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British Nuclear Programmes

At the end of the countdown, there was a blinding electric blue light, of such an intensity I had not seen before or ever since. I pressed my hands hard to my eyes, then, realised my hands were covering my eyes. This terrific light power, or rays, were actually passing through the tarpaulin, through the towel, and through my head and body, for what seemed ten to twelve seconds, it may have been longer. After that, the pressure wave, which gave a feeling such as when one is deep underwater. This was then followed by a sort of vacuum suction wave, to give a feeling of one's whole body billowing out like a balloon.

      Observer, Mosaic G1 at Monte Bello, 16 May 1956.

 

 

We have made a successful start. When the [nuclear] tests are completed, as they soon will be, we shall be in the same position as the United States or Soviet Russia. We shall have made and tested the massive weapons. It will be possible then to discuss on equal terms.

       U.K. Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, 1957

Immediately after World War II, in August 1945, the new Labor government in Britain organized a secret Cabinet committee to establish nuclear policy. On 8 January 1947 this committee of six Ministers (headed by P.M. Attlee) decided to proceed with development and acquisition of atomic weapons, a fact that was not disclosed at all until 12 May 1948, when an oblique reference was made to atomic weapon development in parliamentary discussions. Penney

William G. Penney (14 K)

The "Oppenheimer" of Britain was physicist William G. Penney. He was part of the "British Mission" sent to Los Alamos during the war to assist in the development of the first atomic bomb. After the war he returned to the UK and was eventually asked to set up Britain's own nuclear weapon program. The picture below shows him as he was at Los Alamos. He did not learn of the british decision to build an atomic bomb unitl May 1947 when he was asked to lead the development effort. The following month he began assembling a team to work on it.

The first plutonium production reactor went critical at Windscale (now Sellafield) in October 1950. The plutonium plant began operation on 25 February 1952, and produced the first plutonium metal 35 days later. Due to the small size and high population density of Britain no suitable sites for atmospheric weapons tests existed. Britain thus sought sites in other countries to test its weapons, finally settling on the Monte Bello Islands in Australia. On 15 September 1952 the plutonium pit for the first British nuclear device, code named Hurricane, left England.

 


Hurricane

 

Test:

Hurricane

Time:

00:00 03 October 1952 (GMT)
08:00 03 October 1952 (WAST)

Location:

Off Trimouille Island, near Monte Bello Island, 20.40 S, 115.57 E

Test Height and Type:

Ship, -2.7 m

Yield:

25 Kt

This was the first British nuclear test. The device tested was a plutonium implosion bomb similar to the Fat Man, but improved by using a levitated pit. The bomb used plutonium produced at Windscale (now Sellafield) with a low Pu-240 content since hurried production led to short irradiation times. In fact Windscale could not quite meet the August 1 deadline for manufacturing the core and the device also used some Canadian-supplied plutonium.

To test the effects of a ship-smuggled bomb (a threat of great concern to the British at the time), Hurricane was exploded inside the hull of the HMS Plym (1450 ton frigate) which was anchored in 40 feet of water 400 yards off shore. The explosion occured 2.7 m below the water line, and left a saucer-shaped crater on the seabed 20 feet deep and 1,000 feet across.

Hurricane             Hurricane (26 K)

Hurricane (0.1 secs)                Hurricane - 0.1 seconds (20 K)

Hurricane (1 sec)              Hurricane - 1 seconds (23 K)

Hurricane (5 sec)             Hurricane - 5 seconds (19 K)

 

 


Operation Totem: 1953

This series was intended to develop greater knowledge of fission weapons. The initial test (Hurricane) had been hurriedly carried out and was poorly instrumented. Plutonium with a much higher Pu-240 content (and thus lower cost) was now being produced by Calder Hall and needed to be evaluated in a nuclear test.

 

 

Test:

Test 1 (T1)

Time:

21:30 14 October 1953 (GMT)
07:00 14 October 1953 (CST)

Location:

Emu Field, South Australia, 28:68 S 132.34 E

Test Height and Type:

Tower, 31 m

Yield:

10 Kt

Second British test. The yield was greater than expected.

