The Fiji Times

THOSE NUKE TESTS

- By REPEKA NASIKO rnasiko@fijitimes.com.fj

IN 1957, 40 Fijian naval officers boarded a British led fleet headed for Malden Island for the start of what would later become a cataclysmi­c event in global history.

The Fijians, led by chief petty officer, Warrant Officer class one Ratu Inoke Bainimaram­a, were hand-picked to join the British and New Zealand Naval Forces for Operation Grapple.

Looking through history, Operation Grapple became a deciding factor in the modern British rule and solidified the United Kingdom’s status as a global superpower.

The nuclear tests carried out between 1957 and 1958 on Christmas Island and Malden Island resulted in a series of bomb blasts that later proved detrimenta­l to human and environmen­tal health.

For the 40 Fijians from the Fiji Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (FRNVR), the days leading up to boarding the HMSNZS

Rotoiti and the HMSNZS Pukaki bound for Kiribati in early 1957, was a nerve-racking exercise riddled with uncertaint­ies.

In a 2017 publicatio­n aptly titled Grappling with the Bomb, Warrant Officer class one Ratu Inoke Bainimaram­a gives his account of the days spent in training young Fijian sailors.

“While the training was going on, the boys began to realise that there was going to be a nuclear test,” said Ratu Inoke.

“Some came to me asking questions. I said ‘weren’t you told in Fiji? They replied ‘No! We were just told that we were going on the ship for exercises’.

“I said ‘This is the military. Whatever order is given, no matter what happens to you, it’s an order. I am sorry’.”

Ratu Inoke’s account published in 1998 and republishe­d in 2017, said some of the boys cried.

“Many of them were just kids. Many were under 19 years of age. Think of it. They just finished high school and this was the first job ever for them to do. They were very innocent.”

One such young naval officer was Albert Miller who was 19 years old at the time he was shipped off with 18 other officers on board HMSNZS Rotoiti.

“I was part of the Fiji Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and my number was FR1160,” recalls a now 82-year-old. “I remember it like it was yesterday. “We were so young. I was working a holiday job with PWD in Suva when they were looking for volunteers to join the navy.

“When we saw it, the first thing my brother told me was ‘Albert, let’s go see the world’.

“That was the main reason we did it. We volunteere­d and went into training camp immediatel­y after.”

Mr Miller said he was part of the 40 that were hand-picked to accompany British soldiers to Malden Island in May.

“I really didn’t think too much of the danger that came with it.

“I was just very very happy to go and experience something very new and later boarded the HMS Warrior and she was a beauty.”

A Colossus-class light aircraft carrier, HMS Warrior was the headquarte­rs ship for Britain’s atom hydrogen tests.

In May of that year, Mr Miller boarded HMSNZS Rotoiti led by acting chief petty officer Viliame Raikuna for a three-test series that ended in June. Warrant Officer number one Ratu Inoke headed the rest of the troops aboard the HMSNZS Pukaki.

According to historians, the first bomb test Grapple one was a version of green granite known as short granite and was dropped from a Vickers Valiant bomber flown by British Air Force Wing Commander Kenneth Hubbard on May 15. The bomb’s yield was estimated at 300 kilotonnes of TNT.

Describing the first blast, Mr Miller says they were below deck when the bomb was dropped into the ocean.

“We just heard a huge blast coming from a distance and we were very scared because we thought that we would get hit,” he recalls.

“We were dressed in full body uniforms called Blue Rigs.

“It was a long-sleeved, light blue shirt, dark navy blue trousers.

“We had to be completely covered to protect us from any chemicals that came off the blasts. We also wore goggles and then we covered our head with a hood so that none of our bodies was exposed.

“One thing I admired about the British at that time was they really made sure that we were protected.”

He said after the first blast, a few days passed before the next blast.

The second test on May 31, was Grapple two of Orange Herald – a 720 to 800 kilotonne of TNT yield which technicall­y made it a megaton weapon.

Mr Miller said the second blast brought the HMS Warrior closer to the drop zone.

“They told us we were about 55 miles away from where the bomb was dropped and this time we were told we could move to the flight deck.

“Before the bomb was dropped we were given clear instructio­ns to look away when the bomb exploded. Then after a few seconds we could turn around to witness it.”

The 82-year-old says the image that played out in front of him after Grapple two was dropped left a lasting impression.

“This time I felt the bomb fall into the sea and I could just feel a shudder before the thing exploded.

“When I turned around. Man! We could just see this white mushroom sucking the sea up and taking everything up with it.

“I just said ‘this is something else man’.”

He said on June 19, Grapple three was dropped and the troops moved closer to the drop zone.

“I think by this time, we were about 50 miles away.

“It was the same drill. Look away and cover eyes then turn around a few seconds later.”

He said Grapple three, with its purple granite and a yield of 300 kilotonnes of TNT, had an even bigger impact and brought a sinking feeling to the then 19-year-old.

“Man when this one exploded, it was so loud. Again, I saw the mushroom cloud but this time we felt like we were right underneath it.

“It was a beautiful site but it was scary. “We didn’t realise until that third one just how powerful that weapon was.

“After that I knew I was done. I was ready to come back home.”

After about a month out at sea, Mr Miller and his comrades returned to Suva in the HMSNZS Pukaki where he reflected on the experience.

I was very very happy but I would not want to go through something like that ever again. I think after that the British proved that they had the most powerful weapon in the world. It marked the end of the war too because nobody dared do anything against the British. At that time it was the most powerful bomb in the world.

– Albert Miller

“I was very very happy but I would not want to go through something like that ever again.

“I think after that the British proved that they had the most powerful weapon in the world.

“It marked the end of the war too because nobody dared do anything against the British. At that time it was the most powerful bomb in the world.”

“They had a killer weapon.”

In total from June 1956 to June 1957, 3515 British personnel were deployed for the initial three Grapple tests on Malden Island.

This included 1722 sailors from the Royal Navy, 638 soldiers from the British Army, 1038 aircrew from the Royal Air Force and 117 scientific and technical personnel from the Atomic Weapons Research Establishm­ent.

The UK forces were complement­ed by the Royal New Zealand Navy and Royal New Zealand Air Force, the Royal Fiji Military Forces and the Fiji Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve.

The Fijian contingent witnessed the first three nuclear tests conducted above Malden Island.

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 ?? Picture: SUPPLIED Picture: REPEKA NASIKO ?? Fijian contingent.
LEFT: FR1160…Fiji royal naval volunteer reserve officer Albert Miller recalls his time with the Fijian Navy in 1957. At just 19 years old, Mr Miller was one of the 40 Fijian naval officers who was picked to join British troops at the Operation Grapple tests in 1957.
Picture: SUPPLIED Picture: REPEKA NASIKO Fijian contingent. LEFT: FR1160…Fiji royal naval volunteer reserve officer Albert Miller recalls his time with the Fijian Navy in 1957. At just 19 years old, Mr Miller was one of the 40 Fijian naval officers who was picked to join British troops at the Operation Grapple tests in 1957.
 ?? Picture: REPEKA NASIKO ?? RIGHT: Albert Miller, 82, describes his experience of witnessing three nuclear tests on Malden Island.
Picture: REPEKA NASIKO RIGHT: Albert Miller, 82, describes his experience of witnessing three nuclear tests on Malden Island.
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