Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Classified photos: Nike Ajax surface to air guided missile

 

Now it can be told...

I recently found these photos at the local antique mall.  They were wedged behind a vintage file cabinet drawer in a folder marked "Confidential."  Not wanting to buy the file cabinet, I slipped the folder into a 1957 copy of PHOTOPLAY, went to the counter and purchased the magazine.

Exiting the store, I removed the file, threw the magazine to the ground, got in my car and sped away.

When I got home, I started some research on these photos.

An extensive online search netted the following information.

These photos were for a proposed LIFE magazine photo spread that was quashed by the Department of Defense.  The photos were taken by LIFE photographer Niles White and were intended for the May 29 1954 edition.  The photo essay was going to highlight the roll-out of America's first ground to air guided missile, the Nike Ajax.  The missile was first deployed at the scene of these photos - Fort Greenbrier near Boonsboro Maryland.

Upon review by Pentagon censors, the photos and article were deemed "injurious to national security" and all prints, negatives and text were confiscated by the Department of Defense.  Photographer Niles White publicly protested this high-handed treatment by the Pentagon and made quite a stink about the whole thing.  Coincidentally, later that year Niles White was hauled before the House Un-American Activities Committee, on trumped-up charges of "frequenting the same trainstation as known friends of suspected associates of potential Communists."  That ended the career of Niles White.  The last that was seen of him, he was on a street corner in Mexico City, taking photos of tourists perched on a burro for fifty pesos per wallet-size.

Now, we live in less paranoid times, and the days of the blacklist are behind us.  HUAC has been repudiated, and people like Joe McCarthy have gone down in our history as villains.  In these more enlightened times, I feel it safe to publish here, for the first time, this exceptional series of Niles White black and white photos of this historic event of the May 5, 1954, inaugural deployment of the MIM-3 Nike Ajax missile.



Niles White took this photo as his helicopter was making its final approach to the test site.


One Nike Ajax requires many support vehicles and personnel.  Here is the ground-air search radar that tracks and identifies the targets and electronically relays that information to the air-combat control trailer.


One missile is in the launcher...


while two more are in the transport vehicle.  All three were to be launched in this target firing.



Soldiers take a break and pose for White's camera.


Technicians fine-tune the launcher.



The missile is ready to fire.


The target is being tracked.


This photo, seconds prior to the launch, was the last one that Niles White was allowed to take.  Unfortunately, he was not allowed to photograph the actual launch, after making a casual comment about enjoying the work of Alan Ginsberg, to an Army official at the launch site.

Three years later, LIFE was permitted to do a full-color, eight-page spread on the military's guided missile program, including photos of the Nike-Ajax.  By that time, sadly, Niles White was a forgotten man, hawking tourist photos to skeptical American tourists in Mexico.

I'm happy that I was able to let these incredible photos see the light of day...for the first time.  Another Toy Soldiers Forever! exclusive.


Until next time,

Soldier on!

Mannie

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