Totem/T1                     Totem/T1 - First view (10 K)

Totem/T1              Totem/T1 - Second view (20 K)

 

 

Test:

Test 2 (T2)

Time:

21:30 26 October 1953 (GMT)
07:00 26 October 1953 (CST)

Location:

Emu Field, South Australia, 28:70 S 132.35 E

Test Height and Type:

Tower, 31 m

Yield:

8 Kt

Third British test. The absolute maximum and minimum yield estimates were 10 and 0.25 Kt respectively, with 2-3 Kt most likely.

Totem/T2          Totem/T2 (21 K)

 


Operation Mosaic: 1956

The primary purpose of this test series was to conduct research to support thermonuclear weapons development.

 

Test:

G1

Time:

16 May 1956 (03:50 GMT, 10:50 WAST)

Location:

Off Trimouille Island, near Monte Bello Island, 20.23 S, 115.55 E

Test Height and Type:

Tower, ? m

Yield:

15 kt

First British test using fusion fuel (as a physics experiment, not a weapon test). Fusion yield was negligible.

Mosaic/G1                  Mosaic/G1 (32 K)

 

Test:

G2

Time:

19 June 1956 (02:14 GMT, 10:14 WAST)

Location:

Alpha Island, near Monte Bello Island, 20.40 S 115.53 E

Test Height and Type:

Tower, 31 m

Yield:

98 kt

This was the highest yield test ever conducted in Australia. Since the test yield broke an assurance made personally by PM Anthony Eden of the UK to PM Robert Menzies of Australia that the yield would not exceed 2.5 time that of Hurricane (thus about 62 Kt), the true yield was concealed until 1984.

Mosaic G2 was a test of fusion-boosted weapon system, perhaps similar to the Soviet Sloika ("Layer Cake") or American Alarm Clock designs. It incorporated lithium-6 deuteride, and had a uranium tamper. The yield was larger than expected.

Mosiac G2 - View 1                   Mosaic G2 - View 1 (33 K)

Mosiac G2 - View 2                Mosaic G2 - View 2 (16 K)

Mosiac G2 - View 3              Mosaic G2 - View 3 (15 K)

 


Operation Buffalo: 1956

Maralinga Test Range, Australia

This was the first test series at the Maralinga Test Range in South Australia (bordering Western Australia). It would reused in two other test series.

Buffalo combined atomic (fission) weapons development with weapons effects testing for military purposes.

 

Test:

Round 1, One Tree Site

Time:

27 September 1956 (07:30 GMT, 17:00 CST)

Location:

One Tree Site, Maralinga Test Range

Test Height and Type:

Tower, 31 m

Yield:

15 Kt

This was a test of the Red Beard tactical bomb, a plutonium implosion weapon (expected yield 16 Kt).

One Tree 1                  One Tree 1 (29 K)

One Tree 2                 One Tree 2 (26 K)

One Tree 3                One Tree 3 (21 K)

One Tree 4               One Tree 4 (18 K)

 

Test:

Round 2, Marcoo Site

Time:

04 October 1956 (07:00 GMT, 16:30 CST)

Location:

Marcoo Site, Maralinga Test Range

Test Height and Type:

Surface, zero meters

Yield:

1.5 Kt

This was a test of the Blue Danube bomb equipped with a low yield Mark I enriched uranium core. The test was exploded on the surface rather than a tower to collect ground shock and cratering data. The bomb was placed in a shallow pit so the center of the nuclear reaction would be exactly at the surface. It produced a 160 ft wide crater, 40 ft deep.

