The Mole Hole, Building 1303

This story is from a firsthand account. It is not copyrighted unless noted but we request anyone using this for other than personal use to credit the author and the museum.

In the 1950s, President Dwight Eisenhower, in conjunction with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, developed the “New Look” defense strategy which focused on greater reliance on nuclear weapons and the utilization of air power to deter war. The “New Look” strategy emphasized a high state of readiness at a reasonable cost, the strategic defense of the United States and allied nations, and dedicated American forces, particularly air power to support NATO missions.

At the core of the “New Look” were the strategies of defense through nuclear superiority and the threat of massive retaliation to any aggression. This threat was predicated on the possibility that the United States might not limit its response to future Soviet Union aggression as it had in the Korean War. The success of this strategy relied on making the underlying threat of retaliation so explicit and deadly that it would deter potential adversaries from their course of action.

Concurrently with the development of the “New Look” in the United States military overall, the Strategic Air Command (SAC) of the United States Air Force (USAF) experimented with replacing its aging aircraft with modern equipment that could respond effectively to the new mission of the USAF. Boeing met the need by developing the B-52 Stratofortress and the B-47 Stratojet. The B-52 was designed to carry a 10,000-pound bomb load 5,000 miles at an altitude of 35,000 feet and a minimum speed of 450 miles per hour, while the B-47 was capable of traveling 2,650 miles with a full bomb load, and was able to transport up to sixteen 1,000-pound bombs or one 22,000-pound bomb. An aerial refueling aircraft also needed to be developed in order to effectively use the B-47. As a result, Boeing designed and constructed the KC-97 Stratotanker concurrently with the B-47.

Prior to the development and deployment of the B-52, aircraft were parked on alert aprons configured at right angles; however, the size and the mission of the B-52 necessitated the reconfiguration of alert aprons from right angles to a herringbone configuration. This reconfiguration facilitated rapid deployment by allowing aircraft to be parked tail-in on the alert apron, which in turn allowed the planes to pull out onto the main runway in take-off formation. The success of the new configuration led to the widespread adoption of the design for other planes, including the KC-97.

SAC also realized the need for the development of specialized buildings to support the new aircraft and their missions; however, the development of alert facilities to house personnel attached to the various new aircraft occurred later than the development of the new aircraft themselves. In 1958, SAC hired Leo A. Daly, an architect from Omaha , Nebraska , to design three standardized buildings to hold 70, 100, and 150 men respectively. These facilities, nicknamed “mole holes,” were designed to house readiness crews while they were on alert status.

Building 1303 at Dover AFB is an example of the smallest version of the “mole hole”, and was constructed for the readiness crews of the KC-97s. The construction of Building 1303 and the associated alert apron were completed in 1960. Building 1303 was constructed as a two-story, concrete building that featured seven aboveground entrances and six underground tunnels. At one time, the building contained dormitory facilities, a latrine, a kitchen, a briefing room, and several classrooms. The concrete exterior was 16 inches thick. The associated alert apron, called the Christmas tree due to its configuration, was originally built for use by the KC-97s, and is still in use today for transient aircraft.

The original function of Building 1303 ended in 1965, when the KC-97s at Dover AFB were removed from ground alert. Building 1303 was demolished in 2005 to comply with new guidelines for clear zones.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments