The Marshall Islands & the Bomb
Between 1946 and 1958, the United States detonated 67 nuclear bombs on, in and above the Marshall Islands — vaporizing whole islands, carving craters into its shallow lagoons and exiling hundreds of people from their homes.
The first testing series in the Marshall Islands occurred under Operation Crossroads. The purpose of Operation Crossroads was to investigate the effect of nuclear weapons on naval warships. Testing in the islands began at Bikini Atoll with the Shot Able test, on July 1, 1946. After Shot Able, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists confirmed the power of these weapons. They determined that soldiers on ships up to a mile away from this explosion would be instantly be killed.
The U.S. then conducted the Shot Baker test on July 25.
These tests were the first time that the U.S. tested nuclear weapons since the Trinity Test in 1945. These were also the first U.S. nuclear detonations since the “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” bombs dropped over Japan. Operation Crossroads ended on August 10, 1946, due to concerns over radiation, especially to the soldiers involved. In 1969, the U.S. began a long term project to decontaminate Bikini Atoll.
Operations Greenhouse and Ivy
In January of 1950, President Truman made the decision to increase U.S. research into thermonuclear weapons, which would lead to further U.S. nuclear testing. Operation Greenhouse, was a series of nuclear tests conducted at Eniwetok Atoll in 1951. These were done to test design principles that would later become pivotal in the development of the hydrogen bomb. The tests aimed to reduce the overall size of nuclear weapons, including the necessary amount of fissile material, while increasing their destructive power.
The U.S. conducted its first series of thermonuclear tests, Operation Ivy, at Eniwetok Atoll, in November of 1952. Shot Mike was the first successful hydrogen bomb test. Then, on November 16, the U.S. conducted the King Shot.
The U.S. conducted its largest nuclear detonation ever, Castle Bravo, at Bikini Atoll on March 1, 1954. This was part of Operation Castle, a series of thermonuclear tests. Bravo was over 1,000 more times powerful than “Little Boy.” Bravo used a device called “Shrimp” which used lithium deuteride as its fuel. Bravo was the first test of a deliverable hydrogen bomb.
Despite potential risks, Major General Percy Clarkson and scientific director Dr. Alvin C. Graves ordered the test to continue as planned. Due to Castle Bravo radioactive debris was released into the atmosphere, and to surrounding atolls. The test was more powerful than scientists predicted. Ocean currents, weather conditions, and wind patterns contributed to this spread of fallout and debris. The fallout was composed of pulverized coral, water, and radioactive particles, and it fell into the atmosphere appearing as ashy snowflakes. This affected nearby atolls and U.S. servicemen. Traces of radioactive material were later found in parts of Japan, India, Australia, Europe, and the United States. This was the worst radiological disaster in U.S. history and caused worldwide backlash against atmospheric nuclear testing.
Relocation of the Marshallese
In 1946, Navy Commodore Ben Wyatt met with the 167 people living on Bikini Atoll. Wyatt asked the Marshallese to relocate, and for use of their atoll “for the good of mankind.” He explained that they were a chosen people and that perfecting atomic weapons could prevent future wars. The residents were promised they could return one day, but realistically they had no choice in this matter. Immediately following this speech, the U.S military began preparations to relocate the residents to Rongerik Atoll, an uninhabited island with limited resources 125 miles away. Residents of Bikini Atoll resettled in 1969, but then evacuated in 1978, after radiation levels were determined to be excessive.
A month later, the Marshallese filed a complaint with the UN, but this did not prevent U.S. nuclear testing. In 1948, the U.S. government forced residents of Eniwetok Atoll to evacuate due to expanded nuclear testing with Operation Sandstone.
7/1/1946: Testing begins at the Marshall Islands, with Shot Able.
7/25/1946: Shot Baker is conducted, under Operation Crossroads.
4/30/1948: Shot Yoke, under Operation Sandstone, is conducted. This was the first fission weapon to use a levitated core design.
4/20/1951: Shot Easy nuclear test is conducted at Eniwetok Atoll, under Operation Greenhouse. The Easy test was meant to test a new, lighter implosion bomb.
5/1951: Operation Greenhouse testing occurred at Eniwetok Atoll.
11/1/1952: The Mike Shot is conducted at Eniwetok, under Operation Ivy. This was the first U.S. thermonuclear test.
6/28/1958: The Oak test is conducted, at Eniwetok Atoll, under the Operation Hardtack I series. This was the 6th largest U.S. nuclear test. Hardtack I included 35 total tests. Hardtack I was the last testing series conducted on the Marshall Islands.
Clean up is still going on today.
Click on images to enlarge.
Military Humor –
Farewell Salutes –
Joseph Bullock – Sarasota, FL; US Air Force / FHP Trooper
Gus Elias – Cannonsburg, PA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, APO, antiaircraft
Paul Farnes – Hampshire, ENG; RAF, WWII, ETO, 501st Squadron & 229th Wing Commander (Ret. 20 y.)
Oscar E. Koskela – Detroit, MI; USMC, PTO, Cpl., HQ Co./29/2 Marine Division, KIA (Saipan)
John McGlohon – Asheboro, NC; US Army Air Corps, WWII, CBI, ATO & PTO, Sgt., aerial photographer (only one to take pictures of the Hiroshima blast)
Harold Rafferty – Louisville, KY; US Army, WWII, PTO
Dan E. Reagan – USA; US Navy, WWII, PTO, USS Oklahoma, fireman 1st Class, KIA (Pearl Harbor)
Frank Wasniewski (100) – Jersey City, NJ; US Army, WWII, PTO, 98th Coast Artillery
Sophie Yazzie (105) – Canyon de Chilly, AZ; US Army Air Corps WAC, (a member of the Navajo Nation)
Posted on February 10, 2020, in Uncategorized, WWII and tagged 1940's, A-Bomb, Bikini Islands, History, Marshall Islands, Military, nuclear, Pacific War, radiation, WW2, WWII. Bookmark the permalink. 129 Comments.