Gold Ranger

Flag

Introduction

Gold Ranger was a fleet support tanker of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) that started service in 1941 and was broken up in 1977 after an eventful service life of 36 years.

I have researched the history of many ships but I can say without doubt that Gold Ranger had the most interesting and varied service life of all of them to date. She was on the scene of many of the key events affecting the world in the second half of the 20th Century including WW2 campaigns, an Antarctic rescue, the Suez crisis, exercises during the cold war and nuclear testing.

I would like to acknowledge the help of Chris White of Historical RFA for providing me with photographs and much of the information regarding the service history of Gold Ranger that makes up a large part of this entry.

Gold Ranger
Gold Ranger - date and location unknown. [1]

Basic Data

Item Value
Type Tanker
Registered owners, managers and operators The Admiralty
Builders Caledon SB & E Co
Yard Dundee
Country UK
Yard number 242
Registry N/K
Official number 168175
Signal letters N/K
Call sign N/K
Gross tonnage 3,313
Net tonnage 1,506
Deadweight N/K
Length 339.7 ft
Overall Length 355.3 ft
Breadth 48.3 ft
Depth 22.6 ft
Draught N/K
Engines 2 cylinder 2-stroke cycle single-acting (2S.C.SA) oil engine - with 22 1/16” bore and 85 7/16” stroke
Engine builders William Doxford & Sons Ltd.
Works Sunderland
Country UK
Boilers 2 double sided boilers operating at 150 p.s.i.
Power 598 MN
Propulsion Single Screw
Speed 14.5 knots
Cargo capacity N/K
Crew N/K

Additional Construction Information

The Lloyds Register entry for Gold Ranger for 1945 has the following additional information about her:

  • She had a cruiser stern
  • She was fitted with echo-sounding and radio direction-finding equipment

Historical RFA - External Reference #49 - records the following additional information:

The 6 ships in this Class were designed in the mid -1930’s by Rowland Baker as replacements for the 2000t BELGOL CLASS and were the first Admiralty-designed tankers since the 1917 5000t FAST LEAF CLASS. As originally built, for camouflage purposes, they had canvas deckhouses, a dummy plate funnel forward, their foremast was on the starboard bow, the wheelhouse was offset to port, and in some cases their genuine funnel was cut low and was on the port quarter, fitted with a spark arrester. Originally armed with 1 x 4” LA, 1 x 12 pdr HA/LA and several Lewis guns, as the War progressed the armament fits altered and finally averaged 1 x 4” HA, 1 x 40mm Bofors and 4 x single 20mm Oerlikons. These vessels served extensively as Escort Tankers on the Russian Convoys, Norwegain coastal raids, Malta Convoys and with the British Pacific Fleet. Apart from GRAY RANGER which became a War Loss, the Class had exceptionally long Service lives and were finally replaced by the ROVER CLASS.
Gold Ranger
Gold Ranger - date and location unknown. [1]

Career Highlights

Date Event
14 May 1940 Keel laid down
12 March 1941 Launched
4 July 1941 Completed
1973 Change of owner to Tunas Tankers & Bunkering Service Pte Ltd
March 1977 Taken to be broken up at Hong Kong (Lee Sing & Co Ltd)

Service in WW2

The table below, which is provided courtesy of Convoyweb - see External Ref. #4, contains details of convoys and independent voyages undertaken by this ship held in the Arnold Hague database.

Departure Convoy/Independent Arrival
Freetown, Apr 19, 1942 ST.20 (Freetown - Dispersed)
Mombasa, Jan 8, 1943 Independent Durban, Jan 17, 1943
Durban, Apr 17, 1943 Independent Mombasa, Apr 23, 1943
Mombasa, Nov 14, 1943 Independent Mombasa, Nov 17, 1943
Mombasa, Apr 7, 1945 Independent Colombo, Apr 16, 1945
Colombo, Apr 17, 1945 Independent Trincomalee, Apr 19, 1945
Trincomalee, Apr 26, 1945 Independent
Kyaukpyu, May 4, 1945 KRS.1A (Kyaukpyu - Rangoon)
Rangoon, May 19, 1945 Independent Trincomalee, May 25, 1945
Rangoon, Jun 22, 1945 Independent
Trincomalee, Jun 26, 1945 Independent Bombay, Jul 1, 1945

