Excerpts from Historians Amuck Tour 2/02MK09/02
Fri 08 Mar 02
Today was a special day in that I was finally going to meet Ed Thelen after something like five years. For those of you who are uninitiated, Ed has the best Nike-related web page on the internet, definitely a labor of love and always the first place I send people when I get queries. Of course I’m biased; he built much of the initial page around the site listings from Rings of Supersonic Steel and I’m truly flattered.
The plan was to head up to Marin County for a guided tour of the site SF-91 on Angel Island, one of only four in the San Francisco Defense Area that I’d never documented before. We had to catch the California State Parks 0830 boat from Tiburon which meant getting up about 0500 (ACK! ) and meeting Ed at his house in Fremont at 0615, which I managed. He turned out to be great company and a former air defender to boot, having served at C-03 Belmont in the Chicago Defense Area back in the good old days. He did the driving; we headed north on I-880 (the old Nimitz Freeway/CA 17) right through Oakland to Richmond, then left on I-580 across to San Rafael right past San Quentin Penitentiary (oh BOY!). From there we turned south on US 101 for the small town of Tiburon…surrounded by incredibly expensive view homes, but it’s still a small town.
A few minutes after we parked in Tiburon Ed and I met Marianne Hurley, a historian with the state park service. She’d recently received tasking to document SF-91 along with a few other sites on Angel Island and – conveniently – had contacted Ed a few days earlier with some questions about the site. He’d responded with something to the effect of "Mark Morgan’s coming to town, let’s all go take a look." Which we did, catching the park boat over.
Angel Island has seen a lot of official use over the last 150 years, including service as quarantine and immigration stations – the "Ellis Island of the West" as it were – along with coast and air defense artillery activities. Now a state park, it’s a popular destination for hikers and the like with great views of Alcatraz, San Francisco and the Bay.
As an aside, the Coast Defense Study Group (CDSG) held their annual conference in August 1987, designated "St Babs V" in honor of St Barbara, the patron saint of the artillery; the late, great legendary Col. Bud Halsey did most of the preps including the schedule and fort/battery guides. I got a copy of the proceedings from Stan Ward and much of the fort detail that follows come from those notes.
Once we got over to the island Marianne borrowed a park truck and we started the long haul up to the top of the mountain. My original plans for the day included walking to the top of the hill to the IFC; after the long, winding drive up there, it was quickly apparent that Ed and I had lucked out. Phew! Spectacular view at the top, though…
SF-91 Angel Island– Three magazines (1B2C) with 12 launchers and operated by D/9th (/55-9/58) and D/2/51st (9/58-7/59); I’d say that due to the requirements to get personnel and equipment to and from the island via boat, the Army probably never considered upgrading this site to Nike Hercules. Subsequently it was one of three sites – along with SF-09 San Pablo Ridge and SF-25 Rocky Ridge – not to go to the Army Guard. D/2/51st later manned SF-51 Milagra.
Both components are contained within the state park; the IFC’s at the top of Mount Caroline Livermore while the battery area is on the south part of the island along a bicycle path to Bluff Point Light. The park has partially cleared off the tip of the mountain and re-contoured it leaving only the pads for the MTR and acquisition radar, although it’s easy enough to discern the former location of the TTR. Other than a small transformer building – the apparent remnant of the generator structure – and some foundations, everything else is gone.
Ed took a GPS fix – elevation 794-feet at the top – and we then moved down to SF-91L. It’s in great shape in and around the storage of two prefab buildings and a large woodpile (?). One magazine entry port was open and we took a quick peer down into the magazine itself; another magazine has "Bee Section" lettering with appropriate artwork. The assembly building and fueling area are further down the slope, near the Coast Guard station and a pier which the Army probably used for personnel and equipment transfer.
Overall, SF-91’s probably one of the best preserved Nike sites in the San Francisco Defense Area. As mentioned, while the IFC’s been heavily modified you can still see directly down to the launchers – through Army-made cuts in the hill – and overall the facility has great interpretive potential. Hopefully the state park system will see fit to do so.
