Tag Archives: coast guard icebreaker

Coast Guard Clears Northwest Passage, Marks Increasing Overseas Deployments

One of the smallest of the armed forces– in manpower terms only about a tenth the size of the U.S. Navy, and roughly equivalent in the same metric to the much better-funded French Navy — the U.S. Coast Guard has been showing up overseas a lot recently.

Yesterday, the icebreaker USCGC Healy (WAGB 20), arrived in Baltimore following a recent transit of the Arctic’s Northwest Passage for the first time since 2005. Importantly in terms of polar commerce, Healy’s skipper said the ice had receded to the point that the cutter’s crew couldn’t even get an “ice liberty” call.

“A lot of the floes had melt ponds with holes in them like Swiss cheese,” Capt. Kenneth Boda, commander of the Seattle-based icebreaker, told the Seattle Times. “We couldn’t get the right floe.”

Healy left her Seattle homeport on July 10, arrived at Dutch Harbor 19 July, conducted operations in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea, then entered the Chukchi Sea, crossed the Beaufort Sea, entered the Northwest Passage which involved transiting the straits between Banks and Victoria Island and Devon and Baffin Island, proceeded down Baffin Bay and the Devon Strait, calling at Nuuk, Greenland on 13 September. From there, she proceeded through the Labrador Sea to Halifax (9 October) and Boston (14 October) before calling at the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore after a 102-day cruise starting in the Pacific, running through the Arctic Ocean, and ending up on the Atlantic coast.

It should be pointed out that Healy is one of the Coast Guard’s polar-capable icebreakers and the service operates her as a “multi-mission vessel to protect American interests in the Arctic region.” However, she is only termed a “medium icebreaker,” built more for science than for crushing ice. Further, her only provision for armament is pintel mounted crew-served weapons, such as .50 cals, which are almost always stowed.

In stark contrast, the planned new Russian Arctic patrol ship class is intended to carry the very deadly and long-ranged Kalibr-K “Club K” (NATO: SS-N-27 Sizzler) container-type cruise missile system. Keep in mind that the Russians tossed Kalibrs from small corvette-sized warships in the Caspian Sea some 1,500 miles over Iranian and Iraqi airspace to hit targets in Syria 2015.

Club K missile containers at the stern of the Russian ice-class project 23550 patrol ship

Keep in mind that in 2018, then-USCG Commandant Paul Zukunft said while speaking at the Surface Navy Association that the service’s new heavy icebreaker (I mean Polar Security Cutter) class building in Mississippi will have space, weight, and electrical power set aside to carry offensive weapons, such as the Naval Strike Missile.

WestPac cruises

Besides talking about polar presence, the Coast Guard is increasingly showing up in points West, as exemplified by the return this week of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Munro (WMSL 755) and crew returned to their Alameda homeport Wednesday following a 102-day, 22,000-nautical-mile deployment to the Western Pacific.

The 418-foot National Security Cutters like Munro, essentially an old school fast frigate sans ASW weapons (but with sonar), have been making WestPac cruises under the tactical control of Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, with much regularity. Big Navy likes these white hulls as they are arguably more capable than the LCS and free up precious DDGs from nation-building and flag-waving evolutions so they can spend more time with the carrier and phib groups.

September 2021, HMAS Sirius (AO-266) conducts a dual replenishment at sea with HMAS Canberra (LHD-2) and USCGC Munro (WMSL-755), during Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2021. (RAN Photo by LSIS Leo Baumgartner)

During her deployment, in addition to meshing with U.S. Navy assets, Munro worked alongside the Japan Coast Guard, the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force, the Philippine Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, the Royal Australian Navy, and the Indonesia Maritime Security Agency. She also kept tabs on a Chinese naval task force found unexpectedly operating just off the Aleutians. 

Since 2018, three other National Security Cutters – Bertholf, Stratton, and Waesche – have deployed to the Western Pacific.

Overseas training 

Finally, as many gently-used former Coast Guard assets, including 110-foot Island-class and 87-foot Maritime Protector-class patrol boats, are being gifted to overseas allies, the USCG has been training the incoming new owners. Such an example is the below video from VOA, posted this week, of USCG personnel training Ukrainian navy bluejackets.

Warship Wednesday, August 4, 2021: The Grand Old Lady of the North

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, August 4, 2021: The Grand Old Lady of the North

USCG Photo, National Archives & Record # 26-G-5608

As today is the 231st birthday of the founding of what today is known as the U.S. Coast Guard, you knew this was coming! Here we see the floating football that is the Wind-class Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind (WAG/WAGB-282) mustering up all available power from her six engines to penetrate a pressure ridge in the Bearing Sea during the winter season, July 1953. Note her twin 5″/38 mount forward and her Hedgehog ASW system at the platform under the bridge. Pretty stout armament for an iceboat, but we’ll get into that.

