from A Grandpa's Notebook, Meyer Moldeven
Memoir: Logistics Planner, The Cold War, Nouasseur Air Base, Morocco 1953-1956
Preface: The 'Cold War' between the U.S. and the former USSR began in the mid-1940s and extended over the following half-century until the Soviet Union dissolved in the early 1990s. The Cold War's cost to the
United States exceeded $8 trillion. More than 110,000 American military lives were lost on foreign soil in the major military conflicts of that era: Korea in the early 1950s and Viet Nam from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. Military personnel and civilians of all nations involved that were killed or wounded on both sides in those two wars and in other clashes between the US/NATO countries and the USSR have been estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands.
From 1953 to 1956 I was a U S Air Force civilian employee at Nouasseur Air Base, about 20 miles southwest of Casablanca in what was then French Morocco. My job was in the Logistics Plans Office of the Nouasseur Air Depot.
The Nouasseur Air Depot was being constructed and staffed to support one of three major USAF/NATO logistics centers (Air Materiel Forces
European Areas North, Central, and South) in the European-Med-North African-Middle Eastern Theater in the event of a war with the USSR. Each AMF and its 'depot' would serve a primary geographic area. Generally, when AMFEA was fully implemented its mission would range from acquisition to distribution of materiel and supplies, repair and
maintenance of aircraft and equipment, and support to its constituents by way of U S Military Assistance Programs and other arrangements.
In addition to the Nouasseur Air Depot (AMFEA South), the Burtonwood Air Depot (AMFEA North), near Manchester UK, would support air forces in the UK and European Northern Tier countries. The
Chatereaux Air Depot (AMFEA Central) in Chatereaux, France, about half way between Paris and Marseilles, would support the Central Tier, which extended beyond the Northern Tier to the Mediterranean coast (overlapping somewhat with those of the Nouasseur Air Depot in Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Turkey). Nouasseur (Casablanca) had the Southern Tier, which included North Africa on into the Middle East, countries along and in the Med and areas that were not within the Northern and Central Tiers.
As a Logistics Planner at Nouasseur, one of my projects was to prepare an element of U S Air Force Europe (USAFE) logistics plans to support the U S Strategic Air Command (SAC). The plan would organize, staff,
equip, transport, test and evaluate, and (in the event of war) activate and deploy Mobile Maintenance Teams consisting of U S civil service volunteers. The teams would provide on-site emergency repairs sufficient to continue flights of US/NATO combat-damaged or otherwise disabled aircraft compelled to land in the Middle East, on Med. islands, or in North Africa on return flights from battle zones.
Strategic Air Command bombers and their direct support aircraft in the active and -- at that time -- programmed inventory during the early-1950s included the B-47 Stratojet, a six-engine 4,000 mile range medium bomber which entered service in 1950; the B-52 Stratofortress, an eight-engine 8,000+ mile range heavy bomber scheduled to enter operations about 1955, and the C-97 Stratofreighter cargo and tanker versions with four piston-driven engines which had been in SAC fleet operations since about 1950, also late models B-50 and earlier B-29s from WW2.
During the period covered by this memoir, the probability of a worldwide nuclear conflagration, sparked by a Cold War incident between US/NATO and the USSR, was considered to be high. The memories of WW2 were fresh in the minds of everyone. The U.S. confrontation with the USSR that brought on the Berlin Airlift, and its
threat to world peace were of the gravest portent. The Korean 'police action,' another product of confrontations between USSR/Communist China and U S/NATO, was winding down. 'Viet Nam' was on the horizon.
During much of the half-century post-WW2 Cold War era the US depended mainly on its own economic, military, industrial and human resources to defend its own far-flung interests. The international competition for country and regional security resources to rebuild a devastated Europe, and administer the lands of the former central powers, created a massive arms race that affected the lives and destinies of people everywhere.
In the late-40s/early-50s the US-USSR conflict of interests was at a critical stage. Intercontinental nuclear-armed ballistic missiles were far
beyond drawing boards; their operational reach, capabilities, and effects against civilian as well as military targets had been carefully estimated and understood.
The US doubled the number of its Air Force groups to ninety-five, and placed great importance on the Strategic Air Command (SAC). The number of SAC wings increased from 21 in 1950 to 37 in 1952. The growth of SAC air power arrayed US military capabilities and strategies
for massive retaliation and Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) by NATO should the USSR launch a pre-emptive attack in Europe.
