Looking back: Operation Crossroads begins
On July 1, 1946, the US began using the Bikini Atoll, in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and Australia, to test nuclear weapons.
The Operation Crossroads tests explored the effects of a nuclear bomb on naval warships. Old US boats and submarines, plus captured German and Japanese vessels, were assembled, some loaded with farm animals, rats and mice. A support fleet of 150 ships waited nearby, with workshops and quarters for the 42,000 men involved. These were also the first nuclear tests to be publicly announced, with journalists flown in to observe the devastation.
The initial test on July 1, code-named “Able”, saw a bomb dropped from a B-29 plane. It detonated above the fleet, nearly half a mile off target but still sank five ships, with a burst of radiation killing the animals on surrounding vessels.
The second test, “Baker”, on July 25, was an underwater explosion that created a massive seafloor crater, with a huge radioactive blast of water coating the ships, leaving them contaminated for weeks. It was then that Operation Crossroads came to an end, with efforts to clean the vessels for further tests deemed too dangerous — although testing would continue until 1958.
Perhaps its most surprising legacy is that the islands gave Paris fashion designer Louis Réard a name for his two-piece swimsuit idea. “Like the bomb, the bikini is small and devastating,” he said.