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CHAPTER TWO: Activation and Deployment - The 1950s

The Army formed its Army Antiaircraft Command (ARAACOM) in July 1950, with a mere handful of people stationed at the Pentagon. During the decade, the new command would experience unprecedented growth, employ at its height nearly 45,000 soldiers with more than 240 missile batteries throughout the nation, and advance from antiaircraft guns to two versions of the NIKE guided missile system. Moreover, the Army air defenses were only a part of the overall military juggernaut that started rolling in the 5Os. A vast air defense network that included supersonic jet fighters, antiaircraft guns and missiles, radars of all varieties, hundreds of information-passing nodes, and tens of thousands of soldiers, airmen, sailors and civilians was established to counter the anticipated Soviet bomber threat. When the Soviets realized they could not achieve superiority or even parity with America's offensive might represented by the SAC bomber forces, they strategically outmaneuvered the United States by choosing, instead, to compete on the ballistic missile playing field.

The 1950s saw the United States become increasingly reactive to a growing Soviet threat, whether perceived or real. With the Korean War, the bomber gap, Sputnik and Soviet development of fusion bombs and ballistic missiles providing a sense of urgency, America's air defenses grew from just notions into a prodigious, integrated air defense system. U.S. military and civilian leaders first responded to the Soviet threat by laying out a strategic vision in a document known as National Security Council (NSC) 68, then revised and refined that vision over the years, maintaining a decided edge in the nuclear arms race.

The U.S. military continued its competition for resources on the national level and among the different services. As in the '40s, the battle lines were drawn between the need for offensive and defensive forces.

The challenge for ARAACOM, which was later to become ARADCOM, was to protect vital areas of the nation from direct attack by air. That mission was broken into integral components: land acquisition and deployment around major metropolitan areas; training tens of thousands of soldiers in the latest, most advanced technology; and maintaining a wartime vigilance in a peacetime setting.

The Soviet Threat

By 1950 it was clear that the Soviet Union was in the Cold War to win. It gained increasing influence throughout the world, in many instances by the rule of force. The North Korean invasion of South Korea in June 1950 was yet another example of the global expansion of communism. Many saw Korea as a prelude to another world war, a Soviet diversion that would be followed by their main effort, to take place in Europe. Soon after the Korean War, tensions eased a bit upon the death of Stalin in 1953, when the less bellicose Georgi Malenkov rose to power. Although Malenkov believed that production of weapons of mass destruction should be kept to a minimum, other influential Soviet politicians seized upon the absence of Stalin, who had downplayed the value of strategic surprise, to strongly advocate the development of strategic strike forces. When Nikita Khrushchev seized power in 1958, the stage was set for the Soviets to enter the arms race at full force.

The Bomber Gap

The first attention-getter occurred on Soviet Aviation Day in July 1955, when 10 Bison jet-powered strategic bombers flew past the reviewing stand. These same aircraft flew past six times, creating the illusion that the Soviets possessed 60 aircraft. This show, combined with the introduction of the smaller Badger jet-powered bomber the year before, resulted in a deception known as the "bomber gap." The Soviet tendency to unveil new weapons during public events, often to the surprise of Western observers, added to their shock value. Western analysts extrapolated from the illusionary 60 aircraft, judging that it would take only a short time for the Soviets to produce 600. Even with 600 planes, the Soviets could not match the United States plane for plane, but the mere perception that the Soviets had many planes that could reach over the northern polar cap to America was enough to reinforce the American arms buildup that was already underway.

Shortly thereafter, the Soviets introduced another strategic bomber, the Bear. Soviet Long-Range Aviation (LRA) squadrons began receiving Bear bombers in 1956 and 1957, and by the end of the decade, some 150 Bears and well over 1,000 Badgers were in service. Total production was approximately 300 Bears and 1,500 to 2,000 Badgers. The combined payload of the LRA Bear and Badger force probably totaled no more than 10,000 megatons.

The Missile Gap

In 1957, the Soviets achieved a significant technological and psychological breakthrough when they launched the world's first artificial satellite into space. Called the Sputnik, this satellite shocked the American public into believing their country was scientifically second-rate. A month after the Sputnik launch, the Soviets put a dog in orbit, and the following year, a 3,000-pound payload, a feat the United States would not match until 1964. Khrushchev quickly exploited these Soviet successes by emphasizing that the era of the strategic bomber was past, that intercontinental ballistic missiles were cheaper to maintain and that that was where the Soviets would place their emphasis.

The Nation

In the United States, the '50s started with a policy statement that, for the first time in U.S. history, defined communism as a threat to its form of government and recommended a national strategy to deal with that threat. Called NSC 68, this document was a landmark in both content and timing. It contained a proposed outline for American defense of the free world and was printed just several months prior to the surprise invasion of South Korea by the communist North.

Upon the change of administrations in 1953, when Eisenhower succeeded Truman, a follow-on to NSC 68, appropriately called "New Look," recommended that the United States strike a balance of forces. The Soviets were numerically stronger in conventional forces, while the United States held a decisive advantage in nuclear weapons and the. ability to deliver them by B47 bombers stationed within striking distance of the Soviet Union. The New Look recommended building U.S. conventional forces to offset the eventual increase in Soviet nuclear forces. But the New Look was overruled by NSC 162, which did not see the need for more U.S. conventional forces. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles preferred massive retaliation to prevent war, even though the Korean War had proved that the threat of massive retaliation did not prevent warfare. Just three years later, this strategic vision was once again revisited. The result was the "New" New Look. Because of the Soviets' success in developing the H-bomb (as the United States had some years earlier) and their unveiling of several new intercontinental bombers, a "balance of terror" existed between both sides. A global war would be disastrous to all participants.

The Military

The 1950s dawned with the U.S. military fighting two wars at once: a hot one in Korea and a cold one with the Soviet Union. The military saw both as real threats and allocated its finite resources accordingly. Within the military, other wars were being fought over resources. For example, an internal Air Force squabble between offensive and defensive forces reached new heights. SAC forcefully argued that the best defense was a good offense, while the Air Defense Command countered that the enemy could bomb anywhere in the United States at any time.

