The Bomb at Lincoln
A look at nuclear weapons stationed at Lincoln AFB, 1955 to 1965
The nuclear bomb, perhaps the greatest "poster-child" of the Cold War,
was fielded in numbers at Lincoln Air Force Base from at least 1955
until November 1965. Born of physicists concerns over Adolf Hitler
acquiring the technology first, such places as Oak Ridge, Hanford and
Los Alamos soon entered the public's knowledge after the powerful blows
dealt to Japan in August 1945. Soon after, and especially after the
point in September 1949 when the Soviets detonated their first nuclear
weapon, the arms race began and newer, more powerful methods to deliver
the bomb and hone its destructive power began. By 1945 the primary
method to deliver the bomb was aboard a B-29, in 1955 the B-47 and by
1965 the Minuteman missile. Weapon strength grew well beyond the 13.5
kilotons exploded above Hiroshima into the megatons as carried aboard
the Atlas-F. In a space of twenty years the world saw an explosive
growth of nuclear weapons and delivery systems. Lincoln was active
during this time and fielded a force of nuclear bombs and warheads that
could easily devastate an area the size of Europe (this was only one SAC
base of many others). By 1965, approaching the closure of the base in
Lincoln, the world had experienced the Cuban Missile Crisis and the
first of many arms control agreements in 1963 (atmospheric nuclear
weapons testing was banned by signatory nations). Weapons sizes began to
shrink due to advances in targeting technology (a massive nuclear bomb
was highly overkill for a single airfield, previously weapons were large
to compensate for poor targeting especially in ICBMs). In another
thirty years the Cold War was over and arsenals were shrinking, yet the
specter of nuclear war continued (and later nuclear terrorism). This
single weapon was responsible for influencing years of international
politics, wars and the re-activation of an old Army Air Field in
The Only Wartime Use of Nuclear Weapons:
After the long Manhattan Project and the successful detonation of "Gadget", near Alamogordo, New Mexico, the first nuclear bomb, the only other two weapons then in existence were shipped to Tinian Island in the Marianas Chain in the Pacific Ocean.
One was named "Little Boy" a Uranium bomb and the other "Fat Man", a Plutonium bomb with a more power yield (explosive potential). On August 6th 1945, the B-29 "Enola Gay" dropped the first nuclear weapon in wartime conditions. The effect was prompt and severe.
The bomb burst over a bridge in the city of Hiroshima, a town largely ignored in the firebombing of other Japanese cities for the purpose of examining the bomb's blast effect. As it detonated, many perished without an idea of what occurred. After an initial flux of gamma radiation, the blast wave flung away from ground zero devastating whatever lied in its path as a mass of wind and fire spread outward from the fireball in quick succession. Upwards of 80,000 died from various causes, predominately collapsing buildings but also fires, the intense heat of the blast (shadows were literally burned into concrete) and radiation, both initially and later. The city was absolutely devastated, and it was a "mere" 13.5 kiloton bomb.
13.5 kilotons yielded to around 13.5 thousand tons of TNT. However during the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, those bombs became much more powerful and much more numerous. Weapons programs were developed to construct massive, even monstrous bombs and warheads. The largest the United States would deploy was a 25 megaton (25 million tons of TNT) bomb carried by either a B-47 or a B-52 bomber. In 1961, the Soviet Union dropped its own super-weapon, "Ivan" on a remote test ground. This weapon's strength was measured from 50 to 58 Megatons while it was actually configured to be a 100 megaton weapon but was decreased in size to prevent massive fallout from the blast. This weapon if deployed would have been 7400 times larger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima!
Lincoln Air Force Base had a
complement of 90-120 B-47 bombers, 12 Atlas-F Intercontinental Ballistic
Missiles and 24 Nike-Hercules defensive missiles. The base held many
nuclear weapons in its inventory from 1955 to 1965.
It is hard to determine the model bombs deployed with the B-47s as the United States government tends not to disclose what nuclear weapons were deployed where (at least in our research) but certain events point towards what was deployed where (as in the Bowling incident in England). It could probably be narrowed down to six types by "connecting the dots" via events, what weapons were designed for what bombers and the numbers of a particular bomb built. The Mark-6 was an 8-160 Kiloton weapon probably deployed with B-47s during the early stages of deployment during the 1950's as 1100 were produced until retirement in 1962. A Mark-6 was also the bomb that nearly detonated during the Bowling B-47 crash in England during 1956, which made deployment at Lincoln very likely. This bomb was "fission" powered meaning it was "atomic/nuclear" in character and not a hydrogen bomb.
