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A-Bomb Sinks 2 Ships and Damages 17; Capital Vessels Escape Extensive Harm; Destroyer Capsizes; Experiment `Success'

Blast Photo By Gerald G. Gross
The Washington Post
July 1, 1946

Aboard the USS Appalachian, Bikini (Monday), July 1 -- An unearthly brilliance that petrified observers flashed from Bikini Lagoon as the world's fourth atomic bomb was loosed at 5:00:00 p.m.(Washington time) Sunday.

Twenty seconds later, that fearsome blaze of light was followed by a giant rumble which reached this command ship 18 miles from the Bikini target area, where 73 guinea pig ships were testing the force of the man-made atomic monster.

The plane was scheduled to drop its lethal load at about 30,000 feet, but while the bomb was set to explode above the surface the exact height was not disclosed.

A creamy canopy of cloud, tinged with pink writhed and twisted 5 miles high, temporarily blotting out the result of history's greatest experiment.

Three hours later, when that beautiful but deadly radioactive cloud was swept away by northwest winds, we steamed close to Bikini Lagoon to receive reports of the holocaust: two ships sunk, one capsized and 17 damaged.

Tally of Damage

While no capital ships was reported sunk, the results were:

Sunk -- Transports Gilliam and Carlisle.

Capsized -- Destroyer Lamson.

Heavily damage -- Submarine Skate, Jap cruiser Sakawa, aircraft carrier Independence (left listing), cruiser Pensacola.

Lightly damaged -- Battleship New York, destroyer Wilson, transport Briscoe, battleship Nevada, carrier Saratoga, Jap battleship Nagato, yard oiler 160, landing craft medium No. 1, transports Niagara, Bladen, Banner, Butte and Cortland.

The destroyer Lamson, though capsized, was left afloat, lying on her beam end.

The Pensacola suffered heavy superstructure damage while the battleship New York suffered from fire, which likewise damaged the transports Niagara, Bladen, Butte and Cortland.

The blast blew the flight deck "island" off the Independence and heavily damage the superstructure of the Nagato.

The fire on the Saratoga did not appear great.

The orange-painted Nevada, aiming point of Bombardier Maj. Harold P. Wood, Bordentown, N.J. of the superfortress "Dave's Dream," was believed only superficially touched.

There were no known casualties. There was no tidal wave, no earthquake. First reports indicated no extensive damage to capital ships.

Many observers seemed disappointed by the reports after the terrific anticipation and suspense which had been built up within us. Some had expected terrific destruction: perhaps they expected too much.

"Very Good Accuracy"

Soon after the bomb was dropped from the Superfortress "Dave's Dream," Vice Admiral W.H.P. Blandy, commander of "Operation Crossroads," had announced in a broadcast from his flagship:

"The bomb was dropped with very good accuracy. I must say here that I am very well pleased indeed with the excellent performance of our task force in the operation. It could not have been better. ...

"It might well be at least a month before we are able to determine accurately the efficiency of this bomb, but we should have an approximate idea of it in a day or two. Our necessarily complex safety plans have been functioning perfectly and continue to so. There are no known deaths or injuries to our men, nor do we expect any. The radiological safety parties are already functioning and the drone boats and planes are now returning the information we need. ..."

We had seen those drone planes carrying delicate instruments to gather samples of atomic matter, roaring into the cloud spectacle after the blast as our ship stood out to sea.

As the flash of light careened crazily across the southwestern sky and disappeared into nothing, a steward's mate, standing behind me as I sat at the starboard rial of the Appalachian, muttered, half to himself.

"Hosanna, Lord, I'm still alive."

That had been the immediate reaction of all of us, the almost 40,000 men watching the never-to-be-forgotten spectacle which already has cost the United States about 70 million dollars, not counting the cost of the bomb.

Observers who had been in eyewitness range of the bomb "drop" stretched out on the deck of ships with their feet pointed toward the blast -- peering through special glasses -- generally agreed that the bomb had "missed" its primary target, the red-painted Nevada.

The blast, of course, was an air burst -- at an undisclosed altitude -- and the debate over the bombardier's accuracy undoubtedly will continue for some time.

Cloud Drifts as Planned

"We cannot accurately determine extent of the damage until boarding crews enter the lagoon and go aboard the target ships to make detailed surveys," Admiral Blandy said afterward in a broadcast.

