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  • On a cold morning in January, 1961 Goldsboro, North Carolina woke up to this; a thermonuclear

  • bomb sticking out of the ground.

  • A second unexploded bomb was buried in a crater not far away.

  • Both nukes had literally fallen out of a crashing B-52 bomber in the middle of the night.

  • Had either bomb gone off, they would have unleashed an explosion with two hundred and

  • fifty times the destructive power of Hiroshima.

  • The fireball alone would've been more than a kilometer and a half wide, vaporizing everything

  • in its path.

  • Nuclear fallout could have blanketed much of the East Coast, reaching as far as Washington,

  • Baltimore, or even New York.

  • This incident, according to recently declassified documents, was a close call.

  • Because at least one of the bombs had armed itself as it fell back to earth, and its widely

  • believed that only a single safety switch prevented disaster.

  • But as harrowing as it sounds, what happened in Goldsboro would repeat itself.

  • Throughout the 1960s, B-52 bombers accidentally dropped a total 14 thermonuclear bombs, and

  • sometimes with serious consequences.

  • During the height of the Cold War, America kept bombers, loaded up with thermonuclear

  • weapons airborne at all times, twenty four hours a day, every day of the year.

  • At any given moment, there were at least a dozen nuclear bombers in the air, flying one

  • of several routes approaching the Soviet Union.

  • It was called Operation Chrome Dome.

  • A program to keep nuclear bombers on continuous airborne alert, so that if the Soviets launched

  • a surprise nuclear attack, America would be ready to respond.

  • And keeping the bombers airborne was critical.

  • Because in 1957, the Soviets launched the world's first intercontinental ballistic missile.

  • Sticking a nuke on top of a rocket was a game changer.

  • Unlike a bomber which needed hours to deliver a nuclear bomb, a missile could hit its target

  • in under half an hour.

  • And there'd be little warning of one coming, nor any way to stop it.

  • Gentlemen this Air Intelligence Briefing is secret.

  • We've analyzed the Soviet guided missile test program in great depth.

  • The Soviet missile development program reveals that it introduces a new dimension to surprise

  • and forces us to reassess our own strategic position and reevaluate the Soviet's ability

  • to deal a crippling blow.

  • By the late 1950s, American intelligence was convinced that the West had fallen behind

  • in nuclear missile technology.

  • And the Soviet's weren't exactly shy about it either.

  • Khrushchev bragged openly that Soviet factories were cranking missiles out like sausages.

  • If true, it meant the Soviets would soon gain an enormous strategic advantage, one that

  • could even knock out America's ability to respond to a Soviet nuclear attack.

  • Because faced with a barrage of incoming missiles, America's bombers might not even make it

  • off the ground in time.

  • And that's where Operation Chrome Dome came in.

  • By keeping some of America's nuclear bombers airborne at all times, they would be well

  • out of harm's way and ready to head towards the Soviet Union.

  • Knowing this, the Soviets might reconsider.

  • But the program would push B-52s and their flight crews to their limits.

  • Bombers would be in the air for as long as 24 hours.

  • It was risky, and the obvious question at least someone had to be asking was, what happens

  • when one of these bombers loaded up with nukes crashes?

  • The answer came just three months into the program.

  • But Goldsboro would be just the first in a string of early accidents in which a total

  • of six nuclear bombs crashed back to earth, only to be recovered without much in the way

  • of consequences.

  • The bombs simply hit the ground without any of their conventional or nuclear explosives detonating.

  • It might have even created a false sense of confidence.

  • Because Chrome Dome missions continued for years, even as it became clear that the Soviets

  • never had missile superiority to begin with.

  • The bombers were kept flying because unlike buried missiles silos, and stealthy nuclear

  • submarines, B-52's patrolling Soviet borders were a constant reminder that America was ready.

  • But the program would soon be seen in an entirely different light.

  • An accident over Palomares, Spain in 1966 sent four nukes crashing back to earth.

  • And this time, two of them detonated their conventional explosives.

  • There was no nuclear blast.

  • But five square kilometers of Spanish countryside were contaminated with radioactive plutonium.

  • It was the worst nuclear accident of its time, and 17,000 tonnes of radioactive soil had

  • to be shipped back to the United States in an enormous cleanup effort.

  • Decades later, there were still traces of the contamination at site.

  • After the Spain incident, Operation Chrome Dome was scaled back.

  • But it that wouldn't prevent a final accident in Thule Greenland, when another four thermonuclear

  • bombs came crashing back to earth.

  • All of them detonated their conventional explosives, spreading contamination over a large area.

  • One of the nuclear bombs was never recovered.

  • And that put an immediate end to Operation Chrome Dome.

  • The Cold War, especially during the 1960s, was an insane time, and the legacy of Operation

  • Chrome Dome is hard to pin down.

  • America accidently dropped 14 Nuclear Bombs.

  • But keeping bombers airborne for eight straight years also helped maintain the delicate balance

  • of power between America and the Soviet Union, and it might've prevented nuclear war.

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How The US Accidentally Dropped Nukes On Itself And Its Allies

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    joey joey posted on 2021/06/01
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