A Brief History of White Sands Proving Ground, 1941-1965

The Korean War


International events taking place in 1950 had a major impact on the U.S. military establishment and operations at WSPG. In January, President Truman approved development of the hydrogen bomb. By April, the National Security Council had prepared NSC 68, which redefined the Cold War in military terms, calling for the buildup of a nuclear arsenal and expansion of conventional weapons to counter the Soviet threat. The nuclear arms race had begun.

On June 25, North Korean troops crossed into South Korea and President Truman committed U.S. forces to its defense. Late in the year, the United States and South Vietnam signed a Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement. Together, these events dramatically spurred guided-missile development programs in the defense agencies.

In February, the Navy announced the tests of Mighty Mouse, the first successful air-to-air rocket. The Air Force established nearby Sacramento Peak Observatory to study solar radiation. The first HAFB 3,550-foot High Speed Test Track was completed on June 15, and the first unloaded Snark launch-sled test took place on June 23, reaching a top speed of 101 miles per hour. The new Army Ordnance Missile Center was established at the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, and von Braun’s scientific team, composed of more than 100 captured German scientists stationed at Fort Bliss and WSPG since 1946, was transferred in November.

On May 19, 1950, the Army unsuccessfully launched the first Hermes A–1 antiaircraft missile (based on the German Wasserfall). In August, attention shifted to the Air Force high-altitude balloon program. On August 8, Capt. Vincent Mazza set a new altitude record of 42,176 feet, parachuting from a balloon. This record was surpassed three weeks later by Capt. Richard Wheeler, who parachuted from 42,449 feet above Holloman. That same day, HAFB personnel launched the first Wright Field Aero-Medical Laboratory high-altitude cosmic radiation balloon from WSNM. On November 21, the Navy Viking V was launched from LC-33 and set a new single-stage altitude record of 107 miles. The first flight-test of Snark on December 21 proved unsuccessful when the missile disengaged from its sled below flight separation speed and was destroyed.

Technicians work on a Hermes standing vertically on its static stand.
Today, a Hermes missile on loan from the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum sits in the Gantry Crane on LC-33.

During 1951, the inter-service debate about the Proving Ground chain of command continued. WSPG completed construction of its new headquarters, the Post Administration Building No. 100, in January. The Air Force reorganized its missile program, including Holloman, under an independent command, the Air Research and Development Command (ARDC). On March 29, an Aerobee launch from HAFB was broadcast on nationwide radio. Run No. 15 at the Test Track produced the first successful Snark launch and uprange test flight on April 16. Two days later, the first Aerobee flight carrying a monkey took place.

Meanwhile, in March and June, the final two Air Force Cambridge Research Center Blossom tests, IV–E and IV–F, suffered tail explosions shortly after launch. Another American redesign of a German antiaircraft concept, Loki (based on Taifun), was launched from the new Small Missile Range. The Douglas Honest John surface-to-surface missile (SSM), which became the first post-war operational American missile, was also test fired at the Proving Ground. In August, the Navy’s Viking set another single-stage altitude and speed record of 135 miles at 4,100 miles per hour. On September 20, Aerobee carried a monkey and 11 mice (the first living creatures to survive outer space) to an altitude of 236,000 feet. This flight provided the first successful recovery of animals from a rocket flight. In November, a Nike–Ajax achieved the free world’s first successful anti-aircraft interception by destroying a B-17 drone over WSPG.

The Navy Talos program, an outgrowth of the original 1945 Bumblebee Project’s experiments in ramjet propulsion, had progressed at the Naval Ordnance Test Station in China Lake, CA, to the point that it needed an extended range. Talos was transferred to the Navy Launch Area at LC-35 on WSPG.

A Nike-Ajax SAM launches from LC-33. The Army Blockhouse is on the right.
“Talos on launcher receiving last minute adjustments before firing.”

The year 1952 marked a continued expansion of test programs and further integration of the range. Another phase of the Cold War began with the first hydrogen bomb test on November 1, at Eniwetok Island in the Pacific, and President Truman officially lay the keel of the world’s first atomic-powered naval vessel, U.S.S. Nautilus. In February, the Aberdeen BRL transferred range instrumentation responsibilities to the new WSPG Flight Determination Laboratory. In May, Public Land Order 833 withdrew on-range public lands from the public domain, and additional Fort Bliss acreage was transferred. On August 19, the Secretary of Defense established WSPG as a permanent Class IV activity under the command of the Chief of Ordnance. On September 1, HAFB and WSPG ranges were consolidated by order of the Secretary of Defense. On September 22, the WSPG Commanding General issued General Order 30, Plan for the Operation of the Integrated Range, just three days after the 73rd and final V–2 was fired at the range.

In July 1952, WSPG Commander, Brig. Gen. G. G. Eddy, and Dr. J. W. Branson, NMAMA, initiated the College Student Cooperative Program. The first launch of the Type 1 tactical version of Corporal took place in August, and the first Navy Talos at WSPG was fired in October. At Holloman, the 33rd and final Snark Test Track flight took place on March 28. Snark was immediately succeeded at the Test Track by Sandia Corporation’s Project Sleighride, which tested the effects of impact, deceleration, and rainfall on a “free rocket special warhead” for the Atomic Energy Commission on behalf of the Ordnance Corps, U.S. Army. On September 20, the first Rascal ASM was launched at Holloman. In late October, the newly integrated range broadened its mission to an international scale with the announcement that the Swiss Oerlikon missile was to be tested from Tularosa Range Camp.

A USAF Rascal being towed by tractor on the flightline.

10 thoughts on “A Brief History of White Sands Proving Ground, 1941-1965

  1. Having been stationed at Stallion site Jan. 1962 until Sept. 1963, I found this article extremely interesting as well as educational. Thank you authors for a fine job.

  2. Thank you for this information. My dad served his duties here and I was able to see what he was involved in. He passed many years ago and I did not get an opportunity to share with him. Thanks Joe Hubbard

  3. in the late 40,s 1946-47 my dad was a paratrooper in training on the east coast in the 101 airborne, preparing for a 2 nd invasion, should the first one have failed. due to a training accident, he was transfered to white sands missle range in about 1946 where he was a mechanic on the V-2 rockets, Unfortunately we have no pictures of my dad while there due to the secrurity concerns, He did recall to me the German scientists who arrived on base, also recalled the V-2 that went off couse and landed in Mexico, and finally he like to tell about the adventures he had chasing down V-2 s for recovery of the debris using a tank as pursuing vehicle.

    It would be wonerful to hear from any on who might have known my Dad and worked with him, He passed away in El Paso, over 45 years ago. We miss him so much, and we are so proud of him.

    Tom Warner

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