The Cold War Face Off

An alarmed Washington ,on August 1949 ,learned of the explosion of the first Soviet atomic test.This was followed by the news that Klaus Fuchs had confessed to giving atomic and hydrogen bomb data to the Soviets . In October 1952 the United States tested its first thermonuclear device, obliterating a Pacific Ocean islet in the process; nine months later, the Soviets test an H-bomb of their own. General Curtis LeMay made Cin C of SAC (Strategic Air Command),went on to built his force into a modern, all-jet one run by dedicated professionals, rigorously trained and exercised. He oversaw the development of midair refueling, the establishment of new bases and units, the implementation of strict command-and-control systems as well as tough operational inspections, and the creation of plans for integrating intercontinental ballistic missiles with strategic airpower.

Bases were organized in concentric rings focused on Moscow, the outermost ring 4,600 nautical miles from the symbolic target across the West, Southwest, lower Midwest, and South. Strategy almost immediately changed, installations now placed across the upper tier states just below the Canadian border, heavily concentrated in New England, pre-existing AAF (Army Air Force) locations completely modernized, the thinking being that bombers taking off from New England instead of New Mexico, for instance, could reach their targets more quickly and with fewer refueling or stops. The soviets in response built bases in the Far East, the Barents Sea, Transbaikal and in the Urals, the major Arctic Control Group forward staging bases at: Anadyr (Far East), Mys-Schmidta (Far East), Olenegorsk (Barents Sea), Tiksi (Transbaikal), and Vorkuta (Urals).

The use of these strategic bomber forward staging bases was dictated by geography and weather. The northern parts of the Soviet Union closest to the United States in the arctic having hostile weather conditions, Soviet strategic bombers normally stationed at bases in more temperate parts of the Soviet Union, and only flying training missions from these forward staging bases.

The main Soviet bases were in the Far east were at Sakhalin; in the Russian Arctic; at Rene and Tiski further to the east; at Novya Zemyla, an island in the Arctic Ocean; and at Murmansk, the most western arctic seaport, the most westerly base being across the Atlantic in East Germany. The main USAF bases were at: Fairbanks Alaska; Whitehorse Yukon; Beaverlodge NWT; Frobisher NWT; Argentia Newfoundland; Greenland;Iceland; UK and in Spain.

One of the most important bases was at Iceland. In 1949 Iceland was one of the 12 Founding members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Icelandic officials decided that membership in the NATO alliance was not a sufficient defense and, at the request of NATO, entered into a defense agreement with the United States. This was the beginning of the Iceland Defense Force. The main base was at Keflavic having two runways, the largest in Iceland, both in excess of 10000 feet and able to be utilized by all types of transport or fighter aircraft. The airfield is just south of the Arctic Circle located at 63 59 degrees North latitude and 22 36 West longitude. The Icelandic Defense Force and the US Navy were credited with playing a significant role in deterrence, the air station serving as a base for U.S. fighter and patrol aircraft. At its peak about 2,200 U. S. service members, 100 DoD civilians and about 600 Icelandic civilians were based in Iceland in support of the Iceland Defense Force and NATO. (The US Navy had assumed the responsibility of running the air station from the US Air Force in 1961.)

In order to guard against a surprise attack consisting of bombers coming over the north pole targeting the US mainland, the US and Canada proceeded to build one of the marvels of modern engineering, a series of radar stations and command centers stretching across the entire northern hemisphere.

The Pine tree line became operational during the 1952-3 period and was centered on the 50th parallel, a section covering southern Ontario, another the Labrador coast as far north as Frobisher Bay and made up of 44 long range radar stations and six USAF manned Gap Filler radar stations. Some of these locations had a very short operational life - while others remained operational for more than 35 years. The Mid Canada line (MCL) was located along the 55th parallel starting at the Alaska border and ending at the Atlantic Ocean (also known as the McGill Fence) designed to catch aircraft that had evaded the DEW line .It consisted of 8 Sector Control Stations and approximately 90 unmanned sites about 30 miles apart stations located at: Dawson Creek BC; Stoney Mountain, Alberta; Cranburry, Manitoba; Birch, Manitoba; Winisk, Ontario; Great Whale River, Qubec; Knob Lake, Qubec; Hopedale, Labrador. This system operated on the "Doppler" principle. Conceived during the "Cold War" in 1951 it wasn't until January of 1958 that the DEW line became fully operational. With the 1960's came improvements in technology, and jet aircraft design in particular, rendering the MCL no longer economically feasible or strategically required. The western sites were decommissioned in January 1964 and the eastern sites in April 1965.

The DEW Line On 15 February 1954 President Eisenhower signed the bill approving the construction of the Distant Early Warning Line, its purpose an over the pole air defense warning of incoming bombers coming from soviet Arctic bases and any over the pole invasion of the North American continent. The Line was centered along the 70th parallel, the first line of air defense for the North American Continent. There were radar stations in the far northern Arctic region of Canada, with additional stations along the North Coast and the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. In the east the line stretched to Greenland and to Iceland, then on to the Scottish Faroe Islands, and to the Finingdales Yorkshire in the UK.The distinctive white radar housing domes were a familiar sight all along the line.

