My story about Thule, Operation Blue Jay

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My story about Thule, Operation Blue Jay

Rather than reinvent the wheel, I am bumping this post from before, and adding the video of Operation Blue Jay.


Once again my apologies for being gone so long.  I was up at Thule which is located in the extreme north of Greenland.

It was cold.  Very cold.  The average temperature when I was there was about -20 with wind chills in the -30 range.  Thule isn't that big,  Here's a picture from wiki that shows the airbase:

Anyway, I don't want to give too much away, but did want to share a few of the videos I took, just so you can see what the acrtic tundra actually looks like.


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I spent a short time at Thule sometime during 1951, not exactly sure of the dates. My permanent station was at Stewart AFB, at Newburgh, N.Y. with the 32nd Air Command and (somebody)? thought we should tour and maybe stay awhile, which we did, at Thule ? Very interesting as later I remember we never did see the sun. It was at Stewart AFB that we received (bogies) from outlying radar facilities and one of them was Thule. Of course we flew in to Thule and I can remember being transported from facility to facility (rather than walking) as I later found out what the temperature was outside. ( I couldn't believe it was so far below !) Enough said as (we were under strict confidence) and with a secret clearance. Long ago for me to remember as I am now 84 and can hardly remember where my computer is located. SSGT John W. Mitchell

Have not searched all the videos....but..
I was stationed on the LST-1153 out of Norfolk, VA during that time frame. We made trips to Thule,
loaded with trucks and other equipment. Don't recall ever really knowing what the mission was!!

I was on the lsd 15 Shadwell that left norfok for thule and we crossed the artic circle on june 30 on our wAY. we had no idea what we were doing,left Norfolk with a lot of cold stuff on board. W e set anchor and stayed there for about 2 months . we were there for what they call the summer months.
We never set foot on land while there. this article was great as we never knew about was going on at all.never heard anything when we got back. good to know it is still all there after all this time. .

My father was part of the first convoy of ships to depart Norfolk in 1951as a contractor. I was a freshman in H.S. at the time. I remember he was recruited out of Rosemount, Mn. and left for the east coast with others from Mn. As I remember they were housed in tents the first year.His speciality was rock crushers. He made several trips, leaving in the spring and returning around winter in Minnesota. The Rochester post newspaper ran an article about him after coming home one winter after noticing that he was walking around town without a warm coat. I guess a Minnesota winter was like summer to him after being in Greenland. I wore a Blue nose patch on my leather jacket. I appreciate the article on Thule, I often wondered about it. After Greenland ,he left for Guatemala an helped build the American highway across that country.

With Army Transportation Terminal Service unit. We unloaded ships to resupply the Air Base. Not bad duty for short time. Very nice facilities at that time.

Year was 1964.

My father was drafted and served in the Army Air Corp from 1945 - 1947. His engineering unit was sent to Thule in the "summer" of 1946 to build an airstrip. This was before Operation Blue Jay. He has several pictures and interesting stories of the time there.

My oldest brother Dean served 2 tours at Thule.This a Wonderful Tribute to all who took part.

Thank you for an excellent article in the March, 2015 issue of the American Legion Magazine. I worked at Thule for a total of 4.5 years between 1966 and 1971. My employer was ITT Federal Electric and its successor, ITT Arctic Services. It was my first civilian job after serving 4 years in the U.S. Air Force. My project team was responsible for long haul communications in support of BMEWS. We had the world's two longest tropospheric scatter links between Thule and Northern Canada and a submarine cable between Thule and Newfoundland. Most of the time I lived at P Mountain, which had been the home of the 931st AC&W Squadron and was the location of the tropo equipment. In early 1967 I was working at the main base and was witness to the great blizzard which lasted for three days, buried the base and during which the base gymnasium caught fire and burned to the ground, leaving only a pile of twisted, mangled steel beams. The fire department, manned by Danish firemen, was able to save the surrounding buildings, preventing a much more widespread disaster. The following winter, I witnessed the burning and crash of a B-52, having no idea what it was until I met air policemen who were setting up a checkpoint. That event provoked a stern rebuke from the Soviet Union and marked the end of the era of flying nuclear weapons on B-52's 24/7. There were three H-Bombs on board and the Air Force spent millions to clean up the harbor. The times were mostly good. My job was interesting and the people that I worked with, American and Danish, were great.

