First Antarctic Pistol Tournament

The Coast Guard’s only heavy icebreaker, USCGC Polar Star (WAGB 10), earlier this month departed to support the annual joint military service mission called Operation Deep Freeze (OpDFrz or ODF), a mission that involves traveling to Antarctica to break miles of ice up to 21 feet thick in the regular push to resupply McMurdo Station.

Deep Freeze I was held back in 1955-56 and involved a full task force (TF43)  under RADM Richard E. Byrd himself, consisting of three (well-armed) icebreakers, three freighters, and three tankers.

With that in mind, check out this great shot of the “First Antarctic Pistol Tournament,” held during Deep Freeze II, some 65 years ago.

Original caption: “The U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind (WAGB-282) sponsors the first pistol tournament ever held in the Antarctic (January 20, 1957).”

Note Northwind’s twin 5″/38 DP mount. Commissioned 28 July 1945, “The Grand Old Lady of the North” had a 44-year career, a span of time recently bested by Polar Star, which celebrated her 46th anniversary earlier this year. Photo: National Archives NAID: 205581182

From the back of the image:

Chilled thumbs pull the triggers at targets lined up in ice 7 feet thick at Helleric Sound. Probably the most unusual setting in the history of match shooting, this was one of those rare Antarctic days with the atmosphere crystal clear, the temperature hovering around 26 degrees, a light breeze of six knots bloating down from the ranges of Victoria Land. The intensity of the sun’s reflection on the snow makes it necessary for the shooters to wear dark gloves. Competitors were divided into groups, of Old-Timers and TYROs. Old-Timers included all NRA (National Rifle Association) card holders handicapped according to their classifications. TYRO entries were limited to non-NRA members who had qualified with the .45 caliber pistol over Services qualification courses. At this time the Northwind lay moored at McMurdo Sound where she had been helping the Navy cargo ship Towle (visible at the stern of the icebreaker) unload cargo for the Williams Air Operation Facility located five miles away.

A close-up detail shows the firing line equipped with what look to be new Smith & Wesson Model 41s or, more likely, High Standard Victors, both popular with Bullseye target shooters of the era for 25 and 50m work.

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