Ask Geoffrey: Former Nike Missile Sites in Chicago | Chicago News

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The Russian invasion of Ukraine brings back memories of the Cold War.

While the United States and other countries adopt sanctions against Russia, some vestiges of escalating tensions between the United States and the USSR still linger in Chicago.

Geoffrey Baer joined “Chicago Tonight” for this week’s Ask Geoffrey, at the former Nike missile bases in Chicago.

Have intercontinental ballistic missiles ever been housed or compartmentalized at Montrose Harbor? If so, are there still silo structures? — John Reece, Chicago

There were no intercontinental ballistic missiles – or ICMBs – at Montrose Harbor. However, there was a Nike missile base there.

Nike missiles were defensive weapons. It was the country’s first surface-to-air guided missile system. ICBMs were offensive weapons and were in fact what led to the obsolescence of Nike missiles.

The United States developed Nike missiles during the Cold War to defend against a new generation of nuclear-armed Soviet bombers capable of reaching far beyond the country’s coasts and borders to almost any target in the United States. -United.

About 300 Nike missile sites were set up in a circle around major metropolitan areas and other strategic sites across the country in the early 1950s, including about 20 in Chicago. They were said to be the last line of defence.

Montrose Harbor was the radar and command center controlling a missile battery located just off Belmont Harbor.

A Nike missile battery was installed at Belmont Harbor in the early 1950s. (WTTW Archives)

Another launch facility was on the south side at Jackson Park, with the radar and control center on Promontory Point.

There were also sites at Wolf Lake, Fort Sheridan, the Skokie Lagoons and elsewhere strategically placed to overlap – so that no part of the Chicago area was left unprotected.

Initially, the United States used Nike Ajax Missiles. They could reach speeds of over 1,600 miles per hour, more than twice the speed of sound, and climb up to 70,000 feet. But Ajax could only fly about 25 miles, which military leaders said was not far enough to constitute an effective air defense.

the Nike Hercules was Ajax’s successor. It was faster and could travel farther – up to 90 miles. It could also be equipped with nuclear warheads.

The missiles were stored horizontally underground. A large elevator would bring the missiles to the surface and the crew members would push the missile into position.

No missile was ever actually launched at Chicago. But the missile teams practiced bringing them up from underground and pointing them skyward.

ICMB’s impact on Nike

Nike was supposed to defend against manned aircraft. But, in the late 1950s, the Soviet Union changed its strategy because these planes were vulnerable to attack.

The solution was intercontinental ballistic missiles, which could be launched from Soviet soil. At the time, there was no effective defense against missiles like that.

This change ultimately rendered Nike’s air defense role obsolete. Defense dollars have been transferred to other projects – such as the development of US intercontinental ballistic missiles and missile defense systems, as well as the growing war in Vietnam.

The US government began phasing out Nike bases in the mid-1960s amid budget cuts. The country does not have disable most sites until the 70s – after the second Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty signed by the Soviet Union and the United States in 1974. The United States still has an arms control treaty with Russia until February 2026.

Remnants of Nike missiles

Almost all towers and control facilities are gone, including all traces at Montrose Harbor. But some remnants and buildings are still standing, including at Wolf Lake where an actual Nike missile is on display.

Meanwhile, the area that was once a Nike site in Montrose Harbor is now a nature preserve. The former site of Jackson Park is now a golf course. The Belmont Harbor site is now a grassy lakeside area, as is the old Promontory Point site.

Have a question for Geoffrey? Ask him.


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