Declassified files released of atomic relic of the Cold War: USS Independence (CVL-22)

Recently declassified documents on the USS Independence freely available online in the Journal of Maritime Archaeology

The newly declassified images show the World War II aircraft carrier which was one of nearly a hundred ships used as targets in the first tests of the atomic bomb at Bikini Atoll in 1946. Here, Sailors watch the 'Able Test' burst miles out to sea from the deck of the support ship USS Fall River on 1 July 1946. Image: Naval Archives

The newly declassified images show the World War II aircraft carrier which was one of nearly a hundred ships used as targets in the first tests of the atomic bomb at Bikini Atoll in 1946. Here, Sailors watch the ‘Able Test’ burst miles out to sea from the deck of the support ship USS Fall River on 1 July 1946. Image: Naval Archives

The April issue of Springer’s Journal of Maritime Archaeology (JMA) focuses on a single shipwreck as the lens through which maritime archaeology assesses the advent of the Atomic Age and the Cold War. The wreck is the World War II veteran aircraft carrier USS Independence, which was one of nearly a hundred ships used as targets in the first tests of the atomic bomb at Bikini Atoll in the summer of 1946.

USS-independence

The light aircraft carrier USS Independence (CVL-22) off Hunters Point in June 1944. Independence shows the unusual tumble-home hull form of her class. The deck cargo consists of twin-engined Lockheed PV-1 Ventura patrol bombers en-route to the combat area. USN photo. Photo and text from U.S. Aircraft Carriers: An Illustrated Design History, by Norman Friedman.

In addition to three original papers and two commentaries, the issue¹ also includes the now declassified files² on USS Independence’s post-Bikini history from the National Archives, published for the first time. The files are freely available online to the general public until 15 June 2016.

The Bikini tests, in the immediate aftermath of the atomic end to World War II in Japan, signaled a new era in world history. This era was grimly summarized in a then-classified report on the Bikini tests which suggested that, with the coming of the “Bomb,” it was possible to depopulate the earth, leaving only “vestigial remnants of man’s works.” While that fate has yet to (and hopefully will never will) come, what is presented in this issue is one of the remnants of the dawn of the nuclear age.

USS-independence-wrecked

Aerial view of ex-USS Independence at anchor in San Francisco Bay, California, January 1951. There is visible damage from the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll. The remains of Independence are resting in 2,600 feet of water off California’s Farallon Islands.

The wreck of the USS Independence lies nearly 30 miles off the central California coast. This is where the US Navy scuttled it to take it beyond the reach of potential Soviet espionage at the end of its usefulness as a nuclear test platform in 1951. The US National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of Ocean Exploration and Research and the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries worked with the Boeing Company in 2015 to pinpoint the wreck. The goal was to learn more about it in a deep water test that merged high-resolution sonar and a free swimming underwater robotic vehicle, “Echo Ranger.”

“The Journal of Maritime Archaeology is honored to be able to present the case study of the USS Independence,” says JMA’s co-editor-in-chief, Annalies Corbin. “NOAA’s achievements in contextualizing the work ahead for maritime archaeologists around the world as it relates to post-World War II and Cold War archaeology is critical to launching meaningful conversation and developing initial plans for underwater cultural heritage management of vessels like the USS Independence.”

Features on an historic photo of USS Independence CVL 22 are captured in a three-dimensional (3D) low-resolution sonar image of the shipwreck in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The Coda Octopus Echoscope 3D sonar, integrated on the Boeing Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) Echo Ranger, imaged the shipwreck during the first maritime archaeological survey. The sonar image with oranges color tones (lower) shows an outline of a possible airplane in the forward aircraft elevator hatch opening. Credit: NOAA, Boeing, and Coda Octopus

CLICK FOR MUCH LARGER IMAGE: Features on an historic photo of USS Independence CVL 22 are captured in a three-dimensional (3D) low-resolution sonar image of the shipwreck in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The Coda Octopus Echoscope 3D sonar, integrated on the Boeing Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) Echo Ranger, imaged the shipwreck during the first maritime archaeological survey. The sonar image with oranges color tones (lower) shows an outline of a possible airplane in the forward aircraft elevator hatch opening. Credit: NOAA, Boeing, and Coda Octopus

“Historical and, by extension, maritime archaeology of the recent past can and should include merging documentary evidence with physical remains,” notes NOAA’s James Delgado, Director of Maritime Heritage for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and lead scientist for the Independence mission. For this issue in the Journal of Maritime Archaeology, Delgado co-authored the report “Initial Archaeological Survey of the ex-USS Independence (CVL-22)” and also prepared a bibliographic essay on the subject and an article summarizing the fates of the Bikini target not sunk at Bikini.

