W -25: The Davidsonville Site and Maryland Air Defense, 1950-1974


Mr. Cole is Public Affairs Officer for 5th Security Battalion, Maryland State Guard.

DRIVING WEST ALONG MARYLAND route 214 (Central Avenue) from Annapolis, the traveler encounters a stop light at the junction with Route 424. Seven-tenths of a mile past the light, across from the Davidsonville Elementary School, a somewhat narrower hard-surface road angles in from the left. Queen Anne Bridge Road alternates between straight stretches and twisting turns. The scenery varies from open fields and neatly maintained homes to thick woods crowding the berm. A mile from Central Avenue, Queen Anne Bridge Road joins a pleasant country lane called Wayson Road. At this intersection, a small yellow sign carries the warning "MILITARY ENTRANCE." On the left, in the "V" formed by the junction of the two roads, stands a somewhat sinister looking facility: one-story buildings enclosed by a chain link security fence, topped by strands of barbed wire and coils of rusting barbed tape. Incongruously, a metal sign attached to the fence announces "ANNE ARUNDEL RADIO CLUB." Just down Wayson Road, another sign, this one green, points along Elmer F. Hagner Lane to the entrance of the Anne Arundel County Police Academy. If the traveller, like many who happen upon this scene, slows to investigate, he will notice signs on the buildings conveying distinctly civilian activities: a Boy Scout troop and a day care center. Suspended from a dilapidated guard shack, a small wooden plaque identifies "D.F.R.C." The Davidsonville Family Recreation Center now occupies a site which was once part of the last-ditch defensive screen around the nation's capital.

More accurately, the facility provided one segment of an aerial "umbrella." Located less than 20 air miles from the U.S. Capitol building, it was the fire control center of a Nike-Hercules surface-to-air missile (SAM) battery. The buildings and shelters now used to train police cadets housed the "business end" of the battery. Twelve missiles, each tipped with a nuclear warhead, lurked in concrete shelters, ready to destroy any Soviet bombers which had managed to evade Air Force interceptors. The Hercules missiles were never fired, for the bombers never came. The story of the Davidsonville facilities, known in military parlance as "Site W-25," is illustrative of the broader story of air defense operations which shielded the Baltimore-Washington area from the mid-1950s to late 1973. It is a story largely untold.


America's air defense program sprang from the experiences of the Second World War, in which Allied bomber raids had inflicted severe blows to Germany's ability to sustain its war effort by progressive destruction of industrial, transportation and military centers. Hundreds of thousands of German civilians in such cities as Dresden, Hamburg and Berlin paid the price as the Luftwaffe's flak, radar and night fighter capabilities were demolished. In the Far East, America's relentless "strategic bombardment" offensive incinerated Japan's five largest cities, culminating in the nuclear devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The battles for air supremacy left an awesome legacy to the post-war world: jet fighters and bombers, nuclear weapons, long-range missiles, and thick antiaircraft belts around critical locations.


Distilling this experience and assessing the post-war threats, the American military created a system of overlapping defenses to protect the Continental United States (CONUS) from aerial attack by the Soviet Union. At this time, the ultimate air weapon was the manned bomber, although attention was being devoted to perfecting reliable ballistic missiles of intercontinental range. The planners were spurred by Russias detonation of an atomic bomb m September 1949 and a hydrogen bomb four years later.

As early as February 1949, the House Committee on Armed Services had recommended allocation of $85.5 million. for establishment of a land-based radar aIr warning and control system. The plan envisioned eight Air Force-commanded aIr defense areas, encompassing all of CONUS, for peacetime operation, to be supplemented with a further twelve areas of Air National Guard mobilization in the event of war. The Air Force was assigned principal responsibility for, and command and control over, CONUS air defense, with the sister services providing forces as required. During 1948, this division of effort had been hammered out in the so-called Key West and Norfolk "roles and missions" agreements, subsequently formalized in Department of Defense Directive 5100.13

Among its myriad missions, the Army was assigned an air defense role: to "organize, train and equip. . . antiaircraft artillery units" and "to provide Army forces as required for the defense of the United States against air attack. . . ."2 The Army did not, however, create a specific air defense command until July 1, 1950, immediately after the Korean War erupted. On that day, the Army Antiaircraft Command, commonly known by the acronym ARAACOM, was activated. Even though it was a major command reporting directly to the Army Chief of Staff, ARAACOM initially had only planning and training oversight functions. Not until April 10, 1951, did it assume actual command of Army air defense units. By July of that year, ARAACOM directed a total of 38 antiaircraft artillery battalions from its headquarters at Ent Air Force Base, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Half of those battalions were Regular Army, and the remainder were in the Army National Guard. Guard units were included under a September 1952 agreement, primarily because the Regular Army had insufficient battalions to meet mission requirements. The first Guard on-site battery opened in March 1954 at New York City. In August 1954, ARAACOM became Army's contribution to the U.S. Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD), a unified command under Air Force executive control. CONAD was charged with the overall defense of CONUS, including Alaska, from air attack. Army air defense forces in Alaska, however, remained under a separate command (U.S. Army, Alaska) rather than bemg subordinate to ARAA COM3