I was a member of an Air/Sea Rescue Squadron operating out of EHAFB in western Newfoundland. Our unit dispatched an SA16 plane & crew to Thule in the summer of 1952 with several cryological scientists to test the depths of the Greenland ice cap at several locations. When the plane was doing "touch-downs" to test one of the landing sites it broke through the snow crust and was unable to take-off again. I believe this occurred at an altitude of about 7,000 ft? In any event, the crew and scientist became stranded on the ice cap for almost 40 days. Our squadron was called upon to perform a "rescue" mission to get them off the cap. It took us a long time to finally accomplish the task, involving many difficult flights over the site, in B17 rescue craft, dropping lodging, food and other supplies to those on the ground. The SA 16 involved was equipped with the capability attaching two jeto-assist canisters to its hull to add power for take off. Unfortunately it was "not" enough. Therefore, we had to request Gruman Aircraft (builder of the SA 16) to supply us with the necessary info to re-engineer the procedure to accommodate "four" cannisters (two on each side) to provide additional take-off power. They flew their prototype SA16 to Newfoundland where we worked out the change. We then later airdropped the instructions to the crew who actually made the actual changes. A few days before their attempted take off we fly out B-17 loaded with 55 gallon drums of aircraft fuel over the sight and literally "kicked" them out of the bomb-bay (without parachutes) at an altitude of about 50 feet. It worked without incident. The air crew and passengers in the meantime literally stamped out with their feet a "runway" in the snow to help facilitate take off. They also stamped out with their feet the following: "APO 1/2 ", and "ABBA". Having stripped the aircraft of all unnecessary equipment, they were successful on the first take-off attempt. While I understood the crew's "APO 1/2) message stamped into the snow, I was confused at to what they meant by "ABBA". When asked, they laughed and stated, "American Blue Balls Association"! Only GI's could come up with such a message under duress.

Another event that occurred during our visits to Thule that summer, was a group of French explorers who made a land crossing from Thule to some distant location near the North Pole. They invited several of us to join them, but we said we had had enough of Artic. And, lastly, we were "told by some airman who were stationed at Thule that "Moscow Molly",as they called her, would often broadcast via radio to tell them that one or more of their runway landing lights were burned out-and when checked, found to be true! Yes, that summer was a most interesting experience. Jim Thornton, Annapolis, MD

was there when they built the first air strip in 1952.

was there when they built the first air strip in 1952.

was there when they built the first air strip in 1952.

As a former US Army Nike Missile Integrated Fire Control soldier/operator, I read with interest your article regarding the building and operation of the Thule Greenland Air Base. I have so many fond memories from my enlistment during 1959 to 1962 with regard to USAF B-52's flown out of Thule vs our Nike Sites across the Eastern Seaboard in training operations. Preparedness was key during those Cold War years and I have grown to appreciate the value of the location of the Thule Air Base and all the men and women who built it and were stationed there as part of NORAD and USARADCOM. Thank you and God Bless America!

I was state side on a Nike-Ajax site. I can relate to Joe,s comments as a Fire Control Operator as I was active Army 1959-62 and what was called a GMEER (Guided Missile Electronic Electrical Repairman). I was responsible (one man crew) for all from generators and frequency converters which supplied power to the radar system. I also had responsibility at times for underground launchers with the
doors and above ground launchers. During this time I knew of Thule and think I came close so I was
told and it never happened. I remained Army for over twenty years and then retired. Great article by the way in the just received Legion Mag.

Joe---we've been looking for you. Please write to me at

I was station there in 1957-58. A Power Production Operator for Air Ways and Communication on North Mountain.

I first visited Thule in 1949. Then did a number of inspections fro 1954 to 1956 for the Air weastherv service. Also went to sonde strom, Narssauak and radar installions on the ice cap

I was a radio/direction finding operator at Thule AB from Sept. 1952 t0 Sept. !953 and worked on South Mountain. While there they cancelled moral leave and I got to stay for a full year. I remember C-119s were air dropping material for Dew Line sites. I also remember T-3, Fletcher's Ice Island I would really like to hear from anyone stationed there during that time.

