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4.4 Operations Buffalo and Antler (7 detonations in 1956 and 1957 at Maralinga, S.A.):

  • Buffalo:

1.              Air operations at the trials were RAF responsibility.  Main operational air base was RAAF Edinburgh at Maralinga (8.0.6)

2.              Canberra aircraft carried out sampling and tracking duties.  Varsities carried out radiological surveys and medium height cloud tracking.  Buffalo 3 was dropped from a Valiant bomber (8.0.6).

3.              'The Decontamination Group at Maralinga was responsible for all decontamination of aircraft there, and in addition a decontamination centre staffed by RAF and RAAF personnel was set up at ARRF Edinburgh to deal with lesser contaminated aircraft.  Staff at Edinburgh were trained by and worked under the supervision of a member of the Decontamination Group.' (8.0.7).

4.              After Buffalo 1, Varsity aircraft and whirlwind helicopters were used to register fallout up to 200miles from ground zero, but did not go though the cloud (8.3.4-5).

5.              'Air patrols <for aboriginal people> were not continuous nor is there any record that they were carried out before each Buffalo test.' (8.4.77)

6.              At least 6 people involved in decontaminating aircraft at Amberley after the blasts made allegations at the Royal Commission re shortcomings in safety procedures (8.5.93).

7.              Two witnesses may have worked on aircraft which had been contaminated.  Another witness decontaminated machinery and other equipment from the Forward Area without wearing protective clothing other than rubber boots.  These witnesses may have been exposed to radiation which was not recorded.' (8.5.95)

8.              Ground and aerial searches for Aborigines north of the transcontinental railway line were conducted within one hundred and seventy miles of the firing sites.  The aerial searches wee carried out by the RAF using Varsity aircraft.' (8.0.9)

  • Antler:

1.              'The Services Commander was Air Commodore W P Sutcliffe, RAF.  Under his command the RAF Task Group operated to provide all the air support required for the operation, including cloud tracking with Canberra and Varsity aircraft.' (9.0.12)

2.              'Four Shackleton aircraft were used to make meteorological reconnaissance flights over the oceans to the south of the continent.  There were also various aircraft sorties to determine wind and weather from Maralinga and Edinburgh' (9.1.16)

3.              After each test, Varsity aircraft and whirlwind helicopters conducted aerial surveys  (9.2.4).  'As soon as the distant fallout had been deposited, the aircraft surveyed the fallout by flying across the pattern at various distances from Ground Zero.  The spacing between the flights across the fallout was about 5 miles(8km) out to 60 miles (96km)and then increased to 10 miles (16km) at further distances.' (9.2.5).

4.              In the case of Antler 1, the aerial survey using Varsity aircraft was carried out to a distance of 120 miles from Ground Zero (9.2.9).

5.              In the case of Antler 2, the cloud was tracked by aircraft at the top of the cloud and also towards the bottom of the cloud (9.2.14).

6.              The cloud from Antler 3 was also tracked by aircraft (9.2.24).

7.              Aircraft were used to conduct air patrols for aboriginal people before each test (9.3.29-30), but these were actually far less extensive than originaly planned (9.3.33-37).

8.              'One particular allegation involved an RAAF driver/mechanic who alleges that he led a convoy into the Ground Zero area to perform duties shortly after the blast.  He claims to have eaten an apple while there and to have been monitored and found to be 'way over the limit'  although no protective clothing appears to have been worn, it is significant o not e that he was monitored and therefore it is reasonable to assume that he was under some from of supervision and control while undertaking those duties.' (9.4.9)

9.              'A further allegation was that personnel were required to steam clean vehicles and aircraft without respirators or with ineffective respirators.  It is clear from the evidence that respirators and protective clothing were issued in areas where decontamination duties involved a hazard to personnel.  This does not, however, cover the allegation that the respirators may not have been totally effective or practical for the work required to be done.' (9.4.11)

10.              Re Antler 3 (quoted within RC): 'Only one sampling aircraft was used in this operation... then the crew recalled to base early as they received a higher radioactive dose-rate than normal.  This aircraft collected all the samples required for the scientists.  Cloud tracking by Varsity and Canberras was successful.' (9.4.20).

11.              Re Antler 3:  'There was also evidence that an RAAF crew was exposed: “A Royal Australian Air force crew, led by Wing Commander H.D. Marsh, D.F.C., performed a sampling mission in a Canberra during Round II.  This was the first time that an RAAF crew had flown through an atomic cloud and a suitable press announcement was made.”' (9.4.20)

12.              After the Antler tests, some cobalt pellets were discovered by accident.  These were collected and flown to the UK in special aircraft containing large lead containers. (9.5.8).

  • By the time of the Buffalo and Antler tests, decontamination and safety procedures were well established (11.1.34).
  • Decontamination of the aircraft used in these tests occurred at Maralinga and also involved the use of barrier paint (11.1.36) that was subsequently removed in the later stages of decontamination procedures (11.1.36).

Those who worked on aircraft wore protective clothing and respirators as required (subject to measurement of radiation levels), and film badges were worn by all those entering the active area.  No eating drinking or smoking was permitted in the active area (11.1.38)