March 19, 2021.
I’ve heard a lot about the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, but I didn’t know that it was also a “bomber” crisis. Along with the nuclear missiles that Soviet Premier Khrushchev shipped to Cuba were the parts for 42 Ilyushin Il-28 bombers. And while 265 defensive anti-aircraft missile sites had been established already in the US, none were in the country’s “Achilles Heel” — Southern Florida.
As the Soviet missile and bombers were disassembled, Florida quickly became part of Project Nike. In late October 1962, 150 members of the Army’s 2nd Missile Battalion were deployed to set up eight sites in Southern Florida. Swampy conditions in the tent campsite outside the Everglades caused problems with personnel and equipment. Three years later the site relocated to “higher” ground (inches higher) within the park. Permanent structures were built. Decommissioned in 1979, the buildings of this relocated base still stand, and are open to the public.
Project Nike was proposed in 1945. Implementation began with the birth of Nike Hercules anti-aircraft missiles in 1953. Underground launch sites for the Nikes were built in many states. Permafrost kept this from being an option in Alaska. Launch trailers were used there. The same approach was used in the glades, where the water table is close to the ground surface.
The first stage of a 41-foot Nike missile housed four solid-propellant tanks. The second stage was propelled by liquid fuel. It could be armed with different ballistic warheads or even a nuclear warhead. Missile speed was 3.5 times the speed of sound. Radar was an important component in the detection of targets and in missile guidance. There was no assumption that a missile would make direct contact with another missile or incoming bomber. The missiles were supposed to explode close enough to impede or disable enemy aircraft.
Interestingly, one of the radio technologies supporting this system was partially invented by Austrian-born actress Hedy Lamarr. She and composer George Antheil had developed a radio frequency-hopping system. With it the sender and receiver could coordinate radio frequency changes rapidly, preventing the enemy from jamming their communication. Elements of this technique are used now in clock signals to prevent interference, and in wifi and Bluetooth to increase security and bandwidth
* You can visit the HM69 Nike Missile Base in the Everglades National Park. The site offers ranger-guided tours and has open house days. Click here for more info.