According to Marianne several factions in the park want to see the entire mountaintop returned to its original state and contours, which made our visit even more important. Ed and I provided her with comments on the significance of the site and made suggestions as to the site’s future interpretation.
As for SF-88, what can I say? It’s a perfect monument to Bud Halsey, a no-kidding gentleman, outstanding historian and the man who led the charge to get the site restored; it remains the only fully restored Nike battery in the United States, although efforts continue elsewhere to restore a few sites including NY-49 at Fort Tilden and W-64 at Lorton, VA.
From what Bud told me before his passing he retired from his volunteer site director’s position specifically because of problems with the NPS staff at Marin Headlands; apparently those problems continue to some extent as there are now two groups running web pages for the site. The splinter group – the Nike Historical Society - is at www.nikemissile.org; apparently it’s comprised long-time volunteers and ARADCOM vets who don’t agree with the way the site is preserved and interpreted. The official NPS web page is located at www.nikemissile.net; Marin Headlands maintenance supervisor John Porter now runs the site and from the welcome we got and what I saw, it looks like he’s doing a fine job carrying on. I certainly had no complaints about the reception Ed and I received; I actually had John and volunteer Ron Paschall come up and say "You must be Mark Morgan; can you sign our copies of Rings of Supersonic Steel?" (Whoa, talk about feeling like The Giant Big Head; Ed just laughed).
SF-88 Fort Barry– SF-88 was a two-magazine/eight-launcher Ajax battery converted to Nike Hercules between May and November 1958 with operations by A/9th (/55-9/58), A/2/51st (9/58-6/71) and B/1/61st (6/71-3/74). The IFC’s up on Wolf Ridge above the post and you can see it from the launcher area; the road’s washed out so it takes a bit of a hike to get up there…and believe me, I seriously considered making the walk! Equipped with HIPAR during the Hercules conversion, a few buildings and two radar towers remain in place and the view of the Bay Area is reputedly spectacular.
When we arrived John was running a tour of high school students, which was entertaining. The site’s LOPAR was rotating – all of the IFC electronics are down at the battery facility for obvious reasons – the battery vans were running their recorded programs and the kids were running up and down on the magazine elevator. Great fun for all concerned (jeez, was I ever that young?).
The admin area is down the road leading to Mine Casemate 1 and Battery Mendell. It’s intact with several of the standard ARADCOM cinderblock buildings and belongs to the Marin County YMCA. As with the rest of the components of the site, the complex is in good shape and well tended.
SF-87 Fort Cronkhite/Sausalito– While SF-88 gets the crowds (hopefully), I expect most people pass by Point Bonita’s other Nike site without much thought. Then again, the local FoFM (Friends of Furry Mammals) probably wonder about some of the period signage around the battery fac.
The launchers are on Bunker Road and sill house the California Marine Mammal Center. When I came up here in ’89 the two magazines (2B/12L) were still open and you could see the B/2/51st markings in the entry ports. Now the center’s built up their facility with tanks and holding pens on top of the magazines and no access unless you’re a seal. Ah well…we took some generic photos and moved on.
The trip to the IFC – up on Battery Hill 129 in West Fort Baker – was much more productive. While there aren’t any buildings remaining up there one steel radar platform for the AN/FPS-75 ABAR remains in place, as do all of the concrete pads for the other radars. The battery control vans apparently backed right up against a Coast Artillery-era battery control station or base end station; a painting of the 51st Artillery’s "bug" is still evident on the concrete is the lettering "Bty B, 2nd MSL BN, 51st ARTY."
SF-87 converted from Ajax to Hercules between May 1958 and June 1959. The operating units were B/9th (4/55-9/58) and B/2/51st (9/58-6/71). The view of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge from SF-87C is phenomenal so if you pass through Marin Headlands, head on up to the IFC.
