Lost Bombs: The Savannah Story

Mark 15/0 Hydrogen bomb

Mark 15/0 Hydrogen bomb

Lets start with this — most of us know that there is a lost hydrogen bomb somewhere near Savannah, Georgia. It’s been there for 51 years; there’s no news to that. However, owing to a new story out from BBC, the bomb is again in the news and it makes me sad because while there are all sorts of silly theories and all sorts of selective uses of facts by the people involved, the truth is that anylost H-bomb ought to be recovered and it is likely that this bomb with remain lost. I blog this because this bomb (a MK-15)  is part of my book and through the story of that bomb we see pieces of several other stories about Cold War nuclear weapons practices.

So, the key question is this — is it armed and can it go nuclear? The Air Force recently said “no.” The pilot says “no.” But this bomb has an intricate document trail  that provides compelling evidence that the bomb is armed, some of which comes from testimony and transcripts of an unrelated hearing on an unrelated lost bomb. Here is part of that story.

1. In 1966, a B-52  with four H-bombs in the bomb bay exploded over Spain. Now, remember — this was Spain so the news was hard to contain and SAC doesn’t like to be in the news but one of the four bombs was in fact  lost and for  ninety days America’s lost bomb was the news the world over. Little wonder that it had to be found, as it was, using a deep-sea submersible pilots by Charles Lindbergh’s son at a depth of more than 2,000 feet.

2. Fast forward one month and walk into the hearings of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy. Chairman Chet Holifield is understandable unhappy –maybe irate– that “lost bombs” have been in the headlines for the last three months so he grills W.J. Howard, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Atomic Energy and asks Howard to report back to the Committee — under oath — about any other such accidents.  Howard’s letter begins: “During my testimony of April 19th (1966) I was asked to furnish for the record a list of accidents in which nuclear weapons have been lost and never recovered. There have been two such accidents involving complete weapons.”

The Savannah bomb was first on that list.

I tend to believe a functionary like Howard — a guy who who spent several days preparing an answer for a hostile committee. Moreover,  Howard’s testimony is the only statement  that aligns with the practices of the day, the uses of bombs by SAC on training missions, SIMCOMs, and alerts; it is the only statement not contradicted by AEC evidence, Presidential authorizations to load armed bombs on missions, and SACs own paranoia, particularly their deeply seated fear of being attacked while bunches of unarmed bombers were in the air.

This bomb brings together several fascinating story lines, story lines that rely on official, formerly classified documents and not on local theorists —  and I hope to unravel and present those lines convincingly in my forthcoming book.


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