Since the Air Force was responsible for the overall defense of the United States from air attack, the Air Defense Command looked to the other services to contribute as well. The Navy was to assist in the early warning network and the research and development of new missiles and radars. The Army would play a major role in providing guns and surface-to-air missiles, and its units would eventually outnumber their Air Force counterpart in numbers of fighting battalions compared to interceptor squadrons. The Key West Conference of 1948 left a lot of room for interpretation, and not until the chiefs of staff of the Army and the Air Force agreed in 1950 did actual duties and responsibilities of both services jell. Yet even finer details of inter-service cooperation would be worked on in the '50s, especially after a poor showing of Army gun units during joint exercises early in the decade. Many "hostile" aircraft were not engaged because of over-restrictive rules of engagement. Other interservice competitions between the Army and Air Force were fought in the missile and electronic arenas. Surface-to-surface missiles, early warning and surveillance radars were involved in the dispute, especially since each service had its own independent research and development effort. Each service would emerge as victor and loser: the Air Force won the intercontinental surface-to-surface and early warning radar fights, but lost the shorter range missiles and surveillance radar to the Army. The Army won the surface-to-air missile fight, but the Air Force insisted on and finally deployed several squadrons of its own missile, the BOMARC. The missile's name came from "BO" for Boeing and "MARC" for Michigan Air Research Center. The air defense concept called for a missile with a speed of Mach 2.5 and a range exceeding 400 miles that would strike an enemy bomber as far from its target as possible. The improved BOMARC B could be equipped with a nuclear warhead and synchronized with the semiautomatic ground environment (SAGE) network.

The Early Warning Network

Other major elements of this integrated air defense network were direct results of the lessons learned from Pearl Harbor. The United States was concerned about the effectiveness of early warning and the ability to react in a timely manner. Much study and investment was therefore devoted to this problem. Early detection of enemy aircraft was difficult due to the size of the United States, the lack of enough radars, and the short range of radars in those early years. The Ground Observer Corps was called upon to fill the gaps and supplement the radar early warning coverage. Once enemy penetrators were detected, Ground Observer Corps observers would pass information to control centers responsible for alerting fighter interceptors and the antiaircraft crews. Along with the Ground Observer Corps was a medium-range radar network known as LASHUP. It consisted of 44 World War II-vintage radars located near major metropolitan areas of the country. In the early 1950s, other early warning radar networks were on the drawing boards. The first to be activated was the Pine Tree Line in 1954. It consisted of a series of more than 30 radars located roughly along the U.S.-Canadian border and dedicated solely to early warning. In 1957, the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line, a series of 58 radars, became operational along the arctic circle from Greenland to Alaska. The final land-based line of radars, known as the Mid-Canada Line, was activated in 1958. This line extended from Newfoundland across Canada along approximately the 54th parallel, and then ran north along the Alaska highway before connecting with the Alaska radar system.

These three series of radar lines were oriented to detect an attack across the polar cap, the most direct route from the Soviet Union. To supplement defense of the flanks of the continent, the Navy provided radar picket ships and flew early warning airplanes and blimps, while the Air Force flew sentry aircraft and also emplaced four radar towers, called Texas Towers, out in the Atlantic.

ARAACOM, with its 157 radars (AN/TPS-1s) located throughout the United States, also contributed during this era to the early warning network. These radars were sited and used from whatever advantageous terrain the Army could obtain, often many miles from the defended area. These sites were on property owned by federal, state or city governments, or on private land that was borrowed, rented or leased.

When the Army lost the early warning radar battle to the Air Force, it was forced to give up its advantageous terrain locations and 10 to 15 minutes of track data time. The Army pulled its radars back into or near the vicinity of the defended area.

To tie this multi-layered early warning capability to its own fighter squadrons and the Army's Air Defense Command, the Air Force, in 1958, deployed a command and control apparatus called the SAGE. SAGE was the outgrowth of the manual Ground Control Intercept (GCI) systems used during World War II, which directed intercepting aircraft to enemy penetrators. SAGE embodied the latest innovations in computer technology. It linked many parts of the early warning network and the interceptor network together, transferring data automatically rather than requiring voice commands. The Air Force even had SAGE remotely fire its pilot-less interceptor, the BOMARC.

One serious flaw in automated command and control was that newly developed systems were not compatible with other systems. The Air Force's SAGE system could not pass data digitally to the Army's Missile Master system because each processed data at different rates. Further engineering was necessary to produce a digital data converter.

Continental air defense planners envisioned that the air battle over the United States would be fought by both Air

Force and Army elements. The first step was early warning. Ground-, sea- and air-based radars would see blips on their radar screens, warning them of attack. These sentries would radio or telephone this information to control centers, which in turn would relay the warning down to interceptor squadrons and antiaircraft defenses. The fighter interceptors would engage the penetrators as far from their intended targets as possible. Those enemy bombers that got through would be engaged by antiaircraft batteries that were deployed around likely, high-value targets.

War in Korea

The Korean War provided the impetus that got the air defense program rolling on many levels and in many areas. The fielding of AAA forces, interceptor squadrons and supporting elements shifted into high gear. The Communist menace that gripped a large part of the Northern Hemisphere now confronted the United States in North Korea It was no secret that the North Koreans were being supplied by the Soviets and the communist Chinese.

When the Chinese entered the war, direct confrontation between superpowers ensued. America now girded itself for a possible attack on its homeland.

Just a few days after the North Korean invasion of the South, the United States air defenses, consisting mostly of fighter interceptors, commenced around-the-clock operations. ARAACOM was formed within a week. National Guard forces, organized in the late '40s, were called upon to fill in for active Air Force and Army units that deployed both to Korea and to Germany.

Shortly after the outbreak of the war, the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) was established. President Truman authorized the engagement of unidentified aircraft not positively identified as friendly. Airlines and private pilots began to file flight plans with a sense of purpose.

In summary, the U.S. military grew during this decade due to a national strategy for the Cold War and the realities of the hot war in Korea. The Army, Air Force and Navy eventually cooperated in the air defense of the continent and built a massive system to detect, identify, attack and destroy the Soviet strategic bomber forces.


Even before ARAACOM was born in 1950, batteries of 120mm guns had deployed to protect the plutonium production plant at Hanford, Washington. In March, the first battery of the 518th AAA Battalion arrived in Hanford, and by May, the entire unit was in place. That same month, an ad hoc interservice committee recommended that 60 critical areas be defended by antiaircraft artillery. The list was cut to 23, and plans called for them to be defended by 66 AAA battalions. Concurrently, a Department of the Army (DA) study concluded that a separate AAA command structure was necessary to control this deployment (at the time, each of the six armies based in the continental United States controlled its organic AAA assets).

