Tag Archives: icebreaker

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.


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.

The country’s one-and-only polar icebreaker made it back home (barely)

Seattle saw the reappearance of “Building 10,” the common designation of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB-10), as she returned this week to her homeport after an epic 105-day deployment to Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze, the 63rd year for the annual mission to supply McMurdo Station in Antarctica.

This place:

Forget what you have heard about no more ice: Upon arrival in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, Polar Star still had to break through 16.5 nautical miles of ice, six to ten feet thick, in order to open a channel to the pier for supply ships to follow.

As the vessel is 43-years-young and has seen lots of hard service (she rams icebergs on purpose) things did not go as planned along the 11,200-mile sortie.

From the Coast Guard:

During the transit to Antarctica, one of the ship’s electrical systems began to smoke, causing damage to wiring in an electrical switchboard, and one of the ship’s two evaporators used to make drinkable water failed. The electrical switchboard was repaired by the crew, and the ship’s evaporator was repaired after parts were received during a port call in Wellington, New Zealand.

The impact from ice operations ruptured the cutter’s centerline shaft seal, allowing water to flood into the ship. Ice breaking operations ceased so embarked Coast Guard and Navy Divers could enter the water to apply a patch outside the hull so Polar Star’s engineers could repair the seal from inside the ship. The engineers donned dry suits and diver’s gloves to enter the 30-degree water of the still slowly flooding bilge to effect the vital repairs. They used special tools fabricated onboard to fix the leaking shaft seal and resume ice breaking operations.

The Polar Star also experienced ship-wide power outages while breaking ice in McMurdo Sound. Crew members spent nine hours shutting down the ship’s power plant and rebooting the electrical system in order to remedy the outages.

On Feb. 10, the crew spent nearly two hours extinguishing a fire in the ship’s incinerator room while the ship was approximately 650-nautical-miles north of McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. The fire damaged the incinerator and some electrical wiring in the room was damaged by fire fighting water. There were no personnel injuries or damage to equipment outside the space. Repairs to the incinerator are already scheduled for Polar Star’s upcoming inport maintenance period.


And keep in mind that for at least one pay period while underway the crew went without the eagle flying due to the lapse in appropriations.

The good news is, the Coast Guard is seeking to pick up six new polar icebreakers and the FY19 budget actually appropriated $655 million to begin construction of a new “polar security cutter” this year, with another $20 million appropriated for long-lead-time materials to build a second. So they may actually get two out of the planned six when all is said and done.

Hopefully, Polar Star can hold out till then.

Also, did I mention the Russians have 50 icebreakers?

Sad times on the icebreaking front

While the U.S. Navy ordered a class of 8 heavily-armed polar icebreakers in WWII (the Wind-class, which carried twin 5″/38 DP mounts, 40mm Bofors, 20mm Oerlikons, depth charges, seaplanes and an ASW mortar), as well as the larger single-vessel USS Glacier (AGB-4) by 1955, just a decade later the Navy left the ice biz to the realm of the sparsely-funded Coast Guard.

Since then, all nine of these breakers have been sent to the scrapper, replaced in the 1970s by just two (relatively unarmed) Polar-class icebreakers of which only one was still operational by 2010.

Now 43-years young, the country’s sole polar icebreaker, USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10), just reached Antarctica on her annual Operation Deep Freeze resupply mission to McMurdo Station– while her crew went unpaid due to the current lapse in funding.

The voyage wasn’t pretty.

U.S. Coast Guard scuba divers work to repair a leak in the shaft seal of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star

From the Coast Guard:

During this year’s deployment, one of the ship’s electrical systems began to smoke, causing damage to wiring in an electrical switchboard, and one of the ship’s two evaporators used to make drinkable water failed.

The ship also experienced a leak from the shaft that drives the ship’s propeller, which halted icebreaking operations in order to send scuba divers in the water to repair the seal around the shaft. A hyperbaric chamber on loan from the U.S. Navy aboard the ship allows Coast Guard divers to make external emergency repairs and inspections of the ship’s hull.

The Polar Star also experienced ship-wide power outages while breaking ice. Crew members spent nine hours shutting down the ship’s power plant and rebooting the electrical system in order to remedy the outages.

If a catastrophic event, such as getting stuck in the ice, were to happen to the Healy in the Arctic or to the Polar Star near Antarctica, the U.S. Coast Guard is left without a self-rescue capability.


