The Marshall Islands & the Bomb

Marshall Islands

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.

Operation Crossroads                

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.

From the Youtube video on Operation Crossroads

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.

IVY

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.

Marshall Is. test sites

Castle Bravo

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.

Bravo fallout pattern

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.

Bikini Is. relocation

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.

Now and Then

Timeline:

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.

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Military Humor – 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farewell Salutes – 

Joseph Bullock – Sarasota, FL; US Air Force / FHP Trooper

Kirk Douglas (Issur Danielovitch) 103 – Amsterdam, NY; US Navy, WWII / actor

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)

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on February 10, 2020, in Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 127 Comments.

  1. Amazing history that’s almost been forgotten. Love the comic–about Excel. My son hears that often, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for visiting.

    Like

  3. I’ll never understand the concept of nuclear testing and threats and war in general. People harming people in the name of peace doesn’t make sense to me. Perhaps we can learn from history?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Schools are teaching less and less history – and even when they did, they did not stress just how much we should be remembering and learning from past mistakes. War, it seems, is ingrained in our nature – perhaps because we have no other predator to keep our numbers in check?

      Like

  4. Wow! And radiation levels were still high in the 70’s. This was far more widespread than I knew.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I remember learning about the devastating effects of the testing on Bikini Atoll. Great article, GP.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Very informative piece of history gp, I never realised the extent of these tests until during my army days as an Occupational Health and Safety officer, I was tasked with going to Maralinga Island to test radiation levels, ground zero actually recorded clear but for miles around there was topsoil radiation, the winds and climate had moved ground zero. I think the Marshall Island residents got a raw deal all round. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It’s hard to completely understand it now, and even when trying to grasp it from the military perspective prevailing at the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Yeah .. they do have to be tested I suppose. If they exist at all.
    These days I figure they can simulate such things on computers?
    I hope.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Let us hope the future generations of leaders around the world are wiser. Much irreparable damage occurred in the last century, and is still ongoing. The view of the Earth from space speaks volumes. There is no where else to go if we foul this planet beyond repair. And what will have been gained? Nothing.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Operation Ivy, Operation Greenhouse, Operation Sandstone — they all sound so pleasant. A friend who was in the military once told me, “The nicer the name, the worse the intended consequences.” As you’ve pointed out, there are times when the unintended consequences take it to another level.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I wish we could live in peace.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Its crazy to think that at one time the world did nuclear tests above ground level

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Hi GP, I contacted a friend but he lives far from Mariveles where the village of Cabcaben is located. My apology, I can not be of any help.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. If only those scientists at Cambridge back in the 1930s had not been able to split the atom! I bet that the only good thing ever to come out of this sad story will be the bikini.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I had no idea of the extent of the testing that went on in the islands. They would have contaminated not only the islands but the ocean as well. Too many care only about their own little project and not its effect on the rest of the world. Thanks for telling us the whole story.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. I had an uncle that radiation from the being in the Bikini Island turned his liver to stone.
    He died as a result of the radiation and the government denied him and help or compensation as a result.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. HeeHoo time again:

    Heehoo has the biggest gun gets to hold the ground.

    And heehoo has a functioning deliverable nuke has a pretty big gun … so no wonder a few score natives (armed with spears?) were casually ‘relocated’.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. All these comments mentioning morality and justice and ‘native rights’ and stuff (Diego Garcia, anyone) suggest there’s a lot of naive idealists out there.

    To read the story of Diego Garcia is to turn the stomach a wee bit …

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I remember as a young guy in New Zealand walking through (summer, about three-fourish, afternoon) unexplained showers of a lightish ‘snowy ash’ – kind of flakes. Nobody could explain and in honesty I don’t think most even noticed. Place was Papatoetoe (official pronunciation Parper/toy/toy) (but to most it’s still Pappa/towee/towee).

    Now I wonder if I’ve walked through an unmentionable?

    Anyway, sure might be better/more realistic than ‘flying saucers’.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. At 1,000 times more powerful that the previous two A-bombs, I find it impossible to believe that all involved, scientific and military, were not fully aware of the ramifications of detonating H-bombs in these tests. But I am also reminded that the Cold War ‘Arms Race’ made many normal considerations secondary to ‘keeping ahead of the enemy’.
    Great post, GP.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. No more nuclear testing please…

    Liked by 1 person

  22. 67 tests in a 12 year period. That’s going to take some clearing up!

    Like

  23. Thank you for the lesson, GP! I have to learn much more about this. Now i know, i am real history newbie. Best wishes, Michael

    Liked by 1 person

  24. I believe technically, the Hiroshima bombs were “atomic”. Subsequent testing involved “nuclear” bombs. Still, when I watch how the Navy “cleaned” up the surviving surface warships after a blast, I am dumbfounded. Did you hear that at Chernobyl, the radioactivity created a new type of fungus or mold that eats radiation (or something like that)?