Several months later North Korea invaded South Korea. The Army acted quickly to adopt an AAA command and control structure as envisioned by the Army staff study. In July, Maj. Gen. Willard W. Irvine, who at the time was the Army's liaison to ConAC, assumed command of ARAACOM. The Secretary of the Army gave him the mission to continue to support the commanding general, ConAC, and when directed by the JCS or if the United States was attacked, to assume command of the AAA units allocated to air defense of the continental United States.

Irvine and his small staff initially rendered support of ConAC from the Pentagon. Not until November did they move to be near their supported agency at Mitchel Air Force Base, NY. They were collocated there for only a few months, then moved in January 1951 to their final home in Colorado Springs, Cob. Although the ARAACOM staff numbered approximately 20 bodies, there was not enough room for them at Ent Air Force Base, the new home of the Air Defense Command. The ARAACOM staff moved into the basement of the Antlers Hotel, where they remained for several years before moving to Ent.

Before the initial move from the Pentagon to New York, two significant actions had taken place. The first one, in August 1950, saw the Army and Air Force finally agree on how AAA forces would be controlled when defending the United States. Both of the services' chiefs of staff signed an agreement that outlined each service's responsibilities. The Collins-Vandenberg Agreement provided for joint decision-making at departmental level on targets to be defended by AAA, mutual Army-Air Force agreement on the location of defenses (except that tactical dispositions were to be determined by AAA commanders), and Army staff representation at each echelon of the U.S. Air Force command structure charged with air defense. The agreement assigned operational control of AAA to U.S. Air Force air defense division commanders "insofar as engagement and disengagement of fire is concerned."

Irvine formed two major subordinate headquarters to be collocated with the Air Force's air divisions at Stewart Air Force Base, NY, and Hamilton Air Force Base, California. Called the Eastern and Western Army Antiaircraft Commands, they started off smaller than their parent organization, initially having only two persons assigned.


ARADCOM's mission was to train and deploy antiaircraft forces in defense of critical areas of the country. The listing of critical areas would be massaged and changed over the years, but the initial list included industrial centers, the national capital region, SAC bases, Atomic Energy Commission sites, and other key areas such as the narrows and locks at Sault Sainte Marie, naval bases at Norfolk and Philadelphia, and the electric power production facilities at Niagara Falls.

There were many more assets to be defended than there were forces to defend them. Even after the initial listing of 60

areas to defend was scrubbed to 23, the Army of 1950 had only 15 usable AAA battalions on active duty. The Army would expand that number to 45 battalions by the end of 1951, due in large part to the addition of National Guard battalions federalized for the Korean War. Although these antiaircraft battalions were available, the vast majority were not deployed around the assets they were to defend. Some units had to travel hundreds of miles to the assets they were to protect. Not until land could be acquired, facilities built and troops deployed would these critical assets be protected from a surprise attack.

Several sites enjoyed this type of permanent protection in 1951, notably the Hanford Atomic Energy plant in Washington and the Sault Sainte Marie locks in Michigan. In 1952, dozens of 90mm and 120mm gun batteries, and several automatic weapons (AW) batteries, deployed in protection of Washington, Baltimore, Norfolk, Chicago, Detroit, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Boston, Niagara Falls, San Francisco, Limestone Air Force Base in Maine, and Fairchild, Travis, Castle and March Air Force Bases in California. In the rush to deploy these units in 1952, soldiers moved into some areas with few or no facilities. Some units spent that winter in tents.

Gun units typically occupied sites with the only advance planning being a reconnaissance. Then a massive self-help effort was required to overcome the lack of essentials. For example, Battery D of the 18th AAA Battalion occupied a field only 10 miles from the center of Detroit. The field lacked drainage, so after a good rain, the vehicles of this 90mm gun battery sank to their axles. There was no road from the site to the highway. Soldiers slogged around in the mud. Field latrines were set in, along with many tents for sleeping, eating and unit administration. Showers were only available at the local YMCA or school gymnasiums. One hundred soldiers lived permanently in the field just outside Detroit, working in a quagmire. This was a typical site deployment in the early 1950s.

Little if any sympathy was forthcoming from World War II leaders still on active duty. Gen. Maxwell Taylor remarked that it was about time the Coast Artillery got a taste of the field life. Soldiers took on the non-mission related tasks of site improvements, if for no other reason than to defeat boredom and to improve morale. They dug drainage ditches to dry out the sites. They built gravel roads for vehicles and gravel hardstands to keep their guns out of the mud. They scrounged materials to build wooden floors for their tents and erect buildings for sleeping, dining and administration. They built semi-permanent buildings, called "James Ways," when the local labor unions didn't object. Some units, loaded with pride of their own handiwork, put whitewashed picket fences around the sites to beautify them.

Guns and Gun Directors

ARAACOM soldiers operated a mixture of old and new gun systems. The old part was the century-old rifled cannon technology that hurled projectiles at the enemy, and the new was a radar-controlled, computerized, integrated fire control system that pointed the guns.

ARAACOM had three types of AAA battalions: 90mm, l20mm and AW. The most numerous were the very accurate, high-velocity 90s. With an altitude capability of 30,000 feet and a range of 14 miles, the 90mm gun was a proven performer that had scored numerous kills during the Second World War, especially when it was linked to a fire control computer and fitted with VT proximity fuses. One 90mm gun could put 20 to 25 rounds in the air every minute, so a complete battery of four guns firing at an aircraft could put a lot of steel on target.

The M-9 and M-10 gun director systems, produced during World War II, were initially fielded with most ARAACOM units, until the more modern M-33 system could be mass produced. The M-9 and M-10 consisted of an analog computer and a two-seat directing apparatus, called the tracker head, in which two soldiers sat and tracked the target. Information on azimuth, elevation and range of the target was automatically sent to the computer by the tracker head and the SCR-584 tracking radar. The computer then calculated the vertical angle and horizontal direction the guns should point to hit the target. It also calculated the fuse setting for the shell to burst near the target, when using other than VT fuses. This information was transferred electronically to the guns, which fired as quickly as they could be loaded. During World War II, this system was so successful that in August 1944, AAA gunners shot down 89 of 91 German V-I missiles.

