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Nike History

History of the Niagara – Buffalo Army Air Defense 1952 – 1970 by Paul Robitaille
- and addendum to the above
is an excellent, with references, history of air defense in the United States,
then it gets local to give a local perspective.
Please note: parts of the following .html page are copied from
"A History of Engineering and Science in the Bell System: National Service in War and Peace (1925-1975)".
They are "copied with permission of AT&T" as per Frank Politano June 27, 1997.

Early Radars - also check Wikipedia

Immediate predecessors of Nike

Nike Information
Political/financial environment and Competing Air Defense Systems

T-10 Gun director (optical inputs) (started in 1940)
(summarized from "A History of Engineering and Science in the Bell System: National Service in War and Peace (1925-1975)"

Gun directors are the systems that accept target positions, make various pointing corrections for shell speed, shell flight time, shell fall from a straight line due to gravity, slowing of shell due to air friction, etc.

Before World War II gun directors generally used mechanical components to make these "calculations". They were "analog" computers as numbers were not used internally. Instead of numbers to represent distances, mechanical distance, pressure, or other mechanical variables ware added or subtracted or multiplied or differentiated or integrated or whatever. A slide rule (any one remember?) is an example of a manually operated analog computer.

These mechanical analog computers were precision machines and difficult to construct. (They were much more difficult to make, temperature compensate, and calibrate than an aircraft engine.) Also the technology seemed to be near its technical limits.

At the beginning of World War II, there was a question of how to construct the many thousands of these precision machines that would be needed quickly. The decision was made to use electronic analog computers instead of the mechanical analog computers. Fewer critical skilled people would be needed the electronic analog computers.

The T-10 was the first electronic analog computer designed for directing antiaircraft guns. Development started in late 1940. The computer "used dc voltage of both positive and negative polarity to represent the target's present and future position, its velocity components and the like."

The aircraft was tracked by two operators (one tracking in elevation and one tracking in azimuth) using transit type telescopes. The aircraft range (always an interesting problem) was from radar that was slaved to the telescopes.

The T-10 gun director was in developmental test when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Its performance was about as good as a mechanical director, and there were many ways that it could be further improved. A version for the British was called the T-24 and used with the British 4.5 in antiaircraft gun. A production version of the T-10 (with some design improvements) for the U.S. was called the M-9 and used on many fronts from early 1943.

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M-9 Gun Director (with radar inputs)
(summarized from "A History of Engineering and Science in the Bell System: National Service in War and Peace (1925-1975)"

The SCR-584 radar, a product of the Radiation Laboratory at M.I.T., was equipped with M-9 type potentiometers as part of its output function. This made the interconnection of the SCR-584 and the M-9 director very simple and straight forward.

This configuration, along with the very helpful proximity (VT) fuse, was the gun pointing system that was so successful against the German V-1 "Buzz Bomb".

Return to beginning of "history"

We now have a Wikipedia and its info :-))

Various kind folks have sent interestng URLs. "4of" sent . A development name is "Bäckebo". Dan Lasley sent which shows a picture of a person in German uniform operating a joystick, presumably controlling a Wasserfall.

Some folks suggest that the Wasserfall is a direct ancestor of the Nike.

Well, maybe -
I suggest that folks have been sending rockets into the sky for about a thousand years - Chinese history is not my strong point - and for all but the last 50 years rockets have been sub-par military weapons - the problem being guidance. The U.S. National Song mentions "Rocket's Red Glare" from the War of 1812 when the British did in fact have a few ships equipped with rockets intended to do damage. The experiment was short lived - as was the Wasserfall experiment by the Germans.

I propose that neither the British in 1812, nor the Germans in 1944, could get those rocket warheads near enough to the actual targets to do enough damage to make the effort worth while. Failed experiments.

There is no record that I know of which suggests that the German guidance of the Wasserfall (visual guuidance with joystick control) was successful. There is a suggestion that the Wasserfall was to have been exploded by acoustically sensing the noise of aircraft engines (acoustic proximity fuse). I suggest that a microphone mounted on a supersonic missile will hear so much missile and wind noise that it would never detect the target aircraft engine/propeller noise.

The whole Wasserfall project sounds to me like engineers at play, not serious work.

I propose that the U.S. Nike Ajax, with

  • sophisticated target and missile radar tracking,
  • computer command guidance,
  • sufficient controls in the missile for stable flight,
  • a reasonable method of command guidance,
  • a reliable method of exploding the warhead at a good place near the target
was the first useful operational Surface-to-Air guided missile system. And that the Wasserfall was just some background noise, not even a step in the correct direction.

I was a little kid - before the federal government regarded everyone as a terrorist. Potassium nitrate was freely available, (although I did have trouble getting potassium perchlorate - probably fortunately). I was one of those little kids that need and appreciate tolerant neighbors - like small and medium sized rockets went whizz/bang all over the place - fortunately no one was maimed nor traumatized. I have some appreciation how easy it is to get a rocket and payload high into the air, and how difficult it is to get a rocket/payload near a desired target. As Goddard demonstrated again and again, without guidance you only have noise and flame.

M-33 Gun Director (with radar inputs and acquisition radar)(start 1944)
(summarized from "A History of Engineering and Science in the Bell System: National Service in War and Peace (1925-1975)"

This was the next generation of gun director. The SCR-584/M-9 combination had been primarily optical angle input, with range assistance from the radar.

The M-33 was all radar input (angles and range) with a telescope to visually assure that the tracked target was in fact hostile type. More details :-))

Many of the components of the M-33 system were incorporated directly (with out significant change) into the Nike system. These included:

  • The acquisition radar (unchanged). Our acquisition radar prints bore the title "M-33". The PPI scope and controls looked very similar.
  • Most of the computer components. Including DC-amplifiers, zero set switches, ...
  • Plotting boards
  • Tracking consoles. Including A-Scopes, PPI scope, Precision Indicator scope, tracking handles, controls, ...
Two pilot models were made between 1948 and 1950. The production started in 1950.

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Nike Ajax
link to a ?White Sands Test?
  • "The Army's first surface-to-air missile defense program was based on a 17 August 1944 memorandum written by 1st Lieutenant Jacob W. Schaefer, U.S. Army (Ordnance), a former employee of Bell Telephone Laboratories. Schaefer proposed the development of a radio-controlled antiaircraft rocket that could be used to protect large target areas from bomber attack. The proposal outlined the concept of command guidance: one radar tracking the target, a second radar tracking the projectile, with steering commands provided to the projectile by a computer to enable interception.

    Copies of the memorandum were sent to the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and Bell Telephone Laboratory (BTL) for their consideration and comments. In February 1945, the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps and the Army Air Force asked Bell Labs to explore the possibility of ...

    In June 1945, Bell Labs and its manufacturing arm, Western Electric, began development of the new system, Douglas Aircraft Company was selected as the major subcontractor to design and manufacture the missile, booster, and launching equipment. The program was initiated by contract W-30-069-ORD-3182 ..."

    The above is quoted from "Rings of Supersonic Steel, Air Defenses of the United States Army 1950-1979 - an introductory history and site guide" by Mark L. Morgan and Mark A Berhow.

  • Robert Mattingly (Bell Labs) "designed many of the key elements of the Command Guidance System" (Link now dead)(Obituaries, 3rd person in list)

  • Bill Harmon tells his story

Many firms contributed tools, small parts, major missile parts, and ground support equipment. Most of the radar assemblies, computer assemblies and the battery control equipment have Western Electric markings and part numbers.

Western Electric was the Prime Contractor.
Douglas Aircraft designed and built the missiles, with a great deal of input from Western Electric (as per

A White Sands Missile Range web page has some interesting pictures of early Nike Ajax and the unusual booster.

In my not so humble opinion, I think they made a very good product.

