My classmate Bob Wertheim has written a superb Sea Story entitled THE DEVELOPMENT AND EVOLUTION OF THE FBM SYSTEM which describes in detail the significance and scope of the tremendous National effort in progress at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis to achieve dominance over similar efforts in the Soviet Union. Actually only five of the forty one planned Polaris submarines were deployed at the time of crisis with several others in various stages of construction and preparation for deployment. The deployment site was at Holy Loch, Scotland, the home port where the families lived was New London, CT
USS ROBERT E. LEE (SSBN 601) was one of the three SSBNs on patrol in October, 1962 at the time of The Cuban Missile Crisis and I was in Command. It was my first patrol as CO although I had been the XO for the previous three Blue Crew patrols. The XO, Pete Cady, had been the Blue Crew Engineer since prcommissioning. We both knew our ship and crew very well and the ship’s company knew us as well. This was to be a short thirty day patrol followed by a return to the Holy Loch to exchange exercise heads for warheads on six of our missiles. This was to be followed by proceeding to the South Atlantic to fire the exercise missiles into the Atlantic Instrumented Range from simulated patrol status. This would have been the second Follow on Test (FOT) of the Polaris A 1 System; USS GEORGE WASHINGTON having recently fired the first.
We were excited about being chosen to fire the FOT and were thoroughly checking out the entire System to ensure we would experience no surprises that could hamper the FOT.
Meanwhile we were kept advised by our Operational Au- authority (CINCLANT) on the startling news that intelligence was showing the Soviets to be installing medium range ballistic missiles in Cuba. I kept the ship’s company apprised of the news while discussions in the wardroom and crews’ mess switched from FOT to more somber considerations of what the news might mean for us. Our suspicion that FOT would be cancelled and our patrol extended shortly came to pass and we proceeded to the highest state of readiness. The President announced words to the effect that any missiles fired from Cuba would be considered as fired from the Soviet Union. We understood we might well be called upon to fire our sixteen Polaris A 1 missiles at targets in the USSR and we were fully ready to do so. It was up to the President and God to avoid Armageddon.
We were all mindful that our loved ones were in imminent danger and that we could be facing an unbelievable future. Yet we would have fired as ordered and no one on board would have tried to prevent it.
Simultaneous with going to the highest Defcon the Navy urgently worked to get the two submarines alongside PROTEUS ready and out to sea. Both were undergoing repairs to pumps, motors, electronics and weapons as well as loading of supplies. In the case of USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN (SSBN 602) a load-out of several torpedoes was involved. Incredible as it may seem both ships were underway and clear of The Holy Loch within a span of 24 hours. Understandably many repairs had to be completed while enroute to their patrol areas in the Norwegian Sea.
The Soviets kept a trawler (AGI), equipped for electronics and communications surveillance, stationed close enough to the Holy Loch to keep track of traffic in and out of the port. Most certainly the Soviet High Command knew there were five SSBNs within range of targets in the Soviet Union with 80 nuclear weapons on board. This must have given the Soviet leadership food for thought. To add to their concerns the AGI would have reported that Holy Loch was now empty since PROTEUS, tender to the submarines, was also at sea.
We will probably never know what really caused the Soviet leadership to back down and announce they would remove the missiles from Cuba. 1 believe at least one cause must have been those 80 nuclear warheads aimed at Soviet targets from unknown locations in the nearby sea. The destruction would be more than 40 times that at Hiroshima and Nagasaki!
Our patrol lasted 68 days. It was supposed to be a short patrol before returning to the Holy Loch to exchange exercise heads for warheads. So the Squadron Catholic Chaplain joined us from his office in Groton, CT. There he might better understand what it was like to experience a Polaris Patrol.
He ran out of wine for communion after 40 days, but learned what it was like to experience a fully active patrol. Our leading cook got into a bit of trouble with his shipmates for running out of sugar several days before completion of the patrol.
The ship ended the patrol in good condition, ready for the turnover to the Gold Crew. We conducted a second Polaris A1 FOT after our next patrol, but that’s another story.