British Nuclear Weapons Testing

In the 1950s and 1960s, approximately 21,000 members of the British Armed Services participated in the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons, at various locations in Australia and the Pacific Ocean. There were also minor trials, which involved testing the performance of components and the safety of nuclear devices.

The Australian Tests

The UK detonated 12 atomic devices of varying size (yield, given in equivalent kilotons of TNT) in the Montebello Islands, Emu Field and Maralinga (Table 1).

Table 1. UK Atmospheric Nuclear Tests in Australia.

Test Date (GMT) Location Yield (kt TNT)
Hurricane3rd October, 1952Montebello Island25
Totem 114th October, 1953Emu Field10
Totem 226th October, 1953Emu Field8
Mosaic 116th May, 1956Montebello Islands15
Mosaic 219th June, 1956Montebello Islands60
Buffalo 127th September, 1956Maralinga 15
Buffalo 24th October, 1956 Maralinga 1.5
Buffalo 311th October, 1956Maralinga 3
Buffalo 421st October, 1956Maralinga 10
Antler 114th September, 1957Maralinga 1
Antler 225th September, 1957Maralinga 6
Antler 39th October, 1957Maralinga 25


The UK performed approximately 600 minor trials as part of five military operations (Table 2). These trials did not involve atmospheric nuclear tests, however, some radioactive material was dispersed into the environment.

Table 2. UK Minor Trials in Australia.

TrialDate (GMT)Location
Kittens September, 1953 – May, 1961Emu Field and Maralinga
TimsJuly, 1955 – April, 1963Maralinga
RatsApril, 1958 – November, 1960Maralinga
Vixen AJune, 1959 – April, 1960Maralinga
Vixen B September, 1960 – April, 1963Maralinga


The Pacific Tests

The UK conducted the series of Grapple atmospheric nuclear tests in the vicinity of Malden Island and Christmas Island (modern day Kiritimati) which are part of the Line Islands in the South Pacific (Table 3).

Table 3. UK Atmospheric Nuclear Tests in the Pacific

TestDate (GMT)LocationYield (kt TNT)
Grapple 1 15th May, 1957 Near Malden Island300
Grapple 231st May, 1957 Near Malden Island720
Grapple 319th June, 1957Near Malden Island200
Grapple X8th November, 1957 Near Christmas Island1800
Grapple Y28th April, 1958Near Christmas Island3000
Grapple Z1 22nd August, 1958 Near Christmas Island24
Grapple Z2 2nd September, 1958Near Christmas Island1000
Grapple Z3 11th September, 1958Near Christmas Island800
Grapple Z423rd September, 1958Near Christmas Island25


Operation Dominic

In 1962, the USA conducted a series of atmospheric nuclear tests near Christmas Island, Johnstone Island and at other locations in the Pacific, codenamed Operation Dominic. Approximately, 300 members of the UK Armed Services supported the tests near Christmas Island, which were codenamed, Operation Brigadoon by the UK Government (Table 4).

Table 4. Operation Dominic Tests near Christmas Island

TestDate (GMT)Yield (kt TNT)
Adobe25th April, 1962190
Aztec27th April, 1962410
Arkansas27th April, 19621090
Questa2nd May, 1962670
Yukon8th May, 1962100
Mesilla9th May, 1962100
Muskegon11th May, 196250
Encino12th May, 1962500
Swanee14th May 196297
Chetco19th May, 196273
Tanana25th May, 19622.6
Nambe27th May, 196243
Alma8th June, 1962782
Truckee9th June, 1962210
Yeso10th June, 19623000
Harlem12th June, 19621200
Rinconada15th June, 1962800
Dulce17th June, 196252
Petit19th June, 19622.2
Otowi22nd June, 196281.5
Bighorn27th June, 19627650
Bluestone30th June, 19621270
Sunset10th July, 19621000
Pamlico11th July, 19623880

There were an additional seven nuclear tests in Operation Dominic that did not involve UK personnel: Frigate Bird, Swordfish, Androscoggin, Bumping, Chama, Calamity and Housatonic.