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Captain Nils Bruzelius had a long and successful career within the Swedish Submarine Fleet. He retired from active duty in December 2001 and spends part of his time on academic studies. This is a somewhat shortened translation of his B-level essay in history which has been presented to the Swedish National Defence College. The essay is based on non-classified literature, reports written by Swedish defence attaches in Washington, Oslo and Copenhagen between the years of 1956-1961. released documents from the National Security Council and protocols from the inter-rogation of the Swedish spy Stig Wennerstrom in 1963.


On November 15 in 1960, the Nuclear Powered Fleet Ballistic Submarine GEORGE WASHINGTON sailed from Charleston, S.C. Hereby; the first deterrent patrol with a ballistic missile submarine was under way. GEORGE WASHING-TON was armed with sixteen ballistic missiles, which could be launched from a submerged position. The missiles were named Polaris A-1 and each missile had a nuclear warhead of 600kT explosive force (30 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb).

The Polaris project had been initiated on January 1, 1957. Originally the aim was that the system should have been operative in 1963, but on 4 October 19 5 7, the Soviet Union sent the first Sputnik around the Earth. Thereby, the Soviet Union had shown that it was capable of destroying targets in U.S.A. using ballistic missiles. The Polaris project now became a top-priority issue and the project was brought forward three years in order to counter the Soviet threat as quickly as possible. The gain in time was primarily realised with two measures: the range of the missiles was shortened from 1500 to 1200 nautical miles and the Attack Submarine SCORPION, which keel had already been laid, was cut in two and provided with a missile section amidships. In total, U.S.A. was to build 41 submarines with ballistic missiles in less than ten years. These were, over time, provided with missiles of greater range and accuracy, Polaris 1-3 and ultimately the Poseidon. During the early 1960s, the five GEORGE W ASHJNGTON class submarines, equipped with Polaris-I missiles, fonned the operative core in this fleet.

Questions at issue

In this essay I aim to:

  • Explain the governing factors for choosing the area of operation for the strategic missile submarines.
  • Describe measures taken by U.S.A. in order to protect the missile submarines’ areas of operation and how this affected the Nordic countries.
  • Investigate the criteria to be fulfilled in order to launch a missile successfully. If one or more of these criteria indicate that the submarines had a reason to be in Swedish territorial waters, this is of course of particular interest.

The Area of Operation for the Missile Submarines

When choosing an area of operation for the strategic missile submarines, there are four factors that have to be taken into consideration, namely:

1. The missiles’ targets

The targets one intended to engage with the missiles from the Polaris submarines were cities in the Soviet Union. By means of constantly maintaining an ability to destroy a great number of Soviet cities, the communist leaders would be deterred to attack cities in the U.S.A. This doctrine, called Assured Destruction replaced, after the establishment of the Kennedy administration, the doctrine on Massive Retaliation, which no longer was considered credible.

The range for the Polaris-I missiles was 1200 nautical miles. The distance between Moscow and Vigna is 880 nautical miles. In order to reach Moscow, one can be positioned quite far out in the North Sea or in the Norwegian Sea, but to reach the cities beyond Moscow, one has to get closer to the Scandinavian Peninsula. The big city of Gorky, where a great deal of the Russian weapon industry was concentrated, is situated 400 km east of Moscow. To reach Gorky, the submarines had to be positioned in the Skagerrak.

2. The accuracy of the missiles

Notwithstanding the powerful charge, there was a need for hitting the selected targets as accurately as possible. Without getting into details about all the factors that affect the accuracy of a ballistic missile, we can clarify that the accuracy increases when the firing range is short There was also a minimum firing range, inside which it was not possible to get the warhead down. This is due to the fact that the Polaris missiles had engines with solid fuel. A solid fuel rocket engine cannot be turned off. The engine will run until there is no more fuel. A reasonable assumption would be that the minimum firing range was half of the maximum range. Hence, the Polaris missiles would be able to destroy targets located 600 to 1200 nautical miles from where they were launched. To position the submarines close to the Scandinavian Peninsula was, in other words, desirable from an accuracy point of view.

