Apr 19

Side Glances at Operation Crossroads

Thursday, April 19, 2018 5:21 PM


One of the benefits of digitized archives are the ability to call up pieces of the past that are physically apart from each other and see them all together in context. This ability to make connections can often lead to interesting glances not shown in context together before.

Scattered throughout the Naval Institute’s roughly half-million photographic subject files are many that deal with Operation Crossroads in 1946. These famous nuclear tests, whose iconic images of mushroom clouds exploding out of an over the Pacific Ocean would cement the awesome destructive power of nuclear weapons in the minds of the world at large, was marked not just by its results, but by the massive undertaking behind it: over 42,000 people, 242 ships, and 156 aircraft brought the Crossroads tests to fruition.

In an undertaking of this size, some of the interesting details ultimately get lost in the shuffle. Presented below are some of the photos from the Naval Institute archives that are notable “sidelights” on one of the early salvos of the Atomic Age.

The target ships began assembling in Pearl Harbor early in 1946. Specialized equipment was installed on many of the often-decorated veterans of World War II, and the ships themselves were marked and painted to enable more methodical study. Below, the USS Mugford (DD-839) stands with her frame numbers demarcated and her name clearly marked on her bow.

USS Mugford Crossroads Tests

USS Mugford (DD-839) in Pearl Harbor, 15 May 1946.

One of the lesser-known aspects of the test itself is the use of drones to collect scientific data Drone B-17 aircraft were equipped with radio controls and television cameras so that they could be flown remotely through the atomic cloud to obtain test data. Below, a Lockheed-built B-17G drone is shown in flight in the test area. Note its mushroom cloud nose art.

Crossorads B-17G

B-17G drone used to collect atmospheric data during Operation Crossroads.

It wasn’t just drone planes that were used. Drone boats were put into use for the tests. On can be seen as it gets underway off the port side of the USS Begor (APD-127) . Through remote control these boats were able to pierce through the thick vapors left by the blast and return bringing back valuable data as the vulnerability of small craft against radioactivity and its force.

Drone Boat Crossroads

Drone boat underway off USS Begor (APD-127) during Operation Crossroads, 1946.

After the bombs went off, many of the target ships suffered devastating damage. The USS Independence (CVL-22), an aircraft carrier exposed to the first atom bomb test at Bikini on July 1, 1946 bore little resemblance to the ship that entered Bikini lagoon a few days earlier. This photo was made by a Navy photographer shortly after the atom bomb explosion.

USS Independence (CVL-22) after the Able test on 1 July 1946.

USS Independence (CVL-22) after the Able test on 1 July 1946.

The USS Skate (SS-305) was on the surface at the time of the first Bikini explosion. At the time it was thought would have sunk if she had not been beached for study, but a salvage party kept her afloat.

USS Skate Crossroads

USS Skate (SS-305) beached for study after the Able test.

Other ships were less heavily damaged, like the USS New York (BB-34), show below. The Navy had hoped to decontaminate the ships they could salvage, but the fallout from the tests (not to mention the use of radioactive water from the lagoon, as below) proved too great — a cost borne by many Crossroads veterans exposed to the lethal radiation.

Most ships in the target group had to be scuttled due to their continuing dangerous radioactivity.

USS New York (BB-34) being hosed down by USS ATR-40 after the Baker test.

USS New York (BB-34) being hosed down by USS ATR-40 after the Baker test. She was ultimately scuttled in 1948.

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