baker test. [65] Expectations for greater damage during the Baker test were high; Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, touring the target ships after Able, when asked why the first detonation had not sunk the entire fleet, remarked that "heavily built and heavily armored ships are difficult to sink unless they sustain underwater damage." [66] News reports and military and public interest focused on blast effect. The effect of radiation was for the most part ignored; a short news item filed by the Associated Press on July 15 noted that the test animals were "dying like flies.... Animals that appear healthy and have a normal blood count one day, 'drop off the next day,' an officer said...." [67] This scarcely noted account was a harbinger of the future.

Baker blasts out of the lagoon a second after detonation. Saratoga is visible in the white blast slick as the column forms nearby. (U.S. Naval Historical Center)


The Baker test bomb, nicknamed "Helen of Bikini," was placed in a steel caisson manufactured by Los Alamos from the conning tower of USS Salmon (SS-182) which had been scrapped in April 1946. With "Made in New Mexico" chalked on its side by Carl Hatch, U.S. Senator from New Mexico and an observer at the tests, the caisson was suspended 90 feet below the well in the steel landing ship LSM-60. [68] The bomb was detonated on the morning of July 25, 1946. The blast displaced 2.2 million cubic yards and created a 25-foot deep crater with a maximum diameter of 1,100 yards and a minimum diameter of 600 yards; the segment of the crater deeper than 20 feet covered an area 250 to 700 yards in diameter. It was estimated that about 500,000 cubic yards of material fell back into the crater, with the remainder dispersed throughout the lagoon. "A layer of sand and mud several feet thick was deposited on the bottom..." and a diver working on the port side of Arkansas after the blast reportedly sank into soft, pulverized coral and mud up to his armpits. [69] The Baker blast--or the two million tons of displaced water from the cloud that fell back into the lagoon--sank an additional nine vessels, some almost immediately. LSM-60 was destroyed; except for a few fragments of the ship that fell on other vessels, no trace of the landing ship was ever found. The bomb's detonation point was within 500 yards of the location of the sunken Lamson and Sakawa. The failure to locate these vessels during subsequent dive surveys of the lagoon indicates the bomb, moored at a depth of 90 feet in a 180-foot deep lagoon, probably did considerable damage, or possibly completely destroyed them, depending on each wreck's exact location.

Arkansas, the submarines Apogon, Pilotfish, and Skipjack, and the auxiliaries YO-160 and ARDC-13 sank almost immediately. The badly damaged carrier Saratoga, listing but too radioactive to be boarded by salvage teams, sank within hours, followed by the Japanese battleship Nagato, and LCT-1114. Within the next few days, five other landing craft that were damaged in the Baker test were scuttled in Bikini lagoon; another was taken outside of the atoll and sunk. The destroyer Hughes and the attack transport Fallon, badly damaged and sinking, were taken in tow and beached. The detonation effect of Baker was greater than Able; reports and interest were rekindled, although total destruction by the bomb had once more been averted. One reporter, William L. Laurence, the "dean" of atomic reporters who had witnessed the detonation of the Trinity test bomb, the Nagasaki bomb drop, and the two Bikini blasts, described a new public attitude as a result of Operation Crossroads. Returning to the United States, Laurence found that while "before Bikini the world stood in awe of this new cosmic force...since Bikini this feeling...has largely evaporated and has been supplanted by a sense of relief unrelated to the grim reality of the situation." Laurence felt this was because of the desire of the average citizen "to grasp the flimsiest means that would enable him to regain his peace of mind. He had expected one bomb to sink the entire Bikini fleet, kill all the animals...make a hole in the bottom of the ocean and create tidal waves. He had even been told that everyone participating in the test would die. Since none of these happened, he is only too eager to conclude that the atomic bomb is, after all, just another weapon." [70]

Laurence himself, as well as nearly everyone else involved in the tests, failed to realize or report the insidious effect of the bomb. Far deadlier than the actual blast, in that time of "limited yield" nuclear weapons, was the lasting effect of radiation, confirming once again the fears and prophecies of the nuclear scientists that even seemingly "undamaged" vessels could and would suffer from radioactive contamination. Decontamination by scrubbing the ships "clean" was only partially successful. The effort to decontaminate the target battleship New York was a case in point:

The main deck forward had not been touched as yet....I made a careful survey of the deck, finding the intensity to vary a great deal in a matter of feet. One gets the impression that fission products have become most fixed in the tarry caulking of the planking and in rusty spots in the metal plates. When the survey was complete the Chief turned his booted, sweating, profane and laughing crew loose with brushes, water, and a barrel of lye. Yet when the hydraulics were done and the deck rinsed clean again, another survey showed the invisible emanations to be present.... The portly Chief stood watching the dial of my Geiger counter, completely bewildered. The deck was clean, anybody could see that, clean enough for the Admiral himself to eat his breakfast off of. So what was all this goddam radioactivity? [71]

While no extensive deposit of long-life radioactive materials were found on the target ships after the Able test, the Baker test detonation generated more radiation; even the salt in the water, for example, was transformed into a short-lived radioactive material. However, plutonium and other long-lived fission products that emitted beta and gamma rays were the major problem. The reboarding of ships after Able was undertaken after a few hours in some cases. After Baker, only five vessels at the extreme ends of two vessel strings could be boarded. Access to the rest of the target array was denied. By July 26 and 27, crews were able to beach Hughes and Fallon, which were sinking, "but both vessels were radioactive to the extent that taking them in tow...required fast work. The forecastle of Hughes, for example, had a tolerance time of about eight minutes." [72] By July 27 and 28, surveys of all remaining target vessels were made from distances of 50 to 100 feet.