Worked at Thule for 3 years for RCA at BMEWS. An amazing place. I too was there for the blizzard and fire as well as the B52 crash. Saw several false alarms on missile launches from Russia. I left because the place didn't bother me any more and I thought it must be time to leave.

I was on the Noxubee when that AOG delivered fuel to Thule I guess about 51 or 52 ? That ship went at the right time of year so no problems with Ice or temperature. We also went to 'Bluie' West Eight and and other far north places and spent time chipping lots of ice from topsides before and after getting back to Newport. I thought when I transferred to an AGS my polar time was at an end, but my next trip in that direction, was caught in pack ice and rescued by an ice breaker. I still think operations put us there to see if we could get back out. We certainly proved a geodetic survey ship couldn't.

Was there winter of 52 TDY with SAC 5th Strat Recon Wing 5tth Field Maint Sqd. in support of RB36 Operations From Travis AFB Cal. Yes it was a memorable experience.

I served at Thule Air Base from the Spring of 1956 to the Spring of 1957 in the 74th FIS (Fighter Interceptor Squadron) We maintained the Radar Fire Control System on the F89 Scorpion fighter jet.
Spent a few all night shifts with some of the work maintaining the aircraft on the cold flight line, but most of the work was in the hangar. Water was hauled to the barracks in trucks and the water supply dictated water use from showers to toilet and tooth brushing only. Most of the snow we got blew in off the ice cap. The dark Winters and full daylight Summers along with every thing else was quite an experience. Really enjoyed the article in the American Legion Magazine.

F89d model, 108 rockets. Was based Oxnard AFB Cal, worked 89H models..... discharged December 57 from Manhattan Beach Air Force Station where you there when the D model crashed 12 mi from base in 1957 killing pilot and Ro

SAC Headquarters Bldg (one level above the WAR-ROOM). This is where Bush "W" holed up for a few hours during 9/11 while the situation was being sorted out. Ten miles south of Omaha at Offutt AFB, so-call bombproof except for a direct hit of which there have been many were a WW III to start. Feb 1967 to Dec 1970, 46 months same worksite, same workshift !! Direct duty assignment right out of basic, no tech school.

We did a lot of non-urgent computer processing for SAC. The computer selected me for transfer to Thule as a selectee to be followed by further human consideration. I told them I did NOT want to go and I, in fact, did NOT. Same thing with Goose Bay, Labrador !! My Offutt pal, David Melone, Reno, NV got shipped to Guam, circa 1968, right after buying a brand new MOPAR Musclecar. Six - eight weeks later he was found hung-dead (suicide) in dormroom at Guam. Sad story.

Now me: when I was in I was an E-4, and grade title was "SGT". Now, I understand that USAF E-4s are again called Airman 1st Class (or is it Senior Airman?). I just applied for membership in the A.F. Sergeants Association, will they take me and am I a good fit ??

My Uncle Vernon was stationed at Thule Greenland during the 50's not sure what he did as he never talked about it. He has since passed away in the 5 to 6 years ago. I understand the weather as I was stationed at Ft Wainwright 81 to 84.

My dad worked there as civilian on the power ship in 1960
He was an electrician welder
never talked about it much
we have many great pictures of the whiteouts and the ship and the base
amazing how time passes

I was there in 1964 with the 597 trans out of ft eustis va. loved the pics and the article my mos was 642-10 truck driver unloading ships during the sunec season

I was stationed at Thule from about June1958-May 1959, as an E-5 Staff Sergeant aircraft mechanic on Convair F-102A airplanes. I also was on a 20-man ferry crew that moved these planes up from Victorville, CA, George AFB. Our weather upon arriving was about 50F and only got to -28F in the winter (not as bad as could be up there). We replaced the 74TH FIS with their Northrop F-89's. We had two of the 4 large hangers for our planes and we also had a 4-bay 24-hour per day alert hanger on one end of the runway. We took turns manning this alert hanger, on 24-hour shifts and the planes could take to the air within 4 minutes after the alert siren was sounded.

