Broken Arrow

How the U.S. Navy Lost a Nuclear Bomb

Jim Winchester

The extraordinary story of the loss of a U.S. plane with a live nuclear bomb on it during the Vietnam War in 1965, and the subsequent cover-up.
Date Published :
March 2019
Publisher :
Illustration :
60 black and white photographs
No associated books available.


The extraordinary story of the loss of a U.S. plane with a live nuclear bomb on it during the Vietnam War in 1965, and the subsequent cover-up.

On 5 December 1965, the giant American aircraft carrier Ticonderoga was heading to Japan for rest and recreation for its 3,000 crew, following a month on ‘Yankee Station’ launching missions against targets in Vietnam.

Whilst fighting a real conflict and losing men in conventional warfare, Tico’s primary mission was Cold War nuclear combat with the Communist bloc. The cruise from the Yankee Station to Japan was used to practice procedures for Armageddon.

Douglas Webster was a young pilot from Ohio, newly married and with seventeen combat missions under his belt. On that day in 1965 he strapped into an A-4 Skyhawk bomber for a routine weapons loading drill and simulated mission. After mishandling the maneuver, the plane and its pilot sunk to the bottom of the South China sea, along with a live B43 one-megaton thermonuclear bomb.

A cover-up mission began. The crew was ordered to stay quiet, rumors circulate of sabotage, a damaged weapon and a troublesome pilot who needed ‘disposing of’. The incident, a ‘Broken Arrow’ in the parlance of the Pentagon, was kept under wraps until 25 years later. The details that emerged caused a diplomatic incident, revealing that the U.S. had violated agreements not to bring nuclear weapons into Japan. Family members and the public only learnt the truth when researchers discovered archived documents that disclosed the true location of the carrier, hundreds of miles closer to land than admitted.

Broken Arrow tells the story of Ticonderoga’s sailors and airmen, the dangers of combat missions and shipboard life, and the accident that threatened to wipe her off the map and blow US-Japanese relations apart. For the first time, through previously classified documents, never before published photos of the accident aircraft and the recollections of those who were there, the story of carrier aviation’s only ‘Broken Arrow’ is told in full.

About The Author

Jim Winchester is a freelance writer of many years' experience who has written widely on various aspects of aviation. He is the author of several books including Fighter, Classic Airliners: Lockheed Constellation and Flight International’s World Aircraft and Systems Directory.


Chapter One: Eve of Destruction
Chapter Two: Warren, Ohio
Chapter Three: The Champions
Chapter Four: The Big T
Chapter Five: Shore Leave
Chapter Six: Yankee Station
Chapter Seven: Overboard
Chapter Eight: Cover-up
Chapter Nine: Hope and Tragedy
Chapter 10: Accident #28


“Winchester never loses sight of the human side of the story, remembering Webster with honor. Winchester’s informative and unnerving expose is a valuable contribution to the history of the navy, the cold war, and nuclear weapons.”

- Booklist

"The pictures are generally good and relevant. One especially interesting addition was illustrations of the nuclear-specific and general-subject safety flyers routinely posted on board."

- Air Power History

“Jim Winchester summarizes the dilemma of nuclear weapon disasters across the years—at least to the degree that the services have made them public. Overall, he illuminates virtually every lesson available about the incident.”

- The VVA Veteran

“This informative account will appeal to readers interested in the details of Cold War nuclear strategy or air operations during the Vietnam War.”

- Publishers Weekly

" entertaining look at what it was like to serve aboard an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War."

- Naval Aviation News

"... very good account of the title event, the loss of the aircraft and pilot, and of the nuclear weapon during a combat deployment, and of life aboard a “giant” carrier."

- The Skyhawk Association Journal

“In Broken Arrow, Jim Winchester illuminates a not-so-minor aspect of the overlapping Vietnam War and Cold War. In 1965 an A-4 Skyhawk carrying a nuclear weapon was lost overboard from USS Ticonderoga, with its unfortunate pilot. Through documents, interviews and analysis, Winchester’s thorough research probes deeply into the story, including official lies years after the incident became known."

- Barrett Tillman, author of On Wave and Wing: The 100-Year Quest to Perfect

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