Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Memoir: Cold War Plan, North Africa (1952)

(Edited September 29, 2009)

Meyer Moldeven

The Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union began in the mid-1940s and extended over the following half-century until the USSR dissolved in the early 1990s. The Cold War's cost to the United States exceeded $8 trillion. More than 110,000 American military lives were lost on foreign soil in the major military conflicts of that era: Korea in the early 1950s and Viet Nam from the mid-1960s into the mid-1970s. International tensions prevailed generally. Military personnel and civilians killed and wounded on all sides in the 'hot', 'cold,' and other 'political' conflicts of the 20th (and first decade of the 21st) have been estimated to be in the millions.


In 1952, I was a U. S. Air Force civilian employee at Nouasseur Air Base, located about 20 miles south of Casablanca in what was then French Morocco. My job was in the Logistics Plans Office of the Nouasseur Air Depot.

The Air Depot was being built and staffed to serve as one of three major USAF logistics centers in the European-Med-North Africa-Middle East Theater in the event of a war with the USSR. Each of the three depots would have a primary geographic area to serve with acquisition and distribution of supplies, repair and maintenance of military aircraft and equipment, and conducting U S Military Assistance Programs as directed.

In addition to Nouasseur, the Burtonwood Air Depot, near Manchester UK, would logistically support USAF in the UK and European Northern Tier countries, and the Chatereaux Air Depot, Chatereaux, France, about half way between Paris and Marseilles, would support the Central Tier that extended beyond the Northern Tier to the Mediterranean coast, overlapping somewhat with Nouasseur for Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Turkey. Nouasseur (Casablanca) had the Southern Tier, which included North Africa and on into the Middle East and countries along and in the Med and areas which were not within the Northern and Central Tiers.


As a Logistics Planner at Nouasseur, one of my projects was to prepare an element of U S Air Force Europe (USAFE) logistics plans to support the U S Strategic Air Command (SAC). The plan would organize, staff, equip, transport, test and evaluate, and in the event of war, activate and deploy Mobile Maintenance Teams consisting of U S civil service volunteers. The teams would provide on-site emergency repairs sufficient to continue flights of US-NATO combat-damaged aircraft forced to land in the Middle East/North Africa on return flights from battle zones.

Strategic Air Command bombers and their direct support aircraft in the active and near-future inventory during the early-1950s included the B-47 Stratojet, a six-engine 4,000 mile range medium bomber that entered service in 1950; the B-52 Stratofortress, an eight-engine 8,000+ mile range heavy bomber scheduled to enter operations about 1955, and the C-97 Stratofreighter cargo and tanker versions with four piston-driven engines that had been in SAC fleet operations since about 1950; also late models B-50 and some older B-29s from World War Two.

quote '1952 June: Strategic Air Command begins Reflex Alert deployments of Convair B-36 and B-47 Stratojet long-range nuclear bombers to overseas bases like purpose-built Nouasseur Air Base in French Morocco, placing them within unrefueled striking range of Moscow.'



The Convair B-36 "Peacemaker"[2] was a strategic bomber built by Convair and operated solely by the United States Air Force (USAF). The B-36 was the largest mass-produced piston engined aircraft ever made and had the largest wingspan in a combat aircraft ever built (230 ft (70 m)), although there have been larger military transports. The B-36 was the first bomber capable of delivering nuclear weapons from within a fully-enclosed bomb-bay. With a range of over 6,000 mi (9,700 km) and a maximum payload of at least 72,000 lb (33,000 kg), the B-36 was the first operational bomber with an intercontinental range, setting the standard for subsequent USAF long range bombers, such as the B-52 Stratofortress, B-1 Lancer, and B-2 Spirit. unquote



At the time, probability of a worldwide nuclear conflagration, sparked by a Cold War incident between US-NATO and the USSR, was considered to be high. The memory of World War Two was fresh in everyone's mind, and the U S confrontation with the USSR that brought on the Berlin Airlift, and its implications for the future, were, to many people, of the gravest portent. The Korean 'police action,' another outgrowth of stresses in the relationships between the USSR, Communist China and the U S, was winding down. 'Viet Nam' was on the horizon.

During much of the half century of the post-World War Two-Cold War era the US depended almost entirely on its own economic, military, industrial and human resources to defend NATO and its own far-flung lines. The international competition for country and regional security, resources to rebuild a devastated Europe, and control and administration of conquered territories created a massive arms race that affected the lives and destinies of people everywhere.