The issue was edited by Annalies Corbin, who solicited contextual essays on the significance of the project and the subject of Cold War archaeology from Todd Hansen, Chief Historian and Archaeology for Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Robert E. Neyland, the Head of the US Navy’s Underwater Archaeology Branch.

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References:

1. Journal of Maritime Archaeology, Volume 11, Issue 1, April 2016: Special section: “Maritime Archaeology of the Cold War: Ex-USS Independence as a Case Study” http://link.springer.com/journal/11457/11/1/page/1

2. Journal of Maritime Archaeology (2016). Post-Crossroads History of the Ex-USS Independence: Recently Declassified Documents and Images. DOI 10.1007/s11457-016-9158-3

From the Appendix: The archaeology of the Cold War can be said to involve ”excavating” through long-sealed, once classified files. In the National Archives branch in San Bruno, California, the files of the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard contain a series of documents, all now declassified, which speak to the post-Crossroads history of the USS Independence. Dating from the incipient arrival of the USS Independence at San Francisco in May 1947, the documents discuss important matters such as the retention of some of the Crossroads target vessels, such as the Independence, their use in subsequent tests, radiation levels, and the decisions to remove machinery, stow radioactive materials in the ship, firing up the ship’s boilers to burn off the contaminated fuel oil left aboard, and finally the orders to dispose of it by sinking. Intermixed are more mundane documents that speak to the removal of small equipment, the installation of a watertight door to provide access at dock side, the shifting of berths, dry docking instructions, and security precautions. Together, they provide a detailed look into the beginning of the Atomic Age. They also provide some sense of what more detailed archaeological study of the wreck might reveal. The declassified documents and images are reproduced here in their original format. They have not been cropped or altered in any way. We chose to maintain the nuances and integrity of the primary source as this is the first time some of this material has been seen outside of the archive in which it is curated. The files are freely available online at: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11457-016-9158-3

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60 thoughts on “Declassified files released of atomic relic of the Cold War: USS Independence (CVL-22)

  1. The Prinz Eugen was a German heavy cruiser that sailed with the Bismark on her fateful voyage. She survived the war and ended up with the US navy for evaluation, though being harder to maintain, she didn’t remain in the active fleet. She was used as a target for a number of atomic test and only eventually sank because minor leaks couldn’t be safely remedied due to the high levels of radioactivity. Part of her remains above water. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_cruiser_Prinz_Eugen

    • My Dad was there and got a lantern off the Prinz Eugen before the blast. Beautiful thing. Also brought back pictures of the tests. All long gone.

    • I was fooled by the Hughes Glomar Explorer story back then.
      They said they were looking for magnesium nodules or some such thing.
      This was my first experience with outright lies made by the US Government.
      “Fool me once…”

  2. The weird thing is it might actually be possible to build a single atom bomb which wrecks the world.

    There is no upper limit to how powerful you can make a hydrogen bomb. Most hydrogen bombs are two stage weapons (fission core triggers fusion explosion). The 50 megaton Tsar Bombe detonated by the Soviets was a 3 stage weapon. But a determined and insanely destructive country could potentially build 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 50 stage weapons, causing explosions of sufficient magnitude to potentially render the Earth uninhabitable, even knock the planet out of its orbit.

      • Martin, yes, U238 (depleted uranium) would have fissioned from the very-energetic neutrons produced by the fusion reaction. Even the Soviets didn’t want to produce such a “dirty” bomb.

      • Even the Soviets decided their 100 MGT nuclear bomb was uncontrollable .. They cancelled all Later tests !

        Unbelievably awesome !

    • ‘But a determined and insanely destructive country could potentially build 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 50 stage weapons’

      How do you keep all the components together through the multiple stages?

      • But a determined and insanely destructive country could potentially build 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 50 stage weapons

        50 stage sounds impossible. If each stage has 10 times the mass of the previous stage,
        your last stage would have a mass of around 10^50 tons.

        The mass of the Earth is (I think) only around 6 × 10^21 tons.

      • The Ruskies cut the yield back to 25 GT as I recall since the explosion was so large any extra blast would be lost out of the top. Blew out the top of the atmosphere. As it was the general flying the plane was nearly killed. Several smaller weapons simultaneously are said to be more effective.

    • If I recall when the explosive strength gets past a certain point diminishing returns of destruction set in. Otherwise, how would we have survived the vastly larger impacts of asteroid and comets over the eons?