How the “Winds” came to blow

When World War II started, the U.S. Navy was up to the proverbial frozen creek as far as icebreaking went. While some foreign powers (the Soviets) really liked the specialized ships, Uncle Sam did not share the same opinion. However, this soon changed in 1941 when the U.S., even before Pearl Harbor, accepted Greenland and Iceland to their list of protected areas. Now, tasked with having to keep the Nazis out of the frozen extreme North Atlantic/Arctic and the Japanese out of the equally chilly North Pac/Arctic region (anyone heard of the Aleutians?), the Navy needed ice-capable ships yesterday.

The old (read= broken down) 6,000-ton British-built Soviet icebreaker Krassin was studied in Bremerton Washington by the Navy and Coast Guard. Although dating back to the Tsar, she was still at the time the most powerful icebreaker in the world. After looking at this ship and the Swedish icebreaker Ymer, the U.S. began work on the Wind-class, the first U.S. ships designed and built specifically as icebreakers.

Set up with an extremely thick (over an inch and a half) steel hull, these ships could endure repeated ramming against hard pack ice. Just in case the hull did break, there were 15-inches of cork behind it, followed by a second inner hull. Now that is serious business. These ships were so hardy that one, USCGC Westwind (WAGB 281), almost 30 years after she joined the fleet, was heavily damaged by ice in the Antarctic’s Weddell Sea. About 120 feet of the port-side hull was gashed when brash ice forced the ship against a 100-foot sheer ice shelf. The gash was two to three feet wide and was six feet above the waterline. The crew patched the side, there were no injuries, and the breaker returned home under her own power.

At over 6,000-tons, these ships were bulky for their short, 269-foot hulls. They were also bathtub-shaped, with a 63-foot beam. For those following along at home, that’s a 1:4 length to beam ratio. Power came from a half-dozen mammoth Fairbanks-Morse 10-cylinder diesel engines that both gave the ship a lot of power on demand, but also an almost unmatched 32,000-mile range (not a misprint, that is 32-thousand). For an idea of how much that is, a Wind-class icebreaker could sail at an economical 11-knots from New York to Antarctica, and back, on the same load of diesel…twice.

A photo of USCGC Eastwind, circa 1944. Note how beamy these ships were. The twin 5-inch mounts on such a short hull make her seem extremely well-armed. USCG Photo

To help them break the ice, the ship had a complicated system of water ballasting, capable of moving hundreds of tons of water from one side of the ship to the other in seconds, which could rock the vessel from side to side in addition to her thick hull and powerful engines. A bow-mounted propeller helped chew up loose ice and pull the ship along if needed.

With a war being on, they just weren’t about murdering ice, but being able to take the fight to polar-bound Axis ships and weather detachments as well. For this, they were given a pair of twin 5″/38 turrets, a dozen 40mm Bofors AAA guns, a half dozen 20mm Oerlikons, as well as depth charge racks and various projectors, plus the newfangled Hedgehog device to slay U-boats and His Imperial Japanese Majesty’s I-boats. Weight and space were also reserved for a catapult-launched and crane-recovered seaplane. Space for an extensive small arms locker, to equip landing parties engaged in searching remote frozen islands and fjords for radio stations and observation posts, rounded out the design.

Two of the class, Eastwind and Southwind, operated against teams of German scientists and military personnel who attempted to establish weather stations in remote areas of Greenland late in the war.

As noted by the USCG Historian’s Office on this chapter of “The Weather War,”:

On 4 October 1944 Eastwind captured a German weather station on Little Koldewey Island and 12 German personnel. On 15 October 1944 Eastwind captured the German trawler Externsteine and took 17 prisoners. The trawler was renamed East Breeze and a prize crew sailed her to Boston.

Our Wind

Northwind was ordered from Western Pipe & Steel Co., Los Angeles, (Builder’s Number CG-184) for $9,880,037 and her keel was laid 10 July 1944, the same week the Allies were fighting for Saint-Lo in France and Saipan in the Pacific. Impressively, she was finished in 54 weeks, commissioning 28 July 1945, just a fortnight before the Japanese threw in the towel. As such, her war service was negligible.

However, she was soon on the cutting edge of modern polar operations. Stationed in Boston, she landed her aft 5-inch mount to clear her decks for a large helicopter platform to accommodate a primitive HNS helicopter of the type the  Coast Guard had pioneered the use of in 1944-45.

