4th Missile Bn
517th Artillery
Canal Zone


Before the 4/517th

903rd AAA Battalion

When the 4th Battalion 517th Artillery was formed in the late 1950s it absorbed components of existing Air Defense Artillery units already on station in the Canal Zone.  One of those units was the 903rd AAA Battalion.  Robert Newell is a veteran of the 903rd.  His 903rd AAA Battalion page at the CZ Brats web site mentions 2 batteries of the 903rd being absorbed by the 4/517th.   An inquiry brought the following response.


It is good to hear from you and I will gladly provide all the information that I can.

When I arrived in 1955, the 903d had four batteries, "A" & "B" on  the Pacific side and "C" & "D" on the Atlantic and a radar base  on Taboga.  At that time "A" battery had quad 50s mounted on half tracks and trailers and 40mm guns mounted on a 4-wheel trailer and that is what you see on the crest.  "B" battery had 90 or 120 mm guns with guns controlled by an M33 radar van, I think, but you probably know more about that.  I believe that the Atlantic side had a similar arrangement, though I never had contact with any of the other three batteries.  

"A" battery had headquarters on the west side of the Miraflofres Locks as you see in the photos.  This location rather isolated us from other units.  We were understaffed when I arrived and much moreso when I left in 1956, so our men spent most of the time on the gun positions.  They generally only left the positions from Friday night to Sunday evening in two different shifts to maintain minimum manning on the guns.  A parade was the only thing that minimum manning would be reduced to three for.  "B" battery had headquarters on Fort Clayton next to Battalion Headquarters.

"A" battery received "Skysweepers" to replace the quad 50s and 40mms and the gun positions were moved.  The "Skysweeper" was a 75mm radar-controlled gun with a tripod-mounted optical acquisition device that could slew the gun to the target.  The three 75mm guns were located on the hill on Rodman naval base, on the hill mentioned on the CZBrats website which was about 5 miles west of Miraflores, and on a hill north of Pedro Miguel.  The 90 and 120 mm batteries were left intact and I believe that those were the two batteries picked up by your outfit.

I hope that this helped and will be happy to supply any more information, but don't have much.  Did you train at Fort Bliss?  I was trained as a radar operator, primarily on the M33, but never saw one after Fort Bliss and had never seen the quad 50s, 40 mm or Skysweeper before.


Don Powell who also served in the 903rd AAA provided this information.

I can't help you regarding incorporation into the 517th - I left CZ in February of 1957.

Here's what I can tell you.

I was in Battery C, 903rd AAA Bn., stationed at Ft Davis (Atlantic side). We were attached and reported to 746th Bn (90 and 120 mm) , which had responsibility for Ft. Davis and air defense on our side of the Canal. HQ for 903rd. was on Pacific side, Ft. Clayton, I believe.  We all were part of 65th Artillery Group. When I first went to 903rd at Ft. Davis it was a 40 mm unit, then converted to 75m. Skysweeper.

My main recollections about the Skysweeper are that it was hell to connect with the targets. Either the electro-mechanical computers (made by Singer) had trouble or the VT fuses were old - we never could figure out which. Anyway, it made for lots of suspense when VIP's would show up for a demonstration of those new Skysweepers.
Hope you get the info you are looking for.
Don Powell

This photo was found at Battalion HQ in 1970 and is of a 120mm M1 AA gun.  Fifteen of these guns were sent to the Canal Zone during WWII.  The location appears to be behind and to the side of Battery Warren at Ft. Grant on Flamenco Island.  Prior to 1960 two of the Battalion's Batteries were armed with these guns.  The rear of the photo is marked "USCARIB Central Photo Lab, Corozal Canal Zone, NEG # CAR, (in pencil 5 31-5) /CZ-5 (in pencil 6)  It is believed that this gun belongs to Battery D, 746th AAA Bn.  Battery D, 746th AAA Bn became Battery D, 4th Gun Bn, 517th Artillery ca. 1957-58.

A 90mm M2 AA gun possibly belonging to the 4th Gun Bn, 517th Artillery.  Photo provided by Jack Curran of HHB 4/517th 1961-65.

Aerial view of Fort Grant before the Battery C Hawks were installed.  Photo from Jack Curran HHB 1961-65.

Long before the 4/517 placed Hawks atop Flamenco Island, the first U.S. military presence was the Coastal Artillery, predecessor of the Air Defense Artillery.  Here we see the original weaponry, one of two 14" disappearing rifles of Battery Warren.  After WWII the big guns were removed from Battery Warren and the pits filled.  In 1960 Battery C placed its Hawks atop the filled in gun pits of Battery Warren. (Life Magazine Photo from Warren Kirbo)

Also located on Flamenco Island were 12" coast defense mortars.  This photo shows mortars in Battery Merritt.  The area where these mortars were sited later became home to the 4/517th's Battery C mess hall.  (Life Magazine Photo from Warren Kirbo)

3 inch M3/M4 fixed mount AA gun.  This photo was published in Life Magazine ca. 1941.