Check Point Charlie, Berlin, Germany
Raymond E. Haddock
Major General, United States Army
Retired - Submitted by: Raymond E. Haddock

Missiles of the cold war and the contribution of Pershing II

 56th Field Artillery Brigade Redesignated

56th Field Artillery Command (Pershing) 17 January 1986 Commanded by Brigadier General Raymond E. Haddock Last Revision 6 Dec. 2006

The Question: What was the contribution of Pershing II (PII) to the peaceful end of the Cold War?

Describe the relevant National Policies concerning use of Nuclear Missiles in both East and West and the balance of Nuclear Forces. Describe and characterize the contribution made by PII and what were the key factors that resulted in the credible successful deployment. The deployment of Pershing II missiles to the Federal Republic of Germany along with Ground Launched Cruise Missiles in Great Britain was one of the seminal acts of the late Cold War. The political will demonstrated by both German and U.S. politicians in developing and implementing the so-called NATO double-track decision, of which Pershing II was a part, along with the restraint of American forces and German police, brought Soviet Premier Gorbachev to the realization that the U.S.-German partnership could not be shaken and that the Soviet Union would be unable to compete further with the West. The dismantling of the Eastern Bloc and the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union was the result.


A brief review of the nuclear strategic situation at the time is in order here. Most American military planners thought that by the middle of the 1970's, the US and USSR had achieved rough parity in nuclear weapons. The US total of 1054 ICBM's and 656 SLBM's had been unchanged since 1967, although the US was adding some multiple independently (MIRV) targeted warheads. The USSR had a total 1,607 ICBM silos and 740 SLBM.

Strategic Balance

In the early 1970’s the USSR decided to replace its older intermediate range SS-4 and SS-5 missiles with the new SS-20. The SS-20, a mobile missile system with three independently targeted warheads and a range of 5,000 KM, enabled it to reach targets in Western Europe from bases in the USSR. This action caused considerable consternation throughout Europe, but especially among German decision-makers in all three major political parties at the time (CDU/CSU, SPD and FDP). This was because the SS-20 could potentially decouple Europe from the U.S. nuclear umbrella: In the event of an SS-20 attack on a NATO ally in Europe, the US President would have no theater nuclear option with which to respond. His only strategic nuclear response would have to be from the US arsenal of ICBM's and SLBM's triggering a full-scale nuclear conflict. The US President would be faced with a dilemma, would he risk exposing the US homeland to thermonuclear war in response to a Soviet nuclear attack limited to the European theater?

In response, in December 1979 the United States and its NATO allies negotiated a dual tracked agreement to improve the alliance's long-range theater nuclear force. One track was a decision to deploy the Pershing II (1800 KM Range) and the US Air Force's Ground-Launched Cruise Missile (2500 KM Range). The other track was a decision to offer the USSR negotiations to eliminate this class of missiles. The Soviets were informed that unless they removed their SS 20 and other intermediate range missiles from Europe, NATO would deploy the Pershing II and Cruise Missiles. In 1983, after having waited four years, it became clear that the Soviets did not believe that Europeans would support deployment of these missiles in the face of great public opposition and the SS-20 remained in place.

Courageously, leading European leaders, and especially German Chancellors Helmut Schmidt (SPD) and later Helmut Kohl (CDU) supported deployment. Pershing II was a significant advance in guidance, warhead and missile technology. Although early press reports on the missile had been very negative, it proved to be a very reliable and accurate system once deployed. Pershing II had a greatly improved single warhead with yields that could be set to small, medium and large, a range of 1,800 kilometers, and a radar correlation guidance system. This gave the missile an accuracy of within just a few meters and limited the amount of damage to only that necessary. At the same time, the system could be moved rapidly and fired quickly. Some opponents found exactly this disquieting: if it was so accurate, limited, and mobile, it would make it too easy to actually employ. Most importantly, however, Pershing II was critical because it ensured that the U.S. nuclear umbrella would remain over Europe. This was because a Pershing strike against the Soviet Union would necessarily result in a Soviet strike against the American homeland. Thus, in the view of U.S., European and especially German politicians, Pershing served to cement the alliance and maintain nuclear deterrence in Europe.

Battle in the Streets for Public Support

No sooner had the NATO Dual Track Decision been taken than strong opposition developed among peace groups and certain factions of political parties. The main focus of these groups was the GLCM base at Greenham Common in the UK and several Pershing facilities, especially Mutlangen near Schwaebisch Gmuend, Germany. These groups were well organized, well funded, and able to mount massive demonstrations designed to convince political leaders that they should reverse the deployment decision.