The next generation of gun directors was the M-33. Rather than just two tracker operators plus the SCR-584 crew, the M-33 crew consisted of five soldiers who worked in a trailer. Within their trailer, they received a video display from one of their two radars, the acquisition radar. This radar gave them the general locations of aircraft that flew within approximately 75 miles of their site. They were also linked by telephone to their battalion antiaircraft operations center (AAOC), which provided them warning of attack. Once warned, the tactical control officer, a member of the five-man crew, assigned the target to a radar operator who aimed the second radar, a tracking radar, at the target. When he found the target, he had the radar "lock on" to it electronically, and the radar began tracking the target automatically, sending range, bearing and deviation data to the computer. Once the target was in range and determined to be hostile, the four guns of the battery began firing on it.

Another technological advancement made during World War II that enhanced the killing power of AAA batteries was the VT proximity fuse. It caused the shell to detonate, not at a prescribed time from firing like conventional fuses that needed a clock device, but when it neared an object such as an airplane or a missile. The secret program used a small radio and receiver, powered by a battery in the fuse. When the radio's signals bounced off an airplane or missile, its receivers triggered a detonation. This was an astounding development at the time and a great leap in technology. This technology tremendously increased the target hit ratio of AAA gun batteries.

These devices enhanced the capabilities of both the 90mm gun and the longer range l20mm gun. Both weapons were deployed in massive numbers throughout the United States in the 1950s. Several AW battalions of various weapons and calibers were deployed as well.

Peak deployment of the 90mm gun occurred in 1953, when 42 battalions were on line. With each battalion having four batteries, and each battery having four guns, the result was 672 guns pointing skyward to protect the United States. The gun crew consisted of eight or nine men and included a section chief, loader, gunner, azimuth pointer, elevation pointer and a three- or four-man ammo section. The crew both operated and maintained the weapon, which could fire its 24-pound projectile 30,000 feet into the air.

The year 1953 was also the peak year for the number of l20mm battalions. Fourteen were deployed, for a total of 224 guns. The 120mm gun was a trailer-type, mobile weapon weighing about 31 tons with a 13-man crew. Its maximum vertical range was about 58,000 feet. Under good conditions a 120mm gun could deliver 20 seconds of effective fire on a conventional airplane flying at an altitude of 40,000 feet. The rate of fire was from 10 to 15 rounds per minute, depending on three principal factors: state of training of the gun crews, whether or not mechanical time fuzes were being used and the magnitude of the fuze being set. The projectile weighed 50 pounds.

ARAACOM AW battalions defended linear targets, like locks and airfields, from air attack. A new weapon system was developed and fielded in the early 1950s to replace their 40mm guns and .50-caliber machine guns. Called the Skysweeper, it was the first weapon to emerge in the atomic age with radar, computer and gun on one carriage, a fully integrated gun and fire-control system. With its 75mm gun, the Skysweeper could find and track approaching aircraft as far away as 15 miles and destroy air targets as far away as four miles. Its automatic loading and firing capability allowed it to fire 45 rounds a minute. Peak deployment for Skysweeper battalions was achieved in the mid-1950s when eight battalions were deployed.

As more and more NIKE missile systems were deployed, ARAACOM slashed the number of AAA guns in the command in the last half of 1957. By the end of the year only three 75mm Skysweeper battalions remained, one at Sault Sainte Marie and two at Savannah River, plus one 90mm and two Skysweeper battalions at Thule, Greenland.

Description of the Command

In April 1951, ARAACOM was transformed from a planning headquarters to an active command with combat units. A total of 42 units were initially assigned. Of these, 12 were National Guard units federalized for the Korean War. Of all these units, only a few were in firing positions: several gun battalions at Hanford and an AW battalion protecting the locks at Sault Sainte Marie. The remainder of the units were at Army posts at varying distances from the installations they were to defend.

Of the 66 battalions required, only 23 were available, and 12 of those would likely be inactivated once the Korean War ended. So ARAACOM's task was twofold: first, provide sufficient battalions to replace the National Guard, and second, arrange units geographically so that they could best be utilized for defense.

To solve the sufficiency problem, DA was busily activating battalions and associated headquarters to control them. In the 18 months following ARAACOM's assumption of command of all required AAA forces, 42 additional battalions of various types were activated.

Even with all of these battalions, locating them away from the areas they were to defend rendered them useless in the event of a surprise attack. Irvine pleaded his case to the Army staff and argued that the Army component of continental air defense must be a force in being, operationally ready to engage the initial --and likely the most critical-- attack. He wanted all of his units to be in position to engage the enemy, around and near the assets they were to defend so the guns, and later the missiles, could fire without further movement.

As of April 1951, the plan had some units in Michigan set to defend critical assets in California, so many adjustments and movements were necessary to meet Irvine's recommendations, including building permanent sites for gun positions. In June 1951, the ARAACOM staff estimated Irvine's plan would cost $71.4 million. Since only roughly a third of that amount was available, an interim solution was reached. The "six-hour program" and the 25-percent on-site rotation plan were the initial steps that transformed ARAACOM from a nominal force to a force actually capable of carrying out its mission. The six-hour program required each unit to be located within six hours of its tactical site. The 25-percent on-site rotation plan called for one battery of the four in each battalion to occupy its battle position around the clock.

Irvine's goal was a near-reality by September 1952, when 200 of ARAACOM's 220 batteries were stationed at their firing positions. Land acquisition and site construction became a part of doing business in ARAACOM. Many communities that had not experienced a permanent military presence got their opportunity with ARAACOM, and many more would follow with the deployment of NIKE missiles. ARAACOM's major subgroupings in 1950 were the East and West Army AA Commands. In 1951 the Central Army AA Command was established with headquarters in Kansas City, Mo. However, the preponderance of forces were split between East and West. East ARAACOM had 10 major area defenses. JCS directed protection of two of them, the Washington, DC, defense and the Sault Sainte Marie defense. ARAACOM deployed six battalions of guns on a radius of 8,000 yards centered on the Washington Monument. Their planning was based on the assumption that enemy bombers would attack from 30,000 feet at a speed of 300 knots with either conventional or nuclear bombs. Sault Sainte Marie was considered a linear rather than an area target and, therefore, likely to be attacked with low-level bombing and strafing runs, so an AW battalion consisting of 40mm and quad-5O calibers was deployed along the south side of the locks. This sole battalion was to be supplemented with National Guard and Canadian battalions in the event of a national emergency.

