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Staten Island, 1965

WAG-278 / WAGB-278

A photo of the USCGC Staten Island, circa 1970


Staten Island: An island at the entrance of New York harbor, forming the county and borough of Richmond, New York City.


Builder: Western Pipe & Steel Co., Los Angeles, CA

Builder's Number: CG-96

Cost:  $9,880,037

Length:  269' oa

Beam:  63' 6" max

Draft:  25' 9" max

Displacement: 6,515 tons (1945)

Keel Laid: 9 June 1942

Launched: 28 December 1942

Commissioned: 26 February 1944 (USCG / USSR); 26 January 1952 (USN); 1 February 1965 (USCG)

Decommissioned: 15 November 1974

Status: Sold for scrap

Propulsion:  6 Fairbanks Morse 10-cylinder diesels driving 6 Westinghouse DC generators which in turn drove 3 electric motors; 12,000 SHP; two propellers aft; one propeller forward.

Top speed:  13.4 knots (1967)

Economic speed: 11.6 knots; 32,485 mile range.

Complement: 12 officers, 2 warrants, 205 men (1967)

Electronics: 
    Radar: SPS-10B; SPS-53A; SPS-6C (1967)
    Sonar: 

Armament: None


Coast Guard Commanding Officers:

CDR Stuart S. Beckwith, USCG; 1965-1966

CAPT Robert T. Norris, USCG; 1966-

CAPT Eugene F. Walsh, USCG; 1968-

CAPT Stanley G. Putzke, USCG; 1971

CAPT Robert Moss, USCG; 1974

CAPT John Guthrie, USCG; 1974


Awards:

Meritorious Unit Commendation, 1971

Coast Guard Unit Commendation, 1969, 1973


Nicknames:

White Arctic Garbage Barge (a take on her designation WAGB)


Photographs (click here)


History:

CGC Staten Island began her long career at San Pedro, California, where her keel was laid in 1942 by the Western Pipe and Steel Corporation.  Before her completion, the world situation caused her to be earmarked for delivery in 1944 to the Soviet Union under the auspices of the Lend-Lease program.  The Soviets christened her Severny Venter, which loosely translates into Northwind.  She was assigned to the Northern Route Command, where she served until 1951.

On 19 December 1951 Severny Venter was mustered into the US Navy as the USS Northwind, with the designation and hull number AGB-5, at Bremarhaven, Germany, under the command of LCDR Edmund L. Andronik, USN.  She set sail immediately for the Boston Naval Shipyard for overhaul and final fitting out as a unit of the Service Force of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet.  While undergoing this repair work, on 15 April 1952, her name was changed once again, this time to Staten Island, in order to avoid confusion with the USCGC Northwind (WAGB-282).  She departed Boston on 1 July 1952 and proceeded to Grenfell Sound, Labrador, to conduct ice reconnaissance in Frobisher Bay.

Staten Island remained in Frobisher Bay on icebreaker duty until 8 September when she returned to Boston. She remained in the New England area until 25 April 1953 when she sailed for Resolution Island to relieve Edisto (AGB-2) until returning to Boston on 10 June. In August, she became the first Navy ship to cut through the Davis Strait from Thule to the “Alert” station on Ellesmere Island, approximately 435 miles from the North Pole. She conducted a total of six ice breaking operations in northern waters between 1952 and 15 December 1954. On 19 May 1955, Staten Island sailed for the Pacific and duty with Service Squadron 1.

The ship arrived at her new homeport, Seattle, on 10 June.  The following week, she got underway to assist in resupplying the Distant Early Warning (DEW) radar stations along the top of the North American continent, returning to Seattle on 28 September 1955.  From 5 July to 6 September 1956, Staten Island again broke ice for ships resupplying the DEW line.

Staten Island stood out of Seattle on 3 November en route to Antarctica to assist in Operation “Deep Freeze II.”  She was joined at the Canal Zone by the attack cargo ship, Wyandot (AKA-92), which carried -scientists, construction teams, and material for an Antarctic outpost.  The two ships reached the Weddell Sea ice pack on 15 December and, five days later, crossed the Antarctic Circle.  After breaking through heavy ice, the two ships arrived within a few miles of Cape Adams, the original site chosen for Ellsworth Station.   The beach, mostly sheer ice cliffs as high as 150 feet in places, made it impractical to offload Wyandot.   The ships proceeded to the Gould Bay area where the base site was selected.   On 11 February 1957, the Ellsworth International Geophysical Station was commissioned.  The icebreaker began the long voyage home that evening and arrived at Seattle on 5 April.

