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USS/USCGC Edisto, 1965

AG-89/AGB-2/WAGB-284


An island in a river of the same name about 20 miles south of Charleston, South Carolina.


Builder:  Western Pipe & Steel Company, San Pedro, CA

Commissioned: 20 March 1947, USN
                            20 October 1965, USCG

Decommissioned: 15 November 1974

Disposition: Transferred to the General Service Administration and sold on 29 September 1977 to Boston Metals Company of Baltimore, MD who sold her to the Union Minerals Company of Carey, NJ.  They dismantled her for scrap in the Baltimore Shipyard. 

Length:  269'

Beam:   63' 6"

Draft:     28' 4" (aft-maximum )

Displacement:  5,957 (1966)

Propulsion:  2 Westinghouse electric motors driven by 6 Westinghouse generators driven by 6 Fairbanks-Morse 10-cylinder 2-cycle diesels generating 5,000 SHP; twin propellers

Top speed:  13.0 knots maximum sustained speed; 22, 951 mile range

Economic cruising speed: 10.0 knots, 27,000 mile range (1966)

Flight deck: Equipped with a helicopter flight deck with a retractable hanger.  Capable of supporting two turbine-powered helicopters.

Scientific Capabilities: Equipped with laboratories and facilities for conducting oceanographic studies and hydrographic surveys as well as making upper altitude meteorological observations by radiosonde.

Complement:  14 officers, 2 warrants, 189 men (1966); On polar operations, the crew includes a group of trained SCUBA divers, a medical officer, four pilots, twelve aviation ratings, and various scientists and observers, bringing the total force on board to about 225.

Electronics: 

    Radar: SPS-10B; SPS-6C; SPA-4; SPA-8A (1966)
    Other: LORAN, radio teletype facsimile, radio, direction finder, sonic sounding machine, single side band radio telephone, portable walky-talkies, and a HAM radio set.

Armament: 1 x 5"/38; 1 x Mk 52 Mod 3 fire control radar.


Photographs (Original photo caption, description, date, photograph number and photographer--if known--click on ship's name to view image):

1)  USS Edisto (AGB-2); "Boston, Mass., October 16 [1965 . . . . The USS EDISTO will become the USCGC EDISTO upon transfer from the Navy to the Coast Guard on October 20 at the Coast Guard Base, 427 Commercial Street, Boston, Mass.  The vessel will be painted white and the bow number changed from 'GB 2' to 'W 284."; 16 October 1965; no photo number; photographer unknown.  B&W photo, stationary in the ice; photo taken from off the starboard bow on the ice.  Note the Bell HUL-1G helicopter on her flight deck.

2)  USCGC Edisto (WAGB-284); "EDISTO enters Smith Sound and begins her dash for the top of the world.  She penetrated to 82 North latitude, a mere 480 miles off the North Pole before heavy ice and operational commitments to the south force her to come about."; Release No. 15-66 (Photo No. 3 in a series of 6); 1966; photographer unknown.  B&W photo, cutter is underway through ice, aerial view, off her starboard bow.

3)  USCGC Edisto (WAGB-284); "The Coast Guard's 'new look' is evident as the Cutter EDISTO sports her new hull markings and insignia in this aerial view, taken as the Boston-based icebreaker sailed north on June 13 to begin a five-month Arctic deployment involving oceanographic research, ice escort of merchant shipping, and re-supply of U.S. defense outposts in the far north.  EDISTO is one of nine heavy duty icebreakers comprising the total icebreaker fleet of the United States which has been consolidated within the Coast Guard.  The orange and blue hull striping of the 'new look' is synonymous with the Coast Guard's expanding role in polar icebreaker operations in addition to the Service's traditional work of search and rescue, aids to navigation, merchant inspection, and port security."; EDISTO News Release P-2-67, Photo 1 of 1; 19 June 1967; photographer unknown.  B&W photo, cutter is underway, aerial view, starboard.  Note the US Navy Kaman H-2 (HU2K) Seasprite helicopter on her flight deck.

4)  USCGC Edisto (WAGB-284); No caption/photo number/date; photographer unknown.  Color image, cutter is underway, aerial view, starboard.  Note the fully extended telescoping hanger.

