Operation Buffalo - Why did the UK Government not learn from it's mistakes?

Operation Buffalo commenced on 27 September 1956. The operation consisted of the testing of four nuclear devices, code-named One Tree, Marcoo, Kite and Breakaway respectively. One Tree (12.9 kilotonnes of TNT (54 TJ)) and Breakaway (10.8 kilotonnes of TNT (45 TJ)) were exploded from towers, Marcoo (1.4 kilotonnes of TNT (5.9 TJ)) was exploded at ground level, and Kite (2.9 kilotonnes of TNT (12 TJ)) was released by a Royal Air Force Vickers Valiant bomber from a height of 35,000 feet (11,000 m).

The fallout from these tests was measured using sticky paper, air sampling devices, and water sampled from rainfall and reservoirs. The radioactive cloud from Buffalo 1 (One Tree) reached a height of 37,500 ft (11,400 m), exceeding the predicted 27,900 ft (8,500 m), and radioactivity was detected in South Australia, Northern Territory, New South Wales, and Queensland. All four Buffalo tests were criticised by the 1985 McClelland Royal Commission, which concluded that they were fired under inappropriate conditions.

In a recent letter from the Defence Peoples Secretariat to the Chairman of the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association, the UK Government has stated that the use of dummies to measure the radiation effects on humans and that adequate safety precautions were taken. The extract from the letter is as follows:

The full debate on 12 March 1984 can be read here

Using the Imperial War Museum film on Operation Buffalo and analysing the film at frame level, is this statement correct? (all images copyright Imperial War Museum)


In this image, it is very clear who are the scientists are and who the servicemen are!

Did the servicemen who participated in the decontamination process get decontaminated themselves?

After the First Explosion

How much of a vital consideration was there for the Health and Safety of this man? This Land-rover was half a mile from Ground Zero.

How much protection did he have from the contamination after the first test?


Dummies were used in the tests, this dummy was sat in a Land-rover at 700 yards according to the film producer.

So the MoD are correct in the usage of dummies within the tests. But is this enough for the MoD to use in the argument that they needed to test the effects on Men?

It states very clearly 'Men', not dummies or the use of dummies.

Centurion Tanks

Tanks were used within the tests to measure damage caused by the explosions and were placed in different locations for 3 of the tests. Thy are the same tanks, each tank was taken away and then re-used for each test. Not much protection for the these servicemen who are positioning the tank for the second test.

How 'hot' were the tanks? They were driven from the test sites with personnel in full protective clothing and then put back into position for the further tests by servicemen with no protective clothing!

The same tank out for a third test. The damage is visible, the radioactivity not so noticeable.

Spectators - 4th Test

The spectators of the 4th test, some with binoculars, watch the explosion and the mushroom cloud form.

There does not seem to be much Health and Safety guidelines for the spectators. This is the explosion they were watching.

After the fourth test, again the samples were taken and the equipment analysed. This person analysing the destruction is not wearing any respirator, just a white coat!

There are a number of films on Operation Buffalo which can be viewed on the Imperial War museum website. These images were taken from the first film which can be viewed here

In 1998, Dr Roff research was discussed in Parliament (extract from Hansard)

In 2001, Dr Sue Rabbit Roff senior research fellow at the University's department of medical education claims that she has found evidence that Australian personnel were used to test the capacity of certain clothing to protect against radioactivity in the 1950s. The claim is based on a document Dr Roff - who has long campaigned on this subject - has unearthed from the National Archives of Australia.

She said: "This document lists 24 Australian personnel who were used directly for clothing trial experiments to see what sort of clothing would be more protective to men in a nuclear war situation.

"The men were asked to wear particular types of clothing and to crawl and walk through ground zero some hours and days after the detonation of nuclear and atomic weapons at Maralinga.

"This puts the lie to the British Government's claim that they never used humans for guinea pig-type experiments in nuclear weapons trials in Australia - a claim they made very strongly and ferociously in the court at Strasbourg in 1997.

"The second significance is that it gives us a very interesting sub sample of men who were at the nuclear weapons tests who could be tracked down and traced over the years to see what their health outcomes were. Did they die early? Did they die of cancer? Did they die of cancers that we know can be caused by radiation? Were their children healthy? Were their reproductive outcomes satisfactory in health terms?

The report, released by the National Archives of Australia, shows that more than one-third of 76 personnel involved in nuclear tests in 1956 received a radiation dose greater than the maximum ‘‘permissible exposure’’ in a week.

It mentions that some of the personnel were earlier exposed to radiation ‘‘during clothing trials’’.

The men walked, crawled and were driven through a fallout zone for three days after an atomic explosion, testing out three types of protective clothing.

‘‘The object was to discover what types of clothing would give the best protection against radioactive contamination in conditions of warfare,’’ the document said.

The government archives document is dated October 12, 1956, and is on an Australian Military Forces Central Command letterhead. It refers to the Buffalo Trials - a series of four atmospheric nuclear tests.

The named personnel 70 Australian soldiers, sailors and airmen and one civilian, plus five New Zealand officers were all listed as exposed to radiation on September 28 or 29.

The UK Government officials are now reviewing the archive material in the official archives under a 'security' review. The documents in the archives clearly show that the servicemen were used as 'Guinea Pigs'.

The denial continues.

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