Pershing has been part of the Army inventory for over 27 years and in Europe since 1964. The evolution of the Pershing missile system and the 56th Field Artillery Command were so significantly intertwined that discussion of one without the other was almost impossible.
The original Pershing missile was conceived in 1957 by the Advanced Ballistic Missile Agency. That agency's intent was to replace the aging ‘Old Reliable’ Redstone missile. The Redstone was a major technological advancement for its era, but was large, cumbersome and not especially mobile. It also needed special fuel‑handling techniques for its liquid propelled rocket motors. The ABMA wanted a design which was smaller than the Redstone but with greater range and increased reliability.
In March 1958, the Army Missile Command awarded the Orlando Division of Martin Marietta a contract for the development of a mobile missile system. The specifications for the new Pershing system called for a 400 mile range, twice that of the Redstone. The contract also required the system to be one‑sixth the weight and one‑half the height. The problem of liquid propellant handling was solved through the use of a solid rocket propellant. The fuel was easier to handle, safer and had increased reliability. The new approach to solid fuel propellant made the new system significantly more mobile than the Redstone system.
The Pershing design moved quickly from the drawing board to the test range. The first launch of a Pershing missile occurred at Cape Canaveral, Florida, 25 Feb. 1960 just 22 months after the award of the Martin Marietta contract. Although this launch used only one stage of the system the missile traveled 30 miles down range into the Atlantic Test Range. In September, at Cape Canaveral, the Army fired both stages for the first time. By January 1962, Pershing missiles were launched to their full 400‑mile range. The first tactical system was delivered to the Army in October 1962. At this time the Pershing missile system's mobility was dependent on the M‑474 tracked vehicle, built on the chassis of an M‑113 armored personnel carrier. The missile, without the warhead, was carried on an erector launcher mounted on the M‑474, while another M‑474 carrier trailed with the warhead. A programmer test station/power supply station was mounted on the third M‑474. Finally, a tropospheric‑scatter radio terminal followed in the fourth M‑474. The original Pershing system deployed in a tracked‑train arrangement.
The Pershing land train became the integral part of the first Pershing battalion activated in March 1963, at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. The first Pershing battalion was the 2nd Bn 44th FA, commanded by Lt. Col. Patrick W. Powers. Their training on the system started nine months earlier, but the actual battalion activation took place in March 1963.
After off‑post training, the 2nd Bn 44th FA became the 1st Bn 41st FA, trained and equipped at Fort Sill. By October 1963, the 1st Bn 41st FA moved to Wingate, N.M. for its first actual Pershing firing. On its return to Ft. Sill, the battalion was redesignated 4th Bn 41st FA and assigned to 7th Army in Germany. Its advance party left for Germany on March 11, 1964, from Charleston Air Force Base, SC. The main body left New York harbor aboard the USS Buckner, arriving at Bremerhaven on April 11, 1964. The main body soon linked up with its advance party at Hardt Kaserne in Schwaebisch Gmuend, where the 1st Bn 41st FA (the final unit designation after several changes) shared Hardt Kaserne with the 56th Field Artillery Group. The 1st Bn 41st FA eventually became the 2nd Bn 9th FA.
The next Pershing battalion to arrive in Germany was the lst Bn 81st FA. The 1st Bn 81st FA had a long history, which included assignments with the Old Honest John and Corporal missile systems. On April 15, 1963, 1st Bn 81st FA was reactivated at Ft. Sill and became a part of the Pershing missile team. The 1st Bn 81st FA deployed to Europe in October 1963 and garrisoned at McCully Barracks in Mainz. In 1968, the unit moved to Neu Ulm. The 1st Bn 81st FA became the 1st Bn 9th FA.
