The following appeared in the March 2018 issue of the IPMS/Mid-Carolina Swamp Fox Modelers' newsletter, The Newsflash. It is a subject that I had been researching for a few years, and given that we are approaching the anniversary of the day in 1962 when President Kennedy announced the presence of Cuban missile sites, it seemed fitting to post it here.
Many of you know that I’m a history geek at heart. I lived in South Florida for 30 years, and as a result I have an ongoing interest in Florida’s history. In recent years, I have taken to researching the area during the Cuban Missile Crisis. And, if you know where to look, you’ll find a load of Cold War history.
In 1959, a Cuban B-26 Invader left Cuban airspace and established a northerly heading. It landed hours later in Daytona Beach. It was never detected nor challenged by any U.S. Air Defense assets.
A year earlier, the U.S. Army had determined that there was a need to strengthen the air defense of the Gulf Coast, and formulated a plan to establish 41 Hawk missile batteries—12 were slated for Florida alone. But that would soon change…
In October 1962, U.S. Air Force reconnaissance planes discovered the construction sites for Soviet medium- and long-range ballistic missiles on the island nation—the Cubans had allowed the Soviets to base their missiles there as a threat to the U.S. mainland directly. President Kennedy established his “quarantine” on Cuba, and eventually the Soviets and Cubans backed down.
Meanwhile, Florida became one huge armory. Assets from all branches of the military were sent to various Florida bases on Temporary Duty (TDY)—some staying for months, others for years. At the same time, the air defense assets were also stepped up. South Florida became the scene for various installations of HAWK, Nike-Ajax, and Nike-Hercules missiles. Many of these installations remained until the early 1980’s before they were stood down, abandoned, and left to the elements…and if you know where to look, you can still see vestiges of them to this day.
The key to finding many of these sites is to know two things: the basic footprint of these facilities, and how many of them have been re-purposed after their military use. In the case of the HAWK missile batteries, many of them have reverted to local city or county control and have been used as sites for schools, day care facilities, juvenile detention centers, or other educational purposes. The Nike sites, on the other hand, were largely abandoned and allowed to become one with the scenery. The reasoning behind this is because while the HAWK batteries were single-location sites (the missiles and guidance packages were erected at the same site), the Nike sites consisted of a launch site and a control site a distance away. The launch site contained the magazines (in South Florida, these were large hangars the crews called “barns”; in other areas they were underground and hardened against attack). The control centers contained the radar sites (the Ajax used one type, the Hercules used another) that consisted of control buildings, antenna farms, and radar towers. The key to both are loop roads. That’s right—most of these sites were surrounded by a loop service road, and in a survey of Google Maps, they tend to stand out clearly. Many of these sites have not been totally bulldozed (yet), so their original layout is still visible. In South Florida, the one exception I have found is the Nike-Hercules site HM-95. The Launch Site is now the home to the Krome Detention Center and has largely been rebuilt and reconfigured since it shut down in 1979, and the Control Site was recently demolished after years of being an attraction for various groups of ne’er-do-wells and amateur archaeologists.
Initially, many of these sites were deemed temporary, but after the Missile Crisis was resolved, some were made permanent. Other batteries were relocated to permanent sites. I’m only going to cover the permanent sites and how they look today. The images are courtesy of Google Maps.
Finally, a note: For those who want to do your own “digging”, please note that many of these sites are private property, some of them are restricted, and if caught on site, you will more than likely be arrested and become a guest of the city, county, state, or Federal Government. They have not been maintained, and are therefore getting run down and quite rickety. They are usually in pretty remote areas, so if you have an accident, help may not be able to find you. And, given the fact that this is South Florida, many have become havens for the local flora and, more to the point, fauna—think spiders and snakes and other critters that can be unpredictable, especially when you come tromping in and invading their home. So, it may be best to visit the sites that are public (HM-69 is now run by the National Parks Service and offers tours) and leave the abandoned sites, well, abandoned.
Starting with the HAWK missiles, there were four sites around Miami and Homestead: HM-12, HM-39, HM-59, and HM-84. There were also four HAWK Batteries around Key West International Airport and Naval Air Station Key West.
