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Nuclear Brief December 20, 2006

USS Randolph and the Nuclear Diplomatic Incident

On July 14, 1966, anti-submarine aircraft carrier USS Randolph (CVS-15) arrived in Copenhagen for a five-day visit. The ship was a nuclear-capable vessel with a nuclear strike mission against submarines. Accompanying the USS Randolph in Copenhagen were the destroyer USS Borie (DD-704) and the frigate USS Edward Mcdonnell (FF-1043). The latter was also nuclear-capable, equipped with the ASROC anti-submarine weapon.

The ship's nuclear capability meant that the visit became a public and political liability from the start. But while the public debate quickly died down, declassified Start Department documents (download copies from the right-hand bar) reveal that the visit set the stage for a nuclear incident between the two allies that U.S. and Danish diplomats tried for two years to resolve. The documents show that the U.S. government did not consider nuclear weapons onboard its warships "deployment" in Denmark and therefore not affected by Danish non-nuclear policy. In fact, the State Department believed that Denmark tacitly accepted this distinction.

At the core of the matter was whether Denmark's non-nuclear policy should be allowed to influence U.S. naval visits. The U.S. government insisted it should not, and in the end the Danish government quietly agreed to ignore its own nuclear policy. But because the Danish government publicly insisted that its nuclear ban was respected during port visits, the nuclear collusion set the stage for decades of political conflicts.

The Visit

At the press conference following the arrival of USS Randolph in Copenhagen on July 14, Rear Admiral Paul E. Hartman was asked whether the ship carried nuclear weapons. Hartman said he could neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons on the ship, but added incorrectly that "all navy ships have capability to carry these weapons."

The answer satisfied most of the Danish news media, but the U.S. Embassy received information after the press conference from someone with inside knowledge about the newspaper Information and the Danish government that Information the following day would report "suspicion of nuclear weapons aboard" USS Randolph. The source warned that the story could have some political effect "if no action was taken to deny or blunt it." The source appears to have been Chief Editor Seidenfarden on Information, the same paper that printed the nuclear accusations.

To "deflate story," the press attaché at the U.S. Embassy told the news media that "there were no weapons aboard Randolph which would violate well-known Danish policy concerning stationing of nuclear weapons." The reference to "stationing" rather than "carrying" nuclear weapons was deliberate and intended to refer to deployment on land versus on a ship.

The Nuclear "Fingerprint"

Despite the attempt to "deflate" the nuclear angle, U.S. Navy documents declassified under the Freedom of Information Act or publicly available at military and civilian libraries contain strong indications that USS Randolph carried nuclear weapons during its North Atlantic deployment in 1966.

The USS Randolph was a nuclear-capable anti-submarine aircraft carrier designed to hunt down and destroy Soviet submarines in times of war. The ship deployed with an escort of frigates, destroyers, submarines, and supply ships in a Hunter Killer (HUK) task force. During the North Atlantic deployment in 1966, the Commander Antisubmarine Warfare Group 4 was embarked on the USS Randolph.

USS Randolph (CVS-15) Underway 1962

The USS Randolph (CVS-15) underway in February 1962, four years before it visited Copenhagen. The embarked anti-submarine wing was assigned missions with nuclear depth charges.

As a nuclear-capable anti-submarine carrier, the crew of the USS Randolph included a W Division that was responsible for storing and handling nuclear depth charges for the ship's anti-submarine wing. The ship's Crew Books identify that the ship during deployments to the Mediterranean Sea in 1964, 1965 and 1967 included a W Division. The unit was made up of 24 men in 1965 and 30 in 1967.

The crew book for 1965 is missing from the U.S. Navy's archives, but the considerable time and resources involved in bringing a carrier up to the high standard of nuclear weapons proficiency means that a W Division presumably also was onboard during the North Atlantic deployment in 1966.

USS Randolph (CVS-15) W Division

The USS Randolph (CVS-15) included a W Division for nuclear weapons handling in 1964, 1965 and 1967, and, presumably, also in 1966.

