Keep Oral Histories coming through your tax-deductible donation now.

Rear Admiral Robert H. Wertheim, USN (Ret.) (1922- )

Rear Admiral Robert H. Wertheim USN (Ret.) Navy History and Heritage CommandBased on five interviews conducted by Dr. John T. Mason Jr. in January and February 1981, the volume contains 343 pages of interview transcript plus an index and appendices. The transcript is copyright 1981 by the U.S. Naval Institute; the interviewee has placed no restrictions on its use.

Among early tours, Wertheim served as engineering, communications, and CIC officer in the USS Hyman (DD-732) when she was involved in American occupation forces in Japan, and in the USS Bordelon (DD-881) in operations with Task Force 77 in Far East. In 1964 he received an MS in science from MIT. He was military assistant for strategic weapons in the Department of Defense and then became Technical Director, Strategic Systems Project Office--responsible for the development of Polaris, Poseidon, and Trident missile systems. Discussions in his memoir include: work at China Lake on the Chaparral system; work with the atomic bomb assembly team; the leadership of Polaris pioneer Vice Admiral William F. Raborn Jr.; and development of the Navy's strategic weapons systems.

An index to this volume can be viewed here (.pdf).

 


Admiral Wertheim: In any case we installed Regulus on Los Angeles; it was the first such installation, it was kind of a grafting of a capability onto a ship that was not designed for it—adding a guided missile with a nuclear warhead to a ship that wasn't designed for that purpose. It was kind of a new thing for all of us.

John T. Mason Jr.:  She didn't have to go into a navy yard? 

Admiral Wertheim: Yes she did. This was done in a yard availability but what I am saying is that such things as providing adequate security for the protection of nuclear weapons, meeting the requirements for the two-man rule and the like, and limited access. On a ship, in the hangar deck, which is where we kept the missile and its warhead, required us to do some things that were clearly expedients—locking doors, putting bolts on doors, stationing marine guards. The hangar deck on a heavy cruiser was not designed for limited access. It was designed for quite the opposite, for ready access. I remember the trauma of attempting to meet these security arrangements in the face of an irate first lieutenant who said, "By God, nobody is going to keep me out of any part of any ship, of any part of this ship. I and my damage control teams have to be able to get in to where we want." He armed himself with a set of bolt cutters and as fast as I would add padlocks he would snip them off. We had to have an understanding which we ultimately worked out. The installation was jury-rigged really. Aircraft guided missile Regulus firing from the USS Tunny

John T. Mason Jr.:  What about launchers? What kind did you have for the missile? This had to be installed also? 

Admiral Wertheim: Yes, the launcher was also a jury-rigged arrangement, it was the same design launcher that had been used or was being used for launching from aircraft carriers—launching the Regulus from aircraft carriers, it was a rail launcher and the missile would be winched up into position on the launcher and then the launcher rails would be elevated by hydraulic mechanism; the whole thing had been built by the Naval Aircraft Factory which no longer exists (in Philadelphia) and when the thing was elevated, the engine was cranked up as it had to be before launching. Visualize if you will, in your mind's eye, a small jet airplane up on rails that were elevated high into the air and pointing up on an angle of 35° or 40°, supported by two arms extended vertically and as the ship would roll this whole mechanism would sway back and forth, wave around in the breeze so to speak up there, with the jet engine whining and with the high ex­plosive in a nuclear warhead and jato bottles ready to be ignited—the whole thing was a disaster waiting for a place to happen. 

John T. Mason Jr.:  Pretty vulnerable in a storm?

Admiral Wertheim: Not only vulnerable but it was probably more hazardous to us than it would have been to any enemy. That was the installation we had initially. Later we had that launcher arrangement replaced with one that was a much safer arrangement, one that had things under much better control, rails that allowed the missile to be moved from the hangar deck up to the launch deck and under positive control all the way. Nevertheless we actually made a de­ployment to the Far East with that missile and with live warheads and I guess, in a dire emergency, the government could have actually called upon us to launch it, God forbid! 

John T. Mason Jr.:  What was the range of the Regulus? 

Admiral Wertheim: I believe it was about 500 miles but of course the control system from the ship would not have allowed it to control a missile for anything like that range. We had a radar that would allow us to control it basically to the line of sight, to a target within the line of sight. The principle means of controlling REGULUS however was with a chase plane, another aircraft that would fly along with it and control it and cause it to dial on its target, so in that particular role it really became just an auxiliary means of delivering a bomb. If you think of one airplane controlling the delivery of a weapon on a target it isn't terribly different from if that airplane had carried the bomb in the first place. This simply allowed it to be done remotely and from some distance away and therefore more safely and perhaps better able to penetrate.

John T. Mason Jr.:  It was something in transition? 

Admiral Wertheim: Yes, it was not by any means the invulnerable ultimate weapon that we later came to think of our ballistic missiles as being a delivery system that could not be intercepted but rather just another aircraft to carry the bomb.


 
 

Conferences and Events

Maritime Security Dialogue

Fri, 2018-10-05

Maritime Security DialogueNaval Aviation: Readiness Recovery for Combat A discussion with VADM DeWolfe Miller, USNCommander,...

The New China Challenge

An Evening of Naval History

View All

From the Press

22 September - Annual Symposium

Sat, 2018-09-22

22 September - Annual Symposium

Sat, 2018-09-22

John B. Lundstrom

Why Become a Member of the U.S. Naval Institute?

As an independent forum for over 140 years, the Naval Institute has been nurturing creative thinkers who responsibly raise their voices on matters relating to national defense.

Become a Member Renew Membership