America's Cold War Doomsday Fleet

By Priest, Carl J. | Sea Classics, August 2012 | Go to article overview

America's Cold War Doomsday Fleet


Priest, Carl J., Sea Classics


Warships were converted into highly secret command ships that took the White House to sea in case of atomic attack.

In the early stages of the Cold War, an impending "Doomsday" weighed heavily upon the minds of Americans. President Truman instituted the Federal Civil Defense Administration which began issuing brochures, films, and radio advertisements to prepare citizens to to survive a nuclear attack. Dog tags were issued to many school children who also went through "duck-and-cover" drills as they were trained to curl up under their school desks after a nuclear bomb detonation's flash of light. Siren tests sounded at regular intervals and national and local publications ran articles about the imminent danger of nuclear war. Radios were marked with triangles at stations that would be used by CONELRAD broadcasts (Control of Electromagnetic Radiation was intended to prevent enemy aircraft from using commercial radio frequencies for navigational guidance. In 1963, this gave way to the Emergency Broadcast System) which would kick in as soon as all regular broadcasts ceased after the alarm sounded. Many American citizens built backyard bomb shelters while local government, as well as private corporations, established larger shelters under various buildings. Many believed the best of these efforts were hopeless in the event of a nuclear nightmare.

The military kept strategic bombers in the air and submarines at sea. The subs carried ballistic missiles (SBLMs - Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles) which^UHflded a _ mobile and stealthy means of carrying powerful nuclear firepower. Ballistic Missile Early Warning Systems (BMEWS) were developed to detect missile launches coming in from Russia. A DEW line (Distant Early Warning was a line of radar towers (resembling huge billboards) that were constructed beginning in 1954. The purpose was to detect an over-the-pole attack from long-range bombers or missiles. The line ran from Alaska, across Canada, to Greenland and connected to similar sites running from Iceland to England. The communication system used was TROPO which included a tie-in to Europe) was established to warn against nuclear attack coming across the North Pole. Each side raced to gain nuclear superiority with Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). The United Sates developed Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry (WRY) weapons. Although not an official strate~' of the military, a concept that emphasized neither side would survive a nuclear war was known as Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).

Nevertheless, the United States Government made contingency plans for Continuity of Government (COG) m tne event ot a nuclear attack. Several Command Posts were developed as part of a Doomsday Plan to relocate the President (with his Emergency Action Documents [EADsD, Joint Chiefs, Cabinet, Supreme Court, and Congress to secure locations. These Alternate Joint Communication Centers (AJCC) were part of the National Military Command System (NMCS). There were three factors that were crucial in determining the likelihood of AJCC success: (1) Arriving safely at the location, (2) avoiding bomb effects, and (3) attaining important communications links.

Seeking to be victorious in a potential nuclear war, authorities developed a plan for using the United States nuclear arsenal and designated it the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP). Goals of the Doomsday Plan (a gruesome term that included SIOP, COG, and various substrategies) were to make sure order was preserved in society, the economy was not destroyed, food was rationed, and cultural artifacts (such as the Declaration of Independence) were rescued. There were nuclear flash sensors placed around the country. Code words were provided for selected officials and phone numbers were given that bypassed the normal phone systems. A broadcasting center was set up under the name Wartime Information Security Program (WISP) to control what information went to the public, including prerecorded messages from the President. …

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