Russell E. Hershey,
INT: Can I ask you what sort of firepower did the Polaris boat carry. It'd be very nice if you could sort of think of a simile, perhaps compare it to World War Two or something like that.
VAJW: (Sigh) Well, sixteen missiles. Polaris A-1. Oh, I'm gonna have to think a minute, so..
VAJW: Hiroshima was 20 KT, we're .. five hundred KT... The Polaris A... ask me the question again.
INT: What sort of firepower did the Polaris...
INT: What sort of firepower did the Polaris submarine carry?
VAJW: The first ones, the Polaris A-1, were the equivalent of about three hundred Hiroshima bombs.. or about that. And that relative comparison of course grew as time went on to be later constrained of course by actions that were taken with the SALT talks, the arms limitations agreements. But they were extremely powerful... More bombs than were dropped in World War Two, if you took the whole Polaris fleet it's.. far more bombs than were dropped by all forces in World War Two.
INT: Can I just ask you that...
INT: In comparison to World War Two, what sort of..?
VAJW: The launch power of the Polaris submarines that we had at sea would have resulted in a destructive power far greater than all of the bombs that were dropped by all sides in World War Two..
INT: Was it difficult to carry that awesome responsibility that you were given as a commander?
VAJW: I didn't find it difficult and I don't think that my peers did either. Maybe two or three of them might have felt that so, but that was that was the thing that we could do to guarantee the survivability and the safety of the United States and the rest of the Western world and we were thrilled to be a part of that system and to be able to do that for our coun... you know, there are very few people in this life that can go through life and point at something definitive and say 'I did that and that was an important thing for my country', but everybody that say...
INT: Can we go back to that question you said of how important did you regard your job?
VAJW: I and my peers considered that we were carrying a great burden for the United States and the free world and that we were running the force that could ensure that the Soviets would not -- or best ensure that the Soviets would not launch a nuclear strike. So we felt that we carried a responsibility for the survivability of the free world and we were thrilled to be a part of it. We felt that very few people ever have an opportunity to point at one thing and say 'I did something for my country'. He can say to his children 'I did this for my country' and it's a concrete, specific thing. Every Brit and every United States sailor that ever sailed in a Polaris or any ...(inaudible).. Poseidon fleet, Polaris Poseidon fleet, can say that. It's a badge of honor.
INT: Excellent answer. How did you regard during that period the Russians? Did you see them as a real enemy?
INT: Can you put that into a.. phrase for me?
VAJW: I think that the Soviet Union was intent on pushing the Communist ideology throughout the world and the.. I don't think there was any doubt in the minds of the leaders of the Soviet Union that they could bury us as Khrushchev told then Vice-President Nixon. There were great dangers and they had to be kept at bay with systems that, even though sometimes I think they doubted whether or not we had that capability, that they certainly were not sure that we couldn't.. destroy them, and we could have.
INT: So.. every time you went to sea, was it.. actually like going to war? Did you regarit as going to war?
VAJW: Oh, we were on a war footing. We were on a war footing from 1961 and.. until the end of the Cold War, and the Tridents that are still on patrare on a war footing.. if I remember.. but I'm sure.. I don't know how they patrol these days but I'm certain the systems at sea are ready to fire if the command authority wants them fired. The but it was very intense. Now that's just the Polaris fleet. The.. attack submarine fleet was also on a war footing because.. we felt certain that we would deter the nuclear war. We were not certain that we would deter a conventional war and they had so many submarines.. (inaudible) facing us in the Atlantic when I was Chief of Staff there of the.. submarine force Atlantic Fleet in '68, '69 and again commander of the submarine force in '74 to '77 timeframe, they had three hundred and some odd submarines facing my some sixty nuclear attack submarines, which meant that we had to be very good. We had to be very highly trained. We trained our people in those days as though the Cold War was gonna stop today and the Hot War start tomorrow, and we trained them in all waters in which they might encounter the Soviets. We trained them in under the icepack, we trained them in the Bering Sea, we trained them in the Norwegian Sea, the far reaches of the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and we observed the enemy every chance.. chance we got because we needed to know how he was going to fight, what his weapon systems were capable of and what his submarines sounded like and what we were gonna face if we did have to pull the trigger. So the attack submarine force was probably the most ready force that the Navy has ever had. We could put our submarines to sea, that were in port.. we had one of them at sea all the time, we had five, five deployed to the Mediterranean and usually the bulk of them were at sea. We had a lot at sea in Atlantic training, but if the boom went up within twenty four hours, the vast majority of the ones that were in port would be at sea, weapons on board, crew trained, provisions on board and ready to go on patrol. And that's what we would do.. and we would have sent them out and tried to meet them as they came around the Horn up in the barracks because we really did not relish them getting loose in the sea lanes and us having to bear the brunt of a heavy strike by their forces against the shipping in the Atlantic until we could catch most of them going back to port for reloads. So we were ready. It was intense. I think the intensity also extended to the surface Navy. The carriers were extremely ready, strike aircraft particularly. I think it was demonstrated very well by something Admiral Kidd said when he was commander of the 6th Fleet in the late Sixties. He had his tests, he had his fleet at sea and he was being tailed by a Russian squadron or Russian task force and the Russian admiral sent his flagship to battle stations and was waving his guns around and trained them in the direction of Admiral Kidd's flagship and Admiral Kidd sent his whole task force to battle stations and trained his mounts on the Russian flagship. Then the Russian Admiral sent him a message and said 'do you intend to start World War Three?' and Admiral Kidd said 'You'll be the first to know.' So.. (laugh) you.. but that's the type of pressure that they faced. If you recall, in those days, in the Pacific there were several instances of bumping of surface ships. They were very aggressive and if you showed the feather, you know, they'd take advantage of it, they would push it. And there were some bumping incidents, they became international incidents and you had a lot to do to and formalizing agreements about non-interference, not just international rules of the road, so it was exciting times for about twenty years, thirty years, it was exciting times! (laugh)
INT: How determined were the Russian efforts to try and find out what you were doing?
VAJW: Well, they were very determined and very frustrated because they didn't have the capability. They were behind us in technology and we kept I think probably you could say, from a technological standpoint of summaries, we were probably fifteen years ahead of them and this had to do with the noise quieting of submarines, the quality of our sensors, the qualities of our torpedoes, but they were always, always competitive, and you had to watch them. Because in their eagerness to find you, do something if you were around, they could do some rather risky things, so you had to be aware of what that submarine was doing at all times if you were in his vicinity. And we could do that.
INT: When you say 'risky things' what sort of things would they do?
VAJW: Race around at high speed, tow everybody's track at high speed, you know without regard to whether.. he may think he's being trailed or something but he would conduct maneuvers to determine that were pretty risky maneuvers, you know.
INT: When you were on patrol on a Polaris, did you ever give thought to what would happen if the order had come through to launch, in two ways? One, can I ask you, would there have been any hesitation in your decision to launch and, two, did you ever think about what the result would be when you eventually had to come home?
VAJW: If we, in the Polaris submarine force, had been ordered to launch, I don't think there would've been any hesitation on the part of any commanding officer to launch. You would hit the targets at the times you were supposed to hit them. Did we think about what was back home? Sure we did, but you didn't let that control your actions. It just was not part of the.. environment that you were in. You didn't think about that. Time to think about that after you'd done your duty.