The Missiles of Sandy Hook, Part 2

 

The New Nike Missiles at Sandy Hook:

The Cold War essentially started in 1946 with the beginnings of the development of the USSR Soviet strategic bomber force. The threat was now Soviet strategic bombers attacking New York City. The Soviet Union detonated its first atomic bomb in 1950 and its first thermonuclear hydrogen bomb in 1955 with a yield of 1.6 megatons. The Soviet RDS-220 hydrogen bomb, code name “Ivan”, known in the West as “Tsar Bomba” was the most powerful nuclear weapon ever created. Tested on October 30, 1961, it also remains the most powerful explosive every created with a Blast Yield of 50 megatons of TNT. In theory, it would have had a maximum yield of 100 megatons of TNT if it had included a Uranium-238 tamper, but because only one bomb was ever built by the Russians, this theory was never tested by the Russians. These massive “City-Buster” Russian Thermo-Nuclear Hydrogen Bombs are exactly what threatened New York City after 1955 and especially after 1961.

TU-16 Badger, photo copyright Alan Wilson via AVIA BavARia/Wikimedia Commons

Initially, Soviet bombers were the ideal delivery platforms for these massive nukes to hit the US. The first Soviet long range strategic bomber was the Tupolev Tu-4 “Bull” bomber, a reverse-engineered B-29 Superfortress copy. With a range of almost 4,000 miles, in theory it could have reached New York on a one-way trip. All those big guns in Sandy Hook that were for battleship defense, by 1950 were totally irrelevant. Now the threat was from Soviet bombers with 50 megaton nukes hitting New York. The first real threat, and still operational today, was the Tupolov Tu-95 Soviet “Bear” intercontinental strategic bomber with a un-refueled range of 9,400 miles, a cruise altitude of 45,000 feet, that was introduced in 1952. The Tu-16 “Badger”, introduced in 1954, but with a shorter range of 4,474 miles, also had a nuclear delivery capability and was a similar threat. By 1950, the Soviet bomber threat to New York was a reality. An anti-aircraft missile had to be developed to to intercept new jet aircraft and bombers. In 1944 the War Department demanded development of a AAM missile to defend against jet aircraft that were being developed. Two systems were started in 1945: Bell Labs developed “Project Nike” that led to the first Nike missile – the Nike Ajax – that first entered service in 1953 with a range of 30 miles, a loft ceiling of 70,000 feet and a speed of 1,710 mph, and a longer range missile, the BOMARC missile (short for BOeing – Michigan Aerospace Research Center; the developers), originally called “Project Thumper”, developed by GE in 1952, operational in 1959, with a range of 250 miles, and a speed of Mach 2.5. The Army favored the Nike-Ajax for close-in “Last-Chance” defense. The Air Force went with the BOMARC for long range intercepts. In 1958, most Nike sites were upgraded to the more advanced Nike-Hercules with a 90 mile range and a loft ceiling of 150,000 feet.

In 1953, with the threat of the Cold War looming and the threat of Soviet bombers attacking New York, the post-WW2 quiet at Sandy Hook ended and construction on the “Fort Hancock NIke-Ajax Missile Base”, known as “NY-56”, one of 25 Nike missile bases to be built around New York, was started. Sandy Hook was once again a highly classified and guarded military base, first with the Nike-Ajax missiles and later with the Nike-Hercules missiles, later to be armed with 40 kiloton nuclear warheads and operational from 1954 to 1974. And so began the story of “The Missiles of Sandy Hook”. Sandy Hook is to this day, the second most well preserved Nike-Hercules missile site in the United States, the first being in San Francisco. 

The Nike missiles at Sandy Hook and the other 25 Nike sites ringing New York City were the last line of defense against possible attacks by a mass of incoming Soviet Tu-95 “Bear” long range strategic nuclear bombers heading into New York City from the Atlantic Ocean. The North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), based at Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, coordinating with various radar sites on the east coast, and locally controlled by the new “Semi-Automated Ground Environment” (SAGE) local Command and Control C3 Center located regionally in a massive above ground concrete bunker at nearby Stewart Air Force Base just north of New York, would all assist to assemble and coordinate multiple radar targets from a number of interlocking radar sources to provide Ground Control Intercept (GCI) solutions to destroy the incoming bomber threats. Radars of the 1950’s and 1960’s that provided defensive coverage for the US included: the southern “Pine Tree Line” (1952); the “Mid-Canada Line” (1956) and the “Distant Early Warning” (DEW) Line (1960) in the Arctic. In 1962 the DEW Line was further extended into Scotland and Midway Island in the Pacific. The USAF Air Defense Command also controlled 50 coastal radar centers, by 1951 called “The Lash-Up System”. In 1952 Lash-Up was replaced with the “Permanent System”, which now numbered 74 long range radar sites looking out into the Atlantic Ocean.

