Portland, Ore.– At Portland Air Force Base, Oregon, the month of October, 1962 began with a nasty storm which occurred just as the ANG RIO School began operations. By late October when the Cuban Missile Crisis developed, the month proved to be relatively calm in the Pacific Northwest even as it looked like nuclear war between the superpowers might occur due to the situation in Cuba.
Air Defense in Oregon
For Portland Air Force Base (PAFB), a base then under the Air Defense Command (ADC), the prospect of a superpower conflict meant being ready to defend against the Soviet Union’s Long Range Aviation strategic bomber aircraft carrying atomic weapons, such as the early versions of the Tu-95 BEAR (100 aircraft) and M-4/3M BISON (60 aircraft), about 160 in number in 1962. These bombers could carry about 270 nuclear weapons altogether.
A war between the superpowers would likely not confine itself to the Cuba-Florida area and would escalate – therefore air defense forces’ readiness all around the country was important, as Soviet bombers were then the predominant nuclear threat to North America. In 1962, the Soviets only had approximately 40 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), each with a single warhead, and no sea-launched ballistic missiles with intercontinental range.
To defend against the bomber threat, Portland in 1962 had the Oregon Air National Guard’s 142nd Fighter Group (Air Defense), equipped with the two-seat Northrop F-89J Scorpion all-weather fighter-interceptor. The Oregon F-89s were primarily postured with a pair on daytime air defense alert, 14 hours a day, seven days a week since October of 1958. The organization was well-established in the role. See “Sixty Years of Redhawk Alert,” at: https://www.142wg.ang.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1665129/sixty-years-of-redhawk-alert/
Westward on the ADC active duty ramp of PAFB was the USAF’s 337th Fighter Group (Air Defense) which operated the single-seat Convair F-102A Delta Dagger fighter-interceptor. The group covered both day and night alert requirements. Active duty jet fighter-interceptor units had been based in Portland since 1952, so the mission was well-practiced. In this time period, the group normally maintained eight F-102s on 15-minute alert status, with the other 19 Delta Dagger aircraft assigned to the unit then being available for regular training sorties and scheduled maintenance work as required.
Both fighter groups came under the command and control of the Portland Air Defense Sector (SAGE), based at Adair Air Force Station (AFS), Oregon. There at Adair, the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) Direction Center (DC-13 in the ADC network) had been operational for over two years with its gigantic dual AN/FSQ-7 computers to enable its command and control of air defense operations. Portland Air Defense Sector (POADS) was responsible for a geographic area encompassing western Oregon and northwestern California and out into the seaward approaches over the Pacific Ocean.
POADS itself was under the control of 25th Air Division at McChord AFB, Washington, and then ADC itself, which was the USAF component of the joint Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD), the main US component of the joint US-Canada North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) in Colorado. NORAD exercised operational control and fielded a robust force of command and control facilities, sensors, interceptor aircraft and in some locations, surface-to-air missiles to defend against Soviet nuclear bombers.
A year before the Cuban crisis, in October, 1961 NORAD conducted Exercise Sky Shield II, a huge, nation-wide air defense exercise. Lessons learned from that would be applied in the upcoming Cuban Missile Crisis. See “Remembering Operation Sky Shield II” at: https://www.142wg.ang.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2810282/remembering-operation-sky-shield-ii-october-14-15-1961/
On the heels of the destructive Columbus Day storm that hit the Pacific Northwest in 1962, a new problem, the Cuban Missile Crisis, began to rapidly develop on October 16, the first day of the 13-day crisis.
It was a crisis that was actually sometime in the making during the height of the Cold War, from the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in April, 1961; the tense Vienna Summit meeting between President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev of June, 1961; the Berlin Crisis of June to November, 1961; the US deployment of Jupiter nuclear missiles to Italy and Turkey in 1961, subsequently followed by a secret agreement between the Soviet Union and Cuba in July, 1962 to base Soviet nuclear ballistic missiles in Cuba. Superpower brinkmanship was being pushed to the limit.
And not only nuclear missiles in Cuba, but under the Moscow’s “Operation Anadyr,” Soviet military personnel numbering up to 50,000 were to be stationed in Cuba. They would operate the ballistic missiles, provide units to guard them including tanks, anti-aircraft batteries, tactical surface-to-surface missiles and rockets, tactical bomber (Air Force and Navy both) and fighter aircraft and naval surface-to-surface missile boats. Soviet leadership calculated that Operation Anadyr would exert a significant strategic threat against the US as well as deter an American attack on Cuba.
