1953 Arctic Bluenose Cruise
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While most of the inhabitants of the United States were sweltering and suffering in the heat of summer the fortunate crew aboard the USS ASHLAND (LSD-1) were enjoying cool, invigorating Arctic air, during part of June, all of July and most of August, 1953.

ASHLAND started her voyage by going south.  On the 4th of June she left Norfolk, Virginia for Charleston, South Carolina.  At Charleston ASHLAND loaded two Army LCU's and an Army Queen boat into her well deck and on Monday, 8 June sailed from Charleston for Norfolk.

At Norfolk, ASHLAND embarked ComLSDRon TWO (Captain F. H. WHALING, USN) and staff and Army personnel and equipment for Northern waters. Captain WHALING was to command a Task Group operating in Northern waters and ASHLAND was to be his flagship.  A major portion of the equipment embarked were large crawler cranes.  Here again was the versatility of an LSD proved.  The cranes were needed up North, but none of the ports had facilities to off load heavy cranes and they were too heavy for the ship's gear.

Cranes were no problem to an LSD.  The cranes were loaded into LCU's and the LCU's into ASHLAND.  Then when ASHLAND reached her objective, all that was necessary was to ballast down, debark the LCU's from ASHLAND, beach the LCU and run the cranes ashore under their own power.

On Monday, 15 June, the loading was completed and ASHLAND set sail for Argentia, Newfoundland, on the first leg of a long, cold and often dangerous journey.  The first two days were uneventful, but the third day out ASHLAND encountered fog.  The fog was to remain with ASHLAND all the way to Argentia.

On the 19th of June, landfall was made off Agrentia in heavy fog. ASHLAND started down the channel navigating by radar.  Fortunately the fog lifted as we entered the harbor and the first leg of ASHLAND's journey was soon completed.

The landing of the cranes at Argentia was not quite as easy as previously mentioned.  The Army LCU crews were not familiar with their craft and no landing beach had been prepared. The undaunted crew of ASHLAND again demonstrated their "can do" spirit, located a suitable beach, supervised the beaching of the LCU and the landing of the cranes.

Mission at Argentia accomplished and refueled, ASHLAND was again on her way the next day, Saturday, 20 June.  This time we were headed for Sondrestrom Air Force Base at the head of Sondrestrom Fjord on the West Coast of Greenland.

The second day out, Sunday, 21 June, off the Northeastern Labrador coast ASHLAND voyagers sighted their first ice berg.  The same day ASHLAND ran into heavy weather.  It takes a fairly good sea to have solid water break over the high bow of ASHLAND, but the seas did break over the bow that Sunday.  Not only did they break over the bow, but they carried away the lookout shelter that bad been built on the bow.

The heavy weather remained with ASHLAND for two more days before moderating.  On the 24th ASHLAND made landfall on the West Greenland coast. She also encountered over 40 fishing vessels as the Davis Strait is one of the world's best fishing grounds.

Early Thursday morning, 25 June, ASHLAND was searching for the entrance of Sondrestrom Fjord.  Locating the entrance to the fjord proved much more difficult than expected, and once ASHLAND entered the fjord you wondered how the entrance to anything so large could be so well hidden.  Much is written about the beauty of the fjords of Norway.  They are magnificent but the fjords of Greenland have a splendor all their own.  Imagine steaming between towering snow and ice capped cliffs for 80 miles.

At 0650, 25 June, while steaming up Sondrestrom Fjord ASHLAND crossed the Arctic Circle and entered the domain of King Polar Bear.  No notice was taken of our arrival at this time and ASHLAND proceeded uninterrupted up the fjord.  We arrived at Sondrestrom Air Base late in the morning and landed another big crane.

The next day, 26 June, ASHLAND headed back down the fjord and out to sea.  This time were headed for the point where we were to rendezvous with the rest of our task group.  One of our task group, a USNS reefer ship was already with us having joined us at Sondrestrom.  On Saturday, 27 June, ice in many forms, bergs, floe ice, pack ice, bergy bits, and growlers became commonplace instead of unusual to ASHLAND.  ASHLAND also crossed the Arctic Circle again headed North.  This time King Polar Bear took official notice of our visit.  We were forewarned of his visit for the night before duly qualified "Bluenoses" were busy preparing the neophyte "Rednoses" for the forthcoming visit of King Polar Bear.  G.W. LESTER BM1, assisted by his Royal Court: CRINE, W. HM2, Queen; GARTY, S. G., ME1, Blue Nose Baby; ANGELO, N.S., MM3; BAGLEYL, C.H., GM3; BLAKE, R.H., GM1; CANAN, R.W., BM1; CANCRO, V.L., SN; CARUTHERS, C.E., BT2; COOK, G.B., MM3; EBERHARDT, W., MM3; GALLAGHER, R.T., BM3; HARNISH, T.N., DC2; JOHNSON, D.L., BT3; KIDD, B.R., GM3; KUHN, E.L., SK3; LAMB, P.B., SN; MARTI, E., EN3; MCKINNON, G.T., EN2; ROLFES, H.H., ME3; STURDIVANT, L.E., BM2; SUNDAY, E.J, PN3, TOMMILSON, N.G., BT3; and WERTSWA, M.J., BM1, took cognizance of the arrival of ASHLAND and her crew and fully welcomed the newcomers to his domain and saw that they were initiated into the Royal Order of the Bluenose.  The fact that the Task Group Commander, Captain F.H. WAHLIG, USN, and most of his staff and the Commanding Officer of USS ASHLAND (LSD-1), Commander W.L. PHALER, USN, were among those initiated only made the ceremonies all the more interesting.  A very enjoyable time was had by all.  It did seem a shame to waste all the meringue that ended up on the faces of Lieutenant F.H. GUNKEK (SC), USN and LTJG D.G. MC INNES, USNR, but perhaps they were able to lick a little off.