Lockheed EC-121D Constellation at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

In 1962, the “Gap Filler Radar System” was added around the US. By the mid-60’s, both the Navy and the Air Force had ship-borne and air-borne radar picket units ringing the US as well; these included destroyer radar picket ships, Lockheed EC-121 Constellation “Warning Star” early warning and control radar surveillance aircraft flying out of Otis AFB in Cape Cod and fixed “Texas Towers” sitting out in the Atlantic Ocean along the Atlantic coast that looked like Gulf oil rigs but were loaded with radar domes and a large helo pad. Upon the first radar tracking of incoming Tu-95 “Bear” bombers heading for New York, jet fighter interceptor aircraft would be launched from local Air Force Bases to intercept and engage the targets far out in the Ocean, vectored in by SAGE C3 GCI Controllers. In the 1960’s the various fighters could be launched from the various ADC fighter bases around New York that had aircraft on constant Ready Alert in those days. These included: Stewart AFB, McGuire AFB, Suffolk County AFB, Otis AFB and Griffiss AFB. The GCI Control Center for the New York area was the SAGE unit at Stewart AFB. The SAGE Center at Stewart was a massive 6-story window-less above ground bunker that housed the electronic marvel of the day in the 50’s and 60’s – the monstrous 275 ton SAGE mainframe computer. The Stewart SAGE bunker was like a scene out of “Dr. Strangelove” or the later “War Games” movies with the “Big Board” and all the computer stations facing it. SAGE was the Air Force system for Tactical Command, Control and Communications of all the various Air Defence Command pieces, including the Nike Base and Radars at Sandy Hook, that all combined to monitor the sky around New York and defend it from any threats. SAGE also linked the Air Defense Command (ADC) Eastern Sector, the Tactical Air Command (TAC), the Strategic Air Command (SAC), as well as the Army’s Nike Air Defense Command Centers and the local AADCP Army Air Defense Command Post located in a concrete underground bunker in the “Atlantic Highlands” hill overlooking the Sandy Hook Nike Missile Base NY-56.

BOMARC Missile launch, USAF photo

BOMARC Missiles:

Any Soviet Tu-95 “Bear” bombers that “leaked through” the jet fighter interceptors’ screen around New York would be picked up by the USAF BOMARC (IM-99A/B, CIM-10A/B) long range interceptor missiles. The BOMARC-A with dangerous liquid fuel, had a range of 250 miles. The BOMARC-B with safer solid fuel had a range of 440 miles. Like the Nike-Herculese, the B also carried a 40 kiloton nuclear warhead. The Air Force had grand plans for the BOMARC. The initial plans in 1952 were for 52 air defense missile sites each basing 120 missiles. This was soon scaled back to 40 sites. Then 29 sites with 60 missiles each by 1959. Then, with Congress screaming, it went to 18 BOMARC sites with 28 missiles each. Finally they agreed in March of 1960 to only deploy BOMARC in 8 sites in the US and 2 in Canada. The 8 US sites were mostly near New York City. The first BOMARC-A site became operational at McGuire AFB, NJ, on September 19, 1959 with 56 missiles with above ground steel and concrete shelters with sliding roofs. The next sites were at: Suffolk County AFB, LI, NY; Langley AFB, VA; Otis AFB, MA; Dow AFB, at Bangor, ME, all done by December, 1960. By June of 1961, BOMARC-B’s became operational at Kincheloe AFB, MI; Duluth MN; Niagara Falls, NY. Due to political unrest, the two Canadian sites never had nukes. Finally, if any Tu-95 Bears leaked through the fighter screen and the BOMARC screen, the 25 Nike batteries in NY, NJ and CT, including the Sandy Hook “NY-56” Battery, would all be on Ready-Alert as a short range close-in weapons system with a 90-mile out / 150,000 foot loft range to attack the Bear bombers as a last resort system. Sixteen Nike-Hercules missiles were always ready for immediate launch. Eight more were kept in reserve on site in underground storage. All Hercules were armed usually with 40 kiloton nuke warheads. (The Hiroshima bomb was only 15 kilotons.) And the New Jersey neighbors never really knew that there were 24 nukes at Sandy Hook ready for immediate launch from 1958 to 1974. Pass the sunscreen!