During deployment, the W Division held frequent loading drills, moving dummy weapons from the Special Weapons spaces below deck to aircraft on the flight deck. A heavily-armed Marine Detachment was assigned to protect the weapons against theft and sabotage.

Lulu and Mk-57
Nuclear Depth Bombs

The Mk-101 Lulu (top) and Mk-57 nuclear depth bombs were both operational at the time of USS Randolph's visit to Copenhagen in 1966.

The nuclear weapons that the W Division maintained were nuclear depth charges. Two types were operational in the U.S. Navy in 1966; the Mk-101 Lulu and the Mk-57. Either, or both, may have been onboard the anti-submarine carrier in 1966.

The Mk-101 Lulu nuclear depth bomb carried a W34 warhead with a yield of approximately 11 kilotons. The Mk-101 was operational until the late-1960s when it was replaced with the Mk-57.

The Mk-57 nuclear strike/depth bomb contained a 10-kiloton warhead. As the name indicates, the weapon could be used against both sub-surface and surface targets. The Mk-57 was later renamed the B57.

The objective of the North Atlantic deployment was to demonstrate the ability to move a submarine hunter killer group into any waters with a heavy concentration of hostile ASW forces. Immediately after the visit to Copenhagen, USS Randolph sailed north to the Norwegian Sea to take part in exercise Straight Laced.

The NATO exercise was designed to sharpen the Striking Fleet's coordination with NATO's northern European Command, and USS Randolph's role was to provide anti-submarine warfare support and surface surveillance coordination for U.S. and British attack aircraft carriers operating in the area.

Straight Laced was designed to test the readiness of the fleet in a series of realistic air, surface and sub-surface maneuvers. This included air strikes and air defense, cross-servicing (underway replenishment and refueling, and cross-deck landing operations between British and American carrier-based aircraft. The exercise includes "strikes from the Norwegian Sea in a nuclear freeplay environment."

After a brief return to the U.S. East Coast for repairs in October, USS Randolph was back in the North-West Atlantic the next month for exercise LANTFLEX 66 in the waters off New England as flagship for Carrier Task Group (CTG) 20.5. During this exercise nuclear weapons strike operations were not conducted - apparently contrary to standard practice - due to inadequate exercise planning. 

The Post Exercise Report complained that neither the tempo of operations nor the intelligence released had been  sufficiency to meet the exercise criteria established. The report recommended that "Training in the current tactics is required of all units if we are to have a valid capability in the delivery of this potent weapon," and it was recommended that major exercises such as LANTFLEX 66 "should incorporate the use of such weapons."

The nuclear "fingerprints" and other details about USS Randolph's operations around the time of its visit to Copenhagen in July 1966 are included in the following table:

USS Randolph (CVS-15)
Nuclear Operations During 1964-1967


Description & Remarks

1964 During 1964, the ship's Weapons Department included the Special Weapons "W" Division, which "maintains a variety of advanced undersea weapons for use against enemy submarines." According to USS Randolph: Twenty Years of Service (Boston, MA: Burdette & Company, Inc., 1965), "America's anti-submarine forces were first announced to have nuclear ability in 1957. When nuclear weapons are aboard, they fall under the cognizance of W Division. Frequent loading drills are held, moving dummy weapons from the W Division spaces below decks and the aircraft on the flight deck."
01/29/65 Left Norfolk Naval Shipyard and loaded up ammunition.
02/02-08/65 Whiskey Anchorage, Hampton Roads, VA.
Deck Log: (02/03) 12:30 Commenced loading ammunition.  (02/04) 11:50 Barge 367 came along side to port. 12:17 Barge 367 departed the ship. 12:20 Ammunition barge 362 came alongside. 12:40 Barge 352 Departed the ship. 13:03 Ammunition barge 1195 came alongside. 13:53 Barge 1195 departed the ship. (02/05) 10:35 Received magazine temperature report reports, conditions are normal. (02/06) 8:10 Received daily magazine report, conditions normal. 15:43 Class C fire in compartment B-201-3L. 15:47 Secured from fire quarters. (02/07) 10:00 Made daily inspection of magazines and smokeless powder samples. Conditions satisfactory.
06/11/65 Departs Norfolk, VA, for Mediterranean deployment.  During this deployment, the ship's Weapons Department included the Special Weapons "W" Division with 30 crew.
09/02/65 Returned to Norfolk, VA.
09/30/65 At Whiskey Anchorage, Hampton Roads, VA.
Deck Log: 9:05 Commenced transfer of ammunition. 10:10 Secured transfer of ammunition.
05/16/66 Sailed on Northern European Cruise with a purpose to demonstrate the mobility of an ASW [anti-submarine warfare] group and the ability to move to any threatened waters area with a heavy concentration of ASW forces. Another purpose was to provide an opportunity to further national policy through the people-to-people program conducted during port visits. The ASW group included VS-34, VS-39, HS-9, VAW-12 DET 15 and VRC-40 DET 15.
06/??/66 Inport Bergen, Norway.
07/14-18/66 Port visit to Copenhagen, Denmark. Other ships included USS Borie (DD-704) and USS Edward McDonnell (FF-1043).
   In his post-deployment report to the U.S. Commander East Atlantic and the U.S. Commander Antisubmarine Warfare Force for the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, the commander of Antisubmarine Group FOUR stated that questions asked by the news media at press conferences during port visits were largely based on the Commander's remarks; "however, occasional questions were arose concerning surveillance by Soviet ships in international waters [and] the presence of nuclear weapons onboard ships of the group." The commander commented that the questions revealed a general unawareness of modern antisubmarine warfare and its importance in blocking the potential Soviet threat. Overall, through, it was his evaluation that the port visits were highly successful "in accomplishing a greater understanding of the American image. The United States' assumed role of international leadership in advancing and defending concepts of democracy and freedom was well recognized by all countries." There were only "isolated cases of distorted reporting by communist and leftist newspapers," and the commander recommended that "these deployments continue annually to insure that the best impression of the United States be given to our friends abroad and to demonstrate the falsity of communist inspired portrayals."
08/11-22/66 Shortly after the visit to Copenhagen, the USS Randolph took part in exercise Straight Laced in the Norwegian Sea, where it provided ASW support and surface surveillance coordination for CVA strike operations, which included "strikes from the Norwegian Sea in a nuclear freeplay environment."
   Straight Laced was a NATO Striking Fleet exercise simulating an invasion of Norway, and involved 31 ships and over 15,000 men from France, the Netherlands, Norway, the United Kingdom, the United States and West Germany. The exercise was designed to sharpen the Striking Fleet's coordination with NATO's northern European Command, and to test the readiness of the fleet in a series of realistic air, surface and sub-surface maneuvers. This included air strikes and air defense, cross-servicing (underway replenishment and refueling, and cross-deck landing operations between British and American carrier-based aircraft. The only simulated submarine kill in the exercise was accomplished by USS John W. Weeks (DD-701) on August 19.
10/06/66 Returned to Norfolk, VA, beginning preparations for entering shipyard for repairs.
11-12/66 The ship conducted LANTFLEX 66 operation in the Western parts of the North Atlantic waters off New England, as flagship for Carrier Task Group (CTG) 20.5. Nuclear weapons strikes were apparently not exercised during this LANTFLEX 66 due to inadequate exercise planning. According to the Post Exercise Report:
"k. Nuclear Weapons Employment Comment:
The use of Nuclear Weapons was not exercised during LANTFLEX 66. At no time did the tempo of operations nor the intelligence released appear sufficiency to meet the exercise criteria established. Training in the current tactics is required of all units if we are to have a valid capability in the delivery of this potent weapon.
: Major exercises such as LANTFLEX 66 should incorporate the use of such weapons. The training of units would be enhanced by exposing the tactical and the command control problems."
08/03-04/67 Anchored A-Ray anchorage, Hampton Roads, VA, for ammunition offload prior to entering dry-dock.
Deck Log:
(08/03) 10:45 Commenced transferring ammunition to barges alongside. 14:10 Set RAD HAZ Condition III. 15:30 Completed transferring of ammunition to barges. Secured from RAD HAZ Condition III.
08/28-30/67 Ammunition onload at Whiskey Anchorage, Hampton Roads, VA, following shipyard period.
09/22/67 Deploys to the Mediterranean Sea. During the cruise, the ship's Weapons Department included a Special Weapons "W" Division with 24 men.
12/16/67 Returned to Norfolk, VA.