Copied from "A History of Engineering and Science in the Bell System: National Service in War and Peace (1925-1975)" "Chapter 7 - Air Defense" section "1.2 Nike R and D"

" Project Nike, named after the winged goddess of victory in Greek mythology, came into being in February 1945 when the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps and the Air Force asked Bell Laboratories to explore the possibilities of a new antiaircraft defense system to combat future enemy bombers invading friendly territory at such high speeds and high altitudes that conventional artillery could not effectively cope with them. This study resulted in a verbal report in May 1945 followed in July 1945 by a written document called the AAGM Report ("A Study of an Antiaircraft Guided Missile system"). This far-sighted proposal represented the results of five months of very intensive study by a small, closely knit group of scientists and engineers, which included W. A. McNain, H. W. Bode, G. N. Thayer, J. W. Tukey, and B. D. Holbrook. It was vitally important to ensure the development of a new weapon so expeditiously that it could be tactically available by the time any enemy might conceivable have high-speed, high-altitude bombers in tactical operation. Therefore, the study group postulated that the defense equipment should be derived, as far as possible, from devices, methods and techniques well known and understood. Furthermore, the group argued, its development should not await the results of research projects that were still in a stage of uncertain success, such as those on ramjet engines, radically new fuels, and drastically new guidance or homing techniques. Another axiom of the system design philosophy was that the expendable projectile should be as simple and inexpensive as possible and thus leave the more complex and more expensive equipment on the ground, where it would have the benefit of routine maintenance and least severe environment. This aspect of the design philosophy was maintained through some 30 years of Bell Laboratories work on air defense systems.

The AAGM Report was considered a classic in its thoroughness because of its insight and scope covering a wide spectrum of disciplines from propulsion and guidance to prospective aerodynamics and because of the small amount of time (five months) required to complete such an in-depth study that formed a solid conceptual basis for the five years of R and D work that followed. The specific recommendations of the proposal were:

  1. a supersonic rocket missile should be vertically launched under the thrust of a solid-fuel booster, which would be dropped on completion of its function;
  2. then, self-propelled by a liquid-fuel motor, the missile should be guided to a predicted intercept in space and detonated by remote control commands; and
  3. these commands should be transmitted by radio signals at a time determined by a ground-based computer associated with radar that would track both the target and missile in flight.

Immediately after the verbal presentation of the AAGM Report in May 1945, the Army Ordnance Corps, with the agreement of the Air Force, assumed full responsibility for the Project Nike and charged Western Electric and Bell Laboratories with full responsibility for its development. Bell Laboratories realized that while its engineering staff comprised outstanding experts in the fields of radio, radar, communications, mathematics, computers, and servo systems, the job would profit from entrusting certain tasks outside these areas, notably those concerning projectiles and their propulsion, to specialists with previous experience in these branches of technology. The integration of the individual efforts into a smoothly functioning organization would remain the responsibility of Western Electric and Bell Labs, the prime contractor. The Douglas Aircraft Company (and later the McDonnel Douglas Astronautics Corporation), which had already been active in the missile field during World War II, was selected as the major subcontractor on the design of the missile, booster, and launcher. The relationship with Douglas grew into an essentially full partnership lasting for the next 30 years of work in the nation's defense. With regard to this team effort, the late Army General H. N. Toftoy, when acting as chairman for a classified presentation before the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences commented, "It is interesting to note that the success of the project under these conditions was made possible by the rapid communications and transportation provided by the peacetime products of two concerns - the telephone and the airplane."

The following is abstracted from the next 17 pages of text, diagrams and pictures from the same source and section: "The search acquisition radar required to complete the system was already under development as part of the M33 antiaircraft system." ... "One of the major projects was the development of tracking radar with a degree of accuracy never before attained. In the fall of 1945 a searching study of echo fluctuation measurements on airplanes in flight led to the conclusion that conical lobing methods would be inadequate to yield the smoothness and accuracy of data required for the Nike system. Rapid echo amplitude variations of 20 to 30 decibles (dB) had been measured. Hence, a more accurate radar in which a complete angle measurement was made every pulse, called monopulse, would have to be developed specifically to meet the Nike requirement of one-half-mil standard deviation of angular difference between the line of sight to target and the missile. ..." "Another important radar feature responded to the need for obtaining high transmitter power, with a wide range of tunability, to obtain the maximum protection against jamming. The tube department therefore developed two tunable magntrons for the Nike (and M33) track and search radars - one a 250-kW X-band magnetron, the other a 1,000-kW S-band magnetron. J. P. Molnar was responsible for the successful development of these advanced magnetrons, tunable over a 12-percent band. ..." "In the end, Western Electric produced 358 ground batteries and delivered 14,000 missile control and guidance units to Douglas for assembly in a similar number of Nike-Ajax missiles. ... "

?White Sands Test?

A person who wishes to remain anonymous sent the following photographs of a Nike Ajax test. The frames are taken from a U.S. Army movie - so are "Public Domain" (and presumably unclassified).
The pyramid looks like the major protective building for launches at what used to be called "White Sands Proving Ground" (modern name is "White Sands Missile Range") as background for a Nike Ajax. The final form of the missile and booster seems resolved. Note the non-smokey flame of the standard Nike booster.

This is the X-Y plotting board, adapted from the M-33 gun AA system, normally in a vertical position in front of the battery control officer. The green ink used in the plotting pens was like a stain, and could make a dreadful mess when reloading the pens. This unit was driven by the computer.

Another view of the X-Y plotting board, with a view of the Nike computer DC amplifier bays and the potentiometer bay to the right of the person's back in the background. To the right of the potentiometer bay is likely the computer power supply bay. The Nike computer is in its final form factor - four bays in this pattern.

More detail of the computer - note the two DC amplifier bays with a narrow ?test? bay in between them. The ?test? bay was not in the system as shipped to the field. The round zero set switches (with the little windows in a half circle around the center) were not used in this form factor in Nike Ajax. The production version seemed slightly smaller with a plain center.

The plotting board, (another plotting board "time-to-intercept vs altitude" is not shown), radar displays, a telephone switch board, various switches such as IFF and the launch switch, and some acquition radar equipment, ... would be in the battery control van for field use.
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Nike Hercules
The following is abstracted from section 1.5 "Nike-Hercules":
"...1953 ... As a result of this study, the Army asked Bell Labs to work with Douglas in exploring the possibility of adding a larger missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and extending the range of the system from 25 to 50 miles. (As it turned out later, the missile developed had a range of 100 miles, and improvements in the ground equipment alone actually increased the system range from 25 to 100 miles.)

The kill radius of such a warhead would force any enemy to space its attackers to avoid multiple losses. The resulting system change to Nike-Ajax, initially called Nike-B and later Nike-Hercules, was mane so that the ground system could fire both Nike-Ajax missiles and the larger, longer-range Nike-Hercules missiles from the same battery. ... The acquisition radar for the Nike-Hercules system was a modified version of that used in Nike-Ajax, the antenna of which looked much like the M33 antenna shown in Fig. 7-2.

One of the principal changes was the introduction of a traveling-wave-tube RF Amplifier that provided a low-noise-figure receiver giving greater range performance than the Nike-Ajax receiver. The target track radar was also modified to give much longer range performance, obtained in part through the use of a larger and more efficient antenna like the Cassegrainian parabolic reflector. ...

The designers established the requirements for such a radar operating in the L-band called "high-power acquisition radar" (HIPAR), and Bell Labs and Western Electric chose General Electric to develop and manufacture it. .... The "kill" of a Corporal ballistic missile in June 1960 marked the first intercept of a ballistic missile in this performance class. ...

Another capability of the improved system, the ability to detect and track targets in severe electronic countermeasure (ECM) environments, was demonstrated with equal success. ... The success of the overall Nike-Hercules program is illustrated by the 393 Nike-Hercules ground systems produced by Western Electric at its North Carolina Works and the more than 9,000 guidance units for the Douglas Hercules missile. ... "

Ken Behr provided a page showing Hercules deliveries per month, averaging about 10 systems per month during 1958 through 1960.

from Bill Shaffer - May 2007
Chicago-Gary Air Defense (45th Brigade) site C-61 at Lemont, Illinois, west of downtown Chicago, was the site of the nation's first nuclear-tipped Hercules installation.

Capt. Robert Lindemann commanded the conversion activity at the site, securely located on the site of the Atomic Energy Commission's Argonne National Laboratory.

AEC and DOD inspections occurred almost daily.

The 22nd Arty Group commander, Col. Avery W. Masters, was on-site virtually every day, as well.

Transition was smooth and the site was operational on time and on-budget.

