Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Earnest Harmon Air Force Base (nuclear) Weapons Storage Magazine, in Stephenville, NL

Back in the 1950s the United States had several very large military bases operating in Canada as refueling bases, reconnaissance bases, and long range aviation bases with rotating bomber wings;
Earnest Harmon Air Force Base was one such base.

Stephenville Newfoundland was chosen by the USAF for "Harmon Field" as it was initially called; provided to the United Stated from the British Government by way of a lease, it was operational in August 1943 as part of the second world war effort.  In 1947 it changed names to Ernest Harmon Air Force Base.  In July 1953 the 61st Flight Interceptor Squadron (FIS) moved in, who flew the Northrop F-89D Scorpion.  During this time, nuclear weapons (bombs, specifically) were being deployed by the Strategic Air Command for use in both offensive roles.  Ernest Harmon Air Force Base was primarily a base for KC-97 refuelling planes to take off from and refuel American bombers headed over to Russia; they had fighters deployed there to protect the base, and their refuelling aircraft.  The Northrop F-89J Scorpion was the first plane to fire a live Genie air-to-air nuclear rocket on the 19th pf July 1957, but no J variants were ever deployed there, that I am aware of.  According to Wikipedia the AIR-2 Genie was operation in the American nuclear stockpile from 1958–85.  In October of 1957 the F-89D fighters moved out, and F-102A fighters moved in from the 323rd Flight Interceptor Squadron.  F-102As are nuclear AIR-2 "Genie"-capable weapon platforms, and the Canadian government agreed that US Forces could fire nuclear air-to-air missiles as of June 1958; but no agreement had yet been made to allow the deployment of the rockets to American bases on the Canadian side of the border.


It was only in 1964 that the agreements were in place to allow the AIM-26 Falcon nuclear short range IR air-to-air missile to be stored at Goose Air Base and Earnest Harmon Air Force Base; but these agreements were specifically to allow *storage* of nuclear air-to-air weapons, and the USAF was quite masterful in it's use of legalese.  Transient or temporary storage of nuclear weapons could have already been allowed , and rotations of US bombers were already rotating in to and out of Goose Air Base.  Clearly you can't have a wing of B-47 bombers waiting on alert to go bomb something is you don't have any bombs there, right?  If similar terminology tricks were being used for Falcon and Genie deployments to Earnest Harmon AFB as were being used at Goose AB, I can't be certain, but I do know the buildings that could store the missiles safely were built at Goose Air Base in 1958.  Officially the United States deployed nuclear Falcon missiles to their bases in Canada in July 1965 and those same missiles left Canada in December 1966.  Coincidentally, Earnest Harmon AFB closed toward the end of 1966.  Were the AIM-26 Falcons being stored at Earnest Harmon AFB, not Goose AB?  John Clearwater suggests exactly that in his book US Nuclear Weapons in Canada around Page 182.  The storage facilities at Goose Air Base were built too close together for the storage specifications of the time, so only Earnest Harmon AFB received AIM-26 Falcon missiles at their approved storage magazine.

So where was this nuclear weapons storage magazine at Earnest Harmon Air Force Base?

By studying the design of Strategic Air Command bases globally, built in the 1950s, using now readily available satellite imagery, similarities quickly appear because the bases were all designed to conform to the same construction standards of the time.  Goose Air Base's 1954 Weapons Storage Area was designed to store nuclear bombs, not missiles, and the design of the facility shows that fact.  Goose Air Base's 1958 storage was to accommodate the ADC, who were supposed to get Genie or Falcon nuclear air-to-air weapons to protect the base, but as I mentioned, they failed their site inspection because their buildings were too close together.

But what about Ernest Harmon?

The only building at Ernest Harmon AFB that looks like a nuclear ammunition storage magazine matches the 1958 construction at Goose AB, but there is only one storage magazine, not three.  This can be easily explained if we figure Ernest Harmon was a smaller base than Goose, and Goose could have been where they intended to store most of the weapons and maintain them; Ernest Harmon was potentially where they would have fully assembled missiles deployed, and only enough for the fighters on alert, perhaps.  While the buildings at Goose AB were too close together, there was only one, seemingly, at Earnest Harmon Air Force Base; so there was no other building to be close to.


