Nov 15

The “Wide Wide World” of War

Wednesday, November 15, 2017 8:47 AM

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Viewers tuning in to NBC’s acclaimed 90-minute documentary series “Wide Wide World” on their luxurious 21-inch television screens on Sunday, 13 May 1956, were bound to be fascinated by that week’s program. The synopsis in the TV Guide promised audiences a first in the history of television — a live demonstrations of American firepower:

The story of America’s “Power for Peace” will be told explosively by “Wide Wide World” with such items as the detonation of two simulated atomic bombs, the shooting down of a B-17 bomber and the firing of guided missiles.

The atomic bomb simulations will be stage by the Army at Fort Benning, Ga. and by the Marine Corps at Quantico, Va. A squadron of fighter aircraft using rockets will shoot down the B-17 drone at an undisclosed spot and guided missiles such as Nike, Honest John, Corporal Erectors (Army), Matador (Air Force) and Terrier (Navy) will be fired from an inland base from a beach and from shipboard.

Publicity photo of "Wide Wide World" showing the show's host David Garroway.

Publicity photo of “Wide Wide World” showing the show’s host David Garroway.

Other items on the live television salute to the Nation’s Armed Forces presented in conjunction with Armed Forces Week include:

  • A trip underwater with the Navy’s Albacore, the world’s fastest submarine.
  • An Army paratrooper’s eye view of a jump (a paratrooper will carry a creepie-peepie camera and shoot his fellow jumpers and the ground.)
  • An air-sea rescue demonstration by the Coast Guard in which a man is hoisted into a helicopter by basket.
  • Marine fire teams assaulting a pillbox (an unmanned camera will be located in the pillbox.)
  • An exhibition of bombing in which an Air Force B-36 giant bomber stitches a target area from end to end with 500 pound bombs.

    A Convair B-36H-50-CF Peacemaker bomber involved in the televised exercises in flight near Eglin AFB, Florida, 13 May 1956 (Naval Institute Photo Archive).

    A Convair B-36H-50-CF Peacemaker strategic bomber in flight near Eglin AFB, Florida for the televised demonstration, 13 May 1956 (Naval Institute Photo Archive).

  • The might of the Armed Forces will be explored at the Army’s Fort Benning, Ga.; the U.S.S. Essex off San Diego, Calif.; the U.S.S. Mississippi off Virginia Beach, Va.; the Coast Guard’s Air Station at San Diego, Calif.; the Marine Corps’ base at Quantico, Va.; and Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

One of the day’s participants was Edward A. Rucker, commanding officer of the USS Mississippi (EAG-128). Ruckner was made C.O. the year prior, bringing with him extensive gunnery and ordnance experience. The 1917-vintage Mississippi, ex-BB-41, was a sturdy but very tired platform by 1956. She had been refit after the Second World War as a weapons-testing platform, and in 1952 had been fitted with SAM-N-7 Terrier missile launchers for evaluation

RADM Ruckner

RADM Edward A. Ruckner, U.S. Navy, 1909-1991. (Naval Institute Photo Archive)

A weapons testing demonstration was not a new concept in the mid-1950s, but live, nationwide broadcast of one certainly was. The novelty was not lost on Ruckner. RADM Ruckner’s recollections of notable events from his time in Mississippi are excerpted and condensed below from his from his 1974 oral history interview with Dr. John T. Mason.


While I was in the Mississippi we did two things with the missile that I think were somewhat outstanding. We fired live warheads against a KDU. Now, a KDU is a little high- performance, remotely controlled jet airplane, and we fired live warheads at a KDU off Winter Quarter Shoal, in the Chincoteague area, and really knocked it out. That was the first anti-missile firing, if you want to call it that, of the AA missile series.

KDU-1

Radio-controlled Chance Vought KDU-1 Regulus target drone landing at NAS Chincoteague in 1955 (Naval Institute Photo Archive).

The other thing was that we fired I think the only recorded live television shoot of a missile against a drone, off Norfolk. This was being broadcast nationwide. A live missile shoot on nationwide TV. That was an interesting and somewhat daring experience. We did that for a program that was called “Wide, Wide World,” and everything that went on that program they insisted be live. None of this business of fakes. We had about a five-minute segment on one of the programs with this missile shoot. In order to get this to be photographed with the television cameras, the sounds recorded, and transmitted over to the network, we had to be fairly close to Virginia Beach. Unfortunately you cannot depend on the weather always being the way we want it.

USS Mississippi (EAG-128) Fires a Terrier surface-to-air missile during at-sea tests.

USS Mississippi (EAG-128) firing a Terrier surface-to-air missile during at-sea tests off Virginia. (Library of Congress).

In the first place, in the planning for this, the first thing that I got that really upset me was that the commander-in-chief was going to ride the ship during the shoot, but the more his staff went into that they decided that the chances of success were pretty small, so they didn’t want to be associated with it, so he bowed out. Then OpTevFor [Operational Test and Development Force] was going to ride the ship during the shoot, and his staff looked the thing over and they decided it was a little hairy and they didn’t want to be associated with it. So it wound up in my hot little hand all by myself.

I had to moor the ship bow and stern in order to make this thing work because I only had one launcher and we could only operate the plane from one direction, and I had to be sure that that launching was going to be clear. So I anchored the ship and then took out an anchor and moored her by the stern.

There she was and if anybody had taken a shot of the ship they would have known that it was gundecked to that extent.

We rigged a camera crew up on the top of a crane so that they could get the full impact of the shoot. I advised them against this but the television people were adamant that that was the best angle that they were going to get.

So we built a platform for them on the head of the crane and we made them wear fireproof suits and then I insisted that he be lashed to the crane so that if he got jittery he wasn’t going to fall on the deck or over the side.

P4Y-2K Privateer drone of the type used in these tests, tailed by its F7F-2D Tigercat control aircraft (Naval Institute Photo Archive)

Consolidated P4Y-2K Privateer drone aircraft of the type used in these tests, tailed by its Grumman F7F-2D Tigercat director aircraft (Naval Institute Photo Archive).

After the shoot the cameraman who’d been up on the crane came down and he was a little bit shaky. I asked him about it and he said, “It was a wonderful experience but I never want to go through it again because when that missile goes off you really get a blast.” And he had caught a good bit of it. But he got his shots. Unfortunately, they cut us off the air just as the drone went down in flames.

Series of images taken from the day's events showing the shootdown of the drone by Mississippi's Terrier missile (Courtesy All Hands magazine)

Kinescope images taken from the day’s events showing the shootdown and breakup of the Consolidated P4Y-2K Privateer drone aircraft by Mississippi‘s Terrier missile on 13 May 1956 (All Hands Magazine).


The televised Terrier shot was to be one of the Mississippi‘s last assignments. With her propulsion and steering gear worn out, it became unsafe to operate her any longer. She decommissioned at Norfolk 17 September 1956, and was sold for scrapping to the Bethlehem Steel Co., on 28 November that year. The last Terrier missiles were retired at the end of the 1980’s.