CHRISTMAS ISLAND BOMB TESTS
Christmas Island Bomb Tests Message Forum
The first step in the selection of Christmas Island as the Bomb Test Base had in fact been taken in January and February of 1956, when H.M.N.Z.S. Lachlan brought a survey party to the Island to "bring information up-to-date in connection with the International Geo-Physical Year".
In March a request was received for the clearing of the runways at the airport and early in April information was received that the British Government was to establish an "Air Base" at Christmas Island and the code name 'GRAPPLE' was born.
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The official announcement that the real purpose was the testing of nuclear weapons followed and on 19th June, 1956 the advance party for the operation arrived. By July a canvas town had appeared and there were two thousand sailors, soldiers and airmen on the Island, apart from the crews of the vessels in port and the civilian scientific personnel. Recording stations were established on Malden and Fanning Islands.
At first there were suggestions from the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Government (now the Republic of Kiribati and Tuvalu) that the island should be evacuated, but this was said to be unnecessary and in fact additional workers were sent for employment by the Forces. However, in February 1957 all the women and children and most of the plantation staff were evacuated to Fanning Island where they remained until 22nd June.
London wharf 1949
Three bombs in the megaton range were successfully dropped by "Valiant" bombers and exploded at about 18,000 feet some thirty miles south of the island between 15th May and 19th June. The thirty-three government staff and plantation workers, who had remained on the Island, were taken aboard a Naval Landing Craft for the explosions, which took place very early in the morning while they watched a film show below decks.
Early image of Christmas Island airport
Instructions provided for all doors and windows to be left open and all breakables to be placed flat on the floor. Very little damage was reported - except by those who neglected these instructions. Evacuation of the military personnel, apart from a caretaker force, began in July, but meanwhile a decision had been taken in England to develop the Island as a 5-Years Trials Base.
Mushroom clouds from the Grapple series of tests (UK)
Grapple x round c1 Grapple y at detonation Grapple z flagpole1, halliard 1
Some materials already loaded in the port were unloaded and in August a build-up began which, over the next two years, was to produce a reconstruction of the wharf and port, the resurfacing and sealing of the main runway of the American-built airfield with the installation of hangars, control tower and many other facilities. Another 6,000-foot sealed runway was constructed at the extreme end of the south-east arm - "Aeon Field" taking its name from the former wreck. Click here for more information about Aeon...
Mushroom cloud over Christmas Island
An asphalt road twenty miles long was built from London to the airfield, extending a further thirty-five miles of single-width to the south-east point. Hutted camps with power-station, piped water and sanitation and recreational facilities were built three miles west of the airfield - "Main Camp" - and at London - "Port Camp" - to house a total of about four thousand men at the peak of the constructional and operational programmes.
In November of 1957 there were two further H-Bomb explosion and between April and September of 1958 a further series. There was no evacuation to Fanning Island for these tests, but all were taken to off-shore boats - except at the time of some low-power bomb detonations when even that was not considered necessary. With the prevailing easterly winds the dangers from radioactivity was said to be nil and very minimal for "blast". Only the danger to eyes from "flash" made it essential for people to be under cover.
Location of the British nuclear tests on Christmas Island
In April, 1959 H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh visited the Base during a Pacific Tour. With talks on the banning of further bomb explosions in the atmosphere beginning in Geneva, activity was minimal.
Towards the end of the year it was announced that personnel would be reduced to 1700 by 1st January, 1960 and to 300 in July. Christmas Island was now being envisaged as a transit base for the Far East and R.A.F. Transport Command took over. Copra cutting resumed in November, 1959.
But it was not after all to be quite the end of military activity. The Geneva talks broke down and American Defence Chiefs were pressing for a resumption of tests. President Kennedy finally approved and Britain accepted that they should be staged at Christmas Island, which now was given yet another code name - 'DOMINIC'. On 15th February, 1962 fifty men from the American firm of Holmes and Narver arrived to reactivate the Main Camp and within two weeks there were more than 800 American servicemen and civilians on the island. Numbers rose rapidly, until by the time of the first "shot" on 25th April there were 3,500 British and American personnel engaged. Between then and 11th July there was a total of twenty-four "shots" in the series. Other tests were going on at Johnston Island 1,200 miles to the north-west and on 8th July it was recorded that the midnight high-altitude explosion there was clearly visible on Christmas Island.
Mushroom clouds from the Dominic series of tests (US)
Evacuation to off-shore ships was not considered necessary, but after two heavy explosions people became nervous and voluntary arrangements were made. Almost total for the next test, evacuation soon fell below half and only about a third of the people, including all the children, were leaving the island by the end of the series. Those still on shore went to the maneabas (public meeting houses) and waited with bowed heads and closed eyes for the countdown, for "flash" was still the danger. They were then free to go outside and see for the first time the boiling flames of the "mushroom" cloud and experience the delayed shock waves and the roar of the explosion.