In Mutlangen, one of the first actions occurred from September 1 to 3, 1983 by a group called “The Prominentan Blockade” including such leading lights of the German cultural and political scenes as Inge Aischer-Scholl, Heinrich Albertz, Heinrich Boell, Guenther Grass, Walter Jens, Robert Jugk, Horst-Eberhard Richter, Dorthee Soelle, Erhard Eppler, Oscar Lafontaine, and Klaus Vack. While this demonstration and many subsequent mass demonstrations remained peaceful, small radical groups managed to create significant friction. In December 1983, a small band broke into a U.S. motor pool armed with hammers and bolt cutters. They caused damage to some missile equipment and garnered considerable news attention. Some Americans also joined in the demonstrations, including such prominent names as “Father” Berrigan and Petra Kelly. Demonstrations, blockades of the gates to facilities and a ‘Press Hut’ (Pressehuette) became part of the everyday landscape. Things could have rapidly gotten out of hand but for two factors: the brilliant work of the German Police under the leadership of Leitender Polizeidirektor Willi Burger of the Baden-Wuerttemberg police and the restraint of U.S. soldiers in the face of sometimes severe provocations.

LPD Burger, who was responsible for all security outside the fence line of U.S. facilities, established extremely close liaison with the Command. He kept himself fully informed of all Pershing operations and maintained permanent police patrols at threatened facilities. Although some contemporary police deployments in the UK and Germany resulted in violence, there were never any major violent confrontations between police and activists in Baden-Wuerttemberg—primarily as the result of effective police organization, training and deployment.

At the same time, Pershing soldiers had been briefed by their leaders to expect these harassing actions and trained to react calmly, without confrontation or violence. Training sessions were conducted with role playing to give soldiers the experience of doing the right thing before they had to face blockades, taunts or aggressive actions.

Accidental Ignition of Missile Motor at the Waldheide operations site in Heilbronn,

Germany Fuels Controversy

On 11 January 1985, during a training assembly operation, one of the two motors of a Pershing II Missile accidentally ignited. The accident occurred in the afternoon and by 2200 that same day the Pershing Brigade Commander held a press conference stating that no nuclear components were involved and informing the public that an investigation had been directed to determine the cause. This accident gave opponents a major new issue in the campaign against Pershing: the safety of local citizens. This accident was not only a major public affairs challenge to the Pershing Command, but also to the elected officials at all levels of government. While supportive of US Forces, they also had to demand answers on the issue of missile safety. The deputy leader of the Heilbronn City Council declared that in light of the accident, “It is clear that we are less threatened from the Russian SS-20 Missiles than we are from the Pershing II.” 

Pershing Missile Command Public affairs Program

These circumstances created a critical situation for Pershing and for the NATO alliance as a whole. If the deployment of PII could not be completed successfully — and the Soviet leadership clearly hoped deployment would fail — the U.S. nuclear umbrella would be questionable. This would in turn cause such internal dissension and rancor that NATO itself would be seriously weakened and in danger of ripping apart at the seams. Such a circumstance would have had dire consequences.

In an attempt to counter negative publicity and political unrest, the US Pershing Command, established early on a policy of meeting with the press, with elected officials at all levels of government and even with representatives of all opposition political parties. The Command actively and extensively solicited meetings with those involved in public health and safety, fire departments and police. Led by the German-speaking commander, Brigadier General Raymond Haddock, a contingent of German-speaking officers was deployed to brief local officials and answer questions. Approximately 100 such discussions were held throughout southern and southwestern Germany where a frank exchange of ideas and concerns was the norm. 

Although many opposition politicians and peace movement activists remained highly skeptical of the Pershing as a weapon, it became increasingly clear that the opposition would not be able to stop the deployment. It also became increasingly clear that successful deployment would indeed lead to negotiations that had the potential to eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons.

As a result, the anti-Pershing demonstrations dried up. Soviet leaders had hoped that they could mobilize enough opposition in Western Europe to stop Pershing, but they had seriously miscalculated. In the end, the German population supported the deployment and the opposition was unable to create the conditions that might have resulted in delays or cancellation of the deployment.

Throughout this period Pershing tactical units continued to conduct readiness training both at the missile storage sites and throughout the German countryside, exhibiting a high state of readiness if ever required to execute their theater mission.

This rapidly brought the Soviet Union to the negotiating table. In February 1987, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev proposed to President Reagan that they proceed with negotiations to eliminate all Intermediate Nuclear Force (INF) missiles. As a result of these negotiations, a treaty was eventually signed and all Pershing II and SS-20 missiles were destroyed by May 1991.

In February 1990 German Chancellor Helmet Kohl, met with President Mikhail Gorbachev to discuss unification of Germany. In a casual conversation, the talk turned to the Pershing II missile issue. President Gorbachev reportedly told Chancellor Kohl, “Mr. Chancellor, I’ve got to tell you, a very important factor that caused the Soviet Union to change its policies towards the West, was the successful fielding of the Pershing II missile system.” 

Clearly, therefore, and perhaps more than any other single missile system, the successful deployment of Pershing II served to maintain for Europe the nuclear protection offered by the American strategic umbrella, strengthened NATO, united the political will of the United States and Germany, assisted Gorbachev in finding a peaceful means to reduce tensions and even contributed to the resulting reunification of Germany.

Submitted by Raymond E. Haddock, Major General USA Retired

Commander of the Pershing II Deployment from June 1984 to August 1987

United States Commandant of occupied Berlin and Commander US Army Berlin -

From June 1988 to Unification on 30 October 1990




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