Round 2, Marcoo 1                Marcoo 1 (27 K)

Round 2, Marcoo 2               Marcoo 2 (23 K)

Round 2, Marcoo 3               Marcoo 3 (15 K)

 

Test:

Round 3, Kite Site

Time:

11 October 1956 (07:00 GMT, 16:30 CST)

Location:

Kite Site, Maralinga Test Range

Test Height and Type:

Air drop, 150 m

Yield:

3 Kt

This was Britain's first air drop test. It tested a Blue Danube bomb dropped from an RAF Valiant B1 bomber (WZ366 of squadron no. 49). This Service operational test was originally scheduled for a 40 Kt core, but concerns about contamination caused a substitution with a low yield bomb core.

Round 3, Kite             Round 3, Kite (27 K)

 

Test:

Round 4, Breakaway Site

Time:

22 October 1956 (14:35:00:05 CST)

Location:

Breakaway Site, Maralinga Test Range

Test Height and Type:

Tower, 34 m

Yield:

"Rather less than 16 Kt" (~10 Kt?)

This was another test of the Red Beard light weight tactical bomb with some fusion fuel included as a fusion physics experiment to supplement to Mosaic data.

Breakaway                 Breakaway (50 K)

Breakaway (2nd view)                Breakaway - Second View (20 K)

 

 


Operation Grapple

The British test program to develop a hydrogen bomb.

 

Test:

Grapple 1/Short Granite

Time:

15 May 1957 (19:37 GMT)

Location:

Off Malden Island

Test Height and Type:

Air drop, 2400 m

Yield:

200-300 Kt

Dropped by a Valiant B1 bomber (XD818 of Squadron No. 49) piloted by Wing Commander K. Hubbard. Detonated after 52 sec of free fall.

This was Britain's first test of a radiation implosion thermonuclear bomb design. The device, named Green Granite Small, weighed 10,000 lb and used a modified Red Beard primary (called "Tom") and a lead-encased lithium deuteride secondary (called "Dick"). Most of the yield was from the secondary, providing evidence of successful radiation implosion, but the yield was far below the predicted value (about 1 megaton was expected).

Short Granite               Grapple 1/Short Granite (60 K)

 

 

Test:

Grapple X/Round C

Time:

8 November 1957 (17:47 GMT)

Location:

Off Christmas Island

Test Height and Type:

Air drop, 2250 m

Yield:

1.8 Megatons

Dropped by a Valiant bomber (XD824) piloted by Squadron Leader Barney Millett. Detonated after 52 sec of free fall.

This was Britain's first truly successful thermonuclear bomb test. The test seems to have been hastily arranged. The bomber squadron was only notified about the test in September, followed by four weeks of intensive training in preparation. Documents indicate this test had not even been contemplated prior to the spring Grapple shots. The probable reason for this was that it was a rushed redesign following the disappointing Short Granite and Purple Granite shots, spurred on by British fears of an imminent test ban. Only one device, designated Round C, was tested with a yield of 1.8 Mt. This was Britian's first megaton-class explosion, showing that the UK had achieved mastery of H-bomb design.

Grapple X/Round C            Grapple X/Round C (60 K)

 

Grapple X/Round C             Grapple X/Round C (84 K)

 

 

Test:

Grapple Y

Time:

8 April 1958 (19:05 GMT)

Location:

Off Christmas Island

Test Height and Type:

Air drop, 2350 m

Yield:

2 Megatons

Dropped by a Valiant bomber (XD825) piloted by Squadron Leader Bob Bates. Detonated 53 seconds after release, only 245 yards off target. This was Britain's fourth test of a radiation implosion thermonuclear bomb, and the second successful high yield test.

Grapple Y at DetonationGrapple Y at Detonation

 

Test:

Grapple Z/Flagpole 1

Time:

2 September 1958 (17:24 GMT)

Location:

Off Christmas Island

Test Height and Type:

Air drop, 2850 m

Yield:

2.5-3 Megatons

Dropped by a Valiant bomber (XD822) piloted by Bill Bailey from 45,000 ft, missed target point by a mere 95 yards. The first British use of blind radar bombing with a nuclear device. This was Britain's fifth test of a radiation implosion thermonuclear bomb. It was the first of Britain's two highest yield tests.

