This is an unbelievable story of a tank that was used by the British to conduct nuclear tests and not only survived the blast, but went on to be used in several high profile missions. That’s one tough tank.
The test was codenamed Operation Totem, and was one of a number of British atomic tests carried out in remote areas of Australia during the 1950s. While the primary focus of these tests was the performance of the atomic weapons, there was also the opportunity to measure the blast effects on various types of military equipment. Although Centurion Mark 3 tanks had only been in service with the Australian Army since September 1951, and there were plenty of obsolescent Second World War tanks available, it was decided that an expensive current issue Centurion tank only a year old would be provided. With every expectation that the damage would be so severe as to effectively destroy the vehicle, the provision of a Centurion was certainly a measure of the importance placed on the atomic tests by the Australian Government.
At Woomera, the tank was stowed with a complete issue of ammunition, including grenades and 2-inch smoke bombs, before the convoy commenced the 300 mile move across rough desert tracks, Spinifex and sand dunes to Emu Field.
The tank was in position at the test site by early August, and over the next two months was subjected to various inspections and measurements. It was also fitted with sensors and makeshift dummy crewmen.
Positioned to face the low-yield atomic blast head on, 169041 was less than 500 yards from the epicentre.