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The 47th Artillery Brigade at Fort MacArthur 1952-1969
by S.E. Stokes and M.A. Berhow
After the establishment of the Army Antiaircraft Artillery Command (ARAACOM) in 1950, Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA) battalions were slowly being brought up to strength and assigned to the Pacific coast. The 47th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Brigade was re-activated at Camp Stewart, Georgia, on 1 Apr. 1951 to oversee the training of the new AAA battalions stationed there, before being transferred on 10 Mar. 1952 to Fort Baker, California. The Brigade assumed command of the AAA brigades stationed in California at that time: the 466th (40 mm guns) at March AFB, the 459th (40 mm guns) at Travis AFB, the 464th (40 mm guns) at Castle AFB, the 718th (90 mm guns) and the 728th (90 mm guns) at San Francisco.

On November 20, 1952 the 47th AAA Brigade established its headquarters on the middle reservation of Fort MacArthur. Additional 90 mm gun AAA battalions were activated in 1953: the 77th, the 551st and the 554th all at Los Angeles. In 1954 the 47th Brigade was reorganized and commanded only the units in Southern California: the 424th (now armed with 75 mm guns) at March AFB, the 77th (90 mm guns) as well as the 551st and 554th which were being converted to Nike units. Additional Army 90 mm gun AAA brigades were activated in the area in 1955: the 865th, the 933rd and the 720th, the latter battalion being manned by men of the California National Guard. In 1957 the 933rd was also converted to a Nike unit, with the 77th and the 856th AAA Battalions eventually being inactivated as AA guns were removed from the American CONUS

The first Los Angeles area Nike-Ajax battery was emplaced in the mountains above Malibu in 1954. At the peak of the Nike period, there were 16 missile launch sites guarding the greater Los Angeles area, protecting an area of some 4,000 square miles with a "ring of supersonic steel." On September 27, 1955, Battery D 554th AAA missile battery at Site LA 55 Point Vicente became the first Nike site to be shown to the public.

On June 1, 1957, the 720th AAA Battalion (90 mm gun) was reorganized and redesigned as the 720th Missile Battalion (Nike-Ajax). This was the first National Guard unit to be designated as a missile unit. On September 14, 1958, the 47th Artillery Brigade turned over operational control of four Nike-Ajax missile batteries to the California National Guard. Battery A - Site LA 40 at Long Beach, Battery B - Site LA 57 at Torrance, Battery C - Site LA 70 and Battery D - Site LA 73 at the dual Playa Del Rey site. The Headquarters and Headquarters Battery was established at Site LA 40 at Long Beach. This was the first time a National Guard unit assumed operational control of a Nike missile battery, and was to serve as a model for the eventual takeover of all Nike sites by the National Guard.

In November, 1958, the 47th Artillery Brigade scored another first with the introduction of Army sentry dogs to guard missile sites. Four specially trained sentry dogs and their handlers were assigned to guarding the Chatsworth Nike-Hercules site (LA 88). These men were members of the first group of 28 dogs and handlers sent by the U.S. Army Air Defense Command to Fort Benning for training in August 1958. Approximately 500 dogs and handlers were required to put the sentry dog program into operation at the nation's Nike-Hercules sites.

In 1958 the 47th AAA Brigade became the 47th Artillery Brigade (Air Defense). Beginning that year the regimental structure of the Artillery was reconstituted and the battalions were also reorganized. Some 2,000 officers and men made up the 47th Artillery Brigade which was eventually comprised of the Brigade headquarters and, subordinate to it, the 108th Artillery Group at Fort MacArthur and the 12th Artillery Group at Pasadena. The 12th Group was composed of two missile battalions, the 1st Missile Battalion, 56th Artillery (ex-933rd), in Pasadena, and the 4th Missile Battalion, 65th Artillery (ex-551st), located in Van Nuys. There were two battalions under the command of the 108th Group, the 3rd Missile Battalion, 57th Artillery (ex-554th), and the 4th Missile Battalion, 251st Artillery, California National Guard (ex-720th).

In May of 1959, the 720th ADA Battalion was redesigned as the 4th Missile Battalion (Nike-Hercules) 251st Artillery, California Army National Guard. Batteries B and C remained Nike-Ajax batteries with no change in TOE. Batteries A and D were reorganized, but remained at their original stations. On March 6, 1963, Batteries A and D entered Nike-Hercules training at USARADCEN, Fort Bliss, Texas. They returned on the 29 of April, 1963.

On May 1, 1963, Batteries A and D closed their Nike-Ajax sites (Site LA 40 Long Beach and Site LA 73 Playa Del Rey) and moved to new stations. Battery A moved to Site LA 32 Stanton, and Battery D moved to Site LA 43 Fort MacArthur for on-site training with active Army crews. On June 27, 1963, Batteries A and D assumed the Nike-Hercules operational mission at Stanton and Fort MacArthur (Sites LA 32 and LA 43) On January 2, 1964, Batteries B and C began Nike-Hercules training at Fort Bliss, Texas. On April 23, 1964, Batteries B and C left their stations at Sites LA 57 Torrance and LA 70 Playa Del Rey and assumed operational control of the Nike-Hercules sites at LA 55 Point Vicente (Battery B) and LA 29 Brea (Battery C).

As the Nike-Hercules missiles were larger, had a longer range and were more powerful than the Nike-Ajax, less launch sites were required and only 9 of the original 16 sites were converted to fire the Nike-Hercules missiles. The other sites were inactivated by 1964. The 12th ADA Group was inactivated at Pasadena and the units were trimmed accordingly.

By the late 1960s, the American missile defenses were beginning to be cut back by the Army. The Nike Hercules was designed for defense against attack by large formations of bombers. As the perceived threat changed from bomber attack to missile attack, the usefulness of the Nike Hercules diminished. In 1969, the 47th ADA Brigade was transferred to Homestead AFB, Florida, and the 19th ADA Group was activated at Fort MacArthur. By 1971 three more Los Angeles launch sites had been inactivated. On 4 February 1974, the Army ordered all existing US Nike batteries inactivated, resulting the closure of the remaining LA Nike sites.

The Guns of Fort MacArthur

    Battery Osgood - Farley
    Battery Leary Merriam
    Battery Barlow - Saxton
    Battery Lodor
    Battery Erwin

    Battery Eubanks

    Battery 127 (Paul D Bunker)

    Battery 128

    Battery 240 (Harry C. Barnes)

    Battery 241

    Battery 242 (Harry J Harrison)

    90mm AMTB

    155 GPF Mobile Guns

    Anti-Aircraft (Fixed and Mobile)

Missile Systems of Fort MacArthur

    The Nike Program

        Army Air Defense units stationed in LA

        Nike sites of the LA Defense Area

        Air Defense Artillery Website

        Rings of Supersonic Steel

        Virtual tour of Nike Battery SF-88

        Visit Ed Thelen's Web Site


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