Kickstarting a deep-sea documentary on the nuclear wrecks of the Bikini Atoll

Steven Boyett sez, "Wreck diver and videographer Adrian Smith has launched a Kickstarter project to fund an expedition to document the forgotten wrecks sunken by the Bikini Atoll atomic explosion in 1946. No video record exists of these historic wrecks (many of them captured German and Japanese warships), and they are quickly eroding."

The naval vessels exposed to close-range atomic blast at Bikini Atoll represent the three major Pacific combatants of World War II. They are the only vessels ever sunk through the detonation of atomic weapons. These unique ships and submarines lie almost two hundred feet underwater, and are rapidly deteriorating. No comprehensive visual record exists to document their current state or unique reactions to their exposure to close-range atomic detonation. Soon it will be too late.

The ships themselves lie in waters from 40 ft (12 m) to 185 ft (56 m), deep but diveable with the correct equipment and training.

The “Baker” blast at Bikini Atoll was global front-page news when it occurred — so well-known that a French designer scandalized the world by introducing a line of two-piece swimsuits a mere four days after the Baker blast. The name of this new fashion? The bikini.

The Atomic Armada - The Forgotten Wrecks of Bikini Atoll by Adrian Smith (Thanks, Steven!)


    1. True, it’s not an iPhone holder for tricycle commuters, but it still seems like a worthy undertaking. And he’s pulling it off for about half what a documentary like this would normally cost.

  1. We used to have a desk encyclopedia and that photo was part of a collage on the  frontispiece.. I was a little kid and I thought “WTF? That looks like an a-bomb cartwheeling a battleship, but that never happened.”  It was 20 years before I saw the photo again.

    1.  The oblong black shape on the bottom right of the water column in the mushroom cloud is an aircraft carrier standing on end.

          1.  No, that’s an old myth.  I used to believe it, too.  But after careful examination of the photographic record and multiple dives on the site, it’s been shown not to be true.  Sure looks like it, though!

          2. I don’t have a document citation to give you (although it might exist somewhere).  This is information that I obtained in an interview I did with Dan Lenihan, Senior Investigator and team leader of US Park Service Submerged Cultural Resources Unit (as it was then called).  We were on Bikini at the time, reviewing some of the old Crossroads film and I remarked how amazing it was to see such a large ship lifted into a vertical orientation by the Baker bomb.  He told me that they had made detailed assessments and measurements of the photographic record, as well as ground-truthing at Bikini, to determine that the dark vertical appearance on the “stem of the mushroom cloud” was not a ship.  Bear in mind that all of us who believe, or believed, it is a ship are just making a conjecture.  There’s no evidence beyond conjecture that I have ever seen.

  2. Not sure how “forgotten” these wrecks are- there have been commercial diving operations taking people there for many years, though it’s an expensive trip and deep diving.   Some YouTube video here:  A Google search turns up many ads for dive tours to the “top wreck diving location in the world”. I knew someone years ago who worked several years on site doing nearly constant dive tours. We’re not exactly talking exploring or documenting the unknown. 
    The Saratoga is fairly intact, sunk upright, and is probably the largest diveable shipwreck in the world.

    1.  I think the point isn’t that people don’t explore them, but that there is no comprehensive video record.

    2. Hi Oceanconcepts. The point of my Kickstarter project is that the wrecks haven’t been placed in their appropriate historical context as some of the first artifacts of the atomic age. I know the National Parks Service researched them in 1989-1991, and that ABC released a one-hour program about them in 1992, but their condition has changed drastically since then and I believe they need to be given their place in history for the modern era. As far as their history goes, unless you’re in the dive community you’ve probably never heard of them.

      Thanks for your comments!


  3. I wish you good luck on your project and hope you succeed.  But there’s no need to base your proposal on the myth that this has never been done before.  I spent weeks diving the wrecks at Bikini over a three-year period and my camera crews and I recorded hours and hours of video from which I produced several TV reports and contributed to an hour-long ABC network documentary.  We worked with the US National Park Service dive team and a dive team from the US Navy.  A very complete record of the wrecks was made, including detailed measurements and drawings of the major ships.  The Saratoga is a truly AMAZING dive.  On the wall behind me is a large 3-elevation illustration in exquisite detail of the Saratoga as she appeared on the bottom of the lagoon.  The NPS team of archeologists, historians and illustrators Dan Lenihan, Larry Murphy, James Delgado, Larry Nordby and Jerry Livingston did extensive documentation, some of which resulted in a 200+ page report, “The Archeology of the Atomic Bomb:  A Submerged Cultural Resources Assessment of the Sunken Fleet of Operation Crossroads at Bikini and Kwajalein Atoll Lagoons.”  I highly recommend that you read it.  And you’ve given me the impetus to put my own videos on YouTube, so you can have a good look at the ships on video before you go out there.  And don’t let the fact that you are not the first to do this dissuade you from pressing ahead!  We didn’t have high definition cameras on our three production trips to Bikini years ago so it would be great to see new, high quality material that you’ll be able to capture.  And I’ll look forward to seeing how the ships, submarines, and small vessels on the floor of the lagoon have changed since the many dives I did on them.

    1. Hi leemce. I’m Adrian Smith, the Kickstarter project creator. I appreciate your comments and wanted to respond to them. If you’re talking about “Bikini: Forgotten Paradise” I’m very aware of it. I also have the National Parks Service final report you mentioned and have been using it as reference material.

      The “Forgotten Paradise” documentary was released in 1992 and the vessel conditions have changed considerably since then. The Saratoga hangar deck is now off-limits due to concerns about collapse and the Mark 37 Gun Director collapsed sometime between 2006 and 2008. What remains of the superstructure is also in extremely poor condition. The Apogon hasn’t fared much better, unfortunately, and the Nagato is in similar poor shape. I want to capture the condition of the wrecks as they are now as well as bring their stories to the public. The NPS report is great reading but it’s not exactly a one-hour documentary. :)

      I also am in complete agreement with you that the advent of HD video will bring a new clarity to the wrecks that hasn’t been present until now.

      Thanks again for your comments and your work on the ABC documentary. I’d be happy to talk more if you have any information you’d be willing to share with me about your time at Bikini and the work you did there. I’m collecting stories from one of the Navy divers you mentioned (he lives near me and is a dive buddy of mine) and I’m in touch with the Saratoga Association to see what additional information they can offer.

      Thanks again! And I encourage anyone interested to help fund the project at


      1.  Again, good luck to you.  I think further documentation is a great idea.  Good to be in contact with the Saratoga Association, of course.  I did a speech and video presentation to them at one of their meetings after my last shoot at Bikini.  Those guys are very emotionally attached to their ship, as so many of those young, fresh Navy guys were in World War II.  At their meeting decades later it was hard for many of them to watch the aerial footage I had obtained from the US Archives, showing the last section of deck sinking below the lagoon surface a day or two after the blast.  That hanger deck of the Saratoga was always a fantastic but risky dive.  Each year I went in there I noticed how much more the flight deck had collapsed into it.  I was relieved to finish our last transect there.  But I regret the fact that it’s too unsafe for divers who go today.

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