5)  USCGC Edisto (WAGB-284); No caption; Photo No. 1(G1)-06-15-67 (02); no date (post-October 1968--after her 5-inch gun was removed); photographer unknown.  B&W image, cutter is underway, aerial view, starboard.

6)  USCGC Edisto (WAGB-284); "The 269-ft. Coast Guard icebreaker EDISTO (WAGB-284), arriving in the Great Lakes from Boston, heads for her new homeport at Milwaukee, Wis., followed by icebreaker USCGC MACKINAW.  EDISTO is to support the MACKINAW, veteran Great Lakes icebreaker, in a program to extend the shipping season in Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway during the winter and during the summer she will resume her polar missions in the Arctic."; Photo No. 12137-P6-10; 13 December 1971; photographer unknown.  B&W image, aerial view, starboard, Edisto is in foreground.

7)  USCGC Edisto (WAGB-284); "CG icebreaker USCGC EDISTO escorting a cargo ship through polar ice."; no photo number/date (post-October 1968--after her 5-inch gun was removed); photo by Warren Samuel.  Color image, aerial view, off port bow--note the hovering HH-52A in arctic operations coloring.

8)  USCGC Edisto (WAGB-284);  No caption/photo number/date (post-October 1968--after her 5-inch gun was removed); photographer unknown.  Color image, cutter is underway, aerial view, starboard side.


Class History:

The "Wind" Class final design--modeled after the Swedish icebreaker Ymer--was prepared by Gibbs & Cox of New York after initial design work by LCDR Edward Thiele, USCG (later the Coast Guard's Engineer-in-Chief) who had obtained details of foreign icebreakers while vacationing in Europe before the war.  The Wind- class of icebreakers measured 269 feet in length, 636 in beam and displaced 6,500 tons. The Coast Guard contracted for five vessels of the class in November 1941 to fulfill the need to access military bases in Greenland that would be inaccessible during most of the year without the use of heavy icebreakers. Eventually, the Coast Guard operated seven Wind- class icebreakers.

The design of the vessels included a bow propeller used to clear the hull from ice and dredge broken ice forward. The bow propeller was not typically used as a means for propulsion unless the vessel needed to back out of surrounding ice. The vessels also had a diesel electric power-plant, the most compact, economical, and powerful propulsion system available at the time. Additionally, while the diesels provide the power supply, there was a division between these diesels and the motors, which supplied power to the shafts. The rotating electric motors could handle the shocks and extreme power- to- speed ratios necessary for ice operations.

The close spaced frames and careful design of the trusses and planting, along with the thick, welded hull plating made the hulls of the Wind- class unprecedented in strength and structural integrity. The hull also had compressed cork insulation, strengthened steering apparatus, and a padded notch at the stern to nestle the bow of any vessel being towed through ice. Also the design included fore, aft, and side heeling tanks with pumps to aid in water movement within the vessel to rock the ship free from ice build up. The specifications for construction were so extensive that the Western Pipe and Steel Company of Los Angeles was the only builder to submit a bid. They were originally designed to be equipped with a fixed wing amphibious aircraft.


Cutter History:

Congress authorized the construction of Edisto, one of the world's most powerful icebreakers, as a U.S. Navy vessel on 17 December 1943.  Two years later, on 15 May 1945, the Western Pipe and Steel Company laid the ship's keel at San Pedro, California.  The ship, sponsored by Mrs. George B. Gelly, was launched on 29 May 1946.  It was commissioned into the U.S. Navy on 20 March 1947 as the USS Edisto, AG-89, later to be reclassified as an AGB-2 on 28 January 1949. 

She is named for an island lying at the mouth of a river of the same name about 20 miles south of Charleston, South Carolina.  The island and the river, in turn, had gained their names from the Edisto Indians who inhabited the island and the surrounding area.  Her outer hull plating was constructed with 1-5/8 inch thick high tensile steel.  She had a double bottom above the waterline with the two "skins" being approximately 15 inches apart.  Framing was closely spaced and the entire hull girder was designed for great strength.  Her bow had the characteristic sloping forefoot that enabled her to ride up on heavy ice and break it with the weight of the vessel.  Her stern was similarly shaped to facilitate breaking ice while backing down.  The sides of the icebreaker were rounded, with marked tumble home, that enabled the ship to break free from ice by heeling from side to side.  Such heeling was accomplished by shifting water rapidly from wing tanks on one side of the ship to the other.  A total of 220 tons of water could be shifted from one side to the other in as little as 90 seconds, which induced a list of 10 degrees.  Ballast could also be shifted rapidly between fore and aft tanks to change the trim of the ship.