Initial efforts to decontaminate the ships were hampered by the fact that no plans had been prepared for organized decontamination; "the nature and extent of the contamination of the targets was completely unexpected." [73] The first efforts, with the beached Hughes, employed Navy fireboats to wash down the exteriors of the ships because "water might take up some of the radioactive materials in solution." Washing down reduced the radioactivity some fifty percent on Hughes, bringing the exposure Roentgens rates on it down to 9.6 R/day on the forecastle and 36 R/day at the stern! Subsequent washings had no measurable effect. Foamite, a water-mixed firefighting foam, was applied and washed off; two washings on Hughes reduced the radiation to levels varying between 2.0 to 8.5 R/day. [74]

Radioactive material adhered to the ships' wooden decks, paint, tar, canvas, rust, and grease; while some of it could be washed off, the only effective means of removal was sandblasting the ships to bare metal, stripping off every piece of planking, and bathing brass and copper with nitric acid. Washing, as the experience with New York demonstrated, did not significantly reduce radiation levels, particularly with crews limited to short periods of exposure. Only complete removal of the contaminated surface area reduced the radiation. The Navy discovered, too, that "painting over the surface produced no reduction in [beta gamma] activity...." [75] The problem of decontamination was serious; the Navy required a reduction of radiation intensity to allow reboarding for instrument recovery and inspection for periods of at least two hours. At the same time, it was hoped that in two-hour shifts crew members could "apply detailed scrubbing, abrasive, and paint removal action as necessary to reduce the radioactivity sufficiently to permit continuous habitation of the ships." [76] "Lightly" contaminated ships--Conyngham, Wainwright, Carteret, and Salt Lake City--were the first vessels subjected to "detailed decontamination" on July 30.

A Navy tug sprays down USS New York after Baker to decontaminate the battleship. (U.S. Naval Institute)

By August 5, several ships were being pumped out and "secondary decontamination" of others followed. On August 24, inspection efforts commenced on several target ships, including dives made on Saratoga, Arkansas, and Pilotfish that continued until August 30. The submarine Skipjack was successfully raised by divers on September 2, and some instruments were recovered from the sunken ships, but work time was limited by radiation hazards. On August 10, orders were issued to cease decontamination efforts at Bikini and prepare the target ships for towing to Kwajalein. The decision was reached when it was discovered that decontamination generally was not working and was extremely hazardous; the final straw was "the discovery of alpha emitters from samples inside Prinz Eugen" which were not detectable with the monitoring instruments in use at Bikini. Further investigation showed "probable widespread presence of the alpha emitters... even in spaces not obviously contaminated. Since no alpha detectors for general field use were available and the alpha emitters are one of the most poisonous chemicals known, their presence was considered a serious and indeterminate menace...." [77] The priority of work shifted "toward recovery of instruments and clearance of those ships designated for use in Test Charlie." [78] This ten-vessel test (five submarines and five capital ships) at the southwestern end of the atoll and seaward of Oruk Island, scheduled for March 1947, was later cancelled by the President.

"The chief turned his booted, sweating, profane, and laughing crew loose with brushes, water, and a barrel of lye." Decontamination efforts aboard Prinz Eugen. (National Archives)

The "severe" contamination problem was kept as quiet as possible; according to an August 10 memorandum from the Manhattan Engineer District of the Army Corps of Engineers observer, Col. A. W. Betts, to his boss, Brig. Gen. Kenneth D. Nichols, "the classification of this memo can only be explained by the fact that the Navy considers this contamination business the toughest part of Test Baker. They had no idea it would be such a problem and they are breaking their necks out here to find some solution." [79] Gross decontamination efforts continued that enabled the Navy to complete the removal of test instruments and records, technical inspections, and salvage operations; however, the report on radiological decontamination concluded that these efforts, "although successful to a certain extent in the limited application they received, revealed conclusively that removal of radioactive contamination of the type encountered in the target vessels in Test Baker cannot be accomplished satisfactorily..." [80] On August 25, 1946, the Navy's Director of Ship Material, in charge of the inspections, "felt that all significant information had been recorded and reported that the technical inspection phase at Bikini was complete." That day he and his staff departed for Kwajalein "to establish facilities there for continued examination and radiological re-checks of the target ships." [81] Some of the vessels had departed as early as August 19, and now the other ships followed; by August 29, only 19 target vessels--the destroyer Mustin, YOG-83, and 16 landing craft, were left at Bikini, along with 18 salvage vessels.