Evidence of a Soviet military force buildup on Cuba appeared soon afterward. US Navy maritime patrol aircraft spotted Soviet-flagged vessels carrying weaponry to Cuba. Surface-to-air antiaircraft missiles and naval missile boats were spotted by high-altitude US reconnaissance flights over Cuba in advance of the ballistic missiles’ arrival. On September 4, 1962 President Kennedy publicly warned against the basing of any offensive weapons in Cuba. Soviet diplomatic and military efforts at deception characterized their activity as only defensive in nature.
On October 14, a USAF high-altitude U-2 reconnaissance aircraft of the Strategic Air Command’s (SAC) 4080th Strategic Wing obtained images of nuclear ballistic missile site construction for R-12/SS-4 SANDAL medium range ballistic missiles as the Soviets continued their force buildup. (Note: R-14/SS-5 SKEAN intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) launchers and missiles planned for deployment in Cuba never arrived before the crisis ended, although nuclear warheads for these missiles did.) A real strategic offensive nuclear missile threat to the US had suddenly materialized in Cuba despite Soviet assurances to the contrary – an SS-4 SANDAL MRBM carrying a 1 to 2.3 megaton thermonuclear warhead could reach Washington, DC from Cuba in 13 minutes.
The U-2 images were analyzed by photo interpreters, annotated to identify key observations and forwarded to the White House on October 15. At 8:45 AM on October 16, President Kennedy was alerted of the discovery – once operational, these nuclear missile sites could threaten American territory some six hundred to 1,300 miles from Cuba for SS-4 MRBMs and about twice as far with SS-5 IRBMs. The Soviet ballistic missiles in Cuba could strike targets across all of the continental United States except for a portion of the Pacific Northwest. Thus the Cuban Missile Crisis began. On this day, POADS and assigned units conducted a routine, previously scheduled air defense exercise within its area of responsibility.
A week later, on October 22, after much deliberation with key staff and advisors, President Kennedy decided to enact a naval “quarantine” of Cuba and diplomatic efforts continued to resolve the crisis. The president spoke on national television to the American people and said “It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.”
As the president spoke, 22 ADC interceptors were on airborne alert over Florida as a precaution against any sneak attack from Cuba. The US Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) announced the placing of military forces at the readiness status of DEFCON 3, an increase in force readiness above that normally required.
US naval forces deployed to establish the quarantine at sea to prevent additional weapons from arriving in Cuba by ship while contingency plans were developed for air strikes against military targets in Cuba. On October 23, US Navy VFP-62 RF-8A Crusader tactical reconnaissance jets (some flown by US Marine VMCJ-2 pilots) commenced low-level overflights to gather more detailed information on what the U-2s had detected. These flights also discovered nuclear-capable FROG-7 tactical rocket launchers. SAC placed more B-52s on airborne alert and CONAD began flying defensive patrols to cover bases in the southeastern US. ADC deployed 161 nuclear-armed fighter-interceptors to 16 dispersal airfields in a nine-hour period. About one-third of them were placed on 15-minute alert status.
In Portland, the DEFCON change on the 22nd saw the 337th Fighter Group (AD) direct its 460th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron (460th FIS) to place all aircraft on 5-minute alert. At the time, the squadron was assigned 27 F-102 Delta Dagger interceptors, including at least one two-seat TF-102A combat-capable trainer.
No official unit history for the 142nd Fighter Group (AD) exists to describe how the DEFCON posture affected the unit. Additional F-89J Scorpion interceptors of the group’s 123rd Fighter-Interceptor Squadron (123rd FIS) were likely made alert-ready. It is possible the RIO School (described in Part 2 of this series) was affected by the crisis and that F-89J aircraft and USAF instructors from the school could have joined in the higher alert posture, but that is unconfirmed.
On October 23, the 337th Fighter Group’s alert commitment changed again. Two jets were to be maintained on five-minute alert, with 10 more F-102s on fifteen-minute alert. The rest of the jets were to be mission ready within an hour’s time. The alert change enabled the squadron to have some aircraft available in order to continue to accomplish training sorties, albeit at a reduced rate.
