Strategic Tactical Missiles
In January, 1958, the Communist Peoples Republic of China joined the Soviet Union as targets for U.S. nuclear weapons. With the delivery of the W-5 nuclear warhead1 to the already deployed U.S. Air Force 17th Tactical Missile Squadron on Taiwan, then called Formosa, the TM-61C Matador tactical missile took on a new role. No longer viewed as just a battlefield weapon, the Matador became a major player in international politics and United States foreign policy.
With the announcement of the deployment of the 17th Tactical Missile Squadron on May 7, 1957,2 the Communist Chinese government, and specifically Chairman Mao personally, suffered a "staggering" event.3 The political maneuverings between the United States, The Peoples Republic of China, the Republic of China, the Soviet Union, the Republic of Korea, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and even Japan, were all influenced by the deployment of TM-61C Matador tactical missile to Taiwan and South Korea, and later, the TM-76B Mace to Okinawa. The Communist New China News Agency reported on May 11, 1957, that a second announcement made by the U.S. on May 8th, stated “military personnel of the United States forces of aggression in Taiwan announced that advanced elements of guided missile units had arrived in Taiwan.”
The 17th Tactical Missile Squadron began its last series of training exercises at Cape Canaveral on April 10, 1957, and completed its program by launching four missiles by the middle of May. While the 17th Tactical Missile Squadron lead element deployment actually started arriving in April, a month before the official announcement, the remainder of the unit wasn't fully deployed to Taiwan until November of 1957.4 The 17th wasn't officially detached from the host 588th Tactical Missile Group, Ninth Air Force, TAC, at Orlando until February 1, 1958.5
The highly complex political atmosphere of the Asian continent had shifted drastically by the end of the Second World War. Generalissimo Chang Kai-shek had led the Chinese government, along with the Communist forces of Mao Tse-tung, in defeating the invading Imperial Japanese forces. In 1946, the Republic of China was formed, encompassing all of the previous Chinese territories. However, on October 1, 1949, Communist forces led by Mao Tse-tung overthrew the Chiang regime and installed their own government, one that had no intention of being politically aligned with the United States. The Chinese Nationalists loyal to Chiang Kai-shek fled to the island of Formosa, and established the Republic of China (ROC) government in exile. Communist forces failed to defeat the Nationalist armies as they fled and allowed two million or so to flee to the off-shore sanctuary. The battle at the island of Quemoy as the loyal forces fled from mainland China was the most decisive battle Chiang Kai-shek's armies won. The United States, however, had decided not to let Quemoy or any action by Chiang Kai-shek's armies become the trip wire for a new war in the Pacific.
The United States, under the advice of Secretary of State Dean Acheson, announced on January 5, 1950, that America "would neither intervene militarily in the Taiwan Straits nor provide military assistance to combatants in the Chinese Civil War."6 In fact, Acheson went even further on January 12, 1950, when he outlined the United States grand strategy at the Washington National Press Club and pointedly excluded both Taiwan and South Korea from American protection.7 Emboldened by Acheson's statements, the North Koreans invaded South Korea within five months and the Chinese Communists planned a massive attack across the Straits of Taiwan to capture Taiwan and depose the Republic of China government of Chiang Kai-shek.
The invasion of South Korea by North Korea rapidly changed the American view of Asian politics, and when General Douglas MacArthur called Taiwan an "unsinkable aircraft carrier and submarine tender," reversing his previous assessment of the value of Taiwan, Taiwan took on a different value to U.S. strategic and military planners. Military planners had actually placed the U.S. Navy 7th fleet in the Taiwan Straits in the summer of 1950, not to protect Taiwan, but to prevent Chiang Kai-shek from attacking the mainland and upsetting Truman's and Acheson's plans of establishing rapport with Mao Tse-tung's Communist regime! By late 1950 all of the planning about Taiwan was meaningless as the island became a stronghold for the United States in the Pacific against the Communists. By 1951 a Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) had been formed and sent to Taiwan with just under 50 people. The MAAG consisted of personnel from all four branches of the U.S. armed forces.