    • didn’t the Tsar bomb unexpectedly punch a hole upward through the atmosphere, detonating a larger percentage of it’s output straight out into space? I thought that rendered the thing a little less useful that desired.

    • You’re confusing two different design features. Normal, high-yield H-bombs are three-phase in terms of their function, ie fission-fusion-fission. The fission trigger ignites the fusion phase, which produces neutrons to cause fission in the uranium jacket of the bomb. An enhanced radiation warhead (“neutron bomb”) dispenses with the jacket in order to release high speed neutrons. ERWs are anti-tank weapons, contrary to Soviet propaganda.

      What you have in mind for stages are the additional thermonuclear detonations which can be set off by the first H-bomb. Each stage produces about ten times as much energy, but with diminishing returns in terms of weapons effects.

      A 50-KT fission trigger produces about 550 KT in a one stage H-bomb, designed as above, which was the standard Soviet strategic warhead. Adding a second stage yields theoretically around 5.55 MT. The Tsar Bomba was arranged differently. You could say that it was a dialed down three-stage device, but undeliverable by any aircraft or missile now or then.

      It is not possible to destroy the world with a multi-stage thermonuclear device, any more than it is with the thousands of warheads now deployed, or even the tens of thousands formerly mounted on delivery systems or stockpiled.

      • Marcus,

        The Tsar Bomba couldn’t have been delivered by a Bear flying a normal run. The delivery plane made a short flight, with its bomb bay doors and fuel tanks removed. Had the device had its last stage outer casing, not even a B-36 could have carried it.

        It just makes no military sense to build a bomb so big. Much better to use the material to make a number of smaller bombs, the combined effects of which would be much greater.

      • I guess if would be deliverable if you wanted to bomb, say, Smolensk from Moscow and the target had to air defenses.

    • Yes, that pesky but accurate evidence that shows the climate obsessed claims about CO2 residence times are way off.

    • It is a little bit more complicated than that.

      Were the sequestration of CO2 into ocean water solely to be governed by Henry’s Law for the solubility of gas in water, the decay rate of a trace isotope concentration would be identical to the decay rate of a “pulse” increase in the bulk CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. That is because Henry’s Law is linear in the CO2 concentration.

      But it turns out that owing to the stew of other mineral substances dissolved into ocean water, the solubility of CO2 into ocean water does not follow the linear Henry’s Law model. Only a small fraction — about one part in two hundred — of the CO2 “load” in ocean water is in the aqueous CO2 form, with the much larger portion having reacted into the “inorganic dissolved carbonates.” The chemical reaction of the equilibrium between aqueous CO2, which indeed follows a Henry’s Law relationship with atmospheric CO2, and the much larger carbonate reservoir has an exponent of the 10th power. Common equilibrium chemical reactions combining 2 or 3 species have 2nd or 3rd power exponents (Khan Academy has good videos on such chemical equilibrium constants), but the carbonate system has a more complicated chain of chemical reactions giving this 10th power relation (10 being the “Revelle factor”). I have seen the math deriving this exponent, but it is in really eye-glazing-over territory.

      The effect of this is that the individual molecules of CO2 readily exchange between air and ocean accounting for the short time constant of the trace C14 concentration, but a 10 percent increase in the bulk atmospheric CO2 concentration results in only a 1 percent increase in the CO2 concentration in the ocean carbonates — at equilibrium.

      This certainly does not mean that ocean water is not a net sink of considerable CO2, roughly half of the “missing CO2” of emissions not appearing in the atmosphere, with the other half speculated to going into (largely) terrestrial plants. The ocean carbonate reservoir is vast compared to the atmosphere, and it is still vast even if you “derate” its capacity by the factor of 10 of the Revelle factor.

      On the other hand, there are people saying that the capacity of the ocean to absorb CO2 is limited to the surface ocean layer that will soon “saturate” as the turnover into the deep oceans “takes a 1000 years.” That thousand-year figure relates to the vastness of the deep ocean — that a pulse change in the deep ocean concentration would take that long to discharge into the atmosphere. A pulse change in the atmospheric concentration, will in relative terms, discharge almost immediately into the vast ocean reservoir. This effect is simply related to the relative size of the atmosphere with the vast deep ocean reservoir and doesn’t speak to the rate at which the atmosphere equilibrates with the deep ocean, and people have a false sense that the “ocean will fill up with CO2′ being placed into the atmosphere anytime soon.