3. The distance from the submarine base

On her first patrol, GEORGE WASHINGTON sailed from the east coast of U.S.A. and returned there after her patrol. This was however, an exception. As early as in February 1961, a forward submarine base was established for the 14•h Submarine Division, to which GEORGE WASHINGTON as well as the other four submarines of the same class belonged. The base was located at Holy Loch in Scotland. Logistics consisted of the submarine tender, Proteus, and a floating dock. Onboard the tender and in the floating dock, one could carry out maintenance and repairs of both submarines and missiles.

4. The distance to enemy bases

After World War II, the Soviet Union built a naval base of impressive size in Murmansk. For the U.S. Navy to choose the position of its missile submarines in the Barents Sea in the immediate vicinity of this base, appears improbable for obvious reasons. Partly because it was easier for the Soviet Fleet to carry out anti-submarine operations close to its own base, rather than further away, and partly because it would be more difficult for the U.S. Navy to defend its missile submarines. It is true that the missile submarines carried effective self-defence weapons, but to use them was probably considered a last resort. The safety of the submarines was momentous for the survival of the American society in the event of a nuclear war.


Based on the statements above, it is reasonable to suggest that Skagerrak was the primary area of operation for the U.S. missile submarines, during the early years of the 1960s. From this area. the planned targets were within a good enough range. The distance to the submarine base was short. The submarines had the best possible protection: the whole of the Norwegian Sea could, as it were, be assigned for anti-submarine operations against any Soviet submarines hying to get down to the area. An efficient defence of the Baltic Sea outlets would prevent the ships from the Soviet Baltic Navy to enter the area from the south. The strategic importance of the Skagerrak had changed all at once. From being an anonymous. area of the sea it became, in November 1960, the submarine bastion from which the American retaliation would be guaranteed. In other words, an area of utmost importance to the United States’ security.

The National Security Council and the protection of the submarine bastion

The National Security Council (NSC) was established in 1947 and its task was “to advise the President on all matters relating to national security.” The policy, which the United States intended to use in a certain situation, for example towards an individual country or group of countries, was established by the President in a policy document when required. These documents were written by the NSC Planning Board, with the cooperation of the most important departments, the intelligence organizations and the Joint Chiefs of Staff and were discussed before being established in the National Security Council. After a policy had been established, the documents were given to the departments and authorities concerned for implementation.

In the spring of 1960, there was a need of a new American policy regarding the three Scandinavian countries. A new policy document was prepared and was read on Friday, April I, 1960, at the 439•h meeting with the National Security Council with President Eisenhower in the chair.

When this meeting took place, the Polaris submarines were about to become operational and the first deterrent patrol to be set up six months later. The U.S. Navy would, most likely, have expressed a strong wish about the reinforcement of the submarine bastion’s security. The CNO, Admiral Arleigh Burke, also participated in the meeting as the representative of the defence forces. It could have been a coincidence, Burke was of Swedish stock, was a great friend of Sweden and was surely the most informed of the Joint Chiefs regarding the Scandinavian countries. Furthermore, as CNO, he was responsible for the strategic submarines.

The result of U.S. new policy towards the Nordic countries

Sweden received, without its knowledge, a very strong security guarantee. In the event of a Soviet attack against Sweden, the U.S. would provide Sweden with military help. Sweden received the same security guarantees as the NATO countries, without having to perform any of their commitments. As the only non-aligned nation, the country also got the opportunity to buy the most modem defence material from the U.S. Naturally; this gave rise to certain commotion from persons within the American administration, that were not aware of the strictly classified motives behind the decisions.

Norway and Denmark
The military assistance to Norway and Denmark was almost doubled at once between the years of 1959 and t 960; despite the fact that, at the same time, the whole budget for military assistance was cut down with 25 percent. It is also evident that the U.S. had clear guidelines on how the money should be used.

Norway received a new fleet plan consisting of 5 frigates and 15 submarines. The number of armed ships in the Norwegian Fleet was doubled. In May 1960, the Norwegian Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, Vice Admiral Hostvedt, informs the Swedish defence attache in Oslo that the plan that now had been sent in were approved by, CNO Admiral Burke, SACEUR, SACLANT as well as the commanders of the NATO Standing Group.

“Admiral Hostvedt seemed to be very pleased with the state of things.”

