Johnston Atoll: An Isolated and Abandoned Military Air Base in the Mid Pacific Ocean

johnston-atoll (Image via Google Earth; abandoned runway and base on Johnston Atoll)

There are numerous isolated military bases around the world, but few as remote as Johnston Atoll.  Located in the central Pacific and comprising little more than a vast runway, it’s not hard to imagine what sort of “under the radar” pursuits went on here over the years.

johnston atoll from space (Images via Google Earth)

Johnston Atoll, a United States territory, is a remote group of islands covering 50 square miles.  Chief among them is Johnston Island, with its now abandoned military base.  In 1926, an executive order established Johnston Atoll as a federal bird refuge, but control was transferred to the U.S. Navy in 1934 and the impressive runway still seen today was established.  Soon after, the former wildlife reserve became a nuclear weapons test site.

johnston atoll coral dredging (Image via U.S. Federal Government)

Originally a natural island atop a coral reef about 750 nautical miles west of Hawaii, Johnston Island has been enlarged tremendously over the years by coral dredging.  The result: a semi man-made island providing space for a expansive military base with accommodation for more than 1,000 people at its zenith.

uss lansing (Image via U.S. Navy)

As a U.S. Navy base, Johnston Atoll provided support and docking facilities for warships, such as the USS Lansing (above), in one of the most isolated regions of the Pacific Ocean.  The military runway (9,000 feet-long in its final incarnation) provided the main means of transport to and from Johnston Island, while the atoll was wired with 13 outgoing and 10 incoming commercial telephone lines.

johnston atoll nuclear (Images via U.S. Federal Government)

Between 1958 and 1975, Johnston Atoll was used as a nuclear test site for underground and above-ground nuclear weapons.  Several nuclear test missiles were launched from the atoll during “Operation Dominic” in 1962.  The image above (left) shows the ethereal glow of a high altitude nuclear test.  The second image shows the remains of a rocket engine after a failed test showered Johnston Island with plutonium debris.

johnston atoll rockets (Image via U.S. Federal Government)

Johnston Atoll also served as a launch platform for some of America’s first spy satellites and other scientific rockets.  But by 1993, its military mission had been scaled down to handle the storage and destruction of chemical weapons.  A 25 acre landfill on Johnston Island holds radioactive debris from the failed 1962 nuclear test, along with chemical residue from Vietnam and sarin nerve gas from the former Soviet Union.


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