      Given the 10th-power Revelle factor and the Suess effect of dilution of atmospheric C14 with non-C14 carbon from fossil fuel combustion, one has to look carefully at the “tails” of the bomb test curve to see what is going on, which I intend to do with the 2016 paper that is linked. What is helpful about this recent paper is that it extends the “tails” of the C14 decay into the 2000’s, which was missing from earlier treatments. On the other hand, it would be helpful if the y-scale of the C14 plots were referenced to the pre-1940’s pre-bomb test C14 level to help sort all of this out.

    • Marcus, what are you going on about?
      USS Independence was used a a target ship in Operation Crossroads, with tests Able and Baker. Test shot Able caused the tremendous damage visible in the photo, and test shot Baker contaminated the ship with high levels of radioactivity. Obviously, nobody was on board for either test.

      • ….The above ship is not the USS Independence !..” Sailors watch the ‘Able Test’ burst miles out to sea from the deck of the support ship USS Fall River on 1 July 1946. Image: Naval Archives.” USS FALL RIVER !!

    • Marcus April 30, 2016 at 7:23 am

      Did you read the whole article and notice the other pictures? The ones of the Independence? Certainly the government thinks that blasted carrier is her

      • Why would he glow in the dark, Marcus? During his time on board, he probably received less dose than the average person not on board, due to shielding from much of the natural background radiation sources.

    • I was the radiation safety officer on a nuclear cruiser and reviewed exposure records. Nuclear trained officers who stood bridge watches received higher doses than watch officers in the control room.

      Airline flight crews and national park rangers who work in caves get more exposures than I ever did in the navy or commercial power plants.

  3. @Eric Worral

    …The weird thing is it might actually be possible to build a single atom bomb which wrecks the world.
    There is no upper limit to how powerful you can make a hydrogen bomb….

    My understanding is that 100Mt is indeed the upper practical limit.

    You can expand the stages upwards in theory (though the engineering becomes ever harder). But there’s no point. At 100Mt much of the energy is simply blasting through the atmosphere into space, and if you double or treble the explosive size, that simply results in losing more energy through the upper atmosphere. The ground destruction is hardly increased at all….

  4. When we were given our anti nuclear attack training for convoy duty in the 60’s we were told by the Naval officer instructor to take cover in the shaft tunnel We pointed out that tankers don’t have a shaft tunnel so he re-iterated the old training of ” put your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye”.

  5. USNS Fall River (T-EPF-4) is the fourth Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport, to be part of the United States Military Sealift Command and was built in Mobile, Alabama.[1][2]

    On 23 March 2010, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced in Fall River, Massachusetts that the fourth Expeditionary Fast Transport will be named USNS Fall River. Since the ship will be operated by the Military Sealift Command and not the United States Navy itself, it will carry the USNS designation and not USS.[3][4][5]

    The ship was christened on January 11, 2014 by First Lady of Massachusetts, Diane Bemus Patrick, at Austal USA’s Shipyard in Mobile, Alabama.[6] The ship was launched seven days later on the 16th of January.[7] The Fall River completed acceptance trials on 25 July 2014. Following delivery and Final Contract Trials (FCT) later in the year,[8] the Fall River was accepted into MSC service on 15 September 2014.[9]

  6. USS Fall River (CA-131) was a Baltimore-class heavy cruiser of the United States Navy. Launched on 13 August 1944 by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation of Camden, New Jersey, sponsored by Mrs. Alexander C. Murray, wife of the mayor of Fall River; and commissioned on 1 July 1945, Captain David Stolz Crawford in command…,.

    • Just to clarify, the USS Fall River is not one of the ships on display at Battleship Cove, Fall River, MA.
      The ships on display in Fall River are the battleship USS Massachusetts and the submarine USS Lionfish, with a few smaller craft.
      You could also not that the heavy cruiser USS Salem is on display in Quincy, MA, not Salem MA.

  7. What they didn’t declassify was that the ship wasn’t scuttled, it was sunk by Godzilla!

  8. Before the first nuclear test was carried out, didn’t some people fear that such an explosion would trigger a “rip through the periodic table,” turning the entire earth into a “fusioning” sun? Talk about global warming!

  9. I agree with other commentators that 100 GK is the upper limit for blast effect.
    However as Nevil Shute , senoir engineer of the succesful R100 airship, starkly illustrated in his novel “On the Beach” a large number of nuclear bombs with cobalt casings would cause catastrophic radiation levels worldwide.
    That the atmosphere still contains radaition from nuclear radiation ,from testing and Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is evidenced that until recently steel and iron was being used from the 1919 scuttled German battle fleet at Scapa Flow for sensitive detection equipment as any moden steel or iron produced in open foundries was radioactively contaminated.

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