Countdown at Crossroads – 1 July 1946, Test Able

1-BombDrops! - Copy

Bikini Lagoon, 1 July 1946, Test Able.  Finally, the big day had arrived—1 July 1946 by the Bikini calendar (30 June in New York). At 0540 Vice Admiral W. H. P. Blandy ordered the Superfortress B-29 – nicknamed “Dave’s Dream” – to take off from the Kwajalein Atoll some 250 miles away. The USS Fall River was positioned 12 to 15 miles from the target site. As the hour of detonation approached, my shipmates and I sat on the main deck facing away from the explosion, closed our eyes and covered them with our hands, as per Commander Dennett’s Ship’s Order for atomic bomb safety precautions.

At 0859, the Test Able atomic bomb (nicknamed “Gilda” for the 1946 Rita Hayworth film of the same name) was released from “Dave’s Dream” and detonated at 520 feet above the target fleet with a yield of 23 kilotons. The Fall River Ship’s Log simply noted: 0900 Atomic Bomb number 4 exploded.

5. Test Able (also COVER)

The mushroom cloud of the Test Able atomic bomb explosion, 1 July 1946 (Naval Historical Center)

My shipmates and I waited for the order “Carry on.” Then we uncovered our eyes and observed the gigantic cloud rising above the target fleet. Gerald G. Gross of The Washington Post observed Test Able from aboard the press ship USS Appalachian, 18 miles from the target area, and described the aftermath as “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.” (The Washington Post, 1 July 1946)

5. Fall River crew looking at Able

Observing the aftermath of the Test Able blast from the deck of the USS Fall River (CA-131).  (Naval Historical Center)

My shipmates recalled:

“I still saw the flash of light of the explosion even though my eyes were covered and my back was to the target. I’ve wondered if my late-in-life development of cataracts may have been triggered by this experience.” -Louis V. Brence, Chief Radio Mate, “CR” Division, USS Pensacola, temporarily assigned to the Fall River

“I remember seeing the Pennsylvania’s bow being lifted out of the water.” -John L. Reilley, Fall River Electrician’s Mate 3/c

Everyone was anxious for the details which surely would be forthcoming in the next several days and weeks.

(Excerpted from Operation Crossroads – Lest We Forget! by William L. McGee. Thank-you to Keith@Son_of_Sandor for the San Francisco Chronicle front page, 1 July 1946.)

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