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Atka (AGB-3) 

1950–1966

An island in the Aleutian chain.

(AGB-3: displacement 6,515; length 269'; beam 63'6"; draft 25'9"; speed 16 knots; complement 254; armament 4 5-inch, 4 40-millimeter, 8 20-millimeter; aircraft 1; class Wind)


Southwind, probably photographed on the day of her commissioning, 15 July 1944. (U.S. Coast Guard Photo)
Caption: Southwind, probably photographed on the day of her commissioning, 15 July 1944. (U.S. Coast Guard Photo)

Southwind (WAG-280) was laid down on 20 July 1942 at San Pedro, Calif., by the Western Pipe & Steel Co.; launched on 8 March 1943; sponsored by Mrs. Ona Jones; and commissioned by the U.S. Coast Guard on 15 July 1944, Cmdr. R. M. Hoyle, USCG, in command.

From her homeport in Boston, Mass., Southwind served briefly along the coast of Greenland (6 October–8 November 1944), where German forces had been landing teams to set up stations to provide weather forecasts to the Third Reich during World War II. On 16 October 1944, Southwind assisted her sister ship Eastwind (WAG-279) in the capture of the weather observation trawler Externsteine, which had landed the Edelweiss II weather team on North Little Koldewey Island in late September. The German ship was rechristened Eastbreeze, and a prize crew of men from both of the U.S. icebreakers sailed her to Reykjavik, Iceland; Argentia, Newfoundland; and finally to Boston, where the ship was commissioned into the U.S. Navy as Callao (IX-205).

Southwind was decommissioned on 23 March 1945 and transferred to the Soviet Union under the terms of lend-lease on 25 March. Renamed Admiral Makarov in honor of the designer and builder of the world’s first ocean-going icebreaker, the ship operated in the Soviet Navy north of Russia and Siberia for four and one-half years before the Soviet Union returned her to the United States at Yokosuka, Japan, on 28 December 1949.

The vessel was repaired at Yokosuka and, on 28 April 1950, was renamed Atka (AGB-3). She was commissioned at Yokosuka on 1 October 1950, Cmdr. Robert B. Kelly -- famed for his achievements in motor torpedo boat squadrons during World War II and the recipient of the Navy Cross, two Silver Stars, and a Bronze Star -- in command.

With a skeleton crew, Atka got underway to return to the U.S. on 4 October 1950, and encountered heavy seas early the next morning, being battered by waves that tore the “base of bulwark… loose from deck, opening a seam in the deck approximately eight (8) feet long to the deep sea anchor windlass [compartment] causing sea to flood same.” The icebreaker’s crew pumped the compartment, leaving one foot of water, and applied a temporary patch.

Atka arrived at the Pearl Harbor (T.H.) Naval Shipyard on 15 October 1950 and completed additional repairs. Atka recommenced her voyage to the East Coast on 4 November, proceeding via Balboa (19 November), then transiting the Panama Canal (20 November) and arriving at Hampton Roads, Va., on 26 November. Upon her arrival at Boston on 4 December, Atka entered the naval shipyard there for a thorough overhaul and modernization, which included the removal of the after 5-inch twin gun mount to make room for a flight deck. The work was completed late in May 1951.

Atka set off on her first naval deployment on 16 July 1951, departing Boston to participate in Operation Nanook 51 to assist with the annual resupply of U.S. and Canadian northern weather stations and to gather geophysical data. The ship called at Halifax, Nova Scotia (17–18 July) and Godthaab, Greenland (24–26 July). Atka then rendezvoused with USCGC Eastwind (WAGB-279) to exchange personnel, and the two icebreakers escorted a group of supply ships through the ice to Thule, Greenland, arriving and anchoring in North Star Bay on 1 August. On the 4th, Atka worked to clear a large iceberg that had grounded on top of the anchor and chain of the attack cargo ship Wyandot (AKA-92) forward of the ship’s bow. Atka sustained some damage to her bow plating during that procedure, but it did not affect the icebreaker’s seaworthiness or operational readiness. The ship departed the same day, escorting attack cargo ship Achernar (AKA-53), Wyandot, and gasoline tanker Nespelen (AOG-55) west en route to Cornwallis Island, Resolute Bay, in the Canadian Northwest Territories. The convoy arrived on 7 August, and Atka performed ice reconnaissance and helped the other ships maneuver through the pack over the next several days. After leading the convoy to open water on the 12th, Atka steamed independently on a course for Bridport Inlet, Melville Island. Arriving on the 15th, Atka reversed course toward Resolute Bay the next day. Arriving on 17 August, Atka departed later the same day leading Wyandot through the ice. Atka then continued independently to Thule and operated in this area for the remainder of August. On 3 September, in company with her sister ship Edisto (AGB-2), Atka turned toward home. The two ships arrived in Boston on 11 September 1951.  Atka then completed a tender availability alongside the repair ship Vulcan (AR-5) at Newport, R.I. (19 October–21 November) before returning to Boston. 

Atka’s next cruise took her back to arctic waters to gather oceanographic data in conjunction with Edisto. On the morning of 7 January 1952, Atka sailed from Boston en route to Newport, R.I., and quickly encountered unfavorable sea conditions. The icebreaker took heavy sea aboard to port, tearing off the port boat boom as well as gripes from the port side of the ship’s LCV(P). Atka changed course and anchored for two days in Provincetown Harbor with Edisto to await more favorable weather conditions to enter the Cape Cod Canal. Underway again on the 9th, Atka transited the canal and reached Newport the same day. Finally making her way north on 14 January, Atka arrived at the U.S. Air Force Base at Narsarssuak, Greenland, on the 20th. Atka remained in port for a week, with Edisto joining her on 25 January. The icebreakers got underway on the 27th to conduct electronic radiation tests together before steaming independently for their separate operational areas the next day.

Atka assumed oceanographic stations on 28 January 1952, but early the next morning the breakwater on the fo’c’sle buckled in heavy seas, creating a 1½-inch break approximately eight feet in length that laid open the deck to the deep sea anchor windlass room. As the ship rolled and pitched during heavy snow squalls, the crew made temporary repairs to the forecastle, and oceanographic stations resumed later in the day. Operating in the Atlantic east of Greenland, Atka continued to be hampered by severe weather and heavy seas for much of February, but the scientists embarked were able to conduct more than 50 oceanographic stations and completed their survey on 19 February. Atka then set course for Newport, arriving on the 24th. Two days later, she returned to the Boston Naval Shipyard for overhaul.

Atka returned to the Arctic during the summer of 1952, once again providing icebreaking and escort services to support the annual resupply of remote northern bases. Steaming from Boston on 22 May, Atka traveled north in company with Edisto through the evening of the 25th. From 29 May through 11 July, Atka operated off of Labrador and northern Newfoundland, escorting and towing supply ships through the ice. On 12 July, she was underway from St. John’s Harbor, Saglek Bay, Labrador, en route to Frobisher Bay, Baffin Island, Northwest Territories, arriving two days later. Returning to Labrador on the 18th, Atka commenced hydrographic stations on the 19th and operated off of Labrador until 30 July when she set course once again for Frobisher Bay. From 1–5 August, the icebreaker sailed for Thule, Greenland, conducting oceanographic stations along the way, and then set off to conduct a hydrographic survey in the area of Parker Snow Bay, Greenland, on the 6th.

Atka returned to Thule on 11 August 1952 and remained there until the 29th, when the ship embarked Brig. Gen. Richard Whitcomb, USA, for passage to Baffin Bay. Beginning on 30 August, Atka spent much of the next several days waiting in Baffin Bay near Cape Parry for favorable visibility to recover experimental cosmic balloons launched by Eastwind. Arriving at Thule again on 5 September, Atka remained there for most of the month except for a brief ice reconnaissance mission. Departing Thule on 28 September, she anchored in Patricia Bay near Clyde River, Baffin Island, before moving south to conduct oceanographic stations in the Resolution Island and Cape Chidley region on 4 October.

