The Beginnings: History of Rocketry
Mark the year 1232 A.D. – the birth of the tactical rocket: “Arrows of Flying Fire” were used in China to defend the city of Kai-Keng (Kaifeng). Over 700 years later, in 1947, the U.S. Army guided missile was born when the 1st AAA Guided Missile Battalion was formed and launched the first missile fired in the United States by an all-soldier crew.
The missile, rocket-powered and fueled with aniline and liquid oxygen, was the WAC Corporal B; the battalion, the Army’s first guided missile unit, was the forerunner of the 1st Guided Missile Group.
In the seven hundred years between these events, the bow, the arquebus, and the cannon have come and gone; but the rocket persisted. It appeared in Central Europe in the 14th Century and was dormant again. Then, World War II: In quick succession came the German Panzerfaust, the American Bazooka, and the beginnings of long-range artillery missiles. The Third Reich, frustrated by 20 miles of English Channel and 20,000 Allied aircraft, birthed the V-1 and V-2, midwifed and christened “Vengeance Bombs” by Hitler. Over 1,500 of these missiles struck England and the destruction was shocking.
Meanwhile, the United States had faced British rockets in the War of Independence; tried conventional artillery, experimented with piloted aircraft – rejected both – and come full-circle back to the rocket. Only, this rocket thought for itself; human error, meteorological changes and evasive action were all corrected for by the missile in flight. This is “internal guidance,” distinguishing the guided missile from its rocket predecessors.
With World War II over, newspapers had to be sensational to capture a reading public blasé and jaded by headlines of V-E and V-J Days, Yalta, and the Atomic Bomb, and they turned to guided missiles:
The millennium was upon us; moon travel – why, even space travel was coming. This was 1946, and while flamboyant speculation captured headlines, the First Antiaircraft Guided Missile Battalion quietly evaluated its first four months of operation.
Robert Goddard, the Father of America Rocketry, was already dead; but from his lifetime of experimentation in private and government research, the United States Army moved to capture missile supremacy. In October of 1944, the report: “Initiation of Army Ground Forces Guided Missile Program,” led to the activation of the first [Anti-Aircraft Artillery] AAA Guided Missile Battalion on 11 October 1945.