3rd Missile Brigade "Aquileia"

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3ª Brigata Missili “Aquileia”
3rd Missile Brigade "Aquileia".jpg
Coat of Arms of the 3rd Missile Brigade "Aquileia"
Active 1 October 1959 - 1 December 1991
Country Italy
Branch Italian Army
Type Artillery
Role Rocket artillery
Part of V Army Corps
Garrison/HQ Portogruaro

The 3rd Missile Brigade Aquileia (Italian: 3ª Brigata Missili “Aquileia”) was an artillery brigade of the Italian Army active between 1959 and 1991. The brigade was stationed in North-Eastern Italy and armed with missile and artillery systems capable of firing tactical nuclear weapons as part of Italys participation in NATOs nuclear sharing programme. During peacetime the brigade fell under command of the Italian V Army Corps, but during wartime the brigade would have been subordinate to NATOs LANDSOUTH command in Verona. After the end of the Cold War the brigade was disbanded and most of its weapon systems retried.

History[edit]

In the early 1950ties NATO introduced tactical nuclear weapons to counter the Warsaw Pact superiority in conventional weapon systems. On 20 October 1954 Italy and the US signed a series of secret agreements regulating the nuclear defence of Italy:[1]

  • the Atomic Stockpile Agreement discussing the introduction and storage within Italy, custody, security, safety and release of weapons, as well as cost sharing.
  • the Atomic Cooperation Agreement about the "Exchange of Atomic information useful for mutual Defence Purposes".
  • the Service-Level Agreement between the US and Italian militaries regarding technical details about the implementation of the government-to-government stockpile agreement, with details about where the nuclear weapons would be stored and the command structure for their use, as well as joint and individual responsibilities for their storage.

Italy and the United States of America had also signed a bilateral military agreement in 1954, which allowed the American Forces leaving Austria after the signing of the Austrian State Treaty in 1955 to use bases in Italy. At the end of 1955 10,000 US troops left Austria and joined the US Southern European Task Force (SETAF) in Italy. SETAF included two nuclear armed artillery battalions, whose equipment was handed over to the Italian Army when the SETAF was reduced in size and most of its troops returned to the continental USA.

After all the details had been worked out 44 Italian soldiers of the 3rd Heavy Artillery Regiment began their training on 10 January 1959 at the base of the US Army 77th Field Artillery Battalion in Vicenza. Initially the only delivery system was the MGR-1 Honest John nuclear-capable surface-to-surface missile and on 25 February 1959 the Italians launched their first missile from the Adriatic coastal town of Bibione.

On 1 March 1959 the 3rd Heavy Artillery Regiment activated two missile groups armed with Honest John missile systems. On 1 October 1959 the regiments names was changed to 3rd Heavy Missile Artillery Regiment and it became the first unit of the newly raised 3rd Missile Brigade in Vicenza. The regiment added a third missile group on 15 November 1960 and a fourth missile group on 15 November 1962. Each group fielded four Honest John launch systems and they were based in Elvas, Oderzo, Codognè and Portogruaro.

Since its inception the brigade was augmented with further units and by 1964 the brigade consisted of the following units:

  • 3rd Missile Brigade Staff in Vicenza
    • 3rd Missile Artillery Regiment in Portogruaro
      • I Missile Artillery Group in Codognè
      • II Missile Artillery Group in Portogruaro
      • III Missile Artillery Group in Oderzo
      • IV Missile Artillery Group in Elvas
    • XIII Target Acquisition Battalion in Verona
    • XIV Heavy Artillery Group in Trento armed with M115 203mm howitzers
    • XV Heavy Artillery Group in Verona armed with M115 203mm howitzers
    • XXI Engineer Battalion in Vicenza
    • XIII Logistic Battalion in Vicenza
    • XIII Signal Company in Portogruaro
    • 4x infantry companies guarding the nuclear ammunition storage sites in Codognè, Portogruaro, Oderzo and Elvas

The units of the brigade were stationed in the North-east of Italy behind the defensive lines of the 4th Army Corps. In case the 4th Army Corps would have failed in its task to hold the Alpine valleys against a Warsaw Pact attack, the 3rd Missile Brigade was tasked to use its tactical nuclear weapons to destroy enemy troop concentrations and to turn the Puster, Canal and Piave valleys into nuclear wastelands to deny the enemy passage.

1975 reform[edit]

3rd Missile Group Volturno readying a MGM-52 Lance missile for launch
1st Heavy Artillery Group Adige firing its M115 203mm howitzers
27th Heavy Artillery Group Marche M110A2 203mm howitzer

In summer 1973 the 3rd Missile Artillery Regiment began the transition from Honest John missiles to the more accurate and powerful MGM-52 Lance missile system. In summer 1974 troops from the 3rd Missile Artillery Regiment visited the US Army Field Artillery School in Fort Sill in Oklahoma to train with the new missile system. The training culminated with the launch of six Lance missiles on 5 and 6 December 1974 at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. After the return to Italy of the men the 3rd Missile Artillery Regiment began to phase out it Honest John systems. As the MGM-52 Lance was more accurate, far reaching and powerful than the MGR-1 Honest John the 3rd Missile Artillery Regiment was disbanded on 1 January 1975 and replaced by the 3rd Missile Group Volturno. The Volturno fielded three missile batteries, each armed with two M-752 missile launchers.

