An island near the coast of Delaware.
(AG-88: displacement 5,425; length 269'; beam 63'6"; draft 25'9"; speed 16 knots; complement 353; armament 2 5-inch, 12 40 millimeter; aircraft 1 Grumman J2F Duck, 1 HO3S-1 helicopter; class Burton Island)
Burton Island (AG-88) was laid down on 15 March 1945 at San Pedro, Calif., by the Western Pipe & Steel Co.; launched on 30 April 1946; sponsored by Mrs. Maud Norris, wife of Capt. Albert Norris, USN (Ret.); and commissioned on 28 December 1946, Cmdr. Gerald L. Ketchum in command.
In late 1946, the Navy desperately needed the services of the not-yet-commissioned icebreaker Burton Island for the First Antarctic Developments Project. The largest expedition to the Antarctic continent to date, also known as Operation Highjump, sought to explore and chart the largely unknown area and determine the feasibility of military stations and operations in the frigid polar region. Construction of Burton Island was completed two weeks ahead of schedule, and on 1 October 1946, prior to commissioning, plans for her participating in the expedition were formulated and supplies ordered to allow her to get underway for Antarctica as quickly as possible. Without undergoing a typical post-commissioning shakedown period, Burton Island conducted at sea training (10–15 January 1947) and sailed from San Pedro to San Diego on 16 January. Training Group San Diego inspected the new ship the following morning, and deemed her ready for service. On the afternoon of 17 January, Burton Island departed San Diego en route to Scott Island in the Ross Sea, Antarctica. Crossing the equator on 23 January, the ship reported that “King Neptune and Royal Party came aboard, inspected all Pollywogs and commenced initiation… converting all pollywogs to shellbacks.”
The new icebreaker spotted her first iceberg on 5 February 1947. Task Group (TG) 68.1 noted that Burton Island’s “baptism of ice” came the next day when she encountered the ice pack for the first time and made her way westward, moving through heavy pack ice along the way. On 8 February, Burton Island rendezvoused with the other units of the task group—amphibious force command ship Mount Olympus (AGC-8), attack cargo ships Yancey (AKA-93) and Merrick (AKA-97), and the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind (WAG-282)—all of which had arrived on station in mid-January. Submarine Sennet (SS-408) also served with the task group but did not opereate in the area when Burton Island joined the other four ships; as Sennet apparently left the Antarctic on 4 February, having encountered challenges to operating in the icy conditions.
With the two icebreakers leading the way through bad weather and low visibility, the ships convoyed through the pack ice of the Ross Sea. On the morning of 10 February, Mount Olympus became stuck in the ice, requiring Burton Island’s assistance to break free. That evening, blizzard conditions forced the entire convoy to stop to ride out the storm, but the group resumed its way through the ice pack the next day, the two icebreakers scouting ahead for a suitable course. On 11 February, a strong gust of wind blew Merrick into an ice floe, disabling her rudder and requiring Northwind to tow her through the ice. Consequently, Rear Adm. Richard H. Cruzen, Commander Task Force (TF) 68, broke his flag in Burton Island on 13 February, and the previous flagship Northwind, with the crippled cargo ship in tow and Yancey acting as escort, set course for New Zealand to bring Merrick to dry dock for repairs.
Now traveling independently, Burton Island steamed toward Ross Island, arriving on 16 February 1947. Encountering thick pack ice, Burton Island hove to in McMurdo Sound, and the ship’s HO3S-1 helicopter made reconnaissance flights in the area for possible landing sites for planes and ships. On 19 February, the helo, with Rear Adm. Cruzen embarked as a passenger, discovered and landed at Hut Point, a base camp on Ross Island near McMurdo Sound, where Capt. Robert F. Scott, RN, had landed during his 1902 Antarctic expedition. The helo made a second trip to the well-preserved site shortly after returning to the ship but damaged the tail rotor while landing, rendering the vehicle unable to take off. The icebreaker closed the helicopter’s position and sent a party to assess the situation. The operation’s Task Group report states that the helicopter’s crew discovered an old sledge, still in good condition, at Scott’s hut and used it to travel more than ten miles back to the icebreaker. As Burton Island maneuvered to prevent the ice from freezing the ship in, the repair party returned to the helo with the required parts, repaired the rotor, and flew the helicopter back to the ship.
Burton Island next headed for Bay of Whales, location of the research base Little America IV and the expedition party led by retired Rear Adm. Richard E. Byrd. The icebreaker arrived on the morning of 22 February 1947. While they had originally anticipated evacuating the base for 1 March, the Antarctic ice proved to be heavier than expected, growing thicker each day, and Cruzen consulted with Byrd decided to evacuate within 48 hours to ensure that Burton Island would be able to make it through the rapidly encroaching ice upon the narrow entrance to the bay. After embarking the 197-member Byrd expedition party, Burton Island set out from the Bay of Whales just before midnight on 23 February.
After steaming through the Ross Ice Shelf toward Scott Island, the icebreaker rendezvoused with Mount Olympus on the morning of 27 February — the ship crossed the International Date Lind the preceding day and advanced her clocks 24 hours. Byrd and most of his expedition transferred to the awaiting ship, and Cruzen shifted his flag to Mount Olympus as well. Burton Island then set course for Port Chalmers, New Zealand. The seas between Antarctica and New Zealand are notoriously rough, and icebreakers, with their round-bottomed hulls that help them crush through thick, dense ice, tend to roll from side to side, sometimes quite precariously, in open water. A 1960 article in the Christian Science Monitor colorfully noted that “with the slightest bit of rough weather [icebreakers] roll around like elephants in a shallow pool.” Designed to right herself after rolling as much as 72 degrees, Burton Island rolled by as much as 51 degrees during the transit to Port Chalmers, and her cruise book observed that: “It is when she rolls heavily, as only an icebreaker can, that the crew looks forward to the ice, or in most cases her home port.”
In the heavy seas, one of the expedition’s sled dogs sustained a concussion and died, and on 3 March, the crew conducted a burial at sea for the animal. The icebreaker reached Port Chalmers the next day, stopping briefly to exchange passengers with Yancey, and then continued on to Wellington. Commencing on 7 March, Burton Island’s crew enjoyed a one-week port visit in the New Zealand city, after which the ship set sail in company with Mount Olympus and Northwind on 14 March. After calling briefly on 19 March at Pago Pago, Samoa, Burton Island embarked upon the final leg of her long Antarctic journey, returning to San Pedro on 31 March 1947.
Burton Island entered dry dock at Terminal Island (5–16 May) for post-cruise repairs. Following sea trials, on 26 May the ship sailed to San Diego, where the crew participated in numerous training exercises over the next month. On 24 June, Burton Island steamed for Oakland, Calif., and then onward to Seattle, Wash. Arriving on 30 June, the icebreaker spent the next three weeks making preparations for her first trip to the Arctic. Several of the U.S. civil and military outposts in northern Alaska were accessible by sea for only a few weeks during the summer, and the Navy and Coast Guard routinely tasked icebreakers to safely lead convoys of supply ships through the arctic ice to deliver a year’s worth of equipment and provisions to these remote bases.
Burton Island got underway on 25 July 1947 for BAREX 47, the annual resupply mission to Point Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost point of the United States and access point to Naval Petroleum Reserve Number 4. Shortly after departing Seattle, Burton Island began towing ex-LST-642, a tank landing ship that had been decommissioned on 30 June. Stopping briefly off Icy Cape and Point Barrow, Burton Island successfully delivered cargo as well as ex-LST-642 to Barter Island, Alaska, 300 miles east of Point Barrow, despite encountering heavy pack ice in the arctic waters. Her resupply mission complete, Burton Island returned to San Diego on 24 August and moved to San Pedro after discharging fuel the next day. Shortly thereafter, the icebreaker entered the shipyard at Terminal Island at Long Beach, Calif., for regular overhaul.
On 20 November 1947, Burton Island steamed from San Pedro, beginning her deployment for the Second Antarctic Developments Project. Operation Windmill, as the expedition was alternately known, proved a smaller endeavor than the previous year’s operation, sending only two icebreakers to the remote continent to focus on getting ground control points to be able to accurately map features seen in aerial photos taken during Operation Highjump as well as to carry out hydrographic and geological surveys, ice reconnaissance, and demolition experiments in the region. In addition, they were to study an area of warm lakes near Bunger Bay that had been discovered during Highjump, also go back to Little America IV.
Expedition leader Cmdr. Gerald L. Ketchum, who had relinquished command of Burton Island on 22 September, embarked as Commander TF 39. The ship rendezvoused with Edisto (AGB-2) in Pago Pago, and from there, the two icebreakers set off together for the Antarctic ice pack on 5 December, arriving at Shackleton Ice Shelf on New Year’s Day 1948.
During a snow squall on 13 January, Burton Island’s Bell HTL-1 helicopter (BuNo. 122459), crashed while operating from Edisto on its way to an intermediate camp for the Bunger Lakes hydrographic project. Pilot Lt. (j.g.) Hubert Glenzer Jr. and passenger ACMM R. F. Phelps were treated for minor lacerations, but the accident wrecked the helicopter beyond repair. Over the next several weeks, the icebreakers followed the coast eastward from the Bunger Bay region to Marguerite Bay, located on the Antarctic Peninsula on the opposite side of the continent. Along the way, the ships made several stops, including the Bay of Whales and the Little America IV sites (31 January–5 February). After the ships arrived at Marguerite Bay on 19 February, they came to the aid of City of Beaumont, the ship of a privately-funded Antarctic research expedition headed by Cmdr. Finn Ronne, USNR. With some icebreaking assistance from Edisto, Burton Island towed the stranded vessel through four miles of pack ice off Stonington Island. John Biscoe, former U.S. net tender (boom) Satinwood (YN-89 — which had been provided to the British via Lend-Lease), operated by the British Falklands Islands Dependencies Survey, also stood by on 21 February to render assistance, and Burton Island safely delivered her charge to open water, where, at 1813 on 23 February, the merchantmen cast off the tow and resumed her voyage.
Upon completing the rescue mission, Burton Island and Edisto began the long journey home. Encountering high seas along the way, Burton Island rolled as much as 50 degrees on 28 February, and the sea carried away one of her life rafts. The icebreakers called at San Felix Island, Chile; Callao, Peru; and Balboa, Panama Canal Zone, before parting company on 23 March, with Cmdr. Ketchum now embarked on board Edisto. The voyage ended for Burton Island at San Pedro on 31 March 1948.