Her Arctic mission completed, Atka headed for home, reaching Boston on 10 October 1952, but she would soon receive orders sending her back to sea to assist the gasoline tanker USNS Wacissa (T-AOG-59) that had run aground on a reef in Frobisher Bay. Atka left Boston again on 14 October and sighted the salvage vessel Preserver (ARS-8) with Wacissa already in tow on the 20th. Atka escorted the two ships to Halifax, Nova Scotia, arriving on 25 October, and then departed independently on the 27th, returning to Boston the next day.

From 10 January to 24 March 1953, Atka conducted oceanographic stations in the North Atlantic and ice reconnaissance in Davis Straits and Baffin Bay. The icebreaker encountered whiteout conditions and very severe winter weather in Baffin Bay with temperatures down to -30 degrees and winds gusting up to 50 knots.

Atka then participated in SUNEC (Support of Northeast Command) operations as well as Operation Nanook from 25 June to 2 November 1953, conducting her regular summer routine of escorting ships through the arctic ice to resupply northern bases. The highlight of that cruise came during Atka’s supply stop at the Eskimo village of Kanak, where the crew met Ootah, the man who drove Adm. Robert E. Peary’s sled on his trek to the North Pole in 1909.

During 1954, Atka engaged in her yearly winter arctic cruise from 4 January through 9 March. The ship’s activities included investigating the possibility of a winter transit around Greenland and down into Baffin Bay, but the latter proved impossible at that time due to heavy pack ice. On 7 February, Lt. Cmdr. Francis E. Law assumed temporary command of Atka for the duration of the cruise when Cmdr. Jack E. Mansfield was hospitalized due to an eye injury during operations.

On 15 July 1954, Atka set course for arctic waters to take part in Operation SUNEC to ensure once again that supply ships could safely deliver the goods through the ice to northern stations. En route to the operation area, the ship conducted Project Skyhook, during which Atka launched rocket-propelled balloons to study particles in the ionosphere. During this cruise, the ship’s crew is said to have bestowed the nickname “Snowplow of the North” upon Atka. The icebreaker’s summer arctic cruise was foreshortened, however, when Atka was selected to be the sole participant in the first U.S. expedition to Antarctica since 1948. Recalled to Boston to begin preparations for this upcoming voyage, Atka returned to her home port on 21 September.

The U.S. Navy Antarctic Expedition of 1954–55 constituted the first phase of a planned three-year program that would lay the groundwork for American participation in the International Geophysical Year (IGY), which was to be a worldwide collaborative international effort to conduct scientific observations and research in the earth sciences, scheduled for 1957–58. Atka’s primary mission would be to evaluate the potential reuse possibilities of the existing Little America base camps and to scout out potential locations for new scientific stations on the frozen continent. The ship would also establish ground control points to help with mapping and collect geological samples and weather and oceanographic data.

After two months of preparation at the Boston Naval Shipyard during October and November 1954, including the installation of special cold-weather gear and scientific instruments, Atka was ready for her mission in the South Polar region. In the week prior to sailing, however, press reports told of the arrests of a restaurateur from Rhode Island and a fireman among Atka’s ship’s company, the pair accused of pilfering more than a half ton of food and coffee from the icebreaker. Had the theft gone undetected, the ship would have faced a “serious shortage of food” during the long voyage.

At 1400 on 1 December 1954, famed Antarctic explorer Rear Adm. Richard E. Byrd, USN (Ret.) representing the Secretary of the Navy, participated in departure ceremonies for Atka, telling the ship’s crew and scientific observers that they were about to embark upon a “spectacular undertaking” that would classify them as polar explorers. “The grand old man of the Antarctic” also read a message from the Secretary of the Navy Charles S. Thomas. Less than two hours later, Atka stood out for Balboa, Canal Zone, to begin the first leg of the expedition.

On 8 December 1954, Atka made a westerly transit of the Panama Canal and moored at Rodman Naval Station. While in the Canal Zone, the ship brought additional supplies on board and also embarked a dog, dubbed “Panny,” who became the ship’s mascot. After hastily procuring three Christmas trees for the Yule season about a fortnight away, Atka departed Balboa on 11 December and set course for Wellington, New Zealand. Crossing the equator for the first time on the 15th, 212 “slimy pollywogs” became initiates to the Realm of Neptunus Rex. Transiting heavy seas on 20–21 December, Atka rolled constantly, a characteristic of icebreakers with their rounded hulls. The ship rolled an average of 18–24 degrees, with one roll of 39 degrees recorded during that time. The crew celebrated Christmas on the 25th with a large dinner, crossed the International Date Line on the 28th, and anchored at Hawke Bay, New Zealand, on the 30th to prepare for entry into Wellington. 

On 1 January 1955, Atka docked at Clyde Quay Wharf in New Zealand’s capital city. During her week-long stay in Wellington, approximately 11,000 people toured the icebreaker. According to a New York Times report, “the expedition has attracted special attention because of allegations, promptly denied in Washington, that it would seek hydrogen bomb test sites in the sector of the Antarctic claimed by New Zealand.” Journalist Walter Sullivan, who chronicled Atka’s voyage for the New York Times, embarked here as well.

After topping off fuel and loading final provisions for her journey to the frozen hinterland, Atka bid farewell to Wellington on 7 January 1955 and set sail for Scott Island, the “jump off point to the Antarctic.” The ship encountered heavy seas in the notoriously turbulent ocean between New Zealand and Antarctica, rolling at a constant 30–35 degrees on 11 January, with a 45 degree roll noted early on the 12th. Re-crossing the International Date Line, the ship repeated 12 January and sighted Scott Island. Rough waters prevented a landing, however, so Atka made her inaugural thrust into the Antarctic ice field and carved her way toward the Ross Sea and Little America.

Early on 14 January 1955, Atka sighted the Ross Ice Barrier on radar. The icebreaker searched unsuccessfully for Discovery Inlet, and it became evident almost immediately that a large part of the Ross Ice Barrier had broken off and carried away to sea since the previous expedition to the area. The ship soon sighted the wind-driven generator and radio antenna of Little America II, but later she found that nearly three-fourths of Little America IV, Rear Adm. Byrd’s base camp during Operation Highjump in 1946–47, had been destroyed by the movement of the ice. Over the next several days, many helicopter flights shuttled people and equipment between Atka and Little America II and III, while the crews photographed all of the Little America sites as well as 11 miles of the 80- to 120-foot high ice barrier, and the ship salvaged an estimated ton of equipment from Little America III. Searching for a suitable mooring site along the sheer barrier wall but finding none, Atka eliminated the area around the existing Little America camps near what had been the Bay of Whales as a possible IGY base location.

Atka departed the Little America area on 17 January 1955, heading northeast along the ice barrier. The ship’s three helicopters surveyed the Kainan Bay area, and Atka continued on toward Sulzberger Bay, encountering heavy pack ice with floes six to eight feet thick on the 18th and made very slow progress over the course of the afternoon. While trying to clear the pack the following afternoon, a blade of the icebreaker’s starboard screw broke off. Atka then reversed course and moored on the ice in Kainan Bay on 20 January to conduct a more thorough reconnaissance of the area.

Snow showers, fog, and poor visibility hampered the investigation somewhat on 22 January 1955 as Akta’s helicopters air-lifted crew to the ice barrier to lay out the area for photographs. Lt.(j.g.) John P. Moore, USNR, flying alone, crashed into the ice shelf in white out conditions, completely destroying the helicopter. A second helo shuttled the unconscious aviator back to Atka within fifteen minutes and the medical staff worked for three hours to save his life, but Moore succumbed to his multiple injuries. The death of the popular pilot from Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 2 struck a blow to the morale of Atka’s crew, but the survey work continued until late on 23 January. Kainan Bay ultimately would be deemed a highly suitable location for the construction of facilities for an IGY base.