On 11 April 1947 USS Edisto sailed for the east coast on a shake-down cruise.  That summer, during a training cruise to Greenland, she crossed the Arctic Circle for the first of many times in her career.  Upon her return to Boston, Edisto was assigned to Task Force 39 for the Second Antarctic Development Project.  She sailed 1 November for a rendezvous via the Panama Canal with USS Burton Island (AG-88) at Samoa.  Together, they ventured south, becoming the first ships to penetrate the pack ice east of the Ross Sea.  While in the Antarctic on this deployment, Edisto trained sailors and tested cold weather equipment, as well as investigating installations and equipment left by Operation HIGHJUMP of the previous year.  She also collected valuable scientific data concerning geographic, hydrographic, photographic, oceanographic, meteorological, and electromagnetic conditions in the south polar regions.

Upon her return to Boston on 31 March 1948, Edisto immediately began preparing for operations in the far north.  During this summer deployment, her task force resupplied weather stations at Thule, Greenland, and on Ellesmere and Ellif Renghes Islands.  The ships in this task force did reconnaissance to establish additional weather stations, trained men in cold weather operations, tested equipment, and collected a variety of data.  Except for brief repairs in Boston for replacement of a broken propeller shaft, Edisto continued this grueling grind until 25 September 1948.  Three months later, in company with USS Hoist, she successfully rescued the USS Whitewood, damaged by ice and grounded in a Greenland fjord at Narsak.

The next cruise of Edisto to the north polar regions was for purely exploratory purposes.  Not even waiting for summer, she sailed out of Boston Harbor on 24 January 1949 to determine how much an icebreaker would be limited by the foul Arctic storms and lowest temperatures.  She weathered extreme sub-zero conditions and returned to Boston on 25 March.  

From 1949 until her transfer to the U.S. Coast Guard on 20 October 1965, Edisto continued her indispensable support to exploration in both Arctic and Antarctic regions.  She supplied bases, reported ice packs and floes, took part in oceanographic, hydrographic, geological, coast and geodetic, and hydrophone surveys, and participated in Arctic convoy exercises.  In 1949, for instance, she took part in Operation BLUEJAY, the construction of radar stations in the far north.  The following year, on 6 August 1950, Edisto set a record for northern penetration by reaching latitude 82 degrees North while conducting oceanographic surveys.  In 1952, the work she had begun in Operation BLUEJAY was completed.

While participating in Operation DEEPFREEZE I during the winter (Antarctic summer) of 1955-1956, Edisto penetrated unexplored areas in the Antarctic near Cape Hallett, leaving Edisto Bay and Edisto Acres penguin rookery named in her honor.  After her return to Boston, the ship was again assigned to Arctic missions, aiding shipping in the Newfoundland and Labrador area for the remainder of 1956 and all of 1957.  In December 1958, Edisto departed for Operation DEEPFREEZE IV.  Her work in the Antarctic this time was in support of the International Geophysical Year.  En route home, she stopped in Uruguay, which was experiencing disastrous floods.  The crew labored many long hours in flood relief work, thereby receiving the personal thanks of the president of Uruguay on their departure.

Her next Antarctic trip came during the winter (Antarctic summer) of 1960-1961 as a member of Operation DEEPFREEZE 61.  While operating far south of New Zealand in an attempt to salvage a naval vessel that had broken loose from its moorings, Edisto encountered what was probably the worst storm of her career.  With tons of ice loading her topside down, she staggered to regain stability at the end of each long, agonizing roll.  Before the storm had blown itself out, she had lost most of her rigging and her starboard propeller.

