- History of the
North Key Largo Missile Site
I am of the opinion that
the Cold War began at the Yalta Conference in 1945.
Much has been written about this; therefore, one can come to their own
conclusions. In summary, mine are that President Roosevelt and Prime
Minister Churchill realized the powerful position that Premier Stalin
was in and did the best that they could under the circumstances.
As in most wars, WW-II had
generated a huge increase in military technology of air defense
fighters, strategic bombers, jet powered aircraft and atomic
bombs -- weapon systems. Germany lead the way in ballistic
missiles such as the V-1
and V-2. These developments plus the Soviet apparent threat of world
domination was countered by the U.S. developing counter forces to
prevent another world war. Another consideration was to limit the
damage incurred in such a conflict should occur.
The Army, Navy and Air Force had their roles in the
defense of the nation. As a personal note, in 1950 I began my training
in radar for the Air
Defense Command (ADC) of the Air Force (AF), primarily in aircraft
control and warning (AC&W) using fighter
aircraft instead of missiles. The Army had it counter part, the Army
Air Defense Command (ARADCOM), primarily missiles and antiaircraft guns. Both were part of
the North American Defense Command (NORAD). These are defensive units,
not strategic or tactical. The Soviet Union dominated the
decision making process with its strategic bombers and ballistic
missiles. At home, the federal budget was balanced between military and
The Hawk missile gradually replaced the antiaircraft
gun for short range defense and the Nike Ajax for longer ranges.
- HAWK -
One of the
first uses of the HAWK missile units were in Key West and the lower
for the Cuban Missile Crisis. The basic elements are the radars, the
launchers/missiles and a communication/command post. The system can be
divided into three sections: acquisition, fire control, and firing
sections. Target detection from acquisition radar is provided to the
fire control section radars for engagement evaluation. The fire
control section locks onto the target with a tracking radar. A missile
or missiles can be launched manually or in an automatic mode from the
firing section by the fire control section. To view a Hawk missile
launch unit CLICK HERE. To view
miscellaneous photos related to the HAWK missiles that used to be
located in Key West CLICK HERE.
- NIKE -
NIKE-AJAX was the first ground based operational supersonic
antiaircraft missile and was operational in the U.S. in 1955. When the
entire system was
improved and the missiles changed to solid fuels and the capability of a nuclear warhead it was known as the NIKE-HERCULES
including by 1958. Solid
fuels eliminated the troublesome
and dangerous liquid rocket fuels. It replaced the
Nike-Ajax systems between 1958 to 1963.
Ideally the radar, control, command
center and administrative site is separated about one mile from the
missile launch site; albeit, the minimum separation is 3600 feet.
Another problem to be dealt with was the booster rocket drop zone. The
Nike had a solid
propellant booster that could be dropped as near as one mile from the
site. After release it fell where ever the momentum and wind took it. A
ground site required about 120 acres. If the launcher was below ground,
40 acres would suffice. There were 7 batteries in the Miami and
the parameters of the Nike Hercules
are: length = 41 feet; wingspan = 6 feet, 2
inches; diameter = 31.5 inches, range = 75 miles, altitude capability =
150,000 feet, weight = 10,710 pounds and speed = 2,707 mph.
As Soviet weapons improved, the U.S. weapons
either improved are became obsolete. By 1974 most of the Nike Hercules
sites were closed. The final coup de grace was the 1974 SALT treaty
which prohibited weapons of this type. The shafts of the hydraulic
launchers were physically cut to prevent operation.
To view a Nike Hercules missile CLICK HERE.
- CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS -
the Cuban Missile Crisis was only two weeks long, it will be remembered
by many. One can go back as far as they like to develop the crisis, but
it became obvious on October 14, 1962 when the photos from a U-2
reconnaissance aircraft revealed Soviet missiles in Cuba. The National
Security Council was kicked into overdrive. The Russians maintained
they were for defensive purposes, but on the 19th, new aerial photos
larger missiles than needed for defense purposes.
