May 5, 2013

LIKE A TIME CAPSULE: Wisconsin family discovers fully-stocked fallout shelter in their back yard 50 years after it was installed at the height of the Cold War. “Everything remained remarkably well-preserved, thanks to the airtight containers the supplies were kept in.”

Plus this bit of post-Cold War journalistic ignorance: “The idea of a fallout shelter was not to protect from a nuclear blast, but rather from the radiation that would likely contaminate the surrounding area. It’s unknown what fallout the late Dr Pansch was expecting in Neenah. The small Wisconsin city is 100 miles from Milwaukee and nearly 200 from Chicago – the population centers that might have been targeted by the Soviets.” Had those targets been hit — or missile fields farther west — there would have been plenty of fallout.

UPDATE: Reader Gerald Hanner emails:

I spent seven years serving in the SAC Airborne Command Post System, aka the Post Attack Command Control System. Even now my recollections of that time are clear.

Somebody in Neenah Wisconsin definitely wouldn’t have been worried about the blast effects of a nuclear weapon. The town is on the northern end of Lake Winnebago, and there is a regional airport northwest of the town, near Appleton, that might once have been a base for air defense interceptors. I doubt the Soviets would have gone to the trouble to take out a runway as small as Outagamie Regional Airport. However, based on what we knew of their political thinking, we expected them to hit every state capital because in the minds of the Soviet planners that is where all the command and control would be. As far as missile fields further west, yes, there were some. Grand Forks and Minot, both in North Dakota, had 150 Minuteman missiles each, as did Ellsworth near the Black Hills of South Dakota. F. E. Warren, near Cheyenne, had 150 Minuteman missiles, and Malmstrom, near Great Falls Montana had 200 Minuteman missiles. Everybody expected some or all of the launch control centers to be hit. It was even deemed possible that the Soviets might be inclined to hit the silos themselves. Fortunately we never got to find out.

As insurance against the Soviets successfully attacking the Minuteman launch control centers, there was a backup system known as the Airborne Launch Control System (ALCS). We in the SAC ABNCP System had the capability of commanding Minuteman missile launches from our ABNCP aircraft. I served as a deputy missile launch officer for part of my time the SAC ABNCP. The ALCS remains operational.

It’s amazing how much people have forgotten in the twenty years or so since the Cold War ended. Though there are still plenty of nuclear weapons around. Also, read this. Also, here’s a video.

UPDATE: Reader Matt Kreutzmann writes:

Regarding the fallout shelter in Neenah, WI, there was plenty of risk of fallout. As you and other readers have noted, the major cities WI and the missile silos in the Dakotas could have brought fallout to Neenah.

Much closer, there were ELF stations in the Chequamagon National Forest and the Escanaba River State Forest that were used to communicate with submerged submarines. They were likely pretty soft targets, but still strategic. It’s an energy intensive and SLOW way to communicate, but it worked. They were decomissioned in 2004, I believe. The Cold War was much more pervasive than people tend to recall.

That would have been the old Sanguine system, I believe. Or, rather, its successors.

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