June 21, 2015

SAC Reflex Action (1957-1965) Weapons Storage Areas

On October 1st 1957 the Strategic Air Command commenced an overseas alert operation, called Reflex Action, with twenty B-47 nuclear-capable bombers deployed to Sidi Slimane Air Base in Morocco.   This number would greatly expand over the course of the operation and include many more bases. Reflex operations would rotate bomber and refueling aircraft and crews to overseas bases where they would be disbursed away from CONUS, and be within striking distance of their targets.  The Reflex mission ended on March 31st 1965. (ref. Alert Operations and the Strategic Air Command, 1957-1991 - Diane Publishing Co.)

It shouldn't be surprising that the Army Corps of Engineers had designed and built Weapons Storage Areas along with the massive runways and hangers at all of the SAC air bases in the 1950s.  By all indications these WSAs were designed to handle and store open-pit detonators and nuclear bombs, to equip B-47s with a strike payload while on 90 day Reflex operations, on rotation from their home base.


Here we have the SAC Weapons Storage Area at the former Torrejon Air Base in Spain (40.4846, -3.4175)

Here we have the SAC Weapons Storage Area at the former Zaragoza Air Base in Spain (41.6482, -1.0316)

Here we have the former SAC Moron Air Base in Spain, also where B-47 Medium Bombers were deployed on Reflex missions.  Does the Weapons Storage area look at all familiar in design and layout yet?  (37.1742, -5.5947)


The former Ben Guerir Air Base Weapons Storage Area seems to have been expanded upon since the SAC moved out my the Moroccan Air Force, but the bones of the original (32.0988, -7.8969)

Sidi Slimane Air Base Weapons Storage Area (34.2151, -6.0419)

Nouasseur Air Base Weapons Storage Area (33.3659, -7.5530)


Goose Air Base (now CFB Goose Bay) - What do the above six US Army Corps of Engineers-designed and built USAF SAC bomber facilities have with Goose Air Base?  Goose had both Canadian forces and Canadian built buildings (at the NE side) and American facilities built on the South side.  Look at the area around where the push-pin is, and tell me what you see.  Isn't it remarkably similar in design to the nuclear Weapons Storage Areas at the above six bases?  The ring road? The earth covered magazines?  The little rectangular buildings?  Goose Air Base, now CFB Goose Bay, had the facilities to store nuclear bombs, and a squadron of B-47 Medium Bombers on loan from their bombing wing in the US, on rotation, every 90 days.  Why would you position B-47 nuclear-capable bombers, in the exact same type of facility that was built overseas (six times+) and not store nuclear bombs with them?  Clearly Goose Air Base was a forward operating location for retaliatory or first-strike against the USSR which had nuclear bombs on site. (53.2958, -60.3770)

CFB Cold Lake poses an interesting problem because it is still operation, has conventional munitions on site, and has been developed and built up by the RCAF.  It was certainly a refuelling base for KC-97 mid-air refuelling planes for Reflex, and there was (is) a Molehole at the South end of the air base where SAC KC-97 crews would be stationed on alert ready to fly.  But, did the base house any nuclear bombs during that time?  There exists an undeground facility at CFB Cold Lake to store equipment and potentially planes, but I have no evidence to suggest any of the weapons storage sites that are visible today, or underground, would have been built or used for nuclear bombs.  None of the usual buildings or layout indicating a presence of nuclear munitions are present at CFB Cold Lake (54.4021, -110.2794)


Here we have the former SAC Sondrestrom Air Base in Greenland that was supposed to be a KC-97 refuelling base, and not a repository for nuclear weapons.  As far as I can see that's correct; there are no signs of nuclear weapons storage buildings or infrastructure to support those nuclear weapons.  Given the harsh environment, I suspect no nuclear weapons were stored at Sondrestrom Air Base. (67.0108, -50.7089)


Kindley Air Force Base in Bermuda was an SAC refuelling facility; other than four earth covered magazines that are overgrown with vegetation, I don't see anything that could resemble a (nuclear) Weapons Storage Area.  It looks like it was only a refuelling facility too. (32.3644, -64.6808)


RAF Fairford, England was host to SAC bombers as part of Reflex, and the Weapons Storage Area is slightly different, but the plant building and igloos are clearly visible (51.6792, -1.7649)

RAF Greenham Common, England, being of British design, not American, does not have the same WSA configuration as the American-built SAC sites, but clearly has hardened double fenced storage that would have been available for nuclear weapons storage.  B-47s were rotated in to the base, so it all ties together. Similar to the Canadian CFB Cold Lake, it was developed after Reflex, so it's hard to see what it would have looked like from present satellite photos (51.3774, -1.3024)

RAF Brize Norton, England was host to American SAC activity for Reflex Action, but I'm not 100% sure this munitions facility was used for nuclear bombs because of the differences in building design. (51.7408, -1.5657)

RAF Upper Heyford, England was also host to USAF SAC bombers, and has at least two Weapons STorage Areas (the other is NW of the point below, on the other side of the old runway. (51.9353, -1.2332)

So what, you ask?  Those are just the locations I pulled up out of one report (below), many more USAF air bases worldwide had Weapons Storage Facilities.  I was focusing on those which are documented as participating with the Reflex Action, since it fell smack in the middle of my are of interest with Goose Bay Air Base (1950-1971).  I'm not a PhD of architectural history, but with some common sense, I think you can see from the visuals above, you have a good sample of what air bases constructed by the Royal Canadian Air Force (CFB Cold Lake), the Royal Air Force (Brit), and the US Army Corps of Engineers look like.  My point is, they are all very different in design, and you can see from their design, what their mission was.  Large aprons or hard stands with nearby fuel farms (such as Sondrestrom AB in Greenland or Goose AB) show where refuelling planes would wait on alert.  Earth covered magazines in different configurations were arranged for safety from explosions that might happen at fuel dumps and were always located away from airplanes or other buildings in case of an explosion.  American-designed SAC Weapons Storage Areas for nuclear bombs were constructed as you see them above.  B-47 bombers were on alert at those same bases for the express purpose of dropping nuclear bombs on targets in the Soviet Union; either with a pre-emptive strike, or retaliatory strike.  The history of US Nuclear Weapons in Canada is incomplete, but I hope additional information will become declassified and reveal what the true history is of Canada's involvement with the Cold War.

Reflex seemed appropriate, no?

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