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Operation Grapple

Operation Grapple

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Operation Grapple, and operations Grapple X, Grapple Y and Grapple Z, were the names of British
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

 nuclear tests of the hydrogen bomb. They were held 1956—1958 at Malden Island
Malden Island
Malden Island, sometimes called Independence Island in the nineteenth century, is a low, arid, uninhabited island in the central Pacific Ocean, about in area...

 and Christmas Island
Kiritimati
Kiritimati or Christmas Island is a Pacific Ocean raised coral atoll in the northern Line Islands, and part of the Republic of Kiribati....

 in the central Pacific Ocean
Pacific Ocean
The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south, bounded by Asia and Australia in the west, and the Americas in the east.At 165.2 million square kilometres in area, this largest division of the World...

. Nine nuclear detonations took place during the trials, resulting in Britain becoming a thermonuclear power. All of the bombs were exploded in the air, rather than on the surface, to reduce the effects of fallout
Nuclear fallout
Fallout is the residual radioactive material propelled into the upper atmosphere following a nuclear blast, so called because it "falls out" of the sky after the explosion and shock wave have passed. It commonly refers to the radioactive dust and ash created when a nuclear weapon explodes...

.

Untested and unproven thermonuclear designs being developed at Britain's nuclear weapons research establishment, the AWRE
Awre
Awre is a village and civil parish in the Forest of Dean district of Gloucestershire, England. According to the 2001 census it had a population of 1,644. The parish includes Awre and the larger village of Blakeney, and also Etloe, Gatcombe, Two Bridges and Viney Hill.-External links:** at Forest...

, required proof testing, so Grapple was conducted as a massive tri-service operation, the largest of its kind since World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. Initial preparation for the operation, including establishing necessary infrastructure on Christmas Island, began at the end of May 1956. About 1,200 civilian and military personnel were stationed on Christmas Island during that year.

Initial landings were from the Bibby Line
Bibby Line
The Bibby Line is a British company concerned with shipping and marine operations.Its parent company, Bibby Line Group Limited, can be traced back to the shipbroking partnership of Bibby & Hall, which was founded in 1801. It is and always has been based in Liverpool...

 troopship Devonshire which had sailed from the Far East and embarked servicemen at Suva, Fiji
Suva
Suva features a tropical rainforest climate under the Koppen climate classification. The city sees a copious amount of precipitation during the course of the year. Suva averages 3,000 mm of precipitation annually with its driest month, July averaging 125 mm of rain per year. In fact,...

, who had been flown from the United Kingdom by commercial airlines. From early October, following the rebuilding of the island's main runway, the majority of arrivals were directly from the United Kingdom, via Hawaii
Hawaii
Hawaii is the newest of the 50 U.S. states , and is the only U.S. state made up entirely of islands. It is the northernmost island group in Polynesia, occupying most of an archipelago in the central Pacific Ocean, southwest of the continental United States, southeast of Japan, and northeast of...

, using Qantas
Qantas
Qantas Airways Limited is the flag carrier of Australia. The name was originally "QANTAS", an initialism for "Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services". Nicknamed "The Flying Kangaroo", the airline is based in Sydney, with its main hub at Sydney Airport...

 chartered Super Constellation
Lockheed Constellation
The Lockheed Constellation was a propeller-driven airliner powered by four 18-cylinder radial Wright R-3350 engines. It was built by Lockheed between 1943 and 1958 at its Burbank, California, USA, facility. A total of 856 aircraft were produced in numerous models, all distinguished by a...

 aircraft. Departures of the first arrivals started early June 1957, using the same Qantas arrangement to Hawaii.

While Christmas was the main base, three other locations featured as key elements of the operation. Malden Island, about 200 miles south of Christmas Island was the site for the air-dropped tests, and Penrhyn Island, a further 200 miles south was used as a monitoring site and weather station. Air support for the operation was generally routed through Hickam Air Base
Hickam Air Force Base
Hickam Field, re-named Hickam Air Force Base in 1948, was a United States Air Force facility now part of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, named in honor of aviation pioneer Lt Col Horace Meek Hickam.- History :...

 on the Hawaiian Islands to the north, where a support group was located.