The Korean War occupied the Communist Chinese resources as much as the war tied up American funding and planning, and Chinese activity against Taiwan did not resume until after the Korean War truce in 1953. With the Korean War no longer detracting Communist plans to reunite the country, China launched its first attacks against Quemoy and the island of Matsu in 1954. Political analysts have argued the attacks were a warning to the United States not to sign a mutual defense pact with Taiwan that backfired miserably. Chiang Kai-shek immediately moved to shore up the island defenses, bringing the total to 110,000 troops on the small islands. The United States, under new Presidential leadership and a newly revived sense of danger from the war in Korea, began a program of reinforcing Chiang Kai-shek's army, a complete turnabout from the previous administration. The US Taiwan Defense Command officially was deployed to Taipei in 1955, giving the ROC its first on-soil commitment of U.S. defense forces. The MAAG had grown to over 750 people by this time. It would not be long before the American military presence presented Mao's government with an incredible predicament: the arrival of nuclear weapons to defend Taiwan.
The U.S. had been planning the possible deployment of the TM-61 to Taiwan as early as the summer of 1956, but without the nuclear warheads. With the delivery of the W-5 warheads to the 17th TMS at Tainan Air Station in January, 1958, the nuclear operational Matadors dictated a change in strategic planning on the part of the Communist Chinese. This was no longer a distant threat from the U.S. Air Force Strategic Air Command that would probably not be used without Presidential considerations. Instead, the Matadors stationed in Taiwan were under the command of an Air Force officer who reported to Vice Admiral Stuart Ingersoll, chief of the U.S. Taiwan Defense Command, who in turn reported to Admiral Felix Stump, Commander U.S. Pacific Command, in Hawaii. Local authorization for the use of nuclear weapons created a new paradigm and a heightened level of concern swept the Chinese government.8
At the same time as the deployment of the 17th TMS to Taiwan, U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles officially announced U.S. plans to introduce nuclear weapons to South Korea. Dulles' announcement on May 14, 1957, included not only the U.S. Air Force Matadors, but also U.S. Army nuclear armed Honest John artillery rockets and atomic 280mm artillery.
On July 15, 1958, the U.S. Air Force inactivated the 58th Fighter-Bomber Wing, under the command of the 314th Air Division, at Osan Air Base, Korea, and reduced its status to group level. Concurrently, HQ USAF activated the 58th Tactical Missile Group in its place at Osan, while at the same time inactivating both the 588th Tactical Missile Group at Orlando and its 24th Tactical Missile Squadron,9 which had finished its training in preparation for its deployment to Korea. All members and equipment were transferred to Korea and assigned to the newly formed 310th Tactical Missile Squadron and the 58th Support Squadron to man the TM-61C Matador at Osan, some twenty miles south of Seoul. The Matadors, replacing the F-86 Sabre fighters of the former fighter squadron, were armed with W-5 nuclear warheads and declared in service on December 16, 1958.
Leonard Ances, one of the original members of the 58th Tactical Missile Group, wrote:
“We then all had a 30 day leave in March 1958 before departing to Korea. We could tell our family and friends where we were going, but were instructed to not say what type of unit we were in. The move had been classified secret. Two C-47 round-robin flights were organized for a West Coast and an East Coast return to bring airmen back after the leave. I picked up the flight at Floyd Bennett Naval Air Station in New York.
We all flew out together on a Naval Transport Super Constellation from the MATS base adjacent to Orlando Air Force Base. Again we were instructed not to say what kind of unit we were, or even act like we knew each other. I always speculated that perhaps we used a Navy plane as part of the secret deception. The plane flew from Orlando to San Francisco, refueled, flew to Hawaii, refueled, flew to Wake Island, refueled, and finally landed in Tachikawa Japan. The most time I’ve ever spent in one consecutive plane flight.