Like East ARAACOM, the West was commanded by a one-star general. Although he was tasked with eight area defenses, the JCS had great concern for the protection of the plutonium production plant at Hanford. Four 120mm battalions were permanently deployed, and they were to be supplemented by two 90mm battalions from the National Guard in case of a national emergency.

ARAACOM was no exception to the rule that problems occur when organizations expand. Irvine's 1951 command report listed six major problems. There was a serious shortage of certain items of equipment and a critical shortage of certain specialists, especially radar repairmen. There were few firing ranges and insufficient funds to put units on permanent sites. No tactical communications linked ARAACOM headquarters through field commands to defended areas, and finally, operational procedures were lacking within ARAACOM and between ARAACOM and the Air Defense Command.

While many of these problems could be solved within the Army, perhaps the thorniest issue, and the one that would take the longest to solve, was the last. Now that gun battalions were being deployed in defensive positions, the Air Force feared that, during an actual air battle or an inadvertent civilian flight over these defended areas, engagement would result in loss of friendly air-craft and pilots, especially passengers in the case of an airliner gone astray. A series of agreements between the two services resulted in rules of engagement, alert statuses and conditions of readiness; however, the issue of releasing units to fire at hostile aircraft was never adequately addressed. Consequently, in July 1952, during an integrated air defense exercise called SIGNPOST, ARAACOM successfully engaged only five of 25 air strikes at areas they were to defend. Commanders held their fire due to a "guns tight" condition imposed by their local Air Force air defense division commander. This meant AAA units could fire only at aircraft positively identified as hostile or observed committing a hostile act. With aircraft flying at altitudes of 30,000 feet, visual identification could not be made, and electronic identification was not effectively used, so identification was out of the question. By the time the enemy penetrators had committed a hostile act, in this case dropping imaginary bombs, AAA was not likely to engage. In the event of a real attack, most AAA would turn into weapons of revenge, if they survived the bombing, since the enemy would have already accomplished their mission. This problem was never solved to the satisfaction of Army air defenders.

Following the cessation of major hostilities in Korea in 1953, National Guard battalions that had been federalized for the war were quickly inactivated. Regular Army battalions replaced them. But the role of the National Guard in the scheme of ARAACOM was far from over. The Army chief of staff eventually saw the Guard as a source of economy, both in dollars and manpower, if they were used to man defenses. Rather than federalize every member of these AAA outfits, a certain core of technicians and leaders were selected and designated Special Security Forces (SSF). Each firing battery had 15 such SSF personnel who worked full time. The additional personnel required to round out the battery were ordinary guardsmen who drilled one weekend a month and attended a two-week camp once a year, a period AAA units usually spent on a firing range.

Generally the National Guard followed behind the Regular Army units. When a Regular Army battalion turned in guns for missiles, the Guard assumed responsibility for the guns. Similarly, when the Regular Army battalions progressed from NIKE AJAX to NIKE HERCULES, the National Guard took over NIKE AJAX until it was removed from the inventory. Finally, in the 1960s, the National Guard manned the premier systems of the time when only NIKE HERCULES units were left in the inventory.

The Ever-Changing Command Structure

Although the command's motto was "Vigilant and Invincible," its motto could just as easily have been "Always in Transition." The National Guard usually was either phasing in or out of a new system, and Regular Army units were doing likewise. During the gun era, the 40mm and quad-50s of the AW battalions were replaced by the automatic 75mm Skysweepers, which acquired, tracked and fired on aircraft from the gun's position. The older M-9 and M-10 fire direction systems were replaced by the M-33.

ARAACOM headquarters were also in constant transition. Periodically, boundaries were redrawn as the units and areas needing protection expanded or contracted. This was never an easy fit since the East, West and Central Army Antiaircraft Commands changed to regions in 1955, and separate brigades often reported directly to ARAACOM.

Command and Control

As the command grew, more intermediate headquarters were required. The division of the country into East, West and Central was no longer practical. In 1955, numbering started to replace geographic locations to designate regions. The 1st, 2nd and 5th Regions (plus the 53rd Brigade) now covered the area once called Eastern ARAACOM. In 1956, Western ARAACOM became 6th Region, and the following year, Central became the 4th Region.

Areas of responsibility between regions and brigades continued to shift throughout the life of the command. At one period, it was important to have ARAACOM regions mirror their North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) region counterparts. This alignment facilitated liaison, operational control and reporting procedures between the Army and the combined command.

Each headquarters had different responsibilities. ARAACOM was initially commanded by a major general. As the command grew in the early 1950s, the position was upgraded to lieutenant general, or the equivalent of an Army corps commander. Like any corps commander, the ARAACOM commander had a general staff that included the usual sections. This unique headquarters continued to grow in the late 1950s to an authorized strength of 222 personnel. The headquarters included sections for the adjutant general, aviation, engineer, ordnance, public affairs and signal, as well as the normal personnel and administration (G-l); intelligence and security (G-2); operations, plans and training (G-3); and logistics and supply (G-4). Although he worked directly for the Army chief of staff, the ARAACOM commander was responsible to other headquarters as well. His operational mission, providing air defense to critical areas of the United States as part of a much larger air defense operation, made his duties as a part of the unified command team paramount to his direct ties to the Army staff. The ARAACOM commander eventually became the deputy unified commander, and as such, of the forces of NORAD if called could command all upon to do so.

The next headquarters in the chain were the sub ARAACOM, later regional, commands. They were commanded by either major generals, brigadier generals or colonels, depending on the location and year. They were equivalent to division commanders, but unlike regular division commanders, did not have a G-staff. Their primary responsibility was to interface with their air defense force or air division counterpart. This interface included providing liaison to air battle control centers that passed early warning and other control statuses to control centers at subordinate headquarters.

Brigades were commanded by either brigadier generals or colonels. They were responsible for defending areas that usually covered several states or major metropolitan areas, such as the Washington-Baltimore defense. As stated earlier, depending on the year and the location, some brigades reported directly to headquarters at Ent Air Force Base.

