Beginning in mid 1946 the United States began numerous operations in the Marshall Islands. These operations spanned from 1946-1958 and were to be the first test since the Trinity site test and the first implosions since the dropping of the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Operation Crossroads was the first of many tests to take place in the Marshall Islands with hopes of also using Island groups such as Samoa for future testing. The purposes of the tests were not only to show the strength of the United States but also to see the effects of nuclear weapons on warships.Operation Crossroads became the first publicly announced test of nuclear weapons ever.
CROSSROADS was the first operation to be conducted in the Marshall Islands. The Marshall Islands is spread out between twenty nine Atolls. These Atolls are comprised of over eleven hundred islands and home to a population of over 53,000 people. OPERATION CROSSROADS was an atmospheric nuclear weapon test series conducted in the summer of 1946. The test consisted of two detonations, each of these test would carry a yield of 23 Kilotons of explosive power. These test were name ABEL and BAKER. ABEL the first of the two implosions took place on the first of July 1946 and was to be detonated at an altitude of 520 feet. The second implosion named BAKER detonated ninety feet underwater on the 25th of July.This set was the first nuclear test to be held in the Marshall Islands. This particular set of tests was to study the effects of nuclear weapons on ships, equipment and material. A group of over 90 vessels gathered in the Bikini Atoll lagoon. This group of ships included several that had been captured during WWII. German ships, Japanese ships and surplus American Cruisers, Destroyers, Submarines, auxiliary, and amphibious vessels were all to be used as targets. Military equipment was spread out through the different vessels, technical experiments were also conducted to study nuclear weapon explosion phenomena.
Evacuation turned into Relocation:
Some Bikini residents initially agreed to evacuate the Bikini and Enewetak prior to the testing that was to take place. This evacuation took place beginning in March of 1946. Those who chose to stay would be placed on ships during the testing and eventually forced to relocate following the test due to the danger caused by the lingering radiation levels. Though the population was not large, the number of evacuees would case issue because of the need for more resources regardless of where they would be placed. In the end 167 Bikini residents agreed to relocate to the Island of Ronergik. On the 26th of February, Navy engineers began the construction of cisterns, water catchments, and 26 house frames, which were to be used a temporary village for the 167 Bikini residents. Initially the frames were covered by canvas, but the bikini residents felt this was inadequate and brought the own thatch from screw pine tress to fix the roofing. Along with the building of infrastructure, the cisterns would be filed with 25,000 gallons of water brought from the Island of Kwajalein, and the catchments would supply anything needed beyond that. This setup was originally meant to be temporary, and only for around 200 people. Bikini residents were under the impression they would be back in their homes no later than the fall of 1946 after the two implosions. Bikini was evacuated on the7th of March 1946 and the 167 residents arrived at Ronergik the next day. On March 23rd after operations for the first test were well underway, a decision was made to move the first implosion from the 15th of May to the 1st of July, with the second test being already planed for that month. The change was made to allow certain members of Congress to personally view the tests. With the uncertainty of lasting radiation effects, President Truman choose to delay a third planned underwater detonation codenamed CHARRLIE. This particular detonation was scheduled for late September and Truman made the announcement on September 7th. With CHARLIE being postponed indefinitely, this meant that Bikini residents would be displaced even longer. Lack of resources and the uncertainty of a return began to create quite the problem for the U.S. military keeping the peace. Bikinians were unhappy and waned a change, In an effort to rectify the problem the U.S. once again moved the Islander to another Island. This time the evacuee’s would be moved to the Island of Kili. This solution would only work in the short term as those displaced wanted to be allowed back to there home. This would never be possible, as all the nuclear testing left the Marshall Islands until the Chernobyl disaster the most radioactively contaminated place on the planet.
The evacuees now became refugees. Unable to return to their homes in Bikini Atoll, some of the Islanders found new a new home on the Island of Kili. However others deemed this to be unacceptable and fought for some sort of restitution to come from the U.S. government. This repayment would come in the form of immigration into the United States. The displaced Bikini residents would make their way, along with their culture all the way to southern California.Mixed with the returning service men which were stationed in places such as Hawaii, was the perfect catalyst to start a new movement within the youth of America. Young Californian’s were drawn to the lifestyle of the Islanders, viewed as a care free life of sex, music, surfing, and spending the day being a beach bum, this cultural revolution soon took over mainstream society. Starting in the 1950’s and moving into the 60’s surf culture flooded cinema,propaganda, and music.
CROSSROADS was one of many operations that took place of the next twelve years. Some other operations while not as deadly to the area certainly left lasting effects on the Marshall Islands as well as the world of atomic weapons. Conducted in 1952 OPERATION IVY was to the first of its kind. In 1950 President Truman made the executive decision to begin the development of thermo-nuclear weapons, and the IVY test ended up being crucial to this development. OPERATION IVY was a series of two weapons just like Crossroads. The locations for these blasts were Eluklab Island and a reef off Runit Island. Named MIKE and KING, both of which were the largest nuclear explosions at the time. The name OPERATION IVY would live on in pop culture as the name of a hybrid punk ska band from Berkeley California. The band, also one of a kind, does recognizes taking its name directly from the test. The music from the band directly protest war and suggest peace and anti government sentiments. After OPERATION IVY, the government began to ramp up testing and decided to go back to Bikini as well as other Islands and Atolls that had been used, since these areas were still under nuclear testing for radiation levels and had been evacuated.
Starting in 1956 and ending in 1958. The U.S. under two separate joint task forces would end their testing in the Marshall Islands. The final two Operations named REDWING and HARDTACK were to be the largest nuclear test to ever be conducted and to this day HARDTACK still remains the single largest nuclear testing operation ever. REDWING consisted of over seventeen implosions and HARDTACK had an amount that more than doubled REDWING at over thirty-six. Both Operations spent time in Bikini and Enewetak since both of which were already evacuated. Paired with other tests conducted prior to these final two each of these locations became completely uninhabitable. The U.S. Government finally admitted this to, when more radiological test were done in 1977. The hope was that, as time passed the radiation levels would finally drop to levels that would allow for people to return back to the islands. However, not having a full understanding the amount of damage the testing would eventually cause ended up taking its toll on the Marshall Islands. Pair that with the ships that were purposely sunk due to damage or the inability to decontaminate them in the first place and this becomes a recipe for disaster. The lasting effects on the water and food supply, coupled with the soil would prevent any type of sustainable existence. The risk would become too great and Bikini residence one promised a safe return, would eventually have to find permanent residence elsewhere.