The Atomic Age began in August 1945 when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. World War II soon came to an end, but another conflict was already on the horizon. Clarksville Base would eventually play an important role in the new and dangerous Atomic Era.
During World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union were allies. They put aside their differences to defeat a common threat. The cooperation between the United States and the Soviet Union ended when their distrust of each other led to the division of Europe into two armed camps. Over time, western European nations aligned themselves with the United States and many eastern European nations willingly or unwillingly became part of the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence.
A relationship turns to conflict
In the late 1940s, the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union deteriorated. For more than forty years, the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in political, economic, and military conflict. This period of time was called the Cold War. The conflict was described as “cold” because the armies of the United States and the Soviet Union never directly fought each other. The United States believed that the Soviet Union wanted to expand its control over more territory and adopted a policy called “containment.” The goal of this policy was to prevent the growth of the Soviet Union and communism. Despite great tension, the two countries never directly attacked each other, because they feared that the conflict would result in nuclear war.
The United States considered nuclear weapons critical for its survival. Military planners were convinced that the threat of nuclear weapons would stop the Soviet Union from attacking the United States and its allies. Creating a large stockpile of nuclear weapons became a top priority. The military needed facilities to securely store, maintain, and prepare these weapons for use.
Clarksville Base was the second nuclear weapons storage facility to begin active operations in the United States. It was one of six National Storage Sites (NSS), facilities where the majority of the nation’s stockpile was stored. The remaining seven sites were Operational Storage Sites (OSS), used for staging weapons for quick deployment. National Storage Sites were jointly established and controlled by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project (AFSWP). This dual control of nuclear technology in the United States was established by the Atomic Energy Act of 1946. Under the act, the civilian Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was responsible for the research, development, manufacture, and delivery of nuclear technology. The Armed Forces Special Weapons Project (AFSWP) was the AEC’s military counterpart. It was responsible for storing, guarding, testing, and deploying nuclear weapons, as well as nuclear weapons training for the military.
The military began construction on Clarksville Base in 1947. Like all other National Storage Sites, Clarksville Base was built within an existing military installation. The Army gave approximately 2,600 acres of its maneuvering grounds at Fort Campbell for construction of the base. Fort Campbell was considered an excellent location for a National Stockpile Site. It provided ready access to existing air and rail transportation, and its location in western Tennessee and Kentucky was removed from major population centers. At one point in time, a third of the United States’ nuclear stockpile was stored at Clarksville Base. The Soviet Union considered the base a critical part of the United States’ defense infrastructure and placed it on the list of the first ten sites to destroy in the event of a nuclear war. Clarksville Base functioned as a storage facility and subsequently a modification facility until progress in weapons technology made it obsolete. Operations at Clarksville Base ended in 1965, and control of the facility was transferred to the Army in 1969.
Clarksville Base tells the story of a nation willing to go to great lengths to defend its liberty and preserve its way of life. Fort Campbell acknowledges the significance of Clarksville Base as a tangible record of the early Cold War. The Army is committed to preserving Clarksville Base and is working diligently to protect many of the most significant buildings and tell the stories of those who served here for future generations.