The second shot heard round the world – Polaris A1

 

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,

Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,

Here once the embattled farmers stood,

And fired the shot heard round the world.

− Emerson, “Concord Hymn”

(A poem about the events on April 19, 1775 that are credited with being the first shots of the Revolution that changed the world.)

The “Other” shot heard round the world

April has always been submarine month for the United States Navy. Because the Holland had been purchased on April 12, 1900, the submarine community always celebrates the first official modern submarine purchase as its birthday.

As I have been exploring the development of the Polaris submarine program and ensuing submarines, I have studied a number of comments including the official congressional records regarding Polaris. So it was interesting to reread the story about a congressional hearing in 1960 that was held on board the George Washington.

Until now, I had not noticed the significance of the date that was chosen for the first underway test of the Polaris missile system from the first ballistic missile submarine, USS George Washington.

April 9-10 1960 was just a few days short of the 60th anniversary of the purchase of that first submarine, USS Holland. As I was writing this story, it also occurred to me that it has been almost sixty additional years since the first ballistic missile launch which would occur in July of 1960. So much has changed in the world, yet so much remains the same.

We still have ballistic missile submarines ranging the deep oceans. And there are still some people and tyrants around the world that would challenge freedom.

This is the story of the second “Shot Heard Round the World”. I have only included the introduction and several of the appendixes that are related to the actual events of April- July of 1960 that changed the world of nuclear deterrence forever. It is somewhat ironic that the name George Washington is associated with both the revolutionary war that gave us our freedom and the submarine which surely guaranteed it.

NAVAL REACTOR PROGRAM AND POLARIS MISSILE SYSTEM HEARING

BEFORE THE JOINT COMMITTEE ON ATOMIC ENERGY

CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES

EIGHTY-SIXTH CONGRESS

SECOND SESSION

ON

REVIEW OF PROGRESS IN THE NAVAL REACTOR PROGRAM AND DEVELOPMENTS IN THE POLARIS MISSILE SUBMARINE SYSTEM

APRIL 9, 1960

Printed for the use of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy

In 1960 prior to the first successful launching of a Polaris missile from a submerged nuclear submarine, the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy was privileged to spend 2 days at sea aboard the U.S.S. George Washington (SSB(N)598), the first U.S. nuclear- powered fleet ballistic missile submarine. During these 2 days, April 9 and 10, 1960, in company with AEC Commissioners John S. Graham and John F. Floberg, the Joint Committee was able to obtain firsthand knowledge as to the operation of the Polaris submarine missile weapon system and as to the competency of the naval officers and men assigned to it. It was evident to us that the nuclear-powered submarine provides a superb platform for the ballistic missile and that the marriage of submarine nuclear propulsion developed by the Atomic Energy Commission and the Polaris missile under development by the Navy provides the United States with a potent deterrent

APPENDIXES

Appendix 1

Operation Schedule U.S.S. “George Washington” (SSB(N)598), 9 and 10 April 1960

9 April 1960:

1330 Station the maneuvering watch, line handler’s topside when directed.

Rig ship for dive. Do not pass words to bridge or test alarms until directed.

1430 Underway from Berth “C” East, proceed to operation area HOTEL East

1515 Operate with PATRICK HENRY.

1545 Man Battle Stations—Missile.

1600 Official party assemble topside for surface sabot shoot.

1605 Sabot count-down.

1615 Official party go below—secure topside for dive.

1625 Dive for trim and submerged sabot launch.

1650 Set condition 2 SQ.

1700 Set condition 1 SQ.

1701 Start sabot ripple fire.

1710 Secure sabot launch. Secure from Battle Stations—Missile.

1715 Informal tours of ship for guests.

1725 Surface—proceed to lane ZULU for submerged operations.

1745 Catholic Mass in Torpedo Room.

1800 Evening meal in wardroom—first sitting.

1835 Pass Montauk Point

1845 Evening meal in Crew’s Dinette.

1945 At 35 fathoms curve—dive.

2245 At 100 fathoms curve. Conduct submerged operations.

10 April 1960:

0100 Secure submerged operations return to port.

0700 Catholic Mass in Torpedo Room. Protestant Church Services as announced.

0800 At Point ALPHA.

0830 Tugs alongside.

0930 Moor Electric Boat Division—Official guests depart.

Department of Defense, Office of Public Affairs,

Washington 25, D.C., July 20, 1960.

