Historical Articles

This page features articles, posts, blurbs, and other informational pieces related to WSMR History. If you would like to submit an article to be published on our website, please send us an email at usarmy.wsmr.museum@mail.mil.

Sleeping Beauty Awakens

LASL’s Sleeping Beauty was an experiment on the design of an alpha-n initiator – the first in a series of such tests. Equipment was located in an underground bunker at Trinity Site in the New Mexico desert, some 250 miles south of Los Alamos – and only 1,600 feet from ground zero of a spectacular success, the world’s first nuclear explosion. But Sleeping Beauty did not involve the use of fissionable material – and she was an embarrassing failure.

Operation Paperclip at Fort Bliss: 1945-1950

Germany’s use of its V-1 jet-powered flying bombs and V-2 rockets during the latter stages of World War II ushered in the era of guided missiles. After the war, as tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union increased, both countries sought to develop their own arsenal of guided missiles.

The 200th Coast Artillery Regiment and the Bataan Death March

“We’re the battling bastards of Bataan;
No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam;
No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces;
No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces.
And nobody gives a damn.
Nobody gives a damn.”

“The Voice of Freedom (radio broadcast) kept telling us, ‘Hold out for two more days, help is on the way.’ We could have taken the truth. But they lied to us.”

History of the 1st Guided Missile Brigade

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.

In 1970, An Athena Missile Went Deep Into Mexico

On 11 July 1970, Athena missile number 122 was launched from Green River, Utah, in the middle of the night. Like the previous firings, which the Air Force began in 1964, this Athena was programmed to impact on White Sands Missile Range. Instead, project and range personnel watched helplessly as it rocketed south heading deep into Mexico.

Green River: The Utah Launch Complex

Explore the remnants and learn the story of a United States military missile testing laboratory from the height of the Cold War (1962-1974) hidden in the canyon lands outside of Green River, Emery County, Utah.

The Early Development of the Nike Missile

Named after the goddess of victory of Greek mythology, Nike is the end product of eight years of guided missile research, development, and engineering. Nike is the Army’s first supersonic anti-aircraft guided missile designed to follow and destroy the enemy target regardless of evasive action. It is the first guided missile system to defend American cities against aerial attack.

Editor Jumps Deeply Into Trivia Rabbit Hole

If White Sands was established on July 9, how likely was it that there would already be buildings in place that very day, a staff already on site, a flag pole surrounded by a circle of rocks, ambulances for the ceremony and spectators?  It dawned on me that we are talking about magic for that to be true – the kind of thing you see in cartoons. The Army was certainly good at construction by the end of WWII but there is no way they could accomplish all of this in a few days.

Making History 75 Years Ago At White Sands

For a 15 March 1946 German V-2 rocket demonstration, Lt. Col. Harold Turner, first commander of White Sands Proving Ground, invited 500 military personnel and 100 Las Cruces community leaders to watch. Although it was a static firing, meaning the rocket was bolted down, it was the first time a V-2 rocket motor was ignited on American soil. After hearing so much about the German vengeance weapon during WWII, visitors expected to see and feel a show of power. They got more than they expected.

The 1983 War Scare

Some of the weapons tested at WSMR had a great impact not only for their military uses, but in a larger geopolitical context. One of these is the Pershing II missile and the role it played in the 1983 “War Scare.” Because of President Ronald Reagan’s heated anti-Soviet rhetoric, fears the Soviet Leadership and KGB had of an American first strike, and events of 1983, the US and USSR came closer to nuclear war than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

The Los Alamos Main Gate

Life at Los Alamos

In November, 1942, Dr. Robert Oppenheimer and Colonel John Dudley visited Jemez Springs, near the Valles Caldera – a large volcanic crater and field in northwest New Mexico. Having considered other locations for the creation of a laboratory, the group found themselves in this remote part of New Mexico in pursuit of a location to bring together the various scattered groups who had been working on “problems” relating to the potential creation of a nuclear bomb.

The V-2 Program: Operation Backfire to the Hermes Project

Although America was slow to recognize the work of Doctor Robert Hutchings Goddard, his work was well known in Germany where experimenters had designed the V-2 rocket engine using his ideas. There was evidence that the Germans had followed Dr. Goddard’s work closely from his first published paper. It was apparent that the V-2 rocket, while much larger, was almost identical to missiles that had been tested at Roswell, New Mexico.

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

By May 22, 1945, the first captured V–2 rocket components were being transported to Antwerp for shipment to the new Proving Ground. By June 30, evacuation of Peenemünde personnel to the United States was approved. Actual construction at WSPG began on June 25, with water-well drilling. Camp construction began on June 29, with the re-erection of three barracks buildings moved from Sandia Air Base near Albuquerque or Camp Luna near Las Vegas, NM.

Project Galileo Testing at White Sands Missile Range

On December 7, 1995, an aerodynamic probe containing an array of scientific instrumentation was launched toward the large gaseous planet Jupiter to perform the first-ever direct measurements of its atmosphere.  It took this probe, along with a companion orbiter, about 6 ½ years to travel from the earth to the largest planet in our solar system.  Before the probe was ultimately destroyed by the immense pressure encountered in Jupiter’s lower atmosphere, it had relayed to the orbiter, and subsequently to the earth, large amounts of scientific data that altered some of humankind’s long-standing knowledge of this strange distant world.

The Hermes Program

By Darren Court, Museum Director/Curator and the WSMR Public Affairs Office

M712 Copperhead

By Jenn Jett, Museum Specialist

The Trinity Test Site

Compiled and Written by Gerry Veara, White Sands Missile Range Historical Foundation

A Brief History of Rocketry – Early Rockets to Goddard

The earliest rockets were Chinese. They developed crude rockets attached to a stick by 900 A.D. These “arrows of flying fire” were used to repel Mongol invaders at the Battle of Kai-Fung-Fu In 1232. Traveling the Silk Road across Asia, and other trade routes, rockets – called “rochetta” – were seen in Italy by 1379. Joan of Arc would have seen them in France by 1429. Captured rockets from the Indian subcontinent were studied and modified by Sir William Congreve at the Royal Laboratory at Woolwich Arsenal, England, in 1804. Such rockets were fired at Fort McHenry in Baltimore harbor in 1814 – “the rockets’ red glare” referred to in The Star Spangled Banner. They and Hale rockets were used during the Mexican War and, on 3 April 1862, Confederate General Jeb Stuart fired rockets on U.S. troops during the Peninsula Campaign in Virginia.