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

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

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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.

Sgt Grit wants to hear from you! Leave your comments below or submit your own story!

21 comments

Responding to JIM CHILDERS, my dad is 85 years old and was friends with your dad at 29 Palms. He worked in the same unit. If you message me I can put you in touch. Richprenticegmail.com

Richard Prentice,

What division did the 1st 75mm AAA Battalion belong to? My Dad was in that unit in 1957, according to his promotion certificate.

Jim Childers ,

My father was a corporal in Hq, 1st 75mm AAA during 1957. He recently passed and I’m trying to assemble a shadow box. He was very proud to be a “SkySweeper”. I’m trying to locate the unit patch and or Division patch he would have worn. I know there are very knowledgeable Marines on this forum and am requesting any information or help with this matter. I’m a 20+ year Army veteran and just want honor his commitment to our nation. Thank you.

Jim Childers ,

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!

Mike Shaw,

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.

GySgt J.D. Piggott (ret),

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,

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,

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?

Paul Prosise,

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!

Karen Balske,

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?

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

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

William Boeve,

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

Jim Davis,

I don’t like this format

Richard E Jenkins,

My first assignment after boot camp in 1951 was to the 2nd 90mm AAA Gun Battalion, Force Troops at Camp LeJeune (Tent Camp 2 now known as Camp Geiger). Shortly thereafter the battalion was ordered to Twentynine Palms to trade-in the 90s and became the 75mm Gun Battalion. Just before the battalion moved to Twentynine Palms (1952?) I was ordered to Korea for duty. Though never permanently assigned to Twentynine Palms I have been there TAD a number of times as well as participating in many exercises in the sand and hills of that Marine Corps base.

Capt. Gerald T. Pothier USMC (Ret),

Was there from 54 to 56 saw temp. Reach 140 was with hd.qtrs. 1st155 howitzer by. Frank zielke

Frank zielke,

In the spring of 1977 I attended Comm Chiefs Course at 29 Palms. Never having been exposed to living in a desert environment, I anticipated a very boring 16 weeks in what some considered Purgatory or the armpit of Marine Corps bases. But I made a new friend, MSgt Dwight Whitmire, who taught me that the desert was really a beautiful and marvelous place if you knew where and how to look. Dwight hailed from Phoenix AZ, had spent most of his life living in the desert and, of course, was a rock hound. Hearing most of the guys bitch about nothing to do, Dwight invited anyone who wanted to trek with him in the desert over the weekend. A couple of us took him up on his offer and our eyes where opened to another whole world. We would pack some food in a haversack and couple canteens of water and were off on new adventures. We would explore abandoned mines, and discover an abundance of life where you wouldn’t think any existed. Dwight would show us how of find water in odd places, and look for minerals in different rocks. He had a blow gun which we would use if we encountered snakes (dart through the head) which would be skinned and eaten. Nights laying in the desert, looking up at the stars and constellations, pondering self existence was the most marvelous for me. We would spend hours talking about anything and everything, and it would bring an inner peace to what was a troubled time. Once it rained just before our trek and we were gloriously rewarded to see the desert in bloom. It is a sight not often seen and a real awe inspiring view. So, you see, the desert and 29 Palms is not such a bad place if you only know where to look.

Top Pro USMC ’64-’84,

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