Can you imagine being a young Coastie E-4 on that ship right now?

In Antarctica?

While your old lady (or man) sends you emails that the light bill is due and check on the 15th was for $0.00?

Politics aside, be sure, if you are able, to contribute to your local efforts to take care of USCG families in your area, and keep those deployed in your thoughts.

Semper Paratus

On the rocks

So China just launched their first domestically-produced icebreaker, joining a c.1994 Russian-built unit, the 21,000-ton Xue Long (Snow Dragon) previously purchased to double the size of their fleet operating on their new “Polar Silk Road.”

Xue Long II

Named Xue Long 2 (way to branch out) the new 14,000-ton ship is larger than our only true polar icebreaker, USCGC Polar Star, not to mention being about 50-years newer.

Meanwhile, Canada last month picked up a trio of new (to them) medium icebreakers from commercial trade for a song from a company in Sweden. Commissioned into the Canadian Coast Guard, they will revitalize that force until new purpose-built ships can be made.

The new-ish Canadian breakers, soon to be painted red and white

Good thing the USCG isn’t having a problem getting new, modern breakers through Congress.

Oh, wait.

Bonus: Why icebreaking matters, from Matt Hein, a Surface Warfare Officer currently studying for his Masters in Security Studies at Georgetown University.

Operation Deep Freeze: Making it by with tape and bubble gum for another year

An Emperor penguin poses for a photo in front of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star in McMurdo Sound near Antarctica on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018

The country’s only heavy polar icebreaker has pulled it off again..despite the flooding, engine failure, you know, the regular.

The 42-year-old 399-foot USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10) last week finished cutting a resupply channel through 15 miles of Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea and escorting supply vessels to the frozen continent to resupply McMurdo Station at the tip of Ross Island, the epicenter of the U.S. Antarctic Program (pop. 1200).

The trip was not without drama for the elderly cutter.

From the USCG:

“Although we had less ice this year than last year, we had several engineering challenges to overcome to get to the point where we could position ourselves to moor in McMurdo,” said Capt. Michael Davanzo, the commanding officer of the Polar Star. “Our arrival was delayed due to these challenges, but the crew and I are certainly excited to be here. It’s a unique opportunity for our crewmembers to visit the most remote continent in the world, and in many respects, it makes the hard work worth it.”

On Jan. 16, Polar Star’s shaft seal failed causing flooding in the cutter’s engine room at a rate of approximately 20-gallons per minute. The crew responded quickly, using an emergency shaft seal to stop the flow of freezing, Antarctic water into the vessel. The crew was able dewater the engineering space and effect more permanent repairs to the seal to ensure the watertight integrity of the vessel. There were no injuries as a result of the malfunction.

Flooding was not the only engineering challenge the crew of Polar Star faced during their trek through the thick ice. On Jan. 11, their progress was slowed after the one of the cutter’s three main gas turbines failed. The crew uses the cutter’s main gas turbine power to breakup thick multi-year ice using its propellers. The crew was able to troubleshoot the turbine finding a programming issue between the engine and the cutter’s 1970s-era electrical system. The crew was able to continue their mission in the current ice conditions without the turbine.

“If the Polar Star were to suffer a catastrophic mechanical failure, the Nation would not be able to support heavy icebreaker missions like Operation Deep Freeze, and our Nation has no vessel capable of rescuing the crew if the icebreakers were to fail in the ice,” said Vice Adm. Fred Midgette, commander, U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area in Alameda, California. “The crewmembers aboard Polar Star not only accomplished their mission, but they did so despite extreme weather and numerous engineering challenges. This is a testament to their dedication and devotion to duty.”

The cutter refueled at McMurdo Station Jan. 18 and continued to develop and maintain the ice channel in preparation for two resupply ships from U.S. Military Sealift Command, Ocean Giant, and Maersk Peary. The crew of Polar Star escorted the vessels to the ice pier at McMurdo Station, an evolution that requires the cutter to travel about 300 yards in front of the supply ships to ensure they safely make it through the narrow ice channel. The crew escorted the Ocean Giant to the ice pier at McMurdo Jan. 27 and conducted their final escort of the Maersk Peary to Antarctica Feb. 2. The crew escorted Maersk Peary safely out of the ice Feb. 6 after supply vessel’s crew transferred their cargo.

