551st Strategic Missile Squadron

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551st Strategic Missile Squadron
Convair SM-65F Atlas 39 551 SMS Site 08 Beatrice NE.jpg
551st SMS Convair SM-65F Atlas No. 39, Site 08 Beatrice NE
Active1942–1949; 1961–1965
CountryUnited States
Branch United States Air Force
RoleIntercontinental ballistic missile
Garrison/HQLincoln Air Force Base, Nebraska
EngagementsEuropean-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Streamer.jpg
World War II (EAME Theater)
DecorationsStreamer PUC Army.PNG
Distinguished Unit Citation (2x)
551st Strategic Missile Squadron emblem551st Strategic Missile Squadron - SAC - Emblem.png

The 551st Strategic Missile Squadron (551 SMS) is an inactive United States Air Force unit. It was last assigned to the 98th Strategic Aerospace Wing, stationed at Lincoln AFB, Nebraska

The 551 SMS was equipped with the SM-65F Atlas Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), with a mission of nuclear deterrence. The squadron was inactivated as part of the phaseout of the Atlas ICBM on 25 June 1965.


World War II[edit]

Activated in late 1942 as a B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomb squadron, trained under Second Air Force. Deployed to England in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) during June 1943, assigned to VIII Bomber Command as a strategic bombardment squadron under the 385th bomb group. Participated in the air offensive over Nazi Germany and Occupied Europe until German capitulation in May 1945. Personnel demobilized in England and returned to the United States; squadron reassigned to Second Air Force and was programmed to be re-equipped with B-29 Superfortresses for deployment to Pacific Theater. Japanese capitulation led to units inactivation in September 1945, being neither manned or equipped.

Effective 15 September 1947, the squadron was activated at Selfridge Field, Michigan. Having been allotted to the organized reserves, with assignment to Second Air Force, Air Defense Command, it was redesigned as a very heavy bombardment unit on 25 August. In August 1948, the squadron was assigned to the Tenth Air Force, which in December, became a part of the Continental Air Command. On 1 December 1948 it was again reassigned to Air Defense Command where it remained on reserve service until being inactivated on 27 June 1949 due to budget restrictions.

Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Squadron[edit]

Reactivated in 1960 as a Strategic Air Command SM-65F Atlas ICBM launch squadron, stationed at Lincoln AFB, Nebraska and assigned to the 818th Air (later Strategic Aerospace) Division on 1 April 1961. The squadron was assigned twelve missiles, based in a 1 x 12 configuration: twelve independent widely dispersed launch sites comprised the missile squadron.

The Atlas F was the final and most advanced version of the Atlas ICBM and was stored in a vertical position inside underground concrete and steel silos. When stored, the Atlas F sat atop an elevator. If a missile was placed on alert, it was fueled with RP-1 (kerosene) liquid fuel, which could be stored inside the missile for extended periods. If a decision was made to launch the missile, the missile was raised to the surface and the liquid oxygen tank was filled. The launch would occur shortly after completion of this process. (see below for site details).

The exposure on the surface that this procedure entailed was the great weakness of the Atlas F. It was exposed and vulnerable during this time. The Titan II and Minuteman missiles could be launched from within their silos, thereby eliminating this vulnerability. Also, since the Titan did not use a cryogenic fuel or oxidizer, and the Minuteman was a solid fuel rocket, they could be stored fully fueled and ready to launch within a very few minutes.

The 551st SMS operated twelve launch silos; one missile at each site. The missiles were retired and removed in early 1965 in favor of the more advanced LGM-25C Titan II; squadron was inactivated on 25 June 1965. Missile sites were later sold off to private ownership after demilitarization.


Emblem of the World War II 551st Bombardment Squadron
  • Constituted as 551st Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) on 25 November 1942
Activated on 1 December 1942
Inactivated on 28 August 1945
  • Re-designated 551st Bombardment Squadron (Very Heavy) on 25 August 1947
Activated in the reserve on 15 September 1947
Inactivated on 27 June 1949
  • Re-designated 551st Strategic Missile Squadron, and activated, on 24 October 1960
Organized on 1 April 1961
Inactivated on 25 June 1965


ETO Fuselage Code: HR


Aircraft and missiles[edit]

SM-65F Atlas Missile sites
Operated twelve missile sites of one missile at each site (12 total):
551–1 4.9 mi WNW of Avoca, NE 40°48′59″N 096°12′22″W / 40.81639°N 96.20611°W / 40.81639; -96.20611
551–2 3.6 mi E of Eagle, NE 40°49′20″N 096°21′42″W / 40.82222°N 96.36167°W / 40.82222; -96.36167
551–3 2.6 mi WSW of Nehawka, NE 40°48′32″N 096°02′01″W / 40.80889°N 96.03361°W / 40.80889; -96.03361
551–4 4.5 mi W of Nebraska City, NE 40°40′36″N 095°56′43″W / 40.67667°N 95.94528°W / 40.67667; -95.94528
551–5 0.8 mi SSE of Palmyra, NE 40°41′40″N 096°22′50″W / 40.69444°N 96.38056°W / 40.69444; -96.38056
551–6 4.5 mi N of Tecumseh, NE 40°25′53″N 096°11′23″W / 40.43139°N 96.18972°W / 40.43139; -96.18972
551–7 2.1 mi WNW of Firth, NE 40°30′59″N 096°38′24″W / 40.51639°N 96.64000°W / 40.51639; -96.64000
551–8 4.3 mi SW of Beatrice NE 40°13′40″N 096°48′42″W / 40.22778°N 96.81167°W / 40.22778; -96.81167
551–9 6.7 mi W of Wilber, NE 40°29′02″N 097°05′18″W / 40.48389°N 97.08833°W / 40.48389; -97.08833
551–10 3.3 mi ENE of Bradshaw, NE 40°53′43″N 097°41′09″W / 40.89528°N 97.68583°W / 40.89528; -97.68583
551–11 3.0 mi NE of Tamora, NE 40°55′36″N 097°11′11″W / 40.92667°N 97.18639°W / 40.92667; -97.18639
551–12 2.9 mi NE of Brainard, NE 41°12′40″N 096°57′42″W / 41.21111°N 96.96167°W / 41.21111; -96.96167

See also[edit]

Map all coordinates using: OpenStreetMap 
Download coordinates as: KML · GPX


 This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency website http://www.afhra.af.mil/.

  • Maurer, Maurer, ed. (1983) [1961]. Air Force Combat Units of World War II (PDF) (reprint ed.). Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-912799-02-1. LCCN 61060979.
  • Maurer, Maurer, ed. (1982) [1969]. Combat Squadrons of the Air Force, World War II (PDF) (reprint ed.). Washington, DC: Office of Air Force History. ISBN 0-405-12194-6. LCCN 70605402. OCLC 72556.