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En Route to Christmas Island/Woomera/Maralinga

Hot Cargo
John Cooper
I need your help in adding information to this page as to what the route was that RAF and civilian aircraft took from the UK to RAF Edinburgh Field and then on to Woomera and Maralinga. I would also like to know what some of the cargo was that was carried in these aircraft, how secret were these missions.
I have never been to Australia but my interest lies in an aircraft crash that I was involved with at RAF Gan, Maldive Islands in a storm on the night of Tuesday March 1st 1960. I was a passenger on board a RAF Handley Page Hastings aircraft index number TG579 that was based at 48 Squadron RAF Changi, Singapore.
The Hastings had taken off from RAF Katunayake (Negombo) in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) with a mix of cargo and passengers, it appeared imperative that the Hastings made that journey that night as on board was the Station Commander for RAF Katunayake Wing Commander G C Atherton OBE DFC and Bar.
Of the load the Hastings was carrying were 14 passengers flown by a crew of six plus a quantity of cargo namely, aircraft hydraulic jacks, a box of shoes, diplomatic mail bags (en route to Male, capital of the Maldives) and a case said to contain dental gear for the new dental section at RAF Gan. I later discovered that a dental section never existed and that a mobile dental team was transported from RAF Tengah, via RAF Changi to RAF Gan for routine examinations and minor treatment. (If anyone knows more on this subject please let me know). Emergency dental treatment was obtainable by flying the patient to RAF Khormaksar or RAF Changi hospitals on the next available aircraft.
This case measured some 6' X 4' and was positioned immediately behind the seat I was sitting in, I have been told on many an occasion that this case MAY have been carrying sensitive cargo, this is pure supposition as there is no cargo manifest about in 2004 to suggest otherwise. The RAF/MoD will not discuss this matter with me further and consider my case closed. 
I have been informed that the contents of the case should be of no personal interest to me or others, fair enough, but I am interested as I have wondered for 44 years what may or not have been contained in this case. I have been told that I am still bound by the Official Secrets Act of the Government of Great Britain, that is true and fair and I do not wish to divulge any secrets that would be detrimental to my country even if I knew any!
If the Hastings in question was carrying any sensitive cargo what of its whereabouts now? It is known from PUBLIC RECORDS held at the RAF Museum Hendon, The Air Historical Branch at RAF Bentley Priory and at The National Archives Centre at Kew, London that Hastings TG579 was on a secret mission, the RAF Form 541 Squadron Operations Book says SECRET and the prior operation entry to the 1st March 1960 is completely inked out.
Why should this document be deemed SECRET? The Communist incursion of Malaya was almost at an end by this date, the aircraft was operating 2000 miles away from any danger zone known as Operation Firedog but it was operating on the transport route to Woomera/Maralinga. Hastings TG579 plunged into the sea exactly 1.5 nautical miles (1.8 statute miles) east of the RAF Gan runway threshhold. It is not known for sure the exact depth the ocean is at this point, this is confirmed by the AHB, the Wrecks Officer for the RAF and also The Hydrographic Office at Taunton, England.
Is the answer that diplomatic mail on board was of a sensitive nature? Is it that the cargo contained within the case was sensitive? 32 witnesses heard an ex Flight Lieutenant at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford Cambridgeshire state that he was the Duty Orderly Officer at RAF Gan the night TG579 crashed into the sea and " that what you thought was dental equipment on board your Hastings was in fact NUCLEAR MATERIAL destined for Christmas Island, but I am still covered by the Official Secrets Act even at the age of 82" ................followed by stunned silence! We imagined the reference to Christmas Island (CI) meant Woomera/Maralinga
as CI had ceased any development of nuclear involvement when Operation Grapple was at an end in 1958. NUCLEAR MATERIAL could have meant many things, it could for example relate to the nuclear detonators that had been tried and tested at Maralinga and off Kangaroo Island in South Australia or it could have been a nuclear trigger device for a new rocket motor being developed at Woomera which by this time was a top secret Weapons Research Establishment (WRE) along with Maralinga.
These are all 'could be' theories but supposing that something sensitive was being carried on board the aircraft, which at that time was at the height of the Cold War, what could be the implications to the people who work, live or holiday in the Addu Atoll region of the Maldives. The RAF Sub Aqua Association arranged a Joint Services Team from the UK to fund an expedition to the Maldives, including the search for a Hastings aircraft, in January/February 2004, something I guess they had not thought of doing until I raised this matter in the year 2000 with the Ministry of Defence.  They found nothing as time was against them, but the RAFSAA have informed me that they would like to return in 2005 to have another look.
The aircraft I was travelling on carried the Station Commander of RAF Katunayake he was Wing Commander Geoffrey Atherton OBE DFC and Bar, he was of similar rank to others that accompanied 'hot' cargo. This might just be coincidence that he was aboard, the MoD could never refute any suggestion either way now that all documentation has been destroyed so one has to draw their own conclusion. I still have my doubts that there was anything untoward but why the secret mission, I know not! 
En route to the Royal Australian Air Force Station Edinburgh Field/Woomera and Maralinga
The route for RAF aircraft from the UK to Australia comprised of Transport Command aircraft mainly based at Lyneham, some of these bases would not be used, but they were available if need be
Lyneham, UK to Luqa, Malta (or an alternative was to fly via Castel Benito Tripoli, Libya)
Luqa to El Adem, Libya (or via Nicosia which was not generally favoured as it was shared by Nicosia Civilian Airport)
El Adem to Khartoum, Sudan (The Habbaniya, Iraq base closed in 1958)
Khartoum to Khormaksar, Aden
Khormaksar to Negombo, Ceylon (later called Katunayake) and after 1960 routed via Gan, Maldives.
Negombo to Changi, Singapore
Changi to Darwin, Australia
Darwin to Edinburgh Field
The RAF Changi to RAAF Edinburgh Field run was known as 'The Edinburgh Special', this is mentioned on 48 Squadron Operations Record Book F541. Why this unofficial name I do not know, but my guess is that the cargo WAS 'Special'.
When Hastings aircraft were tasked with flying this freight it often left RAF Colerne or Lyneham and Number 36 Squadron were often tasked with this job as a 'freight only' movement. It is also known that once the aircraft arrived from Malta onwards the aircraft would be mainly flown during the day, away from the noonday sun in that at altitude of say 8000-10000' the air was cooler, if the aircraft became unserviceable and had to stay on the tarmac where there were high temperatures it is known that the fire section would spray a fine water mist over the fuselage to keep the temperatures down.
In the mid 1950's when aircraft were routed through RAF Habbaniya and RAF Mauripur, Pakistan it is known that armed guards were mounted on these Hastings. RAF Police Dog Handlers were occasionally employed on guarding Hastings aircraft at RAF Negombo/Katunayake whilst I was stationed there along with V-Bombers when they passed through. I would have had to work on  some of these aircraft in transit, but at that time I never took any notice of what freight was on board.
I suppose the answer to my enigma lies at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, two miles off the Island of Gan. Further reading on this subject can be found on the home page on the top of this page. 
More stories can be discussed here
Copyright 2007 John Cooper

