Behind the Scenes: Robins, the B-52, Nike Hercules and the Cold War

June 11, 2014 

Growing up in Middle Georgia, I wondered whether I would see the “white light.” No, I am not referring to death. I am referring to growing up during the Cold War era and wondering if Robins Air Force Base would be the target of a nuclear missile.

It was a scary time, especially during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. For children who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, there were drills for possible enemy attacks. The theme was “duck and cover.” We were told that if you see a white light from the explosion of the bomb or missile, you were to “duck and cover.”

The Cold War was a war of words, not of battles. The Soviet Union, at the end of World War II, became an aggressor in spreading communism. Simply put, the United States was worried that communism would take over the world. It had to be contained. The spread of communism and the posturing of the Soviet Union had many concerned that there would be a World War III. The difference in the possible war and other past wars was the threat of nuclear weapons being used. The Cold War was from 1945-1991.

What I did not know as a child was that we were well defended from any enemy attack. From 1959 to 1982, Robins had a Strategic Air Command bomb wing on ready alert for any crisis that may arise. First, there was the 4137th Bomb Wing, which was activated in 1959 and deactivated in 1963. The 4137th received B-52 bombers in 1961. The B-52s were armed with nuclear weapons and would attack Soviet targets in the event of a war. The B-52s being at Robins made the base a prime target for attack. Along with the B-52s were the KC-135 aircraft that could refuel the B-52s in the air so they would not have to land and refuel.

The 4137th was replaced with the 465th from 1963-1968. The 465th wing became the 19th and flew B-52s at Robins from 1968 to 1983. The 19th air crews also supported bombing operations during the Vietnam War. When the B-52s were transferred from Robins in 1983, the 19th continued the aerial refueling mission. As a result of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure, the 19th Air Refueling Group was inactivated in June 2008.

The 19th was one the oldest flying organizations in the Air Force. The wing’s symbol was the Black Knight, referring to the chess knight. The Black Knight of the 19th stood for maneuverability, global range and tactical posture. So, the symbol was appropriate for protecting our country from attack. The 19th’s unofficial motto was “checkmate to aggression.”

The story of Robins Air Force Base during the Cold War would not be complete without highlighting the Nike Hercules Air Defense Missile System that protected Robins while Robins protected us. There were two missile sites near Robins. One was in Byron and the other was in Jeffersonville. They operated from 1961 to 1966. Byron was the first above ground Nike Hercules base built by the Army Air Defense command.

After World War II, Western Union and Bell Telephone Laboratories were asked by the Army to build a guided missile system. By 1951 the first Nike missile was successfully launched. It hit the intended aircraft on the first try. Later General Electric built new search radar. The system became the Nike Hercules, which provided complete air defense for incoming enemy aircraft or missiles.

In one of the brochures about the system, it was stated, “Whatever tomorrow may bring, Nike will be watching, always ready. ... Nike Air Defense, keenly trained soldiers, powerful precise radar, supersonic missiles, working together, always alert. This is Nike.”

By the late 1960s, the threat of attack changed from aircraft and aircraft launched missiles to ballistic missiles. After the Nike sites were closed, Pave Paws radar sites were built and there was a site at Robins. The Pave Paws radar’s purpose was to detect and track intercontinental and submarine launched ballistic missiles.

I wish I had known just how defended we were in those days. It would have brought comfort and fewer sleepless nights envisioning that “white light.” No one knew how great the destruction would have been from a nuclear attack here in Middle Georgia. I am glad that we had the B-52s, Nike, and all the people at Robins to defend us just in case.

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