Bill Shaffer

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Nike Zeus

The following is abstracted from section 1.6.3 "Nike-Zeus":
"In February 1957 the Army awarded Western Electric and Bell Laboratories prime contractor systems responsibility for development of an AICBM defense system and changed its name from Nike II to Nike-Zeus. With the growing concern for the ICBM threat, Bell Laboratories was asked by DOD and the Army to concentrate solely on the ICBM defensive missile and hence to terminate work on the seeker nose for air-breathing targets. ... One of the major research and development problems mentioned in AICBM reports to the Army and Air Force was the task of separating the reentry body from the various decoys and junk that might accompany it. ... Note that at this particular time radar measurements of incoming ICBMs were not available, since the first successful ICBMs were not flown until 1959-1960. ... Thus, three methods were considered to increase the angular field of radar coverage for examining the incoming cloud:
  1. scanning the TTR beam,
  2. increasing the TTR beam width,
  3. providing additional receiver beams in the same TTR focusing structure.
The third method was then proposed as the modification to the TTR, the result being named the "fly's eye" antenna. ... With these changes, and with pulse-collapsing chirp techniques for fin-range resolution together with multiple range-tracking circuits, high-data-rate signature outputs on objects in a cloud would be provided for radar signature and aerodynamic discrimination. ... "

and on for 30 more pages.

I do not provide more information as the Nike Zeus system as it was never released for large scale deployment.

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Dates in the History of the Nike program

Brian Devine reminds us that we took the Soviet words and positionings seriously. This was outside of a factory, and removed "recently".
In case folks don't remember, this is an air-raid warning siren.
  • 1945 Feb - OCO and the Army Air Forces issued a contract to Bell Telephone Laboratories to study the feasibility of an antiaircraft defense system using guided missiles.(0)
  • 1946, February 9, Stalin gave a rare public address in which he suggested the future wars were inevitable until the ultimate triumph of communism. Time magazine characterized Stalin's remarks as, "The most warlike pronouncement uttered by any top-rank statesman since V-J Day." Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas described the speech as "the Declaration of World War III." [William O'Neill, "American High: The Years of Confidence, 1945-1960" (New York, The Free Press, 1986), 66] (4)
  • 1948 Jun - USSR blocks rail and road connections to West Berlin. The U.S. and allies counter the "Berlin Blockade" with a massive airlift with a cargo plane landing in Berlin every three minutes, day and night. After about 6 months, the Soviets allow ground traffic again.
  • 1949 Aug - Russia detonated an atomic bomb.
  • 1950 25 Jun - North Korean troops armed with Soviet made weapons crossed the 38th parallel, invading South Korea. (0) Many authors state that this started the U.S. large scale concern about Soviet military operations against the U.S. Known Soviet atom bomb and long range aircraft capabilities were the principle threat at this time. Defense related spending tripled during the next year.
  • 1950 July 1, -immediately after the Korean War erupted, the Army Antiaircraft Command, commonly known by the acronym ARAACOM, was activated.
  • 1950, November - Red Chinese forces attack UN (and U.S.) forces along north border of North Korea.
  • 1951 - The Red China conquers Tibet
  • 1951 July - ARAACOM assumed actual command of Army air defense units, 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.
  • 1951 - 16 Aug The OCO assigned Redstone Arsenal responsibility for supervising and coordinating the R&D phase of the NIKE program.(0)
  • 1951 (27 Nov) - Nike Ajax missile intercepted an aircraft flying at 15 miles range, 33,000 feet altitude, and 300 miles per hour, marking the first successful kill of an aerial target by a U.S. guided missile (2)
  • 1952 24 April, full-scale demonstration of Nike missile system occured resulting in the spectacular destruction of a drone QB-17G (3)
  • 1953 -Feb The Chief of Ordnance transferred responsibility for technical supervision of an improved version of the NIKE I (AJAX) to Redstone Arsenal. The new antiaircraft missile was called the NIKE B.(0)
  • 1953 - Nike training set up in Fort Bliss, (El Paso), Texas
  • 1953, July - The Korean "Cease-fire" signed - U.S. and Chinese troops stop killing each other
    - About 8,000 U.S. troops "Missing in Action" - mostly killed after capture
  • 1953 Dec The NIKE I (Ajax) became operational during this month.(0)
  • 1954 20 Mar The first NIKE I (Ajax) battalion was tactically deployed on this date.(0)
    "at a temporary site at Fort George G. Meade, MD" (3)
    "First operational Ajax was W-13T on the west side of Fort Meade, May 54;
    - first operational PERMANENT site, well now, that I haven't found an answer for. MK" from Mark Morgan November 2002, co-author "Rings of Supersonic Steel"
  • 1954 - Early sites installed
  • 1955 - 13 Jan The first NIKE B (HERCULES) missile was launched.(0)
  • 1955 (May) - Site C-41 at 63rd and Outer Drive, Chicago installed (big event for me ;-))
  • 1955 - SF-88L installed (just north of San Francisco, now being restored by National Park Service and volunteers) installed (1)
  • 1955(Nov) - A Nike Hercules missile destroyed a supersonic target missile traveling faster than 1,500 miles per hour at an altitude greater than 60,000 feet. This was the first intercept of a very high altitude supersonic target missile.(2)
  • 1956 15 Nov The NIKE I was redesignated NIKE AJAX effective this date. In addition, the NIKE B was renamed NIKE HERCULES, while the NIKE II was renamed NIKE ZEUS.(0)
  • 22 Nov First Soviet thermonuclear bomb is dropped in Kazakhstan from an aircraft in test, with a force equivalent to 1.6 megatons of TNT. PBS - no longer on PBS website -
  • 1957 July 31, The DEW (Distant Early Warning) Line became operational. Posted by Bill Halstead
  • 1958 30 June, first conversion of an Ajax site to a Hercules site. At site C-03, Montrose/Belmont in Chicago (3)
  • 1958, Red China started shelling islands occupied by Chinese Nationalist forces
    - Nike AntiAircraft Systems rushed to Taiwan
    - North Korean "death squads" continue to infiltrate/land-in South Korea and kill, slows after 1995?
  • 1959 - SF-88L converted to Nike Hercules (1)
  • 1959, A Tibetan uprising crushed by Red China
    - Dalai Lama and 100,000 Tibetans escape - blood bath for those who didn't escape
  • ???? - National Guard takes over some Nike sites
  • 1960 (Jun) - A Nike Hercules antiaircraft guided missile tracked and shot down a Corporal ballistic missile at White Sands Missile Range, marking the first ballistic missile to be killed by a missile. (2)
  • 1969- April, 1969 EC-121 shootdown incident One of the many U.S. surveillance planes shot down during the "Cold War" by the Soviets or its agents. This one was by the North Koreans on the 57th birthday of the North Korean dictator Kim Il-Sung.
  • 1974 - treaties greatly limited anti-missile (and anti-aircraft capable) equipment
    -- "each party may have no more than 15 rapid fire launchers"
    -- Most Nike launchers in United States disabled - except sites in South Florida and Alaska, Nike sites shutdown. Some details
  • ??? - All Nike sites in Germany closed.
  • 1996 - from Jane's "Taiwan has retired its 40-year-old US-made Nike Herculessurface-to-air missiles which will be replaced with thelocally-developed Tienkung 1 system. The MoD announced it willdeploy three modified air defence systems, due for delivery from theUSA before the end of the year, in the country's eastern district ofNankang." (only Turkey, Greece, Italy and South Korea still active)
  • 2004 - Greece retires Nike, uses Patriot.
  • 2005 - In case you haven't noticed, Red China talks of using military force to conquor ("unify" in liberal speak) Taiwan
(1) from
(2) from
(3) from "Rings of Supersonic Steel"
(4) "What We Have, We Shall Defend: An Interim History and Preservation Plan for Nike Site SF-88L, Fort Barry, California" by J.A. Martini and S.A. Haller, National Park Service GGNRA, San Francisco, CA, Feb 1998 External link to NPS, local copy (870 kBytes)

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A press announcement

Army Reveals Air Defense by Missiles

New Units Will Be Ready Next Year;
Training Under Way

WASHINGTON, Oct. 6, 1952 (AP)

The Army today announced it is forming antiaircraft battalions armed with guided missiles.
The new units, which are expected to be ready next year, will he equipped with the Nike missile which the Army says is able to track down and destroy an airplane 10 miles away at an altitude of more than six miles.
The Army said the organization of the missile battalions was justified by the success in producing and testing missiles, Army officials recently revealed that missiles were reads to he turned out on a production-line basis.

Training Started

Training of officers and men for the Nike battalions already is under way at the guided missile center. Ft. Bliss, Tex., and at the White Sand? (N.M) proving Ground.
An intensive study also is under way to determine which areas of the country eventually will he defended by the guided missiles units. Other units are expected to continue to use conventional antiaircraft guns for the time being, especially in areas where protection might be needed against medium and low flying aircraft.

