Nike Missile Washington-Baltimore Defense Area
Numerous Nike installations were built in Maryland to defend Baltimore and the
(BA-30/31) west of Chestertown
(W-13) Fort Meade
(W-26) Skidmore/Bay Bridge
Baltimore Area Headquarters facilities were located at Towson, Fort Smallwood, Edgewood Arsenal, and Owens Mills. Headquarters facilities on the Maryland side of Washington's defenses were located at Fort Meade and Suitland. During the 1950s Fort Meade also hosted the Headquarters, 2nd Region, Army Air Defense Command.
As indicated by the numerous sites, the capital region was well defended. On March 20, 1954, Fort Meade activated the nation's first battery. After permanent batteries were installed at other sites, this temporary above-ground site was removed, but not until after an embarrassing and potentially dangerous incident. On April 14, 1955, shortly after midday, a Nike Ajax was accidently launched westward. A soldier standing nearby received slight burns. After traveling about 3 miles, the missile disintegrated and pieces rained down on the newly-opened Baltimore-Washington Parkway. There was no traffic passing at the time of the crash and State Police quickly secured the site as a missile handling team from Fort Meade arrived to neutralize hazardous materials and remove the missile parts for inspection. As a result of the ensuing investigation, missile handling procedures in noncombat situations were revised.
Fort Meade also hosted air tracking radars as well as the nation's first "Missile Master" command and control facility. In 1966, Missile Master was replaced by the "Missile Mentor" system, which used solid-state electronics and required fewer people to operate it. Single gender operations ended at this Fort Meade facility in the late 1950s as women were posted within the complex.
Initially operated by Regular Army soldiers of the U.S. Army Air Defense Command, the sites eventually became the responsibility of a combination of Regular Army and National Guard Units. With the increased range of Nike Hercules, many of the sites became repetitive. Sites converted to accept Hercules missiles included BA-3, BA-18, BA-30/31, BA-79, W-25, W-26, W-44, and W-92. All but W-44 remained active until 1974. Site W-26 was the first Nike Hercules site to be turned over to the National Guard.
Some of the batteries achieved notoriety due to accomplishments and location. During the early 1960s batteries from the Rockville and Davidsonville sites consistently won top honors during the Short Notice Annual Practice (SNAP) exercises conducted at Fort Bliss, Texas. Davidsonville received special attention because of its proximity to Washington. In the aftermath of the New Jersey Nike Ajax tragedy in May 1958, a committee to review safety procedures arrived at Davidsonville to study all aspects of missile handling. (See the account of this accident in the New Jersey section, New York Defense Area.) Davidsonville replaced Virginia's (W-64) Lorton site to become the "national site" in 1963, subjecting the facility to visits from many VIPs.
VIPs were not the only people visiting the missile sites. The various batteries often welcomed tour groups such as Boy Scouts. Typical of close community relations was Chestertown inviting the Executive Officer of the nearby battery to present merit badges at a Cub Scout meeting.