Strategic Air Command
SAC Bases:  Thule Air Base
Location: Thule, Greenland
Home of: Former home of 4083rd Strategic Wing
Status:  Now home of 12th Space Warning Squadron  Thule is the only air force base with no aircraft and a tugboat.
Links:  Thule AFB | Thule Picture Book - Great site
       From 1953 to 1959, Thule's main mission was to function as an operations base for SAC strategic bombers, supporting SAC B-36s, B-47s, and KC-97s.  In 1957, SAC activated the 4083rd Strategic Wing at Thule, consisting of B-36 bombers.  During 1953, the US Army installed two 75mm and four 90mm anti-aircraft guns in a ring around Thule, for air defense.  They didn't keep out the biggest enemy - winter.
       Knud Rasmussen, a famous Danish explorer, began the Danish Literary Expedition in this area in 1903-04.  Rasmussen returned to the area in 1906 and again in 1908 to begin a mission station in the Thule area.  In 1909 the ship Godthaab, anchored in North Star Bay, and the first two buildings (a missionary and a storehouse) were built.  The Danish flag has since flown in the area.
       In 1910, Rasmussen and his associate, Peter Freuchen, came to the area to Cape York (Kap York Trading Post) Station.  On the suggestion of Freuchen, Rasmussen named the village, which grew up around the post “Thule.”  At that time, the area north of Mt Dundas, called Uumanaq by the Greenlanders, was still inhabited.  Freuchen became the first trading post manager and held the position until 1920.  The post served many purposes, such as providing a base for scientific expeditions and providing equipment and food for the native Greenlanders.  The first Thule expedition set out in 1912 across the ice cap to north Greenland and back.  During the second Thule expedition, 1916-18, Rasmussen mapped out the northernmost coast of Greenland geographically, geologically, botanically, and ethnologically.  From 1919-24, three more expeditions took place.  The fifth expedition took Rasmussen on his famous great sled journey, traveling by dog sled across Canada and Alaska to Siberia.

    Rasmussen returned to Thule each summer from 1926-1929.  The station was now growing.  A hospital was built in 1928-29 and a pre-fabricated house, the Knud Rasmussen House, was built in 1929 and was later used as a school.  In 1929-30 a Church was erected.  In 1928 the Thule Law was born; it was signed by Knud Rasmussen on 7 June 1929 and ratified by the Danish Government in 1931.  The Danish government took over the Thule district in 1931 and name Rasmussen to represent the Danish state.  In 1933, two settlements were found in the Thule district, Siorapaluk in the north and Savigsivik in the south.  Rasmussen died that same year, and the Danish government took over his responsibilities.
      On the anniversary of Germany’s occupation of Denmark, 9 April 1941, Danish Ambassador Henrick Kauffman and Secretary of State Cordull Hull signed, “The Agreement relating to the Defense of Greenland” in Washington.  President Roosevelt approved it on 7 Jun 1941.  In the agreement, the US agreed to take over the security of Greenland.  After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the allies established weather stations at Narssarssuaq airport, SonderStrom (Bluie West-8), Ikateq (Bluie East-2), and Gronnedal (Bluie West-9).  In 1943 the Army Air Corp set up weather stations, Scoresbysund (bluie East-3) on the east coast around the southern tip of Greenland, and Thule (Bluie West-6) to be operated by Danish personnel.  The weather stations gave the allies a strategic edge over the Germans in battle planning and provided a decisive factor in D-Day.  Based on a good weather forecast from Greenland.


     General Eisenhower scheduled the landing in Normandy despite the strong winds in the English Channel.  Based on the Greenland weather reports, he knew the winds would die the following day, so the Invasion was on!
     In 1946, a combined Danish-American radio and weather station was established in the Royal Greenland Trade department Building at Pituffik (present day Thule air Base).  Pitiffuk is translated as “Place where they tie their boats.”  By all rights, Thule Air Base should have been named Pituffik Air Base after the original site.  The Navy built a new and much larger weather station.  The Army Corps of Engineers built a 4,000-foot airstrip on the south side of the valley.  In the following year the Thule airstrip was used as a jump-off point for exploration and a supply point for construction of airstrips and weather stations on the Canadian side of the straits  (Eureka, Resolute, and Isachsen).  The first Transport Command aircraft landed on (September 1946.  The East Reconnaissance Group (Project Nanook) flew B-17 mapping and photography missions from Thule’s primitive facilities.  From 1946-50, several houses, a power plant, a radio station, and a dirt runway were built at what is now called “Dundas Village.”  Dundas Village and the Inuit Village of Qaanaaq are protected by Denmark and specifically excluded from areas under US Air Force control.  In 1963 the area was given official status as the 17th municipality of Greenland, the Thule municipality.  The northernmost community in the world.