Thanks to Jay Michalsky

Hercules Funding

President Asks Billion for Defense

WASHINGTON, June 2, 1954 (U.P,)
-- President Eisenhower asked Congress today to vote $1,100,000,000 to provide new sites for fabulously accurate Nike guided missiles and other Atomic Age military facilities at home and abroad.
The President said in his budget message last January the request would be made. Since then the House has authorized $877,090,600 in new military projects. The Senate Armed Services Committee is considering an $696,976,000 measure.
Approval of the construction funds would bring defense appropriation to about $29,000,000,000 for the new fiscal year 1955 which starts July.

Air Defense Funds

Defense officials told a subcommittee today the Senate bill provides $275,000,000 In air defense funds, including more guided missile launching sites.
They declined for security reasons to may where the sites will be located. But the White House said some of the funds for Nike missiles will be spent for Installations In Alaska.
The largest single item on the President's supplemental request was $945,977,000 for acquisition and construction of military public works. It included funds for family housing and for access roads to the new installations.

Missile Installations

Assistant Army Secretary George H. Roderick told the subcommittee the military construction bill contains $85,000,000 for additional missile installations.
The first program, now being carried out, provides for protecting 12 major cities and 1ndustrlal centers with the Nikes, which can seek out and destroy enemy planes with what has been called "uncanny accuracy."
Other funds would be used to extend the radar warning network across the northern part of the continent and to bolster facilities of the Air Defense Command.
Assistant Defense Secretary Franklin G. Floete said projects included In the bill "will substantially improve our present defenses."

Thanks to Jay Michalsky

Nike Hazards
Much home equipment has the potential for hazard - including your automobile or truck, furnace, water heater, power equipment, electric outlets, and so on!

Industrial equipment often adds other potential hazards including hydraulic fluid 3,000 pounds per square inch, heavy objects that can fall onto or roll over people, very high voltages with potential for very high current, petroleum based fuels, interesting chemicals, etc.

Military equipment often includes further potential for hazards including war heads, very flammable (almost explosive) propellants, extremely high power radar, etc.

The Nike systems had all of the above.

  • The Nike systems were of course weapons with explosive warheads. The military had long experience with conventional explosives (including solid fuel rockets) and handled them quite well.

  • The nuclear capability was new - the usual precautions were increased with added guards, machine guns at site entrances, and guard dogs to prevent unauthorized access.

  • Radar transmitters powerful enough to significantly heat flesh at close range were new, but plentiful warnings and signs generally kept people out of harms way. (The cornea of the eye is at particular risk as it is poorly cooled by body fluids.)

    (A maintenance man at our site tried to use the missile tracking radar as a birth control measure. He would turn on the radar beam and climb up onto the radar mount and stand spread eagle in front of the antenna every evening- for 15 minutes at a time! The method did not seem to work as his wife got pregnant during the several months that he did this. The father and baby were just fine!)

  • The original Nike Ajax had a liquid fueled sustainer rocket engine. Two of the liquids used in the Nike Ajax were very efficient on a chemical basis, but very dangerous (high risk to personnel and equipment if a problem or accident).
    • Red Fuming Nitric Acid (oxidizer for the main fuel) - very corrosive to equipment and tough on skin if touched and tough on lungs if inhaled.
    • Unsymetrical diethyl hydrazine (UDMH) (ignites on contact with Red Fuming Nitric Acid to start the sustainer rocket engine) - very dangerous if inhaled
    I was told that there were many incidents where personnel were given medical care and returned to service quickly with no known serious after effects. A person at my site, with a reputation for being careful, was given hospital medical care from a UDMH episode. He was released a few days later feeling a bit shaken. Several weeks later he was feeling fine - but I imagine even more careful!

The above chemicals and their associated hazards were not included in the Nike Hercules model. The Nike Hercules used a solid fuel sustainer motor and was very boring in comparison.

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Nike Accidents Reported
Ft. Mead, Maryland (W-13) April 14, 1955
Middletown, New Jersey (NY-53) May 23, 1958
Okinawa around June or July 1959
McGregor Range - 1960
McGregor Range - 1962 or 3?
1962 or 3?
Korea Fri, 4 Dec 1998

A scary earthquake situation
Site Point, Anchorage, Alaska Friday, March 27, 1964

Ft. Mead, Maryland
For a much more recent (2001) report of the accident, please click here or internal copy.

While I was in the service, we heard of only one serious accident, the following accidental launch, but very few details reached us.
Thanks to Ben Buja for digging out a Washington Post article and reminding me of the event)

The following is from the New York Times, April 15, 1955.
Rogue Nike Missile 'Runs Away,' Explodes in Flight
... a three column photo of soldiers watching people in "fireproof" suits, ...
Ordnance soldiers, some wearing asbestos suits, recover fragments of the exploded missile

" ... WASHINGTON, April 14 -- A Nike guided missile, misguided, supersonic and loaded to kill, ran away from its launching platform at near by Fort Mead, Md, this afternoon. The explosion occurred about three miles away. The altitude was not known. The giant missile streaked into the sky, burning a sergeant as it blasted off, and blew apart with a tremendous explosion over a sparsely settled area. ...

" ... Sgt. Stanley C. Kozak of Allentown, Pa was standing seven feet away during the "gun" drill. ... He suffered "minor burns." ... The runaway missile took off from a temporary emplacement occupied by Battery C, Thirty-sixth AntiAaircraft Battalion, while its permanent position was being built. The position is one of many being thrown around the capital and other vital target areas.

"... An automatic detonator assured the explosion high in the air of the twenty-foot weapon, which has a diameter of one foot. A ground explosion would have caused havoc near the heavily traveled new highway between Washington and Baltimore. ... "

Bill Evans of web site says:
Best I can see it was W-13, on p146 of Rings of SSS. But it was just temporary and Ft Meade was not a firing battery after that, but was the HQ of 35th ADA Bde, as well as the BW Defense AADCP. I've seen something about that incident, somewhere. Said something about the missile going over the BW Parkway, which is in fact right next to Ft Meade.

George Evans a Nike and Army veteran of 26 year reports:
There were four serious Nike accidents, that I am aware of during the history of the system.

The first one was the accident that occurred at Ft Meade, MD shortly after the system was first deployed. A few years after it occurred I had the pleasure to serve with CWO Chester Joswick in Germany who had been the Launcher Warrant at that site when the accident occurred. He related to me the following facts:

Since this happened shortly after the Ajax system was deployed, crew drill procedures had not been fully refined. The procedures in place at the time were to connect the booster squib cable anytime the Battery was called to Battle Stations to track an unknown A/C. What is strange here is that they left the yoke support pin in place??? The Battery was called to Battle Stations. The section crew did their checks including Stray voltage on the launcher.

The crew then went down into the section room with the exception of the section chief who remained above ground to insure that the launcher was up and locked. As soon as the launcher was up the missile left the launcher. Since the forward yoke support was still in place and pinned the missile upon leaving the launcher tore the belly out (tunnel #3) and caused the missile to dive over instead of going straight up. The missile then flew, horizontally low level, until the booster burned out, then struck the ground in the vicinity of the Washington-Baltimore Expressway. The sustainer motor in the missile never fired and the warheads did not explode. There was a fire from the fuel and oxidizer but did little to no damage.

The missile probably did not arm due to fact it never sustained the g-forces required to close the overboard dump and the arming mechanisms for the warheads. Later investigation found the problem to be an electrical short in the junction box on the outside rear of the Launcher Control Trailer cause by rain water. Although the crew had done their checks correctly and found no stray voltage before they connected the squib, once the launcher was up and the light sequence established the path was then complete for the stray voltage to go to the launcher.