Here are a several pictures of what I believe was the AIM-26 (nuclear) Falcon air-to-air storage building, sited in October 1964, constructed immediately after, and fully operational in the summer of 1965. These following pictures were taken in the Summer of 2016; a big thank you to H. Simon for taking the time to check out the building in the bush!

First we have the front and back angles of the building; each of the cubicles would have been for a limited number of components of the missiles (fuses, rocket motors, warheads, etc), or potentially whole assembled missiles.  Since I can't find any nearby missile assembly building I suspect the missiles were assembled at Goose Air Base them flown over and stored in this building.

Photo Credit: H Simon - August 3 2016



Photo Credit: H Simon - August 3 2016

Photo Credit: H Simon - August 3 2016

Photo Credit: H Simon - August 3 2016

Photo Credit: H Simon - August 3 2016

Photo Credit: H Simon - August 3 2016

The following is the inside of the machine room of the building where a boiler was located to heat the building with radiant heat.

Photo Credit: H Simon - August 3 2016

The following are pictures of the markings on the thick steel blast doors; similar to the labeling at Goose Air Base, these specify a maximum of 1,000 or 2,000 lbs (gross) of Category 9 and 10 explosives.  Unfortunately I don't know what that means.

Photo Credit: H Simon - August 3 2016

Photo Credit: H Simon - August 3 2016

Photo Credit: H Simon - August 3 2016

Department of the Air Force 1957 Master Plan
Showing future expansion plans hat never transpired.
Original Here


Satellite imagery of the former base as it stands today.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Aэродром Воздвиженка | Vozdvizhenka Aerodrome and nearby РТБ в/ч 23477

Location: 43°54'28.9"N 131°55'21.8"E

The Vozdvizhenka Aerodrome is located a couple of hours by road North of Vladivostok, and from 1953 to 2009 was a heavy bomber airfield, first with the Soviets then the Russians. The 444th Heavy Bomber Aviation Regiment was based at the Vozdvizhenka Aerodrome (Aэродром Воздвиженка).  The famed nuclear-weapon capable Tu-16K, Tu-22M3, as well as others would have flown from this base, to a "jump" base in the Arctic circle to refuel, then pop over the pole to launch a preemptive nuclear strike, or launch retaliation for an American nuclear strike. This airfield would have had nuclear weapons on-site, or in storage nearby... but where?

Map from Vladivostok, Russia to Vozdvizhenka Aerodrome


The aerodrome was decommissioned, but since so much of the base is intact, unlike other sites that have been abandoned and left in ruins, I'd guess this one is more in "cold storage" than "abandoned".  The runway is in excellent shape, and I have read news reports, and seen pictures, of exercises being held nearby, using the airfield as an alternate for those exercises.  Here two photos from Yuriy (Yuri?) Smityuk / TASS from February 18th 2016, just earlier this year.




I suspect the base could be reactivated with a new heavy bomber wing if the need arose, but until then it's somewhat accessible by the public, you can find pictures that people have taken in some of the abandoned buildings on social media.  I wouldn't recommend it, as it would still be trespassing on a military base.  The Tu-22M3 planes (pictured farther below), which were derelict and sitting on the hard stands surrounded by berms by the runway have all disappeared from the satellite pictures.  The fenced industrial area on the West side of the aerodrome seems to have Su-24 aircraft waiting outside.  Are they are being dismantled, or repaired?

Recent Vozdvizhenka Aerodrome Satellite Imagery from Google Maps


Notice the fuel tankers which are new, shiny, and being stored where the former fuel dump was located?  I'm guessing a little, but it looks like each tank holds about 34,000 liters (9000 gallons) of fuel, presumably AV Gas.  It is unclear to me what the brown/rusty tankers contain, are they simply older, or decommissioned?  The railway that is beside the POL site, is likely functional since there is a single rail car parked there.  Rail access to fuel dumps (or ammo dumps) is essential to get large amounts of fuel or heavy loads of weapons delivered.

Former POL Site, now busy storing tankers


What about munitions storage facilities at the Vozdvizhenka Aerodrome?


