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May 7, 1956 - A Second Texas Tower Guards the Atlantic

Posted May 07, 2008 12:01 AM by Steve Melito

On this day in engineering history, the U.S. Air Force began operations at its second Texas Tower (TT-2), a massive radar platform that was fixed to the ocean floor to protect the northeastern U.S. against a surprise air attack. Located on the Georges Bank some 100 miles east of Massachusetts, this Texas Tower was one in a series of manned radar stations that were so named because they resembled the oil-drilling platforms of the Gulf of Mexico. The Aerospace Defense Command (ADC), the branch of the Air Force that was responsible for the air defense of the United States, estimated that the Texas Towers would help extend contiguous East Coast radar coverage some 300 to 500 miles seaward. In terms of Soviet military capabilities, this would provide the United States with an extra 30 minutes of warning time in the event of an incoming bomber attack.

During the 1950s, the Lincoln Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) studied the feasibility of putting radar towers on giant metal platforms along the bottom of the North Atlantic. By the spring of 1955, Bethlehem Steel had finished the first such platform, shaping it like an equilateral triangle with cropped ends. Measuring 210 ft. along all three sides, the 6,500-ton steel platform provided a half-acre of surface area and was welded to 20-ft. high structures with decks for living quarters and storage. The platform also contained a helicopter landing pad and an operations station for two sets of radar antennas. To prevent electronic interference, the FPS-3A search set was elevated high above two FPS-6 height finders. The FPS-6 antennas were also pointed in opposite directions, with one facing toward land and the other facing toward sea. By the end of 1955, Bethlehem Steel had assembled the first two Texas Towers (TT-1 and TT-2).

Erecting a Texas Tower was an arduous task. After the platform was hauled out to sea, temporary supports were dropped to the ocean floor and positioned to provide support. With the platform now in place, the Raymond and De Long Companies sited the tower's three permanent legs. Measuring 160-ft. long, these tubular caissons were buried 50-ft. into the shoal. The leg's middle 50 ft. remained underwater, but the top 60 ft. rose high above the ocean's surface. Each steel leg also contained a 140-ft. long tube that measured 6-ft. in diameter. Jacketed by over 2-ft. of concrete, Texas Tower legs could hold either water or fuel. Typically, one leg was used to store the seawater that was converted to drinking water for the crew of 6 officers and 48 airmen.

Life aboard Texas Tower 2 (TT-2) was difficult. Both the structure and its crew suffered from the near-constant vibration caused by rotating radar antennas and diesel generators. The surrounding ocean and tower footings also transmitted distant sounds along the steel legs, amplifying them throughout the entire structure. Although the first three Texas Towers were relatively stable, Texas Tower 4 (TT-4) failed under the stress of and waves. On January 15, 1961, TT-4 was battered by a fierce storm with 85 mph winds and waves up to 35 ft. high. After one of its three legs snapped in half, both platform and crew sank to the ocean floor. By the end of 1963, the U.S. Air Force decommissioned the remaining three Texas Towers, hiring contractors to blast the legs but salvage the metal platforms.

Resources:

http://www.texastower.com/history_new.htm

http://www.radomes.org/museum/documents/TexasTower.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_Defense_Command

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#1

Re: May 7, 1956 - A Second Texas Tower Guards the Atlantic

05/08/2008 11:40 AM

Wow, that is a pretty interesting story! I never even heard about it before. Thanks for the education, nice post!

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Re: May 7, 1956 - A Second Texas Tower Guards the Atlantic

05/08/2008 1:41 PM

You're welcome, Jim. Thanks for the comment and the kind words. - Moose

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#3

Re: May 7, 1956 - A Second Texas Tower Guards the Atlantic

05/08/2008 2:20 PM

Very nice article. I had never heard of these towers myself but just spent 2 hours reading about them. I worked in the gulf erecting off shore platforms for a short while after high school (1979) and I know a little bit about what goes into setting up one. I can only imagine what it was like in 1950's, I am sure it was a hard task with pretty new technology for the time. Well anyways, super nice article and thanks for the learning experience. being a SCUBA diver I have to wonder about the one that sunk during salvage, it would have to be a good dive I would think.

pipewelder

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Re: May 7, 1956 - A Second Texas Tower Guards the Atlantic

05/08/2008 2:56 PM

Good to hear from you, pipewelder. Glad you enjoyed the story. I had a lot of fun researching these towers, too. - Moose

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#5

Re: May 7, 1956 - A Second Texas Tower Guards the Atlantic

01/18/2019 2:56 PM

January 18, 2019

Major correction to the original post:

I have to dispute several points that you have made in this narrative. I am a 74-year-old, Vietnam era Air Force veteran with no radar experience. However, I have been researching the Texas Towers for quite some time, and have discovered many online sources that have serious discrepancies in their reports of the Towers. While 5 towers were planned, only 3 were ever built. These 3 were Tower #2, Tower #3, & Tower #4. Towers #1 & #5 were never constructed.