Middletown, New Jersey or Leonardo /Belford ( NY-53 ) 22 May 1958
A much more serious accident was reported in the press after I left the service.
  • For an official report see here in Nike Ajax Monograph.
  • from James Newman < > - "I have recently got a copy of the May 22 1958 Nike Ajax explosion at Nike site NY-53 Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations file from the National Archives." - 17 MByte pdf, received May 16, 2017
    - also this much shorter report.
  • Mike Donovan sent an article he wrote - added Oct 29, 201
  • Charles Everett sent these images May 2013
    Note the "AP WirePhoto" copyright notice Note the "AP WirePhoto" copyright notice.
    Rearranged for easier viewing
  • Mike Barnes sent these images Dec 2010
  • Some photos taken a day after the accident - rescued from 1st Region ARADCOM waste cans 25 years later by George Evans. George says "These photos demonstrate how you could really have a bad day on one of these sites if you did mighty dumb things."
  • A report at another web site (about half way down the long page).
  • Greg Brown found this - (Text - local copy) - May 2014

  • From Donald E. Bender
    "The Nike explosion ... at ... Middletown, NJ, Nike base during 1958. Technicians were working on the fusing of warheads for Ajax missiles when an alert was sounded. Accordingly, while the missiles were being modified, there were another 8 Ajax missiles up at the surface of the site.

    "When the explosion happened, a chain reaction resulted in which missile warheads, fuel and booster rockets exploded, scattering debris for miles around the area. This was quite an event and made all of the area papers, even received attention in the national press. The Army had sold the public on the idea that Nike sites were "as safe as gas stations" and one publication (Newseek?) punned that the gas station had finally blown up!

    "On Sandy Hook, there is a memorial to the soldiers and civilian ordnance technicians who were killed in the blast. This is at "Guardian Park" where a Nike Hercules upper stage and (until fairly recently) an Ajax upper stage were on display. The Ajax was blown over during a storm, and is going to be repaired."

  • Paul Griffith ( figures the above explosion occurred at the end of May 1958 and is researching the local papers for reports. Thanks to Paul's more precise dating, I found in our city library archives microfilm N.Y. Times editions of May 24, 25, and 26 describing the event. My summary (comments in brackets) of the various articles, photos and the printed Army statement is:
    • A modification was being performed on each Nike Ajax missile.
    • The modification had been performed at other sites on hundreds of other missiles with out incident.
    • Explosion at Middletown, N.J. Nike site about 1:15 P.M. Thursday May 23, 1958.
    • "The explosion came a few hours after the Army had announced it was converting the base here and eight other Nike installations in Northern New Jersey from Ajax to Hercules missiles. The Hercules would give the area atomic defense capability." (How is that for timing?)
    • Ten dead, six were Army enlisted men and four were civilians. Two enlisted men seriously injured. One more enlisted man released from hospital after stay of less than 24 hours.
    • No reported injuries outside the base. Less than $1000 in damage claims for damage out side the site reported. (as reported in the Sunday paper)
    • Only one launcher pit and its launching equipment were badly affected (from photo evidence). Eight missiles were destroyed, extensive damage to launchers and launching equipment, pickup trucks, civilian automobile.
    • Missile debris and twenty four war heads found in radius of almost 3 miles. (?If 24 war heads (3 per missile) were found, what blew up?) A booster found 1/2 mile away. (Did not ignite?)
    • "Col. Francis K. Newcomer of the Army Missile Department in the Pentagon explained the arming mechanism change that was being made when the detonation occurred. He said soldiers were responsible for removing detonators, connecting cord and warheads before the civilian ordnance workers installed a new bracket, using an electric drill and hand reamer."

  • Tom Page (July 2011) comments (in a conversation about the BOMARC blast in 1960, a web site, another web site )
    BOMARC Model A used liquid propellant (as did Nike Ajax). BOMARC Model B used solid propellant (as did Nike Hercules).

    Interesting that all notorious missile accidents (Nike Ajax and BOMARC-A) happened in New Jersey.

McGregor Range - 1960
Subject: Incident at Mc Gregor range
From: < alanndee @ cox . net >
Date: Thu 2/24/2022 6:10 PM


I was at LC-37 WSPG, (became WSMR) from 1959 – 1961. I worked for The Air Defense Board 4, testing industrial lot samples. I was an IFC Mechanic on the only Hercules firing system # 1009. This system went to Florida during the Cuban Missile Crisis in Oct-Dec 1962.

I was responsible for the TTR, Acq, RC van and the computer. We fired about 3x per month…very exciting.

During countdown I was assigned to the MTR platform watching the launch through an elbow scope. Once the booster separated I engaged a 35 power telescope until intercept. Amazing task.

We were alerted in Sept 60 (I think) that we would show Herc was mobile by CSMO to Mc Gregor range and fire for a grandstand full of VIP’s. After setup and Q&A we were ready to fire. I don’t remember what the target was, but at WSMR we fired several times at RCATs,

Since I was physically on the MTR platform I was hooked up with the BC van for firing. Countdown went as normal, but at the fire command the missile exploded right above the launcher. It knocked the external LCT on it’s side and tore the door off. No deaths but several of the crew were injured. I WAS BLOWN OFF THE PLATFORM for about 30 feet onto a boondock knocking me out for ???time. The VIP’s were scrambling out of the bleachers that were about 50 feet behind the RC/BC vans. We went to “Missile Destroyed” if that’s the call, for 30 minutes. We then turned the range over to a Marine HAWK battery.

Do any of you have any knowledge of this incident.

Al Harvard
Maj, ret USA

Ed Thelen here, no - haven't heard of this "incident". I left the army in 1957 (Ajax only at the time). Everything I "know" after that is via documents/reports/questions like this - except SF-88 restoration/presentation.
Your address list is 12 people, and I'm forwarding this to some more people.
Someone might provide further details ??

McGregor Range - ?1962 or 3?
Subject: McGregor Range Accident
From: < mimipapa66 @ yahoo . com >
Date: Tue, September 26, 2017 9:34 am
To: < ed @ ed-thelen . org >

I was stationed as missile tape analyst for the USARADCOM Service Practice Unit, McGregor Range, from June 1962 until April 1963....

As I recall, French unit assembled, passed all prechecks, proceeded to firing status, Herc left the pad, laid back, headed towards El Paso, command was given to Burst the missile...Seems like there was some fatal deaths and injuries to French and firing unit personnel...Do not recall all the details

............Ron Carlson

There were persistent rumors about a horizontal accidental Nike launch in Okinawa -

From: Charles Rudicil. November 6, 1998
Ed, Doyle Piland asked me to send you what information I have on the accident that took place with a booster at Site 8 on Okinawa. I don't like to admit it, but my memory is not as good as it once was. I don't remember when it happened. And I didn't witness the actual accident. But I will relate to you what I can remember of the event, and maybe someone else can fill in the blank spots.

As you know, Site 8 was located at Naha Air Base and the Missile Support Shop was in Machinato. I worked in the support shop and can remember to this day the sound we heard when the accident took place. Having heard many launches before, we thought that was what it was, but we didn't see anything take to the sky so we all thought it must have been an explosion. It didn't take long for the facts to start coming in at the shop.

A sergeant and 2 others were doing 'stray voltage checks' using the Squib Tester. The tests were done above ground with the launcher in the down position. I don't know how many tests had been donebefore this one, but when the tester was applied to this one the booster ignited, sending booster and missile off the rail horizontally, travelling through the security fence, across the beach, and landing in the water off shore. Upon impact with the water, the missile broke up and the warhead skipped across the water like a flat rock before finally sinking.

The three launcher crewmen were killed instantly by the backblast of the booster, as I recall. Later I remember seeing the imprints of the Sgt's boots in the hardstand where he was standing directly at the rear of the booster. I was told that the boots had to be pried out of the hardstand.

Needless to say, it was extremely difficult to get anyone to do Stray Voltage Checks for a long time after that.

My recollection of the cause of the accident was that there had been a lot of water that had recently fallen and some of the cables were soaked and lying in water in their conduits throughout the launcher area. MICOM immediately did an investigation of the Squib Tester and fielded an urgent MWO to prevent such a thing from happening again. I know that for months, we support folks had a job of modifying Squib Testers and drying out cables. The cable DX program was never in greater demand!

I wish I could remember more of the details, Ed, but time has taken its toll on my mental facilities. Hope this will be of some use to you.

You are doing a great job with the Web Site. Keep up the good work.


Charles Rudicil

From: Doyle Piland. Sun, 23 May 1999
Ed and Don[Bender]:

Attached is an account of the Accident with the Nike Hercules missile on Okinawa in 1959. This is the recollections of Timothy Ryan, who was there, on-site, at the time the accident happened. I suspect this is the most credible account we have seen. Later correspondence from Tim says the doesn't know if the missile had a Nuke warhead or not. Based upon that, I suspect it was a HE warhead. If it had been a Nuke, anyone that was there would have been interviewed and debriefed for hours and hours. I'm sure they would have known that there was something special about that missile.