Groups, commanded by colonels, operated separately or as part of brigade. They covered large defenses of metropolitan areas like Cleveland or vital areas like Hanford where multiple battalions were assigned for protection. Brigades and groups were operationally linked to higher and lower units through their Army air defense command posts (AADCPs). On rare occasions, when separate from a brigade or group, a battalion would operate an AADCP. Battalions were commanded by lieutenant colonels and normally had four firing batteries and a headquarters battery assigned to them. They were the lowest headquarters with staffs. The staffs consisted of the basics for personnel, intelligence, operations, logistics and signal.

The battery was the primary killing element of the defense. The captain or lieutenant in command led the soldiers who manned the guns or missiles, radars and control gear that accomplished ARAACOM's mission of meeting the enemy head on. Most had responsibilities far beyond those of normal company, battery or troop commanders. They usually ran a small military post and community. This post often had its own mini-PX, dining facility and other amenities that required constant attention. in the NIKE HERCULES era, they were responsible for the strict custody requirements of nuclear warheads. These responsibilities, coupled with the awesome mission of guarding the country from air attack, made battery command a formidable undertaking. Separate detachments included command, control and communications (C3), security, aviation and maintenance elements. They could be assigned at any level of the command, depending on mission and location.


A vital part of any viable air defense network is communications. Many would argue that it is the most essential element, for without it the other elements would have to work independently and would consequently be much less effective. Communications provided the connectivity necessary for the whole air defense system to work.

In the case of ARAACOM, communications consisted of leased telephone lines that transmitted both voice and data and connected all of the command and control elements mentioned above (GCI, SAGE, AADCP, firing units, etc.). Other elements that were too remote for telephone cables, such as the early warning radar sites in Alaska, used the White Alice network. White Alice consisted of a series of 33 sites throughout Alaska that employed microwave relays and "over-the-horizon" or "forward propagation tropospheric scatter" transmissions. Huge antennas would bounce UHF waves off the troposphere to communicate to other ground stations up to 200 miles away.

Of course, picket ships and early warning aircraft relied on radios to pass information. Many other elements that used telephones as their primary communications means also employed radios as backup.


By 1951, testing of the next generation of ground-based air defense weapons had proven very successful. In the preceding six years, the NIKE project had gone from the drawing boards to the intercept of dozens of remotely piloted B- 17 bombers over the desert of southern New Mexico. A contract was let with the Bell Telephone, Western Electric and Douglas Aircraft team to produce 1,000 missiles, 60 sets of ground-based equipment (such as launchers, radars and control consoles) and 20 sets of missile assembly equipment for the NIKE-I, later renamed the NIKE AJAX.

In early 1951, the director of guided missiles informed the secretary of defense that immediate acceleration of production processes for the NIKE-I Project was considered necessary to get that missile system out of research and development and into the tactical weapon stage at the earliest practicable date. Following were objectives for this effort: production of 1,000 missiles by December 31, 1952; production of facilities capable of producing 1,000 missiles per month by December 31, 1952; production by December 31, 1953, of sufficient ground support equipment for 20 tactical battalions; and establishment of production facilities that, by December 31, 1953, would be capable of producing sufficient NIKE-I ground support equipment for three tactical battalions per month.

The major elements of the NIKE system were a radar to track the target, a radar for tracking and communicating with the NIKE missile, and the ground guidance computer for developing guidance commands to bring about interception of the target by the missile and for issuing a warhead burst command at the time of closest approach. The search acquisition radar required to complete the system was already under development as part of the M-33 radar-controlled, computerized, integrated fire control system.

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. So Bell developed two tunable magnetrons for the NIKE and M-33 track and search radars. One was a 250kw X-band magnetron, the other a 1,000kw S-band magnetron tunable over a 12-percent band.

Both target- and missile-tracking radars were identical, except that the missile track radar was equipped for tracking an X-band beacon in the missile. This radar sent pulse commands with a specific missile address that triggered the beacon, provided pitch and yaw guidance orders and issued the burst command.

The Western Electric North Carolina Works produced 358 ground batteries (sets of equipment) and delivered 14,000 missile control and guidance units to Douglas for assembly in a similar number of NIKE-AJAX missiles. Although the NIKE system was the state of the art at the time, it was not what one would consider "user friendly." As a matter of fact, it could be downright unfriendly. For example, to fuel the missiles with their liquid propellant, which happened to be extremely toxic and flammable, fuel handlers required protection in the form of protective suits made of heavy rubber that covered them from head to toe. These awkward suits were particularly uncomfortable on hot days. However, there was no alternative since fueling operations could result in death or serious injury if something went amiss.

NIKE Training

To train soldiers to operate and maintain this new generation of antiaircraft technology, the Army established a guided missile department at the Antiaircraft School, Fort Bliss, Texas, just south of where the NIKE testing was taking place in New Mexico. The overall objective was to train a small cadre of officers and soldiers to run a NIKE battalion. Once this cadre arrived at its permanent location, its numbers would be supplemented with other soldiers who would then be trained on the job.

One of the major challenges facing the Army in deploying dozens of NIKE battalions in just a few years was training the thousands of soldiers needed to man these systems. The NIKE Package Training Program at Fort Bliss met this challenge. The First Guided Missile Group, better known as the NIKE Group, had as its subordinates the First and Second Training Battalions. Their responsibilities included training "packages" of 14 officers and 123 enlisted men to be the nucleus of each NIKE battalion. Prior to this five weeks of package training, individual groupings had specialized training of differing degrees. Eighty-nine of the package would graduate from the eight-week Specialist Training Program, which prepared them for the routine operation of the NIKE system from emplacement, energizing and alignment to missile loading and target tracking.

The remaining 34 enlisted men of the package and the 14 officers were trained in the maintenance and repair of the NIKE system. Two of the officers graduated from a 31-week course at the Artillery School, the highly technical 1181 Course, and were awarded the title of guided missile systems officer. Another essential course was the 1177 Course that trained guided missile maintenance officers. The remaining 12 officers attended a 15-week course.

Once these groups came together, they spent five weeks on integrated system training as a team. They were issued two sets of battery control equipment, one of which they took 165 miles north of Fort Bliss to Red Canyon Range, NM, to culminate their training by firing a live missile. After this final phase of their training was complete, they returned to Fort Bliss and usually moved their equipment via the railroad to its final destination to protect one of the nation's vital areas.

Trained mechanics and operators, coupled with NIKE system production, resulted in the first deployment of a NIKE unit to Fort Meade, Md., in December of 1953.

