History of the 1st Guided Missile Brigade

495th AAA Missile Battalion (Nike)

“Forever First”
495th AAA Missile Battalion Insignia by Jenn Jett, Museum Specialist

The 495th AAA Missile Battalion (Nike) continues to make history and to live up to its motto of “Forever First.” However, this unit was not always a Nike battalion. The parent organization dates back to 15 June 1942, when the 495th Coast Artillery Battalion (Anti-Aircraft) was constituted in the Army of the United States. This unit was activated on 20 July 1942 in Iceland, a part of the European Theater of Operations. At this time the Brigade Commander was Brigadier General Stanley R. Mickelson, now a Lieutenant General commanding the Army Anti-Aircraft Command.

On 13 October 1942, the 495th became the first all-American anti-aircraft unit to fire on enemy aircraft in the European Theater. A German Junkers 88 aircraft was brought down by their accurate fire, but crashed in the middle of an extensive glacier. Although the wreckage could be seen from the air, it could not be reached by any ground party. This fact prevented the unit from receiving official credit for the kill.

Personnel search through the wreckage of a Junkers 88 bomber downed on 18 October 1942. US Army photo. Retrieved from Stridsminjar.

On 5 September 1943, the unit was redesignated the 495th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Gun Battalion and was transferred to Scotland. Arriving there on 5 November 1943, the troops went through a period of intensive training and were subsequently given a sector of fire in the ring of anti-aircraft units defending the British Isles.  In England they participated in several engagement, but were not officially credited with bringing down any enemy aircraft.

Landing in France on 23 June 1944, the battalion engaged enemy aircraft for the first time on the Continent on 4 July 1944 in defense of Omaha Beach. While operating in France, the unit was credited with downing four and damaging five enemy airplanes.

The most important task of the battalion was yet to come. As the Allied Armies swept inland, they were faced with the tremendous logistical problem of supplying our forces. All of the Channel ports in Allied hands had been completely destroyed, and repair would require several months. The largest and best port on the Continent was Antwerp, Belgium, still in German hands. Through a lightning-like advance, the port was taken practically intact. Failure to destroy the port before being driven out caused the German High Command to concentrate on the destruction of Antwerp with flying bombs.

Well over 2,000 V-1’s and several V-2’s were launched against Antwerp beginning on 24 October 1944. The 495th engaged 1,165 V-1’s and is credited with destroying 252. This figure does not reflect the true accuracy of the guns of the battalion. Sometimes a unit was awarded only a fraction of a credit due the fact that credit for a downed aircraft was divided among all units firing it. Actually, during this period the battalion submitted claims on 614 flying bombs.

This footage shows the operations of the “Antwerp X” air defense chain working to destroy the threat posed by V-1 “Buzzbombs.” Retrieved from FootageFarm.

The following paragraphs are taken from a letter to the Battalion Commander from the Brigade Commander on the eve of its departure from Antwerp in April 1945:

“Facing a problem, the solution of which was imperative, with almost no precedents to follow, and under conditions demanding the greatest initiative and livelihood, you, your officers, and men have worked with tireless energy and skill and have accomplished your assignment in a manner which merits the highest praise. That this command has succeeded in its mission beyond all expectation is due in no small part to the efforts of your command.

It has not been possible for reasons of security for the world to know, up to this time, of the importance of our mission and of the far-reaching effects which its successful accomplishment had on the progress of our campaign against Germany. When this story is told and your part in it is known, I am positive that our people will realize the fine part 495th Gun Battalion had played in the war.”

The battalion left Antwerp and set up defenses on the Rhine River. Shortly after this move, the war in Europe ended, and the 495th was designated the task of disarming German antiaircraft units in a given sector. On 30 October 1945, the battalion was deactivated at Bad Neustadt, Germany.

During the war, the battalion’s primary mission was the antiaircraft defense of harbors, railroad yards, bridges, and beachheads. However, units of the battalion were used for other types of missions. Some participated in the famous “Red Ball Express,” a mixed organization which transported supplies twenty-four hours a day to our fighting forces. The battalion also supplied a small task force used in the anti-tank role. In addition, a unit was trained to act as infantry if the need should arise.

On 22 September 1952, the battalion was reactivated at Fort Bliss, Texas, as a Regular Army unit. It was designated as the 495th AAA Battalion, Light, Mobile, 75mm, the first Skysweeper unit in the Army. Training on this new weapon progressed rapidly, and, in August 1953, two line batteries were redesignated as separate batteries and were sent to Thule, Greenland. Subsequently, on 10 August 1953, the battalion was designated as the 495th AAA Missile Battalion, becoming the first surface-to-air guided missile (Nike) unit in the Army. At the time, the battalion consisted of A, B, and Headquarters Batteries. However, on 20 September 1954, C and D Batteries were activated.

An M51 Skysweeper anti-aircraft system sits on display at Rock Island Arsenal. US Army photo.

In December 1954 and January 1955, the battalion fired an Annual Service Practice at Red Canyon Range, New Mexico, being the first Nike unit to do so.

During the period January 1955 through August 1956, the battalion provided troop and equipment support for the Annual Service Practice of the Army Anti-Aircraft Command’s Nike battalions.

In January and February of 1956, Battery A was the first Nike unit to participate in an Air Transportability Test. This test was conducted at Biggs Air Force Base under the supervision of Continental Army Command (CONARC) Board Number 5.

In April 1956, the battalion again fired its own Annual Service Practice at the Red Canyon Range. The “off-set” method of shooting was employed with B-45 aircraft as targets. The organization was the first to fire an Annual Service Practice using this method.

On 20 December 1956, the battalion was reorganized under Table of Organization and Equipment (TO&E) 44-145P (1956) and thus became the first semi-mobile Nike battalion in the Army.

During the period from 7 January 1957 through 6 April 1957, the battalion trained for and participated in the Troop Test of the semi-mobile Nike Ajax battalion. By doing so, it became the first Nike battalion in the Army to operate in the field as a semi-mobile unit.

On 5 April 1957, Battery A fired the first Nike Ajax missile to be launched at the McGregor Missile Range, Batteries A & C fired a total of six missiles in connection with the Troop Test and those missiles were the first missiles fired from field-type emplacements by a troop unit.

On 3 June 1957, Battery D moved to Camp Desert Rock, Nevada on a temporary change of station in order to become the first Nike unit to participate in a “Desert Rock” exercise.

8 thoughts on “History of the 1st Guided Missile Brigade

  1. Wonderful article and I enjoyed learning about this unit. I have the same pin that belonged to one of my mothers brothers but it isn’t yellow it is red or burgundy colored. Would this be from another battalion? Any information would be appreciated.

  2. This is a wonderful one and ai enjoyed reading about this battalion. I have the same pin but it is t yellow. It is red or almost burgundy colored. It belonged to one of my mothers 3 brothers but I don’t know where they served or anything about their military careers. Any information or assistance about the pin would be appreciated.

  3. My father served in the 1st AAA Guided Missile Bn. Started out as a machinist and ended up as personnel sgt major before being discharged in ‘46. I’ve been wondering about the graphic with the red and yellow v-2 that appears on the title page of each chapter. Is it an official insignia of the unit?

    1. Good Morning, thank you for your comment! The logo depicted is not an official insignia recognized by the US Army Institute of Heraldry. However, it was used as the unit’s unofficial logo and appeared on several unit history documents from the late-1940s into the 1950s that we have in the museum archives.

      1. Thanks so much! I plan to be at the range for a NASA sounding rocket launch in August. I’d like to learn whatever I can about the early history when my father was there.

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