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Bikini Atoll

Harry S Truman

Bikini Atoll: Harry S Truman was the 33rd American President who served in office from April 12, 1945 to January 20, 1953. One of the important events during his presidency was Operation Crossroads at Bikini Atoll and the atomic bomb tests.

Definition and Summary of the Bikini Atoll
Summary and definition:
Operation Crossroads was a program at Bikini Atoll in which two nuclear weapon tests were conducted by the United States in the Marshall Islands in 1946. Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands of the central Pacific was selected as the location for the nuclear tests as they were far from major population centers.

Operation Crossroads was established at the end of WW2 and approved by President Harry S Truman on January 10, 1946 and was the first public demonstration of America's atomic arsenal after the Atomic bombs was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of WW2.

The purpose of Operation Crossroads was to investigate the effect of nuclear weapons on naval warships and military equipment. The first test at Bikini Atoll, codenamed ABLE, occurred on July 1, 1946 when an implosion-type atomic bomb (nicknamed Gilda) was dropped from a B-29. The second test of Operation Crossroads at Bikini Atoll, codenamed Test BAKER, was the first underwater test of an atomic bomb. After the initial nuclear weapons tests Bikini Atoll was used for 23 atomic  and hydrogen bomb blasts in the 1940s and 1950s.

What is the location of Bikini Atoll? The atoll of Bikini, consists of 23 islands totaling 3.4 square miles surrounding a lagoon and part of the remote Ralik Chain in the region of Micronesia in a central point in the Pacific Ocean. Definition: An atoll is a chain of islands formed of coral.

What was Operation Crossroads at Bikini Atoll? Operation Crossroads was a program that was established in 1946 to conduct two nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The two atomic weapons tests were codenamed "Operation Crossroads". The "Able" test detonated an atomic bomb on July 1, 1946 and the "Baker" test was detonated on July 25, 1946

Why was it called Operation Crossroads? The name was selected because the atomic bomb represented a "crossroads" from conventional warfare to nuclear war.

Additional Nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll: Between 1946 - 1958, a total of 23 nuclear devices were detonated by the US at seven test sites located on the Bikini Atoll coral reef. The reason for the tests was to explore the effects of airborne and underwater nuclear explosions on ships, equipment, and material.

Facts about Bikini Atoll
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Bikini Atoll.

Operation Crossroads at Bikini Atoll were the first nuclear weapons tests in peace time. The bombs were dropped shortly after World War 2 had ended with the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings.

Operation Crossroads was the idea of Lewis Strauss, an aide to Secretary of Navy James Forrestal, who later became Chairman of the US Atomic Energy Commission.

Vice Admiral W. H. P. Blandy, became the head of the test series task force and named the program "Operation Crossroads" because the atomic bomb represented a "crossroads" from conventional war to nuclear war.

Operation Crossroads was approved by US President Harry S. Truman on 10 January 1946 and Bikini Atoll was selected as the site for three Atomic Bomb tests that were codenamed Able, Baker and Charlie.

The decision to conduct nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll was made at the same time the United States was proposing a plan at the United Nations (UN) for the abolition of atomic weapons

Bikini Atoll is located 850 kilometers northwest of Majuro on the northern fringe of the Marshall Islands and is composed of 23 islands. Four islands, called Bikini, Eneu, Nam and Enidrik, accounted for over 70% of the land area. The islands of Bikini and Eneu were the only islands of the atoll that have had a permanent population.

Bikini Atoll was chosen as the test site because the reef surrounded a lagoon of over 200 square miles. The lagoon offered ample protected anchorage for both the fleet of target and support ships and were well away from regular air and sea routes.

These advantages at Bikini Atoll outweighed the drawbacks of the location. The drawbacks were the distance from the United States which imposed difficult logistical requirements and the humid climate that could effect the scientific instruments and photographic equipment.

The major problem was that the Bikini Atoll islands had a small population of 167 Bikini islanders. The inhabitants comprised of about 40 families were asked to relocate in 1946. The islanders led by Chief Juda voluntarily moved to Rongerik Atoll on the understanding that they would be able to return once the tests were over.

The Bikini Atoll islanders voluntarily moved to Rongerik Atoll, then moved to Rongerik Atoll, then Kwajalein Atoll, and once again in November 1948 to Kili Island. The islanders were later given public lands on Ejit.

A fleet of 95 surplus ships and submarines that were badly damaged during WW2 were used as targets, including the Saratoga aircraft carrier, the Arkansas battleship, the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen and the Japanese battleship Nagato. The target ships at Bikini Atoll were loaded with thousands of scientific instruments to tests the effects of the explosions.

