A weird bit of history…

This was sent to me by a former CO, who started in P-2s and later converted to P-3s. Here is a pic of the actual launch; since the P2V was too heavy (and this was before the jets were added), JATO was used to actually get the bird off the flight deck. Read below for the REST of the story…


APRIL 21, 1950

Reflections On NSWU #471 Operations

LCDR Roy A. Norman, USN (ret)

I was an Electronics Technician First Class at the time and went aboard USS Coral Sea with the two parties involved in the first launch. I was responsible for the nuclear components we took, along with the required test equipment and tools. The section in the history (Keepers of the Dragon, a History of the Nuclear Weapons Program; Henry B. Smith, Lt. Cmdr., USN (ret) ) about storage of the nuclear weapon components is correct as I read it.

The USS CORAL SEA (CVB-43) was in the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard for, among other things, completion of the Special Weapons spaces. On 15 March, 1950 some members of NSWU #471 took training weapons, tools, and test equipment and flew to East Island Naval Air Station, Norfolk. We left Albuquerque at 0430 and arrived at the air station at 1430 and were on board ship by 1600. We spent the next day cleaning the spaces, then holding assembly drills.

Underway from the shipyard at 0730 on the morning of the 17th, we spent that day and part of the 18th holding more drills and getting acquainted with the ship. The ship anchored in Hampton Roads on the evening of 18 March and moved to pier 5 Naval Operations Base, Norfolk on the 19th. The Unit packed up and left the ship and was off the ground at 1430. We landed at Kirkland AFB, Albuquerque, NM at 2215.

On 12 April, this same NSWU #471 team left Kirkland at 0130, landed at Clarksville, Kentucky AFB (Site Charley) at 0730. While the plane was being refueled the men were able to go to mess hall for chow. We left at 0830 and landed at East Island Naval Air Station at 1250, 13 April 1950.

We had all of our equipment in our space on board Coral Sea (CVB-43) by 1400. More assembly exercises and cleaning the spaces followed. Liberty in Norfolk was not so good. The ship was berthed at Pier 7, NOB. We held more exercises over the next two days. A P2V Neptune, a twin-engine, maritime patrol aircraft too large to land on ship, was lifted aboard by crane. We got underway at 0730 on the 17th. Spent the next day at sea doing more exercises and cleaning spaces.

Coral Sea anchored in Hampton Roads at 1600 on 20 April where we took on several VIP’s (senior military officers) and returned to sea at 1800. During the night we assembled a “Little Boy” and loaded it on the P2V very early in the morning of 21 April. The P2V took off at 0730. This was the first “Atomic Bomb” launched from an aircraft carrier. Following the launch we all went below where the reason for the extensive field days was apparent. The VIP’s came below for a demonstration of an assembly and to review the various components. I had a lot of questions thrown at me.

We anchored in Hampton Roads at 1500 on the 21st of April and started packing our equipment. The ship moved to Pier 5, NOB on 22 April. NSWU #471 left the ship by 1230 and was off the ground by 1500. We landed at Kirkland AFB by 2300.

In a part of Henry Smith’s account the extreme secrecy of the Special Weapon Units early history is stressed. I believe Richard Rhodes book “Dark Sun, Making Of The Hydrogen Bomb”, pages 282 – 284 addresses the reasons for the secrecy.

Edit- NSWU apparently stood for Navy Special Weapons Unit.

Does anybody note a ‘slight’ similarity to something like this that had been done before???

Can we say Doolittle’s Raiders???

Later when a smaller bomb was developed, the AD-1 Skyraider was the first airplane capable of carrier takeoffs AND landings to be configured to carry a nuclear weapon. You can go HERE a read about a ‘simulated’ mission…


A weird bit of history… — 11 Comments

  1. WSF- Yep, especially carrying a nuke!

    Fuzzy- you’re welcome

    drjim- Yep, 20+ years later 🙂

  2. I do believe that C-130 escapade was off CVA-59 also. I spent quite a few hours in a -5N dragging targets through the sky so those blackshoes down below could have some fun! Got more than a few holes in the skin when the radar locked on the cable and “walked” it self right up too the plane! It was a problem on landing back aboard,trying to extricate the ‘chute pack from the place the sun don’t shine! But I was 22 or so and thought it was great fun!

  3. drjim – 🙂

    Ev- yeah, I’ll ‘bet’ that was fun 🙂 a DDG did knock down an A-6 a couple of years ago doing that…

  4. Interesting.
    The “Little Boy” type bomb was retired out at the end of 1950.
    Only five of the Mk-I devices were ever built.
    Where do you come up with these neat little tid-bits?


  5. Don’t mention JATO, being Airborn they were used on some of the smaller runways. God I hated that kick in the butt they gave to the C-130.

    However you Navy boys defiantly take the cake on cooky ideas, that work.