Zuckerman Archive: Operation Buffalo

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

BUFFALO was the code name given to a series of tests of atomic weapons carried out at Maralinga, South Australia, in the Autumn of 1956. Some eighteen months earlier, on 3 May 1955, an informal meeting was held in Solly Zuckerman's office in the Treasury to discuss research into the physiological effects of long-duration blast. The meeting had before it two papers, one from the War Office giving its reasons for sponsoring such research and the other a report by Zuckerman on results achieved to date in this research. Zuckerman was already directing a programme of blast research on behalf of the War Office that was being carried out by a group in the Anatomy Department at Birmingham University, using facilities at the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE) at Foulness and at a former army camp at Wolverley. In his report, Zuckerman made the point that, whereas his wartime research indicated that the primary effects of blast were insignificant compared to the other ways in which injury could be inflicted by high-explosive weapons, It is impossible to exclude duration as a factor in wounding in long duration blast. He went on to state that The damaging effect of a blast wave depends, at least partly, on the slope of the shock front. The duration of the blast from a nuclear weapon was well outside the range studied in World War II, and the slope of the blast wave from a nuclear explosion differed from that from conventional high explosives.

At the meeting it was agreed that, in addition to continued work using the shock-tube facilities at Foulness, Zuckerman would recruit a team to conduct laboratory-based research into the effects of long-duration blast using an atomic blast simulator, to be constructed and installed at Wolverley. In the light of the research that the Birmingham team was conducting it was decided that Peter Krohn, who headed the team, and two of his colleagues, James McGregor and A.P.D. (Sandy) Thomson, would participate in the Maralinga tests as the War Office representatives in the BUFFALO Biological Team.

Krohn, McGregor and Thomson were responsible for the design and conduct of experiments in which goats, rabbits and mice were exposed to the nuclear explosions. Zuckerman and the Birmingham team also advised on the design of articulated dummy human figures to be used in the tests to assess the displacement effects of blast from a nuclear weapon.

Files SZ/BUF/1-3 record the involvement of Zuckerman and his Birmingham colleagues in blast research from 1947 to 1958 as well as their involvement in the Maralinga tests. The correspondence in File SZ/BUF/2 is substantial. Much of it is with H.A. (Tony) Sargeaunt, Scientific Adviser to the Army Council, E.R. Drake-Seager of the War Office, and other War Office officials.

File SZ/BUF/3 includes: drafts, working notes, and final texts of reports by the Birmingham team; a small number of photographs relating to experiments using animals; preparatory documents relating to BUFFALO; reports on the tests by other teams involved; and a number of reports, miscellaneous publications, and background documents on the subjects of blast, radiation and the general effects of nuclear weapons. Among the latter are: an English typescript translation of a German Air Force report, Experimental investigation of the blast effect, 1943, bearing a stamp of the Landesarbeitsgericht, Aachen, of Third Reich vintage; a report of an accident at the burning ground adjacent to the magazine at AWRE Foulness on 1 October 1957 involving the unplanned detonation of a heap of mixed explosive; a copy of the Medical Research Council report The hazards to man of nuclear and allied radiations, HMSO, 1956, Cmd 9780; the U.S. Armed Forces Medical Policy Council Handbook of atomic weapons for medical officers, 1951; an AWRE report, An apparatus for the simulation of the blast wave produced by an atomic explosion, by J.K. Wright; and a set of bomb damage effect computers (circular ready-reckoner devices) produced by the Lovelace Foundation and the RAND Corporation.

While BUFFALO was being planned work was already in progress, under the auspices of the Ministry of Supply, on two manuals on nuclear weapons, one on the effects and the other on the response of targets to the effects. Zuckerman was invited to contribute a section to the latter dealing with the effects of blast on personnel. Damage by nuclear weapons. A manual of basic target response data, D1/57 was published by the Ministry of Supply in October 1957 with a Secret Atomic security classification. A copy, with amendments and addenda, is in File SZ/BUF/4. Correspondence relating to the manual is in File SZ/BUF/2.

From time to time tripartite conferences between the United Kingdom, United States, and Canada were held on the effects of nuclear weapons. Papers and correspondence relating to the 1954 and 1957 conferences are in File SZ/BUF/5. SZ attended both and gave a paper Recent observations on the effects of blast on animals at the 1957 conference, which was held in London in September of that year.

File SZ/BUF/6 was created much later, when details of the Maralinga tests became public knowledge as a result of an enquiry instituted by the Australian government in 1980 into the health of personnel involved in British nuclear weapons tests conducted in Australia in the 1950s.


  • SZ/BUF/1 Minutes of the Buffalex Biological Sub-Committee, 1955
  • SZ/BUF/2 Correspondence, 1953-58
  • SZ/BUF/3 Documents, 1943, 1947, 1952-57 [in two sub-files]
  • SZ/BUF/4 Damage by nuclear weapons, 1957-59 [in two sub-files]
  • SZ/BUF/5 Tripartite Conferences on Effects of Atomic Weapons, 1954, 1957
  • SZ/BUF/6 Press-cuttings and notes for SZ, 1980, 1984-1985

Conditions Governing Access

Please refer to the fonds-level description for GB 1187 SZ.



Conditions Governing Use

Please refer to the fonds-level description for GB 1187 SZ.