As an aside the laydown of the two Nike batteries was one of those things that threw me during my early studies of the mid-1980s. SF-87L&A are physically within the boundaries of Fort Cronkhite but SF-87C is at the east end of Fort Barry/West Fort Baker. Conversely, SF-88L&A are contained within Fort Barry but SF-88C is in Fort Cronkhite, atop Wolf Ridge. The sight lines from the IFCs to the magazines cross each other.
From SF-87C Ed and I and Ron headed north on US 101 through Sausalito and into San Rafael for visit to SF-93. Along with SF-91, this was one of the few sites in the San Francisco Defense Area that I’d never hit before. We’ll score it at 50%; we ended up getting into the launcher area okay but decided against the long hike up to the IFC (hey, none of us are exactly spring chickens, eh?).
SF-93 San Rafael– This is another one that lasted almost to the end, getting tagged during the June 1971 ARADCOM reductions. The site was the northwestern-most in the defense area with a 3B/12L laydown and converted to Hercules between May 1958 and February 1959. During the process it gained an AN/FPS-71 as an ABAR (Alternate Battery Acquisition Radar) along with an FPA-16. The operating units were C/9th (/57-9/58) and C/2/51st (9/58-6/71).
The IFC’s in the Harry A. Bargier Memorial Park at the top of Bayhills Drive. From what I’ve read and seen on Jeff Poskanzer’s outstanding web site on the San Francisco Nikes (www.acme.com/jef/nike/) a few pads and a tower apparently remain in place along with some concrete pad. However, as indicated it was getting late and we decided against trying to climb up to the top.
Getting to the launcher also involved a bit of a hike but it was an easy one and well worth it; we parked at McInnis Park near the tennis courts and went up the trail a couple of hundred yards to hit SF-93L. Two of the mags now serve as reservoirs for treated water for the Los Gallinas Sanitary District so the tops of the magazines are intact, clean and in good shape. The main facility for the district is below the launcher area and probably contains the former fueling area and assembly building, although we weren’t able to see them through the trees. The admin site is on the north side of Smith Ranch Road, was previously a woman’s jail and is now the Helen White Center for troubled youth (what’s this with trouble youth and old Nike sites?).
Tues 12 Mar 02
We did a half day and thenliberty call! While the majority of the conference attendees went to the Western Rail Museum at Rio Linda (turns out their primary facility is immediately south of the base), I made the nukes and guided missiles tour. Bob, alas, wasn’t able to come along – something about seeing relatives, the jelly bean factory or something to that effect – so I wasn’t able to introduce him to the joys of Cold War research.
I got back to the motel, changed and then headed northeast on I-80 to the town of Dixon. To this point I’d managed to visit two of the four cancelled west coast BOMARC sites at Paine AFB/Field (Last Attack Tour 1/97) and Adair AFS (BOMARC & Rollercoasters Tour 3/97). Before my trip to the Bay Area last year I put a query on Ed Thelen’s web page asking for information on the two California sites at Travis and Vandenberg; sure ‘nuff, people came through and even though I wasn’t able to hit the Travis site on the last visit, this time around it was high on my list of pursuits.
I rolled into the farm town of Dixon and made my first stop at the library, hoping to confirm the location of the cx’d facility. The two people I talked to looked at me rather blankly – "Missile site? Dixon landfill? Never heard of either" – so I ended up going on memory, heading north out of town across I-5 to the first major east-west road, then west about four miles. As it turned out I found the facility without too much trouble, primarily because it was the only thing on Sevier that even remotely appeared built and developed, above and beyond the odd farm house.
– The BOMARC program was the Air Force’s contribution to air defense missile systems and dated to Boeing’s 1946 GAPA – Ground-to-Air Pilotless Aircraft – program. What resulted was a large, nuke-tipped missile in two types that reached alert status in the northeast and Great Lakes regions during the late 1950s.