Additional WW2 Service Information from Historical RFA

Historical RFA - External Reference #49 - records the following events for Gold Ranger from her completion through to the end of WW2:

Date Event
March 1941 Mr R R Darroch RFA appointed as Chief Engineer Officer
26 June 1941 Captain P H Brooke RFA appointed as Master
4 July 1941 Completed
5 July 1941 Sailed Dundee to join the Fleet Fuelling Service arriving at Grangemouth the same day
7 July 1941 Sailed Grangemouth
11 July 1941 At Leith Docks
27 July 1941 Arrived Methil Roads
31 July 1941 Sailed Methil Roads
8 August 1941 Arrived Scapa Flow for OAS trials remaining there until 9 December 1941
August 1941 Undertook OAS trials with the cruiser HMS Berwick using the Trough Method
3 November 1941 At Scapa Flow alongside HMS Duke of York to refuel her with 551 tons of FFO
12 December 1941 Sailed Lyness to the Clyde arriving the next day
15 December 1941 At Glasgow for repairs remaining on the Clyde and area until early January 1942
18 January 1942 Directed to be part of Convoy OS 17 from Liverpool but did not sail.
29 January 1942 Refuelled from RFA Dewdale (1)
8 February 1942 Arrived at Freetown
19 April 1942 Sailed Freetown in convoy ST20. The convoy dispersed on 19 April 1942
25 May 1942 Arrived Freetown
22 October 1942 Captain Raymond V Boodle RFA appointed as Master
4 January 1943 Ordered to sail from the East Indies to act as Fleet Attendant Oiler at Durban
8 January 1943 Sailed Mombasa for refit in Durban
17 January 1943 Arrived Durban
17 April 1943 Sailed Durban independently to Mombasa arriving on 23 April 1943
14 November 1943 Sailed Mombasa
17 November 1943 Returned back at Mombasa
17 February 1944 Mr Harry F Duce DSC RFA appointed as Chief Engineer Officer
7 April 1945 Sailed Mombasa independently to Colombo arriving on 16 April 1945
17 April 1945 Sailed Colombo independently to Trincomalee arriving on 19 April 1945
26 April 1945 Sailed Trincomalee
2 May 1945 Took part in Operation Dracula - the entry into Rangoon - along with RFA ECHODALE
3 May 1945 Captain E C Rogers RFA appointed as Master
4 May 1945 Sailed Kyaukpyu in convoy KRS1A arriving at Rangoon on 19 May 1945
19 May 1945 Sailed Rangoon independently to Trincomalee arriving 25 May 1945
26 June 1945 Sailed Trincomalee independently to Bombay arriving 1 July 1945
7 July 1945 Under going repairs at Bombay Dockyard completed 20 August 1945
26 July 1945 Mr J A McKenzie RFA appointed Chief Engineer Officer

Operation Dracula

Operation Dracula was the code name for an airborne and amphibious attack on Rangoon by British and Indian forces as part of the Burma campaigh. Burma had been occupied by the Japanese and Rangoon was a key communication centre. The operation was put back from 1944 as there were insufficient craft due to Normandy campaign. Dracula started in mid-April 1945 and it was found that the Japanese had already abandoned Rangoon.

The Wikipedia entry for Operation Dracula says:

Although the British knew by 24 April from Ultra radio intelligence that Burma Area Army HQ had left Rangoon, they were not aware that the Japanese were about to abandon the city entirely. It was believed that the landings would meet strong resistance. Under the modified plan for Dracula, the Indian 26th Division under Major General Henry Chambers would establish beachheads on both banks of the Rangoon River. The British 2nd Division would follow up through these bridgeheads several days later to launch the main assault on the city.

The Indian 26th Division and other forces sailed in six convoys from Akyab and Ramree Island between 27 April and 30 April. The naval covering force consisted of 21 Carrier Squadron of four escort carriers, two cruisers and four destroyers, and the 3rd Battle Squadron, commanded by Vice Admiral Walker, consisting of two battleships: (HMS Queen Elizabeth and the Free French battleship Richelieu), two escort carriers, four cruisers (one Dutch) and six destroyers. Another flotilla of five destroyers was responsible for the destruction of the main Japanese evacuation convoy. 224 Group of the Royal Air Force, under Air Vice Marshal the Earl of Bandon, covered the landings from the airfields around Toungoo and on Ramree Island.

