By Monica A. Lester, U.S. Army Heritage and Education CenterApril 29, 2009
This week in Army history, on Friday, May 16, 1958, the first firing of a large ballistic missile by American troops occurred. The story, however, does not start on this date, and it certainly is not the end of the story, either.
Army General Order 68, issued December 22, 1955, established the Army Ballistic Missiles Agency (ABMA) at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. An Ordnance Order on December 30 of the same year established a military unit to operate the Ballistic Missiles Agency. In November 1956 the Department of Defense assigned the missile development roles of the three Armed Services. The Navy was authorized its own intermediate range ballistic missile [IRBM] program, POLARIS, thus allowing the requirements for the ArmyAca,!a,,cs Redstone program to be land based only.
That era is now regarded as a facet of on-going Strategic Deterrence and an early phase of the Space Race, characterized by such terms as Sputnik and the so-called Missile Gap. How did Soldiers view it at the time' In the Army Information Digestfor February of 1958, an article titled Aca,!A"Army Ordnance Looks to the FutureAca,!A?estimated what the Army of 1962 would be like. In it the Redstone Missile is described as a Aca,!A?supersonic missileAca,!A? with a range of about 200 miles. The author also Aca,!A?predictsAca,!A? that the 40th Field Artillery Missile Group would be assigned to the Third Army as part of the Strategic Army Force.
One month later, on March 28, 1958, the Army issued General Order 12 establishing the Army Ordnance Missile Command.Then just seven weeks after that, on May 16, 1958, Army troops successfully launched the Redstone at Cape Canaveral. Drafts of prepared statements cited this event as:
1) The first firing of a large ballistic missile by American troops.
2) The success of the integrated weapons system approach exemplified by the Army Ballistic Missile Agency, coordinating the efforts of science and industryAca,!A|.
3) The ability of the Army and particularly its Ordnance Corps to telescope the normal time span between initiation of a weapon system and its translation to producible, useful hardware.
The following month saw the Redstone rocket put into service in Germany, By December 3, 1958, the new National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Army agreed that ABMA and its subordinates at Redstone Arsenal would be responsive to NASA requirements.
Barely half a century ago, the year 1958 was indeed marked by milestones in the ArmyAca,!a,,cs missile program.
About this story: Many of the sources presented in this article are among 400,000 books, 1.7 million photos and 12.5 million manuscripts available for study through the U.S. Army Military History Institute (MHI). The artifacts shown are among nearly 50,000 items of the Army Heritage Museum (AHM) collections. MHI and AHM are part of the: Army Heritage and Education Center (AHEC), 950 Soldiers Drive, Carlisle, PA, 17013-5021.