Doyle Piland

Nike Hercules Accident at Site 8 (Naha Air Base)

The 207th Ordnance Platoon arrived in Okinawa in January of 1959. We were stationed at the Machinato Army Post. Because of a backlog of work, we were temporarily assigned to assist the 96th Ordnance Detachment in performing direct support instead of our original mission as a heavy maintenance platoon. This temporary assignment lasted several months, if I recall accurately.

The accident occurred on a Friday, the very Friday that was our last day on direct support. As of the next Monday we were finally going to work as a heavy maintenance platoon which meant no more traveling to the sites. We arrived at site 8 which was at Naha Air Base and proceeded to start work, probably installing modifications, inside the launcher area, on one of the underground launchers just past the first launcher. I went back upstairs for something and was told by one of the battery officers to get my men out of the area, they were going into "blue-alert." I called downstairs for everyone to get out, we got into our truck and drove past the first launcher again.

We stood by the guards shack watching the preparations, this was interesting stuff for us Ordnance guys, because we never saw a missile battery go into action before. We were asked to move away from the launcher area because they were going to raise that missile. As we were walking away there was a tremendous explosion, I thought we were bombed by whatever plane caused this "blue-alert." We dove behind a building with dirt and stones raining down on us. When things stopped falling we got up and walked towards the launcher area. I heard people moaning and could see 2 or 3 men laying on the ground. I then realized that the launcher was still in the lowered position and that the missile was not there!

We ran inside the fence and tried to do whatever we could for those who were injured. One man, apparently the one who was attempting to connect the first cable to the back of the first booster, was dead with his leg blown off and a terrible head injury. I went over to another man who was badly injured but conscious with his fatigue jacket and undershirt completely blown off his body and his skin peeled and burned from the blast. I put my fatigue jacket over his upper body and my undershirt on his leg which was also injured. Other people were also busy helping all the other injured men.

Later I noticed that the cyclone fence, behind where the missile was positioned, was distorted from the blast and the guard shack, where we were standing earlier had the windows blown out. I walked up to the front of the launcher and saw a hole ripped in the fence where the missile had gone through it. The missile was several hundred feet away, down on what I think was a beach-like area. It was mangled pretty badly but still in one piece, I think.

We found out later that the suspected cause of the accident was a short in the launcher that was not detected by the squib tester which several people said they saw the man use before he attempted to connect the cable to the booster.

That is pretty much all I can recall about that awful experience. It is quite a bit considering it was 40 years ago. We were very fortunate that we were not among the injured or dead, we came that close.

I don't remember ever hearing about how many died or how the injured made out.

Tim Ryan

From: Carl Durling. February 7, 1999
I arrived at the Naha site 18 January 1960. The incident was still very much under discussion, and as I recall it occurred around June or July 1959.

They had finished assembling the missile (Nuke) and were getting it ready to raise for electronic testing with the MTR. In the story previously given it is mentioned that the missile went across the runway. This was not the case. The Launcher Area was on the other side of the runways from the IFC area, and the launchers faced the open sea. A horizontal firing would have carried it through a fence, over a beach (patrolled by on-site MPs) and into the sea.

I know of only two people killed and one injured. Never heard about an MP being killed. The guard shack was not behind the missile launchers. As the replacement MTR operator, I was given a tour of the Launcher Area and was instructed about the preventative measures instituted because of the incident. There was debate as to whether the lock-on by the MTR may have caused the stray voltage.

Our radars were high enough to be able to lock-on while the missile was in the horizontal position. So, testing was sometimes done before the missile was raised in order to save time. This procedure changed, and no lock was allowed until the missile was vertical.
Carl Durling

Translated article via Jos Weijenberg
Former US soldier details account of 1959 Naha accidental nuke firing fatal to fellow soldiers
October 26, 2017 Ryukyu Shimpo

Washington Special Correspondent Yukio Zaha reporting

Fifty-eight years ago on June 19, a sunny Friday morning, a Nike Hercules surface-to-air missile equipped with a nuclear warhead was fired accidentially from U.S.-controlled Naha Air Base.

While under a blue-alert, meaning missiles were being prepared in response to a perceived threat, the booster of the missile in question was ignited by mistake due to a soldier’s blunder on a connection of the ignition system.

With a resounding roar the missile fired, and hurtled along the surface of the ocean at an incredible speed before submerging.

Left in its wake were broken and bloodied soldiers and missile fragments.

Robert Roepke, an 81-year-old former U.S. Army serviceman who worked in missile maintenance, provided his account of this disaster that happened on Naha Air Base in 1959, formerly unbeknownst to Okinawans.

According to Roepke, the Nike base in Naha had two missile launch pads facing the East China Sea.

Generally, there were just four missiles at the ready on these pads.

Fences, retaining walls, and hills surrounded the launch pads.

Roepke said he does not think people could see inside from any outside spot.

Roepke said that on the day of the incident, when he used a measuring instrument to check the connection of the ignition system, the device made a small sound indicating an abnormality.

“I don’t think we should plug it in,” he said to another soldier before he crossed the launch pad and started down a staircase to check on another machine.

In that instant, an ear-splitting roar reverberated and a blue flash like fireworks split the air overhead.

As Roepke looked in the direction of the ocean, and saw the missile drop into the water.

The soldier to whom Roepke had spoken was blown away by the launch and lay torn in half near the launch pad.

Roepke remembered: “I looked at him and his mouth was kind of going like he wanted to say something to me.


lly, he was dead already.

” Another soldier burned by the fire from the missile’s booster was blown into the fence.

He was administered first aid while another missile equipped with high explosives was being moved and prepared for launch.

Then the stand down order came through the chain of command.

Roepke said: “As far as I know I might be the only one involved who is still living.

I would be glad to talk about it now that we’re free, because I would like to get my stuff on record.”

When asked if he wanted to convey anything to Okinawans he said: “The missiles were for defense and not aggression.

We were there to protect the people of Okinawa as well as our own interests.”

(English translation by T&CT and Erin Jones)

from Robert Roepke, Feb 8, 2022
The squib connection that went from the launcher to the booster igniters went through 4 PETN cords, one for each igniter.
These cords were highly ignitable and had a drop point of 6 inches which means they would explode when dropped that far.

I do not know what voltage was supplied to ignite them but very little was needed. The meter we used on that day to check for stray voltage was not very sensitive to small charges and was replaced after the accident.

When I initially checked the voltage on this missile I saw a very small blip and I was aware of the danger because I was trained to put the Igniters into the boosters and place the cords into the squib.
I told the corporal in charge not to plug in the squib. but he ignored me and decided to do it anyway. I was on the maintenance crew and was only on the launch crew that day because they were shorthanded.

Added by me (Ed Thelen) Feb 7, 2002 - in response to questions
>> I believe that this incident doesn't even appear on the Broken Arrow list of accidents involving nuclear weapons. I believe such appearance on the list doesn't have to include detonation or radioactive material release, just an accident involving a nuclear weapon.

I understand the same -

The 1958 "incident" is not mentioned here
even though several people have mentioned that the missile had a nuclear warhead -

I've been curious why the ignition of the Nike booster
     was so sensitive to "small" bad ground voltages/currents.
The fact that a special meter was used to check what might go
     to the booster igniter indicates to me that the Army was worried.
There was at least one non-nuclear "incident" in Korea blamed on
     bad grounding, and I understand some "Engineering Change Orders"
     to correct the above. Aging cables have also been blamed.
I have no idea what voltage would cause ignition
     or what voltage was applied to intentionally fire a booster.

And (Fri, 4 Dec 1998)
Herc launch. J.P. Moore and Pete Simpson forward
This is on the news wire this AM:

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- An anti-aircraft missile was launched accidentally into busy airspace over the western city of Inchon today, injuring at least three people on the ground. The missile was destroyed automatically by a built-in safety device seconds after it left the launcher, sending a shower of metal fragments over a nearby residential area, officials said. The Defense Ministry said the Nike-Hercules missile was fired accidentally by an electronic circuit malfunction during a routine training session.

on Dec 5, 1998, The Washington post had a larger article with photo. Unfortunately, the on-line copy is no longer available.

Jungpil Lee said January 26, 1999
After extensive study, Ministry of Defense said they found an outdated cable between laucher and control tower(or room), which was installed underneath of the ground. And that was a sole reason behind the unwanted launch.

