This is a trip I've wanted to take for several years. The timing was finally right: A three-day weekend at work coincided with one of the twice-yearly open houses of Trinity Site, the location of the first atomic explosion back in 1945. As a student of 20th century military history, researcher of military properties, and former SAC airman, this was an important place for me to visit. The first nuclear blast was an important transition point from W.W.II to the Cold War, even though the latter was only a distant and vague worry without a name at that time.
Friday, 6 Apr 2007
Driving west from DFW, I paused in Big Spring to look for one new place and to revisit another. First I looked for Big Spring Gap Filler Annex, 7022, 32-13-50, 101-29-31, and found it on a hilltop in Big Spring State Park just east of the former Webb AFB.
From the gap filler location, I could see the fighter-interceptor hangars at the nearby Air Force base. Looking down at nearby buildings I noticed the distinctive roof of a Type K National Guard armory at 32-13-59, 101-29-43. I drove to it and sure enough, it was the former Big Spring National Guard Armory, built in 1954 and currently vacant.
On this ten-year revisit to Webb AFB, 32-14, 101-31, I noticed the same aircraft maintenance hangar and nearby flightline buildings that I had observed in 1997. The control tower has a unique part-enclosed, part-open structure.
My main interest was the former ADC fighter-interceptor alert area.
I was pleased to find that I had access to most of the ADC buildings such as the rocket checkout and assembly building that serviced the early air-to-air rockets. It has distinctive firewalls between segments of the building. The ready crew dormitory provided sleeping quarters and administrative offices. I don't know if this communications building was specific to the ADC mission or if it just happened to be located in this area. A water storage tank and pumphouse provided fire protection water to the area.
The fighter-interceptor alert hangar is the second generation type designed by Strobel & Salzman. This was a larger type that could hold the longer F-101 and F-106 aircraft without modifications to the hangar doors. Very few of these larger hangars were built and this one is relatively intact, so I felt lucky to have photographic access from all sides.
The standard-design ADC maintenance hangar still stands, but behind fences.
The former Genie missile multi-cubicle storage buildings now have their missile bays rented out as storage units, and other buildings in the weapons storage area are in good condition and serving as an industrial shop and office.
Pressing on, I made it to Roswell, New Mexico, for the night. I actually made a repeat stay at a motel, which is rare for me. I drove 596 miles on this day, in 12 hours.
Saturday, 7 Apr 2007
The Trinity site was on the Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range, in New Mexico. After W.W.II, the range remained in military use and is now White Sands Missile Range (WSMR). The folks at WSMR open the Trinity site to the public two days a year, and do a fine job of directing the tourist traffic, greeting visitors, expediting parking, and providing security and safety. Many thanks to the many WSMR folks who give up their Saturdays for these open houses.
Before you make a virtual visit to the site, here's an excerpt from a letter that Albert Einstein sent to President Franklin Roosevelt in 1939, six years earlier:
"In the course of the last four months it has been made probable--through the work of Joliot in France as well as Fermi and Szilard in America--that it may become possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium, by which vast amounts of power and large quantities of new radium-like elements would be generated. Now it appears almost certain that this could be achieved in the immediate future.
This new phenomenon would also lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable--though much less certain--that extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed. A single bomb of this type, carried by boat and exploded in a port, might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory. However, such bombs might very well prove to be too heavy for transportation by air."
That letter is courtesy of the White Sands Missile Range web site, http://www.wsmr.army.mil/. My photos were taken on a chilly, windy, overcast day. Considering the subject matter, perhaps a gloomy day was more appropriate than a pretty one. Here's a look at the site today:
Fast forward three years after the test. Here's an excerpt from a letter written by General Hoyt Vandenberg to General Curtis LeMay:
"At this moment, when you are taking over the Strategic Air Command, I think it desirable and necessary to indicate to you my views as to your most immediate and most pressing responsibilities. You fully realize that all Air Force plans and programs are built around the primary consideration that we shall at the outset of any future war be required, as a first charge upon our resources, to deliver within the minimum period of time the most crushing atomic offensive we can possibly mount. I personally feel that the successful accomplishment of this task is not only our best hope for early victory but also essential in the long run to avert eventual defeat. I believe it is also generally accepted, at least by our most farsighted statesmen, that our capability to deliver such an offensive is likewise the greatest deterrent to aggression that exists today."
That letter is courtesy of the Air Force Historical Research Agency (For the entire document as a .PDF file, click here.) It was originally classified Top Secret and was declassified in 1979 (when yours truly was an airman first class stationed at a SAC bomber base). I think the Einstein and Vandenberg letters offer better contextual bookends to the Trinity explosion than anything I could write.
When I departed WSMR, I backtracked east to Roswell, then headed south.
Early in W.W.II, Artesia, New Mexico, was home to a civilian contract glider school operated for the AAF by Big Spring Flying Service. Later in the war the airfield served as an auxiliary field to Roswell AAFld. Known then and now as Artesia Municipal Airport, it is located at 32-51-05, 104-28-00.
Heading further south past Carlsbad, New Mexico, I found the former Carlsbad Army Air Field, 32-21, 104-16. Two hangars remain from W.W.II.
I was doing good on time and daylight, so I pressed on to the east, hoping to make Hobbs, New Mexico before nightfall. Just west of town, I took a quick look at Hobbs Auxiliary Field #6, 32-41-20, 103-12-50. There is a W.W.II hangar standing, but I'm told that author Lou Thole determined it was moved there after the war from Hobbs AAFld (later, AFB).
My next stop was another decade-later revisit, and there has been much destruction (oops, I mean redevelopment) of the former Hobbs AFB, 32-46-30, 103-11-30. I did see a couple of the same munitions storage igloos that I photographed in 1997. I stopped for the night in Hobbs, having covered 541 miles in 11.5 hours.
Sunday, 8 Apr 2007
I looked for the former W.W.II carbon black plant near Seagraves at 32-55-35, 102-37-00. Known to the Defense Plant Corporation as Plancor 2316, the plant buildings are long gone and the land is used for farming.
I had plenty of time for the drive home, so I detoured to find a couple of active Air Force sites. I managed to find the Draw Emitter Site and the Hermleigh Emitter Site. Both are Mini-MUTES sites, supporting the Lonestar Snyder Electronic Scoring Site.
After that, I just headed south to intercept I-20, and cruised on home. The day's drive was 487 miles, in 7.75 hours. This trip was a total of 1,624 miles.
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