An extraordinary eyewitness account of the first atom bomb test off the Bikini Atoll on 1 July 1946. After the war, in December 1945, President Truman issued a directive to Army and Navy officials that joint testing of nuclear weapons would be necessary "to determine the effect of atomic bombs on American warships." Bikini was chosen as the test site because its location was far removed from regular air routes and sea lanes.
While the 167 Bikinians readied for their departure from the island, the Army and Navy rapidly deployed some 240 naval ships, 150 aircraft, 25,000 radiation recording devices, and approximately 5,000 test animals (rats, goats, and pigs). Over 42,000 U. S. military and civilian personnel were involved in the testing program at Bikini.
Seventy-seven target ships swung at anchor in the Bikini lagoon, encircling the "Scarlet Fever"—the orange-painted battleship Nevada which would be the aiming point for the Nagasaki-type bomb. On the morning of the test, the observation vessels withdrew to a safe distance. The naval serviceman writes to his friend: "We were about the third from the last ship to leave the target area this mroning ... We are now about ten miles from the target area. The islands and ships that are to be blown up, are not visable [sic] from this distance.
"The bomb went off with a great flash, I was looking directley [sic] at it with special radio active repellent goggles..." The bomb was detonated at 9AM Bikini time. The serviceman continues: "After the flash a beautifully colored cloud of greenish-red-gold glowing smoke started rising in a virtical [sic] column. Same as the one I saw while on leave, in New Mexico. The colors changed then they all disappeared leaving a tall thick white fluffy column of smoke. The column stayed in a virtical [sic] possition [sic] for about fifteen minutes, then it started slowly towards the north, and slowly wilting and mixing with the rest of the clouds ... we were unable to see the ships in the target area ... but after the blast, black smoke was slowly rising from that area ... Some of the boys claimed they felt a wave of heat at the time of the flash, but I did'nt [sic] feel anything. I did feel a very slight concushionh [sic], and heard a low rumble soon after the blast."
Nuclear testing continued through the 1950s at Bikini, concluding with the detonation of the hydrogen bomb, the results of which rendered the island unfit for the return and habitation of its indigenous population.
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