What was Lincoln Air Force Base?Lincoln Air Force Base was a Strategic Air Command bomber base in existence from 1954 to 1966 near Lincoln, Nebraska, USA. A part of the United States Air Force, the 8,000 acre site was not a part of the city of Lincoln but actually property of the U.S. government for several years. With several thousand airmen, officers and civilians to back it up, the base was home to...
Two Bomb Wings - The 98th and 307th Bomb Wings (Medium) - 90-120 B-47E Stratojet Medium Bombers
Two Air-Refueling Squadrons - The 98th and 307th Air-Refueling Squadrons - 40 KC-97G Propeller-driven tankers
One missile squadron - The 551st Strategic Missile Squadron - 12 Atlas-F Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles
And a number of other support and operational squadrons
Why did the Air Force build a base there?In 1950, the Cold War was heating up. North Korea invaded South Korea bringing a direct threat to East Asia and the stability of the region. North Korea, along with China and the Soviet Union (now Russia) followed Communism while many nations in the so-called "western" world embraced capitalism and democracy. Since these interests were now threatened by war in Korea, a recent Soviet atomic bomb test (proving Soviet power to stand up against the United States) and Communism's gaining influence across the globe, the United States embarked on a mission to help curb Communism and help those nations who were fighting it.
At the time, the atomic bomb - first used in combat against the Japanese at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II - was considered an ultimate weapon. Extremely destructive, an American stockpile of these nuclear weapons were thought to help provide a "deterrent", a way to prevent an actual war from breaking out since using these now much larger nuclear weapons gave nightmares to all world leaders.
In the 1950 period, the only way to deliver a nuclear bomb was by airplane. Thus, a special command of the U.S. Air Force - the Strategic Air Command - was built up as a large-scale intercontinental bombing force. Its bombers as of 1950 however were growing outdated and new designs using jet technology were being built. One of these was the jet-powered B-47 Stratojet, a plane whose influence on many airliners and large-aircraft of today is remarkable.
With so many B-47s to come of the assembly line, but also because the Soviet Union was gaining the ability to drop nuclear weapons on American bases, it was decided to deploy hundreds of these bombers to bases across the United States. Many had closed since the end of World War II but were now given a new mission, to base bomber planes for the Air Force and to prepare for the unthinkable mission of nuclear war if they were called upon. Lincoln Air Force Base was activated to perform this mission
Cold War? Atomic Bombs?The Cold War was the name given to the conflict of ideologies between the United States and the now defunct Soviet Union in the period between 1945 and 1991. The United States, coming through World War II now immensely strong economically and militarily (especially with the monopoly on the atomic bomb) embraced capitalism, individualism and elements of democracy while the Soviet Union, coming through the war very strong as well but very tired, perscribed to Communism or the idea that the government has direct control of people's lives and that all should subscribe to a common goal. In reality under the effective dictatorship of Joseph Stalin, the Soviet Union was a police state. Even after his death in 1953, many freedoms enjoyed in the west (and United States) were not available to Russian citizens.
The goal of Communism was to spread to all nations on earth, this of course clashed with American ideas and its economic goals. Thus begins the political fight over influence world wide.
---Wait, it wasn't a war?Not in a true sense, realistically a fight between the United States and Soviet Union would have been an epic few hours of nuclear exchange - even by the mid-1960s much of the world would have been left destroyed and uninhabitable due to radiation from so many nuclear weapons going off. Of course, neither side wanted this and aside from a few tense crisis points (the Suez Crisis, the Berlin Crisis, the Cuban Missile Crisis), they preferred to "fight by proxy" by supporting friendly nations in their own small wars (think Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan in the 1980s).
---So what was with the bombs?Well, at the end of World War II with the destruction of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, the United States and the Soviet Union stood opposite each other after being allies during the war (both agreed Nazis were way worse enemies than each other). But now since Germany was beaten, the two watched each other uneasily. In Europe, Soviet Armies were huge, well equipped and frighteningly strong whereas American, British and French armies on the other side of Germany were fairly strong as well, but could be run over by the Soviets fairly easily if they wanted to keep conquering lands...so what stopped them?
...well really because that wasn't their objective, the Soviet Union was catastrophically damaged and tired at the end of the war. They were ordered to conquer Germany and they did just that. The United States though did have an "ace up its sleeve" to prevent Soviet aggression.