Thirteen target ships were sent to Pearl Harbor or to the West Coast "for further study of damage and for development of radiological decontamination and safety techniques by the is the policy of the Navy to carry out an aggressive active program of radiological and atomic defense research to apply the lessons of Crossroads." [82] The study of the ships led to certain modifications in the construction of new naval vessels, though after World War II the United States built few large vessels. Rounding of ship surfaces and wash-down systems to spray a vessel subjected to fallout and facilitate the rinsing off of the ship were the only Crossroads-induced changes for passive defense against nuclear weapons. The primary naval modifications after Crossroads were measures to take the bomb to sea as a weapon, leading to nuclear-capable carriers, guided missile cruisers, and submarines. Additionally, there was a demand for new designs of nuclear weapons suitable for carrying in these vessels. In an atmosphere of no adequate defense against nuclear deployment, the Navy, like the rest of the military, embraced nuclear deterrence through the adoption of and subsequent escalation of use of nuclear weapons at sea as a defense.

Decontamination efforts at Kwajalein ceased in September 1946; work after that focused on removing ammunition aboard the ships. On one such detail, the light carrier Independence was visited and described:

The Independence is a ghost ship--its flight deck blown up, leaving the thick oak planks broken like so much boxwood; its hangar deck blasted down and only the skeleton of its sides remaining. Gun turrets and gangways, twisted, crushed, dangle oversides, grating and creaking with the roll of the ship. Doors are smashed in and jammed tight against the bulkheads, or blown out altogether, and the rusty water sloshes aimlessly back and forth across the rusty decks. For the most part the radiation is not particularly high, although sometimes these rusty pools will set your earphones singing and shoot your indicator needles off scale. [83]

A confidential memorandum from the Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, (CINCPAC), dated September 4, 1946, authorized the sinking of contaminated vessels at Kwajalein. [84] The same day, Admiral Blandy, back in Washington, reported that "only 9 of 92 ships escaped at Bikini," noting that "all but nine...were either sunk, damaged or contaminated by radioactivity," naming the submarines Tuna, Searaven, Dentuda, and Parche, and the transports Cortland, Niagara, Bladen, Fillmore, and Geneva as the nine undamaged ships. The report named 45 vessels that had been decommissioned after the tests. Blandy also reported he had sought and received permission to sink "a number of the small landing craft damaged in the experiments, pointing out the dangers of possible lingering radioactivity and also...the cost of repairs and movement from the Marshall Islands...." [85]

Pennsylvania, "too hot to handle," is scuttled off Kwajalein, February 10, 1948. (National Archives)

The target ships at Kwajalein remained there for two years in a caretaker status. Soon after the tests, on December 22, 1946, one vessel, the German cruiser Prinz Eugen, capsized and sank and was left in place. Another target vessel, LCI-327, stranded on Bascombe (Mek) Island in Kwajalein Atoll; it could not be freed and was "destroyed" in place on October 30, 1947. Some of the ships--the submarines, for the most part, and some of the landing craft--were sufficiently "cool" to return to duty as training vessels. The other vessels, contaminated by the tests, were subjected to additional analysis but for the most part were simply left as a ghost fleet that was literally too hot to handle. In June 1947, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) established a policy for handling and control of "radiologically contaminated material from Crossroads." Noting the "real and ever present hazard," the CNO dictated that materials were to be removed only for carefully considered testing, that they be carefully controlled and handled, and they not be "retained indefinitely...but shall be disposed of, when the tests are completed, by sinking at sea or by replacement aboard the target vessel." [86]

Eventually, this policy was adhered to for the ships themselves. On August 30, 1947, the Chief of Naval Operations reiterated CINCPAC's September 1946 dictate that all ships "found radiologically unsafe" were to be sunk at sea in deep water. [87] By this time decisions had been made to separate the target ships, as well as some contaminated support vessels, into groups. The majority of ships, too hot to be decontaminated, were left at Kwajalein, while 13 others were taken to Pearl Harbor, Seattle, and San Francisco for decontamination studies; the three ships towed to San Francisco were Independence, Crittenden, and Gasconade. The six surviving submarines--Dentuda, Tuna, Parche, Searaven, Skate, and Skipjack were sent to Mare Island Naval Shipyard and the San Francisco Naval Shipyard at Hunter's Point. Dentuda and Parche were considered only "radiologically suspect" and were cleared for preservation and reuse. Four of the submarines could not be decontaminated; Skipjack, Searaven, Skate, and Tuna were sunk as targets off San Clemente, California, in 1948.