In less than a year from that date, 17 battalions of NIKE would be deployed throughout the States, with full deployment realized just three years later when 244 batteries would be in operation nationwide.

Land Acquisition and Site Construction

Rather than deploy the NIKE batteries to open fields that lacked permanent facilities, like many of the gun battery deployments in 1950, ARAACOM had the Army Corps of Engineers busily involved in land acquisition and construction prior to moving soldiers and equipment on sites.

An insight into the problems associated with the construction of NIKE sites can be gained from an Army Corps of Engineer officer who wrote an article titled "NIKE Deployment." "On many of the hilltops surrounding the industrial and strategic centers of the United States," he wrote, "fenced-in assemblages of whirling radar antennae, small buildings and olive drab trailers have appeared." He described the layout of a battery as: "The ground control guidance equipment is located in a plot of six to eight acres --the Control Area-- which includes, basically, three radars and a computer. A Launcher Area is located one to four miles away from the Control Area. It consists of approximately 42 acres, of which 15 acres are required for the operating facilities and the remainder as a surrounding safety zone. The battery comprises six officers, two warrant officers and 101 enlisted men who man and operate these facilities continuously."

Site planning and construction, he continued, required "a multiplicity of activities: enactment of legislation to provide funds for acquisition of land and construction of battery positions and servicing facilities; dissemination of public information to assist in acquiring NIKE battery sites; construction of permanent sites involving hundreds of construction contracts and material suppliers. An architect-engineer con-tract was then awarded to prepare standard plans of a typical battery installation. Considerable progress had been made by ARAACOM, with the assistance of the Corps of Engineers real estate personnel, in the selection of battery sites." A decision was made to move the batteries closer to the center of the areas they were to defend, therefore, "toward the more highly developed suburban fringes of major cities, the problem of locating sites became more difficult."

So an underground missile storage magazine with a hydraulic elevator was designed and installed on a majority of the sites, thus minimizing the amount of land required from 103 acres to 40 acres in the launcher area. With the missile on the elevator, four missiles per magazine would be made ready for firing prior to the engagement and the original idea of a central battalion assembly area was abandoned.

Selection of sites and land acquisition were major problems. Maximum use was being made of public lands, even though using such sites often violated tactical considerations and resulted in less than optimum defense. By far the greatest number of battery sites had to be located on privately-owned land and, in most instances, high real estate costs and adverse reaction by owners made the acquisition problems acute. The general public often thought that site selections were made either arbitrarily or capriciously and, while almost everybody favored NIKE, almost nobody wanted a unit located next door. It was found to be wiser to construct facilities of a higher architectural standard, thus reducing maintenance and operating costs, improving troop morale and providing buildings acceptable to park commissions and residents of suburban areas.

Normally, the impact of a military construction project on the public is confined to a small area or region. This one, however, extended across the United States and involved countless municipal officials, civic groups, members of Congress and private citizens. Valuable property (including park-ways, recreational centers, private estates and industrial lands) was being sought. Public relations was fixed with the Army commanders of the respective areas.

Several factors made it necessary to provide personnel accommodations and related facilities of better quality than those originally planned. Taken into account was low troop morale, causing a low re-enlistment rate, and the long, tiresome hours of troop duty at NIKE units without the opportunities for recreation and diversion common to other service installations. It, therefore, became imperative to provide the troops with good living quarters and mess halls, day rooms, hobby shops, post exchanges and athletic facilities. Access roads, hardstands and walkways, originally designed for unfinished gravel surfaces, had to be redesigned for paving with blacktop.

Consideration was given to the architectural appearance of the structures and judicious use of screen and shade planting. This meticulous planning and preparation for construction paid off in the long term, since many of the sites were in use 24 hours a day for the next 20 years.


Once trained soldiers and tested missile Systems were joined and deployed to newly constructed tactical sites, keeping them ready to fire at a moment's notice was another challenge that the command faced. Gun and missile crews had to maintain a vigilance in peacetime not previously experienced by the Army.

Since each battalion consisted of four batteries, the readiness posture was shared and rotated among each. One of the four had no more than 15 minutes from notification to fire a missile, two of the remaining three had 30 minutes to fire, and the last had two hours. These different times to fire were called states of readiness (SORs) or, in soldiers' parlance, "pulling state." This meant that at any one time, 75 percent of all the Army air defense forces had crews on site pulling state, ready to activate their systems in case of a surprise attack. This sense of vigilance, purpose and mission lasted for 20 years and gave the soldiers a real sense of protecting their country. They took this responsibility professionally and seriously.

To ensure units remained ready to fire, higher headquarters performed a series of inspections. One "no-notice" type of inspection was the operational readiness evaluation (ORE). An ORE team would arrive any hour of the day or night and tell the crew to prepare to fire by using the code phrase "Blazing Skies," a peacetime term that represented the wartime "Battle Stations." The crew then had the prescribed SOR time to get the system ready for firing. Crews seldom walked through these drills, because the unit's reputation lay on the line. Good units could pass OREs if the system didn't fail them, and those that couldn't were usually locked on their site for retraining until they could pass. These measures, designed to improve operational readiness, had a far-reaching effect. Because of them, NIKE batteries assumed an almost combat like role. Fifteen-minute status permeated the atmosphere of a NIKE site. A siren meant an exercise, a readiness test or an attack; one never knew. As ARAACOM units met these statuses 24 hours a day, they assumed an ever-increasing feeling of responsibility for the nation's defense.

Other training events included monthly air defense exercises, lasting 24 hours, where the command and control network from the early warning radars to the firing units was tested and exercised. Another major event had each firing battery annually returning to New Mexico's Red Canyon Range to fire a missile. During the annual service practice (ASP), the soldiers had to perform thousands of individual checks, operations and adjustments nearly flawlessly to achieve the "Honor Battery" rating, a coveted prize.

The ASP was an anticipated event. Units knew the dates they would be firing and practiced hard during the weeks preceding travel to the firing range. To make it more challenging and, in theory, have the units practicing year-round, the "Short Notice" Annual Service Practice, or SNAP, was adopted. Like an ORE, it was a surprise to the unit, and they had only a few hours before traveling to New Mexico for evaluation and firing.