The Mark-15 and Mark-28 bombs were likely deployed with the bombers after 1955 and 1958 respectively. After the first successful thermonuclear test (Ivy-Mike) in 1952, the rush to make hydrogen bombs smaller resulted in these two, most notably with the Mark-28. The Mark-15 had a yield of 1-4 Megatons and 1200 were built until retirement in 1965 (coinciding with the retirement of the B-47 in service) The Mark-28 was specifically built to be loaded onto B-52s, B-58s and later B-47s. These had yields of 70 kilotons to 1.45 megatons as 4500 were built from 1958 to 1966.
Also mentioned as a possible B-47 weapon was the Mark-41 bomb with had a yield of 25 megatons which would make it the largest bomb to be carried on the B-47. A newer replacement by the early 60s was the Mark-53 with a 9 megaton warhead. 550 were built and this weapon would also be used in the Titan-II missile as its warhead, it actually remains in the inactive American nuclear stockpile while all others have been retired.
The standard load-out of a Lincoln B-47 would be probably 100 kilotons to 4 megatons during the 1950's carrying late generation fission weapons and early fusion bombs, then on to 1 to 9 megaton weapons during the early 1960's when bomb manufacturing switched primarily to the thermonuclear variety.
Keep in mind that not all the bombers were capable at the same time, with usually 8-30 on alert at Lincoln or on Temporary Deployment at a certain time (ready to fly at a moments notice). With others ready to fly given more time. Bombs at LAFB were handled by members of the 34th Munitions Maintenance Squadron and guarded by the 818th Combat Defense Squadron. No single person could be near a bomb at one time.
By 1957 and the launch of Sputnik, the United States rushed to adapt nuclear weapons to be delivered by missiles. A Lincoln Atlas-F missile meanwhile
either carried a W-38 warhead of 3.75 megatons or a later version W-49
warhead of 1.44 megatons loaded into Avco Mark-4 Re-entry Vehicles. These re-entry vehicles were shrouded shields meant to protect their contents from the heat of reentering the earth's atmosphere. They
were all on alert from 551st operational deployment in 1962 to 1965 with the
exception of maintenance and also attrition, also highly guarded
Only the Nike missile was anywhere comparable to the Hiroshima bomb with a yield of either 2-40 kilotons, keep in mind that these rockets would ironically be bursting over our own nation, probably near Fremont or Norfolk, Nebraska to destroy oncoming Soviet bombers. There were 24 of those missiles on constant alert as well at two sites.
In all, the weapons strength at Lincoln probably exceeded 200 megatons at its peak. Many of these weapons deployed were considered "dirty" because they emitted much more radiation and fallout than "cleaner" weapons. "Dirty" weapons were however more numerous due to the fact that they produced a higher yield and were cheaper to produce. Much of the devastation an explosion would produce would cause problems further downwind where the fallout would descend on the earth.
Much more information can be found at nuclearweaponsarchive.org concerning the history and technical details of Cold War nuclear weapons.
The unimaginable devastation caused by nuclear weapons are horrific to consider but these weapons did exist in the tens of thousands during the Cold War and also continue to be in high numbers today, but lowered by START treaties including an upcoming treaty in 2010.
Lincoln was a selected base to handle
these special weapons during the height of the Cold War. From the 15kt
bomb of Hiroshima to the 9mt bombs loaded onto Lincoln B-47s, the bomb
truly became a symbol of the entire period. From the knowledge that these
weapons produce nightmarish results, a responsibility was put on the
shoulders of Lincoln AFB as well as other nuclear bases the world over.
The responsibility was to hopefully never use them and only deploy them for the sake of deterrence, for using a nuclear weapon in anger meant mission failure for the
base and the Strategic Air Command.
References:The Nuclear Weapons Archive at http://nuclearweaponarchive.org
Weapons List: http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/Usa/Weapons/Allbombs.html
SAC Nuclear Bombs: http://www.strategic-air-command.com/weapons/nuclear_bomb_chart.htm
Natural Resources Defense Council Nuclear Weapons Archive: http://www.nrdc.org/nuclear/nudb/datainx.asp