I do not believe most of the nation knew
how close we were to a massive nuclear war in 1962. I had just returned
from Spain where we had three B-52 bomber bases. About a year before
this and during the Berlin Wall crisis, I awoke one morning to the air
field jammed with nuclear loaded B-52s. As all I did was drive by on my
an off base radar site, but my guess would be 25 to 30 B-52s. The story
that there was about 60 aircraft in the air 24 hours a day. Russia was
ringed with similar bases from England to Turkey.
Then on October 22nd, President Kennedy announced
that the Soviet "quarantine" ships would be stopped and a blockade
ordered. The Strategic Air Command (SAC) went on active alert
nuclear bombers around the world. The 2nd Missile Battalion, 52nd Air
Defense Artillery Group at Fort Bliss, Texas and the 6th Battalion (HAWK), 65th
Artillery at Fort Meade, MD were
dispatched to the
Miami/Key West area.
On October 24th, the Soviet ships recognized the
quarantine and stopped at sea.
For the moment, all breathed a sigh of relief.
But it was only a sigh as after three days of tense
cat and mouse games came
"Black Saturday" - October 27, 1962. The Kremlin sent the message
for the U.S. to remove its missiles from Turkey. The U.S. ignored the
request, but Rudolph Anderson, the U.S. U-2 reconnaissance pilot was
shot down and killed
over Cuba. President Kennedy did not retaliate and for a resolution,
Robert Kennedy and Soviet envoy Dobrynin
met . The following day, October 28th, Premier Khrushchev accepted the
proposals and history was made - the immediate crisis was over.
- MISSILES IN SOUTHEAST FLORIDA -
- KEY WEST -
It could be asked why
were there not defenses already in place, but there was not. The first
to arrive was
the more mobile
and smaller ground-to-air Hawk missiles units at Key West. The
6th Battalion (HAWK), 65th
Artillery, a unit of the joint STRIKE Command which had been stationed
at Fort Meade, Maryland since August 1962. It received orders for a
temporary change of station to Key West on October 20, 1962, two days
before President Kennedy's quarantine challenge to Khrushchev; but
owing largely to poor performance by the rail carrier, the movement
(continued by road from Homestead AFB to Key West) was not completed
until October 26, 1962. Even then it had to wait for its missiles which
arrived by October 29, 1962. The battalion's Army Air Defense Command
Post (AADCP) and four firing batteries were now fully operational and
ready for action in defense of Key West. To view a missile unit on
Smather's Beach, CLICK HERE.
- HOMESTEAD -
encountered further delays in mobilizing the physically larger Nike
Hercules missile units for Miami and Homestead. The 2nd Missile
52nd Air Defense Artillery Group received orders to move out on
October 22, 1962. Its Battery B was at Johnson Island in a
exercise. Batteries A, C and D were in the rapid deployment mode at
Fort Bliss, Texas.
Personnel, radars, missiles, tents, vehicles, etc. were quickly loaded
on trains. Within two weeks, they were encamped on Army Corps of
prepared sites circling Miami and the Homestead Air Force Base. By
November 14, 1962, all local Nike Hercules were operational. Battery B
traveled to Homestead from Johnson Island via its home base at Fort
Bliss, arriving in early
The above 1962 missile units were totally
self-contained above ground mobile units. A
time chart would clearly have shown that the
mobile deployment speed
was outdated for the nuclear age. Cuban Crisis was history before the
units were fully operational. Few people knew that at the time. The
of Defense brass decided to leave the southeast Florida Hawk and Nike missile
place for the time being. Later, they
convert these Nike and HAWK sites into permanent sites. The Corps of
was directed to purchase the land. Typically, Nike missiles in the
were stored sub-surface, then brought up on elevators and transported
to the launcher as needed. This was impossible in South
Florida because the launch area was too close to sea level.
The South Florida Nike units stored
their missiles in huge
barns on rails that extended to the outside firing pad.
Preservation efforts are being pursued to save a representative Nike
site in the area of the
entrance to the Everglades National Park west of Homestead.