HM-12: The battery known as HM-12 was located on SW 87th Avenue in the Cutler Ridge area. The location now houses a school, one of the many uses these sites have served after they were vacated. Part of the original site has been left to nature, but one of the service loop roads remains.
HM-39: The HM-39 site lies approximately three miles east of the Homestead-Miami Speedway and three miles southeast of the Homestead Air Reserve Base on SW 334th Street and SW 102nd Ave. Like HM-12, it is now occupied by a school - in this case, a day care facility. It is largely used by employees of the nearby Turkey Point Nuclear Facility.
HM-59: HM-59 was located along SW 424th Street, just west of U.S. Highway 1, south of Homestead in unincorporated Miami-Dade County. It is currently used as a Juvenile Residential Facility (“Reform School” back in the day).
HM-84: HM-84 lies in the Goulds area of West Miami-Dade County. It is now being used as a nursery. Most of the area in and around Goulds has become farms and nurseries.
Now, let’s take a look at the Key West HAWK sites. The following image was taken from the Keys History site, and shows the locations of the batteries. Key West International Airport is on the left, NAS Key West is to the right.
Alpha Battery: This is how Alpha Battery looks today. It is now the site of the U.S. Army Special Operations Underwater Operations School. The footprint is unmistakable.
Bravo Battery: Also known as the Little Hamaca site, it is located on the property of the Key West International Airport. It is rather decrepit these days, but again, the footprint is a dead giveaway of the site’s past. The FAA has a communications site and has erected several antennas there; otherwise it is much as it was when it was built.
Charlie Battery: Charlie Battery lies east of the NAS Key West runways. It appears to be overgrown, but there has been a movement in recent years to rehabilitate the site and use it as an RV park.
Delta Battery: Delta Battery is almost due north of NAS Key West. It, like Bravo, is a bit on the tatty side these days. A NOAA Doppler Radar is on site (the white ball on the lower left hand side of the photo) and the site is used for Special Forces training. Again, note the footprint.
The MIM-23 HAWK Missile was a medium range Surface-to-Air missile built by Raytheon. A more mobile missile than the Nike Hercules, it was also more compact due to the advances in electronics that led to miniaturization of the components. It saw U.S. Army and USMC service from 1960 until 2002. Other users include Israel, Turkey, Greece, and Iran (who modified some to be carried on its F-14A Tomcats!).
The best model kit of the HAWK is the new 1/35 scale AFV Club kit. It is well detailed, and per the online reviews, it fits very well. Next down the order would be the new Dragon kit, also in 1/35 scale. For the die-hard masochists, there’s always the Revell-Renwal kit in approximately 1/40 scale.
Now, let’s examine the Nike sites. They were designated HM-01 (later HM-03), HM-40, HM-65 (later HM-66), HM-69, and HM-95.
HM-01 started as a Nike Ajax site in Carol City, to the northwest of Miami. Later, when the missiles were changed to Nike Hercules, the designation changed to HM-03. An interesting tidbit on this site: My last apartment in Florida was about 5 miles as the crow flies from the launch site, and 8 miles from the control site. Here’s how they look today:
The control site for HM-01/HM-03 is a vacant lot, but still has the characteristic appearance of a Nike control site.
The launch site for HM-01 is located near NW 67 Ave (Flamingo Road) and the Florida Turnpike, just south of the Broward/Miami-Dade county line. The layout is typical for an above ground Nike site. The three cleared areas are where the barns stood that held the missiles.
HM-40: The HM-40 site is located off Old State Road 905 on North Key Largo. This site is largely overgrown these days. The native fauna is slowly taking back the sites.
The HM-40 Control Site. On the left side of the photo you can see the hexagonal tower platforms that were built for the guidance radars (LOPAR and HIPAR), almost covered by the trees--the towers are some 40 to 60 feet tall. To the right you can make out some of the site’s buildings, many of which still remain intact.
