"Just a piddly 'poom,'" was how the commander of the USS Laffey , one of the ships participating in Operation Crossroads, described the first atomic blast. The second detonation, however, was "an awe-inspiring thing."
In June 1945, two months after USS Laffey (DD-724) survived perhaps the most ferocious mass kamikaze attack of World War II, the destroyer got a new skipper, then-Commander Odale D. "Muddy" Waters. Earlier in the war, Waters served as officer in charge of the Navy's mine disposal school, gunnery officer on board USS Memphis (CL-13) in the Atlantic, and as a Fourth Fleet and Atlantic Fleet staff officer.
The heavily damaged Laffey was undergoing repairs at Todd Shipyard in Seattle, Washington, when Commander Waters took command. She finally left the facility on 6 September 1945, made her way to San Diego, and then to Hawaii. The following account of Waters" experiences related to Operation Crossroads is adapted from his U.S. Naval Institute oral history and was previously published in the July 1986 issue of Proceedings .
I got to Pearl Harbor in the fall of 1945. While we were there, my destroyer squadron, under the command of then-Captain E. N. "Butch" Parker, was designated as the operating squadron for the atomic tests at Bikini, Operation Crossroads.
The ships designated to be in Crossroads had priority on getting personnel and equipment and everything else. Our problem was that there were no personnel left in Pearl to get. But there were some people who wanted to be in on what promised to be a landmark event. For example, a reservist, either an officer or an enlisted man, was allowed to extend for about one year or less if he wanted to go to Operation Crossroads to see an atomic bomb exploded. We had quite a few who did that, but not as many as needed. I argued that I should be sent back to the West Coast where the pool of people to draw from was larger.
It took me about a month on the coast before I got the people I needed, but they were a strange assortment. There were a lot of chiefs and few Indians because, of course, most people staying in the Navy at that time were career people. All of the nonrated people were mostly reservists who were getting out.
It was difficult for us to keep our two engine rooms running with the eight chief machinist's mates we had. The normal wartime complement was one chief for each engine room. I got the eight together and said, "Who are the two senior guys?" When they finally figured out who were the two seniors, I said: "Well, one has the forward engine room and the other has the aft engine room. The rest of you might just as well forget those caps and buttons because you"re going to be throttlemen and work for your living." They took it very well.
We started for Pearl Harbor where we were to pick up Admiral Frank G. Farion's flagship and go on to Bikini with him. On the way to Pearl, we developed a hot bearing on a cruising turbine. We tried various methods of flushing it, but they didn't work; it kept heating up. We got permission to drop back in the formation, lock the affected shaft, and catch up again on the remaining shaft. Then we held our place in formation on one shaft. These eight chief machinist's mates took out that bearing while under way and put in a spare-a very difficult job.