Atka turned toward Sulzberger Bay once again on 24 January 1955. Over the next several days, Atka made four unsuccessful attempts to break into the bay choked with heavily consolidated ice. Sulzberger Bay was ruled out as a possible IGY site, and Atka moved to the east around the coast of Marie Byrd Land, making additional efforts to penetrate the ice pack towards Mt. Siple and Thurston Peninsula. The latter attempt was abandoned, however, when the ship received orders on 3 February to steam for the Weddell Sea. After transiting the Bransfield Strait, Atka turned to the southeast, crossing the Weddell Sea to continue her search for potential landing areas. The ship did not identify any suitable sites west of Cape Norvegia, but while surveying the ice barrier in Seal Bay on 15 February, the crew captured and brought on board six emperor penguins. The avian passengers, which would eventually number 11 with the addition of another emperor and four smaller Adélie penguins, helped to improve the morale of the crew. According to the operation report, “Every man aboard [sic] seemed to take a personal interest in them and they really captured the love of the crew.”

Continuing to move along a generally easterly course, on 16 February 1955, Atka discovered a large bay 65 miles northeast of Norsel Bay. The embarked scientists conducted an exhaustive survey of the area and found it to be suitable for a base site. Steaming eastward from the newly-christened Atka Bay, the ship passed a long, narrow bay in reduced visibility conditions on the 18th – then doubled back and began survey work early the following day. After a thorough evaluation, this area was judged to be the best potential base site that Atka had examined and was named in honor of Adm. Byrd. As the survey work wound down to its conclusion, Atka’s crew held a beer party on the ice here on 19 February. The ship took leave of Admiral Byrd Bay late that evening and sailed west and then north to clear the ice pack to begin the lengthy voyage back to Boston.

Atka pulled in to Buenos Aires on 7 March 1955, greeted by the wife and children of Cmdr. Glen Jacobsen, the ship’s captain and expedition leader, who resided in that Argentine city. After a somber pause during which the ship held a ceremony for fallen helicopter pilot Lt.(j.g.) Moore, whose body was flown home to North Carolina for burial, Atka’s crewmen enjoyed their first liberty in two months. Over the week-long stay in port, an estimated 18,000–20,000 Argentines toured the icebreaker. Atka’s penguin colleagues languished in the late-summer heat of Buenos Aires as logistical issues delayed their departure for the United States, but the crew bid a fond farewell to the much-loved penguins on 14 March when they finally began their journey by air to the zoo in Washington, D.C. Atka herself took leave of the city the next day, sailing north for Rio de Janeiro.

On the morning of 20 March 1955, Atka arrived at Rio and the crew enjoyed three and a half days in their last foreign port, departing on the 23rd. With temperatures rising as the icebreaker steamed towards the equator, the crew constructed a 9' x 14' swimming pool on the fantail which was supplied with a continuous flow of clean, cool saltwater. All hands enjoyed this unique shipboard amenity for the duration of the cruise.

Atka made one last brief stop on her way home, investigating St. Paul’s Rocks, a small archipelago of rocky outcroppings just north of the equator approximately 600 miles east of Brazil, on 30 March 1955. Although the ship’s whaleboat was unable to land at the rock formation due to heavy surf and shark activity, the helicopters did touch down and retrieved geological samples. With this work finished, Atka immediately set a direct course for Boston. Upon the ship’s arrival at her home port on 12 April 1955, Admiral Byrd greeted the polar explorers with a “Well Done” and remarked, “The whole nation knew what the Atka had done.”

Following completion of that Antarctic Expedition, Atka entered a 30-day leave and upkeep period. On 16 May 1955 she commenced her scheduled overhaul at the Boston Naval Shipyard that was completed on 20 August 1955.  Four days later, Atka got underway en route to Pt. Roberts, Hudson Bay Straits, to participate in SUNEC 55, the annual resupply of eastern bases in the North American Arctic. This operation took Atka to Fox Basin, Frobisher, Thule, St. Johns, Argentia, and Narsarssuak. The ship returned to Boston on 26 November.

Atka underwent upkeep at the Naval Shipyard South Annex in Boston until 4 February 1956. On that date, she steamed north to Narsarssauk, Greenland, arriving on 10 February. From there, the icebreaker escorted the Military Sealift Command-operated storeship USNS Bondia (T-AF-42) to her pier at Narsak. After escorting Bondia through most of the fjord from Narsarssuak on 21 February, Atka navigated through very heavy seas (that included 40-foot waves), arriving at Boston Navy Yard on 26 February. During March the ship was at the Army Base, Norfolk, Va., and then returned to Boston to enter dry dock, where she remained until mid-May.

Reassigned to the Pacific Fleet as of 1 May 1956, Atka departed Boston en route to her new homeport of Seattle, Wash., on 14 May. Along the way, she participated in trials in cooperation with the Naval Ordnance Laboratories at Port Everglades, Fl., on 18–19 May. After transiting the Panama Canal on the 23rd, the icebreaker stopped at Rodman Naval Station. Two days later, Atka made her way north through the Pacific Ocean. After touching at San Diego, Calif., on 2–5 June, the ship arrived at the Naval Supply Depot, Seattle, on the 8th. Atka then spent 14 June through 2 July at Todd Shipyard for upkeep.

On 17 July 1956, Atka departed Seattle for her first summer resupply cruise to the Alaskan arctic. She transited the ice floes en route to Icy Cape and Point Hope, Alaska, on the 25th to rendezvous with other ships from Task Group (TG) 5.1. From Point Barrow, Atka conducted ice reconnaissance in company with fellow icebreakers USCGC Northwind (WAGB-282) and Burton Island (AGB-1) on 31 July. Having maneuvered through a consolidated ice pack, the ship awaited orders while anchored at Wainwright, Alaska. On 5 August, as the icebreaker worked to free the ships of Task Element (TE) 5.1.4.3 from the ice, Atka suffered a broken blade on her starboard propeller. The ship continued operations, however, and escorted Task Units (TU) 5.1.4 and 5.1.7 to open water. While off Point Barrow on 7 August, the ship held a change of command ceremony for Cmdr. Charles Bulfinch, assuming command from Cmdr. Glen Jacobsen, who departed the ship by helo. Operating in the vicinity of Point Barrow, Jones Island, and Stockton Island during the month of August, Atka performed ice reconnaissance, escorted ships through the pack, conducted hydrographic and oceanographic survey work, and set up automatic portable weather stations on ice floes. Returning to Seattle on 8 September, Atka entered dry dock for repairs and began making preparations for her upcoming voyage to the Antarctic.

As a member of Task Force (TF) 43, Atka departed Seattle on 1 November 1956 in support of Operation Deep Freeze II, the final precursor to U.S. participation in the Antarctic phase of the International Geophysical Year commencing on 1 July 1957. Deep Freeze II units would construct new base stations in Antarctica and transport people and supplies to all of the U.S. stations. Atka’s familiar role would be to break and maintain a sea route through the ice to the stations and to shepherd the supply ships safely to their destinations while operating in the McMurdo Sound area of the Ross Sea.

Atka stopped at Pearl Harbor from 9–13 November 1956 and docked at Clyde Quay Wharf in Wellington, New Zealand, on the 25th. In company with the attack cargo ship Arneb (AKA-56), the Military Sealift Command-operated cargo ship USNS Private John R. Towle (T-AK-240), and the Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind, Atka sailed for Little America V on 10 December. Following Atka in column formation, the ships of TG 43.4 proceeded through the ice pack to the Ross Sea and reached McMurdo Sound on 20 December. Over the next several days, Atka maneuvered through the ice to assist, escort, or reposition other ships and conducted daily air operations with helicopter flights.