Boeing received authorization to develop the XF-99 in 1949 and subsequently joined with the University of Michigan’s Aeronautical Research Center (MARC) to field pre-production models. Testing started on the prototype missiles in June 1952 but the first launch didn’t occur until 10 September 1952; from that point through 1958 there were hits than misses with the test missiles rarely working as advertised.
The initial production version was the IM-99A/CIM-10A BOMARC A which measured 45’3" in length and had a wingspan of 18’2". The missile carried both conventional and nuclear warheads – a W-40 with 10 Kt yield – and used an Aerojet-General liquid-fueled booster and twin Marquardt 10,000-lbst ramjets. The range was 230 miles at 60,000-feet altitude with initial guidance via the SAGE system; about 100 miles from the target the missile would switch to its own internal homer for the terminal phase. On 2 October 1957 an A-model launched from Cape Canaveral passed within kill distance of an X-10 Navaho traveling at Mach 2+ at 48,000-feet; notably, the SAGE production site at Kingston, NY controlled the intercept.
As with Nike Ajax and the first-generation ICBMs, the liquid fuel proved a problem for BOMARC A. Prior to missile erection and firing it took about two minutes to completely fuel and prepare the missile. Subsequently Boeing developed the solid-fueled B-model; this one measured 43’9" in length with a wingspan of 18’2" and used a Thiokol 50,000-lbst solid-fuel booster along with improved Marquardt 14,000-lbst ramjets. The resulting missile went 440 miles at an altitude of 100,000-feet and required only 30 seconds to spin up, erect and fire.
In September 1958 Air Research & Development Command decided to transfer the BOMARC program from Cape Canaveral to a new facility on Santa Rosa Island, immediately south of Hurlburt Field on the Gulf of Mexico. To operate the facility and to provide training and operational evaluation in the missile program, Air Defense Command established the 4751st Air Defense Wing (Missile) on 15 January 1958. The first launch from Santa Rosa –from one of the huge, complicated Type I shelters – took place on 15 January 1959. The first all-up BOMARC B test launch came on 13 April 1960 and on 3 March 1961 an IM-99B hit a target at over 400 miles at 80,000 feet.
By that date BOMARC was already in the field, although not exactly at all the locations ADC originally desired. The command’s initial plans called for some 52 sites around the country with 120 missiles each but as defense budgets decreased during the 1950s the number of sites dropped substantially. Ongoing development and reliability problems didn’t help; nor did Congressional debate over the missile’s usefulness and necessity in comparison to the Nike program. One house supported Nike while the other supported BOMARC and apparently neither body was able to understand the concept complimentary air defense missile systems. In June 1959 the Air Force authorized 16 BOMARC sites with 56 missiles each; the initial five would get the IM-99A with the remainder getting the IM-99B while work immediately stopped at Truax Field and Ethan Allen AFB (sites numbers six and nine under the 1958 plan):
46th ADMS McGuire AFB 28 IM-99A/56 IM-99B 1959-1972
6th ADMS Suffolk County AFB 56 IM-99A 1959-1964
26th ADMS Otis AFB 28 IM-99A/28 IM-99B 1960-1972
30th ADMS Dow AFB 28 IM-99A 1960-1964
22nd ADMS Langley AFB 28 IM-99A/28 IM-99B 1960-1972
37th ADMS Kinross/Kincheloe AFB 28 IM-99B 1961-1972
74th ADMS Duluth AB 28 IM-99B 1960-1972
35th ADMS Niagara Falls AP 56 IM-99B 1961-1969
28th ADMS Paine AFB 28 IM-99B cancelled
---- Adair AFS 28 IM-99B cancelled
---- Travis AFB 28 IM-99B cancelled
---- Vandenberg AFB 28 IM-99B cancelled
---- Malmstrom AFB 28 IM-99B cancelled
---- Glasgow AFB 28 IM-99B cancelled
---- Minot AFB 28 IM-99B cancelled
---- Charleston AFB 28 IM-99B cancelled
446 SAM Sqdn North Bay, ON 28 IM-99B 1962-1972
447 SAM Sqdn La Macaza, PQ 28 IM-99B 1962-1972
4751st ADMS(M) Hurlburt Field Operational test/training 1958-1979
However, in March 1960 HQ USAF cut deployment to eight sites in the US and two in Canada (the latter was part of the final resolution of Canada’s decision to cancel the CF-105 Arrow). ADC protested to no avail and work immediately stopped on the western sites that were in various stages of completion (the facility at Paine AFB was complete and ready for missiles). The first BOMARC As went operational at McGuire on 19 September 1959 with Kincheloe AFB getting the first operational IM-99Bs. While several of the squadrons replicated earlier fighter interceptor unit numbers, they were all new organizations with no previous historical counterpart.
