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26) Nike Missiles at Fort Tilden

Updated: February 11, 2007

Fort Tilden was the home of both Nike Ajax, and later, Nike Hercules missiles.

Nike Ajax:

Nike Ajax
Nike Ajax Missile
(US Army Photo)

The first operational Nike Ajax unit was the 36th Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA) Missile Battalion at Fort Meade, MD, in December of 1953.

The Nike missile site at Fort Tilden was designated NY-49. The site was shown to the media, and on the following day, March 1,1956, the New York Herald Tribune reported that Brig. General Charles B. Duff was the commander of the 52nd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Brigade, in charge of the anti-aircraft defense of the New York-New Jersey area. The tour of the Nike facility at Fort Tilden was conducted by Lt. Col. Mathew E. Chotas of the 505th AAA Missile Battalion.

The numerous Nike sites were coordinated by an Army Air Defense Command Post (AADCP) operating the "Missile Master" or "Battery Integration and Radar Display Equipment" (BIRDIE) system to ensure that only one battery engaged a target and that friendly aircraft were not targeted. Missile Master could up to 24 batteries, while BIRDIE could handle up to 16 batteries.

On July 4, 1960, the New York area Missile Master was activated and manned by personnel from the 52nd Air Defense Artillery Brigade (formerly stationed at Fort Wadsworth in Staten Island, NY). This Missile Master facility was located at the Highlands Air Force Station along with the U.S. Air Force 646th Radar Squadron. The 646th was a component of the "Semi-Automatic Ground Enviroment" (SAGE) system, based at McGuire AFB, NJ.

ADA Logo
Typical Nike IFC Area
(US Army Photo)

Fueling a Nike Ajax
Fueling a Nike Ajax Missile
(US Army Photo)

Since the Air Force was responsible for "area defense", while the Army Air Defense Command (ARADCOM) was responsible for "point defense", the SAGE centers identified intruders, scrambled fighter aircraft to intercept targets, and fed data to USAF BOMARC missile units and ARADCOM's Nike batteries. As the system developed, the Nike batteries became the last line of defense to protect cities and industrial areas.

Nike Hercules:

Nike Ajax
Nike Hercules Missile
(US Army Photo)

Fort Tilden's Nike missile site was half-converted from Nike Ajax missiles to the newer Nike Hercules missiles. Construction began in March of 1958, and was completed on July 1,1958.
Nike Site
Photo: Nike Hercules Missiles at Fort Tilden, (US Army Photo)

Nike Site

On September 26, 1958, the New York Herald Tribune newspaper, quoted the words of Brig. General Robert A. Hewitt, the commanding general of the 52nd Artillery Brigade (Air Defense) at the unveiling ceremony:

"We sincerly believe that this Nike family of of guided missiles is the most reliable yet developed and is the only one which offers great promises for future development as an anti-missile missile defense system. Army air defense elements now have built an effective mantle of missile fire that extends from Boston to our nation's capital and includes Providence, New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore."

On October 15, 1958, the remainder of Fort Tilden's Nike missile site was fully converted to Nike Hercules missiles. These missiles remained at Fort Tilden until they were removed in 1972.
Nike Site
Photo: Nike Hercules Missiles at Fort Tilden, (US Army Photo)

Nike missiles were never fired from Fort Tilden. But the Nike crews did fire the missiles for practice. After 1961, the Annual Service Practice (ASP) was instituted. On an annual basis, Nike crews would travel to Fort Bliss, TX, to fire missiles at the McGregor Range. Batteries would only have a 48 hour notice, and were chosen at random so that each unit would always be at a state of high readiness.
Nike Site
Photo: Fort Tilden's Nike Launch Site (1980s)

Nike Site
Photo: Aerial View of Fort Tilden's Nike Launch Site (circled)



11/23/63 - Nike Hercules missiles on alert status the day after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. (From the Harry Bello Collection)
For technical information on Nike missiles, and for information on other Nike sites, please see the "Links" page.
Typical HIPAR Radar Site
Typical HIPAR Radar Site
(US Army Photo)

Sources:
Maryland Historical Magazine, Vol 80, No 3, Fall 1985, titled "W-25: The Davidsonville Site and Maryland Air Defense, 1950-1974."

The New York Herald Tribune Newspaper (dates as indicated above)

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