History of the 1st Guided Missile Brigade

The 1st Guided Missile Brigade in 1957

Launch personnel countdown during a test firing of a Nike Hercules surface-to-air missile.

10… 9… 8… 7… 6… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… FIRE!

This is the countdown procedure preliminary to the firing of a missile. It is the time when each missile-man anxiously awaits the thundering roar of the missile leaving the launcher. It is familiar to the thousands of U.S. Army personnel who during their career have been a part of the 1st Guided Missile Brigade in its five years of existence.

In World War II, Allied Intelligence warned us that our enemy had developed a new kind of weapon, a missile unique in that it was guided electronically and powered by a rocket motor. This weapon was called the V-2. Later on, during the war, our Army captured the first of a number of these weapons. Our Army gave much thought to such a new weapon and in order to assist in research and testing of this and other missiles, organized the 1st Guided Missile Battalion in October 1945.

This battalion gave way in May 1948 to the 1st Guided Missile Regiment. Further growth necessitated an even larger type unit and thus in April of 1950, the 1st Guided Missile Group was born. This field of new missiles, like any other new field, was undergoing a process of evolution: until in November of 1952, the 1st Guided Missile Group was expanded to from the 1st Guided Missile Brigade.

A captured German V-2, with its external components labeled, on display at White Sands Proving Ground. WSMR photo.

When the U.S. Army fired the first V-2 missile at White Sands, New Mexico in April 1946, it might be said that, as the first missile left the launcher, a story of a new unit, in a new field, destined to prove its value in the defense if its country, was being written.

After experimentation with the V-2 missile had begun, the personnel of the embryonic 1st Guided Missile Brigade began to test and fire the “Loon.” The Loon was a small, relatively short-range missile that was propelled by means of a pulse-jet. The Loon was the U.S. Army’s counterpart to the German V-1 or Buzz Bomb, which was used against England during World War II.

The next missile to be fired by members of the Brigade, was the WAC Corporal, a long slender missile. The WAC Corporal was used by White Sands Proving Grounds personnel to set a new altitude record of 250 miles above the earth, when fired as a two-stage missile, with the V-2 missile serving as the initial phase.

The “Lark” was the first surface-to-air missile with which the Brigade worked. It was a pioneer effort in developing an effect missile to combat aerial targets.

Three of the first missiles tested at WSPG, from left to right: Loon, WAC Corporal, and Lark. WSMR photos.

The pioneer effort of the Lark gave way to the development of the Nike Ajax, a new surface-to-air missile, used throughout the country.

The 1st Guided Missile Brigade employed three basic missiles in 1957. They are: Corporal, Honest John and Nike Ajax.

The Corporal, a surface-to-surface missile, is designed for use in support of ground combat operations. Equipped with either a conventional or nuclear warhead, the Corporal is capable if penetrating deeper into enemy lines than our heaviest artillery. Neither weather nor visibility restricts the use of this supersonic missile.

The Honest John is a 762mm free-fired rocket. This particular missile has been found to be very accurate, despite the fact that it has no guidance system. The nuclear capabilities of this missile are such that one hit by an Honest John can deliver the demolition effect of hundreds of artillery shells.

The guardian of our skies, the Nike Ajax, is a deadly efficient surface-to-air guided missile. It is employed in the air defense system of most of the large cities throughout the United States. The 1st Guided Missile Brigade has conducted the training of those personnel who form the nucleus to the various Nike installations located in the air defense system of our Nation.

The three missile systems used by the 1st Guided Missile Brigade in 1957. From left to right: Corporal, Honest John, and Nike Ajax. WSMR photos.

The 1st GM Brigade, in addition to conducting firings at White Sands Proving Grounds, maintains three missile firing ranges of its own.

Orogrande Range, located near White Sands Proving Grounds, is used for firing the Corporal. Both experimental missile firings and Annual Service Practice firings are conducted at this range.

The two other missile ranges are for training and Annual Service Practice for the Nike guided missile. McGregor Range, which is located North of Fort Bliss, is used for Nike package training and Red Canyon Range Camp, which is located near Carrizozo, New Mexico, is used for Annual Service Practice for the various Nike missile battalions that are spread throughout the country.

The 1st GM Brigade is justly proud of its history and some of the milestones it has passed in accomplishing the many missions that it has been called upon to perform. The 100th Corporal firing, at Orogrande Range, the 100th Honest John firing, and the 1,000th Nike missile firing, held at Red Canyon Range, are an example of a few of these milestones.

With the growing importance of the guided missile field, the 1st GM Brigade will seek to produce more highly trained personnel in a field that is ever expanding and that is so vital to our country.

The final chapter in the history of the 1st Guided Missile Brigade can only be written after the flame of the last rocket motor has vanished in space and it has been said “Mission Accomplished.”

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