Pearl Harbor received the battleships Nevada and New York. Puget Sound Naval Shipyard received the destroyer Hughes and the cruisers Pensacola and Salt Lake City. In 1948 all three were towed to sea and sunk as targets in deep water. [88] Fifty of the target vessels were sunk as targets for conventional weapons (surface bombardment and aerial attack); 36 were sunk in the vicinity of Kwajalein. New York and Nevada were sunk off Hawaii in deep water; Hughes and Pensacola were sunk off the Pacific coast of Washington, and Independence, Crittenden, Gasconade, Salt Lake City, and the four submarines previously mentioned were sunk off California. Nine ships are known to have escaped scuttling or sinking: two submarines, Dentuda and Parche; two LCIs were sold for scrap along with one LCM; and four attack transports--Cortland, Fillmore, Geneva, and Niagara were transferred to the Maritime Commission and ultimately scrapped by them. The fate of 13 landing craft (five LCIs, three LCMs, and five LCVPs) is unknown. [89] If they were scrapped later, this would raise the number of "survivors" of the target fleet to 22 vessels. Although a fourth of the total feet numerically, these ships included only two combatant ships and a small fraction of the total tonnage assembled at Bikini for the two blasts. The contaminated or "suspect" support vessels present better statistics; by the beginning of 1947, 80 of the 159 support ships were granted "final radiological clearance." By the end of the year, every one of the 159 was cleared, though some, like the destroyer Laffey, required drydocking in floating drydocks (to avoid contaminating permanent onshore facilities), sandblasting and repainting of all underwater surfaces, and acid washing and partial replacement of salt-water piping and evaporators in the ship. [90]

The message of Bikini, while not understood by the public at the time, and only grasped later in hindsight, was clear to the military, which had seen a fleet survive physically but nonetheless lost forever to radioactive contamination. Blast effect, while impressive, paled next to radiation effect: "From a military viewpoint, the atomic bomb's ability to kill human beings or to impair, through injury, their ability to make war is of paramount importance. Thus the overall result of a bomb's explosion upon the of greater interest...." Therefore, it followed that,

If used in numbers, atomic bombs not only can nullify any nation's military effort, but can demolish its social and economic structure and prevent their re-establishment for long periods of time. With such weapons, especially if employed in conjunction with other weapons of mass destruction, as, for example, pathogenic bacteria, it is quite possible to depopulate vast areas of the earth's surface, leaving only vestigial remnants of man's material works. [91]

Ironically, the vestigial remnants of man's material works in the form of the target ships were the first tangible demonstrations of the power of the atomic bomb and the futility of defense against it; as Paul Boyer notes, an awakening slowly resulted from "the navy's determined, frustrating, and ultimately futile efforts to decontaminate the surviving ships by scrubbing, scraping, and sandblasting...the pariah feet of ghostly radioactive ships..." [92]

Public awareness and wariness began to surface in 1948. That year, David Bradley, M.D., a member of the radiological safety team at Bikini, published his diary, written during the tests as the book, No Place to Hide, which was syndicated in a pre-publication release by the Atlantic Monthly, condensed by The Reader's Digest, made into a Book-of-the-Month Club release, and stayed on The New York Times best sellers list for ten weeks. No Place to Hide was a forceful book that subtly told the real message of Bikini; Bradley felt that the Crossroads tests, "hastily planned and hastily carried out...may have only sketched in gross outlines...the real problem; nevertheless, these outlines show pretty clearly the shadow of the colossus which looms behind tomorrow." [93] Bradley also was drawn to the analogy of the target ships at Kwajalein, including "the beautiful Prinz Eugen, once the pride of the German feet and as sleek and cavalier a ship as ever sailed the seas," intact and unbroken by the blasts but "nevertheless dying of a malignant disease for which there is no help." [94] The cure was sinking the ships. In February 1949, The Washington Post published a column by Drew Pearson that termed the test results a "major naval disaster." Pearson reported that as of 1949, "of the 73 ships involved in the Bikini tests, more than 61 were sunk or destroyed. This is an enormous loss from only two bombs....The aircraft carrier now anchored off San Francisco, permanently destroyed--usable only as a testing ground to determine the possibility of removing radioactivity. This is still dangerous two years after the ship was attacked." [95]

It is strangely prophetic that almost all of the target ships were ultimately taken to sea and scuttled in deep water, joining their sisters sunk in the more shallow waters of Bikini. Once too radioactive to visit, these vessels, with the beta or gamma activity reduced due to radionuclide decay are now the focus of a new look at them and at Crossroads.

Ironically, the "nuclear nomads" of the Pacific, presently the absentee owners and managers of many of the vessels from the sunken feet of Operation Crossroads, were, like the ships themselves, harbingers of a nuclear future. In 1948, David Bradley wrote of his 1946 visit to the displaced Bikinians on Rongerik Island. They "are not the first, nor will they be the last, to be left homeless and impoverished by the inexorable bomb. They have no choice in the matter, and very little understanding of it. But in this perhaps they are not so different from us all." [96] In 1978, Tomaki Juda, leader of the Bikinians, testified before Congress that his people had been relocated on the premise that the tests were for the good of mankind and that they were to be like "the Children of Israel, whom the Lord led into the Promised Land." Juda noted, sadly, that the Bikinians "were naive then.... We are, sadly, more akin to the Children of Israel when they left Egypt and wandered through the desert for 40 years." [97] Now, 44 years later, the Bikinians and the rest of the world more fully understand the meaning and legacy of Operation Crossroads, a legacy that is reflected in twenty-three vessels that lie accessible to divers at two Pacific atolls.