There was naval re-arnament with minelayers and frigates in Denmark too. The most considerable difference, however, was the establishment of a joint combined command for the defence of the Baltic Sea outlets, called BALTAP. This·command was set up in 1961 and was established on the initiative of the American NATO commander in Europe, General Norstad.

The knowledge about the submarine bastion’s existence

It is possible to determine that nobody within Sweden’s military command was aware of, or reflected on, the areas of operation of the Polaris submarines, even though a lot of the information about the missiles’ range and targets consisted of open source information and was available as early as in the beginning of the 1960s. If anyone in the military command had started to wonder about the positions of the submarines, this would immediately have resulted in questions to the attache office in Washington. No such queries have been found. The only geographical information that the Navy attache spontaneously mentions is that the Polaris submarines. “carry out patrol missions in the Atlantic.”

The Soviet Union was, however, well aware of the Polaris submarines and their operations. This is natural since it was its cities which were the targets of the missiles. According to the interrogation protocols from 1963, WennerstrOm, the Swedish spy, says: “On a number of occasions, the Soviets expressed that they were significantly anxious about the American Polaris submarines, that is, the nuclear-powered submarines which are armed with long-distance rockets. They took into account that these submarines would strive to be close to the Russian coastlines in order to reach certain targets. They thought it possible they would find their ways towards the Swedish west coast or even into the Baltic.

How the submarines operated in the area of operation

In order to understand how the submarines operated when they eventually had reached their allotted area of operation, one needs a rather comprehensive description of what requirements there are to be met for a successful missile launch.

The submarine has to survive until the launch
The submarine was chosen as platform thanks to its invulnerability. A running submarine can be detected with passive sonar by, e.g., an enemy anti-submarine submarine, as its engines and propellers emit sounds in the water. A submarine that is hovering or just lies on the bottom of the sea is considerably quieter and should, in practice be impossible to detect with passive reconnaissance.

Maximum depth /or launching
To fire a ballistic missile from beneath the sea is an awkward but technically solvable problem. The Polaris missile was exposed to the pressure of the surrounding water from the point of launching until the missile broke the surface. The greater the depth the missile had to take, the heavier and stronger the shell of the missile, resulting in a decreased range. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the missile only could be launched from a relatively shallow depth. Exact figures are classified, but a probable presumption is that the missile only could be launched from a maximum keel depth of 30 meters or 100 feet.

The submarine’s speed when launching
The missile is launched vertically to the surface. During the short instance when the missile is leaving the tube, the part that has reached above the deck is exposed to a horizontal power if the submarine is making headway through the water. The magnitude of the horizontal power is exponentially dependent of the submarine’s speed. To launch the missiles when the submarine is running fast is therefore out of the question. There must have been a speed limit for launching the missiles. The optimal speed when launching is of course zero knots, as the missile is not subjected to any hindering powers when being launched. On the pictures that exist showing launches from Polaris submarines in submerged conditions, one can notice that the submarine is not making headway.

The submarine’s ability to retain its depth after launching
A submerged submarine is weightless and could therefore remain still and hover without floating to the surface or sinking to the bottom. When launched, the missile is given a substantial impulse upwards. The submarine will hereby be given an equally big impulse downwards. This impulse has two effects on the submarine: it starts to sink as well as to oscillate or swing in the longitudinal direction.

When the missile leaves its tube, this is completely filled with water. The missile in itself is heavier than the water volume that is displaces, wherefore the submarine ought to become lighter after launch. But as the launch tube itself is kept dry before the launch, the result is the opposite.

If only one missile is launched, it is possible to increase the speed after the launch and keep the submarine up with the help of diving planes until it is again correctly balanced. If one would like to launch all the sixteen missiles, however, in a rapid succession, the only way of maintaining the submarine as a stable platform during the whole launch sequence should be to position the submarine on the sea-bottom.

The accuracy of the missiles
Earlier in the text, I pointed out that the accuracy of the missiles was dependent of the distance from which they are launched. How the submarine performed before the launch also matters. Every misinterpretation concerning the submarines position when launching the missile, results in an equally big miss in the missile’s point of impact. Between each position fix, the submarine calculates its position with so-called dead calculation. The miscalculation of the position will therefore slowly increase until a new position fix is made. If one chooses, on the other hand, to position the submarine on the bottom of the sea immediately after a position fix, no dead calculation is necessary and there will not be any time-related error.