On 27 December 1956, Atka, leading cargo ship USNS Greenville Victory (T-AK-237) and vehicle cargo vessel USNS Private Joseph F. Merrell (T-AKV-4), proceeded as TU 43.4.2 to Little America V at Kainan Bay, where they were later joined by Nespelen. The absence of bay ice meant that cargo for Little America had to be off-loaded directly onto the ice shelf, minimally situated 30–40 feet above sea level. Atka rammed, blasted, pushed, and cleared the ice from the shelf in order to prepare and maintain a suitable discharge site for the cargo ships. A ten-day storm in late January 1957 forced the ships of the task unit to vacate their ice moorings and caused considerable damage to the barrier at Kainan Bay. The previous landing site broke off, leaving a 30-40 foot underwater ice shelf that needed to be blasted away before the site was safe for mooring again.

With cargo offloading at Little America complete on 5 February 1957, Atka and Merrell set off for McMurdo Sound the next day. Atka headed for Cape Hallett on 12 February but returned to McMurdo Sound the same day. On 25 February, Atka departed McMurdo Sound in company with Merrell and began her long journey northward. The ship made stops at Port Lyttelton and Wellington as well as Pearl Harbor before arriving back at Seattle on 5 April 1957.  

Atka put to sea again on 18 July 1957 bound for Icy Cape, Alaska, to participate in Project 572 West, the annual resupply mission supporting the newly-established DEW (Distant Early Warning) Line stations in the western Arctic operation area along the central Canadian and northern Alaskan coasts. On 27 July, the ship anchored off of Icy Cape to rendezvous with the other units of TF 5.1. From 29 July through late August, Atka alternated icebreaking and escort duty with the collection of hydrographic and oceanographic data in a wide area ranging from Cape Lisburne, Alaska, east to Cape Parry, Northwest Territories. On 5 August, the icebreaker transported a patient to Barter Island, Alaska, for transfer to a hospital. The following day, the ship assembled an automatic weather station on the ice pack. At anchor 20 miles north of Kugmallit Bay, Northwest Territories, on 24 August, Atka awaited the arrival from the east of TU 5.1.4, the last group of ships to make its departure from the operating area. The icebreaker escorted the convoy west to Point Barrow, arriving on 27 August, and then steamed independently to Seattle, conducting additional hydrographic stations while in transit. Atka arrived at her homeport on 5 September and entered dry dock at Todd Shipyard on 18 September for upkeep and repair. 

Ending her upkeep period on 18 October 1957, Atka returned to Seattle’s Naval Supply Depot to prepare for her third Antarctic deployment. The icebreaker departed for Deep Freeze III on 25 October, making a brief stop at U.S. Naval Air Station (NAS) San Diego on the 29th to embark two HUTRON One, Unit 30, helicopters and their crews before setting a course for Port Lyttelton. While in transit on the morning of 8 November, Seaman Richard D. Oppegaard died from internal injuries received after being accidentally crushed in machinery while cleaning around the ship’s rudder. The ship held a memorial service for Oppegaard, led by Lt. Cmdr. Paul W. Reigner, ChC, and Oppegaard’s remains were removed to shore for transport to the U.S. upon Atka’s arrival at Port Lyttelton on 18 November. Subsequently (1962), the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names would bestow the name Oppegaard Spur upon a rock formation near Kosco Glacier in Antarctica in the sailor’s honor.

At Port Lyttelton, Atka embarked a group of New Zealand scientists for transport to Cape Hallett. She also lost the services of another crewmember when CM3 W. H. Kock was admitted to the hospital in Christchurch after sustaining a head injury in a motorcycle accident. On 22 November 1957, Atka got underway for Antarctica in company with the other units of TG 43.4, the icebreaker Glacier (AGB-4) and the cargo ship Greenville Victory. The ships convoyed through heavy ice to Scott Island and arrived at Kainan Bay, site of Little America V, on the 30th.  

Misfortune befell Atka yet again soon after her arrival at Kainan Bay. On 1 December 1957, helo No. 97 crashed and burned on Atka’s flight deck due to failure to remove one of BuNo 143144’s tie-down straps prior to launch. Ens. Samuel E. Walling, the pilot, Chaplain Reigner, and Cmdr. William F. Flynn, commanding the Seabees at McMurdo Station, all suffered injuries in the crash. Chaplain Reigner’s injuries were serious enough to warrant his transfer to Little America and evacuation to the U.S. for further treatment. The ship’s flight deck suffered light to heavy charring, and the Bell HUL-1 helicopter, a total loss, was jettisoned. Two days later, the ship’s other helicopter crashed onto the ice barrier while en route to Little America. Fortunately, this accident caused no human casualties, but the Sikorsky HO4S-3 suffered damage beyond repair.

Through mid-January 1958, Atka operated in the areas of Kainan Bay, McMurdo Sound, and Moubray Bay, creating and clearing channels through the pack and escorting supply ships through the ice to facilitate offloading of cargo at Little America, McMurdo, and Cape Hallett stations. The ship periodically conducted hydrographic stations as well. On 16 January, Atka departed the Ross Sea region for Wilkes Station on the Budd Coast of Wilkes Land, in East Antarctica. After dropping off personnel and gear at the station on 23 January, Atka rendezvoused with Burton Island and Arneb the next day to convoy back to Wilkes Station. Atka assumed the lead position heading south through the pack, and late that evening, the ship lost two blades from her port propeller in heavy ice. After returning to Wilkes, Atka completed additional oceanographic work in the vicinity before leaving on 1 February to shuttle the previous year’s Deep Freeze wintering-over party to New Zealand. After discharging her passengers at Port Lyttelton on the 11th, the battered icebreaker arrived at Wellington the following day. In dry dock to repair her broken propeller from 15 February–1 March, Atka departed for the United States on 7 March. After pausing briefly at NAS North Island on the 23rd, Atka finished her Antarctic cruise in Seattle without further incident on 27 March 1958.

Following two weeks of restricted availability in late April 1958 at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Wash., Atka returned to Seattle. On 13 May, the ship held a change of command ceremony, during which Cmdr. William H. Reinhardt, Jr., assumed command from Cmdr. Charles Bulfinch. Two days later, the icebreaker sailed for Boston to resume her place in the Atlantic Fleet. After touching at U.S. Naval Station Rodman on 28 May and transiting the Panama Canal the following day, Atka called at Norfolk on the 4th and arrived back at Boston Naval Shipyard on 7 June 1958.

As a unit of TF 6, Atka participated in Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS) eastern Artic operations during the summer of 1958. Departing from Boston on 11 July, Atka sailed to Thule, Greenland, providing icebreaking and ice escort service for MSTS ships supplying the U. S. Air Force base until 4 August. Atka then steamed north to Polaris Promontory in northwestern Greenland, less than 500 miles from the North Pole. A contemporary press account states that while en route, Atka’s helos responded to an emergency call, transporting two Eskimo families believed to be suffering from tuberculosis to the icebreaker for examination and testing by the ship’s doctor. The patients were treated when the icebreaker returned to Thule from her mission at Polaris Promontory.

Anchoring in Thank God Harbor on 7 August 1958 after ramming her way through thick pack ice, Atka’s helicopters transported scientists from the Air Force-Cambridge Research Center ashore to Polaris Promontory to participate in Operation Groundhog 1958, an Air Force mission to survey ice-free sites for a new airstrip in northern Greenland to serve as a potential alternate for Thule. The following day, Atka crossed the icy Kennedy Channel into Canadian waters and anchored in Conybeare Bay in the Chandler Fjord at Ellesmere Island. The ship’s helos spent the next several days evacuating a team of Canadian scientists (as well as their 24 dogs) who had spent the previous year and a half studying Lake Hazen, the northernmost known body of fresh water, as part of the International Geophysical Year. On the 14th, Atka returned to Polaris Promontory to retrieve the Operation Groundhog shore party. An account published in the Boston Globe written by one of Atka’s officers relates that one of the ship’s helicopters transported a geologist from the Groundhog team to investigate a cairn on the promontory. Inside the cairn were records of the tragic 1882–84 expedition led by Col. Adolphus W. Greely as part of the First International Polar Year, a forerunner to IGY.

