Eyewitness Account of 1946 Bikini Atomic Bomb Tests

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A new book by World War II military historian William L. McGee was just released to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Operation Crossroads - the first postwar atomic bomb tests in the Marshall Islands.

Front cover photo: Test Able, 1 July 1946 (Naval Historical Center)

"...civilization itself literally stands by the Crossroads. Hence the name of this Operation." - Vice Admiral W. H. P. Blandy, USN, Commander, Joint Task Force One

In July 1946, William L. McGee, USN, witnessed Operation CROSSROADS from the deck of the heavy cruiser USS Fall River (CA-131), Flagship for the Target Fleet of Admiral W. H. P. Blandy’s Joint Task Force One.

A new book written by McGee was released this month to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the postwar nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

Bill has recounted his story in "Operation Crossroads – Lest We Forget! An Eyewitness Account, Bikini Atomic Bomb Tests 1946" (BMC Publications, June 2016).

Less than a year earlier in August 1945, the United States had dropped the atomic bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - August 6 and August 9 respectively - which effectively ended World War II. Now the U.S. military wanted to conduct tests specifically to determine the effects of the atomic bomb on various types of vessels. The Bikini Atoll was chosen as the location for the tests for several reasons: its size was ideal; the average depth of the water in the lagoon was approximately 200 feet; and the atoll was fairly remote from fishing areas and steamer lanes.

In the words of Vice Admiral W. H. P. Blandy, USN, Commander of Joint Task Force One: “In the face of this new knowledge, these recently discovered truths concerning the atom, so suddenly thrust upon an already chaotic world, not only warfare but civilization itself literally stands by the Crossroads. Hence the name of this Operation.”

McGee was one of the 42,000 military, scientists, and civilian personnel assembled at the Bikini Atoll test site. His eyewitness account of his participation in what scientists considered the most significant event of the twentieth century covers the plan that was comparable to a major wartime battle plan, the build-up, the dress rehearsals, the tests, and the all-important later lessons learned.

“I wrote this book to help preserve a part of history few know about today,” says McGee, now in his early nineties. “If time is limited, I recommend reading the Foreword written by Dr. F. Lincoln Grahlfs, a Crossroads participant and Vice Commander of the National Association of Atomic Veterans (NAAV). Also Chapter 11, 'Later Lessons Learned,' with the research and findings of two of the nation’s leading authorities on the dangers of radiation inherent in nuclear weapons – Dr. Oscar Rosen, a Crossroads participant and an advocate for atomic veterans, and Jonathan M. Weisgall, the legal representative of the people of the Bikini Atoll since 1975.”

The book is a quick read at 132 pages with 59 photographs and illustrations. The book is available in both print and Kindle editions from Amazon.

“The subject is timely," says McGee. "As I was writing the Preface in April 2016, the Nuclear Security Summit was wrapping up in Washington, D.C. The threat of nuclear warfare is very much in the news today and threatens Western civilization. We have to learn from history – lest we forget."

William L. McGee is a prolific World War II military historian known for his spare and straightforward writing style. He has garnered critical praise for his World War II military histories including his memoir within a history, "Bluejacket Odyssey, 1942–1946: Guadalcanal to Bikini," and the acclaimed Pacific war trilogy, "Amphibious Operations in the South Pacific in WWII." Volume III in the trilogy, "Pacific Express: The Critical Role of Military Logistics in World War II," was selected to be on the Marine Corps Commandant’s Professional Reading List as required reading on logistics for all officer and enlisted Marines.

McGee became legally blind in 2003 from macular degeneration, but continues to write with the help of his co-author/wife, Sandra. Bill has written 22 books, eight of them with Sandra.

Bill and Sandra live in Marin County, California, and welcome reader comments at mcgeebmc(at)aol(dot)com or contact them on their website at WilliamMcGeeBooks.com.

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