Conditional Port Clearance

While USS Randolph was still moored in Copenhagen harbor, the U.S. Ambassador to Denmark asked the U.S. State Department for guidance if the rumor about nuclear weapons on the carrier was revived. In particular, the Ambassador asked what the "appropriate reply" should be if the question of nuclear weapons onboard visiting warships was "raised formally on official level" by the Danish government.

In light of the sensitive diplomatic situation, the State Department authorized an alternative to the normal refusal to confirm or deny the presence of nuclear weapons. The alternative was that U.S. naval visits "in no way impinge upon Danish sovereignty or policies." The State Department commended that "realistically, we are aware that [the] Danes might have trouble accepting such [a] formulation." In any case, the formulation was not used because USS Randolph sailed before it was authorized.

Nine months later, however, the situation predicted by the ambassador arose as the Danish government formally raised the nuclear weapon issue. When the United States applied for clearance for five naval visits during June and July 1967, the Danish naval officer that handed over the written approval "emphasized that no [repeat no] nuclear weapons are permitted either on Danish soil or on aboard ships when in Danish territorial waters or harbors and that this has been [Danish] policy since at least 1961."

The officer also said that if the warships were relatively small, the Danish government would assume they did not carry nuclear weapons. However, in approving the five visits, the "liaison officer made it clear that [the Danish government] expects [the U.S. government] to comply with its policy."

Due to the political cost of continuing with the neither confirm nor deny policy response as usual, the ambassador recommended to the State Department that U.S. visiting warships "conform with condition stipulated by liaison officer." Moreover, the ambassador recommended that State Department should authorize taking Danish Prime Minister Jens Otto Krag "into our confidence to [the] extent possible" and tell him, among other things, that "naval vessels will not carry nuclear weapons."

The Rejection

But the State Department could not authorize the ambassador to tell the Danish Prime Minister that U.S. warships did not carry nuclear weapons for the simple reason that some of them did. In its telegram to the Embassy, the State Department instead firmly rejected a deviation from the neither confirm nor deny policy. In doing so, it said that the United States "has always distinguished sharply between [the] question of introducing nuclear weapons into [a] given foreign country and question of possible presence of nuclear weapons aboard naval vessels paying courtesy visits to that or any other country." In fact, Denmark along with the other NATO countries seemed to tacitly accept this distinction, State Department said.

The State Department did authorize, however, the Embassy to raise the matter privately with Prime Minister Krag. In doing so, the Ambassador was instructed to tell Krag that the neither confirm nor deny policy had "comparatively little" to do with the question of whether there were nuclear weapons on the ships or not. Rather, the policy was needed for "overriding security reasons" to protect nuclear weapons in general.

What Was PM Krag Told?

On May 2, 1967, amidst a diplomatic crisis over U.S. nuclear warship visits to Denmark, the U.S. State Department authorized the U.S. Ambassador to Denmark to tell Danish Prime Minister Jens Otto Krag the substance of paragraph three of State Department telegram 14644.
  The information was to be provided on a confidential basis and the United States would not permit the language to be used in response to public inquiry about nuclear port visits.

Moreover, the State Department also authorized the ambassador to give the Danish Prime Minister a still undisclosed piece of information. The information was  contained in State Department telegram No. 14644, and was to be provided on a confidential basis. The United States would not permit use of the language in public in response to inquiries about naval visits.

If Prime Minister Krag could not accept the U.S. position, or if he could not contain the pressure from the news media and others, the ambassador was to make clear to him that it might be better than the 1967 visits were canceled. In fact, canceling the visits would be "much better" than risking that public pressure forces the Danish government "to state that its non-nuclear policy embraces visiting warships and that [the] U.S. understands and accepts this."

