MGM-31 Pershing

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Launch of a Pershing I (MGM-31A) in February 1966. The launch vehicle was of the type M474 .

The MGM-31 Pershing , or simply Pershing missile , was a ballistic military missile of the Cold War era from US production . The solid fuel rocket was named after the US General of the First World War John Joseph Pershing . In Germany , the Pershing II type of the Pershing missile is primarily known through the NATO double resolution. The West German peace movement protested against its stationing in the early 1980s.


Pershing I.

A Pershing missile on a Bundeswehr M474 during a NATO parade in 1969
Pershing 1a of the German Armed Forces in the Gatow Air Force Museum

The Pershing I / IA ( MGM-31A ) was a short-range missile with a range of approximately 740 km. The two-stage, solid-propelled, self-guided missile had an inertial navigation system based on a so-called "stable table". This was stabilized by gyroscopic systems during the entire flight and thus enabled the on-board computer to continuously determine the position and to precisely maintain the flight path up to the so-called “point in space”. There, the nuclear W-50 warhead was cut off , which was available in three variants (60 kt, 200 kt, 460 kt - corresponding to around 5, 15, 35 Hiroshima bombs ).

The trajectory was recorded by a programming station on the ground in the "Guidance and Control Section" (G&C) of the missile immediately before take-off, and ended a few minutes after take-off with the warhead being pushed off, which was on a ballistic trajectory - with stabilization through its own rotation - crashed to the goal.

The missile was developed in the USA in the early 1960s by the Martin Marietta Corporation as a replacement for the SSM-A-14 Redstone missile . From the mid-1960s, 79 pieces went to the Federal Republic of Germany and another 169 to the USA. Pershing I were also stationed in South Korea. The training for I / IA was carried out in Fort Sill / Oklahoma for the German Armed Forces.

In contrast to the successor model Pershing II, the Pershing I and IA were purely ballistic weapons.

Pershing II

Pershing II ready-to-launch missiles, Fort Bliss, Texas
Pershing II with tractor MAN gl KAT 2 of the Mutlanger unit

The Soviet Union introduced several hundred new medium-range ballistic missiles of the type RSD-10 (NATO designation SS-20) from 1975 . They were used to replace the outdated SS-4 and SS-5 and could carry a 1-megaton warhead 5000 km. Later there were variants with three warheads with lower explosive power. These rockets were mounted on mobile launchers and could reach large parts of Europe with a minimal warning time of 5 to 15 minutes.

From 1976 the USA developed the medium-range missile Pershing II (MGM-31B) with a longer range of up to 1,800 km as a successor to the Pershing I. The Pershing II was 10 meters high, one meter in diameter and twice as high as its predecessor, the Pershing IA Technically completely redesigned weight. Nevertheless, from southern Germany she was able to hit targets in the western USSR (now Belarus and Ukraine) with high precision in just under five minutes. The end-phase control system (see: MARV ) of your warhead, in which a radar image recorded during the target approach ( active target guidance ) was compared with a digitally stored radar signature for deviations and corrected by a control system, resulted in a significantly improved accuracy ( CEP 50 ) in of the order of about 50 meters. This made it possible to use W-85 nuclear warheads with a significantly lower explosive force of 5 to 50 kt to destroy a given target.

Compared to the SS-20, both the explosive power and the range of the Pershing II were significantly smaller, but the threat scenario was more clearly defined by its location and range: Eastern Europe up to approx. 400 km from Moscow. In connection with the high level of accuracy, the Soviet Union saw the Pershing II missiles as weapons for a nuclear first or decapitation strike , especially since leading politicians in the Reagan government spoke of the Soviet Union as an " empire of evil ". In parts of the German population and among many politicians, the imminent stationing of such weapons gave rise to considerable fears: the nuclear war had become “more precise and therefore more manageable” and the politico-military inhibition threshold for the use of these weapons would inevitably decrease. The West German peace movement therefore demonstrated in 1981–1984 against the stationing of Pershing II missiles in Germany. On October 10, 1981 alone, more than 300,000 people demonstrated in Bonn's Hofgarten .

After the disarmament negotiations that began in 1981 in accordance with the NATO double resolution of December 12, 1979 were unsuccessful, the Pershing II medium-range missiles (MRBM) began to be deployed in West Germany a few days after the approval of the German Bundestag on November 22, 1983 only took place in the Federal Republic of Germany and was completed in 1985.

In 1981 the Soviet secret service KGB initiated Operation RJaN in connection with the planned deployment of medium-range missiles by NATO . Their aim was to identify signs of a possibly imminent first strike by the West. The climax of the tension was reached with the NATO staff exercise Able Archer in November 1983. It is now believed that both sides have come dangerously close to nuclear war during this period. In contrast to the Berlin crisis in 1961 and the Cuba crisis in 1962, most of the processes remained hidden, but the dangerousness of the situation was comparable to that of around twenty years earlier.