At the beginning of 1963 there was talk of the establishment of a permanent American satellite tracking station on Christmas Island, but interest waned and by the end of September the last of the American servicemen had departed. In Britain, too, strategic imperatives were changing and the Christmas Island base was an early casualty of the withdrawal of British Forces from the Pacific theatre. In June the last inventories were made, obsolete and dangerous materials were dumped at sea, the offices were locked and at sunset on Monday 19th June, 1964 the White Ensign was lowered at the Royal Navy shore station, H.M.S. Resolution.
American service personnel reappeared very briefly in April, 1970 to stand by on Christmas Island for the "splash-down", two hundred miles to the south, of the Apollo 13 crew returning from the moon.
After the departure of the Forces, Operation "Hard Look" had carried out a full investigation into the possibilities of radio-active contamination, but had found none. In 1975 a further examination of Christmas Island was undertaken by American experts as part of the preparation for the establishment of a Japanese tracking station. They reported that radioactivity levels were lower than those found in most American cities and that there was nothing on the island which could lead an investigator to deduce that there had ever been an atomic detonation in the vicinity.
BOMB TESTS: THIS MUST BE DONE
From Life Magazine, 1962.
Reluctantly-forced by the bleak hostility of Russian negotiators and the competitive pressure of Russian tests-the U.S. five days ago fired nuclear bombs in the atmosphere of the Pacific. After three years of trying to get the Soviets to agree to an effective arms inspection and control system, the U.S. found itself in the position of having to test again or losing its nuclear lead. Our tests centred on British-owned Christmas Island, just north of the equator, and our own Johnston Island, 700 miles southwest of Honolulu, 100 planes and 40 ships had three main jobs to do. Although they would work in deep secrecy, their efforts would most probably enter on tasks like those shown in the drawing below.
First we want to proof-test the weapons we have developed since our last atmospheric shots in 1958-for example, we have never fixed a warhead on one of our ballistic missiles. The current series will shoot the works, lobbing some warheads from planes (foreground), rocketing others from Johnston Island (left rear) and sending up a Polaris missile from the submerged submarine Ethan Allen (rear). We will also try out smaller warheads in our stockpile, such as the ship-launched antisubmarine rocket in the right foreground.
Second, we want to improve the efficiency of our weapons. Efficient bombs have more violence with less weight and allow a given missile or bomber to carry more destructive force. We will try out new kinds of bombs and new concepts of them from balloons over Christmas Island, measuring their efficiency with high-flying "sniffer" aircraft and with sensitive instruments on the islands and on barges anchored at sea.
Third, we want to find out the effect in atmospheric explosion has on such diverse things as missile sites, radar detection, radio communication and the functioning of delicate machinery. The Russians focused much of their test series last fall on this, and we in turn must know how seriously nuclear blasts may upset our defenses - or our enemies'. Also we will shoot warheads and packages of electronics equipment of Johnston Island to find out what happens to them when other warheads go off nearby-helping us decide whether we should spend billions of dollars trying to build an anti-missile missile.
Most of the series' shots will go off far in the sky to minimize fallout; the radiation they produce should be much less than that for the last Russian tests. Our series is expected to go on for two or three months, during which 25 to 30 bombs will be set off. But the U.S. has made it very clear that we will terminate tests tomorrow if the Russians will do the same-and at last agree to a practicable way to keep anyone from cheating.
NEXT -- GRAPPLE ( UK )
NEXT -- DOMINIC ( USA )
NEXT -- PICTURE GALLERY 1
NEXT -- PICTURE GALLERY 2
NEXT - MORE ABOUT CHRISTMAS ISLAND AND BOMB TESTING
NEXT -- OPERATION 'GRAPPLE' (UK) - RARE IMAGES
CHRISTMAS ISLAND PHOTOGRAPHS - 2005
NEXT -- PHOTOS, 1957 -- COURTESY: IAN GREEN
NEXT -- PICTURE GALLERY, 1957 -- COURTESY: IAN GREEN
CHRISTMAS ISLAND - NUCLEAR - NO RISK INVOLVED
NEXT -- PICTURE GALLERY -- PETER LATHAM
CHRISTMAS ISLAND - A NUCLEAR TEST VETERAN REMEMBERS
OCEANIA NUCLEAR TESTING
For the aircraft enthusiasts, Gatwick Aviation Museum in England, has a unique collection of British aircraft from the "golden age" of British aircraft manufacture. From the end of WWII until the 1970s British aircraft designers produced some of the most innovative and advanced aircraft of the day. In this collection, there are examples from the major manufacturers of this period. Amongst the list are classic names, English Electric, Avro, de Havilland, Hawker, Fairey, Blackburn and Percival.
Christmas Island Visit Pictures