In the past few weeks, the media has been following in real-time the E/V Nautilus (the initials stand for Exploration Vessel) as she explores the underwater wreckage of the American aircraft carrier, USS Independence (CVL-22), one of the 95 target vessels blasted by two atomic bombs at the Bikini Atoll in July 1946 as part of Operation Crossroads. Though heavily damaged, the “Indy” was towed to the United States and was sunk in 1951 by the Navy off Half Moon Bay. (Here’s a link to read more about the underwater exploration of the “Indy”.)
The exploration of the “Indy” wreckage triggered questions from readers of Operation Crossroads – Lest We Forget! about what happened to the ship Bill served on — the heavy cruiser USS Fall River (CA-131), Flagship for the Target Fleet and responsible for getting the array of target ships in position before each of the two atomic blasts.
In 1947, after considerable efforts to decontaminate the parts of the Fall River declared radioactive from Crossreads, the relatively new heavy cruiser (she had only been commissioned in July 1945) was inactivated and placed on reserve status. In 1971, she was struck from the list. In 1972, she was still so “hot” from radiation, she was sent to the shipwrecker’s yard and sold for scrap.
Today, all that remains from the short life of this once mighty heavy cruiser is the prow section of the bow. It is on display at the entrance to Battleship Cove in the ship’s namesake town of Fall River, Massachusetts.
(Excerpted from Operation Crossroads – Lest We Forget!, “Epilogue: Fall River – Her Short Life” by William L. McGee.)