In early 1947, plans for a scientific resurvey of Bikini during that summer were drafted by the Joint Crossroads Committee. Adm. W. S. Parsons, the Navy's Director of Atomic Defense, forwarded a proposal to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on April 9, 1947. A program of biological study was necessary "in order to determine the long-term effects of Test Baker on fish and other marine organisms including corals and calcareous algae...and to obtain data on which to base a decision relative to possible resettlement of the native population." [98] At the same time, diving on some of the sunken target ships was proposed to "make additional diving observations" and retrieve test data from Crossroads instruments abandoned in 1946. Specifically mentioned as high priorities for reassessment were Saratoga, Nagato, Pilotfish, Arkansas, and Apogon. [99]

The plan was approved, and a group of scientists and technicians from the Navy, Army, the Smithsonian Institution, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other unnamed institutions was placed under the command of Capt. Christian L. Engleman, USN, the Project Director at Bikini. Overall command of the resurvey ships was given to Capt. H. Henry Hederman, USN. Both men were Crossroads veterans. While a classified operation, the resurvey was publicly announced because of a strong desire by the Joint Chiefs to stress "the story of cooperation that exists between civilian and military agencies in the Bikini resurvey work. Proper handling of the Bikini Resurvey story can do much to acquaint the American public with the long-range value of Operation Crossroads." [100]

The Bikini Scientific Resurvey team lands at Bikini, 1947. (U.S. Naval Institute)

The Bikini Resurvey task group steamed from Pearl Harbor to Bikini on the transport USS Chilton (APA-38), the submarine rescue vessel USS Coucal (ASR-8), LSM-382, and LCI(L)-615 on July 1, 1947, arriving on July 15 and remaining until the first of September. The operations plan that they sailed under included an effort, directed by Lieut. Cmdr. F. B. Ewing, USN, to make detailed observations of Saratoga, Nagato, Gilliam, and Apogon. "Other vessels, including Arkansas and Pilotfish will be inspected if time permits." The inspection plans called for extensive underwater photography and structural inspections "in an effort to determine the exact cause of sinking." [101] The only specific instrument recovery noted was from Nagato. Four instruments, an ionization gage, two linear time pressure recorders, and a diaphragm gage, "the exact locations of which are known," were to be recovered at the discretion of Lieut. Cmdr. Ewing. Additionally, "it is believed that a portion of LSM-60 has been located. If time permits, an attempt will be made by divers to locate this portion and inspect it thoroughly for type of rupture, heat effects, and radioactivity. If practicable, an attempt will be made to raise this section for an inspection on the surface." [102]

More than 600 dives were made to study blast effects and damage on the wrecks of Saratoga, Apogon, and Pilotfish. "In addition, a cursory inspection was made of the ex-Japanese battleship Nagato." [103] The first dives made were on Saratoga on July 17, two days after the resurvey team arrived. The Navy divers reported visibility to be from 15 to 30 feet on the wrecks. However, "divers on the bottom...did have difficulty in seeing clearly because of fogs of sand and mud which were easily stirred up...." [104] Radiation levels were carefully monitored. Divers wore pencil dosimeters and three film badges--on the chest, abdomen, and leg--and when hoisted from the water, each diver was "washed down by hose before being hoisted aboard ship." [105] Radiation levels recorded ranged from "two times background (gamma) to .1 R/24 hr. (gamma), and up to .6 R/24 hr. (beta and gamma)." [106] Dive equipment was found to be lightly contaminated; however, "some of the diving equipment was contaminated prior to the resurvey, which can be attributed to the fact that this equipment was used during Operation Crossroads." The source of contamination was found to be "due to contamination by coral powder from the sunken ships and sand from the lagoon bottom." [107]

Only observations were made of the ships at Bikini. Instrument recovery was not attempted since "after Baker day, recovery operations were carried on with unabated vigor and very considerable success, so that perhaps 80 percent of the instruments were recovered." [108] Instruments left behind were presumed buried on the bottom or were "by now [1947] so corroded that their readings would be useless...." A spring chronogram in the crew space, "port side, main deck, frame 16 [of Nagato] might contain a valid record on magnetic tape. It is believed, however, that recovery of this instrument would not add materially to the information at hand concerning the air blast in shot Baker." [109]

Other work accomplished by the resurvey team included detailed geological assessments of reef structures by drilling. Cores and samples were taken of the bottom of the lagoon. Scientists collected samples on the reefs to determine the "existing degree of radioactivity, or [conducted] studies concerned with habitats, food chains, and taxonomic relationships." Algae, sea urchins and other marine invertebrates, insects, birds, and mammals were collected and studied for "possible radiological or blast effects upon structure, physiological processes, fertility or normal processes of development." A radiological survey group made "a comprehensive survey of radioactivity on the reefs and islands...." [110]

At the end of August, packing of equipment began for departure. Laboratories ashore were closed and packed by August 27, and the buildings ashore were cleared and locked on August 29. A final inspection was made before the resurvey ships sailed on the 29th. The flagship of the group, USS Chilton, arrived at Pearl Harbor on September 3. The task group was dissolved on the 4th. [111] The production of the final reports was completed at the end of the year, and the three-volume Technical Report, Bikini Scientific Survey was published in December 1947 by the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project.

