October 3, 1952 - Opperation Hurricane

By: Kylie Paquin

Amidst high Cold War tensions, world powers raced to successfully produce nuclear weapons. The United States and the Soviet Union were the two main powers competing in the Cold War that lasted over 40 years. The threat of nuclear war was a constant source of fear between the United States and the Soviet Union. The United States was the first world power to successfully test its nuclear weapons and put them to use. The Soviet Union was not far behind the United States in the arms race testing its first bomb, named First Lightning, a few years later.

Allies of the United States were also threatened by the increasing tensions with the Soviet Union. Nuclear war was a prominent fear all major countries were concerned with during the Cold War. The third Nation to complete nuclear testing was Great Britain, an ally of the United States. Great Britain had an important role during WWII to stop the advance of Germans. They were involved in many significant battles such as Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, and D-Day. Of course, Britain felt threatened by the Soviet Union’s development of nuclear weapons, so 7 years after WWII ended—1945—Britain tested its first atomic bomb.

The British started their atomic weapons program in 1947. They were unable to conduct nuclear testing on the mainland because of its small size and high population. To start testing, the government sent a request to Australia asking for space to provide a permanent test site. The world would soon know that the Prime minister of Australia had approved the request since many citizens of Australia would see and feel the effects of the atomic weapon.  Britain’s first atomic testing was code-named Hurricane or Operation Hurricane. The test was conducted on the Montebello Islands in Western Australia. Great Britain would use this land and other small islands to conduct a total of twelve nuclear tests between 1952-1957. Based on Hurricane testing, Britain developed its first deployable nuclear weapon, the Blue Danube.

             When Britain’s first atomic weapon detonation took place on the Montebello Islands, reporters noted that the flash, sound, and smoke cloud were different from past atomic bombs. The sound following the explosion was unfamiliar since it consisted of a double explosion. The smoke plume was also an unusual mushroom shape. From these observations, scientists believe the blast may have been a greater force than previous atomic detonations. Two plausible deductions were drawn by Australian scientists; firstly, the explosion might have been created by a hydrogen bomb or Britain discovered a new way to detonate a plutonium bomb.

With the success of Operation Hurricane, Britain became the third nuclear power following the United States and the Soviet Union. Unfortunately for Britain the United States had successfully tested the hydrogen bomb, exploiting the technology mastered during Operation Hurricane to be 6 years old. Because of Operation Hurricane, Britain did fall short in its attempt to catch up with the United States and the Soviet Union in the nuclear arms race.