Antiaircraft artillery unit deployment patterns and organization structures were founded on a basic precept of air defense doctrine. Since it was obviously impossible to protect all of CONUS, it was necessary to concentrate available resources around critical industrial, military and civilian population centers - the primary objectives of an air attack. Initially 23 vital areas were selected by the Joint Chiefs of Staff for coverage. On-site antiaircraft firing batteries were controlled by Air Force air defense direction centers, which also controlled fighter-interceptor aircraft. Conventional gun strength peaked in 1953, at 61 gun battalions, comprissing mostly left over World War II ordnance: 90-mm. and 120mm. cannon, 40-mm. and .50-calibre multiple automatic weapons. A few firing batteries boasted the most sophisticated antiaircraft guns ever fielded by the United States, the radar-directed 75-mm. Sky-sweeper. But even this superior weapon was inadequate to match the performance of jet aircraft, which would become increasingly prevalent in Russia's inventory after 1953. A contract for development of an Army SAM had been let in February 1945. This project came to fruition in December 1953, when the first operational Nike-Ajax went into service with the 36th Antiaircraft Artillery (AAA) Missile Battalion, at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland.


The Ajax, first in a series of guided missiles developed under the Nike program, permitted a radical change in Army air defense deployment. Ajax was a pencil shaped, liquid-fueled missile with a solid propellant booster which fell away after burnout. The missile (without booster) was 34 feet long, with a one-foot diameter and weighing nearly one ton at launch. It carried three high-explosive warheads, aggregating 300 pounds, to a maximum range of 25 nautical miles, and a maximum altitude of 11 miles, at Mach 2.54 Being radar guided, the Ajax was vastly more efficient than conventional gun artillery: a single missile was employed to be capable of destroying targets which an entire battalion of 16 120-mm. guns would have to fire 600 rounds, at maximum rate, to equal. Advent of Ajax permitted ARAACOM to phase out large numbers of Regular Army gun batteries. By 1955, there were more missile than gun batteries in the Regular Army, and conversion to "all missile" was completed in June 1960. Equally significant, because of Ajax's extended range, fire units could now be relocated from "downtown" sites, and still destroy attacking aircraft before they reached their bomb-release line.5

In January 1956, the Secretary of Defense assigned ARAACOM exclusive responsibility for SAM's used in "point" or local defense. On March 21, 1957, ARAACOM was redesignated Army Air Defense Command (ARADCOM), since the term "anti-aircraft" -associated with gun batteries-had fallen into disfavor. Six months later, CONAD (including ARADCOM) became the American contribution to NORAD-the joint U.S.-Canadian North American Air Defense Command. Under a bilateral treaty, the NORAD commander (an Air Force general) was responsible for coordinating all continental air defense activities. The Canadian and American air forces were responsible for detecting targets at the earliest moment, identifying targets as friend or foe and engaging the targets at maximum range to destroy them, turn them back, or at least reduce their number"inflict attrition," in military parlance.

(Thus, "area defense" was an Air Force mission, as opposed to the "point" defense role of ARADCOM.) A manned bomber surveillance network accomplished the detection function through the Distant Early Warning and Mid-Canada radar lines. Offshore, radar coverage was extended by "barrier forces" comprising picket ships, Air Force and Navy radar aircraft patrols, and "Texas tower" radar stations. Data from early warning radars were fed into SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment), an Air Force sector-level command and control system. Sectors were "the basic unit for fighting the air battle." and constituted a subdivision of the broad regions into which NORAD had divided the continent. SAGE centers attempted to identify intruders, and in turn fed tracking data to Air Force and ARADCOM control and direction centers. When the intruder entered a band of "contiguous radar coverage" overlapping the United States-Canadian border, SAGE would initiate attack by "scrambling" fighter-interceptor squadrons and launching Bomarc missiles. (The Bomarc was a nuclear tipped, ramjet powered guided missile with a range of 400 miles at Mach 2.5, operated by the Canadian and American air forces.) If the area defense provided by these weapons failed, SAGE continued tracking and passed information to ARADCOM fire control units. ARADCOM's Nike batteries then came into play as "the ultimate defense" of the protected localities. Battery fire was coordinated by an Army Air Defense Command Post (AADCP), operating either the Missile Master or BIRDIE (Battery Integration and Radar Display Equipment) systems. Missile Master, which first became operational with the 35th Artillery Brigade at Fort Meade in December 1957, assured that no unengaged intruder aircraft penetrated the defended area and that only one battery attacked a particular target. The system could coordinate a maximum of 24 firing batteries. BIRDIE could control up to 16 batteries.6


