History of Thule

It is generally believed that the first settlers came to Greenland about 4000 years ago. Around 985 AD the first northerners came to Greenland and settled down on the west coast between Julianehab and Godthab. Greenlanders have lived in the settlement now known as Dundas for the past 900 years. Actual proof of this has been found in the so-called “Commers Midden” just north of Mt. Dundas (named after an English nobleman, Lord Dundas).

The military installations at Thule were first constructed during World War II, when the U.S. in 1941 invaded Greenland due to Nazi German occupation of Greenland's colonial power Denmark. By 1951 sufficient improvements to the infrastructure had been made to station some bombers here during the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

A board of AF officers made a recommendation to pursue a base at Thule in November 1950; it was subsequently supported by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and approved by President Truman. To replace the agreement entered into during WWII between the US and Denmark, a new agreement with respect to Greenland was ratified on April 27, 1951 (effective on June 8, 1951). At the request of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the agreement became a part of the NATO defense program. The pact specified that the two nations would arrange for the use of facilities in Greenland by NATO forces in defense of the NATO area known as the Greenland Defense Area.

Thule AB was constructed in secret under the code name Operation BLUE JAY. Construction for Thule AB began in 1951 and was completed in 1953. The construction of Thule is said to have been comparable in scale to the enormous effort required to build the Panama Canal. The Navy transported the bulk of men, supplies, and equipment from the naval shipyards in Norfolk, VA. On June 6, 1951 an armada of 120 shipments sailed from Norfolk, VA. On board were 12,000 men and 300,000 tons of cargo. They arrived Thule on July 9, 1951. Construction took place around the clock. The workers lived on-board the ship until quarters were built. Once they moved into the quarters, the ships returned home.

The base was initially designed as a forward base for staging SAC bombers and tankers. It was designed and built to house 12,000 personnel (during the peak period it housed approximately 10,000 with personnel living at Camp Tuto, BMEWS/J-Site, Camp Century, P-Mountain, in Nike Sites, and at Cape Atholl). It was built with a 10,000-foot (by 200’) runway and a fuel storage capacity of about 100 million gallons (the largest in DOD—built to support mid-air refueling of the B-47 bombers).

Buildings were built using Arctic (Clements) panels. These large panels were used commercially in the 1950s to build large walk-in refrigerators. So, in essence we are living in refrigerator boxes, but instead of keeping the contents cold they actually keep us warm. In addition to the building structure the engineers had to devise a plan to build the structures on the permafrost. The new buildings were going to be heated and would melt the permafrost. If that happened then the buildings would sink. So, the engineers constructed the current buildings on pilings. The pilings allowed the air to circulate under the buildings and remove the heat from the structure. This prevented the buildings from sinking. Most buildings were built in 60 days in 1951. The 1000-foot pier (Delong Pier) was constructed from 8 barges towed from the Gulf of Mexico placed on caissons and stabilized alongside a rock-filled causeway.

On August 18, 1951, the new airstrip was inaugurated with a visit from the Air Force Chief of Staff General Hoyt S. Vandenberg. Operation Blue Jay was completed in a short 104 days. On October 23rd, the last construction crews left Thule but 400 men were left behind as a caretaker force through the winter of 1951/52. The next spring a major part of the workforce returned to expand the base. In November 1952, when the Air Force took control, Thule was considered operational. By fall 1953 the bulk of the construction was complete.

In 1958 and 1959 additional construction consisted of five new barracks, a dining facility, the airmen’s club, two BOQs, a technical library, and two warehouses. In 1959 and 1960 the base common water and sewage distribution mains were constructed. Up to that point all water delivery and sewage pickup was accomplished by truck! In 1960 the over-the-road, heated, and insulated pipeline system was completed.

In 1961, a Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) radar was constructed at J Site, 13 miles north east of the base. BMEWS was developed by the Raytheon Corporation in order to provide North America warning of a transpolar missile attack from the Russian mainland and submarine-launched missiles from the Arctic and North Atlantic Oceans. The four fixed antenna, 400 feet long and more than 300 feet high, were larger than a football field turned upright. It was during this period that Thule reached its maximum manning, about 10,000 personnel.

Because of its northern location, Thule also provides support to a wide range of logistical resupply operations and arctic scientific studies. Whether it’s missile warning, satellite control, aviation support, or arctic studies, Thule plays a key role in America’s national security.

In the spring of 1953 the Greenlandic Village of Thule, located at the base of Mt Dundas, was moved 65 miles north to Qaanaaq (Kanaq), on Red Cliff Peninsula. The Inuits said that the noise and smells from the planes and ships frightened away the walruses, seals, polar bears, and birds essential to their cultural survival. They moved so that hunting and fishing could continue without disturbances from the activities of the modern air base.

The information above is excerpted from a web page provided by RootsWeb and Ancestry.com