New Report Explains How United States Has Lost 3 Bombs Since 1958

By Ethan Cole on
 February 25, 2024

In a world that relies heavily on the use of nuclear technology for defense, the loss of such powerful weapons is a narrative that seems like fiction but is, unfortunately, a stark reality. The tale spans incidents where the U.S., alongside other nations, misplaced nuclear armaments, focusing on events in the Philippine Sea, near Tybee Island, and with the U.S.S. Scorpion's sinking.

These lost nuclear weapons, residing somewhere beneath the ocean's surface or buried under layers of earth, present a haunting legacy of the Cold War era and beyond, teeming with potential perils and surrounded by mysteries yet to be unraveled. In 1965, during a mission that seemed routine, a Navy A-4E Skyhawk was lost along with its pilot, Lieutenant Douglas Webster, and a significant payload: a one-megaton B43 thermonuclear bomb. This incident took place in the Philippine Sea, and despite extensive efforts, there was no recovery of the man, the machine, or the munition. The depth of the sea has kept its secrets, holding onto a weapon with about 70 times the power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Retired Chief Petty Officer Delbert Mitchell, a witness to this chilling episode, shared his experience, "We never saw Lieutenant Webster after he climbed into the cockpit or knew what efforts he might have attempted to get out of the Skyhawk, but we were stunned to witness a plane, pilot, and nuclear weapon fall into the ocean. We watched helplessly as the attack plane and pilot sank into the abyss, the ship continuing to move forward. It was horrifying to watch a human being die before our very eyes, powerless to save him."

This incident is but one example of what is known as a 'Broken Arrow', a term used by the U.S. military to describe an unexpected incident involving nuclear weapons that do not pose an immediate threat of nuclear war. Since the 1950s, there have been several such incidents, with at least three leading to the complete loss of nuclear weapons.

The silent threat beneath the waves and soil

Another tale from this somber chronicle occurred in 1958 when a B-47 bomber, piloted by Colonel Howard Richardson, collided with an F-86 Sabre jet near Tybee Island, Georgia. In the aftermath, to ensure the safety of their crew and complete their mission, they jettisoned a Mark 15 bomb into Wassaw Sound. Despite extensive searches, this bomb, potentially yielding up to 3.8 megatons, was never recovered.

The 'Tybee bomb', as it came to be known, has steeped into the local lore, surrounded by controversy over whether it was armed with a plutonium core necessary for detonation. While testimony in 1966 by Jack Howard suggested it was a complete weapon, Colonel Richardson later claimed to possess a receipt proving otherwise, Daily Mail reported.

Colonel Howard Richardson reflected on his role in this event, stating, "What I should be remembered for is landing that plane safely. I guess this bomb is what I'm going to be remembered for."

Lost but not forgotten: The valor of those involved

Besides accidents involving aircraft, naval mishaps have also resulted in lost nuclear weaponry. Specifically, the U.S.S. Scorpion, a submarine experiencing technical troubles and derisively nicknamed 'Scrapiron', mysteriously sank in 1968, taking with it 99 lives and two nuclear-tipped torpedoes. This tragic event has spawned various conspiracy theories, including speculation about a possible Soviet hand in its demise.

Throughout history, there have been instances, such as the 1980 Damascus Incident in Arkansas, when mishaps have led to the near detonation of nuclear weapons. This particular event saw a nine-megaton weapon expelled from its silo following an explosion, a grim reminder of the potential catastrophe that accompanies the possession and handling of such power.

From the chilling tale of a hydrogen bomb lost in the Philippine Sea to the mystery of the Tybee bomb and the tragic sinking of the U.S.S. Scorpion, these stories are not only about the weapons themselves but also about the men and women who have faced incredible dangers. Whether through mishaps or accidents, the loss of nuclear weapons is a reminder of the monumental risks inherent in their stewardship.

Conclusion

The stories of lost nuclear weapons across the globe, particularly those involving the U.S., serve as sobering reminders of the immense responsibility and potential danger inherent in handling such powerful armaments.

From the lost hydrogen bomb in the Philippine Sea, the unaccounted Mark 15 bomb near Tybee Island, to the nuclear-tipped torpedoes with the sinking of the U.S.S. Scorpion, each incident highlights the underlying risks of nuclear armament.

The valor and sacrifices of individuals like Lieutenant Douglas Webster, Colonel Howard Richardson, and others involved in these incidents underscore the human element in the daunting narrative of nuclear weapons stewardship.

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