MGM-5 Corporal

The MGM-5 Corporal missile was a nuclear-armed tactical surface-to-surface missile. It was the first guided weapon authorized by the United States to carry a nuclear warhead.[lower-roman 1] A guided tactical ballistic missile, the Corporal could deliver either a nuclear fission, high-explosive, fragmentation or chemical warhead up to a range of 75 nautical miles (139 km).

MGM-5 Corporal[1][2]
Corporal field artillery missile at Cape Canaveral, Florida, the Air Force Space & Missile Museum
TypeTactical ballistic missile
Place of originUnited States
Service history
In service1954–1964
Used byUnited States Army
British Army
Production history
DesignerJet Propulsion Laboratory
ManufacturerFirestone Tire and Rubber Company
No. built1,101 (55 developmental, 1,046 production)
VariantsType II
Type IIa
Type IIb
Mass11,000 lb (5,000 kg)
Length45 ft 4 in (13.82 m)
Diameter30 in (76 cm)

WarheadW7 nuclear
Warhead weight1,490 lb (680 kg)
Blast yield20 kt

Engine89 kN (20,000 lbf)
Wingspan7 ft (2.1 m)
PropellantLiquid fuel
48–130 km (30–81 mi)
Flight ceiling50 km (31 mi)
Boost time64 sec
Speed2,400 mph (3,900 km/h; Mach 3.2)

It was developed by the United States Army in partnership with Caltech's pioneering Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and initially produced by Douglas Aircraft Company.[3] As development continued production shifted to Firestone Tire and Rubber Company (airframe) and Gilfillan Brothers Inc. (guidance).[4] The Corporal was designed as a tactical nuclear missile for use in the event of Cold War hostilities in Western Europe. The first U.S. Army Corporal battalion was deployed in Europe in 1955. Eight Corporal battalions were deployed in Europe and remained in the field until 1964, when the system was replaced by the solid-fueled MGM-29 Sergeant missile system.[5] The Corporal was the third in a series of JPL rockets for the US Army whose names correspond to the progression in Army enlisted ranks, starting with Private before ultimately leading to the MGM-29 Sergeant.

Design and development

The U.S. Army Ordnance California Institute Technology (ORDCIT) program that eventually produced the Corporal ballistic missile began in June 1944 with a contract to the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratories California Institute of Technology (GALCIT) to develop a ballistic guided missile. As the technology to build such a weapon did not exist in the United States it had to be created. GALCIT, later transformed into the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), began incremental efforts starting with a solid-fuel rocket program called Private. It progressed to a liquid-fuel unguided rocket called WAC Corporal, with a research missile variant (Corporal E) also under development.[6] In late 1949 the Army desired to accelerate the Corporal program to create a military weapon by turning the Corporal E into a crash program.[7] The resultant Corporal ballistic missile was developed by JPL and first flew in its weapon version at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico on August 7, 1952.[8]. The Corporal crash program involved utilizing as much existing equipment as it could including the WW II SCR-584 radar.[9]

Corporal used a liquid-fueled rocket burning red fuming nitric acid (RFNA) and aniline; the exact mixture of fuel and oxidizer changed over the Corporal service period. From round 11 of the test program it became RFNA as oxidizer and a fuel consisting of 80% aniline with 20% furfuryl alcohol. As the Corporal was a crash program and constantly under development after 1958 to reduce decomposition of the RFNA and improve performance, the propellants were changed to IRFNA (inhibited red fuming nitric acid), 14% NO2, 2.5% H20, 0.6% HF and 82.9% HNO3 oxidizer, with 46.5% aniline, 46.5% furfuryl alcohol and 7% hydrazine as fuel.[10][11][12][13] this required elaborate and time-consuming preparation immediately before launch, making its tactical responsiveness questionable.

Guidance for the Corporal consisted of a complex system of internal and ground guidance. During the initial launch phase, inertial guidance kept the missile in a vertical position and pre-set guidance steered it during its launch. The ground guidance system was a modified World War II SCR-584 radar which tracked the missile's position, as well as its slant range. This information was sent to an analog computer which calculated the trajectory and any necessary correction to hit the target. A Doppler radar was used to accurately measure the missile's velocity, and this information was also used in the trajectory calculation. The Doppler radar was also used to send the final range correction and warhead arming command after the missile re-entered the atmosphere. Transponder beacons were used in the missile to provide a return signal for tracking at maximum range. The vulnerability of the Corporal system was of concern from the beginning of the weapon program. Electronic anticountermeasures were addressed over the length of the program and would have been greatly improved in Corporal III.[14] Though a variety of warheads from high explosive and fragmentation to chemical had been developed the warhead which the missile was equipped was the W-7 (Mk.7).[15][16]