Following availability for repair of ice damage and a ten day refresher training period in San Diego, Burton Island reported to Seattle on 15 July to prepare for her next arctic deployment as part of BAREX 48, which many sailors dubbed Operation Icicle. The ship stood down the channel from Seattle on 19 July in company with LST-1110 and LST-1146. Fog and low visibility hampered much of the trip north of Unimak Pass, Alaska, and challenging ice conditions impeded progress after the three ships met up with the cargo ships of the expedition’s Point Barrow Unit off Point Lay on 3 August. The Barter Island Unit experienced exceptionally difficult conditions on the 300 mile passage from Point Barrow to Barter Island. Departing Point Barrow on 5 August, the passage took five days through thick fog and heavy, dense ice that significantly damaged both of the LSTs. Having unloaded the tank landing ships’ cargo at Barter Island, the return trip to Point Barrow was somewhat easier, taking only three days. En route to San Pedro, Burton Island took LST-1110 under tow on 16 August, as damage to one of the LST’s propellers during the Barter Island transit caused significant vibration in the ship’s starboard shaft. They arrived in San Pedro on 29 August.
In the winter of 1949, Burton Island explored the relatively unknown arctic frontier of the Bering Sea. As fears of communism and Soviet aggression escalated in the years immediately following the Second World War, the American government cast an uneasy eye upon the Bering Sea, considered to be strategically important because of its location between Alaska and Soviet Siberia. Very little was known about the weather, currents, depths, ice patterns, and subsurface topography of the Bering Sea, however, and thus Burton Island’s pioneering mission was to investigate ice conditions to assess the feasibility of winter operations off western Alaska.
Sailing from Seattle on 11 January 1949, the ship began operating in the Bering Sea on 17 January. From Cape Seniavin in the eastern Aleutians, the icebreaker moved to the northwest to Cape Pierce and Cape Mendenhall and then north through close pack ice toward Nome, conducting acoustical and firing tests along the way. The ship moored in the ice three miles off Nome on 25 January, becoming the first ship in the locals’ memory to visit the town during the winter. After enjoying some recreation time in Nome, Burton Island continued her journey through the heavy pack ice on 31 January, making stops off St. Lawrence Island and King Island before exiting the Bering Sea through Unimak Pass on 19 February. As Burton Island did not face “undue difficulty” in navigating through the heavy ice encountered during this cruise, the Navy concluded, perhaps overly optimistically, “Naval operations are practicable in the Bering Sea [during the winter season] provided there is icebreaker assistance.”
During this trip, Burton Island was redesignated with the hull identification number AGB-1 on 28 January 1949. After the icebreaker returned to San Pedro on 26 February, a report in the Los Angeles Times noted that most of the 173-member crew lost between 10–20 pounds on the relatively short voyage because “the eating was curbed by the excessive rolling of the barrel-bottomed craft.” The ship operated locally, participating in scheduled exercises, and completed a restricted availability period (17 March–16 May).
Burton Island once again participated in the annual BAREX arctic resupply mission in the summer of 1949. The ice breaker departed San Pedro on 28 June and called at Seattle to meet the four cargo-laden landing craft that she would lead through the arctic ice. Together the task group steamed from Seattle on 19 July, but several mishaps marred the expedition. On 25 July, LST-1146 experienced difficulties with her engines during high winds and rough seas. Burton Island took the disabled landing craft under tow for the next six days, traveling 1,200 miles in this configuration. A large wave hit the landing craft while she was under tow, causing the tow cable to break and wrap around one of the icebreaker’s propellers. A diver entered the frigid water and cut the cable free. Finally arriving at Point Barrow on 2 August, the following day Burton Island continued onward toward Barter Island with two of the LSTs. On 5 August and just 100 miles beyond Point Barrow, however, Burton Island lost her starboard propeller while plowing through loose pack ice. The icebreaker continued to push forward with some difficulty, but on 7 August, with 50 miles of ice still separating the three ships from Barter Island, the Coast Guard vessel Northwind arrived to assume icebreaking duty, and Burton Island turned around and made her way back to Point Barrow. Her mission thus prematurely concluded, Burton Island returned home to Long Beach for repairs, arriving on 21 August. She completed upkeep there until 8 November 1949, visited San Diego for a couple of weeks, and then returned to Long Beach through the New Year.
On 3 January 1950, Burton Island sailed from Long Beach via San Diego as part of a six-ship squadron -- dock landing ship Gunston Hall (LSD-5), high-speed transport Wantuck (APD-125), LST-1138, cargo submarine Barbero (SSA-317), and submarine transport Perch (SSP-313) -- headed for Bristol Bay, Alaska, for Minor Cold Weather Exercise (MICOWEX) 50A, an amphibious cold weather exercise held jointly with the U.S. Marines. The icebreaker made a scheduled stop at Kodiak on 19 January. While the other ships of Task Element 53.92 left Kodiak on 24 January, Burton Island stayed behind until the 27th. The icebreaker reunited with her squadron at Cape Seniavin on 29 January. Burton Island detached from the MICOWEX group on 10 February to continue farther north to once again examine winter ice conditions in the Bering Sea. The icebreaker sailed through very rough seas, at one point rolling 65 degrees. The ice reconnaissance mission was limited to ten days, with a brief stop at King Island to provide dental services to native residents. Although the ship made it to the Bering Strait with relative ease, the ten day schedule did not permit time to transit the strait and two of the ship’s six engines were out of commission. Some of the officers involved evaluated the mission as substantiating the conclusions drawn about the feasibility of operating during the winter in the Bering Sea following Burton Island’s January 1949 cruise.
In an unfortunate shipboard incident during this cruise, 24 year old SK3c Wendell N. Humphery died from a knife wound delivered to his upper chest on the night of 20 January while Burton Island lay moored at Kodiak. TA Charles Ramirez was taken into custody and confined to the brig pending an investigation, which began the next day. Ramirez was transferred to the brig at Naval Station Kodiak on the 24th and returned to the custody of the ship again when she briefly returned to Kodiak on 23 February. At Captain’s Mast held the same day, Cmdr. Jack E. Gibson charged Ramirez with murder and recommended him for general court martial. Upon Burton Island’s arrival at San Diego on 2 March, Ramirez was placed in the custody of the brig at Naval Receiving Station San Diego pending his court martial, and the icebreaker continued on to Long Beach.
Burton Island once again provided ice breaking support for the annual Point Barrow Resupply Expedition in the summer of 1950. The ship steamed from Long Beach on 7 July en route to Seattle to rendezvous with the three LSTs loaded with supplies that she would accompany to the remote outposts of northern Alaska. The task group departed Seattle on 17 July, stopping briefly at Point Lay to load additional cargo before arriving in Point Barrow on 31 July. Burton Island, in company with LST-1146, continued onward toward Barter Island the next day. The ships encountered heavy winds and fog along the way, and although Burton Island had to work her way through large fields of ice and the landing ship sustained some ice damage, the entire round trip from Point Barrow including the unloading operation at Barter Island took only four and a half days. Back at Point Barrow, Burton Island was released from the BAREX mission on the morning of 7 August and departed several days later to conduct a general oceanographic and hydrographic survey in the Beaufort Sea through early September. Researchers conducted scientific stations north of Point Barrow and then from east of Barter Island northeasterly to the southwestern tip of Banks Island, Canada, near Sachs Harbor, and then back to the west, moving north again near Prudhoe Bay. The expedition mapped for the first time the water and bottom characteristics of over 100,000 square miles of totally unexplored Arctic area.
On 13 September 1950, Burton Island arrived at San Diego, then accomplished an overhaul at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, and commenced refresher training on 8 December 1950. Spending the holiday leave and upkeep period at Long Beach, Burton Island returned to San Diego to prepare for her next cruise to conduct an oceanographic survey of the Bering Sea. During an availability period early in the New Year, the ship had a TAB low frequency radio transmitter installed, and sailed en route to Kodiak on 15 January 1951.
The passage to the Bering Sea via Kodiak and Unimak Pass took Burton Island through winds averaging 40–70 knots, making for an extremely rough transit with about one-third of the crew experiencing seasickness to the degree that it affected their ability to perform their duties. The ship arrived in Kodiak on the 24th, a day and a half behind schedule. On 29 January, having entered the Bering Sea earlier that day, the ship faced average winds of 45 knots as well as “a large but confused swell,” and “a huge sea came aboard as the ship took a 60 degree roll to starboard.” The next day, the winds subsided and the ship commenced oceanographic stations and launched a barrage balloon to hoist the low frequency radio antenna; however, on 31 January the antenna wire parted and the balloon floated away to the southwest trailing 300 feet of bronze wire.
The scientific crew embarked on Burton Island commenced oceanographic stations on 31 January 1951, intending to follow a northerly course to the west of St. Lawrence Island and continuing north as far as possible. As February began, however, Burton Island encountered “increasingly difficult” ice conditions north of St. Lawrence Island. On 3 February, which the ship’s report characterized as “not a good day,” Burton Island became trapped in the ice 50 miles shy of the Bering Strait as she attempted to break through a pressure ridge. “Neither heeling or trimming had any effect nor did backing full power or twisting,” the cruise report noted. “In spite of all efforts to free her, the ship remained stuck fast with a three degree list to port and the bow raised four feet above normal draft.” Freeing the ship ultimately required almost seven hours of effort and the use of multiple explosive charges. In the process, a chunk of flying ice sent aloft by one of the explosions severely damaged the embarked HO3S-1. On this difficult day, the ship also lost another barrage balloon.
After Burton Island blasted free from the pressure ridge, heavy ice continued to thwart her progress. With her engines working at full power, the icebreaker was only able to travel 40 miles over the next six days. The ship finally arrived at King Island on 9 February and conducted a medical and dental clinic for the natives of Ukivok Village. The next day, Burton Island set a southeasterly course for a scheduled call at Nome. For the next week, the icebreaker slowly rammed her way through the heavy, snow-covered pack ice. Combinations of wind, snow, and low overcast skies prevented the ship’s second helicopter from making ice reconnaissance flights during that time, and when the helo finally took to the air again on 16 February, the crew found ice conditions to be unfavorable. The ship cancelled her visit to Nome and instead continued to run oceanographic stations.
Progress through the ice remained slow until the morning of the 21st, when the ship finally encountered lighter, more easily broken ice. The expedition report notes that “in the previous 20 days, the ship had covered 235 miles while making propeller turns representing a distance of 2955 miles.” As of 1200 on 22 February, Burton Island had covered more distance in the previous 24 hours than it had in the prior two weeks with considerable effort expended. Burton Island took leave of the Bering Sea as she transited Unimak Pass late on 26 February. The ship then made her way over relatively calm seas to San Diego after briefly touching at Seattle, steaming into her home port on 9 March.
Based upon Burton Island’s experiences in the Bering Sea during the previous two winters, the Navy had concluded that it would be able to operate its ships in the area during the coldest months and that any destination on the Bering Sea could be reached as long as icebreakers were present to clear a path. The severe weather and ice conditions Burton Island encountered in 1951 had not been anticipated, however, and the cruise report notes that “in heavy, consolidated pack such as [Burton Island experienced on this cruise], an icebreaker has trouble taking care of itself and would be unable to maneuver sufficiently to assist another ship.” The Navy thus tempered its earlier beliefs about the practicability of winter operations in the Bering Sea, now concluding that “the Bering Sea is usually penetrable by icebreakers during winter months and may occasionally be penetrable north of St. Lawrence Island by ‘Arctic’ constructed vessels with icebreaker assistance.”