Memorial stone for the victims of the Heilbronn rocket accident

Technical specifications

MARV warhead W85 of the MGM-31B Pershing II
Flight phases of the Pershing II
NATO code name MGM-31A Pershing I. MGM-31B Pershing II
length 10.55 m 10.61 m
Hull diameter 1,020 mm 1,036 mm
Takeoff weight 4,600 kg 7,400 kg
Warhead 1 MIRV of type W50 with 60, 200 or 400 kT 1 MARV of type W85 with 5 to 80 kT (variable)
Operational range 740 km 1,770 km
control Inertial navigation platform Inertial navigation platform plus active radar target search
Hit Accuracy ( CEP ) 150-300 m 50-100 m

Stationings in the Federal Republic of Germany

Pershing I.

Pershing 1 in West Germany in 1969

From 1969 to July 1983 u. a. a Pershing-IA missile position of the 81st Field Artillery of the US Army in Inneringen in Baden-Württemberg with nine missiles ready for use, equipped with nuclear warheads.

The 79 German Pershing IA were stationed by the Luftwaffe in two squadrons, in the missile squadrons (FKG) 1 in Landsberg and 2 in Geilenkirchen . One relay at a time was held in “QRA” readiness ( Quick Reaction Alert ). Since the Bundeswehr was not allowed to dispose of nuclear weapons , American warheads under US guard were provided for the Pershing as part of the nuclear participation . The QRAs were organized in such a way that there were three launchpads, each with three missiles, which were immediately ready for use. The US guard was carried out by US armed forces, the assembly of the "warheads" was carried out by the German armed forces. The warheads for the FKG 1 were not z. B. stored in Landsberg or near Kempten, but near Augsburg .

Pershing II

The Pershing II was only assigned to US troops in West Germany within the framework of NATO, the German Bundeswehr air force kept the Pershing IA. The US Army maintained three rocket artillery battalions equipped with Pershing-II, which were subordinate to the 56th Field Artillery Command in Schwäbisch Gmünd and to each of which 36 missiles were assigned:

  • The 1st Battalion, 41st Field Artillery Regiment (from 1986: 2nd Battalion, 9th Field Artillery) was stationed in the Hardt and Bismarck barracks in Schwäbisch Gmünd. It had the Pershing II depot (MSA, Missile Storage Area) on the Mutlanger Heide on the outskirts of Mutlangen , which became known through the protests and blockades of the peace movement .
  • The 1st Battalion, 81st Field Artillery Regiment (from 1986: 1st Battalion, 9th Field Artillery) was stationed in the Wiley barracks in Neu-Ulm . As a QRA position it had the clay pit (nickname "Von Steuben") near Kettershausen , about 9 km east of Illertissen .
  • The 3rd Battalion, 84th Field Artillery Regiment (from 1986: 4th Battalion, 9th Field Artillery) was stationed in the artillery barracks in Neckarsulm and in the Badner Hof barracks in Heilbronn . It had the QRA position on the Waldheide (nickname "Fort Redleg") on the eastern outskirts of Heilbronn. There, on January 11, 1985, three US soldiers were killed in the explosion of a Pershing II rocket stage.

In each of the QRA positions one of the four batteries of a battalion was in constant readiness.

According to the strategy, the missiles were not only held in the locations. The deployment concept stipulated that in the event of a crisis, the rockets should leave their regular positions to protect them and, if necessary, be hidden in southern German forests. A preferred location for such exercises was the former army ammunition facility in Straß near Nersingen . Often whole batteries were on the move during exercises in the Swabian Alb and in the area of ​​the Swabian-Franconian Forest . This resulted in both traffic accidents and mishaps such as getting stuck or slipping in the ditch. Due to the bad experience with the American trucks, the German MAN gl was used for the Pershing II , but with different drive technology.


After the end of the Cold War, all US Pershing I missiles until 1989, all German Pershing IA missiles until 1991 and all Pershing II missiles until May 1991 , in accordance with the agreements of the INF Treaty of December 8, 1987, were under the control of the Contractual partners (USA and USSR) dismantled and destroyed.

Pershing IA in the driveway to the Selfkant barracks in Geilenkirchen.

A total of 120 Pershing II medium-range missiles were in the Federal Republic of Germany. One of the last of these is now used as a decoration in front of the Air Force officers' school in Fürstenfeldbruck and a Pershing IA in the driveway to the Selfkant barracks in Geilenkirchen.

The LC-16 launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station , which was used from 1974 to 1988, was also used by the US Army for development flights for the Pershing medium-range missile. As a result of the decommissioning decided under the INF contract, the LC-16 launch pad was also shut down in 1988.


Following the song marble, stone and iron breaks from Dorco German with the line "Everything, everything is over, but we are true to ourselves" there by Ludwig Hirsch , a version with "Everything, everything passes through the Pershing II" , which was a popular protest song in the 1980s.

The first stanza of the Geier- Sturzflug-song Visit Europe ends with "And from the hills of Olympus a Pershing II rises".

In relation to the Pershing, the spontaneous sayingPetting instead of Pershing” was also created.

