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1st 75mm Anti-Aircraft (SkySweeper) Battalion in 29 Palms, CA

1st 75mm Anti-Aircraft (SkySweeper) Battalion in 29 Palms, CA

By: Paul Prosise

My first outfit after MCRD San Diego (Platoon 349) and  2nd ITR in 1958 was the 1st 75mm Anti-Aircraft (SkySweeper) Battalion in 29 Palms, CA. The Marine Corps Base in 29 Palms is 994 square miles of sand and dried up lava flows with both flat deserts and hills. The temperature was 120° up to 133° in the summer and below freezing in the winter. What a fun place for me to be stationed for almost four years.

The SkySweeper is a 75mm Anti-Aircraft gun that was deployed in the early 1950s. It was the first Anti-Aircraft gun to combine all the various systems needed for effective use against high-speed aircraft into a single carriage, namely radar, an analog computer for calculating “lead”, and an autoloader for high-speed fire.

Now, that sounds good – but remember this was 50s technology.  In live firing in the field, a drone would fly over towing a wire mesh banner on a steel cable that would give a bigger radar signature than the drone so that the gun would lock onto the banner.  That’s how it was supposed to work.  Frequently, when it was on fully automatic and firing at high speed, it would hit the banner several times cutting off part of the banner or twisting the banner so that it gave a smaller profile than the drone on the radar. That would make the guns shoot right up the cable and hit the drone which would then burst into flames and usually crash into a nearby hill or canyon. It looked like some special effect out of a movie.  (Sorry, taxpayers, the drones weren’t supposed to be shot down, but it was pretty neat).

Since this was a live firing range, aircraft were restricted from flying over, but every now and then someone in a small plane or a commercial airline on its way to Palm Springs would cut across the base. As we were firing and the banner was being pulverized, the Anti-Aircraft gun would go nuts and try to lock onto the plane.  The plane was obviously giving a bigger radar profile for it to fire at. Fortunately, the safety officer was always able to stop it in time. Sometimes the guns would even lock onto trucks on a hill down range – almost giving some lost Marine driving around a really bad day.

In 1960 the 1st 75mm Anti-Aircraft (SkySweeper) Battalion was disbanded and re-formed as the 1st Light Anti-Aircraft Missile Battalion or 1st LAAM Battalion replacing the 75MM guns with the Hawk Missile.  I was in 1st LAAM until 1962.  Part of the time I was TAD  to Base Special Services teaching photography until I left the Marine Corps.

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Comments

Mike Shaw - June 18, 2020

Thanks for the story. I was at 29 Palms 1960-62, first in 1st M.A.A.M. Bn. which became 3rd L.A.A.M.. I had been in Comm Plt 3/5 at Camp Pendleton before going to Treasure Island for electronics school and then to San Diego (where I had been in boot camp – Plt 267 — in 1958) for missile training. That equipment was primitive by today’s standards but we got the job done. I felt the same way you did when we downed the drones — expensive to the taxpayers but oh, what fun to watch!

GySgt J.D. Piggott (ret) - June 18, 2020

I enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in 1954. The unit was the reserve component of the 1st 90mm Gun Battalion,Freemansburg, PA. The unit was re-designated 1st 75mm Gun Battalion in 1957, I believe 1959 was the last of the 75’s, as we where introduced to the Hawk Missiles at that ATD. The Freemansburg Reserve Unit went under many re-designations during my service there. It went from AAA to comm to MTM. When I retired in 1984, the unit was MTM.

Paul Prosise - June 18, 2020

Just wanted to thank you all for your comments. I’ve seen very little information on the web about the 1st 75mm Anti-Aircraft (SkySweeper) Battalion but found LAAM has a web site and an association at: http://usmchawkassociation.com One of the more unusual things about putting this post up was finding the story about Bob Hoover directly below this story. After I left the Marine Corps, I worked for North American Aviation and had flown several times as a photographer with Bob Hoover. He was Chief Test Pilot for NAA when I knew him. He was a true hero. Semper Fi.

Paul Prosise - June 18, 2020

I also explored abandoned mines – probably one of the craziest things I did out there. The horizontal ones were not too bad but on the vertical ones we would climb down those rickety ladders hundreds of feet. If we had fallen, no one knew we were there and we would still be rotting at the bottom! Also explored Joshua Tree National Park, the Amboy Crater, The Devil’s Playground, Salton Sea, Palm Springs, and we tried to climb Mount San Jacinto up to the snow which is 8,516′ high. Also explored Mitchell Caverns (which were always closed for repair when we drove up there but we did find some other caverns about a mile away).

Paul Prosise - June 18, 2020

Semper Fi, John and Jeff. Thank you for your comments and service. I remember seeing the Howitzers on the base – were your’s the self-propelled ones or were they the 155mm?

Karen Balske - June 18, 2020

I was very interested in this article and knew this was the predecessor of the HAWK missile system. After reading the article, I immediately searched my late Marine’s records, particularly for 29 Palms. From 14 July-31 Dec,. 1968, he was XO of Battery A 2nd LAAM;on Jan. 1st, 1969, he was CO of Btry A 2nd LAAM; from 14 July to 9 Sept. 1978, he was XO of Btry D, 1st LAAM; from 1 Jan., 1969 to 11 Jan,1970, he was CO of Btry A, and on 17 Jan., 1970- 28 Feb. 1970 he was with H&S Btry 2nd LAAM –Log OStf-4. It was his later move to Redstone Arsenal as an AL Hawk student that brought us together since I was stationed at Ft. McClellan, Alabama!

Capt. Gerald T. Pothier USMC (Ret) 1951-1988 - June 18, 2020

Thank you, William Boeve, for the updated history of 2nd 90mm AAA Gun Battalion pre-1951. I didn’t know it had previously been a Defense Battalion. Semper Fi to your dad. Tarawa was not a “route step” event. Marines, like your dad, made life in America much easier for those of us who followed. Were you a Marine at Twentynine Palms?

William Boeve - June 18, 2020

Capt. Pothier, was 2nd 90mm AAA Bn formerly known as 2nd Defense Bn/5th Amphib. Brigade of American Samoa/Tarawa (w/2nd MAR DIV)/ Hawaii from ’41-~45′ or so? Yup, 16APR44 unit renamed to yours….just found it. You were 6 yrs behind my dad at Tent Camp 2. Dad was originally in Heavy .30cal water cooled mg’s, then light .30s. Had both on Tarawa in the assault. Later he was sent with three or four others to Detroit, MI to learn the new 90’s. I actually enjoyed the ‘Stumps’ as there was a lot to do if you liked to explore the area. Semper Fi

Jim Davis - June 18, 2020

The new format still is SNAFU big time. Change it back. I’m considering Grit and going to another source for things Marine

Richard E Jenkins - June 18, 2020

I don’t like this format

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