Never fear, the politicians are here, and have a cup of iced pork

Imagine her with a red hull and white stripe...Aiviq, 360′8″ Ice Class Anchor Handler. Photo by ECO

Imagine her with a red hull and white stripe…Aiviq, 360′8″ Ice Class Anchor Handler. Photo by ECO

Let’s face it: the U.S. Coast Guard has an icebreaker crisis that has been brewing since the 1970s. From WWII through the Ford Administration, the U.S. had the largest military ice-breaking fleet in the world. Then came the inevitable retirement of a host of 8 aging breakers, built for the Navy and armed like destroyers, which were to be replaced by four new 399-foot Polar-class ships.

Well, those four became only two as a result of 1970s budget crisis and they linger on as broken down occasionally functional vessels. Icebreakers take a beating.

Instead of building new heavy icebreakers to military spec, one Congressman wants the Coasties to buy the 12,000-ton Aiviq, an American ice-hardened anchor handling tug supply vessel owned by Edison Chouest Offshore.

Completed in 2012, the commercial vessel is pretty sweet, but in the end had trouble in Alaska trying to do its thing to the point that the cutter USCGC Alex Haley, a medium icebreaker, had to step in as a safety net.

Now, with Shell’s decision to halt Arctic oil exploration, the owners want to sell the gently used $200 million vessel to Uncle Sam for $150 million and a Republican (who has gotten some pretty big contributions from those involved with the ship) is all about it for the Coast Guard– even though the ship isn’t really an icebreaker, isn’t built to military specs, and failed in its only deployment.

“It’s my belief that the Coast Guard would benefit greatly from the initiative taken by Congress to provide funding—without drawing from existing Coast Guard priorities—to minimize the vessel gap, by leasing a medium icebreaker,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter, pimping the Aiviq.

Coast Guard Adm. Charles Michel isn’t impressed and said of the vessel, “This is not a pick-up game for the Coast Guard. We have very specific requirements for our vessels, including international law requirements for assertion of things like navigation rights. … This vessel does not just break ice …”

However, money talks, so there’s that.

Meanwhile, the Duffel Blog nails it:

Coast Guard patches up broke down icebreaker with surfboard repair kit

The nation who at one time had the world’s largest and best-equipped icebreaker fleet has for years been suffering in that department. So much so that the only true heavy breakers we have under U.S. flag, the 399-foot USCGC Polar Star and Polar Sea, are among the oldest ships in the Coast Guard (who is known for having “veteran” platforms) and are uber-cranky.

The 399-foot Polar Star. Top of the line in icebreakers 1977-2010. However, note no visable weapons. For scientific missions these are not needed. However for soverignty missions, are a must.

The 399-foot Polar Star. Top of the line in icebreakers in 1977

The crew of the recently returned to duty cutter Polar Star responded to four general emergencies during their most recent deployment to Antarctica. A “general emergency” is a situation in which the crew and the cutter are in serious danger if the not remedied quickly. The crew experienced three fires and one major lube oil leak, which can quickly ignite into fire.

One of which required an out-of-the-box fix.

Petty Officer 1st Class Kevin Oakes, an electrician’s mate aboard the Polar Star, used a surfboard repair kit to fix one of the cutter’s generators after the system shorted out and began smoking. The crew had lost power to one of their propellers en route to Antarctica leaving them with reduced power Dec. 13. The crew could not get specially designed replacement parts for the 40-year-old generator in time for the crew to execute their mission to Antarctica; however, with a little online research and brainstorming, Oakes used one of his shipmate’s surfboard repair kits to fabricate a new replacement part allowing the Polar Star’s crew to continue their mission.

More here

Warship Wednesday May 27, 2015 The coldest boat in the Russian Navy

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.
– Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, May 27, 2015, The coldest boat in the Russian Navy

Click to big up

Click to big up

Here we see the unique vessel of the Tsar’s Imperial Russian Navy, the icebreaker Yermak (also spelled Ермак, Ermak, and Yermack due to transliteration) doing what she did best—breaking sea ice. She was the first true modern sea-going icebreaker in any navy and lasted an impressive 80~ years and through five world wars in which she got bloodier than could be expected for a ship of her type.

In the late 1890s, polar exploration was all the rage and Holy Russia, pushing ever further to control the Western Pacific, sought to join Europe and Asia via the Northeast Passage across the top of the country. The thing is the ships that had tried this arduous journey had all failed. One renowned Russian polar explorer and naval officer, Stepan Makarov, fresh off his expeditions to the mouth of the north-flowing Siberian rivers Ob and Yenisei, proposed a radical new steel-hulled steamship with powerful engines and screws on both the stern and bow, ready to chop up polar ice as she went.

