Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Montage of images and link description. Race for the Superbomb Imagemap: linked to kids and home
The Film and More
Imagemap(text links below) of menu items
The American Experience
The Film & More
Interview Transcripts | Bibliography | Primary Sources

Lt. General James Edmundson on: Strategic Air Command Bomber Response Time
James Edmundson Q: What was the reason that the Strategic Air Command crews were given shorter and shorter alert times during the course of the 1950s?

JE: Primarily, Russian capability. In the early days of the Cold War, the only thing we had to worry about was a Russian ground attack through the Fulda Gap [in Germany] into Western Europe. And this would have taken weeks and maybe more than a month for the Russians to make significant moves to their ground forces in order to bunch their muscles for such an effort. So SAC [the Strategic Air Command] then had lots of time to stop past and pick up their weapons and go.

As the Russians developed their own nuclear capability and an airplane to carry nuclear bombs, then this squeezed us down into a lot less alert time. We built what was called a DEW-Line, the Distant Early Warning Line, which extended from Scotland, across northern Canada, to-- and Greenland and Iceland -- and as far as Alaska. And this was a radar line that would warn when-- if any aircraft were approaching from cross the ice cap on the North Pole. And we figured that SAC bases would have about an hour to get ready, to get their airplanes off. And so this really shortened things down. Instead of having weeks to operate in, we had an hour to get ready.

When the Russians got their inter-continental missiles with nuclear warheads...warning from the DEW-Line was, instead of an hour, it was 15 minutes. And that's when SAC went to the 15-minute alert for one-third of the force.

This was farther downstream, but the B-52s went on airborne alert, where a certain number of them would be in the air with [nuclear] weapons all the time, around the clock....this meant that even if [Soviet planes] hit the United States, we would have a certain number of aircraft already airborne with weapons on board, the target material they needed, and halfway to Russia.

back to Interview Transcripts

Program Description | Enhanced Transcript | Reference