In the late-40s/early-50s the US-USSR conflicts of interests were at a critical stage. Intercontinental nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles were far past the drawing boards, their operational capabilities and effects in war had been carefully estimated and were understood.

The US doubled the number of its Air Force groups to ninety-five, and placed great importance on the Strategic Air Command (SAC). The number of SAC wings increased from 21 in 1950 to 37 in 1952. The growth of SAC air power arrayed US military capabilities and strategies to such concepts as massive retaliation and Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) by NATO should the USSR launch a pre-emptive attack in Europe.

American and NATO planners admitted, however, that neither massive retaliation nor MAD, by themselves, would stop a Soviet first strike and an invasion into Eastern and Central Europe and the Middle East. The USSR could count on huge reserves of its still young, combat-seasoned men under arms, pre-positioned war materiel still in prime combat condition, and relatively short lines of transport and communications.

I have no specific information that would verify the following on international negotiations other than publicly accessible media. Obviously, NATO and the US had to counter the potential of Soviet military offensive and defensive resources and capabilities during the early '50s -- less than a decade since the close of World War Two, and the US and its allies, Communist China, the USSR, and Korea already in a war on the Korean peninsula.

Operational ICBMs were still several years in the future. The B-52 bomber, itself, was still in the early stages of production and deployment. Strategic warfare against Soviet oil drilling, refining, storage, and pipeline facilities in the southwest USSR (Caspian Sea area) were expected to slow Soviet military momentum. For this and other reasons, and to support planned military operations throughout the Balkan, Middle East and Mediterranean, the US expanded and modernized its existing facilities to conduct air operations over the USSR southwestern regions.

NATO and the US built or otherwise secured ground, seaport, and air bases and/or implemented joint-use agreements with governments in the Mediterranean area in the event of a NATO-USSR conflict and, specifically relevant to this memoir, in Morocco, Libya, Turkey, and the Central and Eastern Mediterranean generally.

[French] Morocco

In the early 1950s, SAC was the major tenant on military airfields in Morocco: Ben Guerir and Sidi Slimane Air Bases in central Morocco, and Nouasseur Air Base in the desert about 25 kilometers south of the Morocco's dominant port Casablanca. Morocco had been a French protectorate since 1912, and thousands of French citizens and other Europeans had migrated to French and Spanish Morocco over the years and taken up residency. Large numbers of Moroccan, French and other European nationals were employed by the USAF at its bases and the US Navy's tenancy in Port Lyauty, and at other military installations where the U S and/or NATO had been granted French and Moroccan permission to do so.

Throughout the French occupation of Morocco a number of Moroccan nationalist groups formed in opposition to French domination, and they engaged increasingly in nationalist political and guerrilla resistance, including occasional bombings and other acts of violence. Sultan Mohammed V sided with the nationalists and was deposed in 1953. This further angered the Moroccans and in-country violence increased.

The Sultan returned from exile in 1955 and Morocco gained its independence some years later. Many French and Spanish citizens returned to their countries of origin. French military forces, business enterprises, and employment for the indigenous population in Morocco became uncertain, and so did the American military presence on Moroccan territory.

In the years that followed, the Libyan government also changed rulers, with the results that American use of Wheelus Field, for any purpose, was revoked. Nevertheless, context and circumstances in North Africa aside, USAF planning for support to SAC operations under general war conditions, and for a variety of military contingencies, continued; in its way, North Africa all along the Med, would likely experience a deja vu of its World War Two experiences, but caught in a nuclear exchange, probably worse.

In World War Two, oil refineries, such as those in the Romanian Ploesti fields, were important but extremely costly targets. For instance, in one mission, of the 178 B-24s dispatched to bomb Ploesti, 52 were lost, and all but 35 aircraft suffered damage, one limping home after 14 hours and holed in 365 places. These Allied bombing missions originated in and returned to airfields in North Africa; many of the old landing strips, fuel storage, and maintenance shops previously used by German and Italian military occupiers and then by the Allies, were in poor condition, but they were there.

Caspian Oil Refineries

Assume that, a US/NATO war with the Soviet Union would include strategic air attacks against Soviet oil wells, refineries and other industrial plants, storage facilities, and transport nets. If so, USSR facilities in the southwest USSR (the Caspian Sea area) would have been among the high priority targets.