Note the close arrangement of her three stern screws

Note the close arrangement of her three stern screws

The ship, some 319 feet long and 70 abeam, was very tubby in design. Six boilers fed either three shafts aft or one forward, allowing her to back and ram if needed– now standard procedure for icebreakers but novel at the time. Speaking of the bow, she had a strengthened hull of 29 mm plate steel sandwiched with oak and cork to allow her to break sea ice at over 7 feet thick.

Under construction

Under construction. Note the strengthened steel ‘nose’ over which in essence a second double hull would be constructed.

Her twin 55-foot high stacks and round sloping bow with a small stem and flare angles made her readily distinguishable and came to typify early icebreaker design. Even today, her hull form is imitated in even the most advanced polar icebreaker design.

The resulting design was authorized by Count Witte in 1897 at the cost of 3 million gold rubles and ordered abroad to ensure fast and reliable delivery. Laid down in December at Sir W.G. Armstrong, Whitworth & Co Ltd, Newcastle upon Tyne, she was completed 29 January 1899– and delivered at half the price.



On trails. How many times have you seen an icebreaker with a bone in her mouth?

On trails. How many times have you seen an icebreaker with a bone in her mouth?

She carried the name of cossack ataman (head man) Vasiliy `Yermak` Timofeyevich Alenin, the Don Cossack who conquered Siberia under the reign of Ivan the Terrible in the 1580s, her purpose was clear.

Surikov's "The Conquest of Siberia by Yermak" The cossack swashbuckler took 800 men east and won an empire from the khans of the tartars and tribal people of the region that the Russians hold until today.

Surikov’s “The Conquest of Siberia by Yermak” The cossack swashbuckler took 800 men east and won an empire from the khans of the tartars and tribal people of the region that the Russians hold until today.

Arriving at the headquarters of the Russian Baltic Fleet in March after a ten-day voyage from the UK, Yermak made her smashing debut ( I love a pun) by breaking her way into the ice-bound harbor Kronstadt and then up the Neva River to St. Petersburg– where thousands thronged to see her across the frozen river.

Yermak in St Petersburg on the Neva

Yermak in St Petersburg on the Neva

By that November, she came in handy. The massive 12,500-ton armored cruiser Gromoboi had been forced by early ice from her moorings to the shore, and future ice movement threatened to sink the ship. Three days later, Yermak pulled her free.

Then, just weeks later, she had to help pull the 4,200-ton Admiral Ushakov-class coastal defense ship General-Admiral Graf Apraksin from the rocks and tow her back to Kronstadt.

Yermack was the first polar icebreaker in the world, colorized photo of it assisting the Graf Apraksin in 1899.

Yermack was the first polar icebreaker in the world, a colorized photo of it assisting the Graf Apraksin in 1899. Whoever colorized the photo neglected to add the correct cap bands to the breaker, which should be blue.

She was one of the first ships to use a wireless for rescue at sea when she rescued 27 lost Finnish fishermen from the rocks near Hango and transmitted the fact to a land station there with the help of Professor Alexander Stepanovich Popov (the Russian Marconi) who had set up a station near Apraksin and relayed messages back and forth.

"Icebreaker " Yermak ", who worked for the removal of stones from the battleship "Adm. Apraksin ", saved the 10th February 1900 27 fishermen, the news of the death of the first of which was received on a radio installation"

“Icebreaker ” Yermak “, who worked for the removal of stones from the battleship “Adm. Apraksin “, saved the 10th February 1900 27 fishermen, the news of the death of the first of which was received on a radio installation”

In 1901 Yermak helped Makarov complete his Third (and last) Siberian exploration expedition, reaching as far as Nova Zemyla. It was the last time the admiral was aboard the ship that was his magnum opus.

Picture M. G. Platunova First swimming polar icebreaker Ermak, depicting her first encounter with sea ice in 1899

Painting by M. G. Platunova “First swimming polar icebreaker Ermak,” depicting her first encounter with polar sea ice. Note her buff superstructure and blue cap bands.

Makarov, sadly the best Russian naval mind of his era, was blown sky high on his flagship, the battleship Petropavlovsk, on a sortie out of Port Arthur in 1904.