Grapple Z/Flagpole 1            Grapple Z/Flagpole 1 (68 K)

 

 

Test:

Grapple Z/Halliard 1

Time:

11 September 1958 (17:49 GMT)

Location:

Off Christmas Island

Test Height and Type:

Air drop, 2650 m

Yield:

2.5-3 Megatons

Dropped by a Valiant bomber (XD827) piloted by Flight Lieutenant Tiff O'Connor. This was the second of Britain's two highest yield tests.

Grapple Z/Halliard 1              Grapple Z/Halliard 1 (68 K)

 

Christmas Island

Christmas Island



              Test over Christmas Island.



 


Joint US - UK Testing

After the 1957-1958 test series the United Kingdom ceased conducting its own independent nuclear tests. The reason for this was that it was no longer necessary. After the UK had demonstrated that it could develop thermonuclear weapons, the US adopted it as a strategic partner in deterring the Soviet Union. All subsequent UK nuclear weapons are based on US designs, which were made available to Britain. Once nuclear testing resumed in 1961, the US and UK also began conducting joint tests at hte NTS (Nevada test Site) in Nevada, eventually conducting a total of 28 (counting four zero-yield plutonium dispersal safety experiments). The first was the Pampas shot during Operation Nougat, 1 March 1962 (yield 9.5 Kt). See summary table below for complete listing of these tests.

After the Grapple tests, the British lent Christmas island to the US in 1962 for the Dominic series of 25 tests.


British Testing Summary

UK Atmospheric Nuclear Tests in Australia and at Christmas Island 1952-58

 

Test Series

Test Name

Location

Date

Yield

Explosion Conditions

Comments

 

Hurricane

Monte Bello (off Trimouille Is)

3 Oct 1952

25 Kt

Ocean surface burst (HMS Plym)

Levitated core plutonium implosion device

Totem

Test 1

Emu Field

15 Oct 1953

10 Kt

Tower

 

Totem

Test 2

Emu Field

27 Oct 1953

8 Kt

Tower

 

Mosaic

G1

Monte Bello (off Trimouille Is)

16 May 1956

15 Kt

Tower

 

Mosaic

G2

Monte Bello (off Alpha Is)

19 June 1956

60 Kt

Tower

 

Buffalo

One Tree, Round 1

Maralinga (One Tree)

27 Sept 1956

15 Kt

Tower

 

Buffalo

Marcoo, Round 2

Maralinga (Marcoo)

4 Oct 1956

1.5 Kt

Ground

 

Buffalo

Kite, Round 3

Maralinga (Kite)

11 Oct 1956

3 Kt

Airburst over land

 

Buffalo

Breakaway, Round 4

Maralinga (Breakaway)

22 Oct 1956

10 Kt

Tower

 

Grapple

Grapple 1/Short Granite

Malden Is, Pacific

15 May 1957

200-300 Kt

Airburst over ocean

Radiation implosion thermonuclear device; 1 Mt predicted, some thermonuclear yield achieved

Grapple

Grapple 2/Orange Herald

Malden Is, Pacific

31 May 1957

720 Kt

Airburst over ocean

Fall back thermonuclear device, Alarm Clock/Sloika design using U-235 core

Grapple

Grapple 3/Purple Granite

Malden Is, Pacific

19 Jun 1957

150 Kt

Airburst over ocean

Second radiation implosion thermonuclear device, 1 Mt predicted

Antler

Round 1

Maralinga (Tadje)

14 Sept 1957

1 Kt

Tower

 

Antler

Round 2

Maralinga (Biak)

25 Sept 1957

6 Kt

Tower

Lightweight plutonium implosion device named Indigo Hammer, intended for air defense missile (Bloodhound) and thermonuclear primary applications

Antler

Round 3

Maralinga (Taranaki)

9 Oct 1957

25 Kt

Balloon-burst over land

 