Your second paragraph is essentially correct until the last sentence. The balance of your article also has several errors. Bethlehem Steel did complete a tower at the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Mass. This was completed by June 1955. It was severely damaged on the underside while still on the shipway when it slid sideways and struck a support column for the building. When repairs were completed enough to allow it to be floated and towed to the East Boston Navy Yard. Here repairs were completed, and the permanent and temporary legs were given final assembly. This could not be done in Quincy due to clearance issues. Also, on the way to East Boston, the tower had to be navigated through the Cape Cod Canal Bridge, which also had very tight clearances.

Due to these issues, Texas Tower #3 & #4 contracts were awarded to Steers & Morrison-Knudsen. They sub-contracted to Continental Copper & Steel Industries, Inc. - Walsh Holyoke Div. Their subsidiary, Walsh Construction was tasked with finding appropriate facilities to build these two towers. They chose the former East Yard of the defunct WWII Liberty & Ocean shipbuilder New England Shipbuilding Corp. in South Portland Maine. This yard had the unique "basins" that allowed construction on dry land, then being flooded and letting the ship to be towed out to Casco Bay. There were no clearance problems in any direction, including overhead. Likewise, there was no draw bridge to contend with.

Tower 3 construction proceeded routinely and was launched on August 7, 1956. It was towed in 1 unit to the site and erected with little in the way of problems. Tower 4 presented some unique design requirements, however. The basic platform was essentially a copy of Tower 2 & 3. The location site, however, was considerably deeper than the sites of #2 & #3. The site also had a much sandier ocean floor than the rocky ledges of the first two towers. The platform was completed first and launched on January 26, 1957. It was moored at a nearby pier while construction of the much longer legs was undertaken. While these legs were considerably longer than those of Tower 2 & 3, very little in the way of extra bracing was included in their design. This was an oversight by the design engineering firm, the Air Force, and the Navy which had been tasked with overseeing construction of the entire project. It was not, as has often been reported, the fault of the contractor, nor was there faulty construction. The legs were completed in June of 1957 and towed at the same time as the platform to the destination off the New York/New Jersey coast. As far as I can determine, Quincy had very little, if any, part to play in the construction of Texas Towers #3 & #4.

The balance of your narrative is essentially accurate, except your final sentence implies that there were 3 towers remaining after the loss of Tower 4. In reality, of course, there were on 2 remaining towers. While attempting to salvage Tower 2, it collapsed and sunk. It was not salvageable and remains on the ocean floor, as does the remains of Tower 4. Both have become popular dive sites. After the loss of Tower 2, the contractors filled the legs of Tower 3 with concrete to strengthen them and added temporary bracing. This allowed for salvage of almost the entire tower.

The information for my corrections comes from many, many, online sources, including the following now de-classified Air Defense Command publications:

{1} "A History of Texas Towers in Air Defense 1952-1964", by Thomas W. Ray, March 1965.

{2} "Report of Proceedings [next word un-readable] Loss of Texas Tower Number 4, dated January 16-March 4 of 1961.

Also, data and photos obtained from the South Portland Historical Society which includes copies of newspaper articles from the Portland Press Herald and the Portland Evening Express newspapers. Many of the photos were from the now-defunct Walsh Construction Co. that were given to the historical society. I have lived my entire life approx. 4 miles from the East Yard basins, and although I was too young in the early 1950s, my father, brother, and other family members talked often about the towers. I do have some memories of Walsh Construction salvaging WWII Liberty and Victory ships, and submarines in these same basins. The basins are still partially intact today and serve a pleasure boat marina.

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#6
In reply to #5

Re: May 7, 1956 - A Second Texas Tower Guards the Atlantic

01/18/2019 4:55 PM

Embarrassing, but I need to correct my own post. The reference to the "Cape Cod Canal Bridge" should read the "Quincy-Weymouth Fore River Bridge", located adjacent to the Fore River Shipyard, (both now gone.) Secondly, the reference to the "East Boston Navy Yard" should read "Bethlehem Atlantic Works" in East Boston, (also now gone). I apologize.

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