Skip to content

Gallery Index

    The PGM-19 Jupiter was the first nuclear-tipped, medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) of the USAF. Its liquid propellants were RP-1 and LOX, and it carried a W-49 warhead. The prime contractor was the Chrysler Corporation. Although eventually a USAF missile, the Jupiter was originally designed by the U.S. Army, and the U.S. Navy had an interest in it also. In fact, the short squatty look of the missile is a result of its being designed to fit into submarines. While the Army was developing the Jupiter, the Air Force was pursuing the Thor. The two missiles were so similar in purpose that the issue of who would be given the go-ahead to build an IRBM was finally elevated to the SECDEF, who saw the Navy’s interest as a reasonable argument to continue the Army project, so on 8 November 1955 he approved both programs. The Air Force would develop IRBM No. 1, or SM-75 (for "strategic missile"), the Army would develop their design as IRBM No. 2 or SM-78, and the Navy would develop systems to launch the Army missile from ships and submarines. In April 1956, as part of a widespread effort to assign names to various missile projects, the Army's effort was given the name "Jupiter" and the Air Force's became "Thor." The Air Force was dead set against Jupiter. They argued that nuclear weapons were not simply new artillery, and that their employment would immediately trigger a response that might result in a strategic exchange. Therefore, the Air Force opposed the Army’s possession of any long-range weapons. The fighting between the Army and Air Force grew through 1955 and 1956, and the Navy was concerned from the start about Jupiter's cryogenic propellants aboard naval vessels, but at the time there was no other option. The Air Force, of course, had no interest in taking over a weapon system they had long argued was not needed. However, studies clearly showed it was an excellent system, and as it was ready to enter production, Air Force thoughts about canceling it soon dissipated. Shortly thereafter, the Jupiter was assigned to the Air Force. New orders for 32 prototypes and 62 operational missiles were soon placed, bringing the total number of Jupiters to be built to 94. The first would be delivered by the end of FY57, and the first production models from Chrysler's Michigan Ordnance Missile Plant would be delivered between FY58 and FY61. In April 1958, the DOD notified the Air Force it had tentatively planned to deploy the first three Jupiter squadrons (45 missiles) in France. However, in June 1958 the new French President, Charles de Gaulle, refused to accept basing any Jupiter missiles in France. This prompted the U.S. to explore the possibility of deploying the missiles in Italy and Turkey. Meantime, The USAF activated the 864 SMS at Redstone Arsenal. Although the Air Force briefly considered training its Jupiter crews at Vandenberg AFB, it later decided to conduct all of its training at Huntsville. In June and September of the same year the Air Force activated two more squadrons, the 865th and 866th. In April 1959, the SECAF issued instructions to deploy two Jupiter squadrons to Italy. The two squadrons, totaling 30 missiles, were deployed at 10 sites in Italy from 1961 to 1963. They were operated by the Italian Air Force, but USAF personnel controlled arming the nuclear warheads. The deployed missiles were under command of the 36th Strategic Interdiction Air Brigade, Italian Air Force, at Gioia del Colle AB, Italy. In October 1959, the location of the third and final Jupiter squadron was settled when an agreement was signed with Turkey, with them agreeing to deploy one Jupiter squadron of 15 missiles on NATO's southern flank at five sites near Izmir, from 1961 to 1963, operated by Turkish Air Force personnel, with USAF personnel retaining control of nuclear warhead arming. Jupiter squadrons consisted of 15 missiles and approximately 500 military personnel with five "flights" of three missiles each, manned by five officers and 10 NCOs. To reduce vulnerability, the flights were located approximately 30 miles apart, with the triple launcher emplacements separated by a distance of several hundred miles. The ground equipment for each emplacement was housed in approximately 20 vehicles; including two generator trucks, a power distribution truck, short- and long-range theodolites, a hydraulic and pneumatic truck and a liquid oxygen truck. Another trailer carried 6000 gallons of fuel and three liquid oxygen trailers each carried 4,000 gallons. The missiles arrived at the emplacement on large trailers; while still on the trailer, the crew attached the hinged launch pedestal to the base of the missile which was hauled to an upright position using a winch. Once the missile was vertical, fuel and oxidizer lines were connected and the bottom third of the missile was encased in a "flower petal shelter" consisting of wedge-shaped metal panels, allowing crew members to service the missiles in all weather conditions. Stored empty, on 15-minute combat status in an upright position on the launch pad, the firing sequence included filling the fuel and oxidizer tanks while the guidance system was aligned and targeting information loaded. Once fueled, the launch controlling officer and two crewmen in a mobile launch control trailer could launch the missiles. By the time the Turkish Jupiters had been installed, the missiles were already largely obsolete and increasingly vulnerable to Soviet attacks. All Jupiter missiles were removed from service by April 1963, as a backdoor trade with the Soviets in exchange for their earlier removal of similar missiles from Cuba.
    Search within this gallery group