       Construction of a worldwide system of modern air bases was one of the Air Forces most important tasks following World War II.  The US studied the possibility of establishing a major operating base in Greenland when it became clear that round trip flights of planes carrying atomic bombs between US or Canadian bases and European objectives were impractical.  The shortest route from the US to the Soviet Union’s most important industrial areas was over the North Pole, and Thule is at the precise midpoint between Moscow and New York.  Thule became a key point in the whole American military strategy.  Strategic Air Command bombers flying over the Arctic presented less risk of early warning than using bases in England.  Defensively, Thule could serve as a base for intercepting bomber attacks along the northeastern approaches to Canada and the US.
     A board of AF officers made a recommendation to pursue a base at Thule in November 1950; it was subsequently supported by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and approved by President Truman.  To replace the agreement entered into during WWII between the US and Denmark, a new agreement with respect to Greenland was ratified on April 27, 1951 (effective on June 8, 1951).  At the request of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the agreement became a part of the NATO defense program.  The pact specified that the two nations would arrange for the use of facilities in Greenland by NATO forces in defense of the NATO area known as the Greenland Defense Area.
     Thule AB was constructed in secret under the code name Operation BLUE JAY.  Construction for Thule AB began in 1951 and was completed in 1953.  The construction of Thule is said to have been comparable in scale to the enormous effort required to build the Panama Canal.  The Navy transported the bulk of men, supplies, and equipment from the naval shipyards in Norfolk, VA.  On June 6, 1951 an armada of 120 shipments sailed from Norfolk, VA.  On board were 12,000 men and 300,000 tons of cargo.  They arrived Thule on July 9, 1951.  Construction took place around the clock.  The workers lived on-board the ship until quarters were built.  Once they moved into the quarters, the ships returned home.
     The base was initially designed as a forward base for staging SAC bombers and tankers.  It was designed and built to house 12,000 personnel (during the peak period it housed approximately 10,000 with personnel living at Camp Tuto, BMEWS/J-Site, Camp Century, P-Mountain, in Nike Sites, and at Cape Atholl).  It was built with a 10,000-foot (by 200’) runway and a fuel storage capacity of about 100 million gallons (the largest in DOD—built to support mid-air refueling of the B-47 bombers).  The agreement set aside 339,000 acres, and when Thule was first built, this is how it looked: main base 2600 acres, 82 miles of road, 38 fuel tanks, 10 hangers (6 are 28,000 sq. feet), 122 barracks, 6 mess halls, a gym, service club, Officers’ club, hobby shop, library, base exchange, post office, theater, chapel, and hospital.  There were also 63 warehouses, a laundry, a bakery, two primary power plants, and 4 auxiliary power/heating plants. 

