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US Air Force Tactical Missiles, 1949–1969: The Pioneers

U.S. Air Force Tactical Missiles, 1949–1969: The Pioneers by George Mindling and Robert Bolton. Lulu, 2008, 318 pp.

Prior to the publication of U.S. Air Force Tactical Missiles, 1949–1969, information on these early missile systems—the predecessors of today’s cruise missiles—was superficial at best. Neither these tactical missiles nor their programs, hardware, and worldwide alert/launch sites have received the documentary attention of combat aircraft and strategic missiles, despite their importance to conventional and nuclear deterrence. Authors George Mindling, who served eight years in the Mace missile program, and Robert Bolton, who served on Mace “A” launch crews for four years, strive to close this informational “missile gap.” They do so by writing from a combination of firsthand experience and in-depth research to help the reader fully appreciate the pervasive deployment of these systems and their importance with regard to both their air defense and regional nuclear-deterrence roles. The authors carefully blend cited material with anecdotal support to bring these systems to life, just as they were nearly five decades ago. Their story unfolds with some big-picture information on policy and development, and lots of nuts-and-bolts detail to please the hardware enthusiast.

Early chapters provide background on the German V-1, from its development at the Peenemünde test site, through the mass attacks on England in 1944, to its reverse-engineering into the JB-2 Loon in the United States. The book also discusses the Kettering “Bug” Aerial Torpedo, a less-than-successful pilotless weapon that shared features with the V-1 and, later, the Matador. Other early, unmanned bomber projects are briefly mentioned, such as the MX-771 project, later known as the B-61 Matador, phased out (only briefly) in favor of the Navy’s Regulus project. The authors devote most of their attention to operational units in West Germany that deployed in 1954, developed the Matador system, and then replaced it with Mace “A” and eventually Mace “B” missiles, which remained operational until 1969.

Mindling and Bolton describe both the Matador Airborne Radio Control and the Short-Range Navigation Vehicle guidance systems as well as the scheduling construct of nuclear alert status, known as Victor Alert. Furthermore, they examine the little-known communications and guidance detachments, with their guidance and control vans at remote locations between the launch sites and the Czechoslovakian border. The authors also explain the map-matching Automatic Terrain Recognition and Navigation guidance system used in the Mace A missile and the Mace B’s inertial guidance system.

Readers will find less coverage (due to the secrecy of the Pacific deployments at the time) of the Matador missiles deployed at Tainan Air Station (Taiwan) as well as Osan Air Base (South Korea) and of the Mace missiles later deployed at Kadena Air Base (Okinawa). Although this discussion helps paint the broader picture, the authors concentrate on the European deployment.

In terms of omissions, the book lacks maps. I recommend the inclusion of (1) overview maps showing the general location of the Matador and Mace launch sites and the target areas they could reach, (2) vicinity maps of the missile bases showing their off-base missile sites and support areas, and (3) layouts of typical Matador and Mace sites showing the various structures and pads. Readers would also appreciate a one-page chart explaining the Matador and Mace missile designations over time (one finds the details in the text, but a quick-reference timeline would make the story much easier to follow). Editing is generally good within chapters but not between them, insofar as readers will encounter information covered in a previous chapter.

Students of Cold War history will find that U.S. Air Force Tactical Missiles, 1949–1969 offers a good overall look at one important aspect of our military presence overseas. These missiles were a key part of our forward-based nuclear presence for many years. Despite numerous references to the larger geopolitical picture, the authors have not written a general history of the Cold War. Primarily, they offer a thorough reference work on the Mace and Matador missile systems. Indeed, the carefully researched, detailed information found here will aid any researcher of missile systems and deployment. After having read this book, veterans of Germany or Okinawa will better understand what they saw or worked with. For me, I have more appreciation of the significance of those strange, abandoned bunkers I photographed at the Rittersdorf missile site in West Germany three decades ago. I recommend U.S. Air Force Tactical Missiles, 1949–1969 to readers with an interest in this subject.

Scott D. Murdock

Buckley AFB, Colorado

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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