Forgotten History; the 578th and the 12 nukes of the Big Country.

(This is a rare non-satirical article)

I’ve always had a dark fascination with end of the world scenarios. From poorly produced civil defense bulletins to widescale evacuation drills to the laughably poor science of some of our own government literature, especially after they knew about fallout and gamma radiation. It always gives me a chill. A “Thank goodness that never happened” thrill, mind you. After a bout of insomnia last night that ended with watching the morose “Protect and Survive” series of films produced for the BBC, I remembered reading at one point several years ago that Farm to Market Road 604 near Clyde was memorialised as the Atlas ICBM Highway. Since I was already up and couldn’t sleep (don’t worry, I edited while awake, with coffee)  I thought I would share what I know about the sites.

Abilene Reporter-News, 1964
Abilene Reporter-News, 1964

The SM-65 Atlas was America’s first Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, or ICBM. First launched in 1958, several variants were developed. This project was a national defense priority due to the escalating arms race during the height of the Cold War. 12 silos were constructed in a radius around Abilene, with each silo storing a single rocket.  Sites were under the authority of the 578th Strategic Missile Squadron. Construction began in 1961. Each site was estimated to cost nearly $15 million dollars due to the hardened nature of construction. It was said that sites could withstand overpressure from air bursts equivalent of a 500-mph gust of wind. Clearly, security was tight and these sites were well guarded and maintained.

The project would be short-lived, however, as the Atlas-F was to be the sixth and final variation of the venerable platform. When stored, the Atlas-F sat atop an elevator. If a missile was placed on alert, it was fueled with RP-1 (kerosene) liquid fuel, which could be stored inside the missile for extended periods. If a decision was made to launch the missile, the missile was raised to the surface and the liquid oxygen tank was filled. The launch would occur shortly after completion of this process. (See photo) This time consuming procedure put Atlas sites at a disadvantage over newer LGM-30 Minuteman and LGM-25C Titan II rockets which could be fired directly from the silo, with no need for intermediate staging prior to launch. There were also a few catastrophic failures with Atlas-F during testing.

Staging an ICBM at Site 578-12, near Corinth.
Staging an ICBM at Site 578-12, near Corinth.
The same site, as of 2014.
The same site, as of 2014.

All 12 units were placed on alert during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the missiles remained as a deterrent, but never saw an operational launch. Due to the aforementioned problems, as well as the complex nature of Atlas, with missiles rarely lasting over 5 years before replacement and newer, less complex missiles, the Atlas rockets were planned for nationwide phaseout in 1965. This meant that the 12 silos of the 578th, on alert for just over two years, were now obsolete. On December 1, 1964, the first Atlas F missile at Dyess was removed from alert status; and the squadron was inactivated on 25 March 1965. Missile sites were later sold off to private ownership after demilitarization. Some sites are used as homes, others as dive spots (Valhalla), and yet others were used to dispose of hazardous waste.

During the operational history of the 578th, 2 MiM-14 Nike Hercules Surface to Air Missile (SAM) sites were located around Dyess to hypothetically shoot down any USSR planes/bombers in the area, preventing the Atlas sites from being incapacitated. These sites were taken offline in 1966.

Below, you’ll find links to view all 12 silo sites from a variety of different image sources. As an added bonus, I’ve also included the coordinates for the Nike bases. Simply click on the coordinates and have fun. For the lazy click-averse types, here’s 2 birds-eye images from Bing, the first of ICBM 578-1, the second of the Nike base DY-10.


Former Inventory of the 578th SMS

ICBM 578-1 1.5 mi SE of Lake Fort Phantom Hill, TX 32°36′09″N 099°38′59″W
ICBM 578-2 1.5 mi S of Albany, TX 32°42′23″N 099°17′51″W
ICBM 578-3 2.5 mi SE of Clyde, TX 32°22′54″N 099°27′37″W
ICBM 578-4 9.6 mi SSW of Clyde, TX 32°16′25″N 099°32′28″W
ICBM 578-5 1.5 mi SE of Lake Coleman, TX 32°09′42″N 099°33′10″W
ICBM 578-6 2.7 mi E of Lawn, TX 32°08′25″N 099°42′12″W
ICBM 578-7 3.4 mi NE of Bradshaw, TX 32°07′51″N 099°51′18″W
ICBM 578-8 4.9 mi ENE of Winters, TX 31°58′24″N 099°52′48″W
ICBM 578-9 11.9 mi NW of Bradshaw, TX 32°12′37″N 100°03′03″W
ICBM 578-10 13.1 mi S of Trent, TX 32°18′05″N 100°09′11″W
ICBM 578-11 3.2 mi SSW of Anson, TX 32°42′40″N 099°54′34″W
ICBM 578-12 1.4 mi WNW of Corinth, TX 32°51′37″N 099°53′29″W

Nike Site DY-10, located at Fort Phantom Hill 32°34′49″N 099°43′02″W
Nike Site
DY-50, located southwest of Abilene 32°16′17″N 099°57′32″W

I’ve gotten a lot of information from Jim Kirkpatrick’s excellent site. Other sources include, Wikipedia, and archival material from the Abilene Reporter-News.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s