During the Russo-Japanese War, Yermak helped rush reinforcements to the front, freeing first the cruisers of Capt. Yegoryev’s unit in February 1904 from Libau and then the 12 ships of Rear Admiral Nebogatov’s division the next January.

In port, click to big up

In port, click to big up

She was ordered to follow the fleet as a coal supply ship and, once in the Pacific, assist in helping to Vladivostok free of ice. Five days after leaving Russian waters, however, Yermak suffered a shaft failure, which Adm. Rozhdestvensky, enraged at the time, did not believe, and took as an act of mutiny until he personally came aboard and verified it himself.

In the end, she was allowed to limp back to Kronstadt after cross-decking a number of her officers and crew to other vessels that were short. This act saved Yermak from what would certainly have been death at the hands of the Japanese at Tsushima (though not the men she transferred).

In the summer of 1905, with the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway all-important to a Russian victory in the Far East and her shaft repaired, she escorted supplies and rails for the project to along the Russian Arctic coast to the mouth of the Yenisey River, about half the distance.

Yermak in heavy sea ice

Yermak in heavy sea ice

A great stern shot in warm waters. Click to big up

A great stern shot in warm waters. Click to big up

She conducted some of the first through-ice dives in frozen waters

She conducted some of the first through-ice dives in frozen waters

With the war over, she went back to merchant and research service, breaking the ice around the Baltic. In 1908, she rescued her third warship when she pulled the cruiser Oleg from the ice off Finland.

By the time of the next war in 1914, Yermak was armed with some small deck guns to help ward off German submarines but again stuck to breaking out Russian warships when needed. This included freeing the cruiser Rurik for a sortie in March 1915 and the battleships Slava and Tsarevitch. Stationed in Revel for most of the war and with little for an icebreaker to do in summer months, she served as a depot ship for submarines.

Note the mascot and Tsarist uniforms with British influence

Note the mascot and Tsarist uniforms with British influence

When the rest of the Baltic Fleet raised the red flag in March 1917, she was one of the last ships to do so and even then her crew re-elected her longtime skipper, Estonian-born Capt. Rudolf Karlovich Felman, who had commanded the ship since 1903– one of the few fleet vessels to do so.

However, Felman, in the end, was kicked out in November with the coming of the Bolsheviks and promptly left Russia only to find easy work in Estonian service. He was the longest-serving of her more than 21 captains spanning seven decades.

Felman. This intrepid polar explorer and ship driver lived until 1928

Felman. This intrepid polar explorer and ship driver lived until 1928

With the Germans fast approaching and the war at its end (for the Russians anyway), Yermak sailed from Revel to Helsinki and broke out the fleet to include 7 battleships, 9 cruisers and 200~ misc vessels so that they could assemble in Kronstadt and not fall into the Kaiser’s hands. This event was later referred to as the Great Ice Cruise of the Baltic Fleet and is seen as saving the Soviet Navy. (It should be noted that the Whites sailed away in 1920 and 22 with the majority of serviceable vessels of the Black Sea and Pacific fleets respectively, leaving only those in the Baltic under the Red Flag)

At the end of March, Yermak tried to return to Helsinki with a contingent of Red Navy sailors to seize the town but after trading some naval artillery with the local Finnish ship Tarmo (2400-tons, 1 47mm gun), she turned back around when a German plane dropped a few small bombs danger close to the hapless Russian icebreaker.

Nonetheless, her service in the Revolution and later Civil War, where her crew was sent to fight on land, earned her the Revolutionary Red Banner of the Central Executive Committee for outstanding service in her third war.

By 1921, she was disarmed and back in service around the Baltic since she was one of the few operational vessels left. She was even loaned to the Germans in 1929 (at a price of 1 million DM, which was music to the ears of the cash-strapped Kremlin) to open the Kiel Canal early.

In 1935, she made an Arctic expedition equipped with a seaplane and helped pick up floating North Pole Station 1 under the famous explorer Ivan Papanin, cementing her place in polar history.


Note the Red Banner flag


Yermak’s fourth conflict, the Russo-Finnish Winter War; saw her again armed, this time much more heavily. In December of that year, the Finns came close to sinking the old girl when the submarine Vetehinen (Merman) stalked her without success over an 8-day period off Libau. By early 1940, Yermak helped escort Soviet Naval troops to occupy disputed islands in the Gulf of Finland—and again was scrapping with her old Civil War enemy, the Finnish Tarmo, without effect.