The third battalion to deploy to Europe with the Pershing system was the 3rd Bn 84th FA. Like many other units, the 84th FA had a long history of activations and inactivations, but its incarnation as a Pershing battalion occurred on July 4, 1964. 3rd Bn 84th FA personnel went through several months of equipping and training at Ft. Sill in preparation for its deployment to Europe. The unit's advance elements departed for Europe in April 1965. The main body followed and arrived in May. The 3rd Bn 84th FA was assigned to the 56th Field Artillery Group and took up its quarters at Artillery Kaserne in Neckarsulm. The 3rd Bn 84th FA was inactivated and redesignated as 4th Bn 9th FA.
In 1965 Pershing units assumed an additional role in support of the nuclear deterrence mission of NATO. The three units were given the mission of Quick Reaction Alert which required a portion of each unit to maintain the highest level of combat readiness and be prepared to fulfill its wartime mission in a short time. Because of the increased requirements of this mission, the Army began an upgrade of Pershing I. At the same time, the Army authorized an increase in the number of launchers in each battalion from four to 36.
In order to increase the system's ability to move, shoot, and communicate as part of the QRA mission, the Army awarded a contract in January 1966, to Martin Marietta Aerospace to explore development of new ground support equipment system for Pershing. This new ground support equipment became Pershing 1‑A. The production contract was awarded to Martin Marietta in November 1967.
The most noticeable change was the introduction of wheeled vehicles to replace the M‑474 tracked vehicle. The wheeled erector launcher was faster in the missile erection procedure and more reliable than its tracked predecessor.
The new Pershing 1‑A also incorporated solid-state electronics which improved its self‑test and diagnostic capability. The majority of changes took place in the ground support equipment. The basic design of the 35‑foot inertially guided missile did not change, nor was there any improvement on its 400 mile range.
The Army acceptance of the new Pershing 1‑A equipment was accomplished through a unique‑for‑the‑period logistic program called Operation Swap. In 1968 the exchange process began ‑item for item, new for old ‑‑ in a direct contractor to troop unit delivery system which bypassed the traditional Army supply system. Battalion‑sized packages of equipment were formed at Cape Kennedy then shipped to Pershing units in the field. The swap of new equipment for old enabled each of the Pershing battalions to accomplish the changeover without a degradation in unit readiness. Operation Swap was completed by 1971.
The first shipment of Pershing 1‑A equipment arrived in Bremerhaven on August 13, 1969. In ceremonies conducted on September 28, 1969, the 1st Bn 41st FA commander, Lt. Col. Thomas E. de Shazo and the 56th Field Artillery Group commander, Col. James E. Conway, received the keys to the new equipment. Pershing 1‑A had arrived in Schwaebisch Gmuend.
October 1, 1969, marked the effective implementation date of Pershing 1‑A capability for 3rd Bn., 84th FA in Heilbronn. The unit began the necessary upgrade in personnel and equipment to increase the battalion's combat capability.
On September 18, 1970, the 56th Field Artillery Group, which did not have a historical relationship with the new brigade, became the 56th Field Artillery Brigade. The new 56th FA Bde demonstrated the importance of the Pershing system and gave it a command and control capability with the creation of Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 56th FA Bde. The new brigade commanded the 1st Bn 41st FA, 1st Bn 81st FA, and 3rd Bn 84th FA Pershing firing battalions. The 2nd Bn 4th Inf, which had been reactivated on July 21, 1969, and has a unit lineage dating back to the War of 1812, became part of the 56th FA Bde. The 2nd Bn 4th Inf provided the infantry defensive support the units required. The Headquarters and Headquarters Battery provided a command and control umbrella as well as additional communication and logistic support.
A contract was awarded to Martin Marietta in 1974 for advanced development of a new terminal guidance system for Pershing. In 1977 five Pershing II missiles were successfully fired at White Sands Missile Range.
In 1978 the North Atlantic Treaty Organization asked the United States to deploy intermediate‑range missiles to Europe to counter the deployment of Soviet intermediate range, mobile SS‑20 nuclear missiles. Once again, the Pershing system would be upgraded with a long term effect on the 56th Field Artillery Brigade.