On June 7, 1960 a BOMARC A with nuclear warhead caught fire at McGuire AFB following the explosive rupture of its onboard helium tank. While the missile’s explosives didn’t detonate the heat melted the warhead, releasing plutonium which the fire crews then spread around. The Air Force and AEC cleaned up the site and covered it with concrete; fortunately, this was the only major incident involving BOMARC.
In 1962 the Air Force started using modified A-models as drones; following the October 1962 tri-service redesignation of aircraft and weapons systems they became CQM-10As. Otherwise – and like their ARADCOM brethren who made the annual trek to Fort Bliss – the air defense missile squadrons maintained alert while making regular trips to Santa Rosa Island for training and firing practice. After the inactivation of the 4751st ADW(M) on 1 July 1962 and transfer of Hurlburt to Tactical Air Command for air commando operations the 4751st Air Defense Squadron (Missile) remained at Hurlburt and Santa Rosa Island for training purposes.
The BOMARC A-only sites at Dow and Suffolk County closed first, in 1974. The remainder soldiered on for several more years while the government started dismantling the air defense missile network. Niagara Falls was the first BOMARC B installation to close, in December 1969; the others remained on alert through 1972. Notably, due to the accident the McGuire complex has never been sold or converted to other uses and remains in Air Force ownership, making it the most intact site of the eight in the United States. It has been nominated to the National Register of Historic Sites.
Travis AFB BOMARC– According to the old Air Force drawings I have of the Travis facility it was planned as a standard 28-missile CIM-10B facility with foundations already laid for the shelters and several of the buildings. What I found was the Dixon High School Farm, complete with a gentleman named John Ramos who was quite aware of the site’s former significance and thrilled to learn some Air Force guy had come all the way from Washington to document it.
What’s left of the cancelled site? Quite a bit surprisingly, in and around the odd cow, sheep, barn and high school students learning animal husbandry. The boundary wall foundations for the missile maintenance/assembly building are in place and obvious and if you move south into the field you’ll find the broken up remains of one of the missile shelter floors. There’s some evidence of other shelter construction but – not surprisingly – the remains are pretty well gone.
I thanked John, promised him a copy of my notes, got my photos and departed. The street address for the cx’d fac is 5750 Seviers Road, Dixon, CA 95620.
Back into Dixon, got photos of the old Carnegie Library – adjacent to the current library; I dropped by long enough to let the reference librarian know I found the site I was looking for ("That’s nice") – and the Dixon Theater, now the Wish House Arcade and offices and then departed.
I figured as long as the sun was up I might as well do a re-attack on the remaining Travis AFB Nike sites; I managed to first hit all four on 22 December 1988 and got a quick glance at T-86 last year while in the area with my parents.
T-10 Elmira– Both components are on Hay Road to the northwest of the base, west of Meridian Road and easy enough to find or stumble across. The battery site was locked up with no signs of occupancy but I could see the assembly building from the entrance on Lewis Road. If you turn left on Hay Road at the intersection with Lewis and drive east a bit you’ll see one very large, expensive house to the east of the launchers; rather exclusive development, eh?
The IFC is a 1.5 east on the north side of Hay Road; the HIPAR building is intact but overall the facility is very ratty with goats quietly feeding on the berms that apparently supported the other radars. The adjacent housing area is also in very poor shape and appears used by lower-income types.
