The Buzz

The Corporal M2: America's First Nuclear Guided Missile

In February 1955, the 259th Missile Battalion and 96th Direct Support Company were sent to Germany armed with Type I missiles using the service designation Corporal XM2. The 246th and 247th Corporal battalions remained behind at Fort Bliss. The 259th was the only battalion to see overseas service with the missile. A design flaw in the Type I guidance system allowed a 1,000-watt transmitter operating on the Doppler frequency to jam it and bring down the warhead unarmed. Recognizing the problem, extensive improvements were made to the Doppler system and radio link as well as to the design of new servicing and launcher erector vehicles. When 456 missiles and sufficient ground equipment to equip six Corporal battalions, each with two firing batteries, were procured in late 1954, they were redesignated Type II (M2). A contract was awarded to Gilfillian Brothers in 1953 to produce an advanced set of guidance components and missiles to which the equipment was retrofitted in 1957 and became Type IIa. A Type IIb (M2A1) missile with quick-disconnect fins and an air turbine alternator instead of batteries went into production in 1958.

Seventy-eight contractor and engineering-user test firings of Type II missiles took place starting on October 29, 1954. These demonstrated a significant increase in accuracy, with 46.1 percent of the rounds falling inside a 300-meter radius. Reliability increased to 60.1 percent. The structure of Corporal field artillery (FA) battalions was reorganized in 1956. Previously, they had a standard organization with a battalion headquarters and headquarters battery (HHB), two firing batteries, and a service battery. The battalion now became a single fire unit organization consisting of a headquarters and service battery (HSB) and one firing battery. In the spring of 1956, six of the new Corporal battalions armed with the M2 missile replaced the 259th in Germany. Two additional units were sent to Italy. There were now a total of 12 Corporal FA battalions, with four kept in reserve in the continental United States. Units were regularly rotated to provide for live-firing training at the White Sands Proving Ground.

Design of a Type III missile with an improved guidance system was cancelled in 1958 owing to the planned deployment of Sergeant, a JPL-designed tactical solid-fuel missile that rectified many of Corporal’s shortcomings. Although extensively redesigned during its history, Corporal remained unnecessarily complex as a result of its transition from a research vehicle. This led to poor reliability, slow mobilization times, and a low cyclic rate of fire. General James N. Gibson described a single launcher Southern European Task Force (SETAF) battalion in 1960 as being able to fire four missiles during its first 24 hours in action and one every 12 hours thereafter. This assumed the first missile was fired at zero hour, with no intermediate moves. Corporal also needed a large number of trained personnel to support a single launcher, was susceptible to electronic countermeasures, and did not meet the desired dispersal distance between guidance and launchers for security. Demobilization was begun in 1963, and the last Corporal battery ended service in June 1964. On July 1, Corporal was declared obsolete.

Despite Corporal’s limited deployment and short service life, the Army still holds the missile in high regard, mainly because it was the vehicle that enabled the Army to enter the technological age of warfare. Prior to Corporal, there was no body of established knowledge in the field of rocketry available to either industry or the military. Manufacturers had to be trained in the development and fabrication of missiles that had to function with a high degree of reliability, while the Army had to develop the arts of contract negotiation, execution, and administration. The Army also had to become adept at technical supervision to maintain control over its projects. Beyond this was the need to develop educational programs and facilities to train personnel in the proper maintenance and operation of its new weapons. For all these reasons, Corporal was considered “the embryo of the Army missile program.”

This article by Peter A. Goetz originally appeared on Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikimedia Commons / NASA

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