Following a maintenance and repair availability at Long Beach (17 March–24 May), Burton Island returned to the Arctic in the summer of 1951. She departed San Diego for BAREX on 9 July, making her way to Point Barrow via Dutch Harbor and St. Paul Island, Alaska. She arrived at Point Barrow on 22 July and made preparations for her post-BAREX scientific operations in the arctic while waiting for the rest of the Barter Island Unit to arrive. LST-1110 and LST-1146 reached Point Barrow on 30 July and got underway for Barter Island the next day. Burton Island set out on 1 August and anchored near Newport Entrance to rendezvous with the landing ships on the 2nd. The three ships made way for Barter Island together on 3 August. When the ships arrived later that day, the LSTs began unloading cargo. The next day, they departed and sailed together to Newport Entrance, where the two LSTs and the icebreaker again parted company. In stark contrast to previous years, the ships encountered very little ice on the trip to and from Barter Island, and weather and visibility conditions were generally excellent.
Burton Island arrived independently at Point Barrow on 5 August, detached from BAREX icebreaking duties on the 8th, and commenced scientific operations in the Beaufort Sea. The ship ran a series of oceanographic stations north of Point Barrow through the 21st. The icebreaker then returned to Barter Island, running more stations to the north and west of the area and verifying soundings reported by earlier expeditions. Moving northwest from Point Barrow, Burton Island then proceeded into the Chukchi Sea to attempt to define the limits of a reported shoal area. After stopping again at Point Barrow, the ship turned to the east, running a final series of stations northeast of Barter Island to the vicinity of the western side of Banks Island north to about 73°N. After conducting the last station on 21 September, Burton Island made the long trip back to San Diego via Point Barrow and Dutch Harbor. The icebreaker arrived at San Diego on 9 October and the following day continued on to Long Beach, her new home port as of 7 September 1951.
After taking on ammunition at Seal Beach, Calif., on 5 January 1952, Burton Island stood out for San Diego. After embarking new crewmen as well as a helo detachment and participating in gunnery and towing exercises, the ship returned to Long Beach on 18 January. The icebreaker departed on the 21st for her winter Bering Sea cruise to survey ice conditions off of Cape Prince of Wales. Stopping briefly at Kingston, Wash., on the 24th, Burton Island sailed to Kodiak via the Inside Passage. Spending nearly a week in Kodiak, the ship departed on 4 February and once in the Bering Sea conducted several oceanographic stations and moored in the ice off Nome for two days en route to Cape Prince of Wales. Continuing northward, the ship moored briefly off King Island on 12 February. A steering casualty was repaired immediately, but shortly thereafter, the ship became stuck in a hummock of ice. Efforts to dislodge the ship by use of the engines and the heeling system were unsuccessful as was a round of explosive charges, but 15 minutes later, the ice began to crumble and the ship came free.
Operating in the area of Cape Prince of Wales, Burton Island moved through heavy rafted ice, occasionally getting stuck and heeling to break free. Moving south again towards St. Lawrence Island, the ship became wedged in pressure ice on 16 February, and the next day, still fast in the ice, the ship drifted across the International Date Line (IDL) at approximately 65°N, headed toward Siberia. The ship eventually used explosives to free herself from the ice and steamed southeasterly through snow-covered pack ice, crossing back over the IDL. The ship would become stuck twice more over the next two days on her way to Nome. After stopping briefly there on the 19th, the ship moved southwest through increasingly thick, snow-covered ice with few or no leads. By the 21st, the tough, resistant ice was more than two and a half feet thick with an additional foot of snow drifting on top of it, obscuring pressure ridges and making progress difficult. On 22 February, the icebreaker stopped in the ice and conducted several dives to inspect the starboard propeller. The investigation found that one blade of the starboard screw had been sheared off, leaving a four foot stub. Despite heeling, the ship made no progress and drifted in the ice for several days, prompting some of the sailors to construct an igloo on the ice. On the 24th, Burton Island finally got underway through a lead that opened up in the ice, now five feet thick, during the night.
As difficult ice conditions became less of an issue for Burton Island over the next several days, the wind and seas increased. En route to Dutch Harbor on the evening of 27 February, the ship began pitching moderately and rolling deeply in a rough sea with strong wind from the southwest. Filling the heeling tanks half full made the ship ride easier, but the next day the winds reached gale strength and the seas became very heavy. After running a patrol off Ulakata Head Light and stopping briefly at Dutch Harbor on the 29th, Burton Island made her way toward Seattle, spending three more days rolling in heavy seas and gale-force winds. After an overnight stop at Seattle, the ship steamed toward San Diego on 7 March, arriving on the 11th and finally returning to Long Beach later that evening.
Once again, Burton Island participated in the summer expedition to Point Barrow. Steaming north from Long Beach on 7 July 1952, the ship made intermediate stops at Seattle, Juneau, and Kodiak prior to arriving at Point Barrow on the 26th. The icebreaker operated locally conducting ice reconnaissance, escort duty, and training drills until 4 August, when she set course for Barter Island via Point Pitt. Leading LST-1110 and LST-1146 through broken floes and brash ice, the icebreaker arrived at Barter Island on the 7th and set up an Electronic Position Indicator (EPI) station on land while the LSTs unloaded their cargo.
The convoy arrived back at Point Barrow on 10 August 1952, and the next day, Burton Island rendezvoused with the submarine Redfish (SS-395). Beginning on the 19th, the icebreaker and the submarine began a series of sound transmission tests under the ice of the Beaufort Sea in water more than 1,000 fathoms deep. For the rest of the month, Burton Island made sounds by for example setting off small underwater explosions of four to 16 pounds of TNT. Redfish, remaining stationary, served as the transmission receiver, detecting the sounds of the explosions over distances of up to 200 miles. The results of these tests supported the application of SOFAR (Sound Fixing and Ranging) and RAFOS (Ranging and Fixing of Sound) technology to the Arctic Basin. The ships also tested receiving and communications equipment.
Burton Island and Redfish conducted oceanographic stations as well during this cruise, collecting water and sediment samples and measuring indicators such as depth, surface and subsurface water temperature, salinity, oxygen levels, and currents. From 2–14 September, the ships additionally investigated the uncharted area of the Beaufort Sea west of Banks Island, Canada, beginning in the Amundsen Gulf well south of Sachs Harbour and running along the west coast of Banks Island, extending north past Cape Prince Alfred and back down the coast further offshore, and then moving west toward Barter Island, with one final station north of Point Barrow. A secondary objective to survey additional unexplored territory to the north of Point Barrow could not be conducted due to the extent of the sea ice. One of the ships laid a 30,000-foot cable in the Bering Strait to measure temperature, current, and wave pressure. After parting company with Redfish on 14 September, Burton Island began her journey home, stopping at Seattle (25–30 September) and returning to Long Beach via San Diego on 5 October.
Returning to the Bering Sea for winter operations, Burton Island departed from San Diego on 15 January 1953. She called at Long Beach, Calif., and Victoria, B.C., Canada, before rendezvousing with the Coast Guard icebreaker Northwind (WAGB-282) on the 25th while en route to Kodiak via the Inside Passage. Sailing together from Kodiak on 3 February, the two icebreakers encountered heavy seas after entering the Bering Sea via Unimak Pass on the 5th. That day, Burton Island temporarily took leave of Northwind to make a stop at St. Matthew Island on the 7th. The ship then moved along the edge of the arctic ice pack to plot its extent before entering the pack to once again meet up with Northwind on 9 February.
Heavy ice averaging one to four feet thick and covered by an additional six inches to one foot of snow hampered the icebreakers’ efforts to reach Nome. Late on the evening of 14 February, Burton Island’s starboard shaft began to vibrate after one blade of the starboard screw broke off and left a foot-long stub. Unable to ram their way through the ice to Nome, the icebreakers instead headed to St. Lawrence Island. The ships made very little progress through the ice until 20 February, when the ice lightened up a bit, allowing the icebreakers to go around the south side of St. Lawrence Island. The ships then headed north, calling at Gambell at the northwestern tip of St. Lawrence Island, and reached the Bering Strait near the Siberian coast, but “hard floes of fast-moving ice” prevented them from moving farther north. Burton Island lookouts sighted approximately 120 walruses at 0940 on 21 February, but on the 25th, the ship lost 2/3 of another blade on her starboard screw.
Despite the challenges posed by the severe ice conditions that winter, Burton Island did perform valuable work during this cruise. Scientists aboard the ship were able to observe and study ice and meteorological conditions, the crew conducted experimental firing exercises and tested equipment in the harsh arctic climate, and Burton Island and Northwind conducted icebreaking exercises together. On the afternoon of 26 February, both ships put landing parties ashore at Boxer Bay on St. Lawrence Island. The party from Burton Island was apparently working with explosives when at 1600 a charge detonated prematurely, killing Lt.(j.g.) Edward D. Murphy, Jr., and injuring BM2 J.W. Dearman, USNR. Despite the accident, the team pressed on with their work, but late that evening the landing parties were ordered to return to their respective ships due to increasing winds and dropping barometric pressure. After conducting tests of the ice on 28 February, Burton Island set course for Dutch Harbor (3–4 March) and then San Diego, arriving back at her home port on 13 March.
Burton Island once again participated in the Joint Canadian-U.S. Beaufort Sea Expedition in the summer of 1953, departing from Long Beach on 7 July and transiting to Point Barrow via Esquimalt, B.C., and Cold Bay, Alaska. The icebreaker’s mission this year was to survey Prince of Wales Strait, McClure Strait, and Melville Sound in the western Canadian Archipelago, with particular attention to accurately defining and mapping the shorelines of these areas. Beginning in the Amundsen Gulf and moving through the extent of Prince of Wales Strait, Burton Island conducted oceanographic stations, at times working with Redfish and Northwind (7 August–1 September). Although severe ice conditions prevented the ship from reaching McClure Strait and Melville Sound, the scientific work on this cruise confirmed the existence of a deep water Northwest Passage via Prince of Wales Strait and also extended the coverage and improved the accuracy of existing nautical charts for this area. Burton Island returned to Long Beach via Seattle and San Diego on 6 October and entered an overhaul period, during which a second cast steel propeller was installed on the ship.
Burton Island did not return to the Bering Sea until April 1954, relieving Northwind from the duty of observing ice conditions during the spring breakup and collecting ice and water samples. The ship departed Long Beach on 14 April, stopping at San Diego to embark the helo detachment and underwater demolition team before heading north to Kodiak. The ship then steamed to Nome, anchoring two miles offshore due to ice, which required sailors to walk across the ice to enjoy liberty in town. As she made her way north, Burton Island also stopped at King Island, providing dental services to the native residents and held a beer party for the crew while stopped on the ice in the Bering Strait. Burton Island reached Point Barrow in May, which was the earliest time in the year that she had been able to reach that northern outpost. On the return trip, the ship once again stopped at Nome before transiting Unimak Pass on 31 May and returning to San Diego on 7 June and completing the journey in Long Beach on the 9th.