ARADCOM's ultimate air defense missile arrived on the scene in mid-1958, when Hercules, second of the Nike family, began to replace Ajax in several batteries. Development of the new missile had begun the same year Ajax became operational (1953). Hercules, like Ajax, heralded a significant expansion of air defense capability. Solid-fueled to facilitate launching preparation and reliability, the dart-shaped Hercules measured 42 feet long and 3 feet in diameter, blasting off at 5 tons. With four boosters, Hercules streaked toward its target at Mach 3.6, reaching a maximum altitude of 29 miles with a range of 80 nautical miles. Unlike Ajax, Hercules devastated attacking bomber formations with a 120pound nuclear warhead. (Conventional high-explosive warheads were also fitted to some Hercules.)7

ARADCOM strength peaked in 1963, with 184 firing units (134 Regular Army, 50 National Guard) on-site. However, beginning in September 1968, the command was subjected to almost annual realignments and reductions. On February 4,1974, the Defense Department announced that ARADCOM would be inactivated, excepting the 31st Air Defense Artillery Brigade, which had been activated during the Cuban Missile Crisis (October 1962) and would remain on duty in southern Florida. By December 31, 1974, ARADCOM's remaining regional headquarters, eight groups, 13 battalion headquarters, and 48 Hercules firing batteries were closed out. ARADCOM headquarters was inactivated January 4, 1975.8

ARADCOM and its subordinate units has fallen victim to technological advances, interservice rivalry, experiences in the Vietnam War (where conventional gun batteries proved deadlier than Soviet-supplied SAMs), and international arms reduction movements. The Defense Department had been aware of Russia's increasing reliance on ICBMs in lieu of manned bombers. Since 1955 ARADCOM and the Army Department had been the most persistent advocates of anti-ballistic missile (ABM) development and deployment. The Army's Nike-Zeus ABM program had been abruptly terminated in 1963, and the apparent salvation heralded by the Sentinel/Safeguard ABM program-for which ARADCOM was assigned operational responsibility-was negated by signature of the 1972 Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty. SALT effectively killed all United States ABM preparations, and with them ARADCOM's last chance to claim a viable mission.9 One source succinctly summarized the rationale for deactivating the command:

As the United States [by signing the SALT accords] has relinquished the option for continental defense against strategic missiles, the Department of Defense has placed a lesser priority of maintenance of the existing posture of defense against manned aircraft. Future efforts will be directed toward operations that will provide long-range warning of a bomber attack and improved air space surveillance and control.10


Responsibility for air defense of the national capital was assigned to the 35th AAA Brigade, which transferred from Fort Bliss, Texas, to Fort Meade in February 1950. Major components of the brigade included a group headquarters and four battalions. During 1951 the mission was expanded to include planning the defenses of Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Norfolk. Special emphasis on implementing Baltimore's defense came in October of that year. Additional group headquarters and battalions arrived during 1951 and early 1952 as the brigade built up to full strength. In April 1952, these units began moving to their permanent sites, a phase completed by July 31. The 208th AAA Group defended Baltimore, while the 19th AAA Group secured the nation's capital.

In December 1953, the 36th AAA Missile Battalion, headquartered at Fort Meade, initiated the Army's Nike-Ajax conversion program by trading its guns for missiles. Many of the 35th Brigade's subordinate gun battalions were inactivated and closed out or turned their sites over to National Guard units in converting to Ajax. On March 28, 1956, the "Washington-Baltimore Defense" was activated under operational control of the 35th AAA Brigade. "Defense" was the ARAACOM/ARADCOM administrative designation for a protected locality within a region. Control of tactical units (groups, battalions and batteries) within a defense was exercised by brigades such as the 35th until December 1973,


at which time brigade echelons fell to the budget ax and were replaced by groups (the 23d for Washington-Baltimore)11

Maryland military forces entered the expanding air defense picture in November 1955, when the Army Department allotted the 683d AAA Battalion (90-mm. Gun) to Maryland's Guard. The new battalion was organized and federally recognized November 21. Lt. Col. Thomas F. Cadwalader, Jr., was named commanding officer, with headquarters at the Golden Ring/Route 40 site, one of four turned over by the Regular Army's 602d AAA Battalion. The other sites were: Moore Avenue/Oakleigh Road (Parkville), North Point/Eastern Avenue, and Sollers Point. On October 1, 1956, a second antiaircraft battalion, the 684th, was allotted and federally recognized. Command was entrusted to Lt. Col. George M. Gelston, headquartered in Towson. Gelston's unit assumed control of four additional sites on the Baltimore perimeter, formerly manned by the 89th AAA Battalion (Regular Army): Smith Avenue/Pim12

