History of the 1st Guided Missile Brigade

550th Field Artillery Rocket Battalion (762mm RKT)

“Striving to the Highest”
550th/30th FA Unit Insignia from the Army Lineage Series: Field Artillery

The 550th was originally organized as the 2nd Battalion, 30th FA Regiment, effective 4 June 1941, Camp Roberts, California. Together with the 40th and 85th FA Regiments, the 20th FA Brigade was formed.

The 30th FA Regiment was primarily armed with the 155mm Howitzer. Lt. Colonel John M. Hamilton was the 550th’s first commanding officer. The unit was originally set up at East Garrison Camp Site on Camp Roberts. When the officers from the 550th arrived, the area was not suitable for occupancy. Much work had to be done before anyone moved in. The bulk of the troops arrived for training on 20 June 1941.

Routine training in Field Artillery methods was the order of the day until December. On December 7th, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. All leaves were cancelled, and the men were drawn back into camp. Orders were received from headquarters. Western Defense Command, that the 30th FA Group was to support the 7th Division, located at Fort Ord, California. Rifles were drawn from all sources and the battalion began training to fight as infantrymen as well as artillerymen.

On 11 December 1941 a directive came from the Western Defense Command which ordered the battalion to move to San Jose, California, where billets were set up in near-by Los Gatos, California.

25 December, Christmas Day, was tense. However, the batteries were well taken care of. The men carried weapons and packed with them to Church and each battery was fed at a different Church in Los Gatos.

2 January 1942, orders were received transferring the 30th FA Regiment to the Southern California sector of the Western Defense Command and assigning it to Orange, California. Orange possessed no military facilities so the troops were billeted in such places as Woman’s Clubs and Churches. Training was continued and Howitzer positions were constructed along the coast to meet any attack that might occur.

The M1918 Schneider Howitzer was used by the US Army from World War I until well into World War II. Photo retrieved from Olive-Drab.

On 4 May 1942, the battalion boarded trains for Camp Murray, Washington. On 24 May 1942 the battalion sailed from Seattle for Kodiak, Alaska. This move made the 550th a separate unit from other units in the 30th FA Regiment. The battalion arrived at Kodiak Island on 31 May. The battalion stayed in the tent city at Fort Greeley, Alaska.

It was feared that the Japanese were going to attack Alaska via the Aleutians; however, such an attack never did materialize. The batteries were prepared for such an attack had it occurred.

Tent City remained home for the 550th until January 1943 when a movement to wooden barracks was begun. After the move from Tent City, the battalion’s weapon was changed from the 155mm Howitzer to the 155mm gun.

The battalion began taking lessons on Coast Artillery methods and proved very efficient. The Service Battery was split into two detachments to man six-inch Naval guns as a part of the Coastal Defense at Yakatat and Annette Landing, Alaska.

08 March 1944, the battalion was placed on alert for shipment back to the Continental United States. The group actually sailed on 13 April. They arrived in Seattle on 20 April 1944 and convoyed to Fort Lawton. Orders were received transferring the battalion to Camp Pickett, Virginia. Again, the primary weapon of the battalion was changed from the 155mm gun to the 155mm Howitzer. While in Alaska the battalion commander changed from Lt. Colonel Hamilton to Lt. Colonel Kenneth W. Gardner.

There was a permanent change of station from Camp Pickett, Virginia to Camp Butler, North Carolina. This was made on 17 July. On 31 August there was another permanent change of station, this time to Fort Benning, Georgia. Then, on 13 December, there was another permanent change of station to Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

The year 1945 opened up with several tests and bivouacs. The remainder of the month of January was spent preparing for overseas movement. Strength at this time was 41 officers, 2 warrant officers, and 547 enlisted men. The unit moved to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. From there, they moved to the New York Port of Entry, and on 26 February, sailed for Europe.

On 11 March, the unit arrived at Le Havre, France, and departed for Camp Lucky Strike. From here the unit moved to Dieppe, France. Here the battalion became a member of the 15th Army.

On 12 April, word was received that the battalion would furnish four POW teams consisting of one officer and thirty enlisted men each. Also on that day, the battalion moved from Dieppe, France to go to Simmern, Germany. The POW teams were transported from Dieppe to St. Vallery.

