This July marks the 70th anniversary of Operation Crossroads, a series of nuclear weapons tests conducted by the United States at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The purpose of the operation, which included two shots, “Able” and “Baker,” was to investigate the effect of nuclear weapons on naval warships. The tests were the first nuclear detonations conducted after the end of World War II, and the first to be publicly announced. An invited audience, including a large press corps and international observers, witnessed the explosions.
Several websites have covered the anniversary of the operation. On Atlas Obscura, Sarah Laskow describes the Baker shot, the first underwater nuclear test. The detonation generated a column of radioactive water that severely contaminated the target ships that were not otherwise destroyed by the explosion. She details how the test “instilled new awe for the power of the bomb.”
In an article on the New Yorker website, historian Alex Wellerstein reflects on the significance of the tests. 1946, he writes, “was a year of choices about the character of the postwar, newly nuclear world…Crossroads marked a moment of giddy abandon, when weapons of mass destruction became a form of consumer entertainment.” Wellerstein also mentions the impact of Operation Crossroads on the people of Bikini Atoll – who were evacuated to nearby atolls before the tests began – and the legacies of U.S. nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands.
The Bikini tests are also known for inspiring the eponymous swimsuit. Historian Jennifer Le Zotte has a fascinating article on the history of the bikini swimsuit and its Cold War connections.
For more information about the operation and its legacy, click here. AHF’s “Voices of the Manhattan Project” website also contains numerous interviews with veterans who participated in Operation Crossroads.