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Nuclear Guinea Pigs – Operation Grapple

Rob Hornsby our indefatiguable Maralinga veteran and researcher sent me an email recently with mention of a YouTube video about Operation Grapple.

The documentary is about an hour long, showing some great historical footage and tells of the experiences of the the New Zealand (and British) servicemen. It focuses on the fight for recognition and compensation for the ill effects of radiation exposure that they and their descendants suffer, as a result of the servicemen’s involvment in Operation Grapple.

Operation Grapple was conducted over Malden Island and Christmas Island in the Central Pacific during 1957-8. It followed on from the Montebello Tests on the coast of Western Australia, after the Australian government disallowed testing of thermonuclear devices on its soil.

Operation Grapple, involved 9 nuclear blasts, most were airdrop tests like the “Kite” test at Maralinga, 1956, in the Buffalo series, which was the first airdrop by Britain. Two were balloon suspended blasts similar to “Taranaki” from the Antler series of tests at Maralinga, which were also conducted during 1957.

Grapple Y, a 3Mt blast was the largest nuclear test by Britain, was detonated 7,380 ft above Christmas Island.

The British behaviour and attitude is much the same as that which Australia’s servicemen experienced during and in the aftermath of the Australian Tests. It’s worth a look.


A footnote from Rob Hornsby:

“During my time at the Range [Maralinga] there were a few British troops who had also served at Christmas Island prior to being posted to Maralinga for another 2 years, so these poor buggers would not see home for a 4 year period, as a result they tried various self-inflicted injuries in an attempt to get sent back home, one in particular had not seen his son who would be nearly 4 when he got home, he was very desperate and tried a couple of times inflicting injuries on himself, he was finally sent back to the UK.”

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