George Evans comments January 27, 1999
Sorry to hear the Koreans are having problems. I was the Battalion Cmdr of that Bn when we turned it over to the Koreans in 1976. It doesn't surprise me that a cable was bad. That equipment has been there since somewhere around 1960 and I am sure that some of the cables are rotten if they have not been replaced.

Earthquake - Site Point, Anchorage, Alaska - Friday, March 27, 1964
from - about 2/3 of the way down
We went inside the first launcher section of the fire unit on “hot status” after prying open the blast doors. It was a big mess. No complete missile round was intact on the tracked launchers or handling rails. All the yoke structures had been sheared.

The skins were gouged open; fins bent in all directions. Solid propellants cracked and the rocket motor covers were off. Strong stench from the exposed rocket propellant. Arming lanyards were pulled, energizing the on-board battery-operated electrical power systems, and gyros were spinning. Large components strung across the handling rails and launchers and on the floor, in all directions. ... "

from Patrick, Arata, graymeme @ comcast . net - December 2013
I was crew chief (E-5) on duty in the IFC area when the earthquake occurred. I don't remember what our status was, but I do remember calling our AADCP that we were out of action due to severe damage to our tracking system, I didn't know the status of the missiles at that time, power out, antennas damaged.

A little while later, AADCP called back and advised us to expect a 100 foot tidal wave. As we set right on the bay, that was a little scary. Thankfully it never came. Due to that fact that our whole complex was housed in a wooden building, altho it moved like a snake on a hot griddle for several minutes, there was no damage to the building.

I do remember that our TTR was damaged and the concrete silo that it set on was damaged. All of our missiles were damaged. The men (boys) that went in to secure the warheads were true hero's. I am sure that we had more damage than that. I was upstairs when the earthquake hit and made it out to the hallway where I rode it out on the floor as the building was moving so much that you could not walk. I was so afraid the building was going to come down on us.

Altho we suffered big after shocks the rest of the night and for days after, we got busy checking the damage and marking off the danger zones. Those of us that had our families with us, mine was on Ft Richardson, were assured that they were O.K. I don't remember how long it was before I saw my family, but I know that it was three or four days. The report that our families in the lower 48 got was very misleading. My family stated that the report they got said that Anchorage was burning and that there were thousands dead. We had a MARS station on our site, so in the next few days we contacted our families that we were O.K.

Now that I am older, I think back on that incident and am amazed that a bunch of young men, boys really, thousands of miles from home, in the Alaskan wilderness, quickly recovered, got busy and did what had to be done to secure our site and get it back into service as quickly as possible. I served in the Marine Corps and the Army for a total of 26 years. I just wish the people in America truly realized what our young men and women sometimes go through to protect the way of life we enjoy.

*My Opinion* On a per hour basis, I suggest that people were safer working on Nike missiles than driving on the public roads (except when doing field modifications with civilians). I also suggest that this very low level of accidents was no accident, but the result of very determined enforcement of safe practices (and a high level of awareness by the troops that the situations were full of serious hazard).

Nike Nuclear Accidents (none)
Kurt Laughlin writes
"Broken Arrow" is the DOD code name for a nuclear weapons accident.

I have a list that covers accidents from 1950 to 1980 and there are none involving NIKEs, but the DOD states that other accidents between 1950 and 1956, and 1968 and 1980 remain classified.

Some additional information has been released in the interim. For example, my list has an A-4 Skyhawk rolling off a carrier with a bomb, "more than 500 miles from land". About two years ago it came out that it was actually about 100 miles from Japan, who are quite skittish about such things.

The FOIA is a "Freedom of Information Act" request. It is a way of getting the gov't to release classified info. Not always successful, but it has been used frequently for historical research to get the "good" stuff on the Cuban Missile crisis, Nixon, Johnson, Kissinger, et al. The cool thing is that they can't stall. They have to respond yes/no in a short (for the gov't) period of time.

Political/financial environment and Competing Air Defense Systems

Army vs Air Force in air defense

People & organizations (bureaucracies) survive in many ways - one is to get larger/more-important by getting assigned more important tasks. An important task is air defense - and its many sub tasks.

The US Army traditionally had AntiAircraft Artillery (AAA) guns - fired from the ground - everything from machine guns to 120 mm guns firing at ground targets and aircraft.
The US Air Force (after its separation from the US Army (after WWII) had the viewpoint that if it flew (through air or space) the assignment ought to be Air Force.

Different nations settle the question different ways - and the Greeks assign the Nike IFC area to its Air Force and the Nike Launcher area to its Army.

from Doyle Piland < dpiland at zianet dot com > To: Mark Morgan and others - May 28, 2010 Re: Willow, Alaska - Nike Trail

I would doubt that the Army was considering deploying Nike Ajax in Alaska in the 1955 time frame. From John Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) documents, it seems that the Air Force began the Land Based Talos system with a contract to RCA in about 1953, which was about the time the Army started Bell/Western working on the Hercules. It seems from what I can gather, both these systems proceeded to develop about equally. The Air Force built a test facility just to the west of the Navy launch area at White Sands with the prototype system there. Both the land based Talos and the Nike Hercules began test firings in 1955. So, it would seem unlikely that there would have been considerations by the respective branches of deploying Talos and Ajax. Possibly Talos and Hercules. However, having spent a total of over 22 years associated in one way or another with the Army Air Defense and more years as an Army Civilian, anything they did wouldn't really surprise me.

As for the Air Force/Army tug of war, that had been an ongoing battle for several years. The Air Force took that word "Air" to really mean something. Since missiles flew through the air, it was only logical that they should belong to the "Air" Force. That applied not only to the Air Defense missiles, but to longer range surface-to-surface missiles. It seems that the surface-to-surface dispute was settled early on because the Army had the Redstone, Sergeant, and both versions of Pershing. I suspect one of the Air Force's concerns with the Air Defense was the worry that, what many considered a joke, the idea of the Army's method of IFF -- "shoot 'em down and sort 'em out on the ground." However, the Air Force always retained overarching control of Air Defense.

Anyway, according to the APL documents, the decision on this matter was settled by DoD in 1957, when the Army was give the responsibility for Air Defense systems up to 100 miles and the Air Force for those beyond that. Ergo, Land Based Talos was turned over to the Army. We do have some limited video of the test facility at White Sands still involved in testing with Army personnel. The APL documents do indicate that the Army abandoned the Land Based Talos shortly after they took over. If I recall correctly, there were a total of 13 Talos missiles fired by the Land Based test facility before it was shut down.

Doyle Piland

Bomarc From Mark L. Morgan, Co-author of "Rings of Supersonic Steel".

Subject: BOMARC/TALOS Planned Deployment
Date: Mon, 6 Sep 1999 14:22:22 EDT
From: (Mark L. Morgan)

... Anyway, here are the Air Force's BOMARC/TALOS deployment plans, another indication of how declining budgets forced major changes in air defense plans during the 50's. I got the material from several sources (hopefully still in my files), and included it in Nike Quick Look III, the predecessor to Rings of Supersonic Steel.

1952 - First ADC BOMARC deployment plan, 52 squadrons with up to 128 missiles each. After the USAF was directed to investigate ground-based TALOS, the plan was revised down to 40 BOMARC sites with 120 missiles each, and up to 53 TALOS sites. The planned BOMARC bases and operational dates were (date is IOC by Qtr/FY):

1. McGuire AFB 1/60 21. Grand Forks 2/62
2. Suffolk County AFB 2/60 22. Cut Bank AFS 3/62
3. Otis AFB 3/60 23. Opheim AFS 3/62
4. Dow AFB 4/60 24. Minot 3/62
5. Niagara Falls AB 1/61 25. Klamath Falls 4/62
6. Plattsburgh AFB 1/61 26. Geiger Field 4/62
7. Kinross AFB 2/61 27. McConnell AFB 4/62
8. KI Sawyer Airport 2/61 28. Ardmore AFB 1/63
9. Langley AFB 3/61 29. Amarillo AFB 1/63
10. Truax Field 3/61 30. Reese AFB 1/63
11. Paine AFB 3/61 31. Biggs AFB 2/63
12. Portland AB 3/61 32. Laughlin AFB 2/63
13. Hamilton AFB 4/61 33. Williams AFB 2/63
14. Oxnard AFB 4/61 34. Ellington AFB 2/63
15. San Diego 4/61 35. New Orleans 3/63
16. Fort Ord 1/62 36. Fort Campbell 3/63
17. Bunker Hill AFB 1/62 37. Pinecastle AFB 4/63
18. Greater Pittsburgh AP 1/62 38. Tyndall AFB 4/63
19. Duluth AP 2/62 39. Charleston AFB 4/63
20. Sioux City AP 2/62 40. Seymour Johnson AFB 4/63