    Liked by 1 person

  25. I was aware of the relocation of islanders, but not the magnitude, nor the details of the entire testing program. Once again, thank you for educating me, GP.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Excellent post, GP. Like you, I wonder why the scientists didn’t raise an issue. Who thought that testing highly radioactive material in the Pacific was a good idea.?

    Liked by 1 person

  27. It was not well done. I don’t suppose the scientists cared much about the ramifications (I can’t believe they had no idea) they got high on the development of their awesome WOMD’s and were tunnel visioned.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. What a great history recap (as you always provide)! I was actually just recently reading about the Marshall Island bombings when I learned I had an uncle who was there at the time and was injured. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing! And as always, salute to you, Sir! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • I appreciate your commenting on this subject, Rachel. Was your uncle injured due to the tests? I would love to hear anything you know about him (if you have the time.)

      Like

  29. Sorry , I failed to mention the year in my comment :: 1946 .

    Liked by 1 person

  30. I have a copy of my father’s orders : ” 1 Sept. Proceed to USS Haven on or about 26 March for transportation to Bikini .” He was a Navy medical officer at the Bikini test . Was it the first Bikini test ? The Navy had sent him through UC Berkeley to attain a PhD in nuclear physics . The medical personnel immediately realized that the fleet was too close to the explosion. My father’s superior had sent a letter to the fleet admiral to move the ships back and the answering letter explained that a Navy fleet was not like ducks in a bathtub and could not be so easily moved , so they stayed put .

    Liked by 2 people

    • That partly explains my feelings that the politicians and military did not fully understand the ramifications of the tests. Thank you for sharing the data saved from your father, Dan.

      Like

  31. Very interesting. I sure didn’t know that whole timeline.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. I did not know how extensive the nuclear tests were. And those “chosen people”! What a joke! Leave it to the government to sugar-coat everything.

    Liked by 2 people

  33. I’m old enough to remember those “tests”, and embarrassed to admit how little thought was given to the people adversely affected.

    Liked by 2 people

  34. This was a real eye-opener. I really only come across the Marshall Islands as a flag of convenience for ships. It’s a fairly sordid story. Not one to be proud of.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. As you would know ours was at Maralinga, and indigenous people were summarily moved from the region. Similar time period. I had read a little of the Marshall Islands testing many years ago, I still feel a sorrow for how they were treated.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Too bad there wasn’t a spare planet to test on.

    Liked by 1 person

  37. Thank you for this fascinating blog! I wasn’t aware of the details of this part of History and now I am excited for the possibilty of answering a question about it in my next Pub Quiz! Especially as you made the Time line so clear!
    Best Wishes,
    Charlotte

    Liked by 1 person

  38. This got me too upset to finish reading. Soldiers instantly dying a mile from the blast. That was the last line I could bear to read.

    Liked by 2 people

  39. I’m surprised the soldier was using Excel instead of Powerpoint. The Pentagon abounds in Powerpoint Rangers and Death by Powerpoint is not yet recognized as a cause of death, Fascinating post–guess we don’t treat ‘others’ much better than the countries we condemn for doing something similar.

    Liked by 1 person

    • On this it is hard for me to condemn too many, except the scientists. Despite my own education being mainly science orientated, I doubt many of the politicians or military understood the radiation or bomb at all. It should have been the specialists to explain the affects. IMO

      Liked by 1 person

  40. So many?! I wonder how this works today, unbeknown to (most of us).
    A MAC is great, have you considered getting one in the near future? 🙂

    The last joke-image reminded me of the last meeting in the photographic society. A member volunteered to show he edits his photos and it obviously was a fatal mistake as he couldn’t explain or find anything. 🙂

    The storm Ciara is chasing our garden waste bags through the garden right now, have to rush and rescue them. Take care, GP Cox,
    warm greeting from the stormy coast! x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dina,
      No, I haven’t really gotten ready to purchase a new computer, but I will consider a Mac when I have to. As far as that last cartoon goes – I’m one of the people leaning over his shoulder because I’m so computer illiterate.
      I appreciate you stopping in to read this article and comment. I certainly hope Ciara doesn’t destroy your garden!
      Try to enjoy the week, the storm should pass soon.
      GP Cox

      Liked by 1 person

  41. Nine years living with “excessive radiation” on Bikini Atoll, horrifying.

    Liked by 1 person

  42. I knew about the testing, that people had been relocated and we grew up fearing the fallout, but I had no idea there were so many tests. The chosen people, indeed.

    I have to add that I identify with the cartoon at the bottom. Good job!

    Liked by 3 people

  43. I had no idea of the enormity of this

    Liked by 1 person

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