This Day in History (5-Feb-1958) – A hydrogen bomb is lost by the United States Air Force near Savannah, Georgia

On the night of February 5, 1958 a B-47 Stratojet bomber carrying a hydrogen bomb, off the Georgia coast collided with an F-86 Saberjet fighter at 36,000 feet. The collision destroyed the fighter and severely damaged a wing of the bomber, leaving one of its engines partially dislodged. The bomber’s pilot, was instructed to jettison the H-bomb before attempting a landing. The incident is the definition of a Broken Arrow scenario — a situation where a nuclear weapon is released, but without intent to harm. Richardson dropped the bomb into the shallow waters of Wassaw Slough, near the mouth of the Savannah River, a few miles from the city of Tybee Island, where he believed the bomb would be swiftly recovered. Recently declassified documents show that the bomb was an “Mk-15, Mod O” hydrogen bomb, weighing four tons, packing more than 100 times the explosive punch of the one that incinerated Hiroshima and capable of creating a 20-30 kilometer thermal blast radius.

Soon search and rescue teams were sent to the site. Wassaw Slough was mysteriously cordoned off by Air Force troops. For six weeks, the Air Force looked for the bomb without success. Underwater divers scoured the depths, troops tromped through nearby salt marshes, and a blimp hovered over the area attempting to spot a hole or crater in the beach or swamp. Then just a month later, the search was abruptly halted. The affair of the missing H-bomb was discreetly covered up. The end of the search was noted in a partially declassified memo from the Pentagon to the Atomic Energy Commission, in which the Air Force politely requested a new H-bomb to replace the one it had lost. The bomb still lies somewhere off the coast 57 years later, with a 2001 recovery effort carrried out by the United States Air Force unsuccessful. The current location of the MK-15 nuclear bomb is unknown, thanks to the passage of time and the twenty-three hurricanes and tropical storms that have hit the area since 1958. The condition of the bomb is an enigma — the outer metal alloy shell should be fine if it is resting in a coffin of silt. But if the bomb has been disturbed and came in contact with salt water, the metal would eventually erode, allowing the contents to seep out and distributing uranium into the water.


This Day in History (30-Sep-1954) – The USS Nautilus becomes the first nuclear-powered submarine

In July of 1951, US Congress authorized construction of the world’s first nuclear powered submarine. Construction of NAUTILUS was made possible by the successful development of a nuclear propulsion plant by a group of scientists and engineers at the Naval Reactors Branch of the Atomic Energy Commission, under the leadership of Captain Hyman G. Rickover, USN. On September 30, 1954, NAUTILUS became the first commissioned nuclear powered ship in the United States Navy. On the morning of January 17, 1955, at 11 am EST, NAUTILUS’ first Commanding Officer, Commander Eugene P. Wilkinson, ordered all lines cast off and signaled the memorable and historic message, “Underway On Nuclear Power.” Over the next several years, NAUTILUS shattered all submerged speed and distance records.

After preliminary acceptance by the Navy, Nautilus headed south for shakedown on May 10, 1955. She remained submerged while en route to Puerto Rico, covering 1,381 miles in 89.8 hours, immediately setting submerged endurance and speed records.On July 23, 1958, NAUTILUS departed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii under top secret orders to conduct “Operation Sunshine”, the first crossing of the North Pole by a ship. On August 3, 1958, NAUTILUS’ second Commanding Officer, Commander William R. Anderson, announced to his crew, “For the world, our country, and the Navy – the North Pole.” With 116 men aboard, NAUTILUS had accomplished the “impossible”, reaching the geographic North Pole – 90 degrees North.

In the spring of 1966, she again entered the record books when she logged her 300,000th mile underway. During the following 12 years, NAUTILUS was involved in a variety of developmental testing programs while continuing to serve alongside many of the more modern nuclear powered submarines she had preceded. She was decommissioned on March 3, 1980 after a career spanning 25 years and over half a million miles steamed.