Chaos and Confusion — Allies in Trouble

  • Donette Murray
Part of the Cold War History Series book series (CWH)


The agreement reached in principle by Macmillan and Eisenhower at Camp David was finalised soon after when Watkinson went to Washington to thrash out the details in June. The basic terms agreed at Camp David stated that:

In a desire to be of assistance in improving and extending the effective life of the V-bomber force, the United States, subject only to United States priorities, is prepared to provide SKYBOLT missiles — minus warheads — to the United Kingdom on a reimbursable basis in 1965 or thereafter. Since SKYBOLT is still in the early stages of development, this offer is necessarily dependent on the successful completion of its development program.1


Nuclear Weapon Budget Director Cuban Missile Crisis Strategic Bomber Joint Chief 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Macmillan to Watkinson, 29 March 1960, CAB 133/243, PRO.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    While the eventual agreement had no strings attached, British Ministers feared for a time that American officials were seeking to link the deal with British participation in the US MRBM scheme. Foreign Office to Washington, 24 February 1960, CAB 131/23, PRO.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Memorandum from Zuckerman to Watkinson, 7 February 1961, DEFE 13/408, PRO.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    In a conversation with John Rubel, Watkinson learned in April 1961 that Skybolt might be even more prone to fatal complications than had first been thought. According to Rubel, Skybolt relied on celestial navigation for homing on to the target — i.e. it ‘acquired’ a star in order to navigate. Alarmingly, Watkinson informed the Minister of Aviation, this meant the probability that because ‘the present day navigation equipment in British V-bombers is so markedly more inaccurate than the American counterpart that in certain circumstances SKYBOLT would be virtually unusable as a weapon…’. Harold Watkinson to Minister of Aviation, 12 September 1961, DEFE 13/ 408, PRO.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    The Skybolt project started life in 1958 as the Bold Orion Rocket programme produced from a ALBM called WS-199B by the Martin Company.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Brandon, SKYBOLT.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    See Peter Roman, ‘Strategic Bombers over the Missile Horizon, 1957–1963’ (Journal for Strategic Studies, Vol. 18, No. 1, 1995).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    During the 1960s it was thought that anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems could be developed which would track and destroy the incoming warheads of a nuclear attack. Although both the Russians and the Americans deployed such systems, they proved to be extravagantly expensive and essentially unworkable.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    The Times, 9 June 1960.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Clark, Nuclear Diplomacy, pp. 281–4. See also The Times, 9 June 1960. Watkinson to Macmillan, 1 November 1960, DEFE 19/76, PRO.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Nunnerley, President Kennedy and Britain, p. 130.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Neustadt, Report to the President, p. 7.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Draft secret memorandum on Skybolt, PREM 11/3262, PRO.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Pentagon Background Briefing Paper, 17 December 1962, Richard E. Neustadt Papers, Governmental Consulting, Box 19, Skybolt/Atlantic Affairs, Statements and Clippings. NSF JFKL. See also Ward S. Just, ‘The Scrapping of Skybolt’ (The Reporter, 11 April 1963), p. 19. A further report by the Strategic Weapons Panel of the President’s Science Advisory Committee in mid-July 1960 also admitted to having ‘serious doubts’ about the project. A third report came from the Pentagon’s Weapons Systems Evaluation Group also recommended cancellation. New York Times, 17 December 1962.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    The other missiles were Minuteman, Titan and Polaris.