  1. 820-60

OXford 7-6161

News release, please note date.

For the press:

A POLARIS test vehicle was launched from a submerged submarine today in the first full scale test of all elements of the Navy’s fleet ballistic missile weapon system. The submarine making the historic launch was USS GEORGE WASHINGTON, first of the nation’s nuclear powered missile launching submarines and one of two scheduled to be deployed this year on operational patrol. The submarine was cruising submerged about 30 miles off Cape Canaveral, Florida, in the Atlantic at the time of the test, 1:39 P.M. (EDT).

The launching and test flight were evaluated as successful in meeting all the test objectives of a live missile launch from beneath the surface of the ocean and guided flight to a pre-selected impact area. Range of the flight was more than 1000 nautical (1100 statute) miles.

Department of Defense, Office of Public Affairs,

Washington, D.C., July 20, 1960.

  1. 822-60

OXford 7-6161

News release, please note date.

For the press:

A second POLARIS test vehicle was successfully launched from the USS GEORGE WASHINGTON at 4:32 P.M. (EDT) today. Earlier today the first launching of a POLARIS test vehicle from a submerged submarine was made at 1:39 P.M. (EDT).

In both launches, the GEORGE WASHINGTON was cruising submerged about 30 miles off Cape Canaveral, at the time of the tests; the launching and test flight were evaluated as successful in meeting all test objectives of a live missile launch from beneath the surface of the ocean and guided flight to a pre-selected impact area. The range of the flight was more than 1000 nautical (1100 statute) miles.

Photographs of the launching of the U.S. Navy Polaris test vehicle with instrumented nose cone from the submerged nuclear submarine U.S.S. George Washington off Cape Canaveral, Fla., July 1960

Naval Message—Unclassified—Navy Department

Released by: Adm. Burke.

Date: 21 JUL 60.

From: CNO.

To: COM 6.

Info: USS GEORGE WASHINGTON//CINCLANTFLT//COMSUBLANT//COMSUBRON 14//SPO WASH DC.

For delivery to RADM Raborn via CAPT Scanland, NAD Charleston

The free peoples of the world must be cheered tremendously today by the Navy’s success in its first firing of a Polaris missile from under the sea. Once again, the Navy has dramatically illustrated the direct relationship that exists between the oceans of the world and the preservation of freedom. It is not an accident that most free nations of the world have at least part of their border on the sea, for it is from the oceans that the Navy can support a nation’s desire to remain free, using the precise amount of power required—quietly and effectively—to ensure this freedom.

As Polaris-carrying submarines take their unknown stations throughout the world, the knowledge by free peoples of the world—and those desiring freedom – that a Polaris submarine MIGHT be in the depths of international oceans, will give them additional determination to guard their freedom with every facility at their command. This knowledge may even instill new confidence in those nations who have been threatened by aggression from communism, or who face such threats in the future. Such nations, even if they do not have a border on the sea, can now face aggressive threats with renewed resistance, knowing that a Polaris submarine may be cruising within range of the aggressor nation. The men who man these submarines must have great technical competence, for in their ship may lie the instrument which will determine whether our civilization, with its unshakeable trust in God and belief in the dignity of man, will remain free or whether it will fall to the ravages of communism, with its debasement of human character.

You and the many people who had influence on this achievement can take great pride in the contributions you have made to this civilization and the preservation of the free way of life. Arleigh Burke.

Mister Mac

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