The icebreaker had only one month between cruises to prepare the ship and her crew for the next Joint Canadian-U.S. Beaufort Sea Expedition. Burton Island’s role in the summer of 1954 would be to conduct hydrographic and oceanographic studies in the Arctic, including charting the waters and land in the Canadian Archipelago using EPI technology to greatly improve accuracy, studying ice and water movements, and correcting existing nautical charts, some of which were more than 100 years old. The icebreaker departed Long Beach on 8 July, steaming to San Diego to make final preparations for the expedition. Northwind joined her in San Diego the next day, and the two icebreakers departed in company on 12 July, sailing for the Arctic via Esquimalt and Kodiak.
While Burton Island cruised in Alaska’s Inside Passage on 20 July 1954, one of the ship’s two helicopters, UP-71, a Bell HTL-4 Sioux (BuNo. 128916), manned by Lt. Richard Walloch, Lt. Robert F. Gobar, MC, and Lt. Cmdr. R.W. Dale Jr., of Helicopter Utility Squadron (HU) 1, made a hard landing in the water after running out of fuel. None of the three passengers was hurt, but the helo sustained such damage that the crew could not repair the aircraft on board. After offloading the wrecked helicopter at Kodiak, Burton Island diverted to Nome to pick up a replacement on the 28th. With the new helo embarked, Burton Island set course for Cape Prince of Wales to begin oceanographic work.
Burton Island and Northwind headed eastward along Alaska’s arctic coast, calling at Point Barrow on 3 August. After making excellent progress through the ice and fog, the ships stopped briefly at Barter Island and then resumed their journey toward Banks Island, Northwest Territories, Canada. Burton Island and Northwind parted company on 9 August at Cape Bathurst. Northwind steamed north, traveling up the west coast of Banks Island to approach McClure Strait, considered to be the western entrance of the fabled Northwest Passage, from the west. Burton Island continued east, bound for McClure Strait and Melville Sound via Prince of Wales Strait. The next day, Burton Island reached John Russell Point, at the northern end of Prince of Wales Strait. While looking for a site to set up an EPI station there, a shore party located the remnants of a cache, including a sled and tools, left by explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson during the Canadian Arctic Expedition (1913–1916).
Burton Island crossed McClure Strait twice, from John Russell Point to Cape Dundas on Melville Island and back (12–14 August 1954). Her achievement marked the first ship to cross from south to north, and only the second to do so from north to south. Burton Island then headed northwest through “better than normal” ice conditions through ice ranging from four to ten feet in thickness to obtain a bottom profile of the middle of the previously impenetrable and thus largely uncharted McClure Strait. Although heavy ice forced the ship to return eastward on 16 August, Burton Island made the northernmost penetration of McClure Strait to date. She then transited south to north across McClure Strait for a second time (18–19 August), this time headed for Cape Providence. From there, the ship continued northeast to Dealy Island and Bridport Inlet, sailing the last remaining unnavigated portion of the Northwest Passage. On 25 August, still at Bridport Inlet, Burton Island rendezvoused with Labrador (AW.50), a newly-christened Royal Canadian Navy modified-design Wind-class icebreaker that had set sail from Halifax, Nova Scotia. The meeting represented the first time that ships departing from opposite coasts had met in the Northwest Passage. It was also the first time that a ship entering the Northwest Passage from the west had ventured that far to the east. During this cruise, Labrador would become the first deep-draft ship to navigate the entire Northwest Passage.
On 26 August 1954, Burton Island steamed toward Victoria Island, collecting oceanographic data along the way. Labrador operated about 10 miles to the east of Burton Island. The ships rendezvoused with Northwind at Richard Collinson Inlet on 29 August and continued their oceanographic work. Northwind became stuck in the ice off Peel Point, and Burton Island freed her on 1 September. On 5 September while operating in Prince of Wales Strait, problems with the feed pump reduced Burton Island’s fresh water supply to 25%, necessitating the imposition of water use restrictions on the ship. Having first tested the water for safety, the ship pumped aboard 40,000 gallons of melted puddle water from atop an ice floe to help replenish the fresh water supply. This action would be repeated again on the 9th.
As ice encroached into Prince of Wales Strait from the north, the three icebreakers continued their hydrographic and oceanographic work as they moved south and west. Burton Island and Northwind stopped at Sachs Harbor on 7 September to offload diesel fuel drums that Burton Island had recovered at Bridport Inlet. They then continued scientific work in the Beaufort Sea off western Banks Island and the northern Alaskan coast in conjunction with Labrador before heading for home. Burton Island and Northwind transited Unimak Pass on 23 September and steamed together to Esquimalt and Seattle. Burton Island departed Seattle independently on 30 September, arriving in San Diego on 4 October and finally returning home to Long Beach on 6 October. The icebreaker then entered a routine maintenance availability period.
Burton Island returned to the Bering Sea in the spring of 1955 to collect oceanographic data during the spring ice breakup. Departing San Diego on 5 April, Burton Island stopped at Kodiak (14–17 April) and Dutch Harbor (19 April) to make a scheduled turnover rendezvous with Northwind, which had been conducting observations in the Bering Sea since mid-February. Burton Island sailed from Dutch Harbor on the 20th and began her scientific work, conducting a series of oceanographic stations under the direction of the U.S. Hydrographic Office. First moving west to the IDL and then tracking northeast, the ship entered the ice pack on 26 April and continued her scientific studies. Burton Island then moored off Nome on 4 May for four days of recreation and leave.
Making her way to the northwest on 8 May, Burton Island encountered thick pack ice on the 10th that severely limited her forward progress for the next week. Additionally hampered by engine problems and a broken propeller, Burton Island could only penetrate the ice pack as far as 20 miles south of King Island. On 16 May, the ship changed course in search of more favorable ice conditions to the southeast. The spring breakup, occurring later this year than in the previous summer, finally caused the pressure on the pack to ease in late May. Burton Island took leave of the Bering Sea on the 27th, and reached San Diego on 6 June. After offloading scientific equipment and the helicopter squadron, the ship returned to Long Beach the next day and entered Long Beach Naval Shipyard for a brief overhaul period.
With only one month to prepare the ship after the previous cruise, Burton Island set off from Long Beach on 8 July 1955 for the summer’s Beaufort Sea Expedition, spending two days at Seattle and three in Kodiak en route to Point Barrow. As a participant in Project 572, government operation to construct the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line of radar installations across northern Alaska and Canada, the icebreaker’s role was to escort any of more than 100 participating ships laden with construction equipment, materials, and supplies through the arctic ice. At times she operated with TF 5’s Service Group, which also included Staten Island (AGB-5) and Northwind.
Burton Island provided tows to eight ships over the course of the operation, and several mishaps occurred. During three tows, the towline broke and had to be repaired. Early on the morning of 17 August while towing USNS Sgt. Andrew Miller (T-AK-242), Burton Island ran aground on a shoal and had to be towed herself by Northwind. At least two ships damaged Burton Island’s hull. On 27 July off Point Barrow, the Coast Guard light icebreaker Storis (W-38) gashed Burton Island’s port side near frame 88 with her starboard anchor while pulling alongide to take on fuel. Neither ship reported casualties but the collision caved in that portion of Burton Island’s hull about two inches deep and six feet long. Two days later (29 July) while leading Storis and Requisite (AGS-18) through the ice toward Barter Island, Burton Island took Requisite in tow. The ships proceeded along uneventfully until 2005 when “While breaking large floe of ice, Requisite sheared out of towing chock and came up port quarter, damaging the towing bow, and carrying away two flight deck stanchions and ripping the metal shield from starboard quarter fender.” On 24 August, cargo ship Andromeda (AKA-15) collided with Burton Island’s port quarter while under tow, tearing a wedge-shaped vertical hole, 2 1/2 feet wide and five feet long, five feet above the waterline, above the name plate near frame 182. Neither ship reported casualties. Speaking of the damage control department, the 1955 cruise book quipped, “these boys had their share of work on the summer cruise, due to the fact that certain other ships discovered that Burton Island made a very good ramming target.” Released from escort duty on 18 September, Burton Island steamed for home, arrived at Long Beach on 29 September, and then entered an overhaul period.
Rather than the customary winter or spring Bering Sea cruise, on 23 April 1956, Burton Island instead departed Long Beach and sailed to the south escorting the Belgian ship Artevelde (M.907; ex-MSO-503), arriving at Rodman Naval Station, Balboa, Panama Canal Zone, on 4 May. After four days in the Canal Zone, the icebreaker headed home for Long Beach. However, late on the 14th, Burton Island received orders to divert to Socorro Island, Mexico, to rendezvous with the fishing vessel Anthony M to pick up seven survivors and three deceased men from the fishing ship Western Explorer, which had sunk off the coast of the island during a storm. After receiving the shipwrecked passengers, Burton Island continued on to San Pedro, arriving on 18 May.
On 11 June 1956, Burton Island sailed from Long Beach to Seattle. Spending the next month docked at her new home port, the ship departed on 16 July bound for the Arctic to provide icebreaking services for the ships resupplying the remote DEW Line stations as part of Project 572 West. After stopping in Juneau, Burton Island sailed for Icy Cape but was diverted to Point Hope, touching briefly on 27 July. She then participated in Pacific Fleet operations in the vicinity of Point Barrow. A press report about the operation noted that the ice was “steel hard,” and it was a “tough trip.” On 5 August while backing off from an ice floe in a heavy ice field, Burton Island lost two blades on her port propeller. Early the following evening, Burton Island transferred a helicopter to her sister icebreaker Atka (AGB-3) and then left to return to Seattle. The ship experienced further difficulties while en route on 9 August, when there was an explosion in the No. 6 engine, which caused a lower piston to seize and a bent connecting rod. The icebreaker arrived at Seattle just before midnight on 17 August and entered dry dock at Todd Shipyard shortly thereafter. By the morning of the 19th, Burton Island was on her way back to Point Barrow, arriving the evening of 28 August. The icebreaker sailed for Seattle again almost immediately, returning on 7 September. She moved to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Wash., on 9 November for overhaul and repair, which lasted into the New Year.
Burton Island completed her overhaul period on 15 January 1957 and stopped to load ammunition at Naval Ammunition Depot Bangor, Wash., before mooring at Seattle the next day. The ship got underway again on the 21st, bound for San Diego for Fleet Training, which would last through the month of February. Departing San Diego on 1 March, Burton Island made a two-day port visit in San Francisco before arriving back in Seattle on 8 March. While returning to Seattle from individual ship exercises on 19 March, the icebreaker briefly ran aground in a mud bank. Large harbor tug YTB-537 helped her back free of the mud, and a divers’ inspection the next day found no damage to the hull. The ship continued local operations through 29 May, when she entered an availability period at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton. She returned to Seattle on 20 June and made final preparations for her next Arctic deployment.
