This issue of Naval History commemorates the 60th anniversary of an event that signaled the U.S. Navy's entry into the nuclear age: Operation Crossroads, the twin atomic bomb tests at remote Bikini Atoll. The U.S. Army Air Forces dropped the a-bombs that ended World War II, but the 1946 Bikini tests were largely a Navy affair.
Retired Navy Vice Admiral Jerry Miller explains in "Curiosity at the Crossroads" that the Navy's stakes were extremely high. Many observers believed bombers armed with atomic weapons would totally dominate future warfare, rendering naval fleets obsolete. The aerial and underwater detonations at Bikini-the fourth and fifth atomic blasts-helped determine the powerful new weapons' effects on warships, in this case an assortment of 71 surplus and captured vessels anchored close together in the atoll's lagoon.
Moreover, the tests were widely publicized by the U.S. government, which also invited a curious international press corps to cover the operation. The resulting cultural fallout ranged from the sensual-the bikini bathing suit, which was intended to have an explosive effect on men-to the surreal-Salvador Dali's 1947 painting Les Trois Sphinx de Bikini , whose theme was the iconic mushroom cloud.
I confess to having a personal interest in the Bikini tests. My father, then-Ensign William E. Latture, U.S. Naval Reserve, was one of the operation's more than 37,000 Navy participants. From on board USS San Marcos (LSD-25), he wrote his parents the afternoon of the first blast that from a distance of 30 miles he could feel the heat from the explosion, but it was "nowhere near as magnificent or spectacular as we had been led to believe." About 12 miles from Bikini for the second test, he wrote that the sound of that detonation "was the biggest rumble I had ever heard. . . . Something like a million tons of water . . . went up. It didn't seem to rise very high, but its diameter was tremendous."
Rear Admiral Odale D. Waters, commander of USS Laffey (DD-724) during Crossroads, was similarly disappointed by the first explosion, Test Able, and awed by the second, Test Baker. In " From Piddly Poom to Spectacular Boom ," he recollects the blasts as well as preparations for the tests and the variety of tasks involved in monitoring the results. Regular contributors Norman Polmar and A. D. Baker III round out our anniversary package by examining some of the nuclear revolution's effects on naval weapons and ship and aircraft design.
This issue also features a couple of departures from normal Naval History fare. "Journey into the Heart of Darkness," by Andrew Jampoler, is an unusually long article for us; however, this adventure tale about a small Navy expedition up the Congo River is carefully researched and beautifully written. Many readers are no doubt familiar with historian John Prados' numerous books about covert operations and the Vietnam War but probably didn't realize he's also a respected wargame designer. His article " Waging War with Cardboard Navies " is intended to highlight what for you may be a new way to explore naval history. Please let us know what you think about these as well as the other articles in this issue.