Stewart AFB Command Bunker – photo taken in 2017

After June 1960 at Sandy Hook:

All 25 Nike batteries in the New York Air Defense Sector were controlled out of the “Army Air Defense Command Post” (AADCP) (NY-55DC) located in a large underground concrete bunker at the nearby “Highlands Air Force Station” on a high hill in Highlands, NJ, overlooking Sandy Hook below.  NY-55DC was in turn controlled by the SAGE Command Bunker at Stewart AFB. Additional SAGE Bunkers were also at McGuire, Langley and Dow AFB’s but for the NYC area, Stewart had primary GCI control. All CP’s were overall controlled by the NORAD CP in Cheyenne Mountain, CO. The New York Air Defense Sector was the largest ADC Sector in the Nation.

In June 1948, the Air Defense Command activated 646th Aircraft Control and Warning (AC&W) Squadron at the “Twin Lights LashUp” Radar Site (L-12) with the new General Electric AN/CPS-6 Radar and a AN/TPS-1B Radar that provided radar data to the USAF Manual Control Center at the Roslyn Air Warning Station, at Long Island, New York, as part of the overall “LashUp Radar Network”. In December 1950, the 646th AC&W relocated to a larger radar site on top of the Highlands hill that now incorporated a new Control Post bunker and a new GE long range AN/CP’S-6 Radar, and was now designated as Site-9 of the new national “Permanent Radar Network”. On 1953, the whole Radar and CP and Bunker Complex was renamed to now be the “Highlands Air Force Station”. In 1955, a GE medium range AN/FPS-8 Surveillance Radar was installed to supplement the existing GE long range AN/CPS-6 Surveillance Radar and later converted to a GE long range AN/CPS-3 Radar that stayed on line until 1960. In March 1957, Highlands AFS began operating the first Bendix AN/FPS-14 Radar in the Nation at the “Gap Filler” Radar Site P-9A in Gibbsboro, NJ., active until 1960. The AADCP at Highlands AFS later became an AN/FSG-1 “Missile Master” Radar Detection Center. Later the AN/TSQ-51 “Missile Mentor” solid state computer system was installed. NY-55DC was integrated in 1958 into the USAF Air Defense Command / NORAD “Semi-Automated Ground Environment” SAGE air defense network as Site P-9 / Z-9. In 1959, Highlands further upgraded to the GE long range AN/FPS-7 Radar in combination with the advanced Martin AN/FSG-1 Antiaircraft Defense System. Highlands AFS was also linked to “Texas Tower-4”, Call Sign “Dora”, the Radar Platform far out on the Atlantic Ocean that was destroyed in a violent storm in January 1961 that killed 28 crew members.

Further radar and systems upgrades continued at the Highlands AFS until DOD announced that Air Force operations at the Highlands AFS CP would end on 20 November 1964. The Army gradually took over running the old Highlands AFS CP and Radar Site. The “Highlands Army Air Defense Site” (HAADS) was established in 1966 with the installation of the first in the nation, Hughes AN/TSQ-51 Air Defense Command and Coordination System. This replaced the Martin AN/FSG-1 Antiaircraft Defense System in the “Missile Master” nuclear-hardened Command Bunker, which used radar to guide Nike missiles to their targets. HAADS assumed total control of the USAF Station after the USAF announced its closure for July of 1966. The 646th Radar Squadron (SAGE) was inactivated on 1July 1966. The Army’s use of the site ended in 1974 under “Project Concise”, when the entire Nike Missile Program ended. C3 operations were totally inactivated on 31 October 1974. Prior to the closing, the New Jersey Air National Guard took over running the Highlands Air Force Station until the end of the Nike Program in October of 1974.

Most of the buildings at the Highlands Air Force Station and later the Army Air Defense Command Post (AADCP) were demolished in the mid 1980’s and 1990’s and a few building foundations still remain in a small clearing within the site’s overgrowth of vegetation. However, the concrete bunkers for Battery Lewis, Battery 219, and the Plotting and the Switchboard Binker still remain. Only some small foundations still remain of the underground concrete nuclear-hardened AFS-AADCP C3 Command Post Bunker on that high hill at Atlantic Highlands still remain. Rumor has it that the Command Post rooms with the “Big Board” still exists under that high grass mound. There is a walking trail that goes around that grassy high mound now. It’s called “The HAADS Command Loop” (!!!)

