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Website of the Documentary Film

"Regulus: The First Nuclear Missile Submarines"


ABOUT CAPTAIN MERRILL

Capt. Grayson Merrill, also known as the "Father of Point Mugu", has had a long and influential Navy career. The Class Deck Officer in the Bureau of Aeronautics during WWII, Merrill helped oversee the creation of assault drones for use against Japan. In the post-war era he helped prepare specifications for 18 guided missiles, including the Regulus, Lark, Gorgon and Gargoyle. He played a key role in the creation of the Naval Air Missile Test Center at Pt. Mugu, and was the director of testing there for four years (1946-49). Prior to retirement from the Navy in 1957, Captain Merrill was the first technical director for the Polaris ballistic missile program. A true renaissance man, Captain Merrill co-authored a ground -breaking series of guided missile design textbooks, and also wrote the gripping Cold War novel "Conger Eel" (See www.1stbooks.com to read a synopsis and order, if you so wish!).


 

 

Review of Regulus: The First Nuclear Missile Submarines

by Capt. Grayson Merrill, USN (Ret.)

OVERVIEW

This fifty-minute documentary film is an historical gem.  It tells
the story of how the Navy was awakened by the atomic bomb to the 
idea of an ultimate post-WW II weapon: the nuclear missile submarine.
(Talk about more bang for the buck!)  For the U.S. Navy that would 
mean putting a nuclear warhead into a second generation cruise missile, 
married to a submarine.


Filmmaker Nick Spark has researched the story of REGULUS by interviewing key employees of its contractor, Chance 
Vought Aircraft, Regulus historian David Stumpf, and test and development
veterans. He also interviewed retired Navy submariners who served on the 
five boats ultimately deployed during the Cold War. Nick scrounged film 
from Edwards Air Force Base and Point Mugu to give the video authenticity.  It's terrific to
see some of this material after nearly fifty years.  The excitement is well
matched by the audio and dialogue.  Nick's stated objective, "We set out to
make a film about the first DEPLOYED nuclear cruise missile on a submarine",
has been well done.

COMMENTARY

The film is divided into three overlapping eras:


1944-53: Adapting the LOON, a USAF copy of the German V-1, to a submarine- 
launched TNT armed cruise missile - first for use against Japan and later 
as a prototype for REGULUS.


1948-54: Testing Regulus Flight Test Vehicles (FTVs) at Edwards Air Force
Base and Point Mugu.


1950-64: Modifying five submarines to carry REGULUS missiles and deploying
them to the North Pacific.

Here are some notes on each:


The LOON narrations and photos capture the exciting failures, hard lessons
and ultimate successes that figure in the development of practically any
airborne weapon. The first few LOONS dove into the sea because their JATOs
(rocket launchers) were not carefully aligned. One crashed on a sub's after
deck, creating a huge fire.   But luckily it caused little damage because 
the skipper immediately dived his boat!  The greatest success of the LOON 
era was a tactical demonstration called "Operation Miki". (I presume it was 
critical to avoid cancellation of the whole program by Washington bean 
counters.) The submarine USS Cusk guided a LOON over a small task force of 
ships off Point Mugu and (figuratively) detonated its (figurative) nuclear 
warhead. Funding for more tests resulted.


To save money the REGULUS flight test vehicles were equipped with 
retractable landing gear so each could be used repeatedly. Neat!  The first 
flight test of a Regulus FTV off Muroc dry lake culminated in a violent roll and crash.
Again the bean counters went on alert. After five months of investigation and
flight simulation testing on the ground the fault was isolated to an
over-stressed brass rod in a hydraulic pump.  The cure? A steel rod! In due
time the remaining bugs were found and removed and testing moved to Point
Mugu. Here the marriage to modified submarines was consummated.

This was an era (1953) of increased tension between the Cold War opponents
struggling to gain nuclear superiority via a first strike -- or at least a
retaliatory capability to deter a first strike. This is where the five
Regulus submarines fitted in. The pressure was on to deploy them.


The film shifts neatly from the missile testing era to the deployment era.  On
e begins to appreciate the stresses that were visited on these sub crews and
their families. The weather-beaten faces of retired skippers and their pride
of service comes through as they speak. They based in Pearl Harbor and set a
goal of two subs on continuous patrol off Soviet targets reachable from the
Bering Sea. This involved 14 days out, 60 days on patrol and 13 days back -
all with one crew on each sub. While in port they did routine maintenance. No
wonder they are still bonded by web sites and reunions today!

In October 1962 the Cuban Missile crisis arose and all U.S. Armed Services'
nuclear weapons went on high alert. Of these the REGULUS boats were least
likely to be detected and destroyed. Someday we may know how they were
factored into Kruschev's decision to cave in. Meantime I'll buy one skipper's
summary: "We were the shield between the Soviet Union and the United States."


The usefulness of REGULUS, as shown in the film, was terminated by the
success of Polaris. Polaris could be launched from any of 16 silo tubes in a
submerged submarine and had a 1200 mile range. The last REGULUS boat was
phased out in 1964.


By an interesting coincidence, I was Polaris' first Technical Director!

OTHER THOUGHTS

Some material which is not mentioned in the film, but which I think is
significant, has to do with the Navy's interest in missiles prior to the Loon
era.  From 1943 to 1945 I was the "class desk officer" in the Bureau of
Aeronautics.  At that time, I helped support the Special Air Task Force
(SATFOR).  SATFOR used the first-generation Navy cruise missile, known as
TDR-1, against Japanese anti-aircraft batteries at Rabaul and Bougainville.
In1945, I undertook the task of writing specifications for the Regulus as one
of18 post-war guided missiles.  These were to be "developed for Fleet Use in
1950" (sic). Captain Del Fahrney, now known as "the Father of Navy Guided
Missiles", relieved me and carried on, with welcome support from a key
submariner in the Chief of Naval Operations Office, Commander Klakring.

In October 1944, by the way, I wrote a letter detailing the requirements and
recommendations for a Navy missile sea test range.  It had become clear to me
that we were going to need an over-water range if we were going to develop
new missiles!  A board, which included Captain W. V. Vieweg and myself,
eventually surveyed 26 locations before deciding to set up shop at Point
Mugu, California.   One of the main reasons, aside from the fact that it
already had a large waterfront area, some Quonset huts, and a 3,000-foot
runway, was the 1,500 foot high Laguna Peak and the nearby Channel Islands.
I knew they offered ideal sites for tracking, receiving, and surveillance
stations.  I wrote in my final report, "This site will meet the Navy's needs
twenty-five years hence."  That's how I came to be known, fifty years later,
as the "Father of Pt. Mugu"!



  

 

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