San Diego’s A-Bomb Test

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If you happened to be in San Diego on May 14, 1955, you might have felt the earth move. It wasn’t an earthquake however. It was the residual shockwave from the U.S. Navy’s underwater atomic bomb test, officially known as Operation Wigwam. The test took place in the Pacific Ocean 500 miles west/southwest of our fair city.

The location was selected by scientists from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, who identified an area that would have the least affect on shipping channels and fisheries, a “biological desert far from seat lanes”. The test was designed to assess the lethal range of underwater nuclear explosions on submarines. You can see the Navy’s official film report below (skip to the 21-minute mark if you just want to watch stuff blow up).

Oceanography was a relatively new science at the time and Scripps Institute began its rise to prominence in the field shortly after the Second World War. Some of the earliest experiments confirming the possibility of global climate change were conducted at the institute in the 1950s (and continue to this day). I’m including the institute and two of its employees (one real, one fictional) in my work-in-progress historical novel, set in the 1950s. Fascinating stuff.

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