It was a very fascinating experience for me and my friends at the time. We had known each other for 2-3 years on these planes back in Victorville, Calif and we were all very tight-knit. It was the first time the F102's were stationed outside of the US and we were the first squadron to get them into service. We put on a F102 Mach 1 flyby there at Thule over the runway once for the base. I don't recall we ever had an accident with our planes there, but had 2 or 3 earlier when we were at George AFB. During the ferry trip up from Calif, we had stopped at Frobisher Bay, Baffin Island and I think we also put on a Mach 1 show for them, as well. That was a really small facility, eskimos and a Canadian Mounty. We mechanics travelled on a C-124 the whole trip, with stops in Kelly AFB, Warner-Robbins, Burlington VT, Goose Bay and Frobisher Bay. It took 2 weeks, flying VFR for us and the F102s. A great memory trip.

I believe the main purpose of the Thule base was for Boeing KC-97 and KC-135 tankers, that supplied Boeing B-47 and B-52 bombers flying in the area 24 hours per day. It was also an emergency landing base, in case our bombers could not make it all the way back home from Russia, as well as a base with a huge BMEWS radar station (built while I was there) that watched Russia, one of three BMEWS in the world (UK and Alaska have the others).

It was reported there were 5000 AF people and 5000 Army (manning the NIKE stations up on North Mtn) at the base. Something caught fire at the NIKE station during that time and we could see the smoke from it. An airplane fueling truck also caught fire at the fuel dump during my tour. One of the KC97 airmen even built a large wooden boat in the Thule hobby shop (I built a toolbox), which was to go back via the KC on his trip back home ( I would have loved to see that).

One of my friends there tried to hang himself one night at the hanger, but I followed him and took the rope off his neck...he may have been faking, to get sent back home to his wife, but I never reported him. He was drunk, anyway.

Clifford G Brown

As a veteran of the CG I'd like to salute all who participated in the building and operation of the Thule base.
I hadn't seen the video before reading the article in the American Legion magazine..
Again... thanks to all ..
Jon.. N1MLF.

I was assistant to the Base Utilities Officer in the 4683rd Civil Engr Sq. from July 1961 to June 1962. During my time there the original barracks and BOQ's were converted from stand alone fresh water and sewage holding tanks to "city" water and sewage systems which had just been extended over the main base. People who came after that time never knew what they missed by not having to learn how to use the "pumper" toilets, or by not seeing the large "poop cycles that formed and grew each time a waste water truck would have a little spillage when it disconnected from the building's sewage drain line connector. At Christmas a large Christmas tree made from metal pipe by the plumbers shop was erected in front of the Wing Hq building and a fire truck would spray water on the tree. As the water started to drip from the pipes, it would freeze and make beautiful lasting icecycles. The Christmas I was there, the temperature was so cold that the water turned to ice as soon as it came out of the fire hose nozzle, so it did not stick to the pipes. The problem was solved by parking the fire truck overnight in a super-heated vehicle maintenance garage which allowed the water to stay liquid long enough to start dripping for the pipes. That same Christmas, Bob Hope brought his annual Christmas visit to Thule, and it had to end early because a "phase" (bad weather) event hit the base and everyone had to return to quarters ASAP. On her way back to the field grade BOQ where she was staying, Jayne Mansfield lost a diamond earring. The next day (still dark of course) all off duty personnel were assigned to sifting the snow along her route to try and find the lost item. I never heard the outcome. Also during the middle of the totally dark season, a transformer fire one night disabled part of the airfield runway lighting system. The darkness was making repair efforts very difficult, so a Lt Col who shall go unnamed suggested that it might be best to wait until after daybreak to continue the efforts. Unfortunately "daybreak" was about two months away at that point. That type of thinking was fairly common for all of us as we adjusted to the uniqueness of an arctic environment. Most of us were just fortunate enough to catch ourselves before we made an embarrassing comment.
This was a very interesting and educational assignment, and I consider ot well worth a year of my life.

I was RCA Quality Assurance Specialist who signed the official papers that accepted the Thule BMEWS operating system for submission to the USAF.

I was RCA Quality Assurance Specialist who signed the official papers that accepted the Thule BMEWS operating system for submission to the USAF.

I was RCA Quality Assurance Specialist who signed the official papers that accepted the Thule BMEWS operating system for submission to the USAF.