A firing unit's schedule included much more than pulling state, OREs, ASPs and SNAPs. The commander of the 3rd Battalion of the 5th ADA, located in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, listed the following events, in addition to those above, as taking place during a typical year in a NIKE unit: "Tactical evaluations, command maintenance management inspections, radar bomb scoring, annual general inspections, annual training inspections, annual command inspections, technical proficiency inspections, technical standardization inspections, security inspections, annual penetration attempts, and support of command programs such as safety, cost reduction, etc." Although these tasks were performed to check certain aspects of unit readiness, every one depended on troop performance. But all work and no play would soon wear out a unit and the result could be more failures than successes. So sports programs and recreation were an important part of unit activities. Competition in swimming, volleyball, flag football, basketball, marksmanship, bowling, golf, softball, pool, tennis and archery took place between batteries within a battalion and at the group, brigade and regional levels. One site at Grand Island, NY, even had its own miniature golf course. At Red Canyon Range, soldiers spent their spare time, weekends and holidays scrounging materials to build a chapel. They salvaged steel rails from Southern Pacific for the frame and cut bracing from the steel doors of the Lincoln County jail. The interior walls and roof came from the tips and sides of NIKE booster crates. They quarried rock from a nearby canyon or the exterior walls and used plastered telephone poles as the pillars on the front entry. Using cellophane and shellac, they simulated stained glass windows. For bells they hung three NIKE boosters in the steeple. The boosters had been fired and the heat gave them a pleasant resonance.

Automated Command Posts

As long as the numbers of enemy aircraft remained small, all that was envisioned was to bring up the air defense network and defend those areas assigned. However, when the threat grew and became more sophisticated, command and control of air defense forces posed new; problems. With the enemy flying multiple sorties at different altitudes and many different directions, and our own aircraft flying to intercept, how could they all be sorted out? The Army's answer was special command and control operations centers that had soldiers monitoring different early warning devices, then communicating both automatically and by voice to those units that would actually engage the enemy.

As background, Army air defense operations throughout the years pointed up the need for a system that would provide timely and continuous information to the fire units about the location of friendly and hostile aircraft and for rapid exchange of information between fire units and the AADCP. Immediate collection and dissemination of target data were required to ensure rapid fire unit response and concentration of effort directed toward the enemy threat. During World War II and until the mid-1950s, this was accomplished by using voice, telephone and radio systems to pass information from one element to another. Manually operated plotting and status boards were used to develop and portray the air defense situation to Army air defense commanders at various echelons. Such slow and cumbersome Systems did not meet the need for rapid transmission of information required for quick defense reactions needed to destroy jet aircraft by surface-to-air guided missiles.

To meet this need, the U.S. Army developed the electronic fire distribution system, Missile Master, which became operational in 1957. It provided a rapid and accurate flow of information between the AADCP and its associated missile fire units. Interchange of information was also made between adjacent AADCPs and the Air Force's SAGE system. Target track information and commands were transmitted as digital data via automatic data link (ADL) between the AADCP and missile fire units. At the fire units, track information and commands were converted from digital data and presented on the fire unit commander's display console. Using electronic displays and controls at the AADCP, the air defense commander (usually a group commander) could monitor or direct the actions of 24 fire units against targets.

Major items of equipment in the Missile Master system included a defense acquisition radar (DAR) or similar radar, two height-finder radars, a tracking subsystem, a tactical display subsystem, ADL transmitters and receivers, and computing and storage equipment.

Two other fire distribution systems were developed: the BIRDIE and the Missile Monitor systems. BIRDIE was a compact, transportable system that functioned in a manner similar to Missile Master. Missile Monitor was developed to coordinate the fire of batteries with the Army in the field.

Note: On March 27, 1957, the Army Antiaircraft Artillery Command (ARAACOM) changed its name to the US Army Air Defense Command (USARADCOM). On May 1, 1961, it adapted a simplified acronym, ARADCOM. To avoid confusing the reader, the text hereafter refers to the command as ARADCOM.


In June of 1958, the first NIKE HERCULES battery became active in the Chicago defense. By strapping four of the AJAX boosters together, HERCULES increased the range of the NIKE nearly threefold. The top stage of the missile was also larger to accommodate more propellant and bigger warheads, including nuclear munitions. With NIKE HERCULES, ARADCOM could destroy hostile aircraft at greater distances in greater numbers. The atomic warhead could allow one missile to destroy entire formations of bombers.

The Army asked Bell Laboratories in 1953 to continue to study possible improvements in the NIKE system so that its effectiveness might be increased against all types of future bomber attack strategies. An important concern was the danger that closely spaced bombers could degrade the ground target angle accuracy and present high-traffic levels that could saturate the NIKE-AJAX system. The Army wanted a larger missile that would be capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and also wanted to extend 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 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 in NIKE-AJAX, initially called NIKE-B and later NIKE-HERCULES, was made so that the ground system could fire both NIKE-AJAX missiles and the larger, longer range NIKE-HERCULES missiles from the same battery. The NIKE-HERCULES system was designed for continental United States and field operation in three different modes: surface-to-air, low-altitude and surface-to-surface. Modifications were made to the radars to give them greater range than their AJAX counterparts. Communication between the missile tracking radar and the HERCULES missile was also improved. Another significant improvement was the replacement of liquid fuel with solid propellant. As mentioned previously, the most hazardous operation in a NIKE unit was to fuel up the rocket motor. Eliminating liquid fuels improved maintenance, safety and availability of missiles.

Unlike AJAX, HERCULES contained no vacuum tubes, only solid state components except for the beacon transmitter. This enhanced the reliability of the system and eliminated thousands of tubes that had to be carried in supply.

Western Electric North Carolina Works produced a total of 393 NIKE-HERCULES ground systems and more than 9,000 guidance units for the Douglas HERCULES missile. Although the majority of these systems were used in the United States, some were deployed in Europe and the Far East, primarily South Korea.


To summarize this decade in terms of threat, the nation, the military and ARADCOM, this phase of deployment and growth in ARADCOM saw a leap from the post-World War II propeller-driven bomber threat to jet-powered intercontinental bombers and the early stages of a ballistic missile threat. A national strategy was formed, reworked and massaged in the light of competing domestic needs. The military now saw continental defense against air attack as a top priority and allocated resources accordingly. ARADCOM had moved from the gun era to the missile era with a massive deployment of hundreds of sites manned by thousands of highly skilled soldiers.

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four