The actual construction of the 58 sites took place between 1955 and 1957. Many tons of supplies and equipment were moved to the Arctic by air, sea and river barge, the USAF 62nd Airlift Wing moving over 13 million pounds of materiel in a truly monumental effort. The DEW Line was declared fully operational on 31 July 1957.

Each DEW Line Main and Auxiliary site were located at roughly 100 mile intervals equipped with the FPS-19 search radar with a 160 mile range. There was good overlap with adjacent sites as given the doughnut pattern swept by the beam. The FPS-19 had a 48 sec sweep equal to 1.25 rpm and so was strictly surveillance radar. Given the slow sweep, ground clutter (significant to nil depending on site location) and that the operator, closeted in the surveillance room, had no sight of the runway, or anything else, the radar function was strictly advisory, their sole purpose being to advise aircraft of the location of other traffic. There was no Intercept Control on the DEW Line. Any unauthorized incursion of the DEWIZ (DEW intercept zone) would be in NORAD within a minute, the operators only allowed to vector aircraft to targets, albeit very slowly.

It was found that Keeping up with a flight of CF-100's was next to impossible and that even 6-8 DC3/C46's landing and taking off at Hall Beach during the Fall airlift proved to be quite a challenge to the operators. The operators realized that friendly interceptors would be coming from the northernmost strips at Frobisher and Churchill, as these were the nearest paved ones, and that no Soviet Bear bomber would bother wasting its load on them as they would, due to range considerations, be on a one way trip, any resulting action being well down into the Mid Canada Line area. The Atlantic extension of the DEW Line was designated the Atlantic Barrier, and Commander Barrier Force Atlantic (COMBARFORLANT) which was established in July 1955.The purpose was to control the ships and aircraft that would patrol, its headquarters located at U.S. Naval Station Argentia, Newfoundland, Canada which was acquired by the United States in 1941 under the Lend-Lease deal with the United Kingdom. COMBARFORLANT designated Commander Task Force 82 (CTF 82) in the CINCLANTFLT task organization, also served as Commander AEW Wing Atlantic

(COMAEWINGLANT), providing the planes that conducted the airborne early warning patrols.

In 1961, a Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) radar was constructed at Thule air force base.”J-Site," was located 13 miles northeast of main base. BMEWS was developed by the Raytheon Corporation in order to provide North America warning of a transpolar missile attack from the Russian mainland and submarine-launched missiles from the Arctic and North Atlantic oceans. The base host unit was deactivated by January 1968. Extension of coverage to guard against bombers curving in from the flanks required something other than ground stations. Texas Towers were one attempted solution. Essentially radars bolted to offshore oil well platforms, Texas Towers were scattered off the northeast US coast to provide early warning of a strike from the Atlantic. Five were planned but only three were built.

Mounting early warning radars on aircraft seemed an obvious way of plugging holes in the coverage. The four-piston engine Lock-heed Warning Star entered service in 1955, the precursor to today’s AWACS. This airplane proved the concept of airborne early warning and tactical air control and began development as the US Navy PO-1W, an early model Constellation Airliner modified to carry experimental electronic surveillance equipment. After the PO-1W proved the concept of airborne early warning in large NATO exercises, the US Navy and Air Force ordered large numbers of a developed variant based on the Lockheed Model 1049 Super Constellation. These aircraft entered service as the Navy WV-2, with 244 ordered, and the Air Force EC-121, 82 ordered of which 72 were from US Navy orders, the final variants being retired from the US Air Force Reserve in 1978.

On the West Coast, the 552nd AEW&C Wing, which flew Warning Stars out of McClellan AFB, provided Calif protection. On the East Coast, the 551st provided similar coverage from Otis, a huge base located on sand flats near Cape Cod's shoulder, at the point where the peninsular juts out from the Massachusetts mainland. A subsidiary unit, the 966th Airborne Early Warning Squadron was based at McCoy AFB, Fla., attempted to gather intelligence on Cuban activities.

In addition to the above it was felt necessary to obtain deeper information regarding the soviet forces on mainland Russia. From Thule air force base in the winter of 1956-57 three KC-97 tankers accompanied by two RB-47H aircraft made top secret polar flights .In the subzero weather the five KC-97s were prepared for flight engines running in order to ensure at least three got airborne. After a two-hour start a B-47 would catch up with them at the northeast coastline of Greenland where two would offload fuel to top off the B47's tanks (The third was an air spare). The B-47 would then fly seven hours of reconnaissance, the tankers returning to Thule to refuel, three then again flying out so as to rendezvous with the returning B47 at NE Greenland. The B-47 averaged ten hours and 4500 nm in the air. If the weather closed Thule the three tankers and the B-47 had to additionally fly to one of three equidistant alternates: England, Alaska, or Labrador. All of this was conducted in sometimes moonless, 24-hour arctic darkness, December through February. These flights demonstrated the capability of Strategic Air Command to Soviet Anti-Air Defense.

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