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    It is interesting to note that Thomas Gates, far from being regarded by the British as a difficult American to deal with, was perceived as a friend of Britain. In a confidential telegram from the British Ambassador to Selwyn Lloyd at the Foreign Office, Harold Caccia refers to him as a ‘sincere believer in Anglo/American cooperation, and our relations with him have always been close and friendly …’. 8 December 1959, DEFE 13/126, PRO.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Record of Meeting, 21 October 1960, PREM 11/3261, MM46/60, PRO.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Brandon, SKYBOLT. Watkinson to Macmillan, 12 May 1960, DEFE 13/195, PRO.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Watkinson to Macmillan, 12 December 1960, DEFE 19/76, PRO.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    The January budget did not include additional funds for Skybolt on the assumption that the $150 million available in fiscal year 1961 could be stretched out to support the project during the coming fiscal year.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Memorandum, December 1960, PREM 11/3261, PRO. Record of Meeting between Gates and Watkinson, 12 December 1960, PREM 11/3261, MM54/60, PRO. E. W. Playfair to Minister of Defence, DEFE 13/421, PRO. The Christian Science Monitor reported that the British government was more concerned about the USAF having second thoughts about the project than the funding cut authorised by Gates. Christian Science Monitor, 23 December 1960.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    POF, Box 77, Depts. & Agencies 1/61–3/61 JFKL. See also B. D. S. Washington to MoD, Mills to Zuckerman, 14 February 1961, DEFE 19/77, PRO.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Roswell Gilpatric, Oral History, JFKL, p. 74. See also Richard E. Neustadt, Alliance Politics (Columbia University Press: New York, 1970), p. 37;Google Scholar
  24. George Ball, The Past Has Another Pattern (W.W. Norton & Co.: New York, 1982), pp. 229–30. According to Zuckerman, his sources were under the impression that Skybolt would survive the Defense Review ‘if only on grounds of international politics and employment problems in Southern California…’. B. D. S. (Washington) to MoD, 7 February 1961, DEFE 13/408, PRO.Google Scholar
  25. 24.
    Memcon of US-UK defense talks, 28 March 1961, Box 3, Folder ‘UK’ Box 3, RG59, Records of State Department, Bureau of European Affairs, Office of Atlantic Political & Military Affairs, 1961–63, National Archives.Google Scholar
  26. 25.
    DoD appropriations for 1962, Senate Subcommittee for Appropriations (18 April 1961) Neustadt Papers, Box 19, Government Consulting, Statements and Clippings on Skybolt 1959–63, JFKL. Another reason why McNamara was reluctant to move against Skybolt was the revelation at the Tushino Air Show that the Russians had substantially augmented air defence capabilities than had been previously thought. Denver Post, 4 September 1962.Google Scholar
  27. 26.
    Brandon, SKYBOLT.Google Scholar
  28. 27.
    Brandon, SKYBOLT.Google Scholar
  29. 28.
    Nunnerley, President Kennedy and Britain, p. 134.Google Scholar
  30. 29.
    Having been alerted to McNamara’s intentions, the weapon’s supporters in Congress and the USAF had united to oppose cancellation. In the end, Kennedy himself was forced to intervene by formally impounding the funds allocated by Congress for the bombers.Google Scholar
  31. 30.
    Brandon, SKYBOLT. It is interesting to note that the British Liaison Staff in Washington (in particular the Skybolt Progress Officer) were reporting around this time that McNamara was ‘very taken with SKYBOLT… much more so than his predecessors had been …’. Note for the Record, 3 November 1961, DEFE 13/409, PRO.Google Scholar
  32. 31.
    Brandon, SKYBOLT.Google Scholar
  33. 32.
    Memorandum for President, 9 December 1961, Box 273A–274, Depts. and Agencies DoD McNamara group in Paris and London 7/61-McNamara speech 11/18/63, JFKL.Google Scholar
  34. 33.
    Ironically, MINUTEMAN was to enter its production phase on 11 December 1962 — the day the crisis broke in London.Google Scholar
  35. 34.
    Neustadt, Report to the President, p. 4.Google Scholar