Original caption: Preparing for Arctic Cruise, 1946. Especially rigged and outfitted for its arctic cruise, the Coast Guard Icebreaker Northwind, is shown in New York Harbor before she sailed last spring. The helicopter, which is proving valuable in the work in hand, needs only a small “platform” on which to take off or land and both operations can be carried on while the vessel is steaming at full speed. NARA 26-G-4936

Shown here just before leaving to participate in the Navy expedition to the North Pole, the Coast Guard Cutter Northwind lies at anchor in New York’s harbor, June 26, 1946. Note the NYC skyline to include the Empire State Building. NARA 26-G-4937

Then came a deployment in the form of Operation Nanook, under the command of Captain Richard Cruzen. The destination: Greenland and the Canadian Arctic, where Northwind would field the first helicopter seen in that part of the world.

As detailed by the Coast Guard Aviation Association

The task force was made up of two Navy AK transports modified for sub-zero operations, fully equipped to construct the stations. In addition, the Seaplane tender USS Norton Sound, with two PBM seaplanes, was part of the Taskforce as was the submarine Atule which conducted tests and carried out operations under the ice in Baffin Bay and to the north. The wooden-hulled net tender Whitewood was used as a survey ship. The Coast Guard ice breaker Northwind joined the group north of the arctic circle providing escort and navigation through the ice fields. The Northwind had on board an HNS helicopter piloted by Coast Guard Aviation Pilot 1/c John Olsen. This was a precursor of things to come in polar operations.

Sikorsky HNS-1 helicopter, CGNR 39047, lifts off from the deck of USCGC Northwind on 1 September 1946, during Operation Nanook. Note insignia of what appears to be an Eskimo girl seated astride a polar bear, with the words “Arctic Annie.” Photograph by Photographer’s Mate Second Class P.R. Zimmerman, USN. 80-G-636441

Inset of the Sikorsky’s insignia.

In November 1946, Capt. Charles Ward Thomas, the famed skipper of her sistership USCGC Eastwind during the Weather War with the Germans, assumed command of Northwind. During the Thomas years, Northwind would participate in Operation High Jump, the fourth Byrd expedition to the Antarctic, and subject of the Academy Award-winning motion picture, “The Secret Land.”

Highjump and the follow-on Windmill operation in 1947-48 to this day were the largest naval task forces to operate in Antarctica, consisting of 13 ships including an aircraft carrier and 33 aircraft. Many crackpot legends hold it was to scout out possible secret Nazi bases in the region where Hitler, who was still thought missing at the time, may have escaped to via U-boat.

Northwind spearhead of the expedition, clearing the way through the Ross Sea ice pack for Navy cargo ships. For the mission, she carried both a Grumman J2F Duck floatplane and a whirlybird.

Original caption: Coast Guard ‘Copter Scouts for Leads. From the deck of the Coast Guard Icebreaker Northwind, the ship’s helicopter takes off, to look for the “leads” in the ice packs, into which the super ice crusher can smash her way, opening a passage for the thin-hulled vessels of the Byrd Antarctic Expedition. Here the Northwind is followed by the Merrick, Yancey, and the Mt. Olympus. The ‘copter proved of special value, being able to hover and study ice conditions for the benefit of the Northwind’s skipper.” 1/1/1947 NARA 26-G-5024

Sikorsky HNS-1 helicopter, CGNR 39043, landing on the deck of USS Northwind (WAG-282) on 2 January 1947. 80-G-612006

It was during Highjump that Northwind successfully completed the first major rescue mission involving a submarine, freeing USS Sennet (SS-408) along with the supply ships Yance and Merrick, who were stuck in a thick ice flow in the Antarctic Circle.

7 January 1947- Operation Highjump, Coast Guard icebreaker NORTHWIND completed the first rescue mission involving a submarine. USS Sennet (SS-408) supply ships Yance and Merrick

Original caption: “The Northwind Hits It! The Antarctic. The World of Ice. With her diesel-electric motors, with power ranging up to 10,000, going full blast, the Coast Guard’s icebreaker Northwind charges the ice pack at top speed. Following the terrific crash, the Northwind rides half a ship’s length up onto the ice before she is stopped. She backs away and charges again and again until the area is broken up and ready for the thin-hulled vessels which follow her. This arduous duty of the Northwind was a day after day routine, as her part of the work of the Byrd Expedition to the Antarctic. This photo was taken from the Northwind’s helicopter, which proved so valuable in scouting out loads in the ice, far in advance of the ships.” 1/5/1947. Note the J2F Duck on her deck. NARA 26-G-03-18-47(7)

On 15 January 1947, Northwind’s chopper made the first helicopter flight to the base “Little America” in Antarctica. The pilot was LT James A. Cornish, USCG and he carried Chief Photographer’s Mate Everett Mashburn as his observer.

Icebreaker USS Northwind (AGB-5) cuts across the bow of USS Mount Olympus (AGC-8) to clear a path for her, through pack ice off the Ross Sea, Antarctica 1947-02-28 L45-209.06.01.

