Cinema History from the Cold War!

Sea Power for Security
The U.S. Navy's answer to the Radioactive Waterburst

A curious addition to many early civil defense films was the anticipated threat of a "radioactive waterburst".  Essentially an underwater nuclear detonation, the belief was that, if unleashed in the harbor of a large coastal city, the waterburst would send millions of gallons of radioactive water into the air which would return to the ground in the form of fallout laced rain.  Cities and surrounding suburbs would then be inundated with the deadly meteorological situation, and vital ports and harbors would be rendered useless as blast forces and radioactivity shut them down.  The fear of such an event appears to stem from the underwater testing of bombs during Operation Crossroads.  In July of 1946, the U.S. Navy and other branches of the armed forces tested two atomic weapons at the Bikini Atoll.  The first shot, Able, was detonated at a high altitude, creating limited damage.  The second bomb, Baker, was detonated just under the ocean's surface, effectively destroying many of the scrapped warships placed around the epicenter, and producing startling amounts of radioactivity which were not detected in the airburst.  Until further atomic testing revealed in 1954 that radioactivity traveling through air was just as harmful as that which fell through water, films often depicted radioactive rain as the sole lingering threat of an atomic attack.

Three films in particular espouse this notion of the potential danger of fallout rain all of which provide stock footage of the Baker test shot and the tremendous upheaval of water created by its mushroom cloud.   You Can Beat the A Bomb (1950) features Jim, a father and husband learned in the art of nuclear protection, who shelters his family through two atomic attacks.  When the first bomb strikes, an airburst, Jim rushes his family from their shelter to inspect the damage.  Toward the end of the film, however, as a waterburst douses his house in fallout, Jim orders the family to remain in the basement, eventually stripping down to provide a step by step process of decontaminating one's self if exposed to radioactive raindrops.  A similar situation develops in Self Preservation in an Atomic Attack (1950), a film created to show military personnel how to avoid an early death due to surprise air raid.  Three men, a soldier, a sailor, and an air force officer, are instructed, if caught in a blast, to help aid others and report to the nearest base.  If the bomb is detonated in a harbor, however, the men are ordered to take shelter for an extended period of time as a radioactive fog sweeps over their city.  Likewise, Pattern for Survival (1950) features an ending segment where narrator Chet Huntley explains the best way to avoid the rain of a waterburst is to seek refuge in a sturdy building demonstrated onscreen when a nervous dock worker sights, then flees from, an atomic shower.

Anticipating the hectic atmosphere which would no doubt prevail following such an event, the U.S. Navy began to produce a line of films designed to instruct the decontamination of ships, sailors, and equipment.  Labeled Sea Power for Security, each production was adorned with a descriptive title which heralded its content, as demonstrated by the two films from the series obtained by Atomic Theater, Radiological Decontamination of Personnel and Equipment and Industrial Radiological Contamination of Ships.  While each was produced in 1951 for the Department of the Navy, Radiological Decontamination of Personnel and Equipment was also part of a series called ABC Warfare Defense Ashore.  Industrial Radiological Decontamination of Ships lacks this subtitle and is listed as an official naval training film produced by Bray Studios.  Once a dominant force in the animation sector prior to World War One, Bray Studios began producing short educational films in the 1920's for various clients, including the government.  Utilizing a contract with the Naval Bureau of Yards and Docks, Bray Studios created in Industrial Radiological Decontamination of Ships, a step by step procedure to be enacted by navy "decontamination squads" following a waterburst attack. 

Stressing the use of naval dry dock facilities which can be easily quarantined to handle contaminated ships, the film explains how the decontamination squads will don protective over clothes and radiation survey equipment in a change station which will double as a headquarters for civil defense operations in the area.  Traveling to stricken vessels via a special tugboat adorned with striped buoys, the squads will monitor radiation level on board ships in the quarantined area and prescribe specific levels of decontamination.  Personal dosimeters and monitoring strips are to be used to keep the servicemen from receiving fatal douses of radiation.  Despite these precautions, the men in the decontamination squads are further instructed, once their inspection is complete, to remove all clothing and thoroughly scrub themselves in the change station while searching for any open wounds which could allow radiation to enter the body.  Interestingly, while this process is painstakingly described in the film, Industrial Radiological Decontamination of Ships never indicates whether these operations would be conducted exclusively on naval ships, or private commercial ships as well.  The word Industrial in the title suggests that commercial ships would be subjected to this process following a waterburst, however, the film was designed specifically for the navy and is set within an unnamed naval shipyard.  This vague sense of who would be entitled to such extensive attention and resources following an attack fits well with the atmosphere of civil defense in the early 1950's, where many ideas and procedures were conjectured, and some even put to film, but the details behind their execution remained frustratingly hazy.

Once the radiation survey teams have safely left the contaminated boat, deckhands armed with hoses, brushes, and water move aboard the stricken vessel and begin to "wash" away the radioactive fallout.  Any light shipboard objects which may have been damaged and subsequently contaminated in the explosion are thrown overboard creating a graveyard of contaminated equipment at the bottom of the quarantine zone.  The deckhands will follow the chalk and paint markings of the survey crew to ensure that they give appropriate decontamination attention to the areas of the ship which are hardest hit.  Following this arduous task, the ship will be given a final sweep with a survey meter by trained radiological detectors in the cleansing crew who will radio the findings back to civil defense headquarters.  The deckhands, meanwhile, will undergo the same personal decontamination procedures prescribed to the survey team, removal of clothing and several showers.  Despite these numerous precautions, Industrial Radiological Decontamination of Ships ends of a positive note, insisting that mankind can live and deal safely with the threat of radioactive fallout, even as it drops from the sky.

In many respects, Decontamination of Personnel and Equipment picks up where this film ends, providing a follow through process for not only treating fallout laced equipment, but in how to administer proper first aid to the injured.  Unlike its predecessor, this film appears to be strictly concerning naval personnel and equipment particularly in allotment of medical supplies.  The equipment showcased, heavy machinery and bulldozers which are being decontaminated are of a military nature and the men depicted in the film are dressed in military uniforms.