“An ammunition magazine containing a considerable amount of high explosives and pyrotechnics exploded at 5:30 a.m. in the New Mexico desert near San Marcial on a remote section of the Alamogordo Air Base reservation.” So said the El Paso Herald-Post on the afternoon of July 16, 1945. The shock wave from the explosion was felt more than 100 miles away. The light of the explosion was seen from 150 miles away. Windows rattled more than 200 miles away. It was a huge ammunition dump.
Alternatively, it was one piece of ammunition sitting on a tower. Had the United States government been in a position to actually tell the truth, it may have read something like this: “At just a few seconds before 5:30am, the United States entered the Atomic Age when an implosion-design Plutonium bomb was detonated near Alamogordo, New Mexico. The explosion, equivalent to setting off 40,000,000 pounds of TNT, resulted in the incredible mushroom cloud displayed in the photo above…”
This first test of the atomic bomb (called the Trinity Test), was the culmination of years of painstaking research, millions of man-hours of labor, billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars, and a single goal: develop an atomic weapon before the enemy does.
It was no secret that Germany had been pursuing the creation of atomic bombs as one of the many “miracle” weapons that would ultimately save the Third Reich from defeat. What the U.S. did not know was just how badly Germany’s anti-Semitic and pro-Aryan policies had crippled its atomic ambitions. Numerous physicists had fled Europe’s growing instability in the 1930’s and these men, with names like Born, Einstein, Fermi, Oppenheimer, and Bohr, all received a warm welcome in the U.S. and Britain.
But when war broke out and Germany invaded Norway and began targeting its supplies of heavy water, the U.S. assumed the worst (that Germany was farther along than it was), and its own nuclear program, famously called The Manhattan Project, went into overdrive. Overseen by General Leslie Groves and J. Robert Oppenheimer, this undertaking would grow to involve nearly 130,000 people, spread all over the United States, working in strict secrecy, often on small pieces of the puzzle so only a few knew the form of the finished product.
And then the first bombs were finished. This first test was deemed a success, and President Harry Truman was immediately notified that an atomic option was now available. What to do with this weapon, in light of the ongoing war in the Pacific and Japan’s steadfast refusal to surrender, would now be up to him and the military.
Recommended Reading: Heisenberg’s War – The Secret History of the German Bomb – Read about the efforts Germany made in the atomic arena. I really liked this book.