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Christmas Island Bomb Tests

Picture Gallery 2

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What follows is some descriptive information of the ships that took part in the US military bomb tests on Christmas Island and Johnston Island. The pictures painted are quite vivid and certainly convey the impression that the US military tests on Christmas Island were detrimental to the health of both the crew of these vessels and to the people of Christmas Island. Large numbers of birds were seen to have died primarily from blindness resulting from the blasts while the effect on the fish was most likely as catastrophic. Indeed, the crew of one of the US military ships were advised to return fish (Yellow Fin Tuna) that they caught back to the ocean through fear of contamination by radiation. 

However, after the departure of the Forces, Operation "Hard Look" had carried out a full investigation into the possibilities of radioactive contamination, but had found none. In 1975 a further examination of Christmas Island was undertaken by American experts as part of the preparation for the establishment of a Japanese tracking station. They reported that radioactivity levels were lower than those found in most American cities and that there was nothing on the island which could lead an investigator to deduce that there had ever been an atomic detonation in the vicinity.

vp872 plane.

VP872 Plane

The Squadron was placed under the operational command of Joint Task Force 8 participating in Project Dominic on Christmas Island and Johnston Island. These planes were used for the sanitation flights off Christmas Island and the Pod recovery from Johnston Island. 


VP-872 Logo

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USS Southerland DD-743

USS Southerland was assigned to Naval Task Unit 8.3.7, the Christmas Island Area Naval Element of Joint Task Force 8. Permission for this operation was to conduct independent surveillance for merchant ships and aircraft in the danger area. During this time, USS Southerland also participated in OPERATION FRIGATE BIRD, testing of a submarine-launched Polaris missile armed with a nuclear warhead.

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USS Rowan (DD-782)

USS Rowan participated in operation Dominic during March to July, 1962.

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USS Tolovana Side View

USS Tolovana began her next tour of duty in the Western Pacific in October 1961 and returned to the United States in February 1962. The following summer she participated in Operation Dominic, a nuclear test series conducted at Christmas Island during June and early July, 1962.   

uss snohomish county LST 1126.

USS Snohomish County LST 1126

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USS Snohomish County emblem

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USS UTE saw one of the blasts from Johnston Island before returning to Christmas Island for a clean up and for
R & R for the crew.

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The USS Chipola left the US in May 1962 for a cruise to an island in the South Pacific after first being fitted with a water washed down system used to spray a fine mist of water over the entire ship. This was to wash off any particles of radiation that may land on the ship. The ship was involved in a total of seven different atomic blasts. Six of these were at Christmas Island and the seventh was several months later at Johnston Atoll. At Johnston Atoll the atomic blast was an atmospheric test and it was visible in Hawaii.

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USS Halsey Powell was at Christmas Island in 1962 and its duties were to patrol the area to keep other ships out. In doing this, they would often see ships from the USSR. They relayed a message to these ships over a loud speaker telling them they were in a test area. Before each blast, the crew were told to go inside the ship and close all the port holes and hatches and not to look at the blast. 

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The USS Marshall was at Christmas Island during the 1962 atomic test. The crew were advised to face away from the direction of the blast and to stand behind the shield of a gun mount. They all wore special glasses and two minutes after the blast they heard the sound of the explosion. It was an awesome sight. The blast lit up the entire sky and after ten seconds the crew took off their special glasses and looked at the fireball which was red and orange and just forming. The height of the blast was ten or fifteen thousand feet. The fireball got larger and larger and seemed to constantly changed colour after which the typical mushroom cloud started to form. This cloud could be seen for a long while until it finally flattened out and disappear.

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The USS Jerome County participated during 1961 in amphibious training exercises along the California coast. She sailed on 12th January, 1962 for the mid-Pacific as Part of Operation Dominic. She performed weather studies, charting, and communications during the US nuclear test of that year. Subsequent to the test the US Jerome County returned to San Diego on the 18th August, 1962 to resume amphibious training exercises.

USS Jerome County was at Christmas Island for the last atmospheric test where the crew watched the rocket to go up. The USS Jerome County was a supply ship and hauled supplies to Johnston Island and Christmas Island. The crew were allowed to stand on deck and watch but were warned before the blast to lower their heads and put their arms over their eyes. When the blast went off, there were no noise and they were allowed to look and the sights they saw was incredible with the fireball of deep blood red. 

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USS Munsee was at Christmas Island during the atomic test of 1962. The duties of the USS Munsee were to tow the target sleds to the detonation area, turn on the lights for the B-52's to sea. They then left the area as fast as they could which only gave them two hours before detonation.   

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The USS Reclaimer was a rescue and salvage ship. Their duties were to set and retrieve large metal salvage buoys before and after each detonation. The buoy was bright orange when set and totally burned and rusted upon retrieval. The crew who were allowed to view the detonation and had been issued with high density welding goggles to protect their eyes from the blinding flash of the device. They were also ordered to turn their backs to the blasts until it was announced that they could turn around and view the results of the test.

The first sensation experienced by the crew was that of the heat which seemed unbearable and continuously increased but then it started to subside along with the shock waves from the blast. At this time, the crew were then allowed to turn around and view the blast. The blast was described at what you see in the pictures of molten steel coming out of an oven or molten lava from a volcano, suspended in the air, churning and boiling.  

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The USS Cabildo participated in operation Dominic as a unit of Joint Task Force 8, operating in support of nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean. The ship's duties were to take the natives off their island for their own protection during the test. The ship also set up targets for the test.

At first, the local population were placed in a tennis court which was covered along the sides so that when a blast went off they were faced to the north and had some protection from the light. After protesting according to rumour to England about the safety of the women and children, the matter was resolved in the following way. Every evening before a scheduled test was to take place, the women, children and any male adult who wanted to, were taken aboard USS Cabildo. They slept on the well deck and in the morning they were shown movies and served tea and bread. After the blast, they were then returned to the island.

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(E-mail: -- Rev. 28th December 2008)