Atka took leave of Thank God Harbor on 17 August 1958 and headed back to Thule. On the 19th, the ship anchored off of Kanak, where medical staff went ashore to treat their ailing Eskimo patients. The dog teams from Lake Hazen, now including a new litter of puppies, also disembarked the ship here. Stopping at Thule to disembark the Operation Groundhog scientists, Atka then proceeded to St. John’s, Newfoundland, arriving on the 27th. The next day, the icebreaker headed back to Thule in company with the cable-laying ship HMTS Monarch. Atka operated in the Cape Dryer region from 11–20 September and then returned to ice escort duty for ships into and out of Thule through the month of October. Released from duty on 27 October, Atka arrived back in Boston on 2 November.

The icebreaker underwent overhaul in the winter of 1958–59, remaining in dry dock at the Bethlehem Steel Corp. yard in East Boston from 5 January–20 March 1959. She completed her overhaul on 28 March and returned to Boston Naval Shipyard. On 7 April, Atka steamed south for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The ship participated in tracking, gunnery, and formation exercises from 15–20 April, and after completion of her battle problem on the 22nd sailed for home, arriving in Boston on 27 April to begin preparations for the annual MSTS summer Arctic resupply mission. 

Atka departed Boston for Halifax on 12 June 1959. Following 48 hours of repairs, the icebreaker left Nova Scotia on 18 June bound for Cruncher Island at the entrance to the Sondrestrom Fjord, Greenland. The ship was diverted on the evening of the 22nd to assist a disabled trawler, but after a half day’s unsuccessful search in the area of the boat’s reported position, Atka was directed to continue with her original assignment. Arriving at Cruncher Island on the 24th, Atka’s crew installed and tested a radio beacon.

On 30 June 1959, Atka sailed north from Cruncher Island for Uppernavik, Melville Bay, to rendezvous with Burton Island and the icebreaker USCGC Westwind (WAGB-281) for ice escort duty as part of MSTS’s annual resupply of arctic bases. Atka arrived at the edge of the field ice on 1 July and conducted ice reconnaissance in Melville Bay. From 5–8 July, the ship stood by at the rendezvous point awaiting the arrival of cargo ships and on 9 July escorted USNS Sgt. Jack J. Pendleton (T-AK-276) to Thule.

On standby for escort duty at Thule from 10–20 July 1959, Atka prepared for the next phase of her mission. The icebreaker sailed for Sondrestrom, Greenland, on 21 July. Upon her arrival on the 24th, Mr. Eske Brun, permanent Secretary to the Minister of Greenland, made an official call on the ship. Atka then immediately set sail for Kulusuk, on the eastern coast of Greenland, where she arrived on 29 July to provide an escort scheduled for 1 August. When the other ship was delayed in her arrival, Atka sailed northward on 30 July toward Scoresby Sound. After two days’ effort to break through heavy ice, the ship returned to Kulusuk to conduct hydrographic survey work in the harbor.

From 3 to 11 August 1959, Atka escorted USNS Private Francis X. McGraw (T-AK-241) and MSTS-manned dock landing ship USNS Lindenwald (T-LSD-6) into Kulusuk and continued hydrographic survey work while cargo offloading was underway. On the 12th, Atka escorted the two ships through the ice belt to clear water and then set out northward for Scoresby Sound. Taking oceanographic stations en route, the ship was able to reach Scoresby Sound on 15 August by traveling outside of the ice pack until reaching the latitude of Scoresby Sound and reentering the pack from there. While her helos flew in support of Operation Groundhog, Atka conducted a hydrographic survey of the approaches to the sound. She remained in the area until 21 August, when Atka was underway for Mestersvig, Greenland. That evening the ship sustained hull and propeller damage while ramming through thick ice to avoid drifting into shoals close to the shore. Once clear of the coastal pack ice, Atka sailed northeasterly. On the 26th, Danish authorities requested Atka’s assistance to free four Danish ships stuck in the ice. The next day, however, Atka lost a blade off of her port propeller and the resultant loss of icebreaking power left Atka unable to complete the rescue mission although just 12 miles away from the trapped vessels.

Atka spent the rest of August 1959 operating in the region around Mestersvig and Myggbukta, conducting oceanographic stations as well as aerial surveys with the helos. On 4 September, Atka departed Mestersvig, escorting the damaged Danish cargo vessel Helga Dan close astern through the ice pack. Reaching open water on 6 September, Atka set off independently to carry out two weeks of data collection on behalf of the U.S. Hydrographic Office, conducting 17 oceanographic stations from approximately 76°N to Cape Farewell at the southern tip of Greenland. The icebreaker completed her last ocean station on 16 September and then steamed homeward. Atka returned to Boston on the morning of 21 September.

Following repairs at Boston Naval Shipyard, Atka departed for the Antarctic on 31 October 1959 to participate in Deep Freeze 60. Her primary mission for the operation was to break and maintain a shipping channel into McMurdo Sound. The ship arrived in Port Lyttelton, New Zealand, via the Panama Canal on 28 November to make final preparations for the trip to Antarctica. After topping off fuel, transferring personnel, and loading two aircraft and other equipment of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, Atka sailed for the Antarctic ice pack on 3 December. She rendezvoused with fellow Task Force 43.1 ships Glacier and Arneb on 11 December, and the three ships penetrated the pack to open water north of the Ross Ice Shelf. Glacier and Arneb proceeded to Little America while Atka entered McMurdo Sound to commence breaking the channel to Hut Point.

Upon arrival at McMurdo Sound on 14 December 1959, Atka found the bay ice edge located approximately eight miles north of its 1958 location, requiring at least three days of additional heavy icebreaking. In the midst of that work, the ship held a change of command ceremony on 19 December for Cmdr. Buster E. Toon, who relieved Cmdr. William H. Reinhardt. That same day, Glacier and Arneb arrived from Little America and the combined efforts of the two icebreakers extended the channel to the vicinity of Tent Island. An unloading site was prepared there, and Arneb offloaded her cargo from 24–31 December. Atka then escorted the attack cargo ship north through the remaining pack ice and began the New Year conducting 18 oceanographic stations in the Ross Sea near 70°S latitude.

Returning to McMurdo Sound, Atka finished breaking the channel begun by Glacier to the area of the base’s ice runway and carved out a berthing site there. On 10 January 1960, Atka escorted the MSTS-operated gasoline tanker USNS Alatna (T-AOG-81) through the channel to Hut Point. After Alatna unloaded, Atka escorted her back through the channel and then escorted USNS Private John R. Towle to the berthing site.

After two months of operations in heavy ice, a damaged shaft bearing forced Atka to return to New Zealand for repairs. When the Coast Guard icebreaker Eastwind arrived on station to relieve Atka on 21 January 1960, the ice-battered Atka departed for Port Lyttelton, where she stayed from 27 January to 6 February. After spending the next month in dry dock at Wellington, Atka returned to Port Lyttelton on the morning of 6 March, and her crew spent a busy day loading mail, fresh provisions, and cargo for the Antarctic. With large boxes of cargo covering her decks, Atka was secured for sea and steamed out of the harbor late that afternoon for the last run of the season to McMurdo, Hallett, and Campbell Island. Atka stopped at Campbell Island on 8 March with supplies and medical aid for the New Zealand weather team stationed there. After arriving at McMurdo on 12 March in a howling blizzard, the icebreaker discharged cargo, brought aboard departing people and steamed for Hallett. After offloading at Hallett, Atka’s departure on 15 March signaled the end of Ross Sea operations for Deep Freeze 60. On 21 March, Atka left Port Lyttelton en route to Panama and arrived back at Boston on 18 April 1960.

