Las Vegas Sun

September 2, 2014

TV audience views atomic bomb test for first time

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Las Vegas News Bureau

Photographers and reporters gather near Frenchman Flat to observe the Priscilla nuclear test, June 24, 1957. During the 1950s, the spectacle of nuclear testing attracted curious members of the public from all over the country, including media members and military personnel. Las Vegas capitalized on the test site’s close proximity with beauty pageants, special events and bomb-viewing vacation packages.

YUCCA FLAT (UPI) -- Hell burst from the skies over Yucca Flat this morning as America's latest model atom bomb exploded with enough force to devastate much of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles or any other big city.

The spectacular detonation, televised to a nationwide audience for the first time in history, was believed to have been at least as powerful as any exploded on the Nevada test site since it was activated 18 months ago.

Dr. Alvin Graves said the burst - highest in history as far as U.S. scientists know - was "definitely more powerful than the Alamogordo, Nagasaki and Bikini bombs."

"It was awfully close to one we set off last fall," he said, explaining the scientists would not know just how much its yield in terms of equivalent exploding TNT actually was until all instrument studies are completed.

Despite its violence, Brig. Gen. Frank Dorn, Department of Army spokesman, disclosed the closest GI's and generals to the blast crouched in foxholes and trenches just four miles from the air burst. Others were as far back as four and one-half miles.

Yet, Dorn reported, aside from bruises suffered by 120 paratroopers making the first atomic parachute jump in history, not a single casualty was suffered among the Army and Air Force troops.

"Not a single hair was singed, a single neck twisted or a single head injured," he reported. "The only 'casualties' were the fellows who got a mouth full of dirt when the bomb went off."

The sharp-eyed bombardier aboard the bomb-dropping B-50 Superfortress missed his target by only 200 feet from an altitude of 33,000 feet, considered amazingly accurate by the scientists.

The infantrymen and the paratroopers engaging in the second atomic maneuver in history came within 150 yards of "ground zero," Gen. Dorn said.

The atomic flash was spotted 430 miles away in southern Idaho, yet cocky GI's and grinning generals popped out of their foxholes within the shadow of the fearsome bomb less than ten seconds after it exploded.

Out of the flash came a boiling fireball which appeared more brilliant and furious than the air-dropped A-bomb produced at Bikini in 1946.

The boiling maelstrom soared skyward slowly, burning with a heat that was imagined before it was felt.

Gen. Joseph M. Swing, 6th Army commander said he would "hazard a guess" that troops could more easily capture an enemy object if a smaller bomb was used.

"This one was rather large for intimate close support," he added, "although actually we could have been closer to the burst - without danger - than we were this morning.

"We'll need an entire series of maneuvers to determine what size bomb can be dropped - with precision of delivery - to cause maximum enemy destruction with a minimum of disruption of ground activity."

The Sixth Army commander said his men could have gone into the target area sooner than they did on the maneuvers that followed the drop. Under combat conditions, he said, troops could have entered the target area in less than half the 58 minutes ordered by radiological safety units today.

Troop carrying C-46s were waiting for the paratroopers who jumped one hour and 40 minutes after the bomb exploded.

The troops on the ground moved into the blasted area, examined weapons which they had seen placed there earlier to study the blast's effects and finally join the paratroops in an assault on the theoretical enemy stronghold that had just been put out of commission by the bomb.

There was no apparent damage in Las Vegas as a result of the blast. A check of law enforcement agencies and the AEC showed no one had reported any damage to property or personal injury.

Despite the huge blast, shock waves were not as strong as in previous detonations last year, which not only shattered large plate glass windows, but caused walls in some homes and commercial establishments to crack.

Only report of a cracked window came, ironically from the lab at Branch Agricultural College, Cedar City, Utah, where budding scientists apparently forgot to heed an atom blast warning to keep windows ajar.

The blast, however, hit the community of Cedar City with tremendous force, according to Prof. Parley Dalley, of the pysical science department, who reported two earth shocks, each about five seconds apart, which approached the fifth magnitude of earthquake tensity. The waves struck about 14 minutes and 48 seconds after the initial blast, the professor recorded.

The AEC explained the long-distance crack at Cedar City, while Las Vegas was only tapped, by pointing out that the shock waves bounce in unpredictable patters, depending on air currents, and that it is a frequent occurrence for the brunt of the shock to "hop over" any given area.

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