BRIEF HISTORY OF WESTOVER AIR FORCE BASE
DURING THE PERIOD OF 1950 - 1962

    The detonation of an atomic bomb by the Russians in 1949 spawned a new strategy, with the military calling for massive retaliation in the event of an attack on the United States. General Curtis LeMay, Commander of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) carried the strategy to its optimal conclusion: the military had to carry out a pre-emptive attack if it became clear that there were preparations for nuclear attack being made by an enemy.  This strategy was to be made manifest through SAC.  Meanwhile, Westover AFB took part in the Korean conflict transporting freight and passengers to the forces in Korea, and casualties were brought to the Westover Hospital from 1950 to 1954.

   In 1955 the Strategic Air Command came to Westover with activation of the 4050th Air Refueling Wing and Eighth Air Force headquarters. The 99th Bomb Wing kept bombers and tankers on ground alert at all times, and SAC crews lived on 24 hour alert for two weeks at a time.  In case of nuclear war, an alternate SAC command bunker, called "The Notch", was constructed deep within Mt. Holyoke.  Nuclear weapons were stored at the Stony Brook section of the base and planes loaded with these devices were kept on the ground ready to take off at a moment's notice.

   SAC operations first began at Westover in 1955 and the 1959 "mole hole", building 7450, was the first building erected as part of the SAC massive retaliation strategy.  Here was where long-range B-52 bombers armed with nuclear devices were kept on continuous alert on a nearby runway, known as the Christmas Tree.  Their crews rotated through the mole hole, spending one week of 24-hour alert in underground quarters going everywhere together during that week so they were always ready for launch in a few moments. The lower control room was outfitted for SAC operations in case of nuclear war.

   
Westover Front Gate - 1958

(Photo courtesy of Karl Butler)

(click to enlarge - opens in new window)

   The facility was a major base of operations for the Strategic Air Command (SAC) from 1955 until 1974.  The 99th Bombardment Wing moved from Fairchild AFB, WA to Westover AFB in late 1956, and began operations with the B-52.  SAC operations ended in 1973 when the Wing was deactivated. The 348th Bomb Squadron operated the B-52 from December of 1956 through April of 1972 while assigned to the 99th Bombardment Wing at Westover AFB. On 11 November 1957, a KC-135 tanker piloted by Gen. Curtis LeMay flew 6,350 miles from Westover AFB to Buenos Aires in 13 hours 2 minutes, a world record for nonstop non-refueled jet flight.

   The Target Intelligence Training Building [Building 1875] was constructed in 1957 during the Strategic Air Command years at Westover base. The Corps of Engineers in Boston oversaw its construction to designs by McClintock & Craig Engineers and Architects of Springfield. It was designated as Target Intelligence Training Building for the Reconnaissance Technical forces in 1957, but its functions were always highly secret. What is known is that this was one of four photographic labs on the base during the SAC era, processing film secretly made by U-2 airplanes. The quantity of film taken was so great that another building on base operated primarily as a silver recovery facility. Original drawings of Building 1875 indicated rooms for radar bomb training, secure storage, predictions, mission support and operational intelligence maps.  Here also were Link Trainers that simulated aircraft for training purposes.

   Photography which had always been an important military activity was now a critical activity for SAC.  Film made on high-speed spy planes over enemy land was developed and translated to maps in Buildings 1900 and 1875. The climax came in 1962 when Russian missiles were being installed in Cuba. The Cuban missile crisis was in large part played out at Westover AFB where U-2 film of the Russian trawler approaching Cuba was developed.

   Check out Andrew Biscoe's website covering the history of Westover at  http://www.westoveryesterday.com
 

 

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