Upon arrival at Simmern, the battalion was attached to the 54th AAA Brigade and advised that it would act as Security Troops for an area along the Rhine River. The primary mission was impressing the populace with the presence of American troops and doing general police and security work.

Battery C moved from Bad Kreuznach to Baumholder, Germany on 17 May preparatory to taking over the Displaced Persons Camp there. On 25 May Service Battery departed from Kirn, Germany and moved to St, Wendel, Germany.

 The next day, the rest of the battalion moved to St. Wendel, Germany, and was completely relieved of its mission of military Government Police and came directly under the XXIII Corps Headquarters for training. The unit was attached to the 209th FA Group and continued training until 9 June.

Service Battery left St. Wendel 11 June and moved to Neuerburg, Germany, and was followed by the rest of the battalion on 12 June 1945. Battery A took up new permanent station at Mettendorf, Germany, Battery C at Steinbruck, Germany, and Battery B at Daleiden, Germany. In this area the battalion took up duties as Frontier Security Guard.

All units of the organization departed from these locations on 3 July and moved to Bitburg, Germany. It was the first time the battalion had been together as a unit in several months.

On 8 July the battalion moved again, this time from Bitburg, Germany to Camp Miami. At this location mist of the equipment was turned in. The next ten days were spent in preparing for the return trip to the states. On 21 July the unit moved to Camp Phillip Morris, the battalion moved to Le Havre, France on 28 July where it boarded a ship for the return trip.

The beginning of August found the ship on the high seas and on 6 August, the ship docked in New York. The battalion moved to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. Most of the men were granted 30-day leaves. A skeleton crew remained to move the battalion to Camp Kilmer, N.J. On 6 September the men returned to Camp Swift from leave. The end of September found the battalion undergoing a redeployment training schedule. The month of October was spent preparing the men for civilian life to which most of them would soon return.

Due to the decrease in personnel, C Battery was placed on an inactive status.

December saw more officers and men being separated, and the remainder of them in leave. What few remained behind were on Christmas schedule from 24 December until 3 January. December ended with a total strength of 20 officers, 2 warrant officers and 96 enlisted men.

In January 1946 the battalion changed its training program. This time, it was to train the men to become members of cadre. This program was initiated 7 January and was augmented by several new officers from Fort Sill, Oklahoma. On 4 February it was learned what the destiny of the unit was to be. On that date deactivation orders were received. The strength at the time was 82 enlisted men, 2 warrant officers and 19 officers. The enlisted men were transferred to the 717th Tank Battalion and the officers to 5th Headquarters & Headquarters Detachment, Special Troops, 4th Army, Camp Swift, Texas. This brought to an end a unit which had been active for 4 years, 7 months and 22 days. At the time of its deactivation there were no original members still in the organization.

On 10 February 1952, the organization was activated at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and attached to a 280mm Battalion as 4th Battery. October 1953, the 550th FA Rocket Battery came to Fort Bliss, Texas, and was assigned to 2nd Group to support Board No. 1.

In April 1954 the 550th FA Rocket Battery trained Honest John cadre of other Honest John units.

In April 1955, the 550th FA Rocket Battery sent a well-trained launcher section to Fort Benning, Georgia, to fire in a demonstration. After firing successfully, the 550th received many commendations.

In August 1955, the 550th sent approximately 50 enlisted men to Fort Greeley, Alaska, for testing. In September 1955, the 550th FA Rocket Battery sent approximately 22 enlisted men to Stallion Site Camp for testing warheads. A detachment at White Sands Proving Grounds, New Mexico, was supporting the 550th detachment at Stallion Site Camp. In April 1956, the 550th FA Rocket Battery all joined together for the first time in years at Fort Bliss, Texas. In September 1956, the unit went to the organization of the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Here the unit gave a demonstration and received many favorable comments on it.

An Honest John crew work on their missile and launcher, which carries a sign labeled “Explosive.” WSMR photo.

In October 1956, the unit went to Fort Stewart, Georgia, for the purpose of firing rockets under climatic and terrain conditions. In November 1956, the unit went to Fort Benning and gave a demonstration for the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference there. In January 1957, the unit sent a detachment of men to Fort Carson, Colorado, to fire the rocket under the cold conditions prevalent there. In May 1957, a detachment was sent to Fort Sherman, Panama Canal Zone to fire under jungle conditions.

Leave a Reply