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.

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

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


  • Capt. Gerald T. Pothier USMC (Ret)

    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.

  • Frank zielke

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

  • Top Pro USMC ’64-’84

    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.

  • Bob Longabardi

    was stationed there in 66-67! The weather was exactly as stated. Had the Black Flag run up a number of times. (means you cannot go out)

  • Sgt Doug Walker

    ‘C’ Battery 2nd LAAM in 64. Off to Chu Lai, in 65. 29 Stumps was not a fun place to be stationed but it was way better than ‘Nam.

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