It was in January 1947 that a British Government’s cabinet sub-committee decided, in response to an apprehension of American isolationism and fears of Britain losing its great power status, to resume British efforts to build nuclear weapons. A key part of this project, of course, was the need to have a location to test them! The preferred site was the American Pacific Proving Ground with ‘back-up’ sites in Canada and Australia. However, the Admiralty suggested that the Monte Bello Islands, an archipelago of close on 200 small islands some 80 miles of the coast of north-western Australia. The Australian government formally agreed to the islands being used as a nuclear test site in May 1951 and, in February 1952, Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced in the House of Commons that the first British atomic bomb test would occur in Australia before the end of the year.
It was on this Wednesday 3rd October 1952 the United Kingdom carried out its first nuclear test. The project was called ‘Operation Hurricane’ – it was a nuclear device and was detonated in a lagoon between the Montebello Islands in Western Australia. It was detonated inside the hull of HMS Plym – a Royal Navy frigate named after the River Plym in Devon –and commissioned into the Royal Navy in May 1943. In the war it had seen extensive service on Atlantic convoy escort missions. Now it is seeing the end of its life as a huge explosion creates a crater 20 feet deep and 980 feet across on the seabed off the coasts of Australia. With the success of Operation Hurricane, Britain became the third nuclear power after the United States and the Soviet Union.