Atka once again headed north on 8 June 1960 to participate in SUNEC 60. The ship sustained severe hull damage, however, while entering the ice off Goose Bay, Labrador, on 14 June, and she steamed to Philadelphia for repairs. Following a five-week availability, Atka departed Philadelphia on 8 August to return to the Arctic. Assigned to a special mission for the U.S. Navy Hydrographic Office, Atka operated in Scoresby Sound, Greenland, in support of a USAF photographic mission and spent several days searching for a civilian motor launch and its crew. Atka’s helos, although hampered by heavy fog, found the boat on 1 September 1960. She operated through unfavorable ice and weather conditions in the regions of Jan Mayan Island, Iceland, southern Greenland, and Newfoundland for two months and returned to Boston on 4 October 1960.


Atka (AGB-3) and sister ship Edisto (AGB-2) moored together at Goose Bay, Labrador, 18 June 1960, in this view taken by Photographer 1st Class Scott. (USN 1051798)
Caption: Atka (AGB-3) and sister ship Edisto (AGB-2) moored together at Goose Bay, Labrador, 18 June 1960, in this view taken by Photographer 1st Class Scott. (USN 1051798)

Eleven days later, Atka steamed north once more for three weeks’ ice escort standby duty in Argentia, Newfoundland, under the operational control of MSTS (20 October–8 November 1960). She returned to Boston to resupply and then departed on 15 November for tender availability alongside the repair ship Amphion (AR-13) in Norfolk, Va., from 18 November–9 December. Atka passed the winter of 1960–61 at Bethlehem Steel Shipyard, East Boston, undergoing a yard overhaul. On 20 March, the icebreaker departed Boston for refresher training out of Norfolk.

Arriving back in Boston on 29 April 1961, Atka spent three weeks reprovisioning and then departed for SUNEC 61 in the Arctic on 22 May. Again operating under MSTS, Atka steamed along the west coast of Greenland, reestablished the radio responder beacon on Cruncher Island, and was the first ship of the season to penetrate the ice into Sondrestrom and Thule. On 25 June, 17 crew members were on a guided tour of Russell Glacier near Sondrestrom when an avalanche struck. EM3 Gerald C. Crapser died instantly from a fractured skull, and six other men sustained injuries. Seaman Albert McKeown ran 12 miles to the air base to get help for the injured men, and hailed as a hero, he was recommended for the Navy-Marine Corps Medal for his action. Upon completion of operations, Atka headed home, arriving in Boston on 9 August.

Atka stood out from Boston on 19 October 1961 to return to the Antarctic for a relatively abbreviated mission during Deep Freeze 62. After calling at Port Lyttelton on 8 December, Atka rendezvoused with Arneb, which was carrying the first nuclear reactor to be set up in Antarctica. The ships were soon joined by Eastwind, and the two icebreakers escorted the cargo ship to McMurdo Station, arriving on 13 December. While Arneb unloaded her cargo, Atka in company with Burton Island cut a spur channel to within 500 yards of Hut Point to provide a closer and more convenient mooring site for offloading tankers.

After escorting Arneb back to open water on 19 December 1961, Atka turned south to Scott Island where she repaired the “Grasshopper” weather station. She then took her leave of the polar continent on 23 December to return home, two days before Christmas. En route to Port Lyttelton, however, Atka was diverted briefly toward 60°S 170°E to take upper air soundings and to act as the ocean station vessel for two Soviet flights inbound to McMurdo Station. Her role in Deep Freeze 62 thus concluded, Atka rang in the New Year at Port Lyttelton. On 2 January 1962, Atka departed New Zealand, stopping briefly at U.S. Naval Base, Rodman, Canal Zone (22–24 January), and then proceeded to Boston, arriving on 31 January. Upon her arrival, Atka assumed standby status until 8 May when the ship departed for type training and ammunition loading at Earle, N.J. Atka returned to her homeport on 16 May to prepare for the upcoming summer Arctic cruise.

On 5 July 1962, the icebreaker departed Boston to commence MSTS Arctic Operations. During the month of July, Atka provided escort and support services for USNS Greenville Victory in Itividleq, Greenland, and for USNS Chattahoochee (T-AOG-82) and USNS Greenville Victory in Kulusuk, Greenland. After a brief stop for supplies at Keflavik, Iceland (3–7 August), Atka began the most extensive oceanographic survey undertaken to that date in the Greenland Sea basin.

Beginning on 7 August 1962, Atka stood in to the pack ice in the southwest portion of the Greenland Sea. It soon proved apparent that the pack was heavier and extended more than 100 miles farther south and east than normal. After one very deep westward penetration, Atka freed herself by steaming east to the ice edge. She then headed north, following a zig-zag course along the ice pack. Every 60 miles, the ship hove-to and carried out a series of oceanographic measurements. At her northernmost point, Atka reached a latitude of almost 81 degrees, barely 9 degrees from the geographic North Pole. Turning southward, again on a zig-zag course, the ship entered the Norwegian Sea, stopping as before every 60 miles. Having completed 57 oceanographic stations through 4 September, Atka proceeded to Bergen, Norway, for a liberty and recreation period (6–11 September). The icebreaker then sailed for Thule, Greenland, arriving 20 September. After escorting USNS Sgt. Morris E. Crain (T-AK-244) through the ice, Atka commenced the second phase of the scientific investigation, performing oceanographic survey operations in the Davis Strait-Baffin Bay area and in the Labrador Sea. The ship collected ice prediction data at 29 stations. Upon completion of the survey, the icebreaker returned to Boston, making port on 16 October.

Following a period of leave and upkeep, Atka sailed for Norfolk for a tender availability alongside Amphion. The ship returned to Boston on 8 December 1962 and commenced overhaul at Boston Naval Shipyard on the 13th. Upon completion of ship’s work on 17 March 1963, Atka conducted post-repair sea trials and independent ship exercises through 5 April, including a trip to Norfolk from 19–23 March to deliver equipment and machinery donated by private industry through the “Tools for Freedom” program for further transport to technical schools in India as part of Operation Handclasp. Atka returned to Norfolk again on 5 April for inspections and refresher training. Arriving back at Boston on 27 April, the icebreaker began preparations for her upcoming summer cruise.

Atka departed for the Arctic on 13 May 1963 to support the U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office’s geodetic survey of Loran “A” and “C” installations in the vicinity of Cape Farewell, Greenland. After a brief stopover in Argentia, Newfoundland, Atka operated in the Hamilton Inlet region of Labrador, escorting MSTS ships through the ice to and from Goose Bay. Atka returned home to Boston on 15 July.

For the next two months, Atka remained in Boston preparing to deploy for Deep Freeze 64. She steamed for Antarctica on 27 September 1963 and called at U.S. Naval Base Rodman, Panama Canal Zone, and Wellington, New Zealand. On 6 November at Port Lyttelton, the ship embarked Commander TG 43.1 Cmdr. Price Lewis, Jr., USNR, and set course for Scott Island.

Atka’s crew installed an automatic weather station on Scott Island on 11 November 1963, after which the icebreaker continued south to McMurdo Sound, where she was to assist with the preparation and maintenance of the shipping channel to McMurdo Station to support the base resupply operation. On 15 November, as the first icebreaker to arrive on station, Atka began breaking the 21 mile channel to Hut Point. Glacier and Burton Island joined Atka in the channel operation on the 18th, and Commander TG 43.1 shifted his flag to Glacier. On 21 November, one of Atka’s helicopters crashed on the bay ice while returning to the ship from McMurdo Station. Although the aircraft was damaged beyond repair, there were no injuries to personnel.