At least for the next several years, NATO and US planners admitted, however, that neither massive retaliation nor MAD, by themselves, would stop a Soviet first strike and an invasion into Eastern and Central Europe and the Middle East. The USSR could count on huge reserves of its still young, combat-seasoned men under arms, pre-positioned war materiel still in good condition for combat, and relatively short lines of transport and communications.
Operational ICBMs were still several years in the future. The B-52 bomber was still in the early stages of production and deployment. Strategic warfare against construction and operation of Soviet oil drilling, refining, storage, and pipeline facilities in the southwest USSR (Caspian Sea area) were expected to slow Soviet military momentum. For this and other reasons, the US expanded and modernized its existing facilities to conduct air operations over the USSR's Eastern and Southwestern regions.
NATO and the US built or otherwise secured ground, seaport, and air bases and/or implemented joint-use agreements with governments in the Mediterranean area in the event of a US/NATO-USSR conflict and, specifically relevant to this memoir, in Morocco, Libya, Turkey, and the
Central and Eastern Mediterranean generally.
In the early 1950s, SAC was the major tenant on military airfields in Morocco: Ben Guerir and Sidi Slimane Air Bases in central Morocco, and Nouasseur Air Base in the desert about 25 kilometers south of the
Morocco's dominant port Casablanca. Morocco had been a French protectorate since 1912, and thousands of French citizens and other Europeans had migrated to French and Spanish Morocco over the years and taken up residency. Large numbers of Moroccan, French and other European nationals were employed by the USAF at its bases and the US
Navy's tenancy in Port Lyauty, and at other military installations where the U.S. and/or NATO had been granted French/Moroccan permission to do so.
Throughout the French occupation of Morocco a number of Moroccan nationalist groups formed in opposition to French domination, and engaged increasingly in nationalist political and armed resistance, including occasional bombings and other acts of violence. Sultan Mohammed V sided with the nationalists and was deposed in 1953. This further angered the Moroccan populace. In-country violence increased.
The Sultan returned from exile in 1955 and Morocco gained its independence some years later. Many French and Spanish citizens returned to their countries of origin. French military forces, business enterprises, and employment for the indigenous population in Morocco became uncertain, and so did American military presence on Moroccan
In the years that followed, the Libyan government also changed rulers, with the results that American use of Wheelus Field, for any purpose, was revoked. Nevertheless, context and circumstances in North Africa aside, USAF planning for support to SAC operations under general war conditions, and for a variety of military contingencies, continued; in its way, North Africa all along the Med, would likely experience a deja vu of its WW2 occupations and their consequences. Caught up in a nuclear exchange, probably worse.
In WW2, oil refineries, and storage and transport nets, such as those in the Romanian Ploesti complex, were important but extremely costly targets. For instance, in one WW2 mission, of 178 B-24s dispatched to
bomb Ploesti, 52 were lost, and all but 35 aircraft suffered damage, one limping home after 14 hours and holed in 365 places. Most of these Allied bombing missions originated in and returned to airfields in North Africa; many of the old landing strips, fuel storage, and maintenance shops previously used by German and Italian military occupiers and then by the Allies, were in poor condition, but they were there.
Caspian Oil Refineries
In the early 1950s, a US/NATO war with the Soviet Union would likely include strategic air attacks against Soviet oil wells, refineries and other industrial plants, storage facilities, and transport nets. If so, USSR facilities in the southwest USSR (the Caspian Sea area) would have been among high priority targets.
That being so, planning for US/NATO aircraft to return from bombing missions over the southwest USSR included routes over-flying Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Crete, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Israel, Egypt, and other
countries throughout the Middle East, across the length of the Med, and along its northern and southern coasts.
It was expected that among returning aircraft there would be those which had incurred serious damage sufficient to compel landing the aircraft short of its destination. Battle-damaged, or non-operational in flight for other reasons, aircrews might need help to repair their aircraft for a one-time flight further East or otherwise on their way. The 'helpers' had to be
as close as possible to where they were needed.