The crash of Avro Tudor G-AGRH on April 23rd 1959 in Turkey
An Avro Tudor known as a Super Trader because of its extended length and double cargo doors crashed high up into Mount Suphan near Lake Van in Eastern Turkey.
The aircraft was en route from the UK to Woomera in South Australia with some secret cargo on board, a search was made in the area and a pair of Hastings aircraft from RAF Nicosia dropped supplies to an RAF Mountain Rescue Team.
The 12 people on board all perished and were buried somewhere above 14000' on the mountainside. The RAF team were tasked with blowing up the secret equipment with explosives, the story can be read here:- 

I don’t remember how I found this site but as ex RN I travelled in a Hastings as a passenger from Lyneham to Maralinga in 1958 it started in February, foggy, cold, hangar doors frozen, a fuel of some sort was splashed around and lit, it worked so we set off to El Adem, noise was not a real problem as we were mostly engineroom staff and used to it, ear defenders came a lot later, bit of a bumpy landing but the pilot managed to get the other wheel down in the end, not sure if we stayed the night but next stop was Cyprus, RAF were living under canvas and it was raining we were expected to join them, but we found the spare crew quarters were unoccupied so we moved in this proved to be unpopular with the senior officer of the camp so I received an official bollicking and off we went to get over the Turkish mountains this was unsuccessful, we iced up and couldn’t get sufficient height to get over so we had to come back, we kept a low profile and next day had another go successfully, had another stop but can't remember the name then it was off to Karachi and a hotel . Boxed meals still the same though boiled egg, chicken leg, bit of lettuce it didn't change. The whole trip to Maralinga took seven days, coming back a year later started out the same, Hastings to Changi we developed an engine problem but struck lucky a Comet was going to UK and was able to take us, so instead of days it was hours, I still like flying in propeller driven planes, it was a real life times achievement for a Submariner.

My regards

Don Lawrence





A-Bomb Hastings

Jim Semple (Lyneham Old Boys Association) sent me an interesting article, named ‘Atom Bombs for Christmas’ in a FlyPast magazine dated December 2000 in which the pilot of Hastings WJ333, Adrian Bishop, details the movement of nuclear material, by Hastings aircraft, to Christmas Island in 1957. This operation was of course Grapple where an Atom Bomb was dropped from a Vickers Valiant bomber XD818 (Now on show in the RAF Museum at Hendon).