On 1 December 1963, only four miles from the end of the channel, Atka lost her port shaft which snapped off just forward of the propeller hub and fell clear without damaging the rudder. Two days later, she transferred fuel and supplies destined for Hallett Station over to Burton Island and proceeded to Wellington for repairs. While en route to New Zealand, Atka escorted USNS Chattahoochee through ice floes near Scott Island. On 10 December, Atka diverted to refuel the radar picket escort vessel Hissem (DER-400) on station at 60°S 160°E under adverse sea conditions. Such underway fueling was not routine Antarctic procedure, and Commander Naval Support Force Antarctica hailed the event as a Deep Freeze first, according Atka a “Well Done.” The hobbled, but capable, icebreaker arrived in Wellington on 14 December and entered dry dock for repairs to her port shaft the next day.

Repairs completed, Atka sailed once more for Antarctica to resume her duties in Operation Deep Freeze 64 on 30 December 1963. From 7 January 1964, the ship’s arrival at McMurdo Sound, until the end of the month, Atka conducted surveys of Tent and Inaccessible Islands, widened six miles of the channel to Hut Point by 50 yards, escorted MSTS shipping safely through the ice fields, carved out a more permanent mooring site in Winter Quarters Bay, sounded the shallow areas in the bay, and laid buoys to mark them. 

Cmdr. J. H. Judith, Atka’s commanding officer, assumed the additional duties of Commander TG 43.1 on 22 January 1964, the first time a commanding officer of an icebreaker had been called upon to perform that additional task. Atka next confronted “Moby Dick,” the famed five-acre iceberg that threatened to block the channel to Hut Point. Atka successfully held back the berg and maintained a clear channel. On 30 January, Atka served as host ship for Rear Adm. John W. Ailes III, Commander Service Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet.

Atka departed the McMurdo Station area on 1 February 1964 bound for the Ross Sea to conduct oceanographic surveys. On 8 February, Atka was diverted from her oceanographic work to escort the attack cargo ship USNS Wyandot (T-AKA-92) through the ice-blocked approaches to Hallett Station. Extremely bad weather and severe ice conditions in Moubray Bay, however, prevented completion of the operation at that time. By 10 February, Atka had resumed her oceanographic work, and she completed the survey as scheduled on 26 February. The icebreaker then returned to McMurdo Sound to finish the Tent Island survey, load cargo, and board New Zealand-bound passengers before departing the frozen continent on 29 February.  

From 1–4 March 1964 while en route to New Zealand, Atka completed 28 ice prediction stations in the western Ross Sea to help forecast ice conditions for Deep Freeze 65. The ship arrived at Port Lyttelton on 10 March, transferred cargo, and sailed on to Wellington, where she spent nearly two weeks preparing for her lengthy voyage home. Atka left New Zealand on 23 March and set course for Boston. She received supplies at U.S. Naval Base, Rodman on 11 April, transited the Panama Canal, and discharged ammunition at Naval Ammunition Depot, Earle on the 18th. She arrived in Boston the following day.

During the next eight weeks, Atka prepared for her impending summer arctic deployment. The ship completed voyage repairs in Bethlehem Steel dry dock at Boston from 21 April–11 May 1964, then cleared Boston on 17 June to provide ice escort service to the MSTS cargo ships and tankers en route to and from arctic ports. Arriving at the entrance to Sondrestrom Fjord, Greenland, on 24 June, Atka conducted ice reconnaissance near Itividleq and Thule. From 11–17 July, Atka, in company with Westwind, escorted USNS Greenville Victory to Thule, marking the arrival of the first cargo ship of the season. Atka continued escort service through the ice fields near Thule for the next month.

Atka’s crew enjoyed six days of liberty at St. John’s, Newfoundland (23–29 August 1964) and then upon arrival at Thule on 4 September resumed her ice escort duties for the next three weeks. In company with Westwind, Atka participated in the resupply–thwarted twice already due to heavy ice–of the Eskimo village of Savigssivik on Meteorite Island. On 25 September, Atka broke the channel through the fast ice and uncharted water to within 500 yards of the beach. Upon completion of that resupply mission on 26 September, Atka set course for Boston and returned to her home port on 3 October.

On 23 November 1964, Atka entered Boston Naval Shipyard. During her overhaul period, the ship’s force refurbished the six main engines. The shipyard added three new spaces on the main deck port side beginning at the amidships passageway, and the entire flight deck was removed and replaced by a larger flight deck and a new hangar designed to accommodate two Kaman UH-2B Seasprite helicopters. After completion of the yard period, on 16 March the ship successfully conducted sea trials.

On 30 March 1965, Atka set sail from Boston on assignment to evacuate the scientists conducting the Arctic Research Laboratory Ice Station (ARLIS) II project off of the northeast coast of Iceland. En route to Prudence Island, R.I., to load ammunition, Atka emerged from the Cape Cod Canal, struck a mischarted reef in Buzzards Bay, and began taking on water in her no. 3 engine room. Although the waters rose to a height of six feet, quick and precise action on the part of the crew and the aid of a Coast Guard cutter’s extra pumps brought the flooding under control. The tug Luiseno (ATF-156) towed Atka back to Boston Naval Shipyard, and the ARLIS rescue mission was reassigned to Edisto.

Atka entered dry dock on 1 April 1965 with extensive damage to her hull. During her repair period, a new, larger aloft conning station was installed. Hull and engine repairs were completed on 18 June and Atka was partially fueled in dry dock to offset the list when the dock was flooded—the first time in Boston a ship had been fueled in that manner. Atka then moved to Charlestown to complete electrical testing of the main generators. The icebreaker completed her sea trials on 13 July and sailed to Norfolk two days later for a week of refresher training. Atka returned to Boston on 25 July to prepare for her next Arctic deployment.

The icebreaker sailed for Thule, Greenland, on 4 August 1965 and arrived at her destination eight days later. Ice conditions proved to be mild during August and early September, obviating the need to escort any of the supply ships to and from Thule. During those four weeks, Atka held reconnaissance and icebreaking training and completed upkeep and maintenance. She then returned to Boston on 16 September to prepare for her upcoming Antarctic deployment. The ship sustained flooding in engine room B3 on 4 October, however, that inundated no. 5 and no. 6 main generators, delaying Atka’s departure for Operation Deep Freeze 66 by five days.

Atka sailed for Antarctica on 16 October 1965 and arrived in Colon, Panama, on the 23rd. The following day, after 12 hours at Rodman Naval Station where she took on fuel and fresh provisions, Atka departed for Port Lyttelton, the next stop in her long journey to the Antarctic continent. Scoring of the pedestal bearing on no. 1 main generator, believed to be related to the structural damage sustained in the Buzzards Bay reef strike in March, however, marred the otherwise smooth trans-Pacific voyage. Diverted to Wellington for repairs, Atka arrived there on 14 November. Nine days later, once again ready for sea, Atka departed for Port Lyttelton to refuel and take on provisions. Upon completion of those tasks, Atka got underway for McMurdo Sound on 24 November.

When Atka arrived in the McMurdo vicinity on 1 December 1965, Glacier and Burton Island had already completed approximately one half of a channel through the ice into McMurdo Station. Atka assisted with this work until 4 December when she sailed north to rendezvous with USNS Alatna to escort her to McMurdo Station. When the two ships reached the channel entrance on 13 December, Glacier had reached Hut Point, but the channel was jammed with brash and a vast section of ice had faulted and closed the channel from the west. After several days of clearing the channel, Atka towed Alatna into McMurdo Station on 18 December. The condition of the channel remained much the same throughout December due to unfavorable winds, but Atka safely escorted the gasoline tanker HMNZS Endeavour and USNS John R. Towle through the heavy brash into McMurdo Station. On 29 December, Atka, Glacier, and Burton Island worked together to push a giant iceberg out of McMurdo Channel. 