On 27 July 1975 the 3rd Missile Group Volturno fired the first Lance missiles on Italian soil from the Salto di Quirra military firing range at Perdasdefogu in Sardinia. After the successful launch the group was declared operational. The same year the Italian army abolished the regimental level, moved from Roman numerals to Arabic numerals and bestowed new honorific titles upon units. Therefore the brigade became the 3rd Missile Brigade Aquileia and its new composition at the end of 1975 was as follows:

  • 3rd Missile Brigade Aquileia Staff in Portogruaro
    • CoA mil ITA rgt artiglieria 003.png 3rd Missile Group Volturno in Oderzo (HQ and 1st Battery) and Codognè (2nd and 3rd Battery)
    • CoA mil ITA gr artiglieria adige.png 1st Heavy Artillery Group Adige in Elvas armed with M115 203mm howitzers
    • CoA mil ITA rgt artiglieria 009.png 9th Heavy Artillery Group Rovigo in Verona armed with M115 203mm howitzers
    • CoA mil ITA rgt artiglieria 027.png 27th Heavy Artillery Group Marche in Udine armed with M107 175mm howitzers (replaced with M110 203mm howitzers in 1977)
    • CoA mil ITA grp acquisizione obiettivi 013.png 13th Target Acquisition Battalion Aquileia in Verona
    • CoA mil ITA rgt cotie 041.png 41st Target Acquisition Support Battalion Cordenons in Casarsa della Delizia
    • CoA mil ITA rgt genio 21.png 21st Engineer Battalion Timavo in Vicenza (reduced to company in 1979)
    • 13th Signal Battalion Mauria in Portogruaro
    • 13th Logistic Battalion Aquileia in Portogruaro
    • CoA mil ITA rgt fanteria 092.png 92nd Infantry (Training) Battalion Basilicata in Portogruaro (moved to Foligno in 1981)
    • Carabinieri (Military Police) Company Aquileia in Portogruaro
    • 4x infantry companies guarding the nuclear ammunition storage sites in Codognè, Vicenza, Oderzo and Elvas

At this point the brigade fielded around 5,500 men.

Strategic plans in case of war[edit]

After the 1975 reform the brigades heavy artillery groups had each one valley they were tasked to defend with nuclear fire:

  • the 1st Heavy Artillery Group Adige was to defend the Puster in case the Alpine Brigade Tridentina would have failed to hold it. Additionally the group would have covered the Austrian Inn and Wipp valleys in case NATOs Central Army Group in Southern Germany would have failed to keep Warsaw Pact forces from entering the two aforementioned valleys.
  • the 9th Heavy Artillery Group Rovigo was to defend the Piave valley in case the Alpine Brigade Cadore would have failed to hold it. Additionally the group would have covered the Adige valley with nuclear fire if Warsaw Pact forces would have managed to reach it through the Puster or Wipp valley.
  • the 27th Heavy Artillery Group Marche was to defend the Canal valley in case the Alpine Brigade Julia would have failed to hold it. Additionally the group would have provided fire against enemy forces approaching through the Yugoslavian Socialist Republic of Slovenia.

The W33 nuclear artillery shells for the three heavy artillery groups and W70 nuclear missile warheads for the 3rd Missile Group Volturno were stored in depots guarded by the brigades four infantry companies, but administered by the US Amy 559th Artillery Group. These so-called "Special Ammunition Sites" were:

  • "Site Pluto" & "Site River": Site Pluto opened in 1955 and was thus the oldest of the special ammunition sites. Build into a cave system near Longare about 10 km south-east Vicenza it was the main nuclear weapons depot in Italy. At Site Pluto the 28th Field Artillery Detachment and the 69th Ordnance Company stored Honest John warheads, nuclear artillery shells, nuclear land mines and W31 nuclear warheads for the MIM-14 Nike-Hercules surface-to-air missile system. "Site River" in Tormeno stored the same mix of ammunition and was administered by the 22nd Field Artillery Detachment and the housed also the 19th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Detachment. The sites were guarded by the Aquileias Carabinieri Company and from 1976 also the 2nd Infantry Company. 140x W33 shells for the 9th Heavy Artillery Group Rovigo and 140x shells for the 27th Heavy Artillery Group Marche were stored at "Site Pluto". Since the nuclear weapons return to the USA the site is used as ammunition depot for the US 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in Vicenza.
  • "Site Aldebaran" in Chiarano was opened in 1967 and administered by the 12th US Army Field Artillery Detachment. W70 warheads for the 1st Battery of the 3rd Missile Group Volturno were stored at the site. The site was guarded by the Aquileias 3th[clarification needed] Infantry Company.
  • "Site Algol" in Orsago fell also under administration of the 12th US Army Field Artillery Detachment. W70 warheads for the 2nd and 3rd Battery of the 3rd Missile Group Volturno were stored at the site. The site was guarded by the Aquileias 1st Infantry Company. "Site Algol" was the last of the special ammunition sites to be closed after the Cold War in 1992.
  • "Site Castor" in Alvisopoli near Portogruaro was administered by the 28th Field Artillery Detachment and stored warheads for the Honest John missile system, but after the system was retired in 1975 the site was given up and the Aquileias 2nd Infantry Company moved to guard "Site Pluto".
  • "Site Rigel" in Natz was opened in 1967 and administered by the 11th US Army Field Artillery Detachment. 140x W33 shells for the 1st Heavy Artillery Group Adige were stored at "Site Rigel". The site was guarded by the Aquileias 4th Infantry Company. In 1983 the depot was closed and the units and ammunition moved to the "San Bernardo" depot.
  • "San Bernardo" was an ammunition depot of the Italian Army near Reana del Rojale. After the 1st Heavy Artillery Group Adige lost its nuclear role in 1983 the ammunition, 11th US Army Field Artillery Detachment and 4th Infantry Company moved to "San Bernardo" to support the 27th Heavy Artillery Group Marche.