On Sunday, 28 June, ASHLAND reached the rendezvous point.  Most of the task group were already there and under the orders of the Task Group Commander the task group moved slowly Northward waiting for the rest of the task group to join up.  The first icebreaker, USCGC WESTWIND joined the task group that evening and proceeded on ahead to scout ice conditions.  By the next day, 29 June, the task group was well into the ice pack. Progress through the ice was slow. The predictions had been that the ice would break up early this year; maybe it did, but those people on ASHLAND who had made the trip on previous years reported that in 1953 ASHLAND and the rest of the task group had to contend with more and heavier ice than was encountered in previous years.

By 1 July it was apparent that it was inadvisable to attempt further progress under the existing conditions and the task group commenced lying to in the ice.  Shortly after she stopped, ASHLAND was completely surrounded by ice except for a small stretch of open water astern.

While icebound ASHLAND gun and director crews demonstrated their ability by firing at ice bergs and hummocks of ice. Gun 24 topped all other 20MM gun crews.  Director 42 and Mount 42 were the best among the 40MM director and mount crews. The winning director and mount crews were:

Gun 24
Dowell, J.T., SH3  Gunner
Cates, P.J., GM3  Captain
Fairchild, L.J. DK3  Loader
Meeker, H.G., DK3  Loader

Director 42
Sturdivant, L.E., BM2,  Pointer
Jensen, F.G. BM3,  Sight setter

Mount 42
Blanchette, J.G., BM3,  Captain
Bruette, L., SN,  Pointer
Sweeney, W.R. SN,  Trainer
Nelson, R.L., SN,  Loader
Dudley, R.E., SN,  Loader
Smith, A.L., SN,  Loader
Hale, K.A. SN,  Loader

One of the LST's in the task group had developed engine trouble and her bow was brought up close to the stern of ASHLAND.  Chief Machinist R. E. CALLAHAN, USN, Chief Carpenter H.H. POWELL, USN, HOLTZCLAW, J.C., FPC, TRAVIS, H.G., FP3 and BODEN, V.W., FP3, walked a plank over to the LST and assisted in attempts to make necessary repairs.  While this was going on, air reconnaissance had reported a stretch of open water ahead.  Later on 1 July WESTWIND departed with two other ships to attempt to reach the stretch of open water.  On the morning of 2 July the other ice breaker, USS ATKA (AGB-3) arrived.  She escorted two more of the task group off to the stretch of open water and returned to escort ASHLAND and two more LST's to the stretch of open water.

On 3 July ASHLAND reached the relatively open water off Cap York.  Here we encountered a sight never to be forgotten.  As we approached, what appeared to be a solid wall of ice, separated into a multitude of ice bergs.  Lead by the ATKA, ASHLAND and the two LST's wove their way through a field of literally hundreds of thousands of ice bergs.  They extended from the shore of Greenland as far as the eye could see.  The source of most of the ice bergs was the massive Greenland ice cap.  The Greenland ice cap covers over nine tenths of the area of Greenland and in places is many miles thick.  It is said that if the Greenland ice cap were ever to melt at one time, it would raise the level of the Atlantic Ocean seventeen feet.  That is a lot of ice.  The weight of the ice cap keeps the ice in the glaciers flowing down to sea where it breaks off and forms ice bergs.

Shortly after the relatively open water (except for thousands of ice bergs) off Cap York on 3 July, ASHLAND left the two LST's with the ATKA and proceeded independently towards Thule.  The icebreaker WESTWIND met ASHLAND off Thule and guided ASHLAND through the harbor ice to her anchorage.  Late that night in the continual daylight of an Arctic summer ASHLAND dropped her anchor through the ice and anchored off Thule, Greenland.

ASHLAND