The U.S. Army Thursday removed nine Pershing 2 missiles from a base in West Germany, the first step in the withdrawal of all U.S. intermediate-range nuclear rockets from Europe.

The removal comes under the terms of an arms treaty signed by President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev in December."It's the first time that U.S. intermediate-range missiles have been withdrawn in Europe," U.S. Navy Cmdr. Gerry Ryan of the European Command Headquarters in Stuttgart told The Associated Press.

"The remainder of the U.S. Army European-based, intermediate-range nuclear missiles are scheduled to be removed over a 36-month period," he said.

A group of anti-nuclear activists who came to witness the removal applauded as the 15 U.S. Army trucks bearing the missiles began leaving the site in southern West Germany.

The group held up a banner saying "Heilbronn, Never Again A Nuclear Powder Keg."

The nine Pershing 2 missiles had been deployed as part of a NATO plan to station 572 intermediate-range nuclear missiles in five West European countries to counter Soviet rockets pointed at the West.

The United States had stationed 108 Pershing 2 missiles and 96 cruise missiles at four bases in West Germany as part of the plan.

Deployment of the missiles began late in 1983 and led to massive protests in Western Europe, especially in West Germany.

But the anti-missile fervor waned, and by the time the intermediate-range missile treaty was signed last year, only a handful of protesters was still active on a daily basis in West Germany.

Ryan told the AP that a truck convoy carrying the missiles left the Camp Redleg U.S. Army missile site near the southern city of Heilbronn at about 10 a.m. Thursday.

One part of the convoy was heading to a U.S. Army post in Frankfurt, while another part was heading to a different base "in preparation for air transport back to elimination sites in the United States," Ryan said.

U.S. officials have said that some of the rockets would be destroyed at the Frankfurt site, and that the nuclear warheads would be shipped back "to the appropriate authority," in the United States.