Supplies for the island were shipped primarily from the southern hemisphere, Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

 and New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

, by freighters of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary
Royal Fleet Auxiliary
The Royal Fleet Auxiliary is a civilian-manned fleet owned by the British Ministry of Defence. The RFA enables ships of the United Kingdom Royal Navy to maintain operations around the world. Its primary role is to supply the Royal Navy with fuel, ammunition and supplies, normally by replenishment...

 (RFA). The Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 established a water processing plant early in the operation, which provided adequate supplies of drinking water and semi-salt water for showering.

Grapple



The first trial was Grapple, also known as Grapple 1. All of these nuclear bombs were dropped and detonated over Malden Island. The first test of this trial was code-named Short Granite. It was a two-staged nuclear weapon that had a predicted yield of about one megaton. The bomb was dropped by a Vickers Valiant
Vickers Valiant
The Vickers-Armstrongs Valiant was a British four-jet bomber, once part of the Royal Air Force's V bomber nuclear force in the 1950s and 1960s...

 XD818, piloted by Kenneth Hubbard, off the shore of Malden Island on 15 May 1957.

Weighing about 4,545 kg, the bomb exploded with a force of 300 kilotons, a yield
Nuclear weapon yield
The explosive yield of a nuclear weapon is the amount of energy discharged when a nuclear weapon is detonated, expressed usually in the equivalent mass of trinitrotoluene , either in kilotons or megatons , but sometimes also in terajoules...

 far below
Fizzle (nuclear test)
In nuclear weapons, a fizzle occurs when the testing of a nuclear bomb fails to meet its expected yield. The reason for the failure can be linked to improper bomb design, poor construction, or lack of expertise. All countries that have had a nuclear weapons testing program have experienced fizzles...

 the prediction. Despite this, Britain hailed the test as a successful thermonuclear explosion and announced to the world it had become a thermonuclear power. While the result was disappointing, the AWRE scientists learned valuable information regarding radiation implosion
Radiation implosion
The term radiation implosion describes the process behind a class of devices which use high levels of electromagnetic radiation to compress a target...

.


The next test was Orange Herald
Orange Herald
- Technical :Orange Herald was a fusion boosted British fission nuclear weapon, comprising a U-235 primary surrounded by lithium deuteride. 'Herald' was suitable for mounting on a missile, utilizing 117 kg of U-235...

. This was a large fission bomb which was hoped to arm a future ballistic missile
Ballistic missile
A ballistic missile is a missile that follows a sub-orbital ballistic flightpath with the objective of delivering one or more warheads to a predetermined target. The missile is only guided during the relatively brief initial powered phase of flight and its course is subsequently governed by the...

. The bomb was dropped and detonated by a Valiant on 31 May 1957. It exploded with a force of 720 kilotons. The yield was the largest ever achieved by similar bomb designs. This bomb was hailed by the government as a new type of hydrogen bomb and the fact that it was a fission bomb was kept secret by the government until the end of the Cold War. A 0.4MT giant atom bomb code-named Green Grass was derived from Orange Herald and deployed during the period before an H-bomb became available.

The last shot of Grapple was Purple Granite. This was a last minute addition to the operation and was hoped to give an improved yield over Short Granite. The bomb was detonated on 19 June 1957 with a 200 kiloton yield.

There were other designs that were not tested: Green Bamboo was a single stage thermonuclear bomb similar to the Soviet Joe-4, and Orange Herald (large) was a "political bomb": a large fission bomb that was not suitable for use as a weapon but was certain to give a high yield ensuring that Britain would not appear as a failed nuclear power.

