Sometimes the greatest threat is just down the hall from your office.
I have to admit that I am Navy through and through. My DNA has a lot of US Navy intermingled with my Scots-Irish-English-Welsh background. The hair on my arms stands up when I hear the Navy Hymn, nearly half of my wardrobe is still Navy Blue, I own more Navy hats than a farmer owns John Deere caps and I will stand up and fight any man who claims there is a better service.
Don’t get me wrong. I know we need an Army and Air Force. Frankly, most self-respecting sailors do not get any joy in sleeping in holes in the ground (with the notable exception of our SEABEES). And the Air Force is a necessary service since we are too busy to build golf courses and beautiful accommodations for our members.
I love the Coast Guard but still feel that someday they will be given a chance to permanently be a part of the Navy. And for my Marine friends, just remember that you are and always will be part of the Department. You are welcome.
The inter-service rivalry has always been there. Never more so than in 1960 as all of the services were battling for budget dominance in the new atomic age. The Air Force was still struggling to put an atomic plane in the air and the Navy had made several leaps forward with the nuclear submarines that continued to break ever record. The Army was playing with missiles and suitcase sized nukes but continued to find itself fighting with its rebellious breakaway child in blue sky uniforms over who would control and develop future generations of airborne craft and projectiles.
But in 1960, there was about to be a sea change in politics. Eight years of Eisenhower was about to end and an old Navy Man named Kennedy was marching towards the goal line of president. All of the services were pushing for strength in their particular fields and there was only so much money to go around.
The mission of countering the USSR in technology was forefront in everyone’s minds. The potential threat of incoming missiles seemed to dominate all of the meetings and countering the threat was an existential moment in history.
Needless to say, there were political forces at play as well as inner service rivalry. Someone would gain financially from the future development of new weapons platforms so you have to know that the companies that were involved were pushing their elected representatives. After all, the money ultimately would be spent on the programs that were the most successful.
The Air Force had sunk billions into the nuclear powered jet and seen no real success. Physics and reality were settling in despite the large expenditure of funds. And those damn submarines just kept doing what seemed impossible.
But that didn’t stop the efforts to diminish existing submarines and especially attacking Polaris. Sniping in the Pentagon and in the Halls of Congress was supplemented by well-placed stories in the press that may have felt a duty to favor one system over another. It turns out that even before the system was fully operational. The greatest threat was from people who had alternative visions to defending our nation. Before the first real proof was settled that Polaris was a viable option, detractors came from all corners.
By April of 1960, Admiral Arleigh Burke felt the need to publish one of his secret memos for the Flag and General Officers to discuss how to deal with the detractors.
Below is the un-redacted original secret memo (declassified by President Clinton).
POLARIS SYSTEM SPEEDUP – April 1960
Admiral Burke was a visionary and that vision helped to ensure that the Navy would not only gain the 41 for Freedom boats but the replacement Trident Class. But one thing is clear from the perspective of history. It was the sacrifices of the men of Polaris to stay on station in all manner of challenges and have a track record that was superior that really convinced the Congress that the investment was worth the effort. The officers and men of Polaris showed what could be done and performed with a spectacular degree of excellence.