On 1 May, twelve squadrons of B-24 Liberators bombed known Japanese defences south of Rangoon. An air force observation post, a small detachment from Force 136 and a Gurkha composite parachute battalion landed at Elephant Point at the mouth of the Rangoon River in the middle of the morning. They eliminated some small Japanese parties, either left as rearguards or perhaps forgotten in the confusion of the evacuation. They themselves suffered thirty casualties from inaccurate Allied bombing.

Once Elephant Point was secured, minesweepers cleared a passage up the river, and landing craft began coming ashore in the early hours of the morning of 2 May, almost the last day on which beach landings were possible before the heavy swell caused by the monsoon became too bad.

Meanwhile, an Allied reconnaissance aircraft flying over Rangoon saw no sign of the Japanese in the city, and also noticed a message painted on the roof of the jail by released British prisoners of war. It read, Japs gone. Extract digit - Royal Air Force slang for "Get your finger out" or "Hurry up". Boldly, the crew of the plane tried to land at Mingaladon Airfield, but crashed. They walked to the jail, where they found 1,000 former prisoners of war who informed them of the Japanese evacuation. The air crew then went to the docks, where they commandeered a sampan and sailed it down the river to meet the landing craft.

Service post WW2

Post War Service Summary from Historical RFA

Historical RFA - External Reference #49 - records the following events for Gold Ranger from the end of WW2 until she was broken up:

Date Event
24 September 1946 Struck by a practice torpedo in Portland Harbour during test firing
15 October 1946 Captain Douglas N J Williams RFA (Lieut-Commander RNR) appointed as Master
28 November 1946 Mr W E Burke RFA appointed as Chief Engineer Officer
27 October 1947 Mr W H Macfarlane RFA appointed as Chief Engineer Officer
6 May 1948 Captain W R Parker RFA appointed as Master
8 October 1948 Sailed from Bermuda with RN ships shortly before what was described as the most destructive hurricane to hit the Island for 20 years arrived. She safely rode out the hurricane at sea before returning to the Island.
Between 1949 and 1950 Gold Ranger was based in the West Indies and during this period she made a number of excursions to the Antarctic in support of various expeditions
28 March 1949 Sailed Kingston, Jamaica
30 March 1949 Involved in exercises with UK, US and Canadian Naval units off the US Naval Base at Guatanamo Bay, Cuba
7 October 1949 At the Royal Naval Hospital, Bermuda Fireman James Pigot discharged dead - heart failure
November 1949 Accompanied RRS JOHN BISCOE to the South Shetlands and Deception Islands in Antarctica
2 December 1949 Operation Corkscrew - providing aviation fuel at Deception Island, Antartica for aircraft being used by the Falkland Island Dependencies Survey.
16 February 1950 Mr W E Burke RFA appointed as Chief Engineer Officer
13 December 1950 Captain James H Chant RFA appointed as Master
7 March 1951 Mr D S Wood RFA appointed as Chief Engineer Officer
31 August 1951 Involved in major naval exercises with the Home Fleet around the UK and off Gibraltar
28 September 1951 At Invergordon HMS St Austell Bay secured alongside to refuel
1 October 1951 Sailed from Invergordon
10 January 1952 Mr W H Macfarlane RFA appointed as Chief Engineer Officer
15 September 1952 Sailed Rosyth with RFA Wave Premier and UK, US, Canadian and New Zealand naval units to take part in Operation Mainbrace
18 September 1952 Berthed at Rosyth
19 September 1952 At Rosyth with USS Fred T Berry DDE585 alongside refuelling her
20 September 1952 Sailed Rosyth to take part in Operation Mainbrace (Part 2)
3 October 1952 Took part in Operation Hurricane 1 - the first British atomic bomb tests at the Monte Bello Islands off NW Australia - along with 6 other RFAs
13 October 1952 Mr R C Veitch RFA appointed as Chief Engineer Officer
16 February 1953 Captain Alfred M Uglow RFA appointed as Master
11 September 1953 Captain Leslie G Rowling DSC RFA appointed as Master
28 December 1953 Mr C D Reid RFA appointed as Chief Engineer Officer
21 April 1954 Mr J C Calvert RFA appointed as Chief Engineer Officer
1 June 1955 RASed HMAS Warramunga and HMAS Arunta
14 July 1955 Mr Lionel W Pool RFA appointed as Chief Engineer Officer
16 August 1955 Took part in Exercise Comex between Kure and Kagoshima with RN Units
4 August 1957 At Khor Kuwai when she RASed HMS Loch Fada
15 March 1956 Captain Stephen J Pethurst RFA appointed as Master
31 October 1956 In Operation Musketeer - the Suez Crisis - along with 34 other RFA’s
9 July 1957 Mr J Brett RFA appointed as Chief Engineer Officer
4 August 1957 RAS'ed with HMS Loch Fada at Khor Kuwai, Persian Gulf
22 November 1957 Captain R J Lockwood RFA appointed as Master
1957 to 1960 Supported Operation Grapple - the British H-bomb test at Christmas Island in the Pacific Ocean - along with 16 other RFA’s
24 February 1958 to 1March 1958 Involved in fleet exercises with RFA's Wave Master, Fort Charlotte, Fort Sandusky, HMS Newcastle and 9 other RN ships
25 March 1958 Berthed at Jesselton with HMNZS Royalist
17 February 1959 RAS'ed HMS Cavalier between Hong Kong and Singapore
30 April 1959 Captain N B J Stapleton RD RFA (Lieut-Commander RNR) appointed as Master
23 March 1960 Mr R E Davies RFA appointed as Chief Engineer Officer
24 December 1960 4th Engineer Norman G Cowell RFA discharged dead - he is buried in Kranji Military Cemetery, Singapore in Plot 14 Row D Grave 17
18 March 1961 Captain Dan de V Moulds RFA appointed as Master
4 May 1961 Mr J Scott RFA appointed as Chief Engineer Officer
July 1961 Provided support during Operation Vantage - the Kuwait Crisis -along with 12 other RFA’s
7 April 1962 Captain Walter Gibb MBE RFA appointed as Master
23 May 1962 With RN units was engaged on anti pirate patrols in the Tawau area and off the Celebes
4 June 1962 Berthed at SIngapore Naval Base
14 June 1962 Mr C D Reid RFA appointed as Chief Engineer Officer
29 March 1963 Captain B H Lawrence RFA appointed as Master
9 June 1963 At Thomas Road Hospital Singapore Chief Cook Cheng Wang Cheous discharged dead - natural causes
16 August 1963 Captain Charles Stuart Bonshaw Irwin DSO DSC RD RFA (Lieutenant Commander RNR (ret)) appointed as Master
28 January 1964 Her Ship's Badge was officially presented to her.
31 July 1964 Mr J R Ramsey RFA appointed as Chief Engineer Officer
January 1965 to 11 August 1965 Provided support to RN units from the Far East Fleet and units of an Inshore Squadron during the Indonesian Confrontation along with RFA's Eddyrock, Fort Charlotte, Tidereach and Wave Sovereign
1 September 1965 Captain G Bray MBE RFA appointed as Master
12 September 1965 Mr R C Veitch RFA appointed as Chief Engineer Officer
16 October 1965 In the Moro Gulf (off Philippines East Coast) RASed with HMAS Curlew
7 April 1966 Captain J G M Coull RFA appointed as Master
22 March 1967 Captain C W P Summer RFA appointed as Master
26 April 1967 Mr Ronald C Putt RFA appointed as Chief Engineer Officer
23 October 1967 Involved in the rescue of an Indonesian ship Perak which was adrift in the Nicobar Strait. She towed the Perak with 19 crew on board to Sabang North Sumatra.
February 1968 Captain R M Miller RFA appointed as Master
2 April 1968 Inadvertenly entered, by one mile, waters claimed by the Government of Communist China and was escorted to the International shipping lane to Hong Kong by Chinese gun boats
18 August 1968 Mr G R Henderson RFA appointed as Chief Engineer Officer
December 1969 Captain E G May DSC RFA appointed as Master
22 March 1970 RASed with HMNZS Taranaki while on passage from Hong Kong to Manila
4 May 1971 Berthed at Singapore
31 October 1971 Took part in the final steam past of 17 ships from the RN, RAN, RNZN and RFA Far East Fleet in the Singapore Straits after the closure of the naval base there which also included RFA’s Fort Sandusky, Olna (3), Reliant (2), Resource, Stromness, Tideflow and Tidepool. Immediately afterwards for 3 hectic days she participated in Operation Curtaincall - a combined RN, RAN, RNZN and RFA Fleet Exercise off the NW coast of Malaysia
23 September 1972 2nd Officer Malcolm Douglas Cameron Lee RFA discharged dead after an accident in Singapore -he was buried at sea
22 December 1972 Arrived Singapore for the last time to destore and to be laid up
7 March 1973 Offered for sale this day in the Straits Times, Singapore
5 April 1973 On the Disposal List - closing date for tenders
July 1973 Sold out of service to Tunas Tankers & Bunkering Service Pte Ltd under the Singapore flag
March 1977 Broken up at Hong Kong by Lee Sing & Co Ltd