The two Granites and Green Bamboo were designed to achieve high yields by using the Li-6 D/U-238 cycle
Boosted fission weapon
A boosted fission weapon usually refers to a type of nuclear bomb that uses a small amount of fusion fuel to increase the rate, and thus yield, of a fission reaction. The neutrons released by the fusion reactions add to the neutrons released in the fission, as well as inducing the fission reactions...

 rather than the large scale fusion of deuterium
Deuterium
Deuterium, also called heavy hydrogen, is one of two stable isotopes of hydrogen. It has a natural abundance in Earth's oceans of about one atom in of hydrogen . Deuterium accounts for approximately 0.0156% of all naturally occurring hydrogen in Earth's oceans, while the most common isotope ...

 achieved at Grapple-Y.

Grapple X



Following the disappointing results of the first Grapple trial, Grapple X was conducted at Christmas Island. For Grapple X, the bombs would be exploded over Christmas Island instead of Malden Island to save time and money.

With the experience and knowledge gained from the first Grapple trial, the scientists had developed a new hydrogen bomb design with a 50 percent more powerful fission primary stage and a simplified thermonuclear secondary. Grapple X was dropped and detonated over the southern end of Christmas Island on 8 November 1957. The two-stage thermonuclear bomb exploded with a force of 1.8 megatons. This was close to being the real hydrogen bomb Britain wanted, but used a relatively large quantity of (expensive) highly enriched uranium.

The explosion did some damage to the island, resulting in demolished buildings and damaged infrastructure
Infrastructure
Infrastructure is basic physical and organizational structures needed for the operation of a society or enterprise, or the services and facilities necessary for an economy to function...

. This damage was due to the high yield of the test, which was not expected.

Grapple X was spectacularly successful, exceeding the predicted yield of one megaton by 80 percent. Britain became a true thermonuclear power with the detonation of Grapple X.

Grapple Y



Grapple Y sought to develop a more efficient thermonuclear bomb based on the successful Grapple X design. Like Grapple X, only one detonation was conducted during Grapple Y. The bomb was detonated off Christmas Island on 28 April 1958. The bomb achieved a yield of three megatons and was the largest British nuclear test ever conducted.

The Grapple Y design was notably successful because much of the yield came from thermonuclear reactions instead of fast fission
Fast fission
Fast fission is fission that occurs when a heavy atom absorbs a high-energy neutron, called a fast neutron, and splits. Most fissionable materials need thermal neutrons, which move slower.-Fast reactors vs. thermal reactors:...

 yield from the uranium tamper
Tamper
Tamper can mean:*Tamp, a device used to compact or flatten an aggregate or other powdered or granular material, like ground coffee or gravel*A tool used to pack tobacco into a smoking pipe, as well as to flatten or scoop the ash; usually nail-shaped and sometimes combined into a pipe tool*Ballast...

 making it a true H-bomb by any standards, and because the yield was exactly as predicted indicating that its designers understood what they were doing.

Grapple Z



With a nuclear testing moratorium quickly approaching, Grapple Z was conducted at Christmas Island in mid-1958. This was a four-shot series and the largest of the four Grapple trials. Grapple Z sought to develop lighter nuclear warheads as well as weapons that were radiologically hardened
meaning they would not predetonate if exposed to radiation from other nuclear weapons. Two of the tests were fission devices tested for development of the primary stage of a two-stage device.

The first shot, codenamed Pendant, was detonated on 22 August 1958. Rather than being dropped by an aircraft, the bomb was suspended from a string of four vertically-stacked barrage balloons. Pendant had a 24 kiloton yield and used solid fusion boosting
Boosted fission weapon
A boosted fission weapon usually refers to a type of nuclear bomb that uses a small amount of fusion fuel to increase the rate, and thus yield, of a fission reaction. The neutrons released by the fusion reactions add to the neutrons released in the fission, as well as inducing the fission reactions...

 with lithium deuteride. The next shot, Flagpole, was airdropped over Christmas Island on 2 September 1958. It was a smaller version of the bomb exploded at Grapple Y and exploded with a yield of 1.2 megatons. This test was followed by Halliard 1 (11 September 1958) an unusual three-stage bomb with two fission components and one thermonuclear component which achieved its predicted yield of 800 kilotons and was radiologically immune despite not using boosting. The final test was Burgee (23 September 1958), another balloon shot which was fusion boosted with tritium
Tritium
Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. The nucleus of tritium contains one proton and two neutrons, whereas the nucleus of protium contains one proton and no neutrons...

 gas and achieved a yield of 25 kilotons.