Divers prepare to descend on an unidentified sunken ship during the 1947 resurvey. (U.S. Naval Institute)


1W. A. Shurcliff, Bombs at Bikini: The Official Report of Operation Crossroads (New York: Wm. H. Wise & Co., Inc., 1947) p. 36.

2Chuck Hansen, U.S. Nuclear Weapons: The Secret History (Arlington, Texas: AeroFax, Inc., 1988) p. 5.

3Eugene Kinkaid, "Bikini: The Forthcoming Atomic Bomb Test in the Marshalls Will Determine the Future ot Man, Animals, Birds, Fish, Plants, and Microorganisms," Life, XX (1), July 1, 1946, p. 41. Paul Boyer, in By the Bomb's Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age (New York: Pantheon Books, 1985) analyzes the response to the bomb.

4Shurcliff, Bombs at Bikini, p. ix.

5Ibid., p. 2.

6Director of Ship Material, Joint Task Force One, "Historical Report: Atomic Bomb Tests Able and Baker Operation Crossroads," (1947) Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center, Vol. 1, p. xiii. Hereafter cited as Director of Ship Material, "Historical Report."

7Vice Admiral W. H. P. Blandy, "Operation Crossroads Background Material," distributed to U.S. Naval Forces in Europe by the Public Information Section, JTF 1. Cited in Thomas N. Daly, "Crossroads at Bikini," U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Vol. 42, No. 7 (July 1986), p. 68.

8Blandy appeared on CBS radio youth forum broadcast sponsored by the New York Herald-Tribune on April 13, 1946. Cited in Daly, Ibid., p. 70.

9Shurcliff, Bombs at Bikini, p. 10. Brian McMahon, junior senator from Connecticut, was chairman of the Senate's Special Committee on Atomic Energy. McMahon's committee held public hearings in Washington, and on December 20, 1945, McMahon introduced his Atomic Energy Act bill. Public hearings followed, and on April 19, 1946, the bill was reported to the Senate. Passed on June 1, 1946, the bill was sent to the House Military Affairs Committee, which referred it to the House on June 13. The House passed the bill with amendments on June 20; subsequently most changes were removed in a joint conference. The bill was signed into law by President Harry S. Truman on August 1, 1946, as the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 (Public Law 585, 79th Congress, 1st Session). The bill passed control of atomic energy from the Manhattan Engineer District, and hence the military, to the newly created Atomic Energy Commission, created a military liaison committee, and instituted security provisions to protect against the release of "classified" nuclear secrets. See Vincent C. Jones, Manhattan: The Army and the Atomic Bomb: The United States Army in World War II, Special Studies (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, 1985), pp. 576-578.

10Shurcliff, Bombs at Bikini, p. 9. A dispatch by Hanson W. Baldwin to The New York Times, published in the paper's July 25, 1946 edition, reported that the target array for Baker, a "tactical situation of the fleet in harbor...was frankly patterned after an opportunity in the past war that was never realized," namely an atomic bombing of Truk. Baldwin noted the bomb was not used because of the Japanese fleet's near destruction and "no concentration of enemy ships sufficiently large enough to warrant the use of the atomic bomb was ever detected." p. 2. Trinity, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki came as soon as active material and other components were ready--no earlier detonation was ever possible.

11According to Paul S. Dull, A Battle History of the Imperial Japanese Navy (1941-1945) (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1978), Appendix A, "Name, Date of Completion, and Fate of Major Ships of the Imperial Japanese Navy," pp. 343-350. The remaining ships, some of them half-sunk at Kure or practically inoperable (such as Nagato at Yokosuka) were one battleship, two carriers, two light carriers (CVLs), two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers (CLs), and thirty-eight destroyers.

12Shurcliff, Bombs at Bikini, pp. 10-11.

13Director of Ship Material, "Historical Report," Volume 1, p. viii.

14Ibid., pp. ix-x.

15The New York Times, August 25, 1945, p. 2.

16Shurcliff, Bombs at Bikini, p. 11.

17The New York Times, October 24, 1945, p. 4.

18The New York Times, December 11, 1946, pp. 1, 3.

19Shurcliff, Bombs at Bikini, p. 9.

20Kinkaid, "Bikini," p. 41.

21Shurcliff, Bombs at Bikini, p. 7.

22Hansen, U.S. Nuclear Weapons, p. 50.

23W. A. Shurcliff, "Technical History of Operation Crossroads," Vol. 1, (1946) copy on file at the National Technical Information Service, p. 5.3. Hereafter cited as Shurcliff, "Technical History."

24Director of Ship Material, "Historical Report," Vol. 1, pp. 68-69.

25Ibid., p. 67.

26Ibid., p. 68.

27Ibid., p. 69. Also see Vice Admiral E. L. Cochrane, USN, "Crossroads and Ship Design," Shipmate, (September 1946) pp. 9-10.

28Ibid., pp. 74-75.

29Shurcliff, "Technical History," p. 6.3.

30Ibid., p. 6.4.


32Shurcliff, "Technical History," p. 6.5.


34Shurcliff, "Technical History," p. 6.6.