Burton Island steamed independently from Seattle on 1 July 1957 en route to Nome to participate in the annual SUNEC/Project 572 Arctic outpost summer resupply mission. The ship reached Nome on the 9th and continued to the north the next day. On 12 July, Burton Island anchored off Point Barrow. She began her ice escort duties the next day, leading the ships of Task Unit (TU) 5.1.5 east to the vicinity of Cape Parry, Northwest Territories. Burton Island returned to Point Barrow and then for several days at the end of July operated off Point Hope, Alaska. Through the end of August, Burton Island operated between Point Barrow and Queen Maud Gulf, Northwest Territories, leading convoys safely through the pack. On 25 August, the ship got underway for Seattle from Point Barrow, completing her Arctic deployment at her home port on 3 September.
Following her post-cruise standdown period, Burton Island moved to Todd Shipyard on 1 October for dry dock and an upkeep and repair availability. Burton Island left dry dock on 13 November, and after loading ammunition at Bangor and refueling at Point Wells the next day, the ship returned to Seattle to make final preparations to for her next deployment.
Following Operation Windmill, during which Burton Island and Edisto had explored the Antarctic coastline during the 1947-48 season, the Navy did not return to the remote continent until 1954, when Atka was sent to scout out potential locations for landing bases. On 18 November 1957, Burton Island stood out from Seattle to finally make her return to Antarctica as a participant in Operation Deep Freeze III. After stops in Long Beach and San Diego, the icebreaker steamed for New Zealand on 23 November. The ship spent 14–19 December in Port Lyttelton and then made her way to the frozen hinterland in company with the gasoline tanker Nespelen (AOG-55) and the cargo ship Pvt. John R. Towle (T-AK-240). The convoy arrived off Beaufort Island in the Ross Sea on 27 December.
As 1958 commenced, Burton Island was clearing ice in McMurdo Sound in company with Atka. Through mid-January, Burton Island continued operations in the area, escorting ships through the ice as far north as Cape Hallett and occasionally serving as flagship for both Commander TG 43.4, Capt. Gerald L. Ketchum, as well as Rear Adm. George J. Dufek, Commander TF 43. On 18 January, Burton Island stood out from McMurdo Station to rendezvous with the attack cargo ship Arneb (AKA-56) to guide her through the ice fields to Wilkes Station on the Wilkes Land coast of the Indian Ocean. With Arneb as well as Atka following behind, Burton Island made her way through heavy ice to Newcomb Bay off Clark Island on the 25th.
Leaving Atka and Arneb at Wilkes Station, Burton Island steamed independently on 26 January with Capt. Ketchum embarked for McDonald Bay along the Wilhelm II Coast, site of the Russian International Geophysical Year (IGY) polar station Mirny. Arriving on the 29th, the icebreaker’s helicopters shuttled people to and from the base, where, according to contemporary press accounts, the Soviets greeted the Americans warmly, offering a vodka toast to friendship between the people of their countries. While ashore, the Americans helped the Soviet scientists launch a weather balloon and enjoyed Russian food and a movie with their hosts. Burton Island then reciprocated the hospitality, entertaining 100 Russians on board with an American dinner and movie and offering them gifts of American magazines, “particularly those with photographs of beautiful girls.” After spending 16 hours in cultural exchange with the Russians, which Ketchum hoped would foster “continued cooperation and friendship,” Burton Island took leave of Mirny to return to Wilkes Station.
On 1 February 1958, Burton Island once again rendezvoused with Atka and Arneb to escort them through the ice, but later that day, Ketchum shifted his flag to Arneb and Burton Island detached from the other ships to rendezvous with the Japanese expedition ship Soya Maru, which had been beset in the ice in Lutzow-Holm Bay for three weeks. When the icebreaker arrived on the scene on 7 February, she found that the Japanese ship had broken free from the ice the previous day. For the next two days, Burton Island and Soya Maru made slow progress through the thick pack toward the Japanese IGY research station Syowa, located on Ongul Island. As the ships were moored to the ice shelf and became beset in the ice, the Japanese ship’s crew transported three tons of supplies to the base by snow-cruiser and plane, evacuated the previous year’s over-winter party, and brought three men from the relief team to Syowa (9–14 February). When weather and ice conditions deteriorated on 14 February, the relief crewmen returned to Soya Maru, leaving behind 15 sled dogs in the belief that the relief team would return to the base within a few days. Burton Island broke free from the ice on the 15th using explosive charges, and the two ships spent the next ten days alternately steaming and lying to off the Prince Olav Coast waiting for the weather to improve. On 24 February, the Japanese expedition leader elected to abandon the mission to re-man the Syowa station, and Soya Maru sailed for Tokyo, leaving their sled dogs to fend for themselves at the base. Miraculously, when Syowa was reoccupied in early 1959, expedition members discovered that two of the dogs had survived in Antarctica for 11 months on their own.
With the departure of Soya Maru, Burton Island continued steaming westward while she awaited orders from the task force commander. On 26 February, the icebreaker set course for Valparaiso, Chile, arriving on 10 March for a two day visit. The ship made an additional stop at Callao, Peru, and briefly conducted some oceanographic work while en route before heading home. Burton Island returned to the United States on 28 March, mooring at San Diego for three days before finally concluding her lengthy journey at Pier 91, Naval Supply Depot, Seattle on 4 April.
Burton Island headed into an overhaul availability period at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, commencing on 21 April 1958. Following overhaul, Burton Island departed Seattle for another Arctic cruise. The icebreaker spent the week of 1–8 July 1958 at Kodiak, then continued north, reaching Cape Lisburne on the 14th. She operated in the Arctic through mid-September and then touched briefly again at Kodiak on 16 September before returning to Seattle on the 20th, though did not participate in her usual MSTS resupply voyages. Burton Island made one more quick cruise during 1958, departing at the end of October to pick up ex-Makassar Strait (CVU-91) to tow the former utility aircraft carrier to Long Beach for use as a target. The icebreaker delivered her charge on 9 November and the next day headed north again. After a two-day stop at Naval Air Station (NAS) Alameda, Burton Island steamed for the Special Operations Area in the vicinity of Vargas Island, B.C., Canada. The ship participated in helicopter cargo transport operations at Destruction Island, Wash., on the 18th and returned to Seattle on 22 November. From mid-December until 11 January 1959, Burton Island had an upkeep and repair availability period.
On 21 January 1959, Burton Island steamed for San Diego for training and exercises with the Fleet Training Group, returning to her home port on 24 February. Setting a southerly course again on 3 April, the icebreaker touched at San Diego on the 7th en route to Balboa, Panama Canal Zone, for temporary assignment with the Atlantic Fleet. Following a two-day stop at Naval Station Rodman, Burton Island passed through the Panama Canal on 18–19 April and arrived at Boston, Mass., on the 25th.
After two weeks of preparation, Burton Island departed Boston on 7 May 1959 for her first East Coast arctic deployment. For her initial assignment, she would lead the gas tanker USNS Alatna (T-AOG-81) through the ice into Sondrestrom Fjord, Greenland. Entering the fjord on the morning of 15 May, Burton Island rammed her way through 35 miles of fast ice three to four feet thick over the next three days to escort Alatna to Camp Lloyd. Exiting the fjord with comparative ease after Alatna discharged her load of fuel, Burton Island called at the Danish naval base at Gronnedal, Greenland, on 21 May and then proceeded to Itivdlek Fjord for ice escort duty. Finding no ice at Itivdlek, however, the icebreaker returned to Sondrestrom Fjord on 25 May. While she awaited the arrival of incoming supply ships, Burton Island’s diving team made several unsuccessful attempts to recover a diesel fuel line that had been lost over the winter.
Burton Island resumed escort duty at Sondrestrom and Itivdlek Fjords (31 May–9 June). The ship then steamed to St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, and then moving north conducted beach survey operations near USAF facilities along the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador (15–30 June) with a brief diversion to escort the store ship USNS Bondia (T-AF-42) to Goose Bay, Labrador (21–26 June). Upon completion of the survey work, Burton Island repositioned to undertake escort duty for Thule, Greenland, during the first part of July. She then returned to Resolution Island, Northwest Territories, on 14 July to conduct a beach survey that could not be completed earlier due to the prevailing ice conditions. The quickly-finished survey marked the end of Burton Island’s summer arctic mission, and the icebreaker began the journey back to the Pacific that same day. Stopping en route at Brooklyn, N.Y. (22–27 July), Balboa (2–4 August), and San Diego (14–20 August), the ship unloaded ammunition at Bangor on 24 August and stood in to Seattle later that day. On 1 September, Burton Island arrived at Bremerton for overhaul, which included more than three weeks in dry dock. She spent the rest of the year preparing for her upcoming deployment to Antarctica.
While many Navy men sought duty on icebreakers for the adventure of working in places that very few people could claim to have visited, service aboard these ships was not without its hardships. Icebreakers typically deployed twice per year for two to four months at a time. Particularly on the Antarctic voyages, their assignments took crews to remote areas, far removed from family and the basic comforts of home. When operating in the polar regions, the men experienced brutally cold temperatures and harsh storms. Icebreaking could be jarring when the ship rammed into thick ice or dangerous when explosives were used to break up particularly difficult masses, and the distinctive rounded hull that made the ships so effective at crushing ice meant that they rolled terribly in even relatively calm seas. Seasickness plagued those unaccustomed to the rolling motion, and shipboard accidents that could be attributed to the icebreaker’s movement were not uncommon. Service on an icebreaker was thus not universally desired. Very early on 3 January 1960, the eve of Burton Island’s departure for Deep Freeze 60, one of the ship’s sailors went to the extreme to avoid going to Antarctica. In what was described as “an attempt on his own life,” AGAN Jackie M. Hunter took a razor blade and slit his wrist three times. Although the wounds proved superficial and were treated by the icebreaker’s medical officer, the sailor was transferred to the Naval Hospital at Bremerton and did not make the voyage.
Burton Island sailed for Antarctica on 4 January 1960. After stopping at NAS North Island in San Diego to embark HU-1 Unit 16, the icebreaker steamed south for Valparaiso. After enjoying three liberty days in the Chilean port, Burton Island stood out on the 28th and began taking oceanographic stations that day. The ship would continue doing oceanographic work as she continued south for a scheduled 10 February rendezvous with the icebreaker Glacier (AGB-4) approximately 350 miles north of Thurston Peninsula. However, Glacier had been forced to sail to New Zealand for repairs to a damaged propeller so the rendezvous was postponed. In the meantime, “heavy seas, reduced visibility and winds above 30 knots” beginning on 4 February caused Burton Island to change course and discontinue her oceanographic work until the 7th. Burton Island arrived at Peter I Island on 13 February and moved west along the edge of the pack ice.