On 28 August 1982, Brig. Gen. William E. Sweet, then commander of the 56th Field Artillery Brigade, established a Pershing II fielding section within the brigade operations section. This section was charged with the compiling of information from various sources and developing the 56th FA Brigade Materiel Plan.
Throughout the summer and fall of 1983, key political leaders met with the 56th FA Brigade staff to plan the strategy for the transatlantic move of the Pershing II. By 22 November 1983, the German Bundestag voted to deploy the Pershing II missile in the Federal Republic of Germany. A C‑5A Galaxy cargo aircraft touched down at Ramstein Air Force Base at 10:22 p.m. on 22 November 1983.
The Pershing II missiles arrived in the Brigade area on 27 November 1983. A ground convoy had moved the missiles from Ramstein AFB to Mutlangen Missile Storage Area. Then LTC Douglas J. Middleton initiated the training and readiness program that would successfully transition the 1st Bn 41st FA into the first operational Pershing II battalion. The training was intense. By December 15, the first operational Pershing II firing battery, A Btry 1st Bn 41st FA, commanded by MAJ Nolan Watson, was certified as combat ready. The older Pershing IA missiles were retrograded as the new Pershings entered service. All three battalions of the brigade had achieved operational status by December 1985.
The only fatal Pershing II accident occurred on January 11, 1985 when three soldiers from 3rd Bn., 84th FA in Heilbronn were killed while conducting routine assembly operations with a Pershing missile stage. As a first stage motor was removed from its shipping container, a discharged of static electricity within the rocket motor propellant caused the motor to ignite. After a full investigation of the accident, actions were taken to prevent a reoccurrence.
Theme actions included the addition of dissipative paint on the missile stages, rubber pads on the shipping containers and erector launchers, and improvements in the grounding system.
On 17 January 1986, the 56th FA Brigade became the 56th Field Artillery Command (Pershing). During the activation ceremony, Brig. Gen. Raymond E. Haddock, officially retired the colors of the 56th FA Bde and unfurled the 56th FA CMD colors. The transition from brigade to command was more than a name change. It recognized the increased capabilities of the Pershing II system and implemented an organizational structure to capitalize on theme capabilities.
The command structure authorized a signal battalion, the 38th Signal Battalion, to meet the communication requirements of the new command. The old 55th Maintenance Battalion became the 55th Support Battalion to reflect the additional logistic responsibilities provided by the unit. The aviation detachment became the 193rd Aviation Company, under the new command structure.
On the same date the artillery battalions became affiliated with the 9th Field Artillery Regiment as part of the overall Army Regimental Affiliation Program. The battalion colors for the 1st Bn 41st FA; 1st Bn 81st FA and 3rd Bn 84th FA were retired. The new colors for the 2nd, 1st and 4th Field Artillery regiment were uncased. The 3rd Bn 9th FA was activated at Ft. Sill, Ok. The honorary regimental commander was Maj. Gen. Richard D. Boyle (retired), a former commander of the 56th FA Bde.
Recognition of the role of the Pershing Command soldiers and unit activities during the fielding of Pershing II took place on July 1, 1987. During a special ceremony, the 56th Field Artillery Command received the Army Superior Unit Award for outstanding meritorious service of a difficult and challenging mission during peacetime. The command's efforts in fielding the Pershing II system resulted in a stronger NATO alliance and demonstrated the resolve of the United States and its allies in support of their mutual defense.
With the signing of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Agreement on December 8, 1987, and its subsequent ratification and implementation, the 56th FA Cmd began the compliance actions required by the treaty. The Command had accomplished its mission of maintaining its peacetime combat readiness and supported the overall objectives of the 1987 Twin Track Agreement. With its objectives accomplished, the Command continued to maintain its readiness level until removed from tactical mission status on 1 Oct 90. The Command still had a mission of retrograding its missiles and hosting Soviet On‑Site Inspection Teams.
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