As a result, the 337th shifted all operations and maintenance work to a seven-day work week in order maintain the alert posture and to generate the training sorties to meet the monthly flying commitment. The unit maintained this schedule for over a month, until November 27 when DEFCON 3 in most of ADC was cancelled. No significant issues affected the unit’s ability to provide alert aircraft and conduct other routine training and maintenance actions. Of note, during this surge the workload of each aircrew increased to 88 hours per week.
In the month of October the average combat-ready rate for 460th FIS-assigned F-102s was 73.1 %. It rose slightly to 74.1 percent for the month of November, and increased notably to 81.4 percent in December, 1962 perhaps reflecting the ripple effects of the sustained surge activity. The F-102’s datalink success rate in the period was a solid 100%.
As tensions ratcheted up and the crisis continued, the world seemed poised at the brink of a nuclear holocaust. On October 24, SAC was ordered to elevate its readiness status to DEFCON 2 (armed forces ready to deploy and engage in less than six hours). SAC’s fleet of nuclear bombers and missiles remained at this readiness level until November 21. At the peak of the alert SAC had 1,479 bombers, 1,003 tankers and 182 ballistic missiles ready for retaliatory attacks – these forces could deliver 2,952 nuclear weapons.
Around this time the 460th FIS was tasked to provide one TF-102A two-seat “tub” to ADC forces deployed in Florida. Two ADC pilots flew the combat-capable jet trainer aircraft to Florida. The aircraft may have been used to help ADC establish an intercept capability in Florida against low, slow, propeller-driven aircraft. The TF-102A’s two-man crew could perhaps better employ the aircraft in night and low-level intercepts. Such aircraft were armed with 2.75-inch rockets for this mission. The TF-102A returned to Portland in early December after the crisis eased.
In the week prior, CONAD had 240 fighters on alert across the US. Within a 48-hour period, it postured 82 interceptors on alert in Florida (F-101 Voodoo, F-102 Delta Dagger, F-106 Delta Dart) and brough the total number of air defense alert aircraft up to 520. By October 26, a total of 1,044 aircraft were deployed for air defense, with 589 on five to fifteen-minute alert and 446 on one to three-hour alert.
On October 26, USAF tactical reconnaissance aircraft of the 363rd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, after getting some aerial camera issues rectified, began low-level reconnaissance sorties over Cuba with RF-101A Voodoo jet aircraft.
Things came to blows on October 27, when a USAF U-2F high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft was shot down over Cuba by a Soviet surface-to-air missile. Maj Gen D.E.B. Ward, USAF (Retired), who commanded the Oregon ANG during the early 1990s, recalls “I was a T-33 IP at Laughlin AFB, Del Rio, Texas stationed with the SAC 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance U-2 Wing at that time. We were the only base to be at DEFCON 2 and I believe the remaining Air Force and probably ANG units were upgraded to DEFCON 3. The 4080th suffered the only combat casualty when Major Rudolf Anderson was shot down by a missile while overflying Cuba.”
Unfortunately, Major Rudolf Anderson, Jr. was killed. He was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross, the first award of the USAF’s second-highest medal for valor.
SAC ordered more than 60 B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers to continue on airborne nuclear alert, while Tactical Air Command (TAC) units deployed to Florida (e.g. F-84F Thunderstreak, F-100 Super Sabre and F-105 Thunderchief squadrons) assumed a one-hour alert posture and prepared to go to a 15-minute alert with pilots in the cockpit.
Air defense forces in Florida rose to 154 fighter-interceptors with 26 on five-minute alert, 35 on fifteen-minute alert and 55 on one to three-hour alert. From four to 11 interceptors were kept on constant airborne alert around Florida, which was packed with some 460 fighter-bombers from TAC ready to carry out air strikes against the Cuban missile sites.
By this point in the crisis, some six to eight of the SS-4 SANDAL MRBMs in Cuba were deemed operational. With nuclear warheads for them on the island, there was now a true offensive threat from Cuban soil against the continental US.
But on October 28, wisdom prevailed and diplomatic efforts yielded a way out of the crisis. The Soviets announced they would remove their missiles from Cuba if the US pledged not to invade. And in a quid pro quo, the US removed Jupiter ballistic missiles from Italy and Turkey in early 1963.