  36. 35.
    Neustadt, Report to the President.Google Scholar
  37. 36.
    Neustadt, Report to the President, p. 9.Google Scholar
  38. 37.
    Neustadt, Report to the President, p. 10.Google Scholar
  39. 38.
    Thorneycroft, Oral History, p. 12, JFKL.Google Scholar
  40. 39.
    Thorneycroft appears to have ignored warnings from the Secretary of State for Air that the situation regarding Skybolt ‘could not be more pregnant for a miscarriage’. Secretary of State for Air to Minister of Defence, 16 October 1962, DEFE 13/410, PRO.Google Scholar
  41. 40.
    Neustadt, Report to the President, p. 12.Google Scholar
  42. 41.
    Neustadt, Report to the President.Google Scholar
  43. 42.
    Neustadt, Report to the President, p. 13.Google Scholar
  44. 43.
    Thorneycroft to McNamara 5 November 1962, PREM 11/3706, PRO. Thorneycroft might also have been prompted by a message from the British liaison staff in Washington reporting that they had learned unofficially that the Department of Defense was considering cancelling Skybolt. British Defence Staff (B. D. S.) Washington to Ministry of Defence, 5 November 1962, DEFE 13/409, PRO.Google Scholar
  45. 44.
    Neustadt, Report to the President, p. 15.Google Scholar
  46. 45.
    Document No. 399, Vol. XIII, FRUS.Google Scholar
  47. 46.
    Neustadt, Alliance Politics, p. 42.Google Scholar
  48. 47.
    Arthur Schlesinger Jr, A Thousand Days, p. 371.Google Scholar
  49. 48.
    According to Neustadt, the telegram was so unusual that Bruce wondered what was going on in Washington. Neustadt, Report to the President, p. 55.Google Scholar
  50. 49.
    Box 275, Depts. & Agencies, Department of Defense Defense Budget FY1964 Vol. 1, misc, NSF, JFKL.Google Scholar
  51. 50.
    Kennedy had been asked by Macmillan (via Ormsby-Gore) for a number of assurances about the handling of the matter which included a commitment that no decision would be taken without consultation with the British. The President apparently thought that his staff were fully aware of this and did not need reminding of procedures they were following anyway and so did not bring Macmillan’s requests up at the meeting. It is unclear as to whether or not Kennedy informed anyone of the British prime minister’s request or his own promises. However, nothing more was said about the matter. Later, Macmillan was to wonder why Kennedy had broken his promise. In all likelihood, the president was under the impression that his staff had honoured his commitments. By the time he realised this was not the case, things had gone badly wrong indeed. Neustadt, Report to the President, pp. 49, 52.Google Scholar
  52. 51.
    Richard E. Neustadt Papers Box 19, Government consulting, Skybolt/ Atlantic Affairs 12/62, Skybolt-Nassau (classified) Folder 2, JFKL.Google Scholar
  53. 52.
    Memcon 10 December 1962, NSF Meetings and Memos, meetings with the President 6/62–12/62, Box 317, JFKL.Google Scholar
  54. 53.
    Dean Rusk, As I Saw It, p. 266.Google Scholar
  55. 54.
    Neustadt Papers Box 19, Government Consulting, Skybolt/Atlantic Affairs, Statements and Clippings, 17 December Pentagon Background Briefing Paper, JFKL.Google Scholar
  56. 55.
    Neustadt, Report to the President, p. 48.Google Scholar
  57. 56.
    This paper was prepared by Yarmolinsky and had been passed by George Ball and approved by the president.Google Scholar
  58. 57.
    Roswell Gilpatric offers an explanation as to why Thorneycroft was so reluctant to negotiate with McNamara at this juncture. He believes that the British Minister felt that he could not afford to be seen to be asking for Polaris especially in front of the British staff who were present at the meeting. Gilpatric, Oral History, p. 63, JFKL.Google Scholar
  59. 58.
    While McNamara certainly believed that Thorneycroft had deliberately whipped up the press, others are not so sure and argue that the press had already received enough to go on from the Secretary’s press statement, see Neustadt, Report to the President, pp. 68–9.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Donette Murray 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Donette Murray
    • 1
  1. 1.University of UlsterColeraineNorthern Ireland

Personalised recommendations