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Operation Grapple

1945 – 1962

In 1957 and 1958, the New Zealand Navy was active in support of Britain’s nuclear testing programme, Operation Grapple. From the 1940s to 1990s, Britain, France and the United States used the Pacific region as a testing ground for nuclear weapons as they competed for global supremacy post World War II. They had seen the power the US wielded when it dropped atomic bombs on Japan and brought the war to a close.

Operation Grapple got underway in Kiritimati (Christmas Island) in 1957. New Zealand sent two naval frigates. This was symbolic of the close relationship between Britain and New Zealand and their two navies. New Zealand hoped that Britain’s development of nuclear weapons would reinforce New Zealand’s security status.

HMNZS Pukaki and Rotoiti left Auckland in March 1957. Their main purpose was to monitor the weather. Good weather conditions were essential to successful nuclear tests. However, they had a covert job, too. They were to monitor the test area for spy submarines. The two ships swapped positions throughout the series of tests, taking turns at being closer to the points of detonation.

Although New Zealand supported the entire programme, there was growing concern at home and abroad, particularly in Pacific nations, about the effects of nuclear tests. The final of nine Operation Grapple tests took place on 23 September 1958.

Explore the resources on this website to learn more about what happened during this time period.

Photos & Documents

Backs to the blast photograph

Backs to the blast photograph

Backs to the blast photograph The crew of HMNZS Pukaki sit on deck wearing protective overalls, hoods and goggles in readiness for a nuclear bomb blast. On the back of the photograph, it reads: Just before the blast. HMNZS Pukaki, just before the blast, [New Zealand Defence Force], 1957. AAO 0027. Crown Copyright, CC BY-NC…

Scrubbing decks photograph

Scrubbing decks photograph

Scrubbing decks photograph Crew members on board HMNZS Pukaki scrub down the ship’s deck in an attempt to remove radioactive material after a nuclear bomb blast. HMNZS Pukaki, scrubbing after the blast, [New Zealand Defence Force], 1957. AAO 0028. Crown Copyright, CC BY-NC 4.0.

Danger Area leaflet

Danger Area leaflet

Danger Area leaflet This multi-lingual warning leaflet was dropped by air to warn of a prohibited zone around Malvern Island during Operation Grapple, 1957. Leaflet, Task Force Grapple [Royal Air Force], [1958]. FNA 0004. Crown Copyright licensed under the UK Open Government Licence v.3.0.

Operation Grapple pennant

Operation Grapple pennant

<h3>Operation Grapple pennant</h3> This HMNZS Rotoiti Operation Grapple pennant belonged to Trevor Humphrey, who was involved in the Grapple operation. <small>Pennant, [1957]. 2008.10.1. Copyright undetermined.</small>

Ship’s newspaper – Bomb Gone!

Ship’s newspaper – Bomb Gone!

Ship’s newspaper – Bomb Gone! This newsletter was created onboard ship as a special souvenir edition about the nuclear tests on Malvern Island in the Christmas Island group in 1957. Mid Pacific News, Task Force Grapple, 1957. EVD 0035. Crown Copyright licensed under the UK Open Government Licence v.3.0.

HMNZS Pukaki and Rotoiti newspaper article

Christmas Island Christmas card – This is where it is

Christmas Island Christmas Card – This is where it is

<h3>This 1957 Christmas card features a map of the Pacific Ocean with Christmas Island highlighted. It’s inscribed with the words: This is where it is. Inside, a photograph of the island is accompanied by the text: And this is what it looks like. From the captain and officers HMNZS Rotoiti.”</h3> <small>Card, Raphael Tuck & Sons,…

H-Bomb Test Crossing the Line certificate

H-Bomb Test Crossing the Line certificate

H-Bomb Test Crossing the Line certificate This certificate was issued to Dennis Horne, who served onboard HMNZS Rotoiti during Operation Grapple in 1957. Certificate, 1957. 2007.7.11. Copyright undetermined.

Daily Orders D Day

Daily Orders 19 August 1958

Kaipara Nuclear Power Plant

Operation Grapple Medal

New Zealand Special Service Medal – Nuclear Testing

Pacific Island Test sites and Christmas (Kiritimati) Island maps

Video

Duck and Cover video

Audio

US President Kennedy audio recording – start listening at 3m51s