Over 42,000 U.S. military and civilian personnel, 242 naval ships and 156 aircraft, were involved in the testing program at Bikini Atoll.

Over 5,500 experimental animals were to placed on 22 target ships in positions similar to those of a human crew in battles. The animals included 200 pigs, 5,000 rats, 200 mice, 60 guinea pigs and 204 goats

The two bombs used in Operation Crossroads at Bikini Atoll, codenamed ABLE and BAKER, were identical in design and yield to the Atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki.

Code name ABLE was an air drop surface detonation. Code name BAKER was an underwater shallow detonation. Code name CHARLIE was intended as an underwater deep detonation but was cancelled.

The standard NATO Alphabet was not adopted until 1956. Up to this time the American armed forces had developed their own phonetic alphabets which is why the code names fro the bombs were Alpha and Baker , rather than Alpha and Bravo.

The "Able" test at Bikini Atoll detonated an atomic bomb on July 1, 1946 at at 9:00 a.m. The "Able" bomb was given the nickname of "Gilda" after Rita Hayworth's latest movie. Rita Hayworth's picture in a low-cut dress was painted on the bomb's casing.

The "Baker" test was detonated on July 25, 1946 at 8:35 a.m. The "Baker" bomb was given the nickname "Helen of Bikini". It was an underwater shallow shot to test its effects on submerged submarines and the hulls of 87 battleships.

The "Able" and "Baker" tests at Bikini Atoll were witnessed by hundreds of observers including reporters, photographers, politicians and members of the Security Council and the United Nations together with 42,000 scientific and military personnel. Literally hundreds of thousands of photographs were taken of the tests

None of the observers of the "mushroom clouds", nor the men who participated in the 'clean-up operation' during Operation Crossroads wore any protective clothing.

The airburst "Able" bomb, with a yield of 23 kilotons, exploded 518 feet, over the array of old ships, above the lagoon's surface. One report of the explosion said "For minutes the cloud stood solid and impressive, like some gigantic monument..."

Five ships sank immediately and many other were damaged beyond repair. About 10% of the test animals died instantly from the impact of the blast.

The Radiological Safety Section of Operation Crossroads consisted of radiologists, physicists, electronic experts and doctors and these men were the first to proceed to the lagoon, with their Geiger counters, after the explosions.

The underwater "Baker" test was conducted to test submerged submarines and the hulls of the target battleships. One report of the explosion said "For a time it looked as though a giant mountain had risen from the sea..."

Major General Nichols was quoted as saying "Niagara Falls in reverse shot up over an area fully 2,200 feet in diameter, millions of tons of water rose about 5,000 feet and finally vapor and steam came out on top..."

For six days after the Baker bomb explosion, when radiation levels were highest, 4,900 US servicemen boarded the target ships and attempted to scrub off the radioactivity with brushes, water, soap, and lye. Nothing worked, other than sandblasting areas of contamination to bare metal.

According to the official report, decontamination efforts "revealed conclusively that removal of radioactive contamination of the type encountered in the target vessels in test Baker cannot be accomplished successfully."

Bikini Atoll was the first site in the Marshall Islands to be used for nuclear-weapon testing by the United States in 1946. In 1948, a neighboring atoll called Enewetak Atoll, replaced Bikini as the nuclear weapons test site. In 1954, Bikini Atoll was reactivated as a test site until the United States terminated nuclear-weapon testing in the Marshall Islands in 1958.

By the time nuclear weapons testing in the Marshall Islands was terminated in July 1958, twenty three nuclear weapon tests had been conducted on Bikini Atoll over a  twelve year period. Only one test was conducted underwater, all the others were atmospheric or surface tests.

Radiological surveys were conducted from 1958 to assess the impact of the weapons testing. In August 1968 it was announced that Bikini Atoll was safe for habitation and approved for resettlement.

139 Bikinians returned to Bikini Atoll but remained concerned about the safety of the islands. In 1975 the Bikinians initiated a lawsuit against the US Government to terminate the resettlement until a comprehensive radiological survey had been conducted. Additional radiological data was collected for evaluation and September 1978 the decision was made to relocate the 139 Bikinians back to Ejit Island and Kili Island at Majuro Atoll, 850 kilometers away from Bikini Atoll.

Subsequent reports on the Radiological Conditions recommended that Bikini Island should not be permanently resettled. It remains uninhabited to the current day.

US American History
1945-1993: Cold War Era

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