Author Topic: The Mystery of the Radioactive Land Rover  (Read 230 times)

Offline Rad Yak

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The Mystery of the Radioactive Land Rover
« on: September 28, 2022, 01:31:23 PM »
Hi all,

My name is John, and I am an atomic history buff from WA. I have joined up hoping you may be able to help me solve an ongoing mystery that obsesses some people here in Freo particularly.

Many old sailors and former national servicemen based at HMAS Leeuwin (now known as Leeuwin Barracks) in East Freo believe there is a radioactive Jeep or Land Rover buried on the grounds somewhere. Every version of the story is different, but they all go something like this:

After the first nuclear test at Montebello in 1952, an RAN ship stuffed up and brought back a red-hot Jeep or Land Rover. Following numerous unsuccessful efforts to decontaminate the vehicle, it was supposedly buried on the grounds, but no one agrees on where. 

Defence has conducted a number of radiation and environmental surveys over the years, most recently in 2018 when Leeuwin was put up for sale (that process has since been put on hold). According to Defence, there is minor contamination from asbestos and fuel residue at the site, but no evidence of radiation.

On closer examination, Defence's findings are unconvincing. The 2018 report cites a radiation survey from the 1990s which found no evidence of contamination, but there is no report available for that survey. The firm that conducted the 2018 environmental survey wrote off the story as an unsubstantiated rumour and did not investigate further.

A separate radiation survey was conducted in 2015 (perhaps that is the survey the 2018 report is referring to, and they got the date wrong). Based on information provided by the Base Manager, the surveyors only looked at a small area, 25 m x 25 m, near the existing cricket nets. Old salts I have spoken to are convinced they were looking in the wrong area.

I have also done some (metaphorical) digging in the National Archives and have turned up some useful information with the help of REMLR's Mike C.

One file ('Radioactive Jeep ex Monte Bello', NAA: A6456, R098/021) reveals that there were in fact two radioactive Land Rovers brought back to Leeuwin during the fifties:

RN1308 - 2000 counts per second

C73723 - 60 counts per second

This file indicates that both vehicles were successfully decontaminated and disposed of but says nothing about where they ended up.

Another file ('Monte Bello - provision of Land Rover', NAA: A6456, R174/022) explains what happened in more detail.

RN1308 was a Royal Navy Land Rover used on Trimouille Island in the immediate aftermath of the first test (3 October 1952) and subsequently salvaged by HMAS Hawkesbury. It was kept at Leeuwin for the next year, apparently roped off, and the plan was to send it back up in November 1953 for a radiation survey. British scientists advised that it was unsafe, however, so a second LR was sourced from the Department of Supply. This vehicle (C73723) was taken up by HMAS Karangi in November 1953 and returned to Leeuwin two weeks later. It was subsequently decontaminated and shipped back to Naval Stores Sydney by HMAS Sydney in mid-1954. I would love to know what happened to it after that. The engine number was 36104869 can anyone help me track it down?

That leaves RN1308. I cannot find any trace of it after 1954 when, according to my research, RAN sailors were employed in disassembling, decontaminating and (crucially) reassembling it. I suspect it was off-loaded elsewhere and not buried, otherwise why go to the trouble of reassembling it? Adding some weight to that: one ex-sailor told me the 'Radioactive Jeep' sat in Naval Stores Fremantle for years, but that is unconfirmed.

I have just joined the HMVR forum in the UK in case anyone there can help me find an engine or chassis number for RN1308. Does anyone have any other suggestions for how to track it down? If it turns up anywhere after 1954, then obviously it was not buried. If there is no sign of it, then maybe it was buried after all ...

Cheers,

Rad Yak

Offline Chazza

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Re: The Mystery of the Radioactive Land Rover
« Reply #1 on: September 29, 2022, 12:46:49 PM »
If you join the Facebook Land Rover forums, especially Wes Oz Series, you will have a much better chance of finding the numbers,

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Offline Rad Yak

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Re: The Mystery of the Radioactive Land Rover
« Reply #2 on: September 29, 2022, 01:39:12 PM »
Thanks for the tip, Charlie

Offline Mick_Marsh

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Re: The Mystery of the Radioactive Land Rover
« Reply #3 on: September 29, 2022, 11:46:31 PM »
Very interesting story, John.
Any idea of the type of Landrover?

The reason I ask is a mate just picked up an ambulance. It has been suggested it may have been used at Maralinga. I have the geiger counter from work and we are going to check if it is a little more radioactive than the background.
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Offline Rad Yak

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Re: The Mystery of the Radioactive Land Rover
« Reply #4 on: October 02, 2022, 01:14:12 AM »
Hi Mick,

I don't know for sure, but I believe it was the same type as the vehicle pictured. This was one of the other Land Rovers used in the islands. They had about half a dozen - I am under the impression they were all the same type but I could be wrong.

Note the bizarre get-ups!

I would be very interested to hear the results when you check your mate's ambulance. They definitely used Land Rovers at Maralinga so it is certainly plausible. Anything allowed off the range SHOULD have been decontaminated but stranger things have happened!

Offline Chazza

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Re: The Mystery of the Radioactive Land Rover
« Reply #5 on: October 02, 2022, 10:39:33 AM »
That photo shows an 80" Land-Rover as shown by the sloping rear of the door aperture, which ties in with your 1952 date in your first post, as 80" models were made from 1948 to '53.

However, that doesn't prove much, as you need evidence of one being at HMAS Leeuwin. Long shot it may be worth asking the old-salts if they recognise the slope,

Cheers Charlie
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