"There has been no tidal waves, no earthquakes or any other unnatural phenomena. The radioactive cloud is drifting as we had estimated. It will no endanger personnel, ships or other Pacific Islands.

"I might say here that as a precautionary measure, we had already embarked the original natives of Bikini, who are now living at Rongerik atoll on board two LSTs (landing, ships, tank) ready to evacuate on an hour's notice should an unfortunate shift of wind require it.

"It is not required. Those natives are now being put back on shore.

"In short, nothing has occurred here today which has been contrary to our original plans and estimates. Within 12 hours I will make another report summarizing the results of the test as we know them.

"I think it is safe to say at this time that this `Able-Day' detonation has been highly successful from the point of view of an operation and a test.

"We expect to learn facts of great value. As a final word, I hope that the public will adopt the same attitude as we do in Joint Task Force One and not to be too hasty in judging results. There is much more to learn.

At Kwajalein, 240 miles away, observers reported they could see that atomic cloud which hung over us, but could not hear the explosions.

From the Appalachian, our view of the blast scene was blocked just after the explosion by a white cloud that drifted between us and the lagoon. When it passed away, we saw a giant column rising into the substratosphere like a genie out of a diabolic thousand and one nights, creamy white inside and surrounded by a crimson glow.

Within 10 minutes it had risen to 20,000 feet and it continued soaring skyward to an estimated 50,000 feet. The fire which followed the blast, however was not nearly as great as we anticipated.

(Don Whitehead, Associated Press reporter aboard Appalachian, said that with the sound of the blast reaching the Appalachian, 18 miles distant, "came the shock wave, I noted a sudden sharp pain in my ears, and felt the rush of the wind. But it was only a small sharp shock far from the wind anticipated by those who had heard descriptions of the New Mexico blast which swept men from their feet at 20 miles." (Editor's note.)

Before the bomb drop, over ship's loudspeakers came a continuous droning voice, giving the location of the bombing plane piloted by Maj. Woodrow P. Swancutt of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. Radio reports were made from the plane itself until the bomb was actually dropped.

With the cry, "Bomb away and falling" followed by the exclamation, "Look at that! What ho!" the plane's radio cut out. The bomb, "Gilda," named after the motion picture in which Rita Hayworth starred, was on its way.

Although the bomb drop was technically made on time, the time for the bombing had been changed shortly before "Dave's Dream" took off from Kwajalein, being set back 30 minutes.

Admiral Blandy gave no immediate explanation for the time change.

After the blast, as we cruised within eye-range of Bikini, we were startled to see palm fronds still dancing in the tropical breeze. The steel towers erected on the island, on which were placed instruments to record the damage, were still standing, apparently not damaged.

There was virtually no sign of smoke in the area.

The scene of comparative serenity seemed to delight some of the Navy officers, jubilant in the belief that the test had not demonstrated that modern navies are obsolete in this atomic era.

Admiral Blandy has announced that no human beings will be permitted to enter Bikini Lagoon until tests made from radio-controlled boats and planes reveal that the area is absolutely safe.

The first to return were crewmen checking radioactivity of the possibly lethal waters, ships and islands, to establish safety before permitting the bulk of the working fleet to reenter.

"Radiological activity was about as expected," a brief announcement said.

Yesterday, our press ship, the Appalachian, had been one of the last nontarget ships to desert the sitting-duck array. It was 4 p.m. when we got under way, passing slowly in review before warcraft whose names will shine forever in American naval lore.

The twice-torpedoed Saratoga, a heroine from Guadalcanal to Iwo Jima; the Nevada, fearsome avenger of Normandy, Attu and Okinawa. Also there were the Nagato, the Prinz Eugen and American subs and tin cans that earned presidential citations the hard way.

As we sailed to our respective vantage points outside Bikini lagoon in company with transports, landing craft and other auxiliaries, it was remindful of a colony of appeasers, who to save their own hides have placed sacrifices on the altar of some predatory beast are now feeling his wrath.

Bearing southward to get into the open sea we rounded Bikini and moved into the northeasterly course which took us to our present vantage point. A number of men were still on the island making final adjustments to instruments and transporting salvageable material.

Yesterday, Sunday, a few hours before leaving the lagoon, the Appalachian press was host to the Joint Chiefs of Staff Evaluation Board and President Truman's personal Crossroads Appraisal Committee.

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