I was an Airman 1st class Cryptografic Technican working in the Air Force communications building on the base, I was stationed their for a year. The day's had a lot of sun for a couple of months and then it started to get more darkness until it was completely dark for a couple of months, I slept well during this time and when it switched over to complete sunlight my sleep was often interrupted by the light in the barracks room. I later served a one year tour at the Air Force base in Sonderstrom, Greenland, 1960-1961. Both one year tours were hard to accomplish because of the long darkness
and then the long sunshine for the rest of the time. Nelson

My Air Force one year tour at Thule was from 1956-1957


In 1952 I was serving in Navy as a Dental Technician. The Air Force flew me and some construction workers from Westover AFB to Thule via Goose Bay,and BWl where I was to be transferred to the Ice Breaker USS Atka. I was quartered for over a week in what appeared to be a walk in refrigerator. The mess hall and the movie theater were my favorite places. Finally the Atka arrived and a small mail boat took me to the ship.

I was there as a Personnel Clerk at the 6607th USAF Hospital (NEAC) until they consolidated all personnel functions at the CBPO at the AB Wing. As a young Airman I knew more about taking care of myself then the AF, with my reward being 2 frost bitten ears and a frosted left knee. Now my knee tells me when a major change in atmospheric pressure is coming - it aches. We also had fun with "newbies" and static electric handshakes. I will always remember APO 23 as a great place to visit once. Radio station KOLD our news/music, if you had a radio. Three of us created a laundry business in the Hospital barracks to help the officers keep a neat appearance. Made good money and sold my share when I rotated out to Japan. Thule was a real cool assignment.

Stationed Aug. 1958-1959 55th Air Rescue afsc30151
SAC-16 Slobbering Alberts Interesting place to be stationed.
-56 degrees and hi of 35. Was quite something upon return
to Maguire AFB, walking thru the terminal, and seeing all those girls.
Couldn't forget the 10,000 guys & three nurses still up their.
Took awhile to get the fragrance of perfume back. Don't forget the
nickel-dime-quarter machines at the club. And a case of beer (steel cap)
for a couple bucks. An experience. Just bought a pair of muk-luks,
and N-4B Arctic Mitts for snowblowing my property. mukluks for
snowshoeing. At any rate, the article inLegion mag sure brought back
the memories.

My grandfather Roland H. Swanson was a Captain in the United States Army. He served in World War 2 in the Signal Corps. and was recalled in 1951 to go to Thule, Greenland to set up communications. In August 1951 he sailed out of Norfolk, Virginia to Thule. To the best of my knowledge he was there until December of '51 and was returning on February 28th 1952. I believe the plane left from Fort Dicks or McGuire Airport, New Jersey to fly back to Thule. The evening of the 28th, while flying over Sydney Nova Scotia, the plane carrying him and 13 other men ran out of fuel. They all had to bail out in the middle of a blizzard, not knowing whether there was land or water beneath them. They all survived without life-threatening injuries, though broken arms and legs had been received. All thirteen men were granted membership into the Caterpillar Club, presented through the Switlik Parachute Company.
My Grandfather always said that it was a great experience, but he had no mind to repeat it.

Andrew Hardy----- Roland Swanson was in the 373d Transportation Major Port as was I and a hundred or so others on Operation BlueJay. We spent 44 days there, from early July to late August, working 12 on/12 off for all of the operational days without any days off. The convoy took 29 days to go from Norfolk VA to Thule Harbor and 8-9 days to go back. We started working on a "slipped
schedule" basis due to getting up there 20 days later than anticipated. I lived on the Naval Personnel vessel and worked as Cargo Officer and later as Lighterage Liaison Officer with the Navy's "Stratplot", the Staff Group responsible for the assignment of lighterage to the cargo vessels. As cargo officer we got caught between ships in a small craft and were ordered to the Beach when we tried to tie onto our cargo vessel. There I spent
time with Roland and his crew who were setting up the communications system. I have at least one photo of Roland in that hut (there were many photos taken on this "Secret" operation --- mine was
"official" thanks to our friend, Ed Kazarian, the G2 Officer) and I'll be glad to send a copy to you if you send your address to


We were the first fighjter sqdn. to ever be stationed at Thule in June 1953. The base was still under construction when we arrived. We were the 318th Ftr. Intcpt . Sqdn. flying Lockheeds F-94B. We left in August 1954, directly to Presque Isle, Me. Our 318th designation went back to McChord AFB in Wash. St.. & we were now then designated the 23rd Ftr. Group, the 75th Ftr Sqdn. (Flying Tigers). At that time we received brand new Northrop F-89D's, which were promply painted w/the WW2 tigers teeth. Thule was quite an experience, one I hope I NEVER have to repeat.