That “Highlands Air Force Station” was a military installation in Middletown Township in the Borough of Highlands, New Jersey. As the name implies, it was located on a 600 foot high hill overlooking the Sandy Hook Army Nike missile battery complex about 4 miles away. It was near the famous historic “Twin Lights” double lighthouse on the same high hill. The HL-AFS provided ground control interception radar coverage and coordination as part of the “LASH-UP” Radar Network and SAGE C3 Network as well as providing coverage for the Highlands Army Air Defense Site (HAADS). The Highlands AADCP networked the local Army Nike Radars and Highlands AFS Radars to direct the local Nike Missile Fire Direction Centers around New York City, each of which had their own local network of three Nike radar systems per Nike Battery for acquiring the target and guiding the Nike-Herc missiles to the target. The Nike Air Defense Command Post (AADCP – pronounced by the crews as “Ad-Cap”) at the Highlands  Air Force Station directed all the Nike fire control units in the New York Defense Sector, replacing the Nike Missile “Manual Operations Center” at Fort Wadsworth in Staten Island near the future Verrazano Narrows Bridge. The “Missile-Master” Army Installation at the Highlands Air Force Station, now included the new “Height Finder Radars”, a Nuclear Resistant C3 Concrete Underground Command Bunker, four new radar towers, a diesel electric power plant, and an electrical switching building. The Army assumed control of the HL-AFS after the DOD announced its closure in 1966 with the inactivation of the USAF 646th Radar Squadron. After 1966, the HL-AADCP was next responsible for the New York – Philadelphia area C3 and was still data-linked to the Stewart SAGE Control Bunker. It assigned vectoring of local jet fighter interceptor aircraft, and BOMARC and Nike missiles to locate, intercept and kill incoming Soviet bombers entering the Atlantic Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) off the coast of New York. The HL-AADCP Command Post was fully decommissioned in October 31, 1974. The actual C3 underground concrete nuclear bunker was demolished in 1994. It is now part of a New Jersey county park near the Twin-Lights lighthouse.

Roslyn Air Force Station:

The USAF had another Radar Command and Control Center in Long Island near the New York City Line, not far from Sandy Hook. This was the Roslyn Air Force Station. In 1951 the Air Defense Command assigned the 503rd Aircraft Control & Warning (AC&W) Group to Roslyn LI with the mission of developing a general radar surveillance system for the New York area. Roslyn had a major long range radar dome, a control center, and support facilities for C3 operations there in the Cold War. In the late 1950’s, the 645th AC&W Squadron was assigned to Roslyn which established a Manual Control Center (MCC) at Roslyn. The unit received USAF long range radar tracks and aircraft target plotting data from: a) the 773rd AC&W Squadron (L-10) at Camp Hero, LI, NY – a large high radar dish and underground bunker complex that still exists today at Montauk Point, LI, (see photo) at the eastern tip of Long Island (NB: There are still rumors that the “Philadelphia Experiment” took place, and may STILL be taking place in the underground bunker complex at Camp Hero – Google It!); b) the 646th AC&W Squadron at Twin Lights (Atlantic Highlands), NJ, (L-12)  – also known as Atlantic Highlands Air Force Station, that had a giant radar dish and a C3 nuclear bomb-resistant underground Command Center bunker that existed until 1994 at Atlantic Highlands, that sat on a high 600 foot hill overlooking the Nike Missile Battery NY-56 at Sandy Hook below and adjacent Nike Batteries at Holmdel and Leonardo NJ and; c) the 770th AC&W Squadron at Palermo, NJ, (L-13) – a high radar dish and control center near Cape May, on the southern tip of New Jersey.

McDonnell F-101 Voodoo

All of these USAF long range radar stations provided Ground Controlled Interception (GCI) radar coverage as a part of the “LASH-UP” radar network and the SAGE C3 Control Bunkers at Stewart and McGuire AFB’s as well as coverage for the Highlands Army Air Defense Site near Sandy Hook. All of these Command Centers were in nuclear-hardened underground concrete bunkers and the radar data was used to guide nearby Nike missiles, BOMARC long range intercept missiles and USAF ADC fighter interceptor jets, all of which had one primary mission — KILL all the incoming Soviet Tu-95 “Bear” bombers!!!