In Sept 56 HQUSAF said 40 squadron/4800 missiles was too much, at approx $15 billion; ADC said 40 squadrons was the absolute minimum. CONAD was directed to study, and came back with a Jan 57 proposal for 40 squadrons with 60 missiles each, using cheaper launchers (the Type I was huge, complex, and gawdawful expensive. I understand a couple are still standing on Santa Rosa Island). At the end of 1957, ADC requested funding for the first 14 sites. Jan 58, HQUSAF cut deployment to 31 sites; two with 56 missiles (two flights), and the others with 28 missiles. Sept 58, the USAF agreed to six sites with IM-99A, and subsequent ones with IM-99B. Nov 58, revised station list released:

1. McGuire AFB 16. Malmstrom AFB
2. Suffolk County AFB 17. Grand Forks AFB
3. Otis AFB 18. Minot AFB
4. Dow AFB 19. Youngstown, OH
5. Langley AFB 20. Seymour Johnson AFB
6. Truax Field 21. Bunker Hill AFB
7. Kinross AFB 22. Sioux Falls AB
8. Duluth AB 23. Charleston AFB
9. Ethan Allen AFB 24. McConnell AFB
10. Niagara Falls AB 25. Holloman AFB
11. Paine AFB 26. McCoy AFB
12. Camp Adair 27. Amarillo AFB
13. Travis AFB 28. Barksdale AFB
14. Vandenberg AFB 29. Williams AFB
15. San Diego

Plus, two missile sites in Canada. HOWEVER, this was during the big Nike/BOMARC debate in Congress. Following the Jun 59 release of the Master Air Defense Plan, the Air Force was allowed 16 sites in ConUS, with two in Canada for the RCAF. The following were the 18 sites with 56 missiles each (1,008 total with spares), with IOC dates:

1. McGuire AFB 9/59 10. Adair AFS 8/61
2. Suffolk County AFB 12/59 11. Travis AFB 9/61
3. Otis AFB 3/60 12. Vandenberg AFB 10/61
4. Dow AFB 6/60 13. Malmstrom AFB 1/62
5. Langley AFB 9/60 14. Glasgow AFB 4/61
6. Kinross AFB 3/61 15. Minot AFB 6/61
7. Duluth AB 4/61 16. Charleston AFB 7/62
8. Niagara Falls AB 5/61 17. La Macaza, PQ 2/62 RCAF
9. Paine AFB 7/61 18. North Ban, ON 3/62 RCAF

By this time initial site work had begun on the first 14 sites; with the changes, work was suspended at Ethan Allen and Truax. However, on 23 Mar 60, HQUSAF cut deployment of the IM-99B to seven sites of 28 missiles each. The following day, funding was cut from $421.5 million to $40 million, leaving ADC with eight sites, the two Canadian sites, and suspending work on the almost completed Paine AFB facility. Adair was suspended with the foundations and floors in for the missile shelters, and a few support buildings.

In summary, the original 49-site, 4,800-missile BOMARC system was ultimately fielded with 10 sites and about 400 missiles.

AF/TALOS - The USAF was assigned responsibility for development of a land-based variant of the TALOS missile system on 7 Jun 55, primarily for use as a point-defense missile system (which would allow them to decline Nike Ajax deployments around SAC bases). The Army had already taken a look at the missile and decided not to proceed, what with Ajax coming along...

An early USAF plan involved eight squadrons with four detachments each; consideration was given to deploying 53 squadrons. The first sites were selected in early 1956: Lockbourne AFB, Peoria, IL, Bunker Hill AFB and Kirksville AFS. This was revised to Offutt, Barksdale, March and Castle AFB's in Mar 56. However, as the funds had already been released for site studies and prep, the latter four sites were instead named sites five through eight.

In May 1956, ADC TALOS teams were ready to hit the road, but were held up while Congress and DOD argued over who was going to defend what bases with which missiles. On 26 Nov 56, SecDef Charles Wilson formally ordered the assignment of the point-defense mission to ARADCOM, killing the AF/TALOS program.

BTW, TALOS entered service with the USN in USS Galveston (CLG-3) in May 57. It was finally retired from active service in USS Oklahoma City (CLG-5) in Dec 79.

Other Nike - The two Nike defenses that were built, manned, but shut down before attaining operational status were at Walker AFB, NM (6/2d Artillery, 4/60-6/60) and Schilling AFB, KS (5/44th Artillery, 4/60-6/60). Site studies were performed at Mountain Home AFB, ID, with the battery locations designated MH-05 and MH-79, but the two sites were never constructed and no battalion was ever designated for assignment (to the best of my knowledge).

The only other site ever considered for Nike that I've run across to this point was Malmstrom AFB; it would've been truly unique, as ADC was doing its BOMARC plans for Malmstrom at the same time. BOMARC was cut back to the ast coast in 1960 and the JCS killed the Nike site studies on 18 May 60. Malmstrom, of course, did see initial construction under SENTINEL/SAFEGUARD about 10 years later.

Phew! Questions? MK.

Details of Closure of contenental U.S. Nike Sites
From: "Charles D. Carter" < >
April 9, 2011
All CONUS Nike-Hercules batteries, with the exception of the ones in Florida and Alaska, were deactivated by April 1974. The remaining units were deactivated during the spring of 1979. Dismantling of the sites in Florida - Alpha Battery in Everglades National Park, Bravo Battery in Key Largo, Charlie Battery in Carol City and Delta Battery, located on Krome Avenue on the outskirts of Miami - started in June 1979 and was completed by early fall of that year.1,2,3,4,5

1 The Army Center for Military History


3 National Archives and Records Administration

4 Rings of Supersonic Steel III

5 US Army Historical Clearinghouse - Anniston Army Depot / Unit Records

Kindest regards,

Charles D. Carter
Nike Historian

(Text - local copy)


Middletown, N.J. (AP) -- Investigators searched a Nike base near here today in an effort to learn what caused eight fully armed missiles to blow up in a furious mushroom of fire and death.
The explosion yesterday killed 10 persons and scattered explosive warheads across a wide area of the countryside.
The disaster, described by a general as an accident that could not happen but did, was set off by a single missile that exploded.

A split-second chain reaction turned the entire area into a flaming pit of destruction that one eyewitness called horrible beyond belief. Mangled bodies and fragments lay strewn about where a moment before men had stood. The disintegration of the victims made it difficult to establish identities of all. Three others were injured, one seriously. The dead included six soldiers and four civilians.
Military Victims:
Civil Corps Civilian Victims:

Two servicemen in a 20-foot-deep pit under a missile's launching pad miraculously survived the holocaust. Staff Sgt. JOSEPH W. McKENZIE, 33, a launcher section chief from Framingham, Mass., stepped from the pit unhurt. His partner, Pfc. JOSEPH ABOTT, 24, Grindstone, Pa., was treated for shock and hysteria.

The missiles, known as the Ajax type, exploded at about 1:20 p.m. while a team of experts was working on them. They were to be replaced next year by Hercules missiles capable of carrying atomic warheads.

Each of the Ajax missiles carried three conventional warheads of explosives and shrapnel. Most of the explosive devices were accounted for, but some had still not been located today. Duff said ordnance experts had found that all of the eight missiles had left the launching area, flying various distances. A 12-foot section of one missile landed in a back yard three-quarters of a mile away. Patrolman Daniel Murdoch, one of the first at the scene, told of "the horror of seeing men, their bodies still afire, and the head of at least one of the men blown away by the force of the explosion."

The Army flew in three inspectors from the office of the chief of ordnance in Washington to investigate the explosion. What set it off may never be known. Residents of this area had protested in vain against erection of the installation 18 months ago. The Army had told the public no such accident was possible and that the missiles would only be fired in case of war.

Windows were shattered and doors blown in a mile or more from the explosion scene. One woman was blown out of a chair in the living room of her home.

The Ajax, about 32 feet long and a foot in diameter, weighs about a ton and is designed to bring down enemy aircraft at altitudes of up to 60,000 feet. It has a range of 15 miles.

Chester Times Pennsylvania 1958-05-23

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