A Very British Bomb

A fascinating account of the birth of the British nuclear program and the Anglo-US hostility it generated. Additionally, I have covered the testing of the first weapon in a previous article you can view here.


Operation: Hurricane Atomic Bomb

Operation Hurricane BombThe Operation: Hurricane atomic bomb was Britian’s first nuclear weapon. Development of the project began following a secret cabinet meeting of the British government in 1946 after the US passed the McMahon Atomic Energy Act of 1946 which barred the British and anyone else from gaining access to nuclear test data from the Manhattan Project despite Britain contributing its own scientists to the development of the American program. These scientists would ultimately work on the British bomb which received the codename “Hurricane”. As a result the weapon greatly resembled the American “Fat Man” weapon which was dropped on Nagasaki.

The design of the weapon incorporated a hollow core consisting of 7kg of plutonium. There were other designs planned including the use of Canadian manufactured plutonium for a Canadian nuclear weapon program. The Canadians, like Britain, had contributed scientists to the Manhattan Project and now felt shut out by the US who seemed determined to hold a monopoly on nuclear weapons. However only the British 7kg core design was used in the test.

The weapon was ready for testing in 1952 by which time the Americans had lost their nuclear monopoly to the Russians who detonated their first weapon in 1949. Working in conjunction with the Australian government, who were the only British Commonwealth country with the vast expanses of territory needed for safe testing, the islands of Monte Bello off the north west coast of Australia was selected as the test site. Instead of being dropped by an aircraft or on a fixed land platform it was instead placed inside a decommissioned River-class frigate, HMS Pym. Reports claim that at the time there was a very real belief by British intelligence that any pre-emptive attack from the Communist block would begin with suicide ships being charged into major naval installations with a nuclear weapon onboard,

The test was carried out on the 3rd October 1952 and catapulted Britain (and by association Australia and Canada) in to the nuclear age becoming the third nuclear power. The blast was 25 kilotons in power and left a saucer-shaped crater on the seabed 20ft deep and 980ft across. The test results were used to develop more effective nuclear weapons in the future that included American made warheads after the US amended the McMahon Atomic Energy Act in order to promote commercial nuclear development and better equip its allies in the face of an increasingly powerful nuclear Soviet Union.

Op Hurricane 25kt

Effect of a 25 kiloton nuclear weapon detonated in the centre of London (Nuclearsecrecy.com/nukemap)