This is the first time I have had confirmation anywhere that Hastings aircraft were officially used in the transportation of nuclear material, it has long been suspected by myself and others that this was the case as often armed guards (RAF Regiment and RAF Police) would be seen around some of these Hastings. These have been seen by myself at RAF Katunayake, Negombo and by others that were based at RAF Mauripur, RAF Changi and RAAF Edinburgh Field. It has also been stated that these 'special’ Hastings flew by day in the tropics where the air was cold and if found unserviceable by day would have a fine spray of water played on the fuselage by the RAF Fire Service to keep the contents cool inside.

Adrian Bishop, flew his Hastings aircraft WJ333 via RAF Lyneham to RAF Aldergrove, to RAF Goose Bay, Labrador, to RCAF Namao, Alberta, to USAFAB Travis SF, to USAFAB Hickam in Hawaii and finally on to RAF Christmas Island in the Pacific. This aircraft was carrying a mix of passengers and cargo, the cargo was of a highly sensitive nature code named car radio meaning cargo radioactive and was housed in reinforced steel cylindrical containers containing nuclear core for ‘short granite’ (see The passengers were airmen being posted to RAF Christmas Island, so we now know that passengers and very sensitive cargo was mixed, something I had previously been told just did not happen!

The above route was known as the ‘Westabout’ route, the ‘Eastabout’ route was via various RAF airfields to RAF Khormaksar (RAF Luqa, RAF El Adem, RAF Nicosia or even Castel Benito Idris, from Aden the hops would then be to RAF Negombo, RAF Changi, RAAF Darwin, RAAF Edinburgh Field if dropping off/picking up supplies and then on to Fiji, Canton Island and finally arriving at Christmas Island. I wonder really who in those nations knew at the time what the RAF was actually carrying? A colleague of mine was once told that the armed guard was mounted on a special operations Hastings as it was carrying blankets, one assumes then that these were radioactive blankets that glow in the dark!

Hastings WD476 had previously passed through the ‘Westabout’ route this aircraft actually delivered the first bomb to be dropped off Christmas Island in 1957.

Source FlyPast magazine which is part of the Key Publishing Group of Companies, Flypast have a very good forum see below:-

Posted on 21st February 2005 from Les Mills

Les Mills served in the RAF as a National Serviceman working as a groundcrew fitter with the the RAF Lyneham based Mobile Servicing Flight with Flight Lieutenant Robertson as the CO. Les had just returned from a detachment in Aden on 14th April 1957 after a detachment with Beverleys ,on the 9th May either four or six of us were taken out to Hastings WJ333 to fly to Christmas Island in the Pacific, the aircraft was parked outside a building which may have been a store of some sort. Alongside our aircraft there was a civilian four engined job which I think belonged to Dan-Air, London, whether that had brought our cargo I don’t know, I think that was possible. We were not told what the cargo was a photo with Adrian Bishops article (FlyPast magazine story December 2000) shows the containers ( 9 large steel drums containing nuclear core) so we did suspect there was a nuclear connection. A Wing Commander from the War Department was with us complete with geiger counter, he didn`t really communicate with us being the difference in rank I suppose.

Yes I was on the way to Christmas Island via Aldergrove, Goose Bay, Edmonton, San Francisco and Hawaii. We were carrying the first of the bombs for tests carried out in May to July 1957 although we didn`t know it at the time, just as well I suppose. The pilot Adrian Bishop and the flight crew had a few days at San Francisco, unfortunately the rest of us didn`t!! With reference to exposure to radiation I was surprised to learn not too long ago that some tests after my time were carried out in visual range of Christmas Island, totally irresponsible I would have thought. The 1957 tests were carried out over Malden Island, some 400 miles away. Who knows how many people were adversely affected by these later tests. I can understand why there is a Nuclear Veterans Association in existence although I doubt they will ever get the U.K. Government to accept any responsibility for possible radiation problems.

I don’t recall seeing armed guards but I do recall seeing fire engines accompanying us at each of our stops and I believe we were parked away from other aircraft. We were issued with Arctic survival gear for the flight across Canada and I know we were routed away from populated areas between Goose Bay and Namao. I suppose the authorities didn`t worry overmuch about our wellbeing, I just hoped the devices were properly shielded! I don`t recall we were given any safety or security instructions may be they weren`t sure what could be done anyway. I imagine that we flew in daylight because it was safer to do so bearing in mind that navigation aids were nothing like we have today.

