Tag Archives: War

Scrap Book Project – Nuclear Test Sites and the Bikini

In 1954 the United States began serious nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean on the island of Bikini Atoll and they carried out the detonation of a massive bomb codenamed Castle Bravo.  This was the first test of a practical hydrogen bomb and the largest nuclear explosion ever set off by the United States.  In fact, a bit like a ten year old with a box of fireworks and some matches, they really had little idea what they were doing and when it was detonated it proved much more powerful than the boffins had predicted, and created unexpected widespread radioactive contamination which has prevented people from ever returning to the island.

Castle Bravo was the most powerful nuclear device ever detonated by the United States, with a yield of fifteen Megatons. That yield, far exceeding the expected yield of four to six megatons which, combined with other factors, led to the most significant accidental radiological contamination ever caused by the United States. In terms of TNT tonnage equivalence, Castle Bravo was about one thousand, two hundred times more powerful than each of the atomic bombs which were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

This event was important for two reasons, firstly it signified the state of tension in the world called the cold war that was around for the next thirty years or so but secondly and subsequently much more importantly it inspired the introduction of the bikini swimsuit.  According to the official version a French engineer called Louis Réard and the fashion designer Jacques Heim invented the swimsuit that was a little more than a provocative brassiere front with a tiny g-string back.  It was allegedly named after Bikini Atoll, the site of nuclear weapon tests on the reasoning that the burst of excitement it would cause on the beach or at the lido would be like a nuclear explosion – plenty of fallout and very hot!

Nuclear testing was a big thing in the 1950s as Washington and Moscow prepared enthusiastically for wiping each other of the face of the earth on the day of Armageddon.  The fact that a major explosion even on the side of the world might have serious consequences for both sides and everyone else in between just didn’t seem to occur to them.

Years later I visited the United States and although I didn’t know this at the time travelled along a road in Nevada that was only a hundred kilometres or so southwest of the Nevada Test Site that is a United States Department of Energy reservation which was established in January 1951 for the testing of nuclear weapons.  The location is infamous for receiving the highest amount of concentrated nuclear detonated weapons in the whole of North America.

The Nevada Test Site was the primary testing location of American nuclear devices during the Cold War and began here with a one kiloton bomb on January 27th 1951.  From then until 1992, there were nine hundred and twenty eight announced nuclear tests at the site, which is far more than at any other test site in the World, and seismic data has indicated there may have been many unannounced secret underground tests as well.

During the 1950s the familiar deadly mushroom cloud from these tests could be seen for almost a hundred miles in all directions, including the city of Las Vegas, where the tests instantly became tourist attractions as Americans headed for the City to witness the spectacle that could be seen from the downtown hotels.  Even more recklessly many others would thoughtlessly drive the family to the boundary of the test site for a day out and a picnic to view the free entertainment.  In doing so they unsuspectingly acquired an instant suntan and their own personal lethal dose of radioactive iodine 131, which the American National Cancer Institute, in a report released in 1997, estimated was responsible for thousands of cases of thyroid cancer in subsequent years.

Scrap Book Project – Good Losers

There is something about coming second or even outright failure and disaster that is important about being British because, unique amongst nations, we have a talent for turning disappointment into success and accepting failure equally as we embrace victory and triumph.  This ability to absorb failure and turn it into a triumph is an exclusive characteristic that contributes to the British Bulldog spirit.

Captain Robert Falcon Scott was a Royal Navy officer and explorer who led two expeditions to the Antarctic regions, the Discovery Expedition, 1901–04, and the ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition, 1910–13.  During this second venture, Scott led a party of five which reached the South Pole on 17th January 1912, only to find that they had been preceded by Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian expedition.  They Failed!  Let’s not misintepret this, they Failed!  On their return journey, Scott and his four comrades all perished from a combination of exhaustion, starvation and extreme cold.   And here is the point because even though he failed in his quest Scott became an iconic British hero, a status maintained ever since.

History is in fact littered with failed military battles and disasters that we have perversely turned into iconic moments of British history.  1066 and the Norman invasion – we were invaded and conquered!  Dunkirk was a defeat and a miltary withdrawal,the Charge of the Light Brigade was a disaster but my favourite example is the Battle of Isandlwana on 22nd  January 1879, which was the first major encounter in the Zulu War between the all conquering British Empire machine and the  Zulu Kingdom of South Africa.

Eleven days after the British commenced their invasion a Zulu army attacked a portion of the British main column consisting of nearly two thousand mixed British and colonial forces.  The Zulus were armed with the traditional assegai iron spears and protected by cow hide shields and the British were armed with the then state of the art Martini-Henry breech loading rifle. Despite a vast disadvantage in weapons technology, the Zulus ultimately overwhelmed the poorly led and badly deployed British, killing over one thousand, three hundred troops, whilst suffering only around a thousand casualties of their own.

The battle was a decisive victory for the Zulus and caused the defeat of the first British invasion. The British army had received its worst ever defeat fighting against a technologically inferior indigenous force. However, the defeat of the British forces at Isandlwana was turned into a victory just a few days later with the successful defence of Rorke’s Drift which simply erased the memory of the ignominious defeat!