We had a few weeks in Tachikawa, and while we were quartered all together we still couldn’t identify what unit we were in. On the base we became known as Murphy’s Boys. 1st Lt Murphy having the misfortune of being our Administrative Officer. That did give us some leeway with the AP’s. If we did get into trouble all we had to announce is that we were one of Murphy’s boys and we got treated as VIP’s. I have no idea what kind of unit the AP’s thought we belonged to, but the special treatment was nice.
One day a meeting was set up at the Tachikawa base theater. The theater was ringed by AP’s and everyone’s ID was checked. On the stage was a large map of North and South Korea and the various combat forces on both sides. We were told, in no uncertain terms, that our job was to delay any attack, and that we were expected to provide some time for the forces in Japan to react. In other words I was going to spend a year in a position where I was considered expendable. Not a pleasant thought. They also explained that this was the first time we were moving atomic weapons into Korea and didn’t know how China and North Korea were going to react. After that meeting, because they had cordoned off the theater for us, we got even more respect from the AP’s since they now really had no idea how important we were.
We eventually flew over to Osan AB in one of the normally scheduled Globemaster flights from Tachikawa. We were assigned two barracks, but our equipment hadn’t arrived yet so we remained this unknown group. Within a month or two our equipment arrived at Incheon and a group was sent there to escort the equipment, which was to be moved by train, to Osan Air Base. We were assigned a fenced off area on the base, in a diamond shape, just off the runways. It had previously been part of the taxiing area. In that area we had two launch sites, one each in opposite corners, one guidance site and the weapons area were in the other two corners. We also had adjacent to the area an orderly room and a large hanger.
We adapted the motto “Have Missile, Will Travel”, which was taken from the popular TV show “Have Gun, Will Travel,” and painted the knight chess piece that was the logo of the show on all our vehicles. Within a few months the motor pool required us to remove the painted chess men, but for awhile we thought we looked cool driving around with our special logo.”
Auto Tracking Radar, Guidance and Control
58th TMG, Osan, Korea10.
The 310th TMS would deploy three flights with two launch elements each, same as the Twelfth Air Force in Europe. "A" Flight was at Osan, "B" Flight at Kimpo, and "C" Flight at Chichon Ni. Each flight had 20 Matador missiles, considerably more than the eight assigned to each flight in the European theater. However, the 310th discarded the mobility concept used in Germany and went with a dedicated hard pad concept.
Our launchers were semi permanent and sand bagged so that we did not move them. The generator was located nearby with sand bags around it. Block houses were of different designs, modified by us and we made up the consoles. Some of the pads were on the parking ramp on the runway. The maintenance area was nearby. The off-base site was newer and more permanent with a concrete-block blockhouse. The maintenance area was nearby. I don't remember how many launch pads we had at Osan AB. We worked at all of the pads at some time. There was a winding, hilly, paved road between our base and the off-base site. It was about 4 miles long and some Koreans and animals slept on it. We helped dismantle some Matadors in May-June of 1961 at the off-base site. ROK (Republic of Korea) soldiers in sand bagged bunkers guarded Osan AB.
Ronald A. Lindberg
Launch Crew 2
310th Tactical Missile Squadron, Osan AB, Korea11
The Guidance and Control detachments of the 58th Tactical Missile Group at Osan were stationed in several unique locations, including the most famous at an island named Paengnyong-Do, known simply as P-Y-Do Island. Only three miles east of P-Y-Do was the Communist controlled island of Wali Do. Both islands were directly on the 38th Parallel that divided North and South Korea. P-Y-Do, often called the "Berlin of the Orient,” had no airfield, and the only air access was the beach when the tide was out. Venerable twin engined C-47s made daily flights to the island as late as the late 1960s, using the beach as if it were a runway.
In May 1957, six months before the arrival of the 17th Tactical Missile Squadron, Time Magazine reported that Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek had proudly displayed a model of the TM-61C Matador for several weeks on his desk in Taipei, the Taiwanese capital city.12 Symbolically, the small, silver model missile was the guarantee by the United States to defend Taiwan against attack by Communist China. Nuclear war was now inevitable if the Chinese attacked Taiwan.
