Meet the nuclear commanders who now work to ban the bomb
PeaceQuest Cape Breton’s Sean Howard writes this week about two people who served for many years in the British naval nuclear war machine. But now both are working to abolish nuclear weapons.
Sean interviewed retired British Commander Robert Forsyth about his years aboard the HMS Repulse, a nuclear-powered submarine armed with Polaris nuclear missiles ready to be fired at 15 minutes notice.
Commander Forsyth says he was very conflicted over whether he should launch his nuclear weapons if a war were to break-out.
As the vessel’s 2nd in command, Forsyth shared responsibility for turning the ‘permission to fire key’ launching up to 48 300-kiloton warheads.
“Back in my Polaris days, I had personally to consider what to do if deterrence failed. Was there any point in carrying out a second, retaliatory [nuclear] strike if the Soviets launched one on NATO?”
Forsyth adds he wasn’t alone in feeling this way. “Interestingly, a number of Polaris [submarine] Commanding Officers made a very private personal decision that if deterrence failed then it was pointless to conduct a second strike,” he added. “Some decided to declare they could not fire at all, and their careers suffered accordingly.”
Retired British Commander Robert Green worked with nuclear bombs on a military jet and a helicopter. Green was the navigator on a nuclear-armed two-person Buccaneer fighter bomber which was tasked with attacking a Soviet military airbase outside Leningrad (St. Petersburg); and an anti-submarine helicopter armed with nuclear depth charges to destroy Soviet submarines.
Rob Green, whom I met on several occasions in the 1990s and invited to Vancouver during his speaking tour, said Putin would only harm himself by using a nuclear weapon in Ukraine.
“Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons to stop NATO interfering in his Ukraine operation is empty. This is because it would be a grotesque own goal for Putin to use even one so-called ‘tactical’ nuclear weapon there, inevitably prompting escalation by the U.S. in reprisal, leaving a radioactive wasteland in one of the world’s key agricultural areas, a medical and refugee catastrophe, and denying Russian access to its vital warm water outlets along the Black Sea coast,” said Green.
Both commanders have been supporting efforts to abolish nuclear weapons since leaving the UK’s Royal navy.
- Read “From Commanders to Campaigners, Part 1 and Part 2” by Sean Howard, published by the Cape Breton Spectator on January 11, 2023
(Cover: A nuclear-armed Royal Navy Buccaneer fighter bomber. Reproduced with permission of Robert Green.)