See also

Individual evidence

  1. See Oliver Bange: SS-20 and Pershing II: Weapon Systems and the Dynamization of East-West Relations. In: Christoph Becker-Schaum, Philipp Gassert, Martin Klimke u. a. (Ed.): The Nuclear Crisis. The Arms Race, Cold War Anxiety, And The German Peace Movement Of The 1980s. New York 2016, p. 72.
  2. Jan Große Nobis: Peace. A brief history of the West German peace movement. Munster 2001.
  3. Inneringen - former nuclear weapons location, Germany ,
  4. ^ Section on the Pershing II stationings in Germany according to:
    Bernd Holtwick: Flexible Response. The NATO double decision and its implementation in Baden-Württemberg . In: The ultimate peace. Baden-Württemberg and the NATO double decision . House of History Baden-Württemberg, Stuttgart 2004, p. 8-19 .
  5. a b Brigitte Grimm: Documentation about the alarm exercises of the Pershing II . Mutlangen press hut, Mutlangen 1984.
  6. German Bundestag - 11th electoral term Drucksache 11/640. 62nd Member of Parliament Antretter (SPD): On the occasion of the accident with two Pershing semi-trailers on the motorway feeder between Heilbronn and Untergruppenbach on July 9, 1987, the question arises what measures, according to information from the Federal Government, the US Army has taken so far to alleviate the obvious still repair the poor technical condition of your vehicles? 63rd Deputy Antretter (SPD): How many traffic accidents have there already been with Pershing la and Pershing II vans in Baden-Württemberg? Answer from State Secretary Pfahls on July 23, 1987: Due to accidents in 1983/84, the launch vehicles of the Pershing II units were converted to MAN vehicles. They are thus tested according to the German requirements of the Road Traffic Licensing Regulations. The other vehicle stock is subject to corresponding test criteria. The vehicles involved in the rear-end collision on July 9, 1987 were two transport vehicles (low loaders) of the US Army, which were loaded with Pershing II engine stages, not Pershing II launch vehicles with rockets. After an approximately two-year break in carrying out exercises outside of the sites as a result of the fire accident in January 1985, an accident occurred since the start of full exercise activity with Pershing II launch vehicles in May 1987 in which the launch vehicle crashed into one with a Pershing II training rocket The ditch slipped. There was no damage. The US Army has not had Pershing Ia transporters for years. These rockets and transporters are now only in the possession of two German air force units that are stationed in Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia. There is no relationship to the above-mentioned rear-end collision. 64. MP Spöri (SPD): What were the causes of the traffic accident with two Pershing II vans on the motorway slip road between Heilbronn and Untergruppenbach on July 9, 1987? 65. MP Spöri (SPD): Were the two semi-trailers involved in carrying nuclear warheads? Answer by State Secretary Pfahls on July 23, 1987: The investigations into the cause of the traffic accident involving two Pershing II transport vehicles on the motorway slip road between Heilbronn and Untergruppenbach on July 9, 1987 have not yet been completed by US agencies. The Federal Minister of Defense will be informed upon completion. At this point in time, it is assumed that the braking system on the approaching transport vehicle will fail. Both vehicles were low loaders - not P II launch vehicles - that were loaded with P II engine stages. Nuclear warheads were not carried. - PDF
  7. Chronicle of small mishaps around the Pershing in the eighties: January 11, 1985: In Heilbronn, Waldheide, the first stage of a Pershing II rocket burns down during an exercise. May 5, 1987: In a traffic accident near Heilbronn, a rocket transporter comes off the road. A Pershing lands in the ditch and is rescued after the population has been evacuated. - from Tina Veihelmann: Sturm und Zwang ; Incidents in Germany, Böttingen: On February 22, 1970, the nuclear weapon warhead of a Pershing missile fell to the ground during maintenance work. The area was evacuated and cordoned off, but the warhead did not explode. The accident was triggered by a mistake by a worker removing a bolt and detonation cable. The warhead fell, was damaged and a piece of the rocket tip broke off. The incident was first classified as a " broken arrow " but was later downgraded to a " curved spear ". Unknown location, February 23, 1981: Pershing Ia missile accident. Waldprechtsweier, November 2, 1982: On a downhill road on a country road not far from Karlsruhe, a US missile transporter with a Pershing-Ia missile failed in town, whereupon it sped into the district of Waldprechtsweier in the municipality of Malsch, crushing several cars and a motorist killed. Before the wreckage was salvaged, the entire district was evacuated because it was feared that the rocket might explode. The police patrolled otherwise deserted streets. After hours of recovery and clean-up work, a US convoy with the wreckage of military vehicles and rocket parts left the site on the afternoon of November 3, 1982. Heilbronn, Waldheide: On January 11, 1985, the first stage of a Pershing-II rocket caught fire during a routine exercise and burned down explosively. Parts of the rocket flew up to 120 meters. Battle-ready Pershing II missiles with nuclear warheads were stationed just 250 meters from the site of the explosion. Three US soldiers were killed and 16 seriously injured in the accident. Unknown location: Human error caused a Pershing missile accident on June 30, 1986. The nuclear warhead fell from the missile to the ground. Heilbronn: On May 5, 1987, a Pershing rocket landed in a ditch near Heilbronn after a traffic accident. Accidents with nuclear weapons: Some examples (PDF; 110 kB)

Web links

Commons : MGM-31 Pershing  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files