Operation Corkscrew

This operation was to rescue a party of British scientists who had been stranded in the Antarctic by pack ice. The role of Gold Ranger was to deliver aviation fuel for use by the rescue team. The team to be rescued were on Stonington Island - a tiny place in the Antarctic wilderness that I can't locate exactly on any map that is generally available.

Deception Island
This is a map of Graham Land and surrounding area. I believe that Stonington Island is one of the little dots in the sea off Marguerite Bay to the West of Graham Land more or less opposite the Larsen Ice Shelf. [2]

Details of the rescue can be found in the obituary of Peter St. Loius published in the Toronto newspaper Globe and Mail - External Reference #50 - an extract is quoted below:

Pilot hand-picked for risky evacuation of British scientists from Antarctic

Peter St. Louis braved fierce weather and lack of spare parts, earning a rare postwar decoration for Operation Corkscrew.

Pilot Peter St. Louis helped make aviation history in 1950 when he flew a Canadian-built Norseman aircraft across some of the most dangerous and inhospitable terrain in the world to evacuate British scientists working in the Antarctic.

The scientists, who were based on Stonington Island, just off Graham Land, part of Britain's Antarctic territory, had been searching for minerals and studying the weather for the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey.

The polar ship John Biscoe tried to get to them in 1949 but had been forced back by impassible pack ice. Five of the men had been there since 1947, while the other six had arrived the next year.

Although the scientists had plenty of supplies, the British authorities were anxious to get them out, and St. Louis, a flight lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Air Force who had experience flying as a bush pilot in Canada's North, was hand-picked for the job by the governor of the Falkland Islands, Sir Miles Clifford.

Contending with the Antarctic's unpredictable weather and fierce storms, an acute lack of spare parts, no radio navigation aids and inaccurate charts, St. Louis accomplished his mission well enough to earn a rare postwar decoration.

He died in Ottawa on Dec. 9, 2010, from complications following emergency cardiac surgery. He was 87.

For his service on Operation Corkscrew, he was made a member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in King George VI's birthday honours list. It was one of only two MBEs awarded to RCAF members from 1948-68.

The citation stated: "Flying Officer St. Louis successfully evacuated five members of survey party from Stonington Island in two lifts. Flights carried out in conditions of considerable hazard and difficulty are a testament of his skill and determination reflecting great credit on this officer and the force to which he belongs."

He also received a letter of appreciation from prime minister Louis St. Laurent, who wrote him on June 10, 1950: "The courageous and self-sacrificing spirit which prompted such a deed of bravery has won for you the deep admiration of your fellow Canadians. I should like to extend to you my warmest congratulations."

An assignment of a lifetime

Corkscrew was a plum assignment for St. Louis, who had been flying for almost 10 years, both as an instructor during the Second World War and during peacetime as a bush pilot. It was high profile and covered by British reporter Douglas Liversidge for Reuters News Service. He also published a book on it in 1951 entitled White Horizon.

The mission seemed simple: Fly in and evacuate the scientists, but anything could go wrong in the Antarctic and often did. The weather could turn vicious in an instant while the ice was unpredictable at the best of times, St. Louis wrote in a family memoir.

"It comes and goes on the whim of the wind, tides and current, so that at times when movement seems impossible a lead may appear quite suddenly or the ice might solidify and grip the ship even more viciously."