Other disasters have also been turned into iconic successes.  The RMS Titanic was the largest passenger steamship in the world and pronounced unsinkable when she set off on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on 10thApril 1912.  Four days into the crossing, at twenty to midnight on 14th April, she struck an iceberg and sank just over two hours later the following morning, resulting in the deaths of 1,517 people in one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history.

In sport, the boxer Henry Cooper became a national hero for failing to beat Cassius Clay in a 1966 World heavyweight championship fight, Tim Henman is revered for only ever reaching the Wimbledon tennis semi-finals which is another example of the British stoic acceptance of failure.  Sir Stirling Moss never won the world drivers’ championship, but became a hero to millions through his chivalrous conduct on the racetrack. He famously did himself out of the title in 1958 by leaping to the defence of a rival who was in danger of being docked points.  John Francome would have won the National Hunt jockeys’ championship in 1982, but chose to share it with a rival who had been injured. Judy Guinness would have won fencing gold for Great Britain at the 1932 Olympics if she hadn’t pointed out errors which the judges had made.

And let’s not forget that in the world of entertainment we actually seem to enjoy the annual ritual humiliation of the Eurovision Song Contest.

Nuclear Test Sites and the Bikini

In 1954 the United States began serious nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean on the island of Bikini Atoll and they carried out the detonation of a massive bomb codenamed Castle Bravo.  This was the first test of a practical hydrogen bomb and the largest nuclear explosion ever set off by the United States.  In fact, a bit like a ten year old with a box of fireworks and some matches, they really had little idea what they were doing and when it was detonated it proved much more powerful than the boffins had predicted, and created unexpected widespread radioactive contamination which has prevented people from ever returning to the island.

Castle Bravo was the most powerful nuclear device ever detonated by the United States, with a yield of fifteen Megatons. That yield, far exceeding the expected yield of four to six megatons which, combined with other factors, led to the most significant accidental radiological contamination ever caused by the United States. In terms of TNT tonnage equivalence, Castle Bravo was about one thousand, two hundred times more powerful than each of the atomic bombs which were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

This event was important for two reasons, firstly it signified the state of tension in the world called the cold war that was around for the next thirty years or so but secondly and subsequently much more importantly it inspired the introduction of the bikini swimsuit.  According to the official version a French engineer called Louis Réard and the fashion designer Jacques Heim invented the swimsuit that was a little more than a provocative brassiere front with a tiny g-string back.  It was allegedly named after Bikini Atoll, the site of nuclear weapon tests on the reasoning that the burst of excitement it would cause on the beach or at the lido would be like a nuclear explosion – plenty of fallout and very hot!

Nuclear testing was a big thing in the 1950s as Washington and Moscow prepared enthusiastically for wiping each other of the face of the earth on the day of Armageddon.  The fact that a major explosion even on the side of the world might have serious consequences for both sides and everyone else in between just didn’t seem to occur to them.

Years later I visited the United States and although I didn’t know this at the time travelled along a road in Nevada that was only a hundred kilometres or so southwest of the Nevada Test Site that is a United States Department of Energy reservation which was established in January 1951 for the testing of nuclear weapons.  The location is infamous for receiving the highest amount of concentrated nuclear detonated weapons in the whole of North America.

The Nevada Test Site was the primary testing location of American nuclear devices during the Cold War and began here with a one kiloton bomb on January 27th 1951.  From then until 1992, there were nine hundred and twenty eight announced nuclear tests at the site, which is far more than at any other test site in the World, and seismic data has indicated there may have been many unannounced secret underground tests as well.

During the 1950s the familiar deadly mushroom cloud from these tests could be seen for almost a hundred miles in all directions, including the city of Las Vegas, where the tests instantly became tourist attractions as Americans headed for the City to witness the spectacle that could be seen from the downtown hotels.  Even more recklessly many others would thoughtlessly drive the family to the boundary of the test site for a day out and a picnic to view the free entertainment.  In doing so they unsuspectingly acquired an instant suntan and their own personal lethal dose of radioactive iodine 131, which the American National Cancer Institute, in a report released in 1997, estimated was responsible for thousands of cases of thyroid cancer in subsequent years.

The Victor Comic and German Lessons

The Victor was a story paper in comic book format published weekly that ran for 1657 issues from 25th January 1961 until November 1992.

It featured many stories that could be described as “Boy’s Own” adventures.  In particular, each week the front cover carried a story of how a medal had been won by British or Commonwealth forces during the Great War or the Second World War.

That’s a lot of British war heroes and to put that into perspective there were over one thousand, six hundred editions of the Victor but only one hundred and eighty one Victoria Crosses awarded during the entire Second World War.  Associated with the weekly comic was the annually published Victor Book for Boys which first appeared in 1964, with the last edition published in 1994.

My only real knowledge of the German language is what I learnt as a boy from the Victor but as these were stories about British heroes and dastardly Nazis the comics were restricted to a handful of often repeated German phrases ‘Achtung’, ‘Luftwaffe’, “Hände Hoch!’ and my personal favourite ‘donnerwetter!’ that translates strictly as ‘thunder weather’.  I am not at all sure if that is a real German word and I can’t find it in the dictionary but  I suppose it was meant to be a curse and realistically it was a kids comic so I don’t suppose they could use the more appropriate ‘Heilig Scheiße’ without getting a postbag full of complaints from angry parents.

Victor Annual For Boys