As the immediate focus of the Cuban Missile Crisis was on the southeast corner of the United States nearest Cuba, ADC units in the Pacific Northwest remained at their main operating bases. At Portland AFB, it was unclear how the growing crisis might affect the units. The Commander of the 142nd Fighter Group (AD), Lt Col Patrick O’Grady, addressed this matter in the unit’s November, 1962 “Air Scoop” newsletter in which he wrote:
“I know that many of you, during this Cuban crisis, have shown concern about the possibility of the 142nd Fighter Group being called to active duty. To date, no indication of a call-up has been received and any statement made by me at this time would be nothing more than conjecture.
The possibility of a call to active duty is an inherent part of the military obligation of every member of the Oregon Air National Guard. Obviously, this possibility comes more into the foreground when international crisis engulfs as it has today. Your concern is an understandable one, as no one likes to face possible disruption of civilian life, the leaving of opportunities and loved ones. However, as long as a call-up is considered part of our military obligation, and further, as long as even the slightest possibility exists that such an action may be pending, I believe that it behooves everyone in our organization to give thought to this possibility, particularly in the light as to how such a move would affect him personally.
I again want to make it clear that no indication of a ‘call-up’ has been received. However, should such a call come, I want every man in this organization in a state of readiness – – mentally, physically and professionally – ready to do the job we may be called to do.”
On October 31, CONAD’s request to reduce the dispersal of its interceptor forces was approved by the JCS, and went from 173 down to 143.
On November 3, the command’s alert posture went from Charlie to Bravo, which reduced the 15-minute alert posture for defending fighter-interceptors from 50% to 33%. The issue of the 42 newly-arrived Il-28 BEAGLE jet bombers in Cuba, most of which had not been taken out of crates and assembled, still had to be resolved. With a 700-mile combat radius, these nuclear-capable jet bombers could easily reach the southeastern US. The bombers were ultimately withdrawn as the two sides stepped back from the brink. By November 18 all of ADC’s dispersed aircraft returned to their homebases and once again assumed a one-third alert posture. The naval quarantine continued until November 20, when the last Il-28 bombers were removed from Cuba.
ADC sorties flown from October 22 to November 26 were 13,047 with 2,800 flown in Florida. On November 29, CONAD went to DEFCON 5 (normal readiness) except for the Florida area which remained at DEFCON 3 while long-range plans were made to boost air defenses in the area.
Although Portland’s air defenders were not heavily involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis at its point of origin aside from one TF-102A, they did keep a heightened watch through the weeks it transpired. They maintained a high readiness posture to scramble and intercept any enemy airborne weapons in the POADS area of responsibility under all conditions of weather during daylight and darkness.
Oregon ANG Commander Brig General Gordon L. Doolittle wrote about the crisis in the December, 1962 Air Scoop newsletter: “The recall of Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units during the Berlin and Cuba crises provides ample evidence that these Ready Reserve Forces are essential elements of this nation’s security posture.” He added: “The president stated when he put the Cuban quarantine into effect: “No man can foresee the consequences.” In spite of the apparent easing of that situation, I feel that “No man can foresee the consequences” in the still-to-be-fought actions in the struggle of the free world against totalitarianism.”
Oregon’s Governor Mark O. Hatfield addressed Oregon ANG members at the end of the year also when he wrote them: “The crises with which we have recently been confronted, both at the international level and domestically, brought the role of the Air National Guard prominently to the public attention and appreciation. Oregon is proud of the role of the Air National Guard. Its missions in the cold war and in peace are widely respected.”
This same level of professionalism and readiness shown in the Cuban Missile Crisis was demonstrated again on September 11, 2001 when the 142nd Fighter Wing rapidly achieved a maximum state of readiness in a short period of time as that terrible day unfolded. Although the west coast was spared the death and destruction inflicted on the east coast that chaotic day, the wing did scramble F-15 Eagle fighters to escort a suspicious airliner away from Seattle. See “The 142nd Fighter Wing Remembers 9/11” at: https://www.142wg.ang.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/438204/the-142nd-fighter-wing-remembers-911/
And this mission readiness continues today, as the Citizen Airmen of Oregon’s 142nd Wing, Guardians of the Pacific Northwest, maintain and operate F-15C Eagle fighter aircraft capable of serving at an Aerospace Control Alert site, in order to respond as required to potential airborne threats and aggression.
|Date Posted:||10.27.2022 15:13|
|Location:||PORTLAND, OR, US|
This work, The Storm Before the Calm – October, 1962 Part 3: The Cuban Missile Crisis, by SSgt Alexander Frank, identified by DVIDS, must comply with the restrictions shown on https://www.dvidshub.net/about/copyright.