Tile submarine’s understanding of North
The missile has no ability of its own to determine the north, but has to receive this information from the submarine. After the launch, the missile will make a turn according to the calculated angle in relation to north that is required to hit the target. If the submarine’s understanding of north is incorrect, the missile will miss the target. An angular incorrectness of l milliradian (or 0.057 degrees) gives a miss of2,000 meters over a distance of 1,200 nautical miles. To accurately determine the north, the submarines were equipped with an enormous gyro. The Gyro wheel held a diameter of 8 feet and weighed 22 tons. With such a large installation, north could be determined with great accuracy. As the gyro wheel, despite its size, is affected by the submarine’s movements, its precision is increased if the submarine is still on the sea-bottom.

In the area of operation, the submarines were lying still on the bottom of the sea, waiting for the missiles to be launched.

There is proof that the above conclusion is correct. The device, with which a ship calculates its speed through the water, is called log. The log is always placed in the bottom of the ship. In February 1960, the Swedish Navy attache in Washington reports that the Polaris submarines will be equipped with two logs of a completely new type: ‘”One in the bottom of the ship and one above the deck. the latter for calculating speed, and current. when launching the Polaris missiles.”

The attache does not reflect any further on this peculiarity, but it proves that the Polaris missiles were intended to be launched with the submarine positioned on the sea-bottom. For it is only when the submarine is on the sea-bottom that the upper log is needed. The lower log is stuck out approximately 30 inches from the hull and must therefore be taken in before the submarine is positioned on the sea-bottom. Normally, there is no need for a log at all when the submarine is on the sea-bottom, but the Polaris submarines needed one, as they had to be sure, before the launch, that the currents were not powerful enough to jeopardize the missile when it was launched. The fact that this was considered necessary also shows how easily affected the missiles were. as the currents seldom reach more than one or two knots.

Locations for sea bottoms positions on the west coast of Sweden
In principal, a submarine can position itself on the bottom of the sea anywhere. Uneven and rocky sea bottoms should be avoided, due to the risk of damaging the rudder and the propeller. The requirements for locations on the bottom of the sea having appropriate depth, imply that these submarines had the motivation to operate within the territorial waters of Sweden. Range-wise, it would be fully possible to stay outside the territorial border that, before 1979, only reached 4 nautical miles from the baseline. However, the depths out there are too big.

Anti-submarine operations on the Swedish West coast in 1966

On the 24th of October in 1966, a remarkable anti-submarine operation was carried out outside the Swedish fishing village Lysekil. After a conscript soldier had spotted a fin above the surface, the minesweepers BLACKAN and DAMNAN established sonar contact with a stationary object two nautical miles west of the Gaven lighthouse. The depth at the location is 29 meters; the bottom of the sea is flat. The contact was maintained for more than two hours and the object remained still throughout that time. The minesweepers successfully maneuver to a position right above the object and drop two SO-kilo iron balls in a wire. The wire slackens after about ten meters. It is obvious that the balls are resting on a solid object. After a minute or two, the balls are dragged off the object and the wire is stretched again. Immediately after that, the water becomes very upset. It is, on this occasion, dark, so the phenomenon can only be seen in the light of the searchlights. A few moments later, the minesweeper HASSL6, which has arrived to the area, receives radar contact with something that is thought to be a submarine periscope. A depth charge is dropped and after that there is no more contact.

In the briefings afterwards one always presupposed that is was a small conventional submarine hovering I 0 meters above the bottom of the sea.

That the submarine could have been that large that it, in fact, was lying on the bottom of the sea and had the roof of the fin I 0 meters beneath the surface, never seemed to have occurred to the participants at all. But if it were a submarine of GEORGE W ASHJNGTON class, the dimensions would fit very well. The motive why such a submarine would be right there, in Swedish territorial waters, is also evident.

Even if it is impossible to prove before one can have access to the submarine’s log books, there is a lot that indicates there was a missile submarine, which, by chance was discovered on Swedish territi>rial waters this October day in 1966.

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