WICHITA — Kansas played an integral role in Cold War history. According to Oklahoma history professor Landry Brewer, author of "Cold War Kansas," during the Cold War, Kansas had 39 intercontinental ballistic missiles pointed at the Soviet Union.

In his book, which was published Aug. 24, 2020, by Arcadia Publishing/The History Press, Brewer examines the national Cold War strategy and how Kansans lived with threats to their way of life.

Because Kansas was in the middle of the country and had three U.S. Air Force bases, the government decided to place ICBMs in each of these three locations. Forbes Air Force Base in Topeka operated nine Atlas E intercontinental ballistic missile launch sites, while Schilling Air Force Base in Salina housed 12 Atlas F ICBMs, and McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita operated 18 Titan II ICBMs.

"Had these 39 intercontinental ballistic missiles been fired, they would have reached their Soviet targets in less than an hour, delivering nuclear bombs hundreds of times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II," Brewer said.


The nine sites housed at Topeka's Forbes Air Force Base housed an Atlas missile 82.5 feet long and 10 feet wide and was capable of reaching speeds of 16,000 mph in flight.

"The nine missiles were stored in horizontal launch sites, dubbed ’coffins,’ near Bushong, Delia, Dover, Holton, Osage City, Overbrook, Valley Falls, Waverly and Wamego," Brewer said.

Each of these missiles were buried underground and had a retractable roof. Building the missiles was dangerous.

"Two men died during construction of the Forbes AFB-area sites," Brewer said. "After the Atlas missile program was phased out in 1965, the missiles were removed, and the sites were sold."


Five men died while building the Schilling AFB-area sites. This Air Force base, Brewer said, was widely perceived to be on a Soviet target list.

"The Atlas F missiles were the first ICBMs stored vertically in hardened, underground silos," Brewer said. "Attached to each silo by an underground tunnel was the launch control center where a five-person Air Force Crew lived 24 hours a day, ready to launch the missile if necessary."


Wichita's McConnell AFB housed the most ICBMs in the state. Titan II also has the distinction of carrying the most powerful nuclear warhead of any American missile. One person died during the Titan II’s construction.

Brewer said all the McConnell sites were deactivated by Aug. 8, 1986. Afterward, usable equipment was removed, and the empty silos were dynamited and filled.

President Eisenhower

Brewer, a history professor at Southwestern Oklahoma State University, first wrote this material in a paper but soon realized he had enough information for a book. His fascination with documenting the Cold War began with his research into this time period in Oklahoma.

Along with missiles, the book talks about civil defense, survival techniques and President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

"Kansans need to know his (Eisenhower’s) very important role during the Cold War," Brewer said. "Kansas was believed to be in the crosshairs in the event of a nuclear exchange."