A few other things made St. Louis uneasy, wrote retired colonel Morris Gates in his 2006 two-part story on Corkscrew. "First, the provision of spares for the Norseman was inadequate for such an operation so far from any support facility. There was no way to provide support if the aircraft became unserviceable beyond the Auster's range from base." The Auster was Corkscrews' second aircraft.

Even a punctured float would be beyond repair, wrote Gates. "Spare parts were not available. There was not even a spare propeller."

After assembling his Norseman Mark V aircraft on the beach of Deception Island, a thousand miles south of Port Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands, at the beginning of December, 1949, St. Louis and his crewmen waited patiently for the weather to improve. They ate penguin eggs and seal liver - neither was popular - and coped with the boredom.

After several trial flights, he took off to get the scientists on Jan. 30, 1950 - "a beautiful warm, sunny day" - from his base on the Argentine Islands halfway up Graham Land.

Flying south, he eventually spotted a clear lead in the ice covering Marguerite Bay. "I went down to take a closer look and sure enough the lead was ice free, no bergy bits or anything. We landed on the water and taxied back until we came against the more of less solid pack ice."

After struggling for three hours to propel their boat through the pack ice, the two scientists finally climbed into the Norseman and St. Louis took off. But he had to wait a week to rescue the other three. There were also two emperor penguins destined for the London Zoo. The Biscoe ship later took the other six scientists home.
Norseman
This is a recent photograph of a Noorduyn Norseman aircraft of the type flown by Peter S. Louis. First introduced in 1935, over 900 of these versatile machines were produced and it is estimated that there are around 18 still in service around the world. [3]

Exercise Mainbrace

Exercise Mainbrace was the first large-scale NATO exercises held in 1952. It was proposed by Dwight D Eisenhower before he became U.S. President. The objective was to convince Denmark and Norway that they could be defended against attack by the Soviet Union and involved navies of nine countries.

Operation Hurricane

Operation Hurricane was the UK's first test of a nuclear bomb and took place in 1952 at Montebello Islands off Western Australia. The bomb was of a similar design to the Fat Man bomb used at Nagasaki. The bomb was placed inside HMS Plym, a River Class frigate, anchored off Timmouille Island in water about 12 metres in depth. The explosion left a crater on the seabed 6 metres deep and 300 metres across. The reason for testing this device in such a manner was concern that a nuclear device might be brought into a UK harbour concealed in a ship and detonated.

Bomb test
This is a cutting from the West Australian newspaper dated 4 October 1952 and covers the test executed by Operation Hurricane. [4]
Gold Ranger
Gold Ranger with RAS Warramunga astern and Arunta abeam taken 1 June 1955 Sorth of Lombok Indonesia. [1]

Exercise Comex

I have been unable to find any information about this exercise. It may be related to Communications Exchange - but then again it may not .....

Gold Ranger
Gold Ranger - date and location not known. [1]

Operation Musketeer

Operation Musketeer (or Mousquetaire) was the Angle-French-Israeli plan to invade Egypt in 1956 during the Suez crisis. Although it had initial success it generated an international outcry and a ceasefire was declared. Ultimately the operation was aborted.

Operation Grapple

Operations Grapple 1, Grapple X, Grapple Y and Grappled Z were the code names for a series of British nuclear weapons tests that were carried out between 1956 and 1958 in the Central Pacific Ocean.

Deliveries of materials to Christmas Island started with the troopship Devonshire and one of the initial tasks was to build the runway on Christmas Island to enable materials and people to arrive by air whilst RFA ships were used for seaborne deliveries throughout the operations.

Other Islands involved were Malden Island and Penrhyn Island.

Christmas Island

Christmas Island
This is a current view of Christmas Island (also known as Kirimitati), and is from Google Earth. The island is a coral atoll about 93 miles in diameter and does not appear to have had a permanent settlement until 1882. [5]

According to the Wikipedia entry for Christmas Island:

During the Cold War there was some nuclear weapons testing in the Christmas Island area. The United Kingdom supposedly conducted its first successful hydrogen bomb test at Malden Island on 15 May 1957; Christmas Island was the operation's main base. In fact, this test did not work as planned, and the first British H-bomb was successfully detonated over the southeastern tip of Christmas Island on 8 November 1957. Subsequent test series in 1958 (Grapple Y and Z) took place above or near Christmas Island itself. The United States conducted 22 successful nuclear detonations as part of Operation Dominic here in 1962. Some toponyms (like Banana and Main Camp) come from the nuclear testing period, during which at times over 4,000 servicemen were present. By 1969, military interest in Christmas Island had ceased and the facilities were abandoned and for the most part dismantled. Some communications, transport and logistics facilities, however, were converted for civilian use and it is due to these installations that Christmas Island came to serve as the administrative center for the Line Islands.