Staten Island participated in operations and expeditions in the Arctic and Antarctic until early 1966.  She was placed out of commission on 1 February 1966 and transferred to the Coast Guard after the Navy abandoned all polar logistic operations.  A joint study on icebreaker utilization had concluded that efficiency would be served best by combining all icebreaking under the Coast Guard. When the Vietnam war began requiring increased commitments of Navy personnel in Southeast Asia, one of the sources of these men was the Navy icebreakers, which were turned over to the Coast Guard in 1965 and 1966.  A total of five were transferred. Staten Island and the Southwind (named Atka in Navy service) were two of these . Two others, which were identical to the "Winds" but which had been built for the Navy, were the Edisto and Burton Island. Finally, the largest American icebreaker, Glacier (the "Big G") was transferred.  This vessel was built in 1954, and was essentially an enlarged "Wind."  She was 309 feet in length, 74 feet in beam and 28 foot draft.  With these transfers the federal icebreaking function was concentrated in the agency most historically fitted to carry it out.  The Coast Guard now had eight major ocean-going icebreakers.

USS Staten Island was recommissioned as USCGC Staten Island and given the new designation and hull number WAGB-278.  She was home-ported at Seattle.  Staten Island was struck from the Navy list on 1 March 1966.  She then underwent modifications, including a strengthening of her flight deck and hangar to permit her to operate with HH-52 helicopters, and her engineering plant was upgraded.
From 22 September 1966 until 6 April 1967 she participated in Operation Deep Freeze 1967.  During the spring of 1967 she was assigned to a four-month trip to the Arctic waters above Alaska and Siberia.  During the summer of 1967 while traveling west from Prudhoe Bay, after completing a survey of the area, she grounded and sustained only minor damage.  From September 1967 she helped free the cutter Northwind which was beset in ice after the Northwind lost a propeller.  She again went to the assistance of the Northwind in October-November 1967 and helped free her from the ice 450 miles north-northwest of Point Barrow, Alaska.  From July to August 1968 she conducted an extensive oceanographic survey of the Chukchi Sea-Bering Strait area.  The survey was a cooperative effort of the universities of Washington and Alaska, as well as the Coast Guard Oceanographic Unit.  The survey attempted "to investigate the general physical and chemical oceanography of the area with an emphasis on monitoring the water flow through the Bering Strait, the transport of suspended sediment by currents, and the salt and nutrient chemistry of the water."

From 9 to 11 March 1969, in concert with the F/V Dauntless, Staten Island rescued the crew of the grounded F/V Martindale off Akun Island. Unfortunately, the rescue was not without loss as one Staten Island crewman, BMC Elias W. Welch, drowned when the icebreaker’s motor surfboat capsized in the surf during the rescue operations.

On 7 September 1969 she assisted CGC Storis to open water off Point Barrow.  She departed Seattle on 7 July 1969 for duty in the Arctic as an oceanographic research platform and for use and an escort vessel for supply operations.  From 22 September to 1 November 1969, after the Northwind suffered engine trouble, Staten Island relieved the Northwind and escorted the tanker SS Manhattan eastward on transit through the Northwest Passage in concert with the Canadian icebreaker Sir John A. MacDonald.  

She rendezvoused with Manhattan and CCGS John A. MacDonald on 20 September 1969 and departed the next day.  The convoy searched out heavy ice on the trip.  Manhattan was testing its unique ice breaking bow and searching for routes that merchant ships might use to transport oil from the oil fields of Alaska's North Slope to the East Coast.  By 1 October 1969 the convoy had broken through the heaviest ice in Prince of Wales Strait and Viscount Melville Sound.  Staten Island assisted the Manhattan "with evaluation project, photo and ice helicopter reconnisance [sic], diving operations, dental treatment of Manhattan personnel and ice breaking assistance."  The convoy arrived in New York on 9 November 1969.   On 9 December 1969 she returned to Seattle after becoming the fourth American ship in history to make the voyage around the North American continent.  The others had been the cutters Storis, Bramble and Spar  in 1957.  By the time she arrived back at Seattle, Staten Island had traveled 23,000 miles, stopping at New York City, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Acapulco, Mexico after transiting the Panama Canal.

From 6 July to 20 August 1970 she conducted scientific tests and evaluation of crude oil spread rate in the Arctic.  Only a few miles away a commercial convoy of 20 tugs and 40 barges, which had been en route to the Prudhoe Bay oil fields, became entrapped in drifting ice.  The 185,000 tons of cargo carried on the barges was of critical importance to the continued development of the North Slope oil fields.  Working around the clock for 3-1/2 days the Staten Island broke ice, towed and pushed the barges to open water and to safety.    On 14 August 1970 she freed the fouled screw of the tug Active 30 miles southwest of Point Barrow. 

Crewman Ronald Lange wrote about this Arctic West deployment in the summer of 1970 while serving aboard Staten Island:

During the Arctic West trip the barges and supplies bound for Point Barrow had several damaged ships and one barge had capsized, drowning several crew members. We had to store the bodies they could find aboard ship in a hastily emptied frozen food compartment.  Our HH-52's flew the remains off at Prudhoe Bay. Once the barges and such were escorted we began the 'scientific' part of the trip. It was marked secret at the time but I'm sure it's not anymore. Our ship operated west of the Alaskan Straits to identify and track Russian merchant ships moving down towards the Straits bound mostly Vietnam. Our 2 helicopters identified ships and we on the bridge and CIC group (I was in CIC. an RD3) documented. We identified different types of ships using mixed drinks for keywords (Martini for freighter, whiskey sour for a tanker, etc).