Grapple X

Round C

Christmas Is

8 Nov 1957

1.8 Mt

Airburst over ocean

 

Grapple Y

Grapple Y

Christmas Is

28 Apr 1958

2 Mt

Airburst over ocean

 

Grapple Z

Pennant 2

Christmas Is

22 Aug 1958

~1 Mt

Balloon-burst over land

 

Grapple Z

Flag Pole 1

Christmas Is

2 Sept 1958

2.5-3 Mt

Airburst over ocean

 

Grapple Z

Halliard 1

Christmas Is

11 Sept 1958

2.5-3 Mt

Airburst over ocean

 

Grapple Z

Burgee 2

Christmas Is

23 Sept 1958

1 Kt

Balloon-burst over land

 

 


Joint US-UK Tests

Legend:NAFR= Nellis Air Force Range (Nevada); NTS= Nevada Test Site

Test Series

Test Name

Date (GCT)

Location

Test Type

Yield (Kt)

Purpose

Comments

Nougat

Pampas

1-Mar-62

NTS

Shaft

9.5 Kt

Accidental release of radioactivity detected off-site

Roller Coaster

Double Tracks

15-May-62

NAFR

Surface

0

Storage-transportation safety experiment, measured plutonium dispersal risk

Roller Coaster

Clean Slate I

25-May-62

NAFR

Surface

0

Storage-transportation safety experiment, measured plutonium dispersal risk

Roller Coaster

Clean Slate II

31-May-62

NAFR

Surface

0

Storage-transportation safety experiment, measured plutonium dispersal risk

Roller Coaster

Clean Slate III

9-Jun-62

NAFR

Surface

0

Storage-transportation safety experiment, measured plutonium dispersal risk

Storax

Tendrac

7-Dec-62

NTS

Shaft

<20 Kt

 

Whetstone

Cormorant

17-Jul-64

NTS

Shaft

<20 Kt

Accidental release of radioactivity detected on-site only

Whetstone

Courser

25-Sep-64

NTS

Shaft

0

 

Flintlock

Charcoal

10-Sep-65

NTS

Shaft

20 - 200 Kt

 

Arbor

Fallon

23-May-74

NTS

Shaft

20 - 200 Kt

 

Anvil

Banon

26-Aug-76

NTS

Shaft

20 - 150 Kt

 

Cresset

Fondutta

11-Apr-78

NTS

Shaft

20 - 150 Kt

 

Quicksilver

Quargel

18-Nov-78

NTS

Shaft

20 - 150 Kt

 

Quicksilver

Nessel

29-Aug-79

NTS

Shaft

20 - 150 Kt

 

Tinderbox

Colwick

26-Apr-80

NTS

Shaft

20 - 150 Kt

 

Guardian

Dutchess

24-Oct-80

NTS

Shaft

<20 Kt

 

Guardian

Serpa

17-Dec-80

NTS

Shaft

20 - 150 Kt

 

Praetorian

Rousanne

12-Nov-81

NTS

Shaft

20 - 150 Kt

 

Praetorian

Gibne

25-Apr-82

NTS

Shaft

20 - 150 Kt

 

Phalanx

Armada

22-Apr-83

NTS

Shaft

<20 Kt

 

Fusileer

Mundo

1-May-84

NTS

Shaft

20 - 150 Kt

 

Grenadier

Egmont

9-Dec-84

NTS

Shaft

20 - 150 Kt

 

Charioteer

Kinibito

5-Dec-85

NTS

Shaft

20 - 150 Kt

 

Charioteer

Darwin

25-Jun-86

NTS

Shaft

20 - 150 Kt

 

Musketeer

Midland

16-Jul-87

NTS

Shaft

20 - 150 Kt

 

Aqueduct

Barnwell

18-Dec-89

NTS

Shaft

20 - 150 Kt

 

Sculpin

Houston

14-Nov-90

NTS

Shaft

20 - 150 Kt

 

Julin

Bristol

26-Nov-91

NTS

Shaft

<20 Kt