Tested in July 1945, the atomic bomb was an immensely powerful weapon. The world had never seen what was essentially "physics run-amok". An average high-explosive bomb like those carried on a B-17 bomber in World War II might weigh 250 pounds, have quite a bit of explosive power and destroy part of a city block. The first atomic weapons averaged out around 15 kilotons, or 15,000 pounds of TNT equivalent. That's about 150 freight cars packed with TNT exploding all at once. If that exploded in a city the damage would have been terrible.
The Hiroshima bomb for instance killed tens of thousands of people in the blink of an eye, with around 90,000 deaths in all from a single bomb. The cruel thing of it was, there was a lot of radiation released from this bomb and many people died from resultant cancers, radiation poisoning and other nasty effects that we won't discuss here. The point is, on August 6 1945, many ideas about fighting a war were now tossed out the window. Soldiers, ships, tanks couldn't fight something like this...even the toughened soldiers of the Soviet Union...so the United States went about fine-tuning the atomic bomb to make it so terrible that hopefully wars would become a thing of the past...but wars continued.
--- Hiroshima was a big bomb then?Incredibly, this 13 kiloton bomb is considered a dwarf of modern nuclear weapons. By 1950 the United States was testing 200 kiloton bombs. In 1952 we detonated the world's first fusion weapon, a so-called hydrogen bomb with a yield of 10 megatons...that's 10,000,000 tons of TNT equivalent or 100,000 train cars full of high-explosive. The largest ever blown-up was the Tsar Bomba in 1961 by the Soviet Union, this one was about 57 megatons. Even though these bombs were big, thousands were produced over the years. At one point the United States had tens of thousands of nuclear weapons in its stockpiles. Each side was racing against the other to prevent the other from getting the upper hand. Non-military things that resulted from this were the Space Race, many modern technologies such as computers and nominally the internet as well as a number of products we use today...like even WD-40 and Tang to name a few.
In the end it was diplomacy, world leaders talked things over when things got a little to heated but bear in mind there are still a few thousand nuclear weapons around the world.
Some point out that the idea of deterrence, or scaring your enemy enough that they won't attack you, helped prevent a large-scale war (although deterrence did not prevent small ones like Vietnam). The Strategic Air Command initially, followed by the U.S. Army's tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons based in Europe and Asia along with the U.S. Navy's own bombers and later missile submarines could be said to have provided Soviet planners something to think about when acting to further the goals of Communism. Lincoln Air Force Base was once a fair-sized part of this deterrent force...and the thought of a hundred or so bombers racing to attack the Soviet Union launched from a little college town in the American Heartland was part of a force possibly prevent the spread of Communism and helped the United States remain the strong world power it is today.
--- So, I take it America won the Cold War?
The deal is, the Cold War to both sides was immensely costly in terms of money spent on weapons, politics and other things but was costly in lives as well. Tens of thousands of American troops died in Korea and Vietnam and many others died in operational crashes and accidents of military exercises, reconnaissance overflights in and around the Soviet Union and a number of other ways pretty much directly because of the Cold War. The cost of developing, building and deploying America's nuclear forces during the period cost well over one trillion (that's 1,000,000,000,000) and the clean up costs including environmental remediation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons sites will plague humanity for hundreds if not thousands of years into the future. The Cold War was effectively won by the "west" but at huge costs, it has changed our way of lives we can't even fathom yet.
---Any nuclear contamination at Lincoln Air Force Base?
Nope, as many nuclear weapons as there were (including unofficially a number of bombs and warheads at Lincoln) there were thankfully no releases of radiation here. On the other hand, many areas of chemical contamination by things we once believed were safe to use are pretty prevalent at many missile sites and at Lincoln Air Park itself including diesel contamination, PCBs, solvents and other oils that have made their way into soil and are being monitored by the EPA.
---Offutt is still open and going strong, why did Lincoln close?
Short story is, ICBMs, cheaper than Atlas and much newer than Lincoln's aging B-47 fleet replaced much of the American bomber and first-generation missile fleets. From around 2,000 bombers we dropped pretty quickly to 5 or 6 hundred B-52s and supersonic B-58s, the B-47s were elderly at their retirement.
The Air Force had no new ideas or uses for Lincoln Air Force Base and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara decided to close Lincoln in a line of base closures worldwide in 1964. The process took until June 25th, 1966 when the base closed for good. By the end of the decade all of the previous Air Force property came under control of the Lincoln Airport Authority with the exception of the missile sites, which were sold off at auctions.
More to come...