There were several Russian corvette type escort ships and a Russian icebreaker as well. The captain of the Russian vessel came over by helicopter and saluted Captain Putzke, who was on the wing of the bridge. Captain Putzke came up thru the ranks to become Captain, and he was a great commander to all of us. I saw from one of the retirement letters that he passed away in August 2000.
We were generally left alone by the Russians, except when one of our helicopters got into Russian air space near one of their early warning radar stations in the fog. We quickly withdrew to a safer distance from shore and returned to Seattle to prepare for Operation Deep Freeze.

While on Operation Deep Freeze 1971 and circumnavigating Antarctica, Staten Island, while attempting to reach Australia's Mawson Station, struck an uncharted pinnacle 14 miles north of the Australian station on 28 February 1971.  She suffered significant damage, including a punctured hull that flooded four compartments, although no crew members were injured.  Nevertheless the damage was severe enough for headquarters to cancel the remainder of her mission.  She was ordered to Tasmania for temporary repairs.  After receiving temporary repairs to her hull she was declared seaworthy enough to steam back to Seattle.  The Burton Island was ordered to stand by to escort her.  Crewman Lange provided details of this deployment and casualty:

After the Arctic West trip of 1970 we were assigned to Operation Deepfreeze Our ports of call on the outward leg of our trip were Hawaii. Suva, Fiji, and Wellington, New Zealand.

Our air element came from Mobile, Alabama along with 2 HH-52 helos. Our trip thru Fiji was uneventful, but while conducting air operations (SAR) drills one the helo's (#1404) experienced a total electrical failure at approximately 500 feet altitude and autorotated onto the ocean. No one was injured and the helo was hauled aboard with only slight damage to it's hull. The copter was repaired and electrical components changed out on our way to McMurdo station.

We conducted ice breaking operations along with the Burton Island in McMurdo Sound while the air element assisted ashore with cargo operations. In January, 1971, while transporting base personnel around Mount Erebus, our HH-52 (#1404), experienced a severe downdraft and crashed near the summit of the mountain. It took several hours to find the aircraft as our choppers then were mostly white against a snow background.

I recently found this website which shows the crash site and our other helo that was sent in to assist. The copter was written off and was still there as of 2007.
[southpolestation.com/trivia/igy2/helo.html]

Once we completed our duties at McMurdo we transported a U.N. inspection around to the different bases in Antarctica, as the continent is designated a weapons-free continent. We actually ran aground near one of the Russian stations. The Australian station assisted in relaying messages and offered to provide shelter should the Staten Island founder.

Our ship's diver (we always carried 2 aboard) inspected the crack in the hull, reporting it was approximately 35-40 feet in length, mostly near the keel (one of the compartments contained the Soundex equipment and was our area responsibility). Leaks were contained and lower area compartments were sealed for the remainder of the trip.

As I recall we went to Hobart, Tasmania for temporary repairs (they drilled holes at either end of the crack to prevent it from getting larger). We returned home and went into drydock for repairs.
Ron Lange

For two weeks during February, 1973 she participated in a joint sea and ice study, code-named "Bering Sea Experiment" or Project BESEX, in the Bering Sea, 475 miles north of Adak Island, with a NASA flying laboratory and a Soviet research ship Priboy and an aircraft.  The operation was scheduled as part of the cutter's Artic Winter West activities.  It was designed to provide more information on the performance characteristics of microwave radiometers mounted on aircraft to measure ice and sea conditions.  That information would be utilized in evaluating the possible use of microwave radiometers on earth-orbiting satellites.

In 1973 she and her crew were awarded the Coast Guard Unit Commendation with Operational Distinguishing Device for an operation in which she cooperated with the U.S. Pacific Fleet.  The citation read, in part:

. . .exceptionally meritorious service during the period 7 March 1973 to 3 April 1973 while under the operational control of Commander, Seventeenth Coast Guard District as a task unit of Arctic West Winter-1973, and under the operational control of Commander, Submarine Forces, Pacific Fleet, as an element of Task Unit 57.0 during SUBICEX 1-73.  Despite extremely difficult climatic conditions in a hostile environment, personnel of CGC STATEN ISLAND persevered in their tasks and successfully gathered certain unique scientific and operational data of great value to the Commander, Submarine Forces, Pacific Fleet and to the U.S. Navy.  Operating both in close cooperation with other task elements and independently, they achieved, through innovative and persistent efforts, completion of every phase of their assigned mission with an outstanding degree of professionalism setting enviable levels of performance in all areas considering the limited time frame allowed.  The consistently superior performance of CGC STATEN ISLAND personnel significantly contributed to the smooth execution, early completion  and outstanding results of the various evolutions in Phase IV of SUBICEX 1-73.

From 5 November to 16 November 1973 she successfully underwent interim refresher training and then participated in Operation Deep Freeze 1974.  Staten Island was decommissioned on 15 November 1974 and sold for scrap.


Sources:

Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Vessels, Washington, DC: USGPO.

USCGC Staten Island, Cutter History File, Coast Guard Historian's Office


Last Modified 11/17/2014