One option, to be implemented immediately upon USAFE, SAC, or NATO notice, was to deploy 'rapid area maintenance teams' comprised of U.S. civil service employees, along with their tool kits and air-transportable mobile power generators and other essential equipment, to designated locations along the SAC aircraft return routes. Battle-
damaged aircraft would be quickly fixed and serviced sufficiently to take off and keep going west, if not all the way, then at least to another location where another quick-fix and service could be rendered. Repairs would be accomplished through use of anything from on-site fabricated bits-and-pieces to parts and assemblies cannibalized from wrecked aircraft.
My assignment was to prepare the plan, inspect potential repair sites, work out and integrate the details, and draft a Logistics Plan supplement to the USAFE and SAC overall logistics support plans to close the gap. The draft plan would include policy and procedural guidelines and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP); a list of hands-on maintenance and supervisory skills relevant to aircraft in the current SAC inventory,
and provide for continuing compatibility of data, tools and procedures with replacement or programmed weapons and support systems. The plan would identify committed US civil service technicians and staff by skill, name and location currently on duty at an AMFEA depot, identify
U S personnel policies which would need adjustment to the anticipated circumstances and initiate administrative actions to initiate the changes.
From there, I went on to determine manpower resources by anticipated skills requirements, identify and set in motion urgent-immediate procedures to acquire (by standard practices or otherwise) relevant and
current manuals and tech data, general and special hand tools, etc. More, to plan orientation and training for the program, upgrade skills for maintenance team workers, crew chiefs, and site and regional supervisors.
To design a team member notification system, and a procedure for ongoing liaison with Hqs USAFE (Lindsey Air Base, Weisbaden, Germany) to acquire opportune air transportation from selected pick-up points for the Mobile Maintenance Teams and drop-off at forward area
emergency work sites. Put it all together, get staff and command approval in principle at Nouasseur, take the draft to Weisbaden and get staff preliminary sign-off by Hqs Air Material Force European Area and Hqs United States Air Force Europe (USAFE). Following that, to get the coordination of the Directors of Maintenance and the Commanders at Burtonwood Air Depot UK and Chatereaux Air Depot France (Burtonwood and Chatereaux depots' manpower, tools, and other resources were to be committed to the program, hence their being in the
loop for sign-off.)
With that done, I would integrate and send the package off to Hq SAC, Offutt AFB, Oklahoma and give them a crack at it.
Along the way, I got with SAC and other intelligence types and checked the lay of the land from Morocco east to Turkey.
The three Directors of Maintenance at Nouasseur (Morocco), Chatereaux (France) and Burtonwood (UK) would assemble personnel committed to the Program, and using the previously authorized priorities request Base Commanders for opportune airlift to move skills, tools,
supplies, tech data, etc., to the Program's initial assembly point in a specified hangar at Wheelus Field, Libya.
At Wheelus, the program manager (a Nouasseur Air Depot military officer and staff) would shuffle and combine the physically present skills, tools, etc., so that teams and their kits were formed, organized,
equipped, and ready to move according to requirements and priorities to where they would be needed. Get the teams to their assigned stations by air, sea or land transport, each Civil Service employee equipped with personal gear adequate for survival under the anticipated conditions.
That, generally, was how it was supposed to work, but we knew better. The reality we saw was that as soon as the nuclear threshold was crossed, which was highly probable, a US/NATO-USSR general war wouldn't last much more than a couple of days.
Several weeks after I coordinated the draft plan, my supervisor at Nousseur sent the final version to Hqs SAC. They replied that it was the best that could be expected under the circumstances. Not long afterward,
I transferred back to the States where I got a job at McClellan AFB near Sacramento.
The plan was one of several that I drafted while at Nouasseur and at other places in those early days of the Cold War. Many personal anecdotes, from the deeply sad and poignant to the trivial and absurd, have been written about WW2, Korea, Viet Nam, and the other
confrontations between the U.S. and the Soviets. The Cold War, in as many of its facets as possible, needs to be written about, including memoirs such as this, and they should be entered into the nation's lore so that students may view their many perspectives.
I spent almost two years in researching and drafting the details of this SAC support plan. Would it have worked if and when the need arose? Were there plans for other options? I don't know. Forward area emergency maintenance (Rapid Area Maintenance - RAM) teams, much
more advanced in concept and application, were used in Viet Nam.
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