By Charles Matthews

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

15. A Fiery Peace in a Cold War, by Neil Sheehan, pp. 371-406

Book VI: Building the Unstoppable, 59. Jamie Wallace's Thor Show; 60. The Biggest Airlift Since Berlin; 61. "Roy ... I Want You to Get Me Camp Cooke"; 62. A Tie; 63. Black Saturday; 64. The Trials of Atlas and a Christmas Surprise; 65. Whose Missile Gap?
Jacobson put Jamie Walker Wallace, an Air Force major, in charge of the ground support equipment needed to make Thor operational on site in England. In December 1957, Wallace mounted a display of the missile and the ground facilities it would need in Los Angeles. Three thousand people, including the brass and contractors but also a lot of others from the scientific community and elsewhere, attended the two-week show. Security was low, partly because Schriever wanted word of the missile to leak out, although there was virtually no attention from the press. And in August 1958, the first Thor was flown to England. It was followed by fifty-nine more in "the biggest airlift since Berlin," organized by Wallace. Control of the missiles was to be under joint command, with both the RAF launch control officer and a SAC officer having to agree to launch.

Meanwhile, Schriever had been negotiating for an operational base and permanent training ground for the ICBM. His choice was Camp Cooke, on the California coast near Lompoc, because it was "the one coastal area of the United States from which a polar orbit of a space satellite was most easily achieved." From that site, there is almost nothing but ocean all the way south to Antarctica. In the summer of 1956, Schriever deputized Maj. Roy Ferguson to persuade the brass to let him have Camp Cooke. Ferguson had an ally in Capt. Richard Henry, who had been designated by LeMay as SAC's liaison officer to Schriever's program, an appointment, given Henry's low rank, that LeMay had meant as "a gesture of contempt." Henry recognized that Camp Cooke was an ideal for SAC, once it took charge of the missiles after development. Ferguson had been told by Schriever to stress that he wanted the location as a training base, and not to mention that it was ideal for missile launchings, but confronted with the boredom of his audience, Ferguson took a chance and pulled out his charts about using the site for shooting the missiles. From that location, a missile could reach all of China and the eastern Soviet Union, including Vladivostok. As a result of the presentation, Camp Cooke was handed over to the Air Force and in 1958 was renamed Vandenberg Air Force Base. In 1978 Richard Henry became its commander.

The Thors in England gave the joint RAF and SAC command the capability of hitting all of the western Soviet Union. Finding European sites for the Jupiters was more difficult, especially after Charles de Gaulle took office in France in 1958. "Although he privately admitted that Western Europe's security relied on American power, he was not about to publicly concede dependence on anyone by leaning on Washington's missiles. De Gaulle refused the Jupiters." But the Italians gave them a site in the boot heel of the peninsula, with thirty missiles also under joint command. Fifteen more were located in Turkey, which lacked the skilled manpower for joint command but provided security troops for the missile sites. The Turkish missiles could reach all of European Russia and as far as Soviet Central Asia. The Russians had deployed their IRBMs earlier, but now the arms race was a tie.

Schriever's fame had reached the point that he made the cover of Time magazine in 1957. The magazine described him as "hard-eyed," "a tomorrow's man," a "discerning, thinking leader," and an "outstanding and extremely tenacious manager." The Air Force had now designated the branch to which Schriever belonged the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division, and he was in charge of 485 officers and noncom specialists as well as 222 civilians. Ramo-Wooldridge had grown from 170 scientists and technicians to 1,961, and by the close of FY 1958 "had earned approximately $70 million." There were seventeen major contractors in the program working on the two ICBMs, Atlas and Titan, and 200 subcontractors and suppliers. Once a month all the project managers were summoned to a briefing they came to call "Black Saturday." Each manager presented a report to Lt. Col. Charles Getz III, whose "ruthless efficiency" and demand for paperwork made him "the most unpopular man in the command." Adding to the unpopularity was the insistence on reporting the bad news -- Schriever wasn't interested in progress reports so much as in problems that needed to be solved.

Atlas had been one of those problems. Its first launch in June 1957 had been a failure -- it had flown for only twenty-four seconds before it "flipped wildly through a loop-the-loop and fell back into its trail of fire" and had to be destroyed. But Schriever regarded it as a "partial success" because the missile hadn't broken up before having to be destroyed. The second Atlas had a similar performance. Schriever was once again under pressure, but the third Atlas, launched on December 17, the fifty-fourth anniversary of the Wright brothers' flight, went 350 miles downrange as planned. More tests were done to work out problems with the booster engine, and in November 1958 the Atlas 12B "became the first to fly the entire 6,330-mile course." And on December 28, another Atlas was launched into orbit, broadcasting back to Earth Christmas greetings from President Eisenhower -- a surprise public relations gimmick. There were more failures to come as the C and D series was tested, but in September 1959 "the initial battery of three Atlas D missiles, manned by SAC crews, was declared operational at Vandenberg."

With the presidential race of 1960, missiles became politicized:
A terrifying fairy tale called "the missile gap," which had the Soviets surging ahead of the United States in ICBM capability was roiling Washington. The controversy was another example of the chronic American habit during the Cold War, partly from genuine fear but usually inspired as well by political and institutional motives, of seriously overestimating Soviet military power and technological capabilities.
John F. Kennedy made it an issue in the election, but Eisenhower knew there was no missile gap -- or rather that there was one, but that it was in our favor. It might have helped Richard Nixon in the election, but Eisenhower didn't reveal the truth, partly for security reasons. The Soviets had had their share of testing disasters, the worst one in October 1960 when the commander of the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces, Mitrofan Nedelin, insisted that a test continue over the protests of the launch crew. The missile exploded in a great fireball, incinerating about a hundred people, including Nedelin. The Soviets were still having trouble with their ICBMs at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, when they had only twenty operational missiles as compared to the 160 that the United States possessed.

No comments:

Post a Comment