Original caption: Cargo being transferred from the USS Philippine Sea to the Coast Guard Ice-Breaking Cutter Northwind, on Operation Highjump, the Navy’s venture of exploration to the Antarctic. The Coast Guard Ice-Breaker has the task of opening lanes through heavy ice when other vessels with thinner plating could not force their way through. NARA 26-G-5062

Stationed in Seattle from 1947 to 1973, she fell into a cycle of polar ice operations, alternating trips from the Arctic to the Antarctic. In 1948, with the Northwind, Captain Thomas re-established the annual Bering Sea Patrol, which had been discontinued during the war, conducting the first such patrol in eight years, and compiled an oceanographic report of the waters navigated in the Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean.

Northwind’s crew, by nature of the cutter’s work, saw some amazing things.

Original caption: “The Antarctic. The World of Ice. Desert of Death. Seldom indeed has the eye of man looked at this bleak desert of ice. This is a tiny portion of the limitless icepack that stands guard around the Antarctic continent. The Coast Guard’s icebreaker Northwind smashes its way into the virgin ice, making a passage for the thin-hulled vessels which made up the central group of the Byrd Expedition to the Antarctic.” 1/11/1947. NARA 26-G-03-18-47(11)

Original caption: “Bering Sea Patrol, its scenery on the grand scale for the Northwind as she roses into an Alaskan fjord. Views rivaling the ethereal beauty of the Alps, are typical of the stale and abound fringed coasts of Alaska.” 11/14/1948 NARA 26-G-5300

Original caption: The Artist is Mother Nature – On a refueling mission in Alaskan waters, the U.S. Coast Guard Icebreaker Northwind (WAGB-282) passes snow-capped Mt. Shishaldin in this picturesque scene, taken on the Bering Sea side of the Aleutian Islands. Mt. Shishaldin is one of 80 active volcanoes in the Aleutians. 11/26/1950 NARA 26-G-5477

Her Cold War career (see what I did there) consisted largely of a series of Operation Deep Freeze resupply missions to the Antarctic, alternating with Bering Sea patrols with the latter including missions to install and support the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line.

Original caption: Postman Artic Style. Swooping down over the ice, a Coast Guard PBY from the Air Detachment at Kodiak, Alaska, makes an aerial pick-up of the Northwind’s mail. Note the plane’s tailhook, poised to snatch the line. The postman had to ring only once. On the first attempt, he hooked the line from which the mailbag was suspended. Members of the Northwind’s crew crouch on the ice as they steady the vertical poles which hold the line. 7/12/1953. NARA 26-G-5613

Northwind and USS Glacier (AGB-4), the Navy’s last icebreaker, working ice during the winter 1953 Bearing Sea Expedition. Original caption: “In this solid field of ice in the Bering Sea, the two icebreakers try a tandem method of breaking ice. Ramming, backing, and ramming again, the vessels try forcing their wayside by side in a parallel line.” NARA 26-G-5609

McClure Strait and CGC Northwind. 13 August 1954 – The USCGC Northwind breaks the west-to-east entrance to previously impassable McClure Strait, the ice-locked western entrance to the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic. Pushing along the southern edge of the Strait, the icebreaker heads toward Mercy Bay, about halfway to Banks Island. The U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind, commanded by Captain William L. Maloney, USCG, made the first passage through McClure Strait from west to east between August 13 – 21, 1954. The Navy icebreaker USS Burton Island, commanded by Comdr. Everett Trickey, USN, executed the first passage through the Strait from east to west between August 11 – 16. Both ships accomplished the historical fete while conducting oceanographic and hydrographic surveys in the Beaufort Sea and McClure Strait areas on a Joint U.S. – Canadian Expedition participated in by scientists from both countries. The U.S. ships were the first to push through McClure Strait, connecting the Arctic Ocean and Viscount Melville Sound. McClure Strait was the only link left unconquered by explorers who for more than 450 years sought the famed Northwest Passage route between the Atlantic and the Pacific. The ships left San Diego on July 12 and returned to Seattle on September 29, 1954. NARA 26-G-5676

The 269-foot cutter also performed standard Alaska patrol tasks, such as holding “floating courts” that roamed from port to port and providing a modicum of military presence in far-away towns as needed.

Original caption: “This is the main street of the far northern little frontier-like town of Nome, Alaska, on the 4th of July 1955. Natives and Servicemen watch a parade that shows a group of sailors from the Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind marching. The icebreaker was at Nome from July 1 to 6, en route to the Arctic with a Navy Pacific Task Force on last summer’s Military Sea Transportation Service’s sealift operations for the “Dew Line” (Distance Early Warning) radar stations. Leaving Seattle July 16 this year for the summer “Dew Line” operations, the Northwind’s crew will not be at Nome to participate in holiday celebrations.” NARA 26-G-5732

USCGC Northwind in Antarctic waters, 16 December 1956. K-21429.

USCGC Northwind and USS Glacier (AGB-4) in Antarctic waters, 26 December 1956. K-21428.