Burton Island, Atka, and Glacier push together to move a huge iceberg from the channel to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, 29 December 1965. (U.S. Navy Photograph USN 827218l, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Branch, College Park, Md., copy in files of Naval History and Heritage Command)
Caption: Burton Island, Atka, and Glacier push together to move a huge iceberg from the channel to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, 29 December 1965. (U.S. Navy Photograph USN 827218l, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Branch, College Park, Md., copy in files of Naval History and Heritage Command)

As 1966 dawned, Atka lay moored to the ice at Winter Quarters Bay on standby to clear McMurdo Channel. The icebreaker towed USNS Private John R. Towle from McMurdo on the 3rd and escorted Alatna inbound on the 9th. On 12 January, Atka made her way to Cape Hallett, resupplying the station by helo and landing craft (LCVP) the next day. The ship then got underway for Port Lyttelton, arriving at Gladstone Wharf on the 19th. After a five-day stop for liberty and reprovisioning, Atka sailed once again for Antarctica. The ship rendezvoused with Alatna and arrived at McMurdo on 31 January.

Atka continued her ice clearing and escort duties at McMurdo Sound through most of February 1966. On the 9th, Atka’s helos evacuated two members of the U.S. Antarctic Research Program (USARP) team and their equipment from Taylor Glacier. The ship evacuated additional individuals from USARP from Cape Byrd on the 14th and then conducted a bottom survey along the western side of McMurdo Sound before returning to Winter Quarters Bay on the 16th. Atka made her final departure of the season from McMurdo on 22 February, conducting ice prediction surveys along the way to Cape Hallett. After evacuating personnel and cargo by helicopter from Hallett Station, Atka began the journey home on 2 March, calling first at Port Lyttelton and Melbourne, Australia, where the icebreaker’s crew enjoyed five relaxing days of liberty. Atka made additional brief calls at Pitcairn Island, Rodman Naval Station, and Navy Ammunition Depot, Earle, before arriving back home at Boston on 22 April. The ship underwent upkeep and repair availability at Bethlehem Steel Shipyard, East Boston, and then prepared for her last Arctic cruise as a naval vessel.

On 27 July 1966, Atka steamed from Boston en route to Bergen, Norway, after a brief stop at Navy Ammunition Depot, Earle. She reached her destination on 10 August and spent three days in port before sailing to conduct oceanographic work in the Greenland Sea on the 13th. From 21 August through 12 September, various Russian Tupolev Tu-16 Badger aircraft and the Soviet patrol icebreaker Dobrynya Nikitich conducted close surveillance of Atka’s movements and activities while she continued her oceanographic survey in the Barents Sea.

While off the coast of Norway on 15 September 1966, Atka set course for Amsterdam, Netherlands, but the next day she received new orders to proceed instead to Reykjavik, Iceland, to embark a joint U.S.–Icelandic team for an operation to recover human remains from a recently-discovered wreck of a U.S. Navy aircraft. On 12 January 1962, a Lockheed  P2V-5F Neptune (BuNo. 131521), designated LA-9 from Patrol Squadron Five, Detachment 13, took off from Naval Station, Keflavik with 12 crewmen on board.  Despite blizzard-like weather conditions including low cloud cover, heavy snow, and winds of 60 knots, the plane was scheduled for a routine ice patrol and concurrent Soviet submarine reconnaissance mission flying 2,000 feet over the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland. Nearly three hours into a nine hour flight, ground control lost contact with the plane. A half hour later, what would become an international air and sea search and rescue effort began. With no sign of the missing plane after one week, however, the Navy determined that LA-9 had been lost at sea with all 12 souls.

On 8 August 1966, however, four British scientists conducting a geologic survey on Kronborg Glacier in eastern Greenland happened upon the wreckage of LA-9, including human remains. Having no means of contacting anyone from their remote location, they took photographs of the scene and collected some wallets from the bodies as evidence and alerted officials at the U.S. Embassy upon their return to Iceland in early September.

Departing from Reykjavik on 20 September 1966, Atka set course for Ravnsfjord, Greenland, the closest point to the crash site from the sea. The next day, the ship’s helos located the wreckage, photographed the site, and transferred the recovery party and their equipment to the glacier. There the recovery team found widely dispersed aircraft debris, although the fuselage had remained intact. Evidently, “the plane flew straight into the glacier, exploding on impact and catching fire shortly after the crash.” Since its discovery the previous month, the crash site had been blanketed by more than two feet of snow, which the recovery team had to shovel in order to complete its work. By early evening on the 22nd, the recovery party had retrieved the remains of the Neptune’s crew, destroyed the major aircraft components, and returned to the awaiting icebreaker.

After Atka returned to Reykjavik on the evening of 23 September 1966, the remains of the LA-9 crewmen were flown back to the U.S. The bodies of seven men were subsequently identified: Cmdr. Norbert J. Kozak, the pilot and mission commander; navigators Lt.(j.g.) Badger C. Smith III and Lt.(j.g.) Michael P. Leahy; electronics technicians AT2 Robert A. Anderson and ATS3 Norman R. Russell Jr.; and mechanics mates ADR2 Robert E. Hurst and ADR3 Frank E. Parker. Additional recovered remains could not be positively attributed to any of the other five LA-9 casualties: Lt. John A. Brown, a flight surgeon on board the aircraft to fulfill flight time requirements; Lt.(j.g.) Anthony F. Caswick, the plane’s co-pilot; radioman ATN3 Alan P. Millette; ordnanceman AO3 Grover E. Wells; and electrician’s mate AEAN Joseph W. Renneberg. The unidentified remains were buried together in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

In 1995, one of the British scientists who had discovered the LA-9 wreckage in 1966 flew over the scene again and was horrified to see human remains still in plain view at the crash site. After much dickering over the expense of a second recovery effort amid outcry from family and friends of the LA-9 crew, the Navy finally returned to the site in 2004 and with the assistance of cadaver dogs recovered and repatriated all of the human remains from the site. Positive identifications were made for all five of the previously unaccounted-for crewmen.

Following that special recovery mission, Atka resumed normal operations on 24 September 1966 and set course once again for Amsterdam. After spending 28 September–4 October moored at the Dutch capital city, the icebreaker began the westward journey home. The ship conducted several ice forecasting stations off the southeastern tip of Greenland on 9–10 September and finished her final naval deployment at Boston on 16 October.

Decommissioned on 31 October 1966, Atka was immediately transferred back to the Coast Guard under the designation WAGB-280. Her name was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 November 1966. The ship resumed the name Southwind on 18 January 1967. Ultimately, she was decommissioned from Coast Guard service on 31 May 1974, and she was sold for scrap to the Union Mineral & Alloy Corp. of New York on 10 March 1976 for $231,079.00. 

Commanding Officers Date Assumed Command
Cmdr. Robert B. Kelly 1 October 1950
Cmdr. Leonard J. Flynn 7 December 1951
Cmdr. Jack E. Mansfield 29 January 1953
Lt. Cmdr. Francis E. Law* 7 February 1954 - 9 March 1954              
Cmdr. Glen Jacobsen 6 July 1954
Cmdr. Charles Bulfinch 7 August 1956           
Cmdr. William H. Reinhardt, Jr. 13 May 1958
Cmdr. Buster E. Toon 19 December 1959
Cmdr. Murray E. Draper 17 October 1961
Cmdr. Joseph H. Judith 2 March 1963
Cmdr. W. J. Martin, USNR 5 June 1964
Cmdr. John S. Blake 19 July 1965
Transferred to U.S. Coast Guard 31 October 1966

*Law temporarily assumed command when Cmdr. Mansfield was hospitalized due to an eye injury during Arctic Winter Operations

 

Stephanie Harry
5 April 2017

Published: Wed Apr 05 14:24:11 EDT 2017