The delayed rendezvous with Glacier took place on 15 February, and together the icebreakers maneuvered through the ice toward Cape Flying Fish at the western tip of Thurston Peninsula. Glacier and Burton Island reached land that afternoon, becoming the first surface ships to reach the Antarctic coast of Bellingshausen Sea. Burton Island’s crew later received a Navy Unit Commendation for this achievement. From there, the ships moved eastward toward Eights Coast, mapping the coastline, taking depth readings, and conducting oceanographic stations along the way. Heavy fast ice became a problem for the icebreakers beginning on the afternoon of the 18th. The ships lay to for several days as their helos searched for leads through the ice. Scientific work also continued ashore on Thurston Peninsula, which they discovered was actually an island. On the 23rd, Glacier and Burton Island were able to make their way through the ice heading west. The mission was to continue into the Amundsen Sea, but on 24 February, Glacier received orders to divert to assist an Argentine ship stuck in the ice off Adelaide Island. Burton Island transferred fuel to Glacier and then followed her bigger sister through heavy ice, finally parting company on 27 February.
Now operating independently, Burton Island sailed back to Peter I Island to continue collecting scientific data. On 29 February 1960, the ship’s helicopters landed on the island, which was thought to be the first landings of any kind on Peter I. The icebreaker also put men ashore via a vehicle and personnel landing craft (LCVP), but that operation did not go as smoothly as planned. According to a New York Times correspondent reporting from Burton Island, “Disaster was barely averted when a landing craft from this icebreaker was thrown against some rocks and nearly capsized after having reached shore. Eight men who scrambled from the craft were later picked up, wet and cold, by one of the ship’s helicopters.” Fortunately no one was injured in the incident, and the LCVP was recovered the next morning. Scientists embarked upon Burton Island spent the night on the island and set up an automatic weather transmitter as well as an astronomical station. The helos took aerial photos of Peter I, its position was accurately determined using theodolite observations, and the ship took 300 miles of detailed soundings around the island.
Completing her work at Peter I Island on the evening of 29 February, Burton Island next headed north, continuing her oceanographic work en route. The ship arrived at Talcahuano, Chile, on 12 March and embarked a new scientific crew for the next phase of their deployment. Burton Island departed from Talcahuano on 15 March and immediately commenced oceanographic stations for Project Chiper, a joint endeavor of the United States, Chile, and Peru to collect oceanographic data along the Peru Current off the western coast of South America.
On 27 March, Burton Island put in to Arica, Chile, near the border with Peru, to disembark the Chilean Project Chiper representatives and bring aboard the Peruvian scientific team. The day turned out to be rather eventful. First, Burton Island’s EN3 C.A. Hester plunged into the water when he fell from a Jacob’s ladder strung between the fantail and a gig below. The man was rescued swiftly and was not injured. Late that evening, FN Rodney M. Ehrlich was brought on board by the shore patrol and placed in protective custody, having been charged with assault with a deadly weapon. One hour later, the ship’s medical officer accompanied on board SN James A. Warner, who had been knifed in the stomach while on liberty. This sailor underwent an exploratory laparotomy under spinal anesthesia to locate and repair his internal injuries. The deck log notes that “The patient tolerated the procedure well and left the operating room table in good condition.” Warner recovered while on the sick list, and Ehrlich subsequently served time in brigs at Treasure Island and Bremerton.
Burton Island got underway again on the 29th without further incident. As the icebreaker made her way northwest moving up the coast of Peru, the Project Chiper scientists continued to run oceanographic stations. From 4–10 April, the ship made a week-long port call at Callao, Peru, near the capital city, Lima. While underway for Balboa, Panama, on the 14th, the Peruvian representatives to Project Chiper disembarked the ship via helicopter, and the 69th and final oceanographic station of the project was completed the next day.
The bulk of her mission completed, Burton Island still had a lengthy trip ahead of her to return home. She stopped for two days at Balboa, departing on 20 April with Markab (AD-21) in tow. The icebreaker transported the former destroyer tender to San Francisco, where she soon would be converted to a repair ship at Mare Island and recommissioned for the second time. Burton Island then called at Astoria, Ore., departing on 14 May with ex-Warrick (AKA-89) in tow. On 16 May, the icebreaker transferred the former cargo ship to three tug boats in Puget Sound for tow into Bremerton, and Burton Island put in to Pier 91 in Seattle, concluding her long voyage to the Antarctic.
After an extensive overhaul at Puget Sound Bridge & Drydock Co. in Seattle during the month of June, Burton Island departed en route to Kodiak on 18 July 1960 for her next summer arctic deployment. Transiting the Strait of Juan de Fuca late that evening, the icebreaker had to reduce speed and actively dodge a large conglomeration of fishing vessels that were not operating according to international or inland rules of the road for maneuvering or lighting. Having had at least two near-misses already, the officers on the bridge found it necessary just after midnight to slow to five knots and to shine the searchlight on a fishing boat that was shining its light at Burton Island’s bridge, making it impossible for the officers of the watch to see. Shortly thereafter, the ship reached the open Pacific and left the fishing boats behind. The remainder of the transit to Kodiak and on to Point Barrow was uneventful and was hampered by little more than frequent poor visibility in the Bering Sea.
Burton Island reached Point Barrow on 31 July and prepared for the first phase of her arctic operations. After embarking various scientists and two Air Force men, the icebreaker set course for the floating ice island T-3 (also known as Fletcher’s Ice Island) on 2 August. Making her way through heavy pack ice, on 5 August the ship finally arrived at T-3, which at this time was located roughly 75 miles west of Point Barrow. Laying to at the iceberg overnight, Burton Island’s scientists completed an oceanographic station the following morning and the ship then departed to conduct an oceanographic survey in the Chukchi Sea. Burton Island made slow progress as both visibility and ice conditions hindered efforts to break through the ice. By 9 August, the ship had returned to anchor off Point Barrow.
On 12 August, Burton Island got underway heading east to assist the merchant tug Mohawk through the ice well to the east of Prudhoe Bay. Although the icebreaker reached the tug on the 14th, Burton Island placed her No. 2 engine out of commission for four days for repairs. The icebreaker temporarily detached from Mohawk and traveled further eastward as the embarked scientists ran more oceanographic stations. Returning to Mohawk on 22 August, Burton Island began what would become a six-day battle against what a contemporary press report characterized as “the worst ice conditions in five years” to reach Point Barrow. Once again moving very slowly through heavy ice and now with Mohawk in tow, Burton Island stopped to repair the tow line and then again to fix the engines. In the meantime, heavy ice around Mohawk’s rudder caused a steering casualty that had to be repaired. As the ships inched along in low visibility, the towing equipment required repair several times and the icebreaker cast off Mohawk for a time on the 24th. The following day, Burton Island resorted to using explosives to blast the ice from their path. In setting off three four-pound charges, the demolition team succeeded only in blowing out the windows in the captain’s gig. The subsequent explosion of three 50-pound charges still failed to provide Burton Island with enough leverage to ram through the ice, particularly with Mohawk close astern and once again under tow, which did not leave the icebreaker much room to back up and run up onto the ice. After getting underway again on the 26th, there was a fire in Burton Island’s stack and in the No. 2 engine room, causing one injury. It continued to be very slow going for the icebreaker until the afternoon of the 27th, when the ships finally reached a stretch of open water. Burton Island finally anchored at Point Barrow in the early morning hours of 28 August.
The next phase of the operation began on 1 September 1960, when Burton Island began loading supplies for the Arctic Research Laboratory Ice Station One (ARLIS-1), which was to be established as the United States’ next semi-permanent floating arctic scientific station. On the 3rd, seven scientists and two construction workers on the ARLIS team embarked the ship, and late that day, Burton Island set off for the iceberg. Conducting meteorological and oceanographic work while en route and stopping first at Barter Island to embark the director of the ARLIS project, the ship reached the ice floe located approximately 420 miles northeast of Point Barrow on the night of 10 September. Within a half hour of their arrival, the crew set to work offloading cargo and supplies. Less than 48 hours later, according to a New York Times report, “the station’s ten buildings had been completed and equipped with electric light and water and oil heaters to make the interiors comfortable. Food and equipment had been stored, machinery and radios were in operation and even the bunks had been made up.” The seven ARLIS scientists disembarked to settle in to their new floating home, the American flag was raised at the site, and custody of the island was transferred to the Arctic Research Lab. Burton Island then set off to begin maneuvering back through 180 miles of pack ice to return to Point Barrow.
Burton Island began conducting more oceanographic stations on 17 September while making her way to Point Barrow. On the morning of the 19th, the ice anchor windlass room and paint locker flooded with four feet of salt water. After pumping the compartment, the ship resumed her course and arrived off Point Barrow late the following day. The icebreaker sailed again on the 22nd to conduct additional oceanographic work. On 25 September, Burton Island was sent to Colville River to escort the civilian tugs Windquatt and Peyaka through the ice. The icebreaker led her charges to Point Barrow on the 28th and departed independently to conduct further oceanographic studies during the trip home. Passing through Unimak Pass on 5 October, Burton Island took leave of the Bering Sea, and after once again dodging the fishing fleet in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the icebreaker arrived at Pier 91 in Seattle on 13 October.The ship steamed to San Diego (November–December 1960), completed an overhaul in dry dock and pierside at Bremerton (January–March 1961), and the following month returned to San Diego.
Burton Island did not deploy again until the summer of 1961, when she returned to the Arctic as a participant in Project 572 West. Her mission during this cruise would be to collect oceanographic data, provide ice escort for shipping in the operational area, and to resupply the newest floating ice station, ARLIS II. Steaming from Seattle on 5 July 1961, Burton Island stopped at Kodiak for additional equipment and supplies before heading to Point Barrow. She completed her first hydrographic survey between St. Lawrence Island and the Bering Strait (15–16 July), covering 511.2 miles in 36 hours. The ship encountered light to moderate ice from Icy Cape to Point Barrow, where she arrived on the 18th.
As reconnaissance flights indicated favorable ice conditions and the DEW Line resupply ships had not yet reached the operating area to require the ship’s icebreaking services, Burton Island would next make the resupply trip to ARLIS II, but incurred a five day delay while loading supplies, during which Dr. Wernher von Braun and a group of scientists briefly boarded the ship and observed her breaking ice. Burton Island set course for the large ice floe early on the morning of 24 July. Although it was easy going for the icebreaker at first, by the afternoon she was surrounded by heavy ice that jammed her rudder, requiring the use of explosives to clear the obstruction. Burton Island made slow progress through thick, consolidating ice until the 27th, when “waves of fog” completely obscured visibility. By the time the fog lifted later in the day, the ice had “thoroughly consolidated and [was] under heavy pressure.” Under normal circumstances, an icebreaker would simply wait for a change of conditions that would naturally loosen the ice and make it easier for the ship to maneuver, but Burton Island was scheduled for the upcoming Deep Freeze 62 mission with only a one month turnaround between the arctic and Antarctic deployments and she had much yet to accomplish on the current cruise. “With only 50 miles made good in 6 days and faced with a round trip of 300 miles it was not deemed prudent to continue further.” On 29 July, the icebreaker turned around to make her way out of the ice back to Point Barrow, abandoning the ARLIS II resupply mission.
