The Broken Arrow Project: Visualizing the Dangers of Maintaining the U.S. Nuclear Arsenal

July 27, 1956 - Overseas Base, England

DOD: A B-47 aircraft with no weapons aboard was on a routine mission making a touch and go landing when the aircraft suddenly went out of control and slid off the runway, crashing into a storage igloo containing several nuclear weapons. The bombs did not burn or detonate. There were no contamination or cleanup problems. The damaged weapons and components were returned to the Atomic Energy commission. The weapons that were involved were in storage configuration. No capsules of nuclear materials were in the weapons or present in the building.

CDI: The crash occurred at Lakenheath Royal Air Force Station. 20 miles northeast of Cambridge, England. The plane was part of the 307th Bombardment Wing and had recently come from Lincoln Air Force Base, Nebraska. As part of what was called "Operation Reflex," B-47 bombers were regularly rotated, usually on a 90-day basis, to bases in the United Kingdom and North Africa. In the storage igloo were three Mark 6 nuclear bombs, each 12 feet long and 6 feet in diameter. Each bomb had about 8,000 lbs. of TNT as part of its trigger mechanism. The blazing jet fuel did not ignite the TNT and was extinguished by the base fire fighters. The four crewmen [of the aircraft] were killed. "It is possible that a part of Eastern England would have become a desert" had the TNT exploded and showered radioactive materials over a wide area, said a now retired Air Force general who was in the U.K. at the time. "It was a combination of tremendous heroism, good fortune and the will of God," said a former Air Force officer who was on the scene.
         It is not clear when American nuclear weapons were first deployed to Europe. The process went through several stages. In early July 1950 President Truman approved the stockpiling of non-nuclear components at forward bases in England. On December 6, 1950, President Truman endorsed the Joint chief's request that non-nuclear components of atomic bombs be stocked on board the aircraft carrier, USS Franklin Roosevelt, stationed in the Mediterranean.

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