Nuclear Vault Home

Electronic Briefing Books

Special Collection: Key Documents on Nuclear Weapons Policy, 1945-1990

Photo Gallery

Key Readings

Media galleries

U.S. Government Films

Photo gallery

Back to posting

 

Related Links

Two films produced by the  Naval Photographic Scientific Laboratory:

1) Project Crossroads Test Able, Bikini Atoll, 1 July 1946 [27 minutes],

2) Project Crossroads Test Baker, Bikini Atoll, 25 July 1946  [14:46 minutes]. 

Using footage taken by Task Force One, the Navy’s scientific photographic unit produced separate documentaries on the Crossroads tests, which the Department of Energy later reviewed and released.

 

Radio Bikini

Directed by Robert Stone , "Radio Bikini" was produced for PBS’s “American Experience Series” and nominated for an Academy Award in 1988 (Best Documentary Feature). A critical examination of the Crossroads tests "Radio Bikini" was organized around the perspectives of an elderly Bikinian and a U.S. serviceman who was exposed to radioactivity after the Baker test.

 

 

Bikini Atoll location

Bikini A-Bomb Tests July 1946

Gallery of Declassified U.S. Government Films and Film Clips

 

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 555

Posted - July 22, 2016

Edited by William Burr with Stav Geffner

For more information contact:
William Burr at 202/994-7000 or nsarchiv@gwu.edu.


Army Air Force footage of the Baker test. Film footage of the iconic Baker test can be seen in the closing moments of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.
Source: U.S. National Archives, Motion Picture Branch, RG 342, Department of the Air Force, 342-USAF-34282ar-58-62


The film footage taken during the Crossroads test series captured images that even military observers could not discern because they were stationed some 20 miles from the test site.  Moreover, the tests were over in seconds, too quickly for the human eye to comprehend.  Discussing the Baker test, the physicist William A. Shurcliff wrote in the official Crossroads report that “Things happened so fast in the next five seconds that few eyewitnesses could afterwards recall the full scope and sequence of the phenomena.”  This made the filmed footage taken by Army and Navy cameras invaluable for studies of the physical phenomena of nuclear detonations.  For years only officials with security clearances could view these films, but by the early 1960s the footage began to be declassified, with the Baker test featured at the conclusion of Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.  In the mid-1970s, the artist Bruce Conner produced the stunning film Crossroads using declassified archival footage of the Baker test.

 

U.S. Government Films

Video 1Joint Task Force One, “Operation Crossroads Able and Baker Day Tests, Bikini Atoll, Summer 1946”, unclassified.

This 30 minute narrated film was the official Operation Crossroads documentary, prepared at the direction of Task Force One director, Admiral William Blandy. It may have been prepared for internal U.S. government use.

Source: U.S. National Archives, Motion Picture Branch, RG 428, Department of the Navy, 428-MN-6817 R 1-2.


Video 2: U.S. Navy film footage depicting the removal of Pacific Islanders from Bikini atoll on March 6/7, 1946.

Source: U.S. National Archives, Motion Picture Branch, RG 428, Department of the Navy, 428-NPC-18023.


Video 3Unedited and visually poor quality footage of the Navy’s staging of Commodore Ben Wyatt’s official request to the Bikini population to leave their atoll. The meeting took place on 10 February 1946 and the Navy restaged it on 3 March 1946.  Wyatt, King Juda and the Bikinians did repeated takes of the meeting during which Wyatt asked Juda and his people to “be willing to sacrifice their island for the welfare of all men.”  King Juda, shown wearing a military uniform, restated his lines of acquiescence a number of times and by the last few minutes of the scene (ending at 7:41) was plainly unhappy with the situation.  The performances concluded with the Bikinians having their last church service on the atoll and then meeting at the graveyard.[4]

Source: U.S. National Archives, Motion Picture Branch, RG 428, Department of the Navy, 428-NPC-18022.


Video 4: This footage, excerpted from a longer film, depicts pre-test aerial activity and the detonation of Able as seen from the air.

Source: U.S. National Archives, Motion Picture Branch, RG 111, Records of the Chief Signal Officer, 111-ADC-7179.


Video 5: As shown by the slate at the first few seconds of this film, this footage of the Able shot was taken from a tower on Enyu island.

Source: U.S. National Archives, Motion Picture Branch, RG 428, Department of the Navy, 428-NPC-18358.


Video 6: This U.S. Navy film, an excerpt from a longer film, depicts the Able detonation from the perspective of sailors aboard an observation ship.

Source: U.S. National Archives, Motion Picture Branch, RG 428, Department of the Navy, 428-NPC-18301.


Video 7: Army Air Force footage shows the Able detonation in all of its phases. (6:30).

Source: U.S. National Archives, Motion Picture Branch, RG 342, Department of the Air Force, 342-USAF-34282A


Video 8: This unedited Army Air Force footage includes preparation for the Able test (0:00-9:54), the detonation of Able as seen from the air from different angles (10:30, 16:35, 17:30, 18:00, 19:40, 22:20, 23:55, 35:40, ). In another scene, military technicians measure the radiological effects of the Able test (32:18-34:00). The last scene shows the array of damaged ships (beginning at 39:00-44:08), including the USS Pensacola and USS Eugene Prinz.

Source: U.S. National Archives, Motion Picture Branch, RG 342, Department of the Air Force, 342-USAF-34282AR17-22


Video 9: Footage of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Evaluation Board members inspecting the ships tested in the Able detonation.

Source: U.S. National Archives, Motion Picture Branch, RG 342, Department of the Air Force, 342-USAF-34282AR34-39


Video 10: Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal (0:14) aboard the USS Panamint greeting observers from the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission, including Soviet representatives Simon Peter Alexandrov (1:31) and Mikhail Grigorievich Mescheryakov (1:34). Other identifiable observers include Chung-Yao Chao (1:18), Major General Teng Fisher Hou (1:28) and Commander S.W.K. Spurgeon (Australia) (1:11).

Source: U.S. National Archives, Motion Picture Branch, RG 342, Department of the Air Force, 342-USAF-34282AR23-27


Video 11: This Air Force footage of the Baker test shows the moment of detonation (1:14) and the huge condensation cloud shooting up at a rate exceeding two miles per second (1:25). According to the Joint Chiefs of Staff Evaluation Board, at “the moment of explosion a dome which showed the light of incandescent material within rose upon the surface of the lagoon.” Following the blast wave an “opaque cloud … rapidly enveloped about half of the target array” of ships (38:03). The 203-foot long LSM (Landing Ship Mechanized)-60, to which the Baker device had been fixed, disappeared within the cloud. In seconds the first cloud vanished to “reveal, as predicted, a column of ascending water,” which was capped by a mushroom cloud. According to the Evaluation Board, the five hundred thousand ton water column (1:26) “lifted the 26,000-ton battleship Arkansas for a brief interval before the vessel plunged to the bottom of the lagoon” (1:26). Soon, “after the column reached maximum height, water fell back, forming an expanding cloud of spray which engulfed about half the target array” in 80-100 foot tidal waves. The blast dug 32 feet deep in the ocean floor directly below the point of detonation and shifted over two million cubic yards of aquatic material.

Source: U.S. National Archives, Motion Picture Branch, RG 342, Department of the Air Force, 342-USAF-34282AR46-51


Video 12: Unedited Army Air Force footage of damaged and sinking ships near ground zero of the Able detonation (1:00-4:30), with oil slicks in the lagoon. The footage includes four shots of the Baker test from different perspectives (5:44, 8:56, 11:28, and 14:10), and drones flying toward the detonation (10:39, 10:54). The concluding footage shows Baker’s impact on the test fleet (15:40).

Source: U.S. National Archives, Motion Picture Branch, RG 342, Department of the Air Force, 342-USAF-34282A


Video 13: Unedited U.S. Navy footage of the Baker explosion.

Source: U.S. National Archives, Motion Picture Branch, RG 428, Department of the Navy, 428-NPC-18524


Video 14: U.S. Navy aerial footage of the Baker detonation (2:52).

Source: U.S. National Archives, Motion Picture Branch, RG 428, Department of the Navy, 428-NPC-18575


Video 15: Army Air Force footage of the test fleet after the Baker detonation.

Source: U.S. National Archives, Motion Picture Branch, RG 342, Department of the Air Force, 342-USAF-34282AR58-62