H-Bombs & Hula Girls

The Book

H-Bombs & Hula Girls book coverPublished in April 2017 to acknowledge the 60th anniversary of Operation Grapple, Britain’s first successful thermonuclear bomb tests in the Pacific, H-Bombs and Hula Girls tells the extraordinary tale of ten bright and cheerful young men.

They were brought together through National Service, sailed in the aircraft carrier HMS Warrior through an Atlantic hurricane, squeezed through the Panama Canal, and took part in the top secret thermonuclear weapon tests at Christmas Island. After witnessing at extremely close quarters what the world is told were three megaton H-bomb explosions, they toured Hawaii and the South Pacific before showing the flag round all of South America. Theirs is the only British warship ever to sail directly from Port Stanley to Puerto Belgrano, mooring next to the Argentine flagship General Belgrano.

HMS Warrior at sea
HMS Warrior

The book evokes the Cold War atmosphere of Britain in the 1950s and the race to secure the nation’s place among the thermonuclear powers. But it also paints the picture of a heterogeneous group enjoying together life-shaping experiences: learning to be sailors, exploring South Sea paradises, participating in and witnessing three vast explosions, being their nation’s goodwill ambassadors as they encounter completely different cultures, and here and there experiencing life-threatening moments intertwined with having their hearts broken.

This fascinating memoir of the last Royal Navy Gunroom at sea, crafted from journals, letters, and contemporary records, plus the wonders of hindsight, culminates in the surprising realisation that Operation Grapple may not have been quite what it seemed.

H-Bombs & Hula Girls is published under the Uniform imprint of Unicorn Publishing.

The Author

HMS Warrior shipmates
Michael Johnston (seated left) and HMS Warrior shipmates at a reunion.

Michael Johnston was the oldest of the group of young National Service officers who served together in HMS Warrior during Operation Grapple. He has, with the input from those erstwhile shipmates, now friends of 60 years’ standing, written and compiled this first-hand and direct account by those who were there.

Reviews

The Hydrogen Bomb tests near Christmas Island in 1957 were a pivotal moment in Britain’s history. For ten young National Servicemen it involved a trip to the far side of the world and being there when the explosions took place. Their account is frightening and jolly in equal measure as they contrast the awesome power of the bombs and their mushroom clouds with the pleasurable aspects of Naval life. This book is an invaluable, unique, and very readable, addition to the grim story of what had to happen to create the nuclear deterrent which has kept the peace for so long.

Rt Hon Lord Robertson of Port Ellen KT GCMG HonFRSE PC
Former Secretary of State for Defence and Secretary General of NATO

A vivid and immensely readable account of the critical testing of Britain’s H-Bomb as seen by a team of young officers, overlaid by a highly entertaining description of life in the Gunroom of a Light Fleet Carrier in the 1950s. The atomic science and the logistic challenge of setting up the tests are neatly contrasted with the basic seamanship, particularly the boat running, in waters unchanged since the age of Captain Cook, which lay in the hands of the Midshipmen and which provided vital support. This is as good a view of life at sea as junior officers as one could wish for, and both their sharp observance of Operation Grapple and their sense of fun shine through.

Admiral of the Fleet Sir Ben Bathurst GCB DL
Former First Sea Lord and Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff

Michael’s BBC Breakfast tv interview 3 May 2017


View Michael’s preview video blog.