Each of the three heavy artillery groups had two firing batteries with 4 artillery systems per battery. In the 1980ties the W33 nuclear artillery shells were replaced with fewer but more powerful W79 nuclear artillery shells. However with the introduction of the second version of the MGM-52 Lance tactical surface-to-surface missile system in the 1980ties the three Heavy Artillery Battalions lost their nuclear role. As the Lance had a greater range (130 km vs. 20 km), a higher mobility and better accuracy the Italian Army decided to rely on its stockpile of over 100 missiles rather than on artillery to deny Soviet forces the passage through the Alpine valleys. Therefore the 1st Heavy Artillery Group Adige was disbanded on 31 July 1982 with its 8th battery joining the 9th Heavy Artillery Group Rovigo as 3rd "Wolves of Elvas" Battery. The Rovigo itself lost its nuclear capability in 1986, and the Marche in 1992.

After the Cold War[edit]

After the Cold War ended the Italian Army began to draw down its forces. One of the seven brigades that were deactivated in 1991 was the 3rd Missile Brigade "Aquileia". Already in the 1980ties the brigade had lost two of its heavy artillery groups:

  • in 1983 the 1st Heavy Artillery Group Adige was disbanded and its 8th battery moved to Verona were it joined the 9th Heavy Artillery Group Rovigo
  • in 1986 the 9th Heavy Artillery Group Rovigo lost its nuclear role and together with the 41st Target Acquisition Support Battalion Cordenons came under the 5th Army Corps

At the beginning of 1991 the brigade consisted of the following units:

  • 3rd Missile Brigade Aquileia Staff in Portogruaro
    • CoA mil ITA rgt artiglieria 003.png 3rd Missile Group Volturno in Oderzo and Codognè
    • CoA mil ITA rgt artiglieria 027.png 27th Heavy Artillery Group Marche in Udine armed with 18x M110 203mm howitzers
    • CoA mil ITA grp acquisizione obiettivi 013.png 13th Target Acquisition Battalion Aquileia in Verona
    • CoA mil ITA rgt fanteria 092.png 92nd Infantry (Training) Battalion Basilicata in Foligno
    • 13th Signal Battalion Mauria in Portogruaro
    • 13th Logistic Battalion Aquileia in Portogruaro
    • Engineer Company
    • 4x infantry companies guarding the nuclear ammunition storage sites in Codognè, Oderzo, Longare and Udine

On 31 January the Engineer Company and the 2nd Infantry Company at "Site Pluto" are disbanded. In the course of the year the 92nd Infantry (Training) Battalion Basilicata was transferred to the Central Military Region and on 30 November 1991 the 13th Logistic Battalion Aquileia was disbanded and the 13th Signal Battalion Mauria was reduced to 13th Signal Company. On 30 November 1991 the brigade was disbanded. However on 1 December 1991 the 3rd Artillery Regiment Aquileia was activated in Portogruaro with the remaining units of the brigade:

The three infantry companies were disbanded in 1992, after the US Army had moved all nuclear weapons back to the United States and the regiment itself along with the 13th Signal Company was disbanded on 28 September 1992. The remaining units passed to 5th Army Corps. Today the following units of the brigade are still in active service with the Italian Army: the engineer battalion became the 21st Engineer Regiment of the Bersaglieri Brigade Garibaldi, while the 13th Target Acquisition and 41st Target Acquisition Support battalions are today part of the armys ISTAR & Electronic Warfare Brigade: the 41st Regiment Cordenons based in Sora is a battlefield surveillance unit equipped with unmanned aerial vehicles and counter-battery radars, while the 13th Battalion Aquileia in Anzio specializes in human intelligence gathering.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Kristensen, Hans M. (February 2005). "U.S. Nuclear Weapons in Europe". Natural Resources Defense Council. Retrieved 27 May 2013.