- NORTH KEY LARGO -
Battery B remained at the Homestead until
Key Largo site could be purchased and prepared.
not certain precisely when the Key Largo Nike site was built but
Battery B was relocated from Homestead to Key Largo in May and
operational in June of 1965.
All indications are that the Nike
equipment was an updated
version. The new missile site designation was HM-40.
appears that when the Key Largo site was first built, the old state highway to
Ocean Reef was on the east side (ocean side) of the site. Actually this
road was the
original 1928 State Road 4A. In the 1960s
to travel from Homestead to the Admin building, one would travel
the U.S.-1 highway "18-mile Stretch" past Lake Surprise and
back, turn left, and
travel toward Ocean Reef and the Angler's Club on then SR-905. Both
these early highways preceded HM-40 by some time. The launch and radar
sites are connected by underground cables; therefore, where possible
they are usually on the same side of highways, canals, etc. as they
here when first constructed.
The correct nomenclature for the
radar/administrative area is the Integrated Fire Control (IFC) area.
The missile site is the Launcher area.
As the community of Ocean Reef grew, the road from Key Largo was
upgraded. In the process for
a more direct
route, the new roadway was rerouted west of the radar site (IFC)
the late 1960s passing over the buried cables. This additional road
placed the radar
area in a triangle surrounded by roads.
The northern leg of the triangle was the old
1928 highway. Some time after 1928, this section was extended eastward
the ocean. The end of this
road at the ocean was called "dynamite docks." When first built is
unknown, but the name comes from its use for transporting explosives of
the Atlas Power Co. The state has hence removed the docks. Click on the
USGS map to
enlarge, then the back arrow to return here.
It should be mentioned that Battery B was barely
operational when Hurricane Betsy in September 1965 tested its physical
The following black and white photos were scanned
from the December 17, 1969 issue of the Upper Keys Reporter.
The first black and
white photo in the following series shows the radome for the high
powered acquisition radar (HIPAR) in the IFC area. The actual radar
antenna is inside
to the geodesic fiberglass protective dome. The radar had a range of
over 150 miles.
The three radars in the above photo are in the
background of the first photo. The radar to the left is a low power
acquisition radar (LOPAR). It was primarily for back-up but did add
flexibility to the system. By the 1960s, electronic jamming was
becoming a concern and the different frequency of the LOPAR was a
As I recall,
a Nike Hercules had a total of five radars. The large HIPAR was easily
identified. The IFF, or Identification, Friend or Foe, radar was so
small that it was only seen by the crews. The other three radars were:
1) Target Tracking, Target Ranging and Missile Tracking, I am not
certain which of the three the other two in the photo are.
Continuing below are some human interest photos with
the original newspaper captions.
- The visitor is in the car and I assume
there is an entrance gate to the left. -
- Each off base Battery had a dedicated
- Payday was always a welcomed day -
The "dispensary" was
usually well equipped and had a well trained "Medic."
above photo was taken by a former Battery B console operator veteran,
Sgt. Charles Carter, of the Key
Largo Nike Hercules Launch Ready Room in 2002. The Ready Room was
inside the gate to the launch area. It housed the troops that were
always available for an emergency launch against incoming fighters,
bombers or missiles from Cuba, or anywhere else.
- EPILOGUE -
Key Largo HM-40 Nile Hercules site was closed in June 1979.
site located on the shores of Barnes Sound was under federal control
and became part of the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife
Refuge. The radar site (IFC) at about mid-island of Key Largo was
under state control and is part of the Key Largo Hammock Botanical
State Park. Both are environmental entities with
plans to return the areas to their native vegetative state. As
previously stated both government stewards have environmental missions
of preserving our natural history.
see in 2005 is that all tangible remains of the HM-40 launch site
have been erased and will soon appear as a camera might have seen it in
1962. All that remains of Battery B while at Key Largo is the IFC radar
tower for the HIPAR radar equipment with its protective radome missing
- the Lone Sentinel. How long will it be before that too vanishes
for all except a few memories and photographs?
The *Rings of
Supersonic Steel is rapidly evaporating from cultural history.
* See book Rings of Supersonic Steel by Mark