Click to big up

Click to big up

In 1941, her fifth war was upon her and she was soon going toe to toe with German and Finnish bombers and attack planes. According to Soviet historians, Yermak‘s gunners splashed 36 aircraft during the war while, again, she served as a depot and berthing ship for submarines as needed. In 1942, with the Axis powers closing in on Leningrad, most of her armament was shipped to the front, with all but 15 of her crew going with it to fight on shore as they had in the Civil War.

By 1944, disarmed, and her crew of dirt sailors advancing on Berlin, Yermak was transferred back to merchant service with the ship earning the Order of Lenin for her WWII service.

1950, at this point she had seen a solid half-century of service.

1950, at this point she had seen a solid half-century of service.

By 1950, after an inspection found her half-century-old hull still sound, she was sent to Antwerp for refit and then assigned to the White Sea based at Murmansk. Her floatplane long since gone, she was given a helicopter and pad in 1954 and spent the next decade assisting in breaking submarines in and out of Polyarni as well as escorting seal fishing expeditions out into the Arctic.

With new atomic icebreakers coming into Soviet service, the days of the old steam Yermak were numbered. On 23 May 1963, she was withdrawn from service and, when a bid to preserve her as a museum failed, she was ordered stripped. Her good British steel was stolen from her and everything of value slowly disappeared over a ten-year period.

What was left was burned 17 December 1975 in the bleak ship cemetery at nearby Gadzhiyevo. It is believed that part of her keel is still visible at the radioactive summer low tide in that rusty ship graveyard today.

Her monument in Murmansk

Her monument in Murmansk

A monument stands to her in Murmansk that includes one of her anchors, while a number of stamps have been issued by the Soviets and Russians to honor her memory. She has also been commemorated in Soviet maritime art.

Icebreaker Ermak


Icebreaker Yermak by noted Soviet maritime artist Eugene Voishvillo

Icebreaker Yermak by noted Soviet maritime artist Eugene Voishvillo

Yermak at revel by Yuri Sorokin

Yermak at revel by Yuri Sorokin

A 20,000-ton icebreaker (made ironically in Finland) was commissioned in 1974 with her old name and continues service today.

In a twist of Baltic fate, Yermak’s longtime nemesis, the Finnish icebreaker Tarmo, retired in 1970, has been preserved in the Maritime Museum of Finland in Kotka since 1992. Her hull, also built by Armstrong, is still sound.



Displacement 7875 tons as designed, 10,000 by 1941
Length 319 feet
Width 70.8 feet
Draft 24 feet
Engines steam engines, 10,000 hp as designed
Three shafts, VTE steam engines, 6 boilers. Bow shaft as designed (removed in 1935)
Speed: 15 knots when new. 10 by 1939
Cruising range 5000 miles on 2200 tons of coal (bunkerage for 3,000 if needed). Coal consumption was 100 tons per day while underway.
Crew 89 as designed with berths for 102, 166 in naval service, 250 in 1939
Armament: 1914-1921: 2-4 small mounts of unknown caliber
2x 102 mm/45 (4″) B-2 Pattern 1930 mounts
4x 76.2 mm/30 (3″) Pattern 1914/15 mounts
4×45 mm/46 (1.77″) 21-K anti-tank guns in navalized AAA mounts
4x quad Maxim machineguns on GAZ-4M-AA mounts

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Polar Star back in business

Click to big up.  (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class George Degener)

Click to big up. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class George Degener)

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB-10) enters an ice field near the Balleny Islands Jan. 5, 2015, while en route to Antarctica in support of the U.S. Antarctic Program, which is managed by the National Science Foundation.

The Polar Star, the second/third largest coast guard cutter in service, just began a four-month mission to Antarctica as part of Operation Deep Freeze 2014 to 2015, the Polar Star sails as part of part of Joint Task Force Support Forces Antarctica, alongside U.S. Air Force and Navy personnel, in support of USAP.


The 38-year old Polar Star, a huge 13,800-ton beast, is, with her sister, the most powerful seagoing icebreaker ever built for the U.S. sea services with her half dozen Alco 16V-251F diesel engines and trio of Pratt & Whitney FT-4A12 gas turbines giving her over 93,000 shp to her three shafts, making her capable of breaking ice 21-feet thick.

She spent 2006-2012 laid up at her slip in Seattle and during that time was simply referred to as “Building 10” since she never moved.

Its good to see the old girl back in the ice.



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