As a unit of the task force for Operation DEEPFREEZE 63 in 1962-1963, she spent 131 consecutive days in the ice.  During this time, her crew witnessed the breakup of Admiral Byrd's Little America III, built in 1940-1941.  Instead of going south for the 1963-1964 season in the Antarctic, Edisto entered the Boston Naval Shipyard for an overhaul.  Then, on 15 June 1964, she departed Boston for military resupply operations in the Arctic.  While on this cruise, Edisto used Prince Christian Sound instead of rounding Cape Farwell, probably making her the first U.S. naval vessel to transit this sound since the USCGC Northland in 1941.  Before returning to Boston in early October, she picked up some scientists in Iceland and proceeded to the waters between Greenland and Spitzbergen to carry out an oceanographic survey.

On 10 December 1964, Edisto departed for the Antarctic as a unit of the task force for Operation DEEPFREEZE 65 on an assignment unprecedented in icebreaker history.  She had the responsibility for constructing the New Palmer Station for Marine Biological Studies on Anvers Island off the Antarctic Peninsula.  No sooner had she accomplished this assignment and returned to Boston, than Edisto was ordered to sail on a polar rescue mission.  Drifting south was the Ice Island Arlis II, with 20 scientists on board waiting to be evacuated before the island broke up underneath them.  Departing Boston on 6 April 1965, after a stay of only five days, she battled some of the thickest and hardest ice ever encountered by an American icebreaker to moor alongside Arlis II and to effect the evacuation of the men and equipment.

During the summer of 1965, Edisto again sailed to the Arctic in support of the northern defense outposts and for oceanographic survey work.  Before her return to Boston in early October, a message informed her that she would be the first of the U.S. Navy icebreakers turned over to the U.S. Coast Guard under the transfer agreement signed between the Treasury and Navy departments.  As Edisto sailed south, Coast Guard officers, who would command the vessel following the turnover, came on board.

On 20 October 1965, the ship became USCGC Edisto, when the icebreaker was decommissioned by the Navy, transferred, and immediately commissioned by the Coast Guard at Constitution Wharf, Coast Guard Base, Boston.  The Coast Guard changed her hull number to WAGB-284.  Her first mission as a Coast Guard icebreaker came the following month, when a vital undersea defense cable near Thule, Greenland, broke.  Although she got underway on short notice and steamed far north to join the other Canadian and American icebreakers in the repair operation, Edisto arrived only to learn that the cable had already been repaired.

After her return in early December 1965, the vessel spent the entire winter in the Bethlehem Steel Shipyard, where she underwent major repairs and alterations.  Part of the alterations consisted of installations of a new flight deck with a telescopic hanger to house two helicopters which she would carry.  The summer of 1966 saw the Edisto deployed to the arctic waters off Greenland and Iceland to participate in "Arctic East" operations, which entailed the annual resupply of American bases in the Arctic and the advancement of polar sciences.  As in the previous winter, Edisto was ordered on an unusual winter penetration into northern Baffin Bay.  The vital undersea cable connecting the American far north defense outposts with the mainland of the United States had broken again.  Reaching the break area on 12 December 1966, the icebreaker braved extreme cold, continual darkness, gale winds, and heavy icing until the break was located and repaired.  For their exceptionally meritorious performance during this emergency, Edisto and her crew were presented with the Unit Commendation Award the same month.

In 1967, while in company with the Eastwind, the Edisto made an unsuccessful attempt to circumnavigate the Arctic, a feat that would have rivaled the 16th Century voyages around the world of Magellan and Drake and has yet to be accomplished by surface vessels of any nation.  In 1968 and 1969, the Edisto participated in Antarctic polar deployments in support of operations DEEPFREEZE 69 and DEEPFREEZE 70, respectively.  

In 1971, as in every summer since she became a Coast Guard icebreaker, Edisto took part in "Arctic East" operations.  In December of that year, she was temporarily transferred to Milwaukee to take part in a test, along with USCGC Mackinaw, of icebreaking operations designed to extend the length of the shipping season on the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway System.  In the fall of that year, however, she conducted icebreaking operations off Greenland in concert with the Navy oceanographic research ship USNS Mizar.  She was sent there from the Great Lakes after the cutter originally assigned the duty, USCGC Southwind, suffered an engine casualty, although she remained off Greenland.  The Edisto arrived in the Arctic on 30 September and began escorting the Mizar into the icepack for oceanographic research.  At one point, the two were as far as 40 miles into the heavy ice, some of which was a thick as six feet.  In early October, one of the Mizar's engines went out, so the Edisto took her in tow, intending to take her out of the ice.  On 6 October, Mizar slipped out of its tow with the Edisto and collided with the icebreaker, doing minor damage to Edisto's starboard side superstructure.  Later, Edisto, due to the heavy ice,  lost her starboard propeller and damaged her rudder and starboard shaft.

