Churchill Enigmas

Churchill and the Polaris Submarine

One of our members, Mike Edwards, has an interest in naval history.  He brought to our attention the following 1962 draft letter from President John F. Kennedy to Sir Winston Churchill asking Churchill’s approval for the United States to name a Polaris fleet ballistic missile submarine after him.


There is a currently active guided missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill DDG-81 comissioned in 2001.

But there never was a Polaris submarine USS Winston Churchill.  What happened ?

We started a line of enquiry with The International Churchill Society as well as perhaps the most knowlegeable Churchillian in North America, if not the world, Richard Langworth. 

[Richard Langworth didn’t know what happened to the submarine naming but suspected the person behind the initative was Washington socialite and friend of both the Kennedy and Chuchill families, Kay Halle. Google her, she is an interesting story by herself]

Finally, seemingly out of the blue, we received an email from Katharine Thomson, a wonderful archivist at the Churchill Archives in Cambridge.  She found a series of letters as noted below, we can’t publish the images due to copyright restrictions from the Churchill family, but here is how it went, according to Katharine:

"We do have some correspondence about this (ref CHUR 2/509/52-59).  Kennedy did send the letter, which was referred to the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, who spoke to Kennedy about it.  Though it was considered a great compliment, and Churchill was initially inclined to agree, it was decided that naming a weapon of mass destruction after him was rather inappropriate.  There was a vague suggestion that another type of ship might work instead, but it seemed that the submarines were the only ships being named in this way, so in the end the solution Macmillan and Kennedy came up with was for Churchill simply not to reply.”

[The letters involved JFK, Amb David Bruce, PM Harold Macmillan, First Lord of the Admiralty, and Churchill Private Secretary Anthony Montague Brown]

Mystery Solved!

Thanks go to Mike Edwards, Richard Langworth, ICS, and most importantly, Katharine Thomson of the Churchill Archives at Cambridge.

© The Chartwell Group 2012