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Other titles:BRITAIN'S ATOMIC WEAPONS RESEARCH PROGRAMME COLLECTION [Allocated Series Title]
Summary: Film produced by the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment, Aldermaston, documenting Operation Grapple Z, a series of British atomic weapons trials conducted on Christmas Island in the Pacific Ocean, in the summer of 1958.
Description: Preparations for Grapple Z get underway on Christmas Island. Additional service personnel start arriving in July 1958, alongside masses of equipment. Landing craft operated by the Royal Marines are used to transport larger pieces of equipment and vehicles, and a number of floating pontoons are used for the same purpose. A consignment of carbon dioxide cannisters intended for fire fighting purposes are carefully unloaded. Views of the fourteen fuel tanks built by the Royal Engineers for the operation. Shots of the native islanders at work and play. Men of the Royal Engineers at work, building and fitting instrument mountings, creating essential signage, and improving road surfaces. Regular vehicle maintenance is undertaken on all vehicles on the island. Accommodation camps are set up for personnel stationed on the island. The parish church of St Nicholas, used by Forces personnel and scientists alike, is built largely from reclaimed coral. Views of the purpose built hospital camp.
On 22 July four Vickers Valiants of 49 Squadron arrive on Christmas Island. Onboard one of the aircraft is Deputy Task Force Commander, Air Commodore Jack Roulston. Avro Shackletons of 204 Squadron perform regular air patrols in the area. A number of Westland Whirlwind helicopters including XJ757 in search and rescue markings operate in the area. On 31 July, Handley-Page Hastings WD489 of RAF Transport Command arrives on Christmas Island, with a number of scientists from Aldermaston onboard, who are met by Task Force Commander, Air Vice-Marshal John Grandy. Water supplies are maintained by the Royal Navy, and clean water is pumped into water tanks ready for use.
Balloon units from RAE Cardington prepare for the suspension by balloons of Pendant, the first weapon to be tested as part of Grapple Z. Numerous checks and tests are performed. The weapon is raised into position underneath the balloons. On the day of the detonation the area is vacated of all personnel. Groups of men sitting in a field awaiting the detonation of the weapon. Pendant is detonated. The shockwaves of the blast are felt by those on the ground. Views from patrolling Shackleton of the mushroom shaped cloud created by the detonation. Aerial views of the detonation site, clearly showing the damage caused to the surrounding area, including buildings and camera equipment. Those who have entered the contaminated areas undergo strict decontamination procedures.
Preparations for the detonation of the next weapon, known as Flagpole, begin. Views of radar equipment. Checking bomb release mechanism to be fitted to the Valiant aircraft to be used to drop the weapon. 16mm and 35mm cameras designed to record various aspects of the drop are installed on the Valiant. Additional equipment is installed onboard the aircraft, designed to record every foreseeable effect on the Valiant of the release and detonation of the weapon. Every precaution must be taken to ensure that there is no loss of life or limb, and consequently all base movements are strictly controlled on the day the weapon is detonated. On the day before detonation, the Valiant is fuelled and the weapon is carefully loaded into the aircraft. An English Electric Canberra of 58 Squadron takes off for a series of patrol flights, shortly followed by a Shackleton on a low level meteorological flight. Aerial views of Whitby class frigate «HMS Scarborough» (F.63) on patrol in the area.
Dawn breaks on the day of detonation. Canberras already contaminated from the first detonation are prepared in readiness to be flown through the radioactive area. The aircraft are painted with a specially developed barrier paint designed to "hold" the radioactive dust, and then be washed off. Canberra takes off. Aerial shots of Shackleton in flight. Cockpit shots of the Shackleton pilot. Scientists from Aldermaston arrive at the scene accompanied by the Task Force Commander. Aerial views of Loch class frigate «HMNZS Pukaki» (F.424). Scenes inside Operations Room. The test area is clear and so the countdown begins. Men sat on ground covering their faces with their hands. The weapon is released and detonates. Views of mushroom cloud. Aerial views of damage sustained to buildings and equipment. Checking and assessing instruments. Damaged generators. Airfield scenes. Examination and analysis of test results from the Valiant. Instrument shelters are made ready again.
Scenes in and outside the mess area. Playing volleyball and feeding the local cats. Air Chief Marshal Sir Harry Broadhurst, Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command, arrives on Christmas Island in Avro Vulcan XA901, and is greeted by the Task Force and Base Commanders. Taylorcraft Austers operated by the Army Air Corps make daily flights as makeshift crop sprayers, spraying the habitable areas of the island with Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichlorethane (DDT) to combat mosquitos and other insects.
The day of the detonation of the third weapon, known as Halliard, arrives. All non-essential personnel are evacuated from the airfield, and so with the weapon loaded onboard, the Valiant prepares for take-off. In the Joint Operations Centre the position of the aircraft is constantly monitored. Views of the Valiant in flight. The weapon is released and detonates, bringing the commentator notes, "a second dawn". Views of damage sustained on the ground.
Back at the Operations Centre films are processed, and some of the stills are printed, while preparations begin for the fourth and final test, code-named Burpee, to be suspended by balloons and then detonated. Personnel in protective clothing prepare a Canberra for a strictly controlled flight through the radioactive area. Slow motion shots of the detonation of the fourth weapon. The Canberra returns with a number of radioactive samples intended for analysis by the scientists at Aldermaston. The aircraft taxis into the decontamination area, and the aircrew disembark carefully. The various samples are removed from the aircraft and quickly placed into polyester bags, then transferred to lead cartons. The samples are then moved to the filtration laboratory, for preparation for transportation to England. The samples are placed into sealed cans, which are then transferred into a lead long distance transport container. The containers then leave the active area and are transferred into a lead lined case. The case is then transferred to a waiting Hastings, which then departs for England. Their job done, the Valiant crews also prepare to leave Christmas Island, and watched by personnel remaining on the island, the Valiants taxi out and depart.
Production Details: Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (Production company)
Hinton, G F (Production individual)
Hawkes, P D (Production individual)
Brown, S T (Production individual)
Draper, S H (Production individual)
Pitt, Barrie (Production cast)
Personalities, Units and Organisations:
Physical Characteristics: Colour format: Colour
Sound format: Sound
Soundtrack language: English
Title language: English
Technical Details: Format: 35mm
Number of items/reels/tapes: 7
Running time: 60 mins