China in 1957 had no nuclear weapons, and Mao eventually and reluctantly enlisted the aid of the Soviet Union to help build China's first atomic bomb. Mao had no great love of sharing the mantle of leader of the Communist movement with anyone, especially not Khrushchev, but his back was now figuratively against the wall. The Soviets had placed a satellite in space, and claimed to have the lead in the ballistic missile race, having launched the first Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, the ICBM. Mao decided to align with the Soviets no matter how distasteful the relationship as a matter of military and political survival. The political ramifications of the short-lived relationship with Soviet Premier Khrushchev led to an eventual breakdown between the Soviet Union and The Peoples Republic of China that caused the uneasy alliance to falter. Khrushchev actually removed all Soviet nuclear weapon assistance to China after only two years, causing the Chinese grave technical difficulties in their unfinished nuclear weapons program.
On May 2, 1958, the U.S. launched its first Matador from Taiwan. With President and Madame Chiang Kai-shek in attendance, a single TM-61C was launched “from a range in southern Taiwan,” as a test demonstration. The firing marked the first Matador launch in the Far East.13
The Communist Chinese began an earnest and intensive artillery and aerial bombardment attack on the islands of Quemoy and Matsu in August 1958 that lasted until January 1, 1959. After the Chinese had relented and stopped the actual bombardment, Mao Tse-tung later said in 1959, "The Chinese People’s Republic does not intend to start a war with the United States of America over Taiwan. We can wait 10-20 and even 30 or 40 years... However, while not starting a war over Taiwan, we will always say and pronounce that Taiwan is an inalienable part of the Chinese People’s Republic."
Strategists believed Mao was testing the resolve of the United States to aid the Nationalists rather than preparing for an actual invasion. The U.S. military, however, went on full alert, deploying F-100 fighters armed with nuclear weapons from Kadena Air Base on Okinawa to Kunsan Air Base in Korea as well as preparing for air strikes against mainland China from all air bases. Six-engined B-47 bombers were deployed and F-100 fighter bomber units were sent as well. U.S. Air Force Sidewinder air to air missiles were used for the first time in combat by Chinese Nationalist pilots with training and support from U.S. Air Force units and the MAAG, the Military Assistance Advisory Group as ROC F-86F Sabres engaged Soviet built MiG-17s in aerial combat. The new American missile technology was making an impact on the Chinese. On September 24, 1958, ROC F-86 Sabres shot down 10 MiGs and damaged two more. By the end of the month, the U.S. trained and supplied pilots of the ROC had knocked down 29 of the Soviet built fighters, while losing only two F-84s.
The 17th TMS at Tainan Air Station was supported by the creation of Detachment 2 of the 6200 Air Base Wing, which was also known as the "Tainan Air Base Group," on October 20, 1957 in preparation for the arrival of the 17th in November from Orlando AFB in Florida.14 The support group went through renumbering almost as often as the missile squadrons and on August 18, 1958 the unit’s name was changed to the 6214th Air Base Group. The 17th TMS had already been renumbered to the 868th Tactical Missile Squadron two months earlier in June 1958. The 17th, and later the 868th, were originally assigned their first Quick Strike commitment on May 10, 1959, with a single TM-61C to be launched within 15 minutes of notification, and a second launch within 40 minutes.15
The unit stood vigilant alert duty with the ever ready Matadors the entire time from 1959 to 1962 with the very missiles that some historians theorized may have prompted Mao's anger at the United States and Taiwan and may have initiated the actual bombardment of the outer islands.
The tactical missile units of PACAF maintained their combat proficiency in 1958 by doing live launches from Guam.
I was in the Thirteenth Air Force's 868th TAC Missile Sq. as a weapons tech. We went to Guam to test the reliability of the Missile system. The 868th brought four missiles to test fire and the Fifth Air Force from Korea brought six missiles to fire. I might add that the 868th guidance crews did a remarkable job in seeing to it that the four missiles we fired hit the target four times. I recall that the 5th from Korea had a hard time making the target. I do remember the smiles on the chase plane pilots’ faces at the de-briefings when they came back after shooting down an errant 5th AF bird. Oh yes, I still have my dust plug from the RATO bottle on my desk. Mine fired. I do remember the 6th bird from Korea; did they ship that thing back to Korea? We couldn't retrieve ours. Seriously, the TDY (Temporary Duty) to Guam was a much needed relief from the squalor of Taiwan and I'm sure Korea.