Although Mizar repaired her engine, the ship could not break ice, so the need for a fully operational icebreaker still existed.  Coast Guard officials, through the U.S. State Department, arranged for the use of Canada's 315-foot icebreaker John A. McDonald, in case the Southwind was unable to free MizarMcDonald sailed from Baffin Bay  around the southern tip of Greenland and berthed at Reyjkavik, Iceland, and awaited a call for assistance.  But Edisto managed to work her way through the open leads in the ice while Southwind, with only four of her six engines running was able to reach the Mizar, still icebound where it had struck the Edisto, and freed her.  Southwind then took Edisto in tow, and made for Reyjkavik.  They arrived on 23 October and the Edisto's crew made temporary repairs to her rudder for the long tow back to the U.S.  They departed and headed for the U.S., but the repairs did not hold and they once again returned to Iceland.  On 2 November they once again set sail.

Coast Guard Headquarters decided that Southwind would take Edisto's place on the Great Lakes for that season.  They were under pressure to get a second icebreaker there before the Welland Canal closed on 15 December.  To lessen the impact on the crews, headquarters also determined that the ships would simply exchange their entire crews.  Southwind's men would take over during the repairs on Edisto while Edisto's crew would join Southwind once she made her new home port of Milwaukee in preparation for the winter season.

On 10 November the cutter Morgenthau rendezvoused with the icebreakers and prepared to take over the tow but severe weather prevented a switch.  By 13 November, however, the weather moderated and she took over the tow and set course for Baltimore.  Southwind then made her way to the Great Lakes.  On 24 November she rendezvoused with USCG Chilula approximately 35 miles west of the Nantucket Lightship after first dodging a storm by sailing towards Nova Scotia.  Chilula took over the tow and headed to Hampton Roads and then to the Coast Guard Yard, where the two cutters arrived safely on 30 November.

After repairs were finished she was homeported in Baltimore and used for icebreaking.  Her final cruise was a three-phase "Arctic East" voyage that commenced from Baltimore on 7 July 1974.  She first sailed in support of the International Ice Patrol, studying some 35 icebergs of varying sizes and shapes off the west coast of Greenland and the east coast of Baffin Island, Canada.  Her crew took aerial, surface, and sonar measurements of bergs to be used by marine scientists to determine their rates of deterioration and drift.  Interestingly, as a tribute to their wives, some of the crew named the icebergs under study after their loved ones.  During the voyage north, the Edisto assisted the USNS Private John R. Towle, a cargo ship that sustained ice damage to her hull off Hamilton Inlet, Labrador.

Edisto then sailed for Edinburgh, Scotland, arriving 12 August 1974.  She departed Edinburgh on 17 August and headed for the Icelandic Sea for the second phase of her cruise, where she worked in conjunction with the Icelandic government.  Her crew took 40 "Nansen Casts" in the Icelandic Sea and then, on 2 September, made Reykjavik.  Edisto departed Reykjavik on 5 September and sailed for the Labrador Sea for the third phase of her cruise.  Arriving off Cape Farewell on 8 September, her crew took 52 "STD Casts" in the Labrador Sea and along the coast of Labrador.  On 14 September she finished the third phase and began her return journey to Baltimore, arriving there on 24 September. 

She was decommissioned at Baltimore on 15 November 1974 and then transferred to the General Service Administration (GSA).  GSA sold her on 29 September 1977 to Boston Metals Company of Baltimore which then sold her to the Union Minerals Company of Carey, New Jersey.  They dismantled her for scrap in the Baltimore Shipyard.


Sources:

Dictionary of American Fighting Ships, Vol 3.

Edisto Cutter File, USCG Historian's Office.

Scheina, Robert.  U.S. Coast Guard Cutters & Craft, 1946-1990.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1990.


Last Modified 11/17/2014