Grapple Z was the last atmospheric nuclear testing trial conducted by Britain. The result of it was that Britain had demonstrated all of the technologies needed to make a one megaton H-bomb that weighed no more than one ton and was immune to radiation from nearby nuclear weapons.

Cooperation with the USA


The practical result of the British H-bomb project (in conjunction with other political events ) was that the United States became willing to enter into the 1958 US-UK Mutual Defence Agreement
1958 US-UK Mutual Defence Agreement
The 1958 US–UK Mutual Defence Agreement is a bilateral treaty between the United States and the United Kingdom on nuclear weapons cooperation.It was signed after the UK successfully tested its first hydrogen bomb during Operation Grapple. While the U.S...

. This put an end to Britain's independent nuclear weapons system in favour of ones closely based on American designs. The benefit to Britain was that this was much cheaper than developing their own design for a weapon that could be made in large numbers and put into service. An additional benefit was that Britain was able to buy highly enriched uranium and sell plutonium—a trade that was useful to both and profitable for Britain. The Americans, to their surprise, also benefited by access to information where Britain was technically ahead including details of explosives and electronics, and experience in designing weapons without large numbers of tests.

While the thermonuclear designs tested during Grapple were successful, they were not put into service by Britain. Their useful effect was to greatly increase the quality of information that America was willing to share, and to develop the knowledge needed to use that information successfully.

Health effects



In 2005, a Massey University
Massey University
Massey University is one of New Zealand's largest universities with approximately 36,000 students, 20,000 of whom are extramural students.The University has campuses in Palmerston North , Wellington and Auckland . Massey offers most of its degrees extramurally within New Zealand and internationally...

 study in New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

 concluded that sailors from the Royal New Zealand Navy
Royal New Zealand Navy
The Royal New Zealand Navy is the maritime arm of the New Zealand Defence Force...

, Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 and Fijian Navy who observed the tests from nearby ships later suffered adverse health effects from exposure to radiation fallout, including cancer and genetic abnormalities in the veterans' children. A class action
Class action
In law, a class action, a class suit, or a representative action is a form of lawsuit in which a large group of people collectively bring a claim to court and/or in which a class of defendants is being sued...

 lawsuit was filed against the British Ministry of Defence
Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom)
The Ministry of Defence is the United Kingdom government department responsible for implementation of government defence policy and is the headquarters of the British Armed Forces....

 by various veterans' organisations following the publication of the study.

The Ministry of Defence
Ministry of Defence (United Kingdom)
The Ministry of Defence is the United Kingdom government department responsible for implementation of government defence policy and is the headquarters of the British Armed Forces....

 maintains that few people were exposed to any radiation or contamination at all, and that studies had shown little or no health effects. An analysis of illnesses in veterans of Grapple and other weapons tests produced statistics that are hard to interpret. The veterans showed rates of illness that were slightly higher than the control group, but the control group had lower rates of illness than the population as a whole while the veterans had rates that were about the same. Neither of these results has a clear explanation. Reliable statistical analysis of the data is difficult because the samples are fairly small and incomplete.

See also

  • Operation Antler
  • Operation Buffalo
    British nuclear tests at Maralinga
    British nuclear tests at Maralinga occurred between 1955 and 1963 at the Maralinga site, part of the Woomera Prohibited Area, in South Australia. A total of seven major nuclear tests were performed, with approximate yields ranging from 1 to 27 kilotons of TNT equivalent...

  • Orange Herald
    Orange Herald
    - Technical :Orange Herald was a fusion boosted British fission nuclear weapon, comprising a U-235 primary surrounded by lithium deuteride. 'Herald' was suitable for mounting on a missile, utilizing 117 kg of U-235...


External links