Tainan Air Base, Taiwan16
In a move that may have been a precursor to developing political attitudes in the Far East, a planned launch of two Matadors on the island of Okinawa in the early part of 1961 came down to the wire before being canceled at the last minute.
I was a Launch Tech on Launch Crew 2. In the first part of 1961, we, Launch Crew 2, took two Matadors from Osan AB to Kadena AB, Okinawa for a firepower demonstration. We had both missiles ready. It rained a lot on Okinawa. About one hour before we were to launch at least one Matador, we were told to pack up and go home. All other branches of the service were able to show off their hardware and skills. In the 310th TMS we would be on Alert for 24 hour, then off duty for 24 hours.
Ronald A. Lindberg
Osan AB, Korea17
The Next Generation
The Chinese finally detonated their first atomic weapon on October 16, 1964, ironically on the day Khrushchev was removed from office as the Soviet Premier. By then the TM-61C Matadors of the 868th and 310th Tactical Missile Squadrons had served their purpose and had been removed two years earlier. The last operational Matadors of the 868th TMS were shut down and their nuclear warheads were removed in June 1962, while the Matadors of the 310th TMS at Osan were inactivated earlier, on March 25, 1962.
U.S. Air Force tactical missiles were not completely removed from the Pacific theater, however. The TM-61C Matadors had been replaced by the next generation of U.S. tactical missiles, the inertially guided TM-76B Mace of the 498th Tactical Missile Group.
The new generation of Martin’s tactical missile posed an even different threat to the Chinese Communists: they were held launch ready in "hot-hold" for extended periods of time in underground launch bays, protected from nuclear attack. They could be launched in a matter of minutes, not hours, and the new inertial guidance system was unjammable. Instead of the 50 kiloton W-5 atomic bomb of the Matador, they carried the 1.1 megaton W-28, an H-Bomb. They had a 1,200 mile range, and they were not stationed on Taiwanese soil. The 32 missiles were stationed on the Ryukyuan island of Okinawa instead.
Another paradigm in the balance of power in the Far East was introduced by the changing concept of U.S. Air Force Tactical Missiles.
1 Bulletin of Atomic Scientists - November/December 1999 Appendix B Chronology of Deployment by Country
2 “Red Chinese Charge Aggression by U.S. On Taiwan Missiles,” The New York Times, May 12, 1957
3 The Logic of World Power: An Inquiry Into The Origins, Currents, and Contradictions of World Politics - Franz Shurmann, Pantheon Books, New York, 1974
4 The 45th Space Wing - Its Heritage, History & Honors - 45th Space Wing History Office
5 ACC History Office - Langley AFB VA, John Q. Smith, Command Historian
6 Quemoy: at the Frontier of the Possible - Paul Monk
7 “The Korean War’” Max Hastings, pg 57, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1987
8 Surprising Views from the Far East Left, - Brigadier General Noel F. Parrish USAF (ret), Air University Review, November-December 1975
9 ACC History Office - Langley AFB VA, John Q. Smith, Command Historian
10 Leonard Ances, e-mail to the authors, January, 2011
11 Ronald A. Lindberg, e-mail to the authors, March, 2008
12 "Bird in Hand" - Time Magazine, Monday, May 20, 1957
13 “U.S. Guided Missile is Fired on Taiwan,” The New York Times, May 3, 1958
14 Col Fred Wexler USAF (Ret) Tainan Veterans Association - History of the 6214th Air Base Group. 6214th Air Base Group “Dining In” program booklet dated 24 October 1970.
16 Dennis Hornberger, e-mail to the authors, 2008
17Ronald A. Lindberg, e-mail to the authors, 2008