An internal document from the Danish Foreign Ministry shows that the U.S. Ambassador carried out at least the last part of the State Department instruction. During a confidential conversation with Prime Minister Krag in May 1967, the ambassador asked "whether one should discontinue all U.S. naval visits." The State Department instruction authorized the ambassador to propose cancellation of the 1967 visits, if necessary, not to discontinue "all U.S. naval visits," as the Danish Foreign Ministry document describes. Such an ultimatum left the Danish Prime Minister little choice, and although the conditions the Danes had raised about the Summer-1967 visits did not require disclosure of the ships' armament, the Foreign Ministry document states that Krag told the Ambassador that Denmark would continue to accept the neither confirm nor deny policy. The Danish government subsequently decided no longer to "remind the United States of our nuclear policy."

Nuclear Aftermath

The port visits continued in the Summer of 1967, including the nuclear-capable ASROC-equipped destroyer USS Stickell (DD‑888) that passed nuclear weapons certification inspections around the time of the visit. The United States again was free from being reminded of Denmark's non-nuclear policy, and the Danish government again agreed to turn a blind eye.

Seven months later, in January 1968, the collusion was exposed when a nuclear-armed B-52 bomber crashed in nuclear-free Greenland, which as a Danish colony was covered by the same nuclear ban as the rest of the Kingdom. The United States was well-aware of Denmark's nuclear policy, the Krag government insisted. Instructed by the Parliament, the government negotiated with the United States an addition to the 1951 defense agreement that was said to close any nuclear loopholes in Greenland.

Not surprisingly, the agreement ignored nuclear port visits, which continued unabated. Five years after USS Randolph triggered a nuclear crisis in Copenhagen, its sister-ship USS Intrepid (CVS-11) sailed into Copenhagen with another load of nuclear weapons to the same refrain: The United States was well aware of Denmark's non-nuclear weapons policy, and the Danish government had no reason to believe the policy was not being followed.

© Hans M. Kristensen/Federation of American Scientists | www.nukestrat.com | 2004-2006

download documents:

» Niels Boel, Danish Foreign Ministery, Notits, "Foreløbig vurdering af bestemmelserne om fremmede krigsskibes adgang til dansk territorialfarvand i relation til Danmarks atompolitik," [Preliminary assessment of the  regulations for foreign naval vessels' access to Danish territorial waters in relation to Denmark's nuclear policy]  February 10, 1968. [PDF, 3.43 MB; Danish only]

Telegram, Dean Rusk, U.S. Department of State, to U.S. Embassy Copenhagen, "Nuclear Weapons of Visiting Ships," May 2, 1967. Partially declassified and released under FOIA to National Security Archive. [PDF, 0.17 MB]

Telegram, U.S. Embassy, to U.S. Secretary of State, "U.S. Naval Visit Approved Provided Ships Have no Nuclear Weapons Aboard," Copenhagen 1245, April 24, 1967. [PDF, 0.29 MB]. Released in full to National Security Archive.
Earlier redacted release is available here.

» U.S. Navy, Carrier Division 20, "LANTFLEX 66: Report of Participation in Fleet Tactical Training off New England by Force Built Around USS Randolph," Serial 0108, December 26, 1966. [PDF, 0.13 MB]

» U.S. Navy, Antisubmarine Warfare Group 4 (Carrier Division 20), "Cruise Report: Report of Northern European Cruise By Hunter/Killer Force Built Around USS Randolph," Serial 074, September 26, 1966. [PDF, 0.24 MB]

» Telegram, U.S. Embassy, to U.S. Secretary of State, [no subject], Copenhagen 057, July 16, 1966. Partially declassified and released under FOIA.
An earlier version with more redactions is available here.

background information:

» Hans M. Kristensen, et al., "U.S. Naval Nuclear Weapons in Sweden," Greenpeace, Neptune Papers No. 6, September 1990.
(3.4 MB)

» Hans M. Kristensen, "The Neither Confirm Nor Deny Policy," unpublished working paper, August 2004.
(0.4 MB)

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  © Hans M. Kristensen