Published 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.
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.
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.