“We were told nothing, we knew nothing,” George Booker said about the morning he witnessed an Atomic bomb explode from a distance few have ever experienced. “We were told very little about the day except ‘don’t look at the flash.'”
In the years following WWII, allied armed forces continued conducting experiments with a groundbreaking new weapon: the nuclear bomb. Sixty years later the crew of the HMS Warrior recounts the day they witnessed a nuclear blast from the deck of their aircraft carrier, the headquarters ship during nuclear testing at Christmas Island.
“To say it was frightening is an understatement,” Douglas Hern remembered.
“When the flash hits ya, you can see the x-rays of your hands through your closed eyes,” Hern commented. “Then the heat hit you. That was just as if somebody my size had actually caught fire and then walked through me.”
“It was an experience that was absolutely unearthly,” Hern concluded. “It was so strange.”
After the initial flash, an intense blast would follow a few seconds later.
“Some of the lads would stand up [after the flash],” David Hemsley noted. “And about 30 odd seconds later, the blast would send you flying.”
Moments later, the men on the ship were allowed to stand and watch the mushroom form. The sight was as brilliant as it was terrible.
“It was practically above ya,” Hern said with reverence.
“All I saw was this rising fireball,” Hemsley said. “A colossal fireball going up.”
“It’s a sight to see, but I never want to see it again,” concluded Ronald Bostwick.
During the tests, a flight of Westland Whirlwind helicopters and Grumman Avenger AS4 aircraft were used to collect air samples. The aircraft were so contaminated by radioactive materials that they were jettisoned into the ocean before the HMS Warrior returned from the Pacific Ocean.
Over ten years in the mid 20th Century, 22,500 personnel shared experiences like those described by the veterans above. By 2013 more than 18,000 had died from leukemia, cancer, various carcinomas, and other complications from exposure to the blast.