Skip to content

Gallery Index

    The Northrop SM-62 Snark was an early ground-launched cruise missile with intercontinental range, sometimes referred to as an Intercontinental Cruise Missile (ICM). Like the Thor and Jupiter IRBMs, it was a stop-gap weapon intended to serve as a nuclear deterrent while ICBMs were being developed and tested. The Snark took its name from Lewis Carroll’s fictional animal species in his poem, “The Hunting of the Snark.” Work on the missile project began in 1946. Initially, two missiles were designed—a subsonic version (the MX775A Snark) and a supersonic version (the MX775B Boojum, from the same poem: "The snark was a boojum, you see"). In 1957, tests of the Snark showed an estimated accuracy (CEP) of 20 miles. Even with a high-yield nuclear weapon, that was not “close enough.” On 15 December 1957, the 556 SMS--the sole SNARK squadron--was activated at Patrick AFB, FL, and in January 1958, SAC began accepting delivery of Snark missiles there for training. By that year, the celestial navigation system used by the Snark allowed its most accurate test, which appeared to fall about 4 nautical miles short of the target. However, even with the decreased CEP, the design was notoriously unreliable, with the majority of tests suffering mechanical failure thousands of miles before reaching the target area. It is rumored that more Snarks were lost during testing than were ever deployed. For example, a missile launched from Cape Canaveral in 1956 that was supposed to fly to Puerto Rico and back flew so far off course that it was last seen on radar off the coast of Venezuela. The wayward Snark missile was discovered in Brazil in 1983. Many of those connected with the program commented in jest that the Caribbean was full of “Snark infested waters." Guidance problems were not the only thing that plagued the weapons system. Other factors, such as the missile’s inability to detect countermeasures and perform evasive maneuvers, also made it a questionable strategic deterrent. Nevertheless, on the first day of 1959 the 702 SMW was formed at Presque Isle AFB, ME--a launching point about as close as the USAF could get to the Soviet Union from the CONUS. On 27 May 1959, that base received its first missile. In July 1959, the 556 SMS was inactivated and most of its personnel packed up and headed to Maine. Ten months later, on 18 March 1960, a Snark missile went on alert there. A total of 30 Snarks are known to have been deployed at the base in Maine. From July 1959 until the end, the 702 SMW had no subordinate units. The wing’s assigned personnel performed all operations, maintenance, and support functions except on the warhead. That work was done by the 3093 Aviation Depot Squadron at nearby Caribou AFS. The 702 SMW was declared fully operational in February 1961. But the following month, with IRBMs on alert in Turkey, Italy, and the UK, and with ICBMs rapidly coming on line, President Kennedy declared the Snark to be "obsolete and of marginal military value," and on 25 June 1961, the 702 SMW was inactivated.
    Search within this gallery group