The return trip also proved difficult for Burton Island, however, and just one day later on 30 July, the icebreaker sustained severe damage to her left rudder while ramming through heavy ice. Unable to continue until a damage assessment had been made, on the 31st it was determined that the rudder was stuck at a 10° left angle, which would make it more difficult for the ship to break through heavy ice. However, the ice now began to break and form leads, allowing Burton Island to reach Point Barrow on 2 August. The crew immediately commenced unloading ARLIS supplies and worked to bring the rudder amidships, “the damage being too extensive to attempt to do anything more.”
On the evening of 5 August 1961, FA James E. Karbe was discovered dead in a gasoline pumping station on board. The apparent victim of asphyxiation, Karbe had entered the area alone and became overwhelmed by the fumes from a gas leak. Repair work continued on the ship, and on 9 August Burton Island departed Point Barrow and spent the next week conducting the two additional hydrographic surveys planned for this voyage. Back at Point Barrow, Staten Island arrived on the 17th to relieve her sister icebreaker and complete the resupply mission to ARLIS II. That evening, Burton Island sailed for Seattle, escorted by the fleet ocean tug Ute (ATF-76).
Following a month of repair work and resupply, Burton Island stood out from Seattle on 29 September 1961 en route to Antarctica for Deep Freeze 62. After making a brief stop at San Diego (2–3 October) and a more leisurely visit at Pearl Harbor (10–23 October), the ship arrived at Port Lyttelton on 7 November. Two days later, the icebreaker sailed to rendezvous with TG 43.1 near Scott Island, “the gateway to the Antarctic.” The task group, which also included the Coast Guard icebreaker Eastwind and the MSTS-manned gasoline tanker USNS Chattahoochee (T-AOG-82) and cargo ship Mizar (AK-272), formed a column behind Glacier on the 14th and steamed more than 700 miles south through a combination of old and new ice toward McMurdo Station. The ships made excellent progress and on 19 November finally reached fast bay ice just 22 miles short of their destination.
On 28 November, the icebreakers had created a channel through the ice to within five miles of McMurdo Station. Chattahoochee and Mizar moored to the ice and began to offload their much-needed supplies while the icebreakers continued to break and clear the channel. A press report based on a report from Burton Island stated that this was the earliest point in the season at which a surface ship had arrived at the Antarctic coast, smashing the previous record by a month. On 13 December, Atka and Eastwind arrived escorting cargo ship Arneb, which carried a nuclear power plant to McMurdo. Atka and Burton Island then set to work cutting a channel to Hut Point to provide a better site at which to offload tankers. Burton Island escorted Chattahoochee to the Hut Point site on 26 December and maintained the channels while Chattahoochee unloaded fuel to shore.
As 1962 began, Burton Island continued with her routine icebreaker duties in the vicinity of McMurdo Station. On 10 January, the ship received orders to proceed north to the area near Hallett Station to assist Eastwind, which had sustained a hole in her port side that flooded a compartment while breaking through ice four to seven feet thick in Moubray Bay. Burton Island continued breaking the channel to Hallett Station while Eastwind completed temporary repairs, and together the two icebreakers broke the ice to within 500 yards of the station on 13 January. The following day, Eastwind sailed for Wellington for repairs while Burton Island went back to McMurdo. Burton Island returned to Hallett on the 22nd, escorting Arneb from McMurdo to complete the annual resupply of the station. On the 26th, the icebreaker led Arneb back through the ice outside of Moubray Bay and then parted company with the cargo ship, with Arneb leaving for New Zealand to pick up another load and Burton Island returning to McMurdo.
In late January, Burton Island finally was able to focus upon the scientific aspect of her Antarctic mission. From 27 January through 5 February, the ship performed oceanographic work in the Ross Sea. The icebreaker was then recalled to McMurdo when the bay ice there began to break up three weeks earlier than it had the year before. With the arrival of Glacier on 9 February, Burton Island set off for Commonwealth Bay, nearly 800 miles west of Hallett Station. During the week beginning on 14 February, the embarked scientists conducted dip pole and Very Low Frequency (VLF) studies, making observations of terrestrial magnetism. They also conducted plankton tows, made sea and ice condition observations, and performed a bottom survey of Commonwealth Bay. On the afternoon of 22 February, Burton Island set a northerly course en route to Port Lyttelton to begin the lengthy voyage back to the United States. During the trip to New Zealand, the icebreaker conducted an oceanographic survey of MacQuarie Ridge. After stopping at Port Lyttelton (1–3 March), Burton Island made additional port visits at Sydney, Australia (8–12 March) and Pearl Harbor (26–31 March) before finally completing the cruise at home in Seattle on 7 April. The ship entered an overhaul availability period, including dry dock at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton (17 April–19 May), and made preparations for her summer Arctic cruise.
Getting underway on 16 July 1962, Burton Island conducted a sound surveillance system evaluation exercise the following day en route to Kodiak. The ship anchored at Point Barrow on the 27th and departed on the 30th to rendezvous with TU 57.7.1, consisting of the submarines Skate (SSN-578) and Seadragon (SSN-584). The ships would evaluate sonar and weapons systems in arctic ice conditions. While Burton Island waited at the edge of the ice pack, the submarines rendezvoused under the ice on 31 July and traveled in company to the North Pole, where they arrived on 2 August. The submarines rendezvoused with Burton Island on the 6th, and the ships lay to for several days awaiting favorable ice conditions in which to conduct exercises. While the icebreaker maintained her position, Skate and Seadragon left Burton Island on the 10th for the exercise. Very early on 13 August, the two submarines resurfaced near the icebreaker, and the ships parted company the next afternoon.
Burton Island next stopped briefly off Barter Island on the 16th and returned to Point Barrow late the next evening. On 19 August, she got underway to assist civilian tugboat Agnes Foss, which was beset in the ice with a barge in tow 30 miles northeast of Stockton Island. The icebreaker arrived on the scene on the 20th, and Burton Island took the barge in tow and safely escorted Agnes Foss to Barter Island. For the next several days, the icebreaker operated to the west between Point Hope and Point Barrow, launching a weather balloon on the 26th. The following day, Burton Island steamed for the northwest Chukchi Sea to conduct an oceanographic survey. The ship returned to Point Barrow on the 6th, and after recalibrating her EPI off Cape Lisburne, Burton Island stood down the channel on 8 September to conduct additional survey work.
Conditions were such that Burton Island was able to penetrate the ice pack further than anticipated, and as such, the icebreaker continued crushing her way north, reaching Fletcher’s Ice Island (T-3) on 11 September 1962. At that time, the floating ice station was located at 79°11'N, which was 450 miles north of Point Barrow and 600 miles south of the North Pole. Burton Island smashed her previous record for the northernmost penetration of the arctic ice pack and was able to resupply T-3. After spending the night hove to on the ice, Burton Island left T-3 and headed for her survey area in the northern Chukchi Sea. Late on the 12th, the ship became stuck in the ice, but the explosion of five 4.5 pound charges of C-3 the next morning allowed Burton Island to break free. Later that day, the ship sent a party onto the ice to conduct explosive hydrographic work during which they tested two separate 50 pound blocks of TNT, performed a bathymetric survey, and collected bottom samples.
On 18 September 1962, Burton Island began a special assignment conducting an oceanographic survey off the northern coast of Siberia near Wrangel Island. Beginning on the 19th, the icebreaker maintained her station in international waters beyond the Soviet 12-mile territorial limit off Cape Billingsa, Siberia. Burton Island began moving south-southeast along the Siberian coast toward the Bering Strait on 23 September, and on the 25th and 26th she spent some time searching for an unidentified sunken wreck. Burton Island arrived off Cape Lisburne on the 27th and from there she began the voyage south to head for home. Stopping at Point Hope, Dutch Harbor, and Kodiak on the return trip, Burton Island arrived back at Seattle on 12 October only to get underway again the same day “due to heavy seas and gale winds.” She finally returned to port on the 13th.
Burton Island did not make a winter or spring deployment in the 1962–1963 season, instead engaging in extensive training and ship’s work. In November 1962, the icebreaker sailed to San Diego for training, and she spent December and January in Seattle conducting individual ship exercises. On 18 February 1963 the ship moved to Puget Sound Bridge & Drydock for two months of overhaul and repair, which included the installation of a new flight deck and repair of a bent propeller shaft. Burton Island returned to San Diego in May 1963 for three weeks of battle training and then operated locally from Seattle continuing training through mid-July. The ship then entered Lake Union Drydock Co. on 22 July to have her five-inch gun mount removed on 13 August. The icebreaker rounded out the summer participating in Seattle Seafair and the annual regatta in Astoria, Ore., and prepared for her next trip to Antarctica for Deep Freeze 64.
On 23 September 1963, Burton Island sailed from Seattle, beginning the lengthy journey to the bottom of the world. On her way south, the ship called at San Diego (27–30 September), Pearl Harbor (8–11 October), Papeete, Tahiti (19–23 October), and Port Lyttelton (2–7 November). From New Zealand, the ice breaker set course for McMurdo Station, entering the ice pack on 13 November. Burton Island rendezvoused with Glacier north of Franklin Island on the 17th and the next day, Atka joined them as well. On 20 November, the three icebreakers began carving the shipping channel to McMurdo. Atka lost her port propeller and shaft on 30 November which left her unable to continue with icebreaking duties. On 3 December, she transferred 119,000 gallons of diesel destined for Hallett Station to Burton Island and got underway to New Zealand for repairs. Burton Island delivered the fuel to Hallett (18–20 December) and then returned to McMurdo.
Burton Island took ships under tow 14 times while continuing her ice breaking and escort duties at McMurdo and Hallett Stations during the first two months of 1964. On 6 January, she refueled with Glacier and spent the next two days transporting 40 cargo-handlers from McMurdo to Hallett to assist with the annual amphibious resupply by Wyandot (T-AKA-92). “In a recent survey,” the staff of the ship’s cruise book noted wryly, “it was shown that 9 out of 10 penguins preferred Burton Island over any other icebreaker.” From Hallett, Burton Island continued north to return to New Zealand. She spent the week of 14–20 January at Wellington for mid-season maintenance, and after touching briefly at Port Lyttelton on the 21st, she made her way back to the frozen continent. On 26 January, the icebreaker recovered an automatic weather station from Scott Island and then spent the next two days making a second replenishment of fuel and supplies at Hallett Station. Burton Island arrived back at McMurdo on 30 January.
