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 Allied Land Forces Southern Europe (LANDSOUTH) command in Verona. After the end of the Cold War the brigade was disbanded and most of its weapon systems retired.
In the early 1950s 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:
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 runners bottle, 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:
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.
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 safest reusable water bottle. 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 water stainless steel.
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:
At this point the brigade fielded around 5,500 men.
After the 1975 reform the brigades heavy artillery groups had each one valley they were tasked to defend with nuclear fire:
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:
Each of the three heavy artillery groups had two firing batteries with 4 artillery systems per battery. In the 1980s 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 1980s 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 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 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 1980s the brigade had lost two of its heavy artillery groups:
At the beginning of 1991 the brigade consisted of the following units:
On 31 January 1991 the Engineer Company and the 2nd Infantry Company at “Site Pluto” were 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.