That being so, planning for US/NATO aircraft to return from bombing runs over southwest USSR included the option to select routes over-flying Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Crete, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Israel, Egypt, and other countries throughout the Middle East, across and along the north and south coasts of the Mediterranean.


It was expected that among returning aircraft there would be those that had incurred severe battle damage. Battle-damaged, or marginally or entirely non-operational in flight for other reasons, the aircrews needed to be helped. Unable to remain airborne to reach an organized repair facility or any location where the airplane could be fixed sufficiently for continued flight that would get the aircrew to safety, the airplane 'fixer' had to 'reach out' to the airplane and the aircrew.

One option, to be implemented immediately upon USAFE, SAC, or NATO notice, was to deploy 'rapid area maintenance teams' comprised of U S civil service employees, along with their tool kits and air-transportable mobile power generators, to designated locations along the SAC aircraft return routes where battle-damaged aircraft could be quickly fixed and serviced sufficiently to take off and keep going west, if not all the way, then at least to another location where another quick-fix and service could be rendered so as to extend the flight another step in the right direction. Repairs would be accomplished through use of anything from on-site fabricated bits-and-pieces to parts and assemblies cannibalized from wrecked aircraft.

The Plan

My assignment was to plan for, inspect potential fixit sites, work out and integrate the details, and prepare a supplement to the USAFE and SAC overall logistics support plans to close the gap. The tasks were to draft '...how to...' policy and procedural guidelines and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP); identify hands-on maintenance and supervisory skills that applied to aircraft in the current SAC operations inventory, and provide for their continuing compatibility with replacement weapons and support systems as they became operational in the theater, identify by skill, name and location committed US civil service technicians and staff currently on duty at a depot, identify U S personnel policies which would need adjustment to the anticipated circumstances and initiate administrative actions to initiate policy changes.

From there, I went on to provide for updating manpower resources to anticipated skills requirements, identify and set in motion urgent-immediate procedures to acquire (by standard practices or otherwise) relevant and current manuals and tech data, general and special hand tools, etc. Get a training plan into operation for the program applicable to maintenance team skills, team crew chiefs, and on-site and regional supervisors.

Maintain a current team member notification system, and ongoing liaison with Hqs USAFE to acquire opportune air transportation from selected pick-up points for Mobile Maintenance Teams and drop-off at forward area emergency work sites. Put it all together, get staff and command approval in principle at Nouasseur, take the draft to Wiesbaden (Lindsey Air Base) and get staff preliminary sign-off by Hqs Air Material Force European Area (AMFEA) and Hqs United States Air Force Europe (USAFE). Following that, get the coordination of the Directors of Maintenance and the Commanders at Burtonwood Air Depot UK and Chatereaux Air Depot France (Burtonwood and Chatereaux depots' manpower, tools, and other resources were to be committed to the program, hence their being in the loop for sign-off.)

With that done, I could come home, re-cycle, integrate, and send the package off to Hqs SAC, Offutt AFB, Oklahoma and give them a crack at it.

Along the way, get with SAC and other (unidentified) intelligence types and check the lay of the land from Morocco east to Turkey.


The three Directors of Maintenance at Nouasseur (Morocco), Chatereaux (France) and (Burtonwood) UK assemble personnel committed to Program, and using the previously authorized priorities request Base Commanders for opportune airlift to move skills, tools, supplies, tech data, etc., to the Program's initial team assembly point in a specified maintenance hangar at Wheelus Field, Libya.

At Wheelus, the program manager (a Nouasseur Air Depot military officer and staff) arrange the physically present skills, tools, transport, etc., so that teams and their kits are formed, organized, equipped, and ready to move out according to requirements and priorities at each forward site where maintenance teams are needed. By air, sea or land transport get the teams to their assigned stations, each Civil Service employee equipped with personal gear adequate for survival under the anticipated wartime conditions. Apply designated transportation and other support by priority, as essential to the mission.

That, generally, was how it was supposed to work; we knew better. The reality was that as soon as the nuclear threshold was crossed; highly probable, a US-NATO/USSR war wouldn't last more than a couple of days - if that.

Close to eighteen months were devoted to working out, drafting and coordinating the details of this USAFE support plan. Would it have worked if and when the need arose? Were alternate support plans devised for other approaches to the same objective? I don't know. Forward area emergency maintenance (Rapid Area Maintenance - RAM) teams that were much further advanced and detailed, yet comparable in concept to the USAFE support plan I worked on in Morocco, were used in the Viet Nam War and other military operations.


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