The Nike Missile Base at Sandy Hook Today and How It All Worked:

As you drive into Sandy Hook you first see the WW2 Security Gate House for the old Fort Hancock Army Post right near the Route 36 bridge into Sandy Hook. In 1954 the Main Gate was moved further north when the new Nike Base was established. The Main Gate was now near the Missile Launch Area. The National Park Service Maintenance Garage took over the remaining support buildings for the old Nike Missile Launch Complex after the Nike Base closing after 1974. Outside the fence is a restored white Nike-Hercules Missile on a raised erector stand with a Launch Control Trailer right behind it. Just inside the Maintenance fence is a fully restored white Nike-Ajax missile also on a raised erector stand. (There are two other Nike missiles up by the Radar Strands in a restricted area on flat trailers waiting for restoration and future display. There are also restored Ajax and Hercules second stages on vertical display and two separate warhead sections also on display further to the north at the “Guardian Park Memorial” near the Officers Row Housing and Parade Grounds at the old WW1 Fort Hancock Army Base complex.  Usually the Maintenance Garage fence is open until 4 PM on weekdays and you can walk in and view both missiles up close. If you keep walking past the old Missile Support Buildings, you can actually enter the abandoned Nike Missile Launch Area in a second fenced on area in what was called “The Exclusion Zone” in what was a highly secured area where the missiles were stored underground in a “Magazine Storage Bunker”. The missiles were moved below grade on a manual track system and raised hydraulically on elevator lifts to the missile erector frames above ground when the missiles were placed on Alert for a possible Russian bomber intrusion.

Missile Launch Site, Nikes were stored below.

“Missile Launch Area” (ML):

You can walk the “Exclusion Zone” right now and see the remnants of the Missile Launch Area and the top of the concrete underground Missile Magazine Bunkers. For safety reasons, the underground Missile Magazine area, where 24 Nike missiles were stored, serviced and armed, is now Off-Limits. As you walk on top of the concrete underground missile storage magazines you can still see the left over steel frames that bolted in the 16 Nike steel launch erectors. With NY-56, there were two rows of eight missile erector frames each. One of every group of 4 missiles had a hydraulic elevator that brought up each of the 4 missiles for that section from the Missile Storage Magazine bunker below grade. There were underground tracks below grade to manually move the missiles around in the missile storage bunker. The 4 sections were known as “Alpha, Baker, Charlie and Delta” with 3 to 5 men working each section. As each Nike was raised on the elevator to ground level, when they reached ground level, its Ground Crew would manually push it fully fueled on a railroad track system to its steel erector launch frame. It would be locked into the frame and a separate hydraulic lift on the erector frame would lift it to the ideal launch firing position angle of 82 degrees. Once “Locked and Loaded” the ground crews would return to the relative safety of the underground storage bunkers to await the actual missile firing that was controlled from the separate up-range “Integrated Fire Control Center” (IFC) about a mile north of “Launch Area Exclusion Zone” (LA). The LA was highly secure because of the volatile fuel but more importantly because of the nuclear warheads stored below ground. Near each missile elevator platform for each Section of 4 missiles, was a Supply Air Vent, a Return Exhaust Air Vent, and a Access Ladder Hatch with a heavy metal door. These are all still visible here as you walk on top of the Missile Magazine. The underground storage chamber was protected by thick reinforced concrete. It contained the Elevator Mechanism and the loading and storage racks for the missiles. The Personnel Room for the Launch Crews was divided from the missile storage area by protective concrete walls and contained the underground Section Control Room. Access for the personnel was via a vertical hatch and a metal staircase at ground level. Each Section A/B/C/D had its own separate underground 4-Missile Magazine and Support Areas for safety reasons. Each Missile Magazine Section was used to service the missile engines, arm the nuclear warheads of 2, 4, 10 or 40 kiloton yields, use the warhead hoists to remove or load the conventional or nuclear warheads, remove and service guidance controls, or remove the warhead containers. Missiles could also be moved above ground on service trailers to either: a) the refueling-defueling building; b) the missile assembly and service building; c) the warhead assembly building; or d) the electrical generator building. Securing a missile after an Alert involved taking out the “Arming Plugs”, putting in the “Safe Plugs” and activating the underground warmers to “keep the missiles nice and warm”, as an ex-crewmember described. The Sandy Hook Battery also had 8 reserve missiles stored underground for a total of 24 missiles on site. Sixteen missiles were always fueled, armed and ready to fire but usually always stored underground unless there was a High Alert going on, in which case all 16 missiles would be on the erector frames ready to fire for immediate launch.

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