OPERATION GRAPPLE [Main Title]

Catalogue number
  • AMY 842
Department
Film
Place made
GB
Subject period
Dimensions
  • whole: Number Of Items/reels/tapes 10
Creator
Category
film

© IWM

License Film
Object description

A record of the preparation of the test site for the British nuclear bomb tests in the Pacific in 1957, with emphasis on the scale of the operation and the speed of its execution.

Physical description

35mm

Full description

(Reel 1) The film, with a commentary loaded with statistics, starts with the initial planning of the operation (staged synch film of the planning committee deciding on the Christmas Island area as the test site) and preparations for shipment of personnel and equipment - much of it old and in need of refurbishing.

Full description

(Reel 2) Various ships are loaded with all kinds of equipment (construction equipment, fuel, landing pontoons, stores) and the LST HMS Messina is put through beach landing trials in Kent. There is a brief description of Christmas Island (aerial shots) and its locally imported labour from the Gilbert and Ellice Islands. The first ships arrive at the island in June 1956.

Full description

(Reel 3) Slight unloading problems are encountered (mention of incorrect stowage order and a passing reference to a union dispute during loading are made). The Port Camp is established in a week and the first Hastings lands on the cleared auxiliary airstrip. Dredging a shipping channel starts. By mid September most equipment has arrived.

Full description

(Reel 4) The problems of establishing the main camp and building a high grade airstrip in difficult conditions (heat, coral dust, rain, pests) are indicated. The main camp eventually consists of some 1000 tents accommodating 2500 people.

Full description

(Reel 5) Living and working conditions on the Island are illustrated - stores management, laundry, cooking, camp newspaper, welfare provisions, church, and the two WVS sisters (the only females on the island). In October the first work on the target site - Malden Island - begins. HMS Messina proves unsuitable for landing equipment due to fierce currents and poor beaches. Monitoring instrumentation is set up on the island.

Full description

(Reel 6) The LST HMS Narvik is refitted at Chatham as the scientific control ship (the Suez affair causes delays). HMS Warrior is used as operations control ship. The various aircraft involved are shown - Dakotas, Shackletons, Canberras, an Auster for insecticide spraying, and the Valiants for the actual drops - these last arrive in March 1957 with their volunteer crew. Work on the bombs themselves at Aldermaston is briefly shown.

Full description

(Reel 7) Final preparations prior to the arrival of the scientific team in April are made - setting up a Decca navigation net and weather monitoring. The local labourers are evacuated in May.

Full description

(Reel 8) A full scale rehearsal takes place on 10th May. The first test is set for 15th May 1957. Malden is evacuated, the Valiant is bombed up behind security screens (the bomb itself is never seen), the exclusion zone swept and the weather checked.

Full description

(Reel 9) The personnel on Christmas Island are loaded into transport in case of a take off accident. Protective gear is donned on HMS Warrior and HMS Narvik and the countdown starts. An aerial shot shows the detonation (these were airburst tests). After 15 seconds the observers sitting on the decks of the monitoring ships uncover their eyes and turn to look at the fireball. A helicopter arrives at Malden within the hour to collect samples (camera crew apparently arrive first!).

Full description

(Reel 10) Samples are retrieved from the Canberra which has been flown through the cloud. The commentary states that no accidental contamination of people or equipment was found. Two further tests take place on 31st May and 19th June. The Task Force Commander closes the film by pointing out how difficult the whole operation had been in view of the short time and the meagre resources available.

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