Countdown at Crossroads – 30 June 1946, Test Able -1

Preparing the Lagoon

The evacuated Bikini Lagoon with the target vessels moored in place. Note the Bikini beer shack on the right. (Photo: Joint Task Force Once)

Bikini Lagoon, 30 June 1946, Test Able -1. There was a lot of activity the day before the big day, Test Able. My ship, USS Fall River (CA-131), Flagship for the Target Fleet under the command of Rear Admiral F. G. Fahrion, USN, was responsible for positioning the 95 target vessels in a section of the Bikini lagoon. Men on the USS Burleson (APA-67) were placing test animals on various target vessels. By darkness, every single support ship and man were evacuated from the lagoon and accounted for. It was an eerie sight.

Scuttlebutt was the actual sound of the Able atomic bomb explosion the next day would be broadcast on major American radio networks. According to the Chicago Tribune on June 28, 1946: “Owing to the speed with which radio travels – 186,000 miles per second – American listeners may hear the blast before those near the scene get it directly, since sound waves travel relatively slowly.”

Some members of the media began transmitting their Test Able stories back to the States a day early with made-up copy like, “It was a bright sunny day this morning when the Test Able bomb went off.” One journalist explained to an Ensign on the Fall River, “Look, there are only so many communication lines out of here and it’s easier to call my office and say correct the following paragraph than to try and send a new four-page story.”

I don’t remember if I slept well that night. Though my Sixth Division shipmates and I didn’t talk about it, you knew we were all thinking about the next day. No one knew what to expect. (Excerpted from Operation Crossroads – Lest We Forget! by William L. McGee)

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