Posted by Geoff Coates 29th October 2005

1957, age 21, National Service, R.A.F. Waddington, Lincolnshire,

1-8-0d a week,-not a lot of “wenching and wining” on that

-and I smoked then .

I was an L.A.C. M.T. driver attached to Station Sick Qtrs

driving ambulances-, you know,one day pregnant wives to

near by R.A.F. hospital  Nocton Hall, or driving Crash 3 on

stand by at the control tower when flying was in progress.

I remember the day well, -- I was in the sick qtrs

kitchen having a cup of tea when the back door opened and

in came L.A.C. Gary Cumbly another M.T. driver who had

done his trade training with me and was a mate (I thought).

I seem to recollect that he was a 3 year man—you know,

spend it now and pay later,-- they do it now 50 years on in

Civvy street, only you sign up for a flexible friend. Any way,

Gary,who was, or is, a Welshman say’s that there is a notice

in the M.T. section calling for volunteers to go to a place called

Maralinga in Australia and he had, without my knowledge,

put my name on the list,---I was speechless and disbelieving,

-- but no he was deadly serious.

After thinking about it I was quite excited at the thought,

and went along with it.The furthest I’d ever been was to the I.O.W.

on a day trip, and I lived in Portsmouth just across from the island.

Wow! Australia the other end of the earth,(no package tours

then,---Billy Butlin was going strong with his Hi De Hi act and illicit

nookie chalets). So this was  really some thing else!

Gary said we were to report to the orderly room immediately

to clear camp and go on embarkation leave .I thought can it get any

better? The Sarge in the orderly room, moaning minnie,said that

Maralinga is a testing site for atomic bombs and that we will never

come back the same. I thought Christ,what have you let us in for Gary?

Well Sarge if your still about,Iam now going on 71 and feeling

great after my visit to Oz,  I have sired a son ,and as far as I know I do

not glow in the dark.—Well may be on the occasional Sat night.

 I had my embarkation leave,and still had 2d left over from the

1-8-0d,(those were the days).It was then off to R.A.F. Innsworth for

kitting out with K.D.which I reckon had been left over from W.W.2.

Does any body remember the fit? Talk about a shower ! I know I looked

like Lofty from “Mum it aint half hot,”-remember the red shite - hawk

shoulder flashes? I know I’m digressing here a bit, but it always seemed

that the officers looked like Jack Hawkins from “Malta Story”and I, as

I’ve said looked like Lofty,--but then again 1-8-0d didn’t support very

much let alone a Gieves & Hawkes tailors account.

                               Well, we now travel across country to a small transit

camp on top of a hill overlooking R.A.F. Lyneham, I believe it was called

 R.A.F. Clyffe Pyppard, (I bet I spelt  that incorrectly) we spent the night

 here and changed into our K.D. I reckon it must be the only camp in the

U.K.where K.D. is worn in February.Then it was all aboard a coach and



down to R.A.F.Lyneham to pick up our Hastings transport,our magic carpet

which would take us on this great adventure,--all be it at a snails pace and

twelve days on to S.Australia and Edinborough Field nr. Adelaide.There

were about 20 of us aboard including 5 R.N. sailors who were going out to

run the water distillation plant at Maralinga.

                                 The pilot was an R.A.A.F.Flight his dark blue

uniform with AUSTRALIA flashes on his shoulders,-- the co-pilot was a

young R.A.F.Pilot Officer about 20 and apparently coming along for the

experience.We were fed and watered by an R.A.F. Quarter master Sarge,

and can I ever forget those small white cardboard boxes under the seats

with their cardboard sandwiches in? The officer in charge of us was a

Fl Off. And did he have his work cut out!

That journey took in the loss of the port inner cowling over the Med,the

radio compass packing up in Iraq, and a crash landing in a brussel sprout

field in Pakistan, but as they say that’s another story.

                                  I reckon we stood to get more sickness from that loaded

Elson in the rear than we ever did from radiation at Maralinga.

                                  All these years after I’ve never forgotten the great mates

and the good times and I never will.

Site update
Splashdown on the Equator
The crash of Hastings TG579 of 48 Squadron at RAF Gan
RAF Changi 48 Squadron/FECs/Beverleys
The Goldfish Club for ditched flyers
RAF War Pensions
RAF Gan 1957-1961
RAF Katunayake/Negombo
An Airmans Daily Diary
The Civil Service within the MoD
Bizarre and Tragic RAF Accidents
Splashdown in the Mediterranean Hastings TG613
205/209 Sunderland Squadron RAF Seletar
Links to other Military Webpages
Handley Page Hastings, bangs and prangs, splashes and crashes
Handley Page Hastings Elevator Problems
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