Friday, May 25, 2012

There is no bomb, there was no bomb, they were not looking for a bomb

I’m a researcher at heart.  First during my grad school and university researcher days, then and now in my applied consulting work, and even spilling over into my hobbies and interests. Sort of an OCD thing.

I love certain facets of history and have read and researched for decades on the topics surrounding WWI military aircraft.  But of late I’ve gotten hooked on the Cold War era; I’m not really sure why. I remember the national tenseness during the Cuban missile crisis and recall touring demonstration fallout shelters set up on the edge of our local shopping center’s parking lot. Sort of a bizarre open house. “Wouldn’t you lovely ladies like to see the latest style in annihilation avoidance?”

So of late I’ve been reading tons about Dew Lines, U-2 and SR-71 spy planes.  And before them a less-sophisticated era with re-purposed bombers and cargo planes making  near-constant forays into Communist China and Russia to both photograph and to purposely test the enemy’s radar systems. Dangerous work. I can highly recommend a 2002 release:  By Any Means Necessary by William E. Burrows, for those who might have a further interest.

I’ve also been researching accidents and near-accidents with military aircraft carrying nuclear bombs. During the Cold War, New England had more than its share of active air bases due to its northern locale (defending both the North Atlantic as well as the Arctic).  Dow (Bangor), ME, Loring (Limestone), ME, Pease, (Portsmouth) NH and Westover in central Mass. were just some of the key facilities that were fully operational during those tense times.

As a side note, when Dow was deactivated and turned over to civilian use, little Bangor Airport could tout the longest commercial runway on the East Coast. The airport was so underutilized that when the Boeing 747 was first coming out, airlines would use Bangor to train new pilots. My wife and I (poor newly married students with no $) would hike over there on a Sunday afternoon to watch 747’s make touch-and-ago landings. One of Bangor’s other claims to fame is its use as an aviation police station, especially once it became an international airport with customs agents. When there are in-flight bomb scares, as just happened with a Paris – Charlotte US Airways flight, or when a tipsy passenger (seems often to be a Brit for some reason) causes trouble in the cabin, the aircraft will land at Bangor to get things sorted out. The old SAC base has found an odd but necessary niche in today’s air commerce.

Back to the nukes. The title of this post refers to an incident in 1968 at the U.S. airbase in Thule Greenland where a B-52 from Westover crashed on the ice and the fuel exploded.  The plane was carrying four nuclear bombs and the conventional explosives detonated but there was no nuclear explosion. Almost from the get-go the rumors were that the Air Force had recovered three of the nuclear devices but could not find the fourth, even searching with a Scripps Institute of Oceanography submersible, and gave up trying. I have a CD ROM copy of the original Air Force reports and photos (I told you, research OCD!). Long-story-short, the rumors kept surfacing and so the Danish government (of which Greenland is a part) commissioned an independent study just a few years ago to try and put the issue to rest. My post's title is the sub-title of that report (yes, I have a full copy of that too). But did the report settle the issue once and for all?  Was the U.S. guilty of a Cold War cover up and is there a nuclear bomb unaccounted for in the far North?  I’m writing more about that in the near future.


Gringo said...

Several months ago I picked for $1 at a used book store a copy of Red Star Rogue: The Untold Story of a Soviet Sumbarine's Nuclear Strike Attempt on the US. It posits that the Soviet sub that the Hughes Glomar Explorer raised to the surface circa 1975 had been on a rogue mission in early 1969 to nuke Honolulu- and make it appear that the Red Chinese had done it.

This would have been a rogue attempt by gray eminence Suslov & friends, bypassing the ordinary Kremlin/Poliburo chain of command for a nuclear strike. Brezhnev was completely out of the loop. My first introduction to Suslov was in a Politics course I took my freshman year in high school. Our teacher- or was it the NYT- informed us that Suslov was behind Krushhev's being replaced by Brezhnev in 1964. Current events in the classroom.

If the author is accurate on the information he presents from the Soviet side, it may be plausible. But who knows? Interesting reading.

The Cold War has maintained my interest. Perhaps this is because I knew a fair number of Iron Curtain refugees: in my hometown and later from working in Latin Ameria. I also knew people in Latin America who had some first-hand accounts of left wing guerrillas.

A good book on the Cold War is Derek Leebaert's The Fifty-Year Wound.

Sponge-headed ScienceMan said...

Gringo - Fasinating; I never heard that theory about the Russian sub. When I was in grad school in oceanography we were following the constuction of the Glomar Explorer, supposedly the working cousin of the scientific research ship Glomar Challenger being constructed for underwater mining. We were all fooled on that one.

Have you read Blind Man's Bluff by Sherry Sontag (and others)? Super detailed research on the authors' part.