The decision to reassign antiaircraft artillery gun sites to National Guard units was part of a nationwide plan aimed at freeing Regulars to man the new Ajax sites. Guard operation of gun sites was also considered more economical since dormitories, mess halls, and other amenities required by Regulars could be dispensed with when "home town" troops were assigned. The 90mm. guns, which fired a 24-pound explosive shell to an effective ceiling of 7.5 miles, were retained in locality defense schemes to "deal with any bombers which might get through" the rapidly forming Ajax screen. Getting state units operational proved a considerable task.


Neither guns nor ammunition were authorized until the battalions could recruit to minimum operational strength, including the critical complement of skilled radar, electronic and fire control technicians. In this regard, Maryland faced the same difficulty as other states participating in the on-site program. Shortages were so acute that normal age limits for new enlistees and reenlistees were liberalized nationwide. Even after guns and ammunition were received, Guardsmen were not permitted to fire their weapons except in case of actual attack. This prohibition was necessary due to the siting of the batteries in heavily populated areas where muzzle blast and falling shell fragments would prove hazardous. Practice firing, against radio-controlled drones, was accomplished at the antiaircraft artillery range at Fort Miles (Bethany Beach), Delaware.

Each battalion was authorized 540 men. Recruitment efforts concentrated on men living in the general vicinity of battery sites, under a concept which envisioned crews functioning somewhat like a rural volunteer fire brigade: when the alarm sounded, crewmen were to rush to their guns to assist the one officer and 15 Guardsmen on full-time duty there. During the recruitment period, the gunless sites served as quasi-social centers, where family gatherings were held and food was provided to the needy on holidays.13

In October 1957, Maj. Gen. Milton A. Reckord, state adjutant general, announced the Army National Guard had been directed to take over five Ajax sites around Baltimore. Following a period of on-site training and formal schooling at the Army Air Defense School, Fort Bliss, men of the 683d and 684th would forsake their obsolete 90-mm. guns and move into the Jacksonville, Granite, Fork, Cronhardt and Fort Smallwood Ajax sites. This conversion was part of a nationwide Army plan, formally announced in December 1957, to upgrade Guard capabilities while releasing Regulars for Hercules duty. The plan bore first fruit in September 1958, when California's 720th AAA Missile Battalion, the test unit, took over an Ajax site in the Los Angeles Defense. The conversion program was complete by June 1961, with Guardsmen operating a total of 76 Ajax sites.14

In anticipation of this weaponry change, Maryland's gun battalions were reorganized and redesignated 683d and 684th Missile Battalions (Nike), effective January 15, 1958. Similar reorganizations came to Virginia's 125th (Alexandria) and the District of Columbia's 340th and 380th gun battalions.15

On March 1, 1959, the National Guard Bureau authorized General Reckord to activate two more air defense units. Headquarters and Headquarters Battery (HHB)-691st Artillery Group (Air Defense) would serve as the tactical command for the state's growing air defense contingent. The group commander was also designated State Air Defense Officer (SADO). A new fire unit, the 103d Missile Battalion (Nike-Ajax) was allotted simultaneously, to permit Marylanders to occupy two sites which, although situated in southern Maryland, were previously manned by the District of Columbia Guard. (The District's missile battalions were converted to other types of Guard units.) The 103d-an HHB and two rather than the usual four firing batteries-was immediately redesignated "686th," but was never actually organized. Instead, the 683d, 684th and 686th were consolidated into 70th Artillery, a "parent regiment" under the Army's Combat Arms Regimental System (CARS). Since the 684th was the "senior" battalion, its coat of arms and distinctive insignia were assigned to 70th Artillery. By June 1, state air defense forces were aligned as shown in Table 1.16

On Wednesday, September 23, 1959, the first two Ajax sites were formally turned over to state troops under an "interim agreement" between General Reckord and the ARADCOM commander. Battery D - 1st Missile Battalion (Lt. Co!. Carl W. Schmidt) moved to Fork (Site Baltimore-09), while Battery D-2d Missile Battalion (Lt. Co!. Joseph E. Howell) took over at Cronhardt (Site BA-92). At that time, ARADCOM planned for Maryland's Guard to inherit Ajax sites at Granite and Fort Smallwood by January 1960, to be followed by Croom Station, Accokeek and Gaithersburg six months later17


( Table 1 omitted )