T-10 was the primary fire control facility of the two Travis sites which converted to Hercules, housing a Secondary Master Fire Unit (SMFU; think of it as a BUIC system for the local Army Air Defense Command Post) as well as the HIPAR. The site had a 3B/12-launcher layout, converted from Ajax to Hercules between June 1958 and January 1959 and held operations by A/436th (/58-9/58), A/1/61st (9/58-3/74) and HHB 1/61st (/58-6/71). The headquarters and headquarters battery shifted to Fort Baker in June 1971 with ARADCOM’s merger of the Travis and San Francisco Defense Areas.
T-86 Fairfield/Cement Hills– This one’s undoubtedly the easiest of the four to get to as the launcher fac is on the north side of Air Base Parkway heading into Travis. It was 1B2C/12L installation with two magazines/eight launchers mod’d for Hercules between December 1960 and June 1961. The operating units were C/436th (/58-9/58) and C/1/61st (9/58-6/71) and the site had an AN/FPS-75 as an ABAR.
As mentioned the road to the top of the hill is still gated; I prowled around a bit on the fringes of yet another new housing development (typically California crammed-in) and still couldn’t find access to the top so I moved south a mile to the intersection of Clay Bank Road and Air Base Parkway and found a way into the compound. The old admin area – hard by the parkway – is very decrepit now and unoccupied; there were several large dumpsters scattered about full of particle board and the like. To the immediate northeast are the Solano County Detention Center and the Solano County Department of Education/Golden Hills Education Center.
The magazines are to the north, now used by the Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District for schoolbus maintenance and parking. They put the buses right on top of the magazines/launchers; the assembly building’s in place –modified by an add-on – and the fueling area’s still in the right spot but all of the berms were leveled.
Wed 13 Mar 02
T-53 Potrero Hills- Both components are southwest of Travis on Explosives Technology Road; when I was here last Explosive Technologies owned and operated the facility and the president himself gave me a quick tour.
However, since then a company named OEA acquired the operation and continued using it for the storage and manufacturing of airbag initiators and canopy shattering systems (in some aircraft you have to blow the canopy glass before ejecting through the frame). Autoliv, a Swedish company, acquired OEA in 2000; it listed the latter as "the world’s second largest manufacturer of airbag initiators with production last year of 32 million such ignitors. In addition, OEA manufactures inflators for airbags and aerospace products." OEA’s headquarters were in Denver; it had other facilities in Colorado, Utah and France.
So what did I find at the top of the drive? Intact buildings by the gate and a big "Goodrich Aerospace" sign. The guard said Goodrich bought out the operation some time ago; seeing as it was pushing five and there was a steady stream of workers pouring out I decided against requesting a quick visit.
T-53 was the only Travis site to have both components in the same general area; the IFC was at the top of the hill to the west of the battery area. You can see the remains of the IFC – a couple of buildings and some plats – as you drive into the facility. According to the guard one of the magazines still has a building over the elevator but the other two elevators are now inoperative. The site was of 1B2C/12-launcher configuration, operated by B/436th (/58-9/58) and B/1/61st (9/58-1/59).
T-33 Dixon/Lambie– This was the first operational Ajax site in the Travis Defense and as such was a temporary set-up with just enough concrete to anchor the rails and 12 launchers. I stumbled across a photo of it somewhere along the line; the only permanent components were the few foundations.
The IFC’s at Lambie Road and Goose Haven, is partially intact and serves as the Delta Conservation Camp, operated by the California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection and the California Department of Corrections. The street address is 6246 Lambie Road; the site is in excellent shape with some mods to the buildings.
The magazine/launcher fac is at Lambie Road and Rithell about a mile to the north-northwest and is completely gone and in agricultural use with only a couple of berms remaining. The California State Department of Health Services has several buildings alongside; D/436th (/578-9/58), D/1/61st (9/58-1/59) manned the site.