ABOARD B-29 PRESS PLANE OFF BIKINI ATOLL -- The atom bomb has exploded over Bikini lagoon.
A twisting, sinuous column of brown and white smoke is boiling directly into the sky to the left of this airplane.
In two minutes it has cleared into creamy white.
We are flying at 7,000 feet and it is already many times our altitude.
We felt no blast wave. Through shielding glasses I saw no flash.
We are circling in toward the beautiful sinuous cloud now.
We are crossing over Bikini reef at 9:04 a.m. The base of the atomic cloud seems to cover all the ships in the target area.
We cannot yet tell what has happened to the vessels themselves.
At 9:06 a.m. the cloud is separating into two mushrooms superimposed on each other.
The topmost is assuming a creamy yellow color, the bottom one pure white.
At 9:11 a.m. we wheel in close again and I can see a score of ships of the target array still afloat. None seems to be afire. I cannot see the Nevada.
The great cloud, base and all, is moving westward across the lagoon.
At 9:13 a. m. a secpnd cloud Is seen forming perhaps a mile away from the base of the first. Whether it is from an exploding ship or an offshoot of the atomic blast itself we cannot yet tell.
Cloud Thinning Out.
The atomic cloud is thinning out, losing a definite outline.
It is now 9:16 a.m., a quarter of an hour since the detonation.
The base of the column is being blown westward across the entrance of Bikini lagoon. The top of the cloud, however, seems to hover stationary either directly over the target fleet or perhaps moving slowly in our direction to the east.
The vast column is now ragged and Z-shaped. The top mushroom is connected by a thin, tenuous fog-like connection to the lower column.
At 9:19 a.m. the base of the column seems to be boiling up with renewed vigor. We are now at the far end of our orbit of Bikini and I cannot tell whether the turbulence is due to exploding or burning ships.
Natural clouds are interposing.
We turn back on our course toward Bikini once more at 9:21 a.m.
I can now see the drones hoverlng above the lagoon. Whether they are mothershlps waiting their lost children or pilotless planes themselves we do not know.
I ask the plane's captain if he can identify any of the surviving ships.
The answer comes up the intercom that he can see a bit of red up forward which appears to be the Nevada.
"The explosion seems to have blown up most of the ship," he says.
As the time for the bomb drop neared, Maj. Russel Ireland, in charge of our B-29, made each of the 17 men aboard inspect and tighten his parachute. A bell rang and we put on black glasses. They were so black that we could see nothing at all through them.
Another bell rang in the airplane and we took off the glasses. A small coffee-colored column was shooting up into the sky to the west, a third of the way to our horizon.
No Sound of Blast
We waited for the sound of the explosion. It did not come. The roar of our four great engines drowned it out. There was no shockwave either; the plane had skillfully been maneuvered into position to slipstream the blow.
We grinned at one another. Seventeen men in one airplane above the blast were still alive and kicking. We hoped that those aboard the 70-odd aircraft in the area had shared our good luck.
Reassurance came over the interphone. "No casualties reported thus far."
The cloud now at 9:50 a.m. is spun out in 11 zigzag angles from the water up to an elevation of perhaps 40,000 feet. It is still the longest in the whole panorama of the sea and island below us, but no longer dominates. The natural clouds now, an hour after the atomic detonation, are of firmer outline and substance.
However, the atomic cloud reaches out curiously like an octopus with vague dark tentacles everywhere against the eastern sky.
It is going to be an increasingly difficult job for the task-force ships below and the aircraft flying with us to keep out from under all these long vague angular extensions.
We are closer to the top of the cloud now than we have ever been and are sheering away for an additional margin of safety.
Hazily, perhaps from its wooden decks, perhaps from something more serious, we can see the carrier Independence clearly afire on its flight deck.
The Pensacola seems the most seriously damaged.
That is our last look one hour after the bomb-burst and at 10 a.m. we point our nose southward to the Kwajaleln base.
Curiously enough, we seem closer to the top layer of the atomic cloud now than at any time the last hour, although we already are many miles away from the point of detonation.
Takeoff From Kwajaleln.
From this press plane this morning back on Kwajaleln, I saw the B-29 with the atom bomb aboard poised at dawn on a ramp paraleling the air strip, waiting for the takeoff.
Our press radio observation plane, twin to the bomb carrier, taxied to the head of the runway at 5:17 a.m.
Maj. Swancutf's bomber, 100 feet to our right, was guarded by four riflemen. At the side of the ramp, toward our airplane, stood a fire engine.
Original plans calling for us to take off seven minutes after the bomb carrier, and to follow it to the target were changed at the last minute. Our plane was ordered airborne first so a method would be provided to report to the world any misadventure to the atomic bomb, to the bomb carrier and to Kwajaleln in case "Dave's Dream," crashed on the takeoff.
We took off directly Into the spectacular sunrise. The sun itself was coming up behind a thunderhead from which long yellow streamers of light radiated across the horizon.
A rainbow arched over Kwajaleln as we took off over the sea and headed north.
From my swivel seat in the central fire control dome I looked back through field glasses to try to make out the bomb carrier taking off behind us but a cloud intervened.
We had an anxious minute or two on the intercom until word came from our radio man that the bomber was safely in the air behind us.
Further reassuring news came to us over the air. "Bomber reports atomic bomb armed at 6:15 a.m.," we heard.
Aboard the plane, we all wore parachutes over Mae West life preservers, a bulky combination to handle in connection with portable typewriters, earphones and the midnight-black goggles issued as a protection against both possible radiation burns and the glare at the moment of detonation. So dense were these glasses that the sun was barely discernible through them.
At my feet was a radio teletype, for sending this dispatch through automatic relays aboard the U.S.S. Appalachian and on Guam to San Francisco.
At 6:50 a.m. we arrived over our orbit point at Bikini. The sky seemed entirely clear over the atoll, with cloud banks obligingly rolled back on all sides.
At 7:10 a.m. we swung over the target fleet, 73 vessels quietly awaiting fury from the sky. Some of them were easy to identify. The sturdy old Nevada stood out clearly in the bullseye in its coat of red paint.
No Sign of Life.
There was no movement of ships or small boats, no sign of life in the lagoon.
At 8 o'clock we were steadily circling the target array in 16-mile long swings.
When we crossed Bikini island or the reef of the lagoon, we passed over a broken overcast of white fluffy clouds. Over the lagoon itself and the target vessels it was usually wholly clear and sunny.
On the intercom we heard a voice from far off: "Hello Broadway One. The target area is clear."
Broadway One was the bomber. The stage was set.
We were flying m tight circles over the task force. The air was full of communications from the control to the bombing plane.
At 8:25 these communications terminated and the bombing tone was tested. It sounded like a shrill version of a busy signal on an automatic telephone. When started on the bombing run, it was to continue until the contact was broken by the dropping bomb itself, unless the bombardier changed his mind at the last moment.
The scene below was a quiet pastel of blues and white. Deep blue sea, milder blue sky, soft white clouds. An oddly peaceful backdrop for the greatest explosive charge ever contrived by man.
At 8:30 we heard Broadway One tell "Abraham" that he hoped to drop the atomic bomb in 20 minutes.