Local Resident Barracks

    Buildings were built using Arctic (Clements) panels.  These large panels were used commercially in the 1950s to build large walk-in refrigerators.  So, in essence we are living in refrigerator boxes, but instead of keeping the contents cold they actually keep us warm.  In addition to the building structure the engineers had to devise a plan to build the structures on the permafrost.  The new buildings were going to be heated and would melt the permafrost.  If that happened then the buildings would sink.  So, the engineers constructed the current buildings on pilings. The pilings allowed the air to circulate under the buildings and remove the heat from the structure.  This prevented the buildings from sinking.  Most buildings were built in 60 days in 1951. 
       The 1000-foot pier (Delong Pier) was constructed from 8 barges towed from the Gulf of Mexico placed on caissons and stabilized alongside a rock-filled causeway.
        On August 18, 1951, the new airstrip was inaugurated with a visit from the Air Force Chief of Staff General Hoyt S. Vandenberg.  Operation Blue Jay was completed in a short 104 days.  On October 23rd, the last construction crews left Thule but 400 men were left behind as a caretaker force through the winter of 1951/52.  The next spring a major part of the workforce returned to expand the base.  In November 1952, when the Air Force took control, Thule was considered operational.  By fall 1953 the bulk of the construction was complete.
      On July 1, 1951, the 6622nd AB Squadron of the Northeast Air Command arrived and air operations commenced on September 11, 1951.  The first fighter interceptors assigned to Thule were four F-9Abs and began operations on September 11, 1952. 
      In 1957, Air Defense Command took control of the base and initiated the 74th Fighter Interceptor Squadron (FIS).  The FIS was deactivated in March 1960 leaving Thule without interceptor protection for the first time since September 1952.  The Joint Chiefs of Staff rescinded this deactivation in June 1960, and the 332 FIS was assigned to Thule in August 1960.  They flew supersonic, all-weather F-102 Delta Daggers.
       In 1957 and 1958 four Army Nike Defense system Batteries were constructed (two on North Mountain and two on South Mountain) under the code-name “Rising Star.”  These Surface to Air missiles (SAMs) were linked together with the air interceptors and a control and warning system.  Each location had two areas: launch and control.  They were closed down in July 1960.  Battery A was demolished in 1990, but two buildings still stand at A launch located at Dundas Village.  Battery B was demolished on an undetermined date, and the debris at the launch site was pushed into the underground silos.  Battery C is still largely intact.  It probably represents the best remaining example at Thule.  The barracks and mess hall still stand, but the storeroom is gone.  The three launch structures are still intact.  One stairwell, a soldiers’ artwork still survives.  It is the depiction of a goose and refers to the Goose Air Defense Sector to which the battery belonged.  C Control has been demolished.  All that remains is the concrete bases of the radar.  Battery D, D Launch is located on South Mountain, overlooking North Star Bay; the launch structures are still intact as is the watchtower.
       In 1958 and 1959 additional construction consisted of five new barracks, a dining facility, the airmen’s club, two BOQs, a technical library, and two warehouses.  In 1959 and 1960 the base common water and sewage distribution mains were constructed.  Up to that point all water delivery and sewage pickup was accomplished by truck!  In 1960 the over-the-road, heated, and insulated pipeline system was completed.  Replacement value of buildings was valued at over $2 billion.
       The base activated as a part of the Northeast Air Command (NEAC) in January 1952 and transferred to SAC in 1957.  On July 1, 1960 the ADC officially assumed command at Thule.  By 1960, the addition of long-range aircraft to the SAC inventory eliminated the need for Thule to operate as a forward support base, and the mission turned from a SAC forward operations base to air defense.
       In 1961, a Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) radar was constructed at J Site, 13 miles north east of the base.  BMEWS was developed by the Raytheon Corporation in order to provide North America warning of a transpolar missile attack from the Russian mainland and submarine-launched missiles from the Arctic and North Atlantic Oceans.  The four fixed antenna, 400 feet long and more than 300 feet high, were larger than a football field turned upright.  It was during this period that Thule reached its maximum manning, about 10,000 personnel.
       Starting in July 1965, there was a general downsizing of activities at Thule.  The host units, the 4683rd Air wing, along with the 332d Fighter Interceptor Squadron, were deactivated.  In January 1968, the population of Thule was 3,370.
       The old mechanical BMEWS radar was upgraded to a solid-state, phased-array system in June 1987 to make the operation more effective and efficient.  Information from this site is transmitted to the North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) Command Post at Cheyenne Mountain, CO.  Information is then passed to National Command Authorities.
       Another Thule mission dates back to 1961 when the air Force established a satellite command and control facility (OL-5) to track and communicate with US satellites in polar orbit.  Now known as Det 3, it is part of the Air Force Space Command worldwide satellite command and control network.  Det 3 is one of nine worldwide satellite tracking stations and constitutes the common user portion of the Air Force Satellite Control Network (AFSCN).  This network directly supports space operations by providing telemetry tracking and commanding to satellites developed and deployed by DOD, other US government agencies, and allied governments.  It also provides data distribution and routing systems to support external users programs and other ground elements.
      Because of its northern location, Thule also provides support to a wide range of logistical resupply operations and arctic scientific studies.  Whether it’s missile warning, satellite control, aviation support, or arctic studies, Thule plays a key role in America’s national security.    In 1982, Thule became an Air Force Space Command base.  As you can see, the mission has changed from one of SAC alert to the primary mission of supporting BMEWS.  Thule also provides logistical support to Station Nord, CFS Alert, and CFS Eureka.
       In the spring of 1953 the Greenlandic Village of Thule, located at the base of Mt Dundas, was moved 65 miles north to Qaanaaq, on Red Cliff Peninsula.  The Inuits said that the noise and smells from the planes and ships frightened away the walruses, seals, polar bears, and birds essential to their cultural survival.  They moved so that hunting and fishing could continue without disturbances from the activities of the modern air base.  Before the air base at Thule was built, the Inuits used the top of Mt Dundas as a burial ground.  The remains of the Danish explorer Knud Rasmussen (1879-1933) use to lie there until being returned to Denmark in the 1990s.  Upon departing, the people of Thule demanded they take the name with them.  The settlement remained but adopted the name Dundas, taken from the nearby mountain.  In 1985, Dundas Village, at the base of Mt Dundas, closed down.