Bitburg Air Base, W. Germany
Nuclear Weapons Maintenance 1967-1970
I graduated from Nuke Wpns school in December 1966. While at Lowry I had filled out a wish list before and my preference was W. Germany and England. I got W. Germany. I was assigned to the 71st Tac Missile Squadron, 36th Tac Fighter Wing. I had no idea what that was. One of the instructors told me that I would be working on the Mace which was not part of the curriculum.
71st Tac Missile Squadron, Bitburg AB, W. Germany
I reported to Bitburg in January 1967 to the 71st TMS. The 1st Sgt assigned me to a launch crew to train as a Tech 5. I wish I could remember the SSgt who I trained with because he was a really nice guy. He told me to forget everything I had learned at Lowry except the two-man concept and the T-104 tester. The launch crews worked 12 hour shifts, 6am-6pm. A launch crew consisted of two launch officers, power guy, engine and airframe guy, and nuclear weapons guy. We would do zero maintenance on the warhead. That was all done by the 336th MMS at the Missile Support Area. I had no idea what this job consisted of because we had no class on the Mace B at Lowry. I was trained at Lowry in all the current AF weapons at the time, gravity bombs as well as RV units, but this was not one of them. I'll endeavor to explain what the Mace Missile system was at Bitburg and other bases.
The Mace B Missile
The TM-76 Mace Missile was a ground launched nuclear armed missile. It carried the W28 in a section behind the nose. A typical launch crew was responsible for 4 birds that were in hardened launch bays behind a 100 ton hydraulic door. The crew was underground about 40 feet in a launch complex. Bitburg had two launch sites, Rittersdorf and Idenheim. We were in constant radio communications with USAFE. Some guy on the other end got his jollies by making us run through a launch exercise. The real skill of a good crew member was how well you played Pinochle.
My time at the 71st TMS was short lived. I got off one evening at six and was told that there had been a mistake in assigning me to a launch crew. There was no need of another Tech 5 so I got orders transferring me to 336th MMS, the group who actually worked on the warhead.
336th MMS at the Missile Support Area (MSA)
The W28 warheads were maintained by the 336th MMS inside the Missile Support Area at Oberweis. I believe that is the name of the site. For me there were no more 12 hour shifts and "normal" working hours. The shop had 10-12 Airmen and Sergeants, a Sgt in charge and Lieutenant as commanding officer. Each W28 warhead was kept mounted in the missile section. If you remove the tail with the parachute and the nose with the fuse off of a B-28 this was the W28. To mount it in a Mace, a circular flange was mounted around the warhead and it was hoisted up and bolted into the missile section. The missile section was placed on a trailer and stored in an igloo at the MSA. Needless to say it was a big deal to work on one of the warheads that were mounted in one of the alert birds. The only time one of these W28s came into the maintenance bay was for a bottle change. To accomplish this, the bay door at the missile site had to be opened and the missile had to pulled out of the bay. The nose with the guidance system was removed and the warhead section unbolted from the missile and placed on a transport trailer. It was then transported back to the MSA and into the maintenance bay. We (463's) took over. The W28 was unbolted from the missile and placed in a hand truck where it could be worked on.
Working as a new 463 at this placed was not pleasant. I got every mundane (I'm being PC) job that came down, guarding the German nationals cutting the grass, painting the building inside and out, painting the trailers, painting the floor, painting the doors and mopping the maintenance bay and the end of the day. By the way, every building at Bitburg was painted olive drab for camouflage. When I arrived at Bitburg the place had these huge camouflaged nets placed everywhere. The nets were concentrated around the flight line but they were all over the base. They were like giant tennis nets for a Jolly Green Giant. The nets stayed up for a couple of years and came down before I left.
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