36Director of Ship Material, "Historical Report," pp. 72-73.

37Ibid., p. 71.

38Ibid., p. 21.

39The New York Times, January 25, 1946, pp. 1, 4.

40The New York Times, March 20, 1946, p. 10. The Bureau of Ships, when totalling the costs of the target ships, was ordered not to include the cost of armament. Also untallied were modernization, modifications, and repair costs.

41The New York Times, March 24, 1946, p. 4.

42Letter, John P. Howe to the President, April 16, 1946, filed in Protest Answers, Joint Task Force One, Records of the Defense Atomic Support Agency, National Archives Record Group 374.

43The New York Times, April 17, 1946, p. 5.

44Letter, Brig. Gen. T. J. Betts, USA, to Alexander Wilde, April 2, 1946, filed in Protest Answers, National Archives Record Group 374.

45Letter, Max Ladewasser and Gang to the President, April 14, 1946, filed in Protest Letters, National Archives Record Group 374.

46The New York Times, January 26, 1946, p. 1.

47Letter, Brig. Gen. T. J. Betts, USA, to Peter Brambir, March 21, 1946, filed in Protest Answers, National Archives Record Group 374.

48Letter, Brig. Gen. T. J. Betts, USA, to Lt. Herbert B. Leopold, February 11, 1946, filed in Protest Answers, National Archives Record Group 374.

49"The Effect of the Atomic Bomb on Naval Power," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists of Chicago, Vol. 1, No. 5 (February 15, 1946), p. 1.

50Letter, R. Lee Page to George Lyons, Commissioner of Atomic Research, Navy Department, March 15, 1946, filed in Protest Letters, National Archives Record Group 374.

51Letter, Jeanne Robinson to Adm. W. H. P. Blandy, May 1, 1946, filed in Protest Letters, National Archives Record Group 374.

52Shurcliff, "Technical History," p. 6.7.

53Shurcliff, "Technical History," p. 6.4 lists 94 vessels, but neglects to include LSM-60, the bomb-carrying ship for Baker, as well as one landing craft.

54Ibid., p. 6.7.

55The New York Times, July 1, 1946, p. 3.

56Shurcliff, "Technical History," p. 6.7.

57Ibid., p. 6.8.


59Shurcliff, "Technical History," p. 6.10.

60Ibid., p. 6.11.

61Hansen, U.S. Nuclear Weapons, p. 31, 38n.7. General Paul Tibbets, then commander of the Composite 509th Group, which dropped the bomb, blamed the Able miss on crew error. See Paul Tibbets, The Tibbets Story (New York: Stein and Day, 1978). In a telephone interview on December 20, 1990, the pilot, Woody P. Swancutt stressed the high level of training he and his crew had received, the considerable experience of the bombardier, Harold Wood, and post-Able tests with the same crew and bomb sight that consistently dropped "Fat Man" casings close to the target.

62The New York Times, July 1, 1946, p. 1.

63Ibid., p. 3.

64Director of Ship Material, "Historical Report," Vol. 1, p. 44.

65Ibid., pp. 44-45.

66The New York Times, July 2, 1946, p. 3.

67The New York Times, July 15, 1946, p. 3.

68See "Helen of Bikini," Time Magazine, August 5, 1946, p. 27. The naming of the two Bikini bombs is a further indication of the need to "humanize" the bomb through a mechanopomorphic process that began with the "Fat Man" and "Little Boy" weapons dropped on Japan. The female names for the Bikini bombs, particularly "Gilda" and its reference to Rita Hayworth, are part of what Paul Boyer terms the "complex psychological link between atomic destruction and Eros" that was evidenced by burlesque houses advertising "Atomic Bomb dancers" in August 1945, the "unveiling" by Hollywood of scantily-clad starlet Linda Christian at poolside as the anatomic bomb" in Life Magazine in September 1945, the French bathing suit "Atome" (quickly dubbed the "Bikini" when introduced in 1946) and the 1947 pop song "Atom Bomb Baby," which Boyer notes made the Bomb a metaphor for sexual arousal. See Boyer, By the Bomb's Early Light, pp. 11-12.

69Shurcliff, "Technical History," p. 28.7. Also see the Washington Star, August 22, 1946.

70The New York Times, August 4, 1946, p. 3.

71David J. Bradley, No Place to Hide, 1946/1984 (Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 1983), pp. 109-110.

72Director of Ship Material, "Technical Inspection Report: Radiological Decontamination of Target and Non-Target Vessels," Vol. I, p. 4. Hereafter cited as "Radiological Decontamination of Target and Non-Target Vessels." For a summary of the radiological decontamination effort, also see C. Sharp Cook, "The Legacy of Crossroads," Naval History, Vol. II, No. 4, Fall 1988, p. 28.

73"Radiological Decontamination of Target and Non-Target Vessels," Vol. I, p. 4.

74Ibid., p. 5.

75Ibid., p. 6.

76Ibid., p. 8.

77Ibid., p. 13.

78Director of Ship Material, "Historical Report," p. 55.