Emblem of the 12th Main Directorate
of the Russian Ministry of Defence

I'm not sure where conventional munitions, nuclear weapons, or other explosives (flares, etc) would have been stored near the flight line.  There are dozens of earth covered buildings that look to be hardened aircraft hangers, but there are also a few buildings on the East side, far from the fuel depot, that could either be alert buildings where pilots would have stayed on alert ready to defend or strike, or perhaps munitions storage facilities, located in close proximity to the planes waiting on alert.  Since I can't identify a large and highly secure nuclear storage facility at the aerodrome, I noticed another facility North of the Vozdvizhenka Aerodrome near 44°00'13.3"N 131°54'52.3"E

Located about 10 km North of the Vozdvizhenka Aerodrome (Aэродром Воздвиженка), on a road that only goes to this facility, is complex of buildings with many fences and only one road in or out.  On Yandex maps it is called "urochishche Pervomayskiy 1-y" and elsewhere I could reference to "Pervomayskiy Pervyy". My poor Russian language skills show through here, as I'm not exactly sure what either means; other than the word "First" seems to be involved.  Like, "1st Avenue"; might this might be "1st Pervomayskiy Hamlet"?  With some more digging I discovered references to "Гарнизон Воздвиженка-2" and "РТБ в/ч 23477"; translated that might be "Garrison Vozdvizhenka-2", perhaps a reference to the 2nd garrison or garrison #2 of Vozdvizhenka.   РТБ is an acronym in Russian roughly translating to RTB, repair and technical base; language used exclusively for nuclear weapons maintenance, storage, and assembly.  в/ч 23477 means "Military Unit 23477".  в/ч 23477 is part of the 12th Main Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Russia (12-е Главное управление Министерства обороны России); the directorate which is "responsible for nuclear security and technical support" of nuclear weapons.

Гарнизон Воздвиженка-2 РТБ в/ч 23477 | Garrison Vozdvizhenka-2 operated by unit 23477
Воздвиженка-2 РТБ в/ч 23477
https://yandex.com/maps/-/CVTBmIix
If you were going North along the road from the Aerodrome to the facility you would arrive at a guard post and parking lot in front of a facility surrounded by what looks like triple barbed wire fences in the middle of fields and grassland.

The parking lot looks busy, and I dont see any personal vehicles inside the gate.  I assume those posted to the facility park outside or are bussed in and walk inside, past the barbed wire fences. If you were to drive into the facility and keep going straight, you'd come to a intersection with another guard post, this time with a covered inspection station, before going beyond another set of barbed wire fences.  Beyond this 2nd checkpoint is a building which I speculate is a weapons assembly building, but before you can get to it, you guessed it, another fence.  At the extreme West and East of the facility there seem to be storage areas; I believe these would be for parts of the weapons to be assembled; there might have been rocket engines at one end, and warheads at the other end.  I'm completely guessing, but the high security makes me think this is a weapons assembly or production facility. The lack of heavy industrial buildings makes me think this is more an area to assemble weapons, than make them from scratch.  Reviewing other nuclear facilities in Russia, this is the most secure of them all - even more secure than warhead assembly plants.  But why?

I found a quote from an informed source that said they "stored nuclear warheads (for) missiles"; that convinced me of what I was looking at - a nuclear storage facility; missile assembly buildings above ground, and storage below ground.  Another informed source told me the arms treaties (IMF, START) do not list these storage sites since they are not inspectable under the agreements; so in short, there is no official list of Russian military nuclear storage sites, as I'd hoped there would be.

Given the sparse amount of information I've been able to dig up about this one facility, I'm now wondering about how many other active sites like this there are.  I'm quite interested in where the former Soviet storage locations were, to study their aerial imagery as well.

Here is a home-video filmed at the site just a few years ago.


Video shot here: 44.001869, 131.911964

Google Satellite Imagery of Vozdvizhenka-2

Bing Satellite imagery of Vozdvizhenka-2


The best bulk of photos I could find of the air base were taken by KFSS.ru, so I must thank them, very much, for taking these pictures in 2011!  Latest satellite imagery doesn't show any Tu-22M3 planes anywhere around the runway; I suspect they have since been cut up, but the Tu-22M3 is still in active service, so I can't be sure they weren't refurbished or put into storage under a roof.






































































































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