Crew members from U.S. Coast Guard Icebreaker Northwind (WAGB-282) hold the first pistol tournament ever held in the Antarctic (January 10, 1957). Chilled thumbs pulled the triggers at targets lined up at McMurdo Sound. During the tournament, a light breeze blew down some of the targets. USNS Private John R. Towle (T-AK-240), a U.S. Navy cargo ship, lies to the back. Operation Deep Freeze was from December 1956 to April 1957. Official U.S. Coast Guard Photograph.

Original caption: “A closeup view from the stern of the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind shows all four sections and the weatherproof door of her new telescopic helicopter hanger. The aluminum hanger is 67 ft. long, 23 ft. wide, and 21 ft. high. These measurements are gauged with the size of the Coast Guard’s largest helicopter in use – the gas turbine HH-52A “flying boat” helicopter. The icebreaker Northwind which is based in Seattle and works in the frigid Arctic region most of her time is the first American ship to carry this type of hangar. It was previously developed and used by the Canadian Ministry of Transport, however, here, the Northwind is carrying the hangar on an extended mission into the Bering Sea and the Arctic where it will undergo initial cold weather experiments.” 6/17/1963. NARA 26-G-6034

Original caption: “A starboard broadside view of the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind shows her newly installed telescopic helicopter hanger in the closed extended position. The icebreaker is seen here en-route to the Bering Sea and the Arctic on an extended mission which will keep her away from her homeport in Seattle for a few months. During that time the hanger will receive initial experience in colder weather operations.” 6/17/1963 NARA 26-G-6033 

In 1965, Northwind pulled another “first.” That July, she conducted an oceanographic survey between Greenland, Iceland, and Scotland and was the first Western vessel to operate in the Kara Sea off the Soviet Union.

Between 1966 and 1989, Northwind hosted a series of Icebreaker Support Section (IBSEC) deployments, each consisting of a pair of Sikorsky HH-52A Seaguards, which picked up a red (officially orange) paint scheme.

USCGC Northwind (WAGB-282) in the ice, circa 1967. Note her retracted hangar with an HH-52 tail poking out. The second Sea Guardian is likey the aircraft taking the photo. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1977. NH 85275.

USCGC Northwind (WAGB-282) nighttime photo, in the ice, circa 1967. Note her extended hangar. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson. NH 85274.

Between 9 June and 22 September 1969, Northwind transited 14,000 miles from the Bering Sea through the Northwest Passage then made it back to Seattle via the same route, the first vessel to conduct both a West-to-East and East-to-West transit of the Northwest Passage in a single season.

From 1973 to 1975 Northwind underwent extensive machinery modernization and electronic modification at the Coast Guard Yard at Curtis Bay, Maryland, which included landing the rest of her WWII-era heavy armament (she still had a small arms locker and four stowed .50 cal M2s) and picking up the familiar red-hull seen on today’s American icebreakers.

USCGC Northwind breaking ice at Winter Quarters Bay January 1977 via Antarctica New Zealand.

From 1978 to 1989, Northwind was stationed at Wilmington, North Carolina, and used for general ice-breaking, including in the Great Lakes, which her lack of fixed gun mounts kept her under Canadian treaty restrictions. Rather than Bering Sea cruises, she alternated Deep Freeze trips with Arctic East cruises, sailing in Baffin Bay and supporting Thule AFB in Greenland with side trips to Iceland and Norway.

Operation Deep Freeze 80. Antarctica. From left to right, the icebreakers USCGC Glacier (WAGB 4), Northwind (WAGB 282), and Polar Sea (WAGB 11) moored in the ice below Mount Erebus. Photographed by PH2 Jeff Hilton. January 5, 1980. 428-GX-K-129186.

Northwind, 1982, Inglefield Bredning, Greenland Tracy Glacier in the background

Clocking in on the war on drugs at a time when the service was hull poor, on 4 November 1984 Northwind seized the P/C Alexi I off Jamaica for carrying 20 tons of marijuana, becoming the first icebreaker to make a large narcotics seizure.

USCGC Northwind in Baffin Bay on 10 July 1986. USCG Photo.

It was during her 1986 cruise that Northwind assisted in a joint Denmark-U.S. relocation operation, shuttling arctic musk ox around Greenland via her Sea Guards, likely another first.

Seamen move a crated musk ox into position aboard the US Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind (WAGB 282) during a joint Denmark-US relocation operation, 7/10/1986. Note her WWII-era wooden decks and the sex orientation markings on the crates. TSgt Jose Hernandez. DFST8708199

An HH-52A Sea Guard helicopter from the US Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind (WAGB 282) airlifts a crated musk ox to its new habitat during a joint Denmark-US relocation operation, 7/10/1986. TSgt Jose Hernandez. DFST8708196

Northwind outlived her seven sisters. Weather War vets Eastwind and Southwind/Atka, along with the former Navy-owned Staten Island, Burton Island, and Edisto were all scrapped in the 1970s. In the Frozen North, the Canadian Coast Guard’s CCGS Labrador lingered until 1987. Only USCGC Westwind (WAGB-281), who had served the Soviets for six years under Lend-Lease as Severni Polius (North pole), endured, surviving another decade on the salvaged parts of her sisters.

