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From Trained Nuclear Killer to Peace Activist - the story of Commander Robert Green formerly of the British Navy

Part 1

Dorothy - 25/06/03

This is the first of five articles about Commander Rob Green's transition from trained nuclear killer to a leading international peace activist.

Rob Green
Rob Green
Rob Green believes that, although his transition from trained nuclear killer to a leading international peace activist appears incredible, his life seems to have led him inexorably to this point. Everything that has happened to him has been part of his training for his role in the peace movement. Without his specialised training in the use of nuclear weapons, he might not have been able to comprehend the enormity of the threat, and certainly would not have been able to make his unique contribution to the peace movement.

A Romantic Innocent
His desire to enter the Royal Navy did not come from family influences as is the case with so many naval officers. There was no military background in his family. His ambition began simply and sentimentally when he was eight, during a holiday in a Cornish fishing village: he became fascinated by warships and the sea - and the Devonport Naval Base was on the horizon. His interest was so unwavering that his parents enrolled him at Pangbourne Nautical College, and in his training there from age thirteen to seventeen he was prepared to enter the Britannia Royal Naval College Dartmouth.

He describes himself as entering there 'as an innocent' - one of the few with a civilian background. While this gave him a feeling of detachment, he made friends with colleagues with strong naval connections, and accepted the training without question. He never examined the fact that he was being trained to kill. Against his wishes, he was trained as a navigator, called 'Observer', in the Fleet Air Arm - the ultimate in aviation, as they were flying from aircraft carriers. Rob says that the title had a curious appropriateness for him. He now feels that he was like an anthropologist who joins a tribe to study it. He topped the class in Observer School; and this meant that he was sent to an elite squadron of Buccaneer fighter bombers custom-built for low level, long range, nuclear strike. These became operational just as Rob qualified.

Nuclear Mafia Recruit Another Addict
When the two-man crew in which Rob was Observer was judged one of the four best in the squadron, they were "given the honour" of being made a specialist "nuclear" crew.

Secret plan to attack Leningrad
A special security clearance followed and they were taken to a secure compartment in the ship and told to plan an attack on an airfield near Russia's ancient capital, Leningrad. This was at the height of the Cold War in 1968, and Rob and his pilot were told that they were being entrusted with defending Britain's freedom and way of life.

Because the need for secrecy was paramount, they were not to discuss this outside the compartment.

They were to assume that their aircraft carrier would be in the Norwegian Sea, and to take the shortest route. This meant flying over Sweden - a neutral country. Recently a shocked Swedish journalist told Rob: "We would have shot you down!"

Also, the target was at the maximum theoretical range of the aircraft. This was bad practice as it made no allowance for bad weather or avoiding defences: so they considered asking for a nearer target. Rob's pilot commented that, as the mission would only take place as retaliation for a nuclear strike on Britain, there would be nothing to return to - so they might as well accept it. The situation for the crew of a British Polaris nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine would be the same.

Questions and Military Incompetence
In spite of the questions he had raised Rob worked for four years in this role accepting the importance of the work. Then he switched to anti-submarine helicopters. Although it was not such glamorous flying, there was a new challenge to his thinking. He was given a nuclear depth-bomb: like a depth charge but actually a hydrogen bomb. It had a "Low/High Yield" switch, probably 5 kilotons on low yield, 10 kilotons on high - the latter being nearly as powerful as the one used on Hiroshima. This was just to take out one submarine to protect his aircraft carrier, because the British did not have a torpedo fast enough to catch the latest Soviet nuclear submarines. As the Senior Observer of the squadron, Rob had to pass this policy on. "It would have vaporised a chunk of ocean about a kilometre across, plus myself!", because a helicopter would be too slow to escape. So this would have been a suicide mission.

What was even more serious was that this would escalate World War 3 to nuclear exchange. The official view was that it would only be used in extreme circumstances, probably in mid-Atlantic where nuclear submarines use high speed; there would be no civilians involved; and "the Soviets would probably not even detect it". This shook Rob's faith in the military competence of his superiors.

Now read Part 2 Trident: "A Cuckoo in the Naval Nest".

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