And here’s how the HM-40 launch site appears today. You can make out the loop road serving the launchers. The rectangular lake alongside the side was a result of the Army Corps of Engineers efforts to provide fill for the launch site. You will see that in several of the former missile sites in South Florida, and again around the Kennedy Space Center in Titusville—they would dig fill to make a mound, put a telemetry station (or, in this case, missile barns) on the mound, and let the hole fill in. The fishing around the sites in the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge adjacent to the Space Center is particularly good, if you don’t mind sharing your fishing spot with alligators…
HM-65/HM-66: This site is located southwest of the Homestead-Miami Speedway, and is not consistent with the others in construction. The launch site is to the left in the photo, and the control site is in the center-right. It was initially a temporary Nike Ajax site, and was later allocated Nike Hercules missiles and moved to Key Largo to the site designated HM-40. Notice the lack of radar towers and the proximity of the control site to the launch site, typical of the temporary sites erected for the Cuban Missile Crisis. Why am I including this one? Well, in 1963 the site was leased by Aerojet General (the same people who brought you the Standard Anti-Radiation missile used by Wild Weasels) and used as a rocket motor test site for the space program. If you get curious, look up the Aerojet Dade Rocket Facility here: https://www.abandonedfl.com/aerojet-dade/ .
It is a neat story in and of itself.
HM-69: Of all the missile sites in and around South Florida, this is the one in the best material condition. Located in the region of the Everglades known as “The Hole in the Doughnut”, it is farthest away from the inhabited area of southwest Miami-Dade County.
This is the former HM-69 Control Site. It is now the Daniel Beard Research Center, featuring new buildings. The roads around the building are a mix of new and old.
And here is the launch site, complete with the three barns standing intact. This site is being run by the National Parks Service, and tours are available from December through April. There is an actual Nike Hercules missile on site that was restored to near new condition. Like the Titan at the Titan Missile Museum in Green Valley, Arizona, this was a missile used for training and was never fueled.
HM-95: This site is located in western Miami-Dade County along the road known as Krome Avenue.
The control site buildings, as I alluded to above, have been demolished. All that exists of the site now are the concrete pads and foundations. There is no news as to what will become of the site, but I imagine the city or county will find a use for it.
And, finally, the HM-95 launch site. The footprint of the upper complex, where the launch barns and launchers were, shows the typical layout of a Nike site, but a lot of construction over the years has altered the landscape to a degree. The butterfly-shaped buildings in the lower complex are the new detention buildings. This facility was used to house Cuban refugees from the Mariel Boatlift after it was found that the Tent City erected under I-95 in the Little Haiti area of Miami wasn’t adequate, nor were any of the others—they were too close to the population center, and woefully undersized and understaffed for the number of people housed there. The decision was made late in 1980 to consolidate everyone at the missile site, which had been in use by the Army up until the fall of 1979. At first, they simply moved the tents from Miami to Krome Avenue, and eventually erected the buildings you see here. The Detention Center is still in operation today.
In model form, one used to be limited to the ancient Revell and Renwal kits of the Nike Hercules and Nike Ajax. However, here's a news flash: Freedom Models now offers a Nike Hercules in 1/35 scale. I have to get one, I think...and perhaps they will see their way clear into a Nike Ajax, too!
There are several websites that cover the Homestead-Miami Defense Area. A few of them are:
The general Nike Missile history site has a little of everything. Dig around; you will find copies of tech manuals for your research and reference delight: https://nikemissile.org/
Ed Thelan’s site, a veritable treasure trove: https://ed-thelen.org/
The Park Service’s page for HM-69: https://www.nps.gov/ever/learn/historyculture/hm69.htm
Don Boyd’s South Florida site, with lots of pictures: https://www.pbase.com/donboyd/memories_missile_bases
Keys History’s bit on HM-40: https://www.keyshistory.org/KL-NikeSite.html
Another Nike site: https://www.nike252.org/
A general overview of the Homestead-Miami Defense Area: https://www.themilitarystandard.com/missile/nike/homestead-fl.php
Keys History’s HAWK Missile page: https://www.keyshistory.org/Hawk-KWMissiles.html
Another look at one of the HAWK batteries on Key West: https://conchscooter.blogspot.com/2010/03/hawk-missiles.html
A great page on the HAWK batteries on Key West: https://www.missilesofkeywest.com/
This just scratches the surface. I encourage all of you to poke around and see what else you may find. Be curious. Be resourceful. And never stop learning.
That's all I have for today. Thanks for reading. Be good to one another, and, as always, I bid you Peace.