79Memorandum, Col. A. W. Betts, USACOE, to Brig. Gen. K. D. Nichols, MED, USACOE, August 10, 1946. F-3-5, Test Baker Results, Box 26, National Archives Record Group 377, Records of the Manhattan Engineer District.

80"Radiological Decontamination of Target and Non-Target Vessels," Vol. I, p. 17.

81Director of Ship Material, "Historical Report," p. 57.

82Memorandum, CNO to CINCPAC, "Removal of Equipment and Supplies from Contaminated CROSSROADS Target Ships," February 18, 1947, Serial 034P36, Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center.

83Bradley, No Place to Hide, pp. 143-144.

84Cited in "Radiological Decontamination of Target and Non-Target Vessels," Vol. III, p. 14.

85The New York Times, September 5, 1946, p. 7.

86Memorandum, CNO to Chiefs of the Bureau of Ships, Bureau of Ordnance, Bureau of Aeronautics, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Bureau of Yards and Docks, Bureau of Supplies and Accounts, "Handling and Control of Radiologically Contaminated Material from CROSSROADS," June 10, 1947, Serial 0138P36, Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center.

87Cook, "The Legacy of Crossroads," p. 29.

88A. G. Nelson, Capt. USN, "Crossroads Target Ships," Memorandum, NNTPR #24-78, May 25, 1978, Department of the Navy, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations; NAVSEA Shipbuilding Support Office, "US Vessels Involved in Operation Crossroads," NAVSEASHPSO, Philadelphia, n.d.; and James L. Mooney, ed. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, eight volumes (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1959-1981).

89See, for example, "Atom Bombed Ship Undergoes Study," in The New York Times, May 11, 1947, p. 19, which discusses the sinking of New York as a conventional weapons target as the battleship's probable fate. Parche's conning tower is now on display at the Pacific Fleet Submarine Memorial Museum at Pearl Harbor.

90Cook, "The Legacy of Crossroads," pp. 31-32.

91"The Evaluation of the Atomic Bomb as a Military Weapon: The Final Report of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Evaluation Board for Operation Crossroads," (June 30, 1947), CCS 471.6, 10-15-46, Section 9, Part 1, p. 60, 73 (top quote). National Archives Record Group 218.

92Boyer, By the Bomb's Early Light, p. 92.

93Bradley, No Place to Hide, pp. 165-166.

94Ibid., p. 147.

95Drew Pearson, "Bikini Naval Losses Disaster," The Washington Post, February 18, 1949.

96Bradley, No Place to Hide, p. 163.

97Cited in Jonathan M. Weisgall, "The Nuclear Nomads of Bikini," Foreign Policy, Vol. XXVIV (Summer 1980), p. 98. Also see William S. Ellis, "A Way of Life Lost: Bikini," National Geographic (June 1986), pp. 813-834.

98Memorandum to Op-36 from Op-33 and Op-38 (Parsons), April 9, 1947. Serial 106P36, Operational Archives, Naval Historical Center.

99Ibid., attached draft memorandum from the Joint Crossroads Committee to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of the Navy, and the Secretary of War.

100"Bikini Resurvey Operation Plan 1-47, Annex L, Public Information Plan," National Archives Record Group 374, Entry 4B, Box 156, Folder A4.

101Ibid., Annex D, "Sunken Ship Inspection Plan."


103"Bikini Backtalk," 10 September 1947, Vol. I, No. 16. Copy on file in RG 374, Box 28, Folder 212.

104"Report of the Director Ship Material," in "Technical Report, Bikini Scientific Resurvey" (Washington, D.C.: Armed Forces Special Weapons Project, 1947) Vol. III, p. 1. Hereafter cited as "Report of Director of Ship Material."

105Ibid., p. 2.



108Memorandum, Bureau of Ordnance to Chief of Naval Operations, 15 June 1947, Serial F141-6(49). Copy published in "Report of Director of Ship Material."


110"Operations," in "Technical Report, Bikini Scientific Resurvey," Vol. I, p. 67.

111Ibid., pp. 71-73.



BAKER TEST: USS Saratoga (CV-3), Lexington Class


BAKER TEST: USS Arkansas (BB-33), New York Class
HIJMS Nagato, Nagato Class


ABLE TEST: HIJMS Sakawa, Agano Class*


ABLE TEST: USS Anderson (DD-411), Sims Class*
USS Lamson (DD-367), Mahan Class*



USS Apogon (SS-308), Balao Class
USS Pilotfish (SS-386), Balao Class


ABLE TEST: Gilliam (APA-57), Gilliam Class
Carlisle (APA-69), Gilliam Class



LCT-414 (scuttled after)
LCT-812 (scuttled after)
LCT-1187 (scuttled after)
LCT-1237 (scuttled after)
LSM-60 (completely destroyed)



USS Prinz Eugen (IX-300), ex-KMS Prinz Eugen



Boldface indicates this vessel was documented by NPS SCRU during August 1989 and/or May 1990 Survey (includes analysis of USN ROV Survey).

*At the time this report went to press, the remains of three additional vessels were discovered at Bikini. They have not been evaluated but it is probable based on descriptions that they are the two destroyers and Sakawa.

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Last Updated: 22-Sep-2008