Northwind, “The Grand Old Lady of the North,” was decommissioned on 20 January 1989, just shy of 44 years with the service and 11 months after Westwind was taken out of service. She had no less than 27 skippers and never saw a period of mothballs until she was shipped off in 1990.

After a decade floating in the James River, ex-Northwind was scrapped at International Shipbreakers, Port of Brownsville, Texas in 1999.

Epilogue

Like Northwind, the other members of her class pulled down several “firsts.” For instance, USCGC Eastwind (WAGB-279) was the first Coast Guard cutter of any type to circumnavigate the globe after departing Boston on 25 October 1960 bound for Antarctica and arriving back in Boston 5 May 1961. This was followed up by a similar Antarctic summer cruise by her sistership, USCGC Southwind (WAGB-280) [ex-USS Atka (AGB-3)] in 1968-1969.

While all eight Winds have long been scrapped, their unarmed half-sister, USCGC Mackinaw, which broke ice on the Great Lakes for six decades, is a floating museum in Michigan, and her grandfather, the old now 98-year old Krassin, is preserved at Saint Petersburg.

A bell from Cutter Northwind, perhaps from our icebreaker, is on display behind the Highland County Historical Society building in Hillsboro, Ohio, a town that made such bells for the Navy and Coast Guard.

The bulkhead on Northwind where various IBSEC avdets chronicled their cruises among the icebergs from 1966 to 1989 was removed after the cutter was decommissioned and restored by ATC Mobile personnel (where the IBSEC was stationed) in 1991. The bulkhead art is on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola. 

There is also a public FB group on the ship. 

She is remembered in maritime art in the USCG’s collection. 
 

“Northwind” by David Rosenthal. The icebreaker Northwind breaks a pressure ridge in the permanent polar ice pack on its last mission before decommissioning. The mission was to break a path through the ice for the research vessel “PolarBjorn” as far north as possible.

“Arctic Cutter” by Ellen Leelike. The Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind is shown at work doing its specialty.

With the Coast Guard building a new class of Polar Security Cutters, basically modernized and better-armed icebreakers, it would be nice if they brought the old “Wind” names back. 

Specs:

Winds, 1946 Jane’s entry

Winds, 1973 Jane’s entry

Displacement: 6,515 tons (1945)
Length: 269 ft oa
Beam: 63 ft 6 in
Draft: 25 ft 9 in max
Installed power (1945): 6 × Fairbanks-Morse model 8-1/8OP, 10-cylinder opposed-piston engines at 2,000 shp (1,500 kW), each driving a Westinghouse DC electric generator.
Propulsion: (1945) 2 × Westinghouse Electric DC electric motors driving the 2 aft propellers, 1 × 3,000 shp (2,200 kW) Westinghouse DC electric motor driving the detachable and seldom-used bow propeller.
Propulsion (1973): Four 3,000 horsepower DeLaval diesel engines, two GE electric motors
Speed: Top speed: 13.4 knots (1967)
Economic speed: 11.6 knots
Range: 32,485 nautical miles
Complement:
21 officers, 295 men (1944)
13 officers, 2 warrants, 160 men (Post-1967 USCG service)
14 officers, 137 crew + room for 12 scientists and 14 AvDet personnel (Post 1975)
Sensors and processing systems:
Radar:
SA-2, SL-1 (1944, removed 1949)
SPS-10B; SPS-53A; SPS-6C (1967)
Sonar: QCJ-8 (1944-45)
Armament:

(1946)
4 × 5″/38 (twin mounts)
12 × 40mm/60 (3 quad mounts)
6 × 20mm/80 (single mounts)
2 × depth charge tracks
6 × “K” guns
1 Hedgehog
M2 Browning machine guns and small arms (1944)
Aircraft carried: 1 Grumman J2F Seaplane, later two helicopters in telescoping hangar

(1967)
1 x5″/38 single mount
20mm Mk 16 cannons (singles)

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Aging Icebreaker Sets Polar Record

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB 10) underway in the Chukchi Sea, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020, at about 10:30 a.m. The 44-year-old heavy icebreaker is underway for a months-long deployment to the Arctic to protect the nation’s maritime sovereignty and security throughout the region. U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Cynthia Oldham.

The country’s only heavy icebreaker, U.S Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB-10), on Christmas Day reached a record-breaking winter Arctic latitude while in the course of a grueling 30-day winter deployment to wave the flag in the increasingly crowded northern seas.