I was a KC-97 tanker crew chief in the 91st ARS and spent 3 mos. (Oct, Nov & Dec 1957) at Thule. Our parking area was on the far side of the runway on what was called the SAC Ramp. Maintenance on the aircraft was a challenge to say the least. The three tank water system in the barracks (clean, for drinking & washing, secondary, for flushing the ships heads and waste) was a challenge for airmen used to all the water we wanted. Fresh water was delivered from large vacuum bottle trucks and waste water hauled away once a week whether we needed it or not. Our first week there we ran out of fresh water on Wed. & didn't get more until Fri. While we were there The Russians launched Sputnik and the SAC Alert Force was started. I believe we had 3 tankers loaded with fuel and engines preheated with ground heaters parked in an area next to the big hangar. There were no provisions ready for SAC Alert at the time. The flight crews were moved into barracks nearby for standby and after nearly a week we were asked where we (ground crew) would like quarters. We told them we already had quarters. We had found empty office rooms in the big hangar and a supply of stretchers stored above them so we made our own quarters complete with coffee pots, telephones and stretcher bunks. All borrowed of course. The Alert duty was somewhat easier than the normal flying schedule of fly one day and down two for maintenance. Work stands were generally not usable due to missing or broken wheels but each plane had brought along a 12 ft. step ladder which we used instead. It was an experience I will NEVER forget but I'm also proud of what we accomplished in the adverse conditions.

I arrived at Thule around 7/1/54, in 24 hour daylight. Served 1 year with the 549th AAA Battalion as assistant S-3 and in B Battery located at the foot of Mt. Dundas. Enjoyable duty with good memories.
During the winter from Dundas to the base was a 2 mile trip on our 6 foot thick ice highway to the air base and Battalion headquarters. Summer was a 20 mile journey over the mountain on dirt roads.
Received the Order of The Bluenose and a 5th of Crown Royal for the one year stay ( the 5th is still unopened) .Met some very nice Danish Thule weather station families at the adjacent villiage. Scenery and hikes to the Wolstenholm Fjord cliffs and the face of the glacier and close friendships are fond memories.

I spent one night at Thule Air Base June 1956 Went by truck to Camp Tuto With the Transportation Arctic Group. Lived in the Quansant for the next 12 month . Was an Equipment Operator on the swings hauling suplies out to Site11 radar station. Spent one more nighe at Tule June 1957 on my way back to Fort Dix NJ. This a long shot . Wayne Hardin did you ever run intoa guy by thr name of
ROY WALLIS he was one of the first men sent to Thule he worked on the run way 1952?


I don't remember the SQ. number we were a radar site. Also spent time at site #1out on the cap. This was 1955,56. Came home oct.20 1956

My father, John Lawrence Gill (also known as "Larry") was recruited from Iron County, Michigan to travel to Thule and take part in constructing the air base. He was gone from home in 1951for about 6 months, if I correctly recall. I believe that Dad's primary job was to remove physical obstacles using dynamite. He mentioned once that he had to crawl up a hill or cliff to blast away some snow/ice overburden that threatened the runway location. He also said that he convinced someone in authority to release some of the prefabbed wooden boxes so that Finnish-style saunas could be built for the workers' use for bathing and relaxation. Another of his remembrances was the fierce winds that the workers needed to contend with, and how rock-filled barrels were linked together with rope so they could have something to hang on to in order for them to walk from one location to another. Dad was a hard-rock miner, and evidently his explosives skills were a necessity. He also worked as an explosives expert on the MacArthur locks at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, during WWII. The "Operation Blue Jay" video was very enlightening, as I was only 10 years old when Dad went off to Greenland. I believe Dad was featured in two separate sections of the "Operation Blue Jay" video. Dad passed away in March, 2013 a few months short of 102 years old. Although he was pretty beaten up by many years of hard work, his mind was clear. He too, was part of the generation of heroes.


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