A Corporal battalion was composed of 250 men requiring 35 vehicles to deploy and took nine hours to set up the missile to fire once the launch position had been reached.[17] Corporal missile battalions in Europe were highly mobile, considering the large number of support vehicles and personnel required to support the transportation, checkout, and launch of this liquid-fueled nuclear-tipped (or conventional HE or chemical) missile. In Germany, frequent unannounced 'Alerts' were performed—necessitating assembling all personnel and moving vehicles and missiles to a pre-assigned assembly point. From there the battalion would move to a launch site—usually somewhere in a remote forest—set up the missile on its launcher and go through a detailed checkout of the various systems. This was not a trivial operation as these electronic systems were largely vacuum tubes. A mock firing would be performed and the entire battalion would be gone as soon as possible in order to not be a target of counter-battery fire. The deployment in the field during an Alert was amazingly swift due to the highly trained crews.

For what was the first nuclear armed missile the Corporal I was significantly unreliable and inaccurate. The continuing development of the Corporal weapon system led rapidly to the development of the Corporal II. This was initiated while the Corporal I was still under development. Though Corporal I was deemed operable many shortcomings in both the missile and ground equipment tactical usability had become obvious during development.[18] Engineer-User trials had shown that the primary reason for mechanical and electrical causes arose because the systems of the Corporal I were too delicate.[19] Problems detected in the E-U trials were addressed in the Corporal II. The Type II Corporal was subsequently improved in the Corporal IIa and IIb (M2A1) versions. The first Corporal II prototype was flown on October 8, 1953. The first complete Type II system was delivered in February 1955,[20] The Type II Corporal greatly improved the accuracy and reliability of the missile system. When compared to other early missiles the final production Corporal II was reasonably accurate.[21][22][23] Still the aggregate accuracy of all Type IIs with a CPE (Circular Probable Error) of 350 meters which was still short of the desired 300 meters.[20] The role of JPL was greatly reduced in 1955-56.[24]

The deficiencies of the Corporal II led to the design and development of Corporal III. The objectives of Corporal III were to produce a much improved weapon system with improved reliability, ground support equipment, and especially ground guidance equipment, to provide the Army with a fully developed weapon.[25] Only small changes to the Corporal IIb missile would be required.[26] In 1956 all research and development work on the Corporal II had been completed.[27] A study at Redstone Arsenal noted that the MGM-29 Sergeant missile system would become available for service in 1963 and that Corporal III equipment should only be procured for additional Corporal units.[28] Though a Type III Corporal was flown in 1957 it was too late for the eternally developing Corporal system.[17] On May 23, 1957 all work on the Corporal III was ended to conserve fund for Sergeant following defense budget cuts.[29] In 1963 the solid-fueled Sergeant missiles with self contained inertial guidance systems which was jamming proof, and which took only an hour from occupying the site to launch of the missile, started replacing the Corporal IIb in Europe. By June 1964 the Corporal system was history in American service.[17] In June 1966 the last Corporal unit, the 27th Guided Weapons Regiment Royal Artillery, retired its Corporals.[17]

Introduction to service

The first three Corporal battalions were activated in March 1952 with an Engineer-User launch program beginning in January 1953.[30] In the same year the Corporal II system was sold to the United Kingdom.[31] The extremely ambitious original goal of the Corporal program was to have 16 battalions of missiles deployed by July 1954. Two batteries of Corporal I had been organized and equipped by July 1954.[30] The 259th Corporal Battalion deployed to Europe in February 1955. It was followed by other units and by 1960 there were six battalions in Germany, two in Italy and four in the United States.[32] Live-fire training for Germany-based US forces took place at Fort Bliss but later the British Royal Artillery Guided Weapons Range on the Scottish island of Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides was used. Missiles were fired toward designated target coordinates in the Atlantic Ocean. Radar on Hirta (the main island of the St Kilda archipelago of Scotland) identified missile landing points. Frequently, Soviet spy ship 'fishing trawlers' would intrude into the target area. The UK adoption of the Corporal resulted in the islet of Rockall being incorporated into the United Kingdom in 1955, the last addition to the UK, to prevent its use by Soviet observers: the UK Minister of Defence Harold Macmillan was concerned that were they do to so, the Soviets might discover how to jam Corporal guidance and tracking radio signals.[33]