On 4 February, the fairing plug on the outboard end of Burton Island’s unused forward propeller tube shattered as the ship cleared ice in Winter Quarters Bay, causing flooding in the forward shaft alley. The ship’s crew was able to repair the damage, and Burton Island continued with operations. She returned to Hallett Station on 8 February and working with the repaired Atka assisted with Wyandot’s ship-to-shore resupply operation. Severe pack ice and adverse weather conditions in Moubray Bay hampered the resupply effort, however, and with only ten boatloads of cargo ashore after three days, the operation was temporarily suspended on the 11th. Burton Island and Wyandot went to McMurdo and returned to Hallett on the 15th. The ships completed the resupply mission on the 17th, and Burton Island returned to McMurdo, where she remained for the rest of the month. On 28 February, Burton Island transferred fuel to Atka, pointed her bow north, and steamed for New Zealand. Along the way, one of the ship’s helicopters retrieved the automatic weather station that had been placed at Scott Island earlier in the voyage. She called at Port Lyttelton (6–8 March), followed by a week at Auckland (10–16 March). She then proceeded to San Diego for one week of Operational Readiness Inspection and finally arrived back at Pier 91 in Seattle on 15 April 1964.
One week later, Burton Island entered Puget Sound Bridge & Drydock Co. for overhaul and to repair the damage sustained during Antarctic operations. She completed her availability period on 31 May and prepared for her summer cruise, which was to be a special mission to sail to Norway via the Arctic. Departing Seattle on 1 July, the icebreaker called at Kodiak and then continued north through the Bering Sea to the Arctic. After steaming through the Bering Strait on 13 July, Burton Island headed northwest, repeatedly harassed by Soviet aircraft and vessels. Embarked scientists completed oceanographic and hydrographic surveys as Burton Island traveled along the Siberian coast. Burton Island’s quest to reach Europe ended in the East Siberian Sea when an ice hummock rolled against the ship’s stern and broke her rudder. Although the ship could still maneuver by varying the thrust of her engines, to be safe, it was decided to make the 3,600-mile return trip to Seattle to have the rudder repaired. The icebreaker arrived at Todd Shipyard in Seattle on 3 August, and workers replaced the ship’s rudder and port shaft. Burton Island left dry dock on the 14th, and the next day she departed Seattle to resume arctic operations. Re-entering the Chukchi Sea on 28 August, Burton Island continued her oceanographic program and conducted ice reconnaissance for the duration of the cruise, arriving back at Seattle on 11 October.
Burton Island made a ten-day trip to San Francisco in December but otherwise remained in Seattle for the next several months. On 3 February 1965, the icebreaker stood out and was underway for Alameda, arriving on the 6th. She underwent a Board of Inspection and Survey inspection (11–12 February). Burton Island tied up to Markab (AR-23) for a one-week availability upon the arrival of the repair ship at Alameda on the 18th. The icebreaker then departed for Seattle on 27 February, arriving late on 1 March. After offloading her ammunition at Bangor on 12 March, Burton Island arrived at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton and entered dry dock there on the 19th for an extensive overhaul. Burton Island experienced what her logkeeper recorded as a “slight earth tremor, causing severe vibration of ship,” at 0829 on 29 April. The crew temporarily evacuated ship -- except for security watches -- in anticipation of additional tremors, but at 0841 “remanned the ship and continued normal routine.” The Fort Lawton Army Hospital duty officer reported to the ship during the mid watch on 1 May, that RD3 Charles W. Bloomfield, QM3 R.C. deVally, AG3 T.E. Waller, and SN G.D. Fuller were involved in an automobile accident. Bloomfield died, deVally and Waller both suffered several broken bones and were admitted to a hospital in Seattle, and Fuller was briefly treated and released.
On 7 May, the ship exited the dry dock but remained at the shipyard until 11 June to continue overhaul work. Burton Island’s annual review notes that “a very different looking ship left the yard than the one which entered three months before. The small canvas hanger had been replaced by a huge permanent metal one. An aloft conning station had been installed 25 feet above the pilot house. The flight deck had been greatly expanded, and many other less drastic changes made.” On 21 June, the refreshed icebreaker steamed for U.S. Naval Station, San Diego for three weeks of underway training exercises. She arrived back at Seattle on 21 July and made preparations for her upcoming Antarctic deployment, including another trip to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton (9–26 August).
The icebreaker began her journey to Antarctica for Operation Deep Freeze 66 on 27 September 1965, when Burton Island stood out from Seattle en route to San Diego. The ship called at NAS North Island (1–4 October) to embark two helicopters and a detachment from Helicopter Combat Support Squadron (HC) 1, and then continued the lengthy voyage to the southernmost latitudes with intermediate stops at Pearl Harbor (12–15 October); Sydney, Australia (1–4 November); and Port Lyttelton, New Zealand (9–15 November). A man fell overboard while the ship lowered an LCVP into the water on 20 October but his shipmates rescued him. The following day (1000–1209 on 21 October) King Neptune and his court boarded Burton Island as she crossed the equator. On 19 November, Burton Island encountered her first iceberg of the journey, and she entered the extensive ice field separating her from McMurdo Sound the following day. She met up with Glacier in the pack on 22 November, and together the two icebreakers, joined briefly by a third icebreaker, Atka (2–4 December), carved a channel to McMurdo Station.
Burton Island spent most of the rest of December operating in Winter Quarters Bay and McMurdo Sound, keeping the channels free of ice and providing escort and towing service to supply ships including MSTS-manned gasoline tanker Alatna (T-AOG-81) and Pvt. John R. Towle (T-AK-240), as well as her former companion John Biscoe, renamed and operated as Canadian sealer Arctic Endeavour. On the 29th, Burton Island joined forces with Glacier and Atka to clear an enormous iceberg from the channel to McMurdo Station. A contemporary press report described the iceberg as “100 feet long, 200 yards wide and an estimated 300 feet below the waterline as well as 70 feet above it.”
On 30 December, Burton Island embarked upon a scientific survey along the coast of Victoria Land. The icebreaker backtracked to Hallett Station on 2 January to assist with resupply operations there. On the 5th, the ship steamed around the Possession Islands and over the next two days continued north up the Adare Peninsula and west to Robertson Bay, where she spent several days before returning to Hallett Station on the 11th. Burton Island operated in the vicinity of McMurdo Station (13–22 January), when the icebreaker sailed for New Zealand after stopping briefly at Hallett Station. The crew enjoyed some rest and recreation in Port Lyttelton (29–31 January) and Wellington (1–7 February), and then Burton Island set course for the United States, disembarking the helo detachment at San Diego on 28 February and returning home to Seattle on 5 March.
Following the Antarctic cruise, Burton Island called at Tacoma, Wash. (1–4 April), for the 1966 Daffodil Festival, but otherwise remained in port in Seattle. On 21 April, the ship entered the Lake Union Shipyard in Seattle for overhaul and repairs, which were completed on 27 June. After making another visit to Tacoma for Independence Day celebrations (1–5 July), Burton Island made final preparations for her next Arctic cruise, which would be her final deployment as a U.S. Navy ship.
Sailing from Seattle on 20 July 1966, Burton Island entered the Bering Sea via Unimak Pass on the 26th. Traversing through fog frequently through the end of the month, the icebreaker anchored briefly off Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska, on the 29th before steaming northwest for the Chukchi Sea. Burton Island rendezvoused with Northwind on 30 July and then commenced operations off the coast of Siberia. For the next four weeks, the ship conducted surveillance of Soviet shipping in Long Strait to the south-southeast of Wrangel Island. After another rendezvous with Northwind on 26 August, Burton Island continued to monitor maritime traffic as she cruised east to Point Barrow for the second phase of her arctic deployment.
Anchoring off Point Barrow on 29 August, Burton Island immediately began to load provisions to resupply the floating ice station T-3 (Fletcher’s Ice Island). Departing on 2 September, the ship sailed north into the ice pack. Beginning on the 4th, it became increasingly difficult for the icebreaker to navigate through the frozen seascape, and over the next several days, Burton Island spent quite a bit of time stopped with her helicopters aloft searching for leads through the ice. Shortly before noon on 8 September, Burton Island became nipped in the ice at 74°02'N 157°19'W. The ship’s demolition team set off two and then three explosive charges, but Burton Island remained beset. An additional round of four charges also failed to free the ship from the ice. Nearly eight hours after Burton Island became trapped, a round of seven charges finally created enough explosive force to allow the icebreaker to maneuver again. Although Burton Island was able to reach a polynya (an area of open water surrounded by sea ice) on the afternoon of 11 September, and aborted the T-3 resupply mission. The icebreaker reversed course and returned to Point Barrow on the 14th.
After unloading all of the T-3 supplies at Point Barrow, on 19 September 1966 Burton Island steamed west toward the coast of northern Siberia to resume surveillance of Soviet shipping. The icebreaker once again entered Long Strait on the 20th but continued moving west, entering the eastern hemisphere the next day. On the 22nd, she began patrolling an area extending from slightly west of Cape Shelagskiy east to Cape Billingsa. Burton Island and Northwind rendezvoused again to exchange mail and movies on the 24th. The American icebreakers patrolling in international waters beyond the 12 mile territorial limit of Siberian shores did not go unnoticed by the Soviets. On the afternoon of 29 September, two Tupolev TU-16 Badgers flew near Burton Island, making five passes as close as 1,000 yards over the course of an hour, but the icebreaker continued with her assignment. Burton Island turned east on 2 October to begin the trip home. After stopping to refuel at Dutch Harbor, Alaska, on the 7th, Burton Island arrived at Seattle on 14 October, where she remained in port at Pier 91 into December preparing for transfer to the U.S. Coast Guard.
The icebreaker held a familiarization cruise for Coast Guardsmen (7–8 December) and on the following day conducted a Navy League cruise to Bremerton and back to Seattle. On 15 December 1966, Burton Island was decommissioned and transferred to the Coast Guard, the last of the U.S. Navy icebreakers to be so transferred. Burton Island was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 January 1967. The Coast Guard operated Burton Island with the designation WAGB-283 until 9 May 1978, when she was decommissioned. Bids for disposition of the ship opened on 27 August 1980. She was sold to Levin Metals Corp. on 7 October 1980 and was scrapped as of 28 April 1982.
||Date Assumed Command
|Cmdr. Gerald L. Ketchum
||28 December 1946
|Lt. Cmdr. Frank L. Dawley
||22 September 1947
|Cmdr. Edwin A. McDonald
||1 October 1947
|Cmdr. Jack E. Gibson
||13 October 1948
|Cmdr. Vernon C. Turner
||21 June 1950
|Lt. Cmdr. Robert Devore McWethy (temporary)
||9 July 1950
|Cmdr. John R. Schwartz
||14 July 1950
|Cmdr. Eugene H. Maher
||26 October 1951
|Cmdr. Everett A. Trickey
||25 November 1953
|Cmdr. Joseph E. Reedy
||28 September 1955
|Cmdr. Henry J. Brantingham
||8 November 1957
|Cmdr. Robert A. Weatherup
||24 January 1959
|Cmdr. Griffith C. Evans Jr.
||7 December 1959
|Lt. Cmdr. William Deacon III
||9 November 1960
|Cmdr. George H. Lewis
||11 July 1962
|Cmdr. George W. Mitchell
||18 November 1963
|Cmdr. Charles L. Gott
||3 May 1965
24 October 2017