The United Kingdom detonated some 5 megatonnes of TNT (21 PJ) of nuclear payload near and 1.8 megatonnes of TNT (7.5 PJ) directly above Christmas Island in 1957/58, while the United States between 25 April and 11 July 1962 successfully tested nuclear devices of about 24-megatonne-of-TNT (100 PJ) payload altogether in the vicinity of the island. During the British Grapple X test of 8 November 1957 which took place directly above the southeastern tip of Christmas Island, yield was stronger than expected and there was some blast damage in the settlements. Islanders were usually not evacuated during the nuclear weapons testing, and data on the environmental and public health impact of these tests remains contested.
Christmas Island
The first successful British H-bomb test (Operation Grapple X Round C1) which took place over Kiritimati on 8 November 1957. [6]

Malden Island

Malden Island
This is a current view of Malden Island (also known as Independence Island) and is from Google Earth. It is 420 miles South-East of Christmas Island, is around 15 square miles in area and has no standing fresh water. The highest point is only 33 feet above sea level. It is one of the Line Islands and is a protected area for breeding seabirds. [5]

According to the Wikipedia entry for Malden Island:

In 1956 the United Kingdom selected Malden as the "instrumentation site" for its first series of thermonuclear (H-bomb) weapons tests, based at Kiritimati (Christmas Island). British officials insisted that Malden should not be called a "target island". Nevertheless, the bombing target marker was located at the south point of the island and three thermonuclear devices were detonated at high altitude a short distance offshore in 1957. The airstrip constructed on the island by the Royal Engineers in 1956-57 remained usable in July 1979.

The airstrip is visible with Google Earth and is at the North of the island; whether it would still be usable is debateable.

Penrhyn Island

Penrhyn Island
This is a current view of Penrhyn Island (also known as Tongareva, Mangarongaro, Hararanga, and Te Pitaka) and is from Google Earth. It is the largest atoll of the Cook Islands. It sits on a submarine volcano and consists of a ring of coral about 48 miles in circumference with the highest point being about 16 feet above sea level. [5]

Although not used as a target area for the Operation Grapple tests, Penrhyn Island, was used as a technical monitoring site and as a weather station.

Operation Vantage

According to Wikipedia:

Operation Vantage was a British military operation in 1961 to support the newly independent state of Kuwait against territorial claims by its neighbour, Iraq. Britain reacted to a call for protection from the Amir of Kuwait and air, sea and land forces were in place within days. Iraq did not attack and the British forces were replaced by the Arab League. Iraq recognised Kuwaiti independence in 1963.

Although most of us are familiar with the recent unpleasantness involving Iraq, during construction of this page I learned that Britain has been involved with the problems of this region since the breakup of the Ottoman Empire at the end of WW1. The League of Nations granted a mandate to France over Syria and Lebanon whilst the UK was granted a mandate over Mesopotamia and Palestine. In 1920 Iraq became a League of Nations mandate under British control and called "State of Iraq".

Like everything to do with the Middle East, the story got very complex after that - far too complex to explain here. Suffice it to say that in 1932 Iraq was granted independence and was a Kingdom. In 1941 there was a coup d'état followed by invasion by the British, military occupation and the re-instatement of the monarchy which lasted until 1958 when there was another coup, followed by another in 1963 and yet another in 1968 when the Ba'ath Party came to power. It is probably fair to say that it was downhill from then onwards.......

Operation Curtaincall

I have not so far been able to discover any information about this operation. This is a placeholder in case information comes to light in future.

Image Credits

  1. By courtesy of Historical RFA - External Reference #49
  2. From The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World
  3. By courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
  4. By courtesy of the West Australia newspaper.
  5. By courtesy of Google Earth.
  6. UK Government photo in the public domain.