 United Kingdom[34]
 United States
  • United States Army[35]
    • 246th Missile Battalion reflag as 2nd Bn, 80th Art (Fort Sill)
    • 259th Missile Battalion reflag as 1st Bn, 40th Art (Fort Bliss)
    • 523rd Missile Battalion reflag as 1st Bn, 81st Art (Fort Carson)
    • 526th Missile Battalion reflag as 1st Bn, 84th Art (Fort Sill)
    • 530th Missile Battalion reflag as 1st Bn, 39th Arty (Germany)
    • 531st Missile Battalion reflag as 1st Bn, 38th Arty (Germany)
    • 543rd Missile Battalion reflag as 1st Bn, 82nd Arty (Italy)
    • 557th Missile Battalion reflag as 2nd Bn, 81st Arty (Germany)
    • 558th Missile Battalion reflag as 2nd Bn, 82nd Arty (Germany)
    • 559th Missile Battalion reflag as 2nd Bn, 84th Arty (Germany)
    • 570th Missile Battalion reflag as 1st Bn, 80th Arty (Italy)
    • 601st Missile Battalion reflag as 2nd Bn, 40th Arty (Germany)


A version of the Corporal was made as a die-cast toy by manufacturers such as Corgi and Dinky. The Corgi Corporal, marketed to children as 'the rocket you can launch', was timed to coincide with the British test firing in 1959.

A 1/40 scale plastic model kit of the Corporal missile with its mobile transporter was produced in the late 1950s and was reissued by Revell-Monogram in 2009.

A 1/48 scale plastic model kit of the Corporal missile with its launcher was produced in 1959 by Hawk and was reissued in 1969 in a glow in the dark version.

See also


  1. The first nuclear-authorized unguided rocket was the MGR-1 Honest John (1953).


  1. JPL/Firestone SSM-A-17/M2/MGM-5 Corporal.
  2. Corporal. Encyclopedia Astronautica.
  3. The Rockets and Missiles of WHITE SANDS PROVING GROUNDS 1945-1958, by Gregory P. Kennedy, p 117, Schiffer Military History, Atglen, PA, 2009 ISBN 978-0-7643-3251-7
  4. Kennedy 2009, p. 121.
  5. Bragg, James W. (1961). Development of the Corporal: The Embryo of the Army Missile Program (PDF). Redstone Arsenal, Alabama: Reports and Historical Office, Army Ballistic Missile Agency, Army Ordnance Missile Command. p. 263-264.
  6. Bragg 1961, p. 108.
  7. Bragg 1961, p. 121.
  8. Kennedy 2009, p. 122.
  9. Bragg 1961, p. 133.
  10. Bragg 1961, p. 169.
  14. Bragg 1961, p. 140-141.
  15. Bragg 1961, p. 174-175.
  16. Hansen, Chuck, “The Swords of Armageddon U.S. Nuclear Weapons Development since 1945,” Volume VII, p 125-126, 1995
  17. Kennedy 2009, p. 125.
  18. Bragg 1961, p. 165.
  19. Kennedy 2009, p. 124.
  20. Bragg 1961, p. 171.
  21. Ordway, Frederick I. and Sharpe Mitchell: The Rocket Team, Thomas Y. Crowell, Publishers, New York, 1979, p 281
  23. Bullard, John W.: History of the Redstone Missile System, Historical Division, Army Missile Command, 1965, p 162-163
  24. Bragg 1961, p. 171-172.
  25. Bragg 1961, p. 228–229.
  26. Bragg 1961, p. 232.
  27. Bragg 1961, p. 240.
  28. Bragg 1961, p. 234.
  29. Bragg 1961, p. 241-242.
  30. Bragg 1961, p. 261.
  31. Bragg 1961, p. xviii.
  32. Bragg 1961, p. 263-264.
  33. Paul Brown (6 September 2003). "British warhead was misguided missile". The Guardian.
  34. "59th Ordnance Brigade – Details on NATO Nuclear Artillery Units (excl. German Army)". US Army in Germany.
  35. "Field Artillery in the European Theater US Army, Europe". US Army in Germany.

Further reading

  • Army Ballistic Missile Agency (1961) Development of the Corporal: the embryo of the army missile program Vol 1. ABMA unclassified report, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama.
  • Hansen, Chuck, “The Swords of Armageddon U.S. Nuclear Weapons Development since 1945, Volume VII, Chukelea Publications, Sunnyvale, CA, 1995
  • Kennedy, Gregory P., “The Rockets and Missiles of White Sands Proving Ground 1945-1958, Schiffer Publishing Ltd., Altglen, PA,ISBN 978-0-7643-3251-7, 2009
  • MacDonald, F (2006) 'Geopolitics and 'the Vision Thing': regarding Britain and America's first nuclear missile', Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 31, 53–71. available for download ,

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