As noted by the USCG:

Polar Star‘s crew navigated beyond 72 degrees latitude shortly before noon Friday before changing course and heading south to continue their Arctic deployment.

“The crew achieved a notable milestone Christmas Day by traversing farther into the harsh, dark winter Arctic environment than any cutter crew in our service’s history,” said Capt. Bill Woitrya, the cutter’s commanding officer.

“Our ice pilots expertly navigated the Polar Star through sea ice up to four-feet thick and, in doing so, serve as pioneers to the country’s future of Arctic explorations.”

With frigid Arctic winds and air temperatures regularly well below zero, Polar Star‘s engineers work around-the-clock to keep frozen machinery equipment running and the ship’s interior spaces warm enough for the crew.

The 44-year-old icebreaker is underway to project power and support national security objectives throughout Alaskan waters and into the Arctic, including along the Maritime Boundary Line between the United States and Russia.

The Polar Star crew is also working to detect and deter illegal fishing by foreign vessels in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone and conduct Arctic training essential for developing future icebreaker operators.

The Polar Star’s record-breaking winter Arctic latitude is 72° 11′ N.

It should be noted that Polar Star, while on her regular McMurdo resupply to the Antarctic last year– a mission suspended in 2020 due to the coof– suffered a serious electrical/engineering casualty underway, so it is nice to see that she is doing better this year and is headed back home.

Of course, her crew is having to battle that age-old boogeyman of the Arctic– knocking ice off the ship that accumulated from sea spray to keep topside weight to a manageable level. 

Those who have done the task know first hand it is one of those jobs that looks fun until you do it for about two minutes. 

Aegis Icebreakers?

More info on the new class of three planned Coast Guard Polar Security Cutters has bubbled up.

In short, they will be big boys, at 460-feet long and 33,000-tons. For reference, the Coast Guard’s current 50-year-old icebreaker, USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10), is 399-feet long and weighs in at comparatively paltry 13,800-tons.

However, the Polar Sea is a bruiser, packing 75,000 shaft horsepower in her CODAG plant. This allows her to crush up to 21 feet of ice by backing and ramming and cruise through 6-feet of pack at a continuous 3 knots. According to a statement released this week, the new PSC’s will have 42,500 shp but will still meet an 8-foot mark on ice-busting.

Hmmm.

Of note, the Coast Guard’s single medium icebreaker, the 11,000-ton Healy can crack ice up to 10 feet thick.

More from VTH in Moss Point:

As you can see, the design is based on Finnish and German tech that is being used on the (under construction) German research breaker Polarstern II, which is about the same size.

The plan for Polarstern II is a good starting point as that ship includes:

-Maximum 130 persons on board.
-44 person crew living in single and double rooms.
-Normal cruises up to 60 scientists.
-Safety equipment (lifeboats) on each side 100%.
-80 places for 20” Containers (laboratories and storage).
-Seakeeping stabilizer suitable for the transit cruises and station operation.
-Helicopter Deck and Hangar for 2-3 Helicopters.

In short, these big breakers, larger than the planned German ship, could potentially carry a light company-sized landing force with a couple of helicopters.

Currently, the USCG’s cutters just carry a small arms locker with the capability to mount a couple of M2 .50-cals if absolutely needed. The penguins and polar bears have not put up much of a fight in recent years.

That could be changing.

Changes from the design to make the Coast Guard’s new vessel capable of fighting are still being decided. However, according to the USNI, “The ship’s combat system will be derived from the Aegis Combat System, and the Coast Guard is still mulling over the weapons loadout, [USCG Adm.] Schultz told reporters on Wednesday.”

In 2017, Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft said the new icebreakers would be fully weaponized to include canister launched anti-ship missiles.

This was repeated in 2018 when he said:

“We need to look differently at what an icebreaker does… We need to reserve space, weight, and power if we need to strap a cruise missile package on it… U.S. presence in the Arctic is necessary for more than just power projection; it’s a matter of national security… If they remain unchecked, the Russians will extend their sphere of influence to over five million square miles of Arctic ice and water.”

Things could get interesting.

Coast Guard awards new polar icebreaker (I mean Polar Security Cutter) contract

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star cuts through Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea near a large group of seals as the ship’s crew creates a navigation channel for supply ships, Jan. 16, 2017. The resupply channel is an essential part of the yearly delivery of essential supplies to the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer David Mosley)

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star cuts through Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea near a large group of seals as the ship’s crew creates a navigation channel for supply ships, Jan. 16, 2017. The resupply channel is an essential part of the yearly delivery of essential supplies to the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer David Mosley)

It’s really happening.

After a 40-year drought of polar icebreaking construction for the USCG, they just issued a real contract.

