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    Operation Skywatch



    Story by Tech. Sgt. Kayleigh Phillips 

    141st Air Refueling Wing

    The year is 1950 and an airplane flies overhead. From an observation deck mom picks up the phone and reports, “Aircraft flash. Papa-Hotel-Zero-Zero-Black. One multi-bomber. Very low. No delay. Bravo-Hotel-Three-Five-Black. West. Flying south.” A woman from an Air Defense filter center receives her report, “Check, thank you.”

    This scene was familiar to more than 800,000 volunteers who comprised the Ground Observer Corps. At its height, in the 1950s, volunteers manned more than 16,000 observation posts and 73 filter centers. Recruited by local civil defense authorities and the Air Force, civilians vowed to watch the sky for potential hostile aircraft intent on attacking their homeland.

    They were children, women, and men, spotting and plotting the movements of aircraft. Many watched on grassy knolls, empty shacks, YMCA rooftops and anywhere with an unobstructed view. Binoculars, a phone and a patriotic volunteer were the only prerequisites. The instructions were clear: If a hostile aircraft was spotted, run to the nearest phone and warn the filter center.

    The Air Force produced training books, guides, and videos to help identify aircraft. The GOC was trained to spot the difference between commercial and military airplanes, and the difference between types of military aircraft along with their identifying symbols. The training emphasized memorizing shapes of wings, tail, engine, fuselage and the overall configuration of each different aircraft. Pictures of the allied and axis airplanes were even distributed throughout schools.

    In the U.S., GOC was first formed when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and later dismantled and reformed again during the Cold War. The dedicated civilians were not only inexpensive to hire but easily recruited due to a panic caused after the Soviets detonated their first atomic bomb in 1949.

    At the time, the Soviet’s wartime potential was unknown. In 1950, the U.S. was at war with Korea; China had jumped into the war on North Korea’s side as well. With unknown potential threats the government and public took prudent precautions. Many even built bomb shelters and practiced what to do in the event of an attack.

    In the throes of uncertainty, a public relations campaign for Operation Skywatch was launched. Volunteers poured in and the program was integrated into the Air Defense system 24 hours a day.

    By the late 1950s, the GOC within the U.S. was slowly dissolved. The Distant Early Warning line, North American Aerospace Defense Command and Semiautomatic Ground Environment were established rendering the GOC unnecessary.

    The unique outpouring of public participation in military efforts was something the U.S. has not seen since the GOC disbanded.



    Date Taken: 03.05.2021
    Date Posted: 04.11.2021 14:22
    Story ID: 393559
    Location: SPOKANE , WA, US 

    Web Views: 317
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