On June 30, 1946, (July 1 local time), Dave’s Dream dropped Rita Hayworth taped to a 23kt Mark 3 implosion bomb, nicknamed Gilda, on Bikini Atoll.
The first post-war test of an atom bomb was conducted at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands located near the equator in the Pacific Ocean. Operation Crossroads originally consisted of three shots, Able, Baker, and Charlie, although the last was canceled. This testing series was one of the largest military operations in U.S. history.
Both the tests used the Mark 3 plutonium implosion bomb, the same as “Fat Man” used on Nagasaki. Test Able was an aerial drop, and Test Baker (on July 25) was detonated 90 feet underwater.
Test Able’s bomb was stenciled with the name Gilda in two-inch black letters and was decorated with a picture of Rita Hayworth (in her femme-fatale Jean Louis black strapless dress) by photographer Bob Coburn cut out of the June 1946 Esquire magazine. Rita Hayworth was the star of the popular 1946 film, Gilda. Although the gesture was meant as a compliment, Hayworth was deeply offended.
Gilda was dropped from the silverplate B-29 Superfortress, Dave’s Dream of the 509th Bombardment Group. This B-29, previously known as Big Stink, participated in the atomic bomb drop on Nagasaki as a camera and scientific observer plane.
The purpose was to test the effect of nuclear weapons on warships and was conducted by the Joint Army/Navy Task Force 1, not the Manhattan Engineer District (Manhattan Project). The test was arguably a publicity stunt for the U.S. Navy to demonstrate ship survivability (or vulnerability, depending upon which side of the politics you sat).
Test Able’s target array consisted of 78 vessels. The original zeropoint target was the battleship Nevada (number 32 in the picture, below) because it was the most rugged ship available. However, due to poor aerodynamics by the high-drag tail fin structure of the bomb, Gilda detonated 2,130 feet from the target and 518 feet directly above and 50 yards off the bow of the attack transport Gilliam (number 5 in the picture, below) with a yield of 23 kilotons. [Source: National Park Service.]
Operation Crossroads’ tests were the first to be publicly announced beforehand and observed by an invited audience, including a large press corps. Buried in the Metro section of the Chicago Tribune on June 30, 1946, is a small announcement that the test would be covered by WGN and WBBM.
Operation Crossroads Test Able was only the fourth time that an atom bomb was detonated, the first three being Trinity, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. Nuclear weapons testing by the United States would continue until 1992, for a total of 1,054. [Source: United States Nuclear Tests: July 1945 through September 1992, DOE/NV–209-Rev 15, December 2000.]
For more information, travel, and videos…
You can visit the Bradley Science Museum in Los Alamos, NM, which houses historical weapons-research artifacts, including a replica of “Fat Man” and the Fireset (triggering mechanism).
On display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, OH, is another replica of the Mark 3 Fat Man atom bomb. The museum has replicas and casings of numerous nuclear warheads and bombs throughout, providing a visual history of our Cold War arms race.
Watch a 27-minute government documentary from 1946 about Operation Crossroads, Test Able.
Some vintage footage of Dave’s Dream B-29 preparing to drop the Test Able bomb, Gilda, along with other B-29 chaser planes.
Dave’s Dream B-29 Illustration by Don Greer in Bell, D. (1997). Air Force Colors Volume 3: Pacific & Home Front 1942-1947 – Specials Series. Carrollton, TX: Squadron/Signal Publications. (Amazon)
Rita Hayworth & Gilda verified. CONELRAD Adjacent. (2013, August 19). Atomic Goddess Revisited: Rita Hayworth’s Bomb Image Found!