For this:

VTH’s planned Polar Security Cutter

The interesting thing is, it will be built in a swamp right around the corner from me at a facility where I trained the security forces for years. They have built a number of phibs for the Army as well as frigate-sized survey/AGOR types for the MSC/NOAA and the Navy in recent years. As far as I can tell, this would be the largest ship they have ever produced.

Additional footnote: Ingalls, just down the river from VTH, used to build icebreakers back in the 1950s, and they made the largest U.S. Naval breaker, the 9,000-ton USS Glacier (AGB-4).

The contract announcement, issued by the Navy:

VT Halter Marine Inc., Pascagoula, Mississippi, is awarded a $745,940,860 fixed-price incentive-firm contract for the detail design and construction of the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Polar Security Cutter (PSC) (formerly the Heavy Polar Ice Breaker). The PSC program is a multiple year Department of Homeland Security Level 1 investment and a USCG major system acquisition to acquire up to three multi-mission PSCs to recapitalize the USCG fleet of heavy icebreakers which have exhausted their design service life. The PSC’s mission will be to ensure continued access to both polar regions and support the country’s economic, commercial, maritime, and national security needs. This contract includes options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract to $1,942,812,266. Work will be performed in Pascagoula, Mississippi (61 percent); Metairie, Louisiana (12 percent); New Orleans, Louisiana (12 percent); San Diego, California (4 percent); Mossville, Illinois (4 percent); Mobile, Alabama (2 percent); Boca Raton, Florida (2 percent); and various other locations (3 percent), and is expected to be completed by June 2024. If all options are exercised, work will continue through November 2027. Fiscal 2019 procurement, construction, and improvement (Coast Guard); and fiscal 2018 and 2017 shipbuilding and conversion (Navy) in the amount of $839,224,287 will be obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured via the Federal Business Opportunities website, with three offers received. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, District of Columbia, is the contracting activity (N00024-19-C-2210).

Presser:

WASHINGTON — Today, the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy, through an Integrated Program Office (IPO), awarded VT Halter Marine Inc., of Pascagoula, Mississippi, a fixed price incentive (firm) contract for the Detail Design and Construction (DD&C) of the Coast Guard’s lead Polar Security Cutter (PSC).

The initial award is valued at $745.9 million and supports non-recurring engineering and detail design of the PSC class as well as procurement of long lead-time materials and construction of the first ship. The contract also includes options for the construction of two additional PSCs. If all options are exercised, the total contract value is $1.9 billion. PSCs support a wide range of Coast Guard missions including search and rescue, maritime law enforcement, environmental response, and national defense missions.

The U.S. Coast Guard is the nation’s lead agency responsible for providing assured surface access in the polar regions. This contract award supports the United States’ ability to recapitalize heavy polar icebreaker capabilities that are vital to our nation’s ability to conduct national missions, respond to critical events, and project presence in the polar regions.

“Against the backdrop of great power competition, the Polar Security Cutter is key to our nation’s presence in the polar regions,” said Admiral Karl L. Schultz, Commandant of the Coast Guard. “With the strong support of both the Trump Administration and the United States Congress, this contract award marks an important step towards building the nation’s full complement of six polar icebreakers to meet the unique mission demands that have emerged from increased commerce, tourism, research, and international activities in the Arctic and Antarctic.”

The acquisition of Polar Security Cutters is being jointly managed across the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard through an IPO that leverages the expertise and utilizes best practices across each enterprise to deliver a fleet of highly capable, multi-mission ships in the most cost-efficient and timely manner possible. NAVSEA is the lead contracting authority.

“This contract award reflects the great benefit achieved by integrating the incredible talents of U.S. Coast Guard and Navy acquisition and shipbuilding professionals to deliver best value at speed,” said James Geurts, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition. “Working with our industry partners, the team identified approximately $300 million in cost avoidances and accelerated the schedule for delivery of this capability to the nation by almost three years. This reflects the urgency in which we are operating to ensure we deliver capabilities necessary to support the U.S. Coast Guard and the nation’s missions in the polar regions.”

Construction on the first PSC is planned to begin in 2021 with delivery planned for 2024; however, the contract includes financial incentives for earlier delivery.

The U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy are committed to working together to ensure the success of this program and to deliver the capabilities necessary to meet national defense and homeland security mission demands in the polar regions.

More on the Polar Security Cutter program here.

It should also be pointed out that this means just about every new vessel being built for the Coast Guard is being made inside a 300-mile ride down I-10 along the Gulf of Mexico from Panama City, Florida to New Orleans. Ingalls is producing the large (4,500-ton/418-foot) Legend-class National Security Cutter, Eastern Shipbuilding Group in PC makes the (3,700-ton/360-foot) Heritage-class Offshore Patrol Cutter, Bollinger in NOLA makes the 158-foot Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutter, and now VTH has the Polar Security Cutter.