‘Plym to Pamlico’ is a unique exhibition which commemorates the anniversary of Churchill’s first atomic test, initially referred to as Operation Havoc, later renamed Operation Hurricane; this became the first Commonwealth atomic test.

Maralinga atomic participants

©BNTVA  Maralinga atomic participants invloved with Kittens and Tims, Minor trials conducted from April 1955. Dr Dowson, British Scientist in charge of his team (fourth from the left second row from the front).
HMS Campania

©BNTVA  HMS Campania
William Penney arriving at the EMU Claypan
©BNTVA  William Penney arriving at the EMU Claypan
Antiflash gear issued to the crew of HMSZS Roitti
©Lt Cdr Julian Howard  Antiflash gear issued to the crew of HMSZS Roitti

The atomic bomb was placed aboard the target ship HMS Plym and detonated at the Monte Bello Islands on 3rd October 1952. The atmospheric testing programme was developed and led by Dr William Penney of Tube Alloys and the Manhattan Project. 

The tests were attended by the British Army, Royal Navy, Royal Air Force, Royal Fleet Auxiliary, Merchant Navy, members of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE) and civilians. 21,357 men participated in addition to military forces from around the world. Their duties ranged from building bases in desert conditions to flying through radioactive plumes directly after detonations.

British servicemen were present at atomic testing sites at the Monte Bello Islands, Emu Field and Maralinga, Australia. 

In 1957, Penney tested new thermonuclear devices by balloon and airburst and at Malden Island and Christmas Island in the Pacific Ocean. UK service personnel also participated in foreign testing programmes around the world, for example Operation Brigadoon (Dominic) 1962.

2022 also marked the 60th anniversary of Operation Dominic (otherwise known as Brigadoon or Joint Task Force 8), Pamlico was the final United States atmospheric test at Christmas Island. 

British servicemen were present during the 25 American nuclear tests at this location between April and July 1962 and were familiar with the countdown from “Mahatma” over the Tannoy system. This included the ‘Frigate Bird’ shot, the only live nuclear test of the new Polaris missile.

This exhibition is collated by the British Nuclear Test Veterans’ Association (BNTVA), which was established in 1983 to gain recognition and restitution for the British nuclear test veterans who participated in the British and American nuclear testing programmes. It includes many previously unseen items from the BNTVA Collections & Archives. The Association is thankful to its members for their kind donations towards the exhibition.

Wesley Perriman BA(hons) MA 
Curator, BNTVA Collections & Archive

The exhibition is in the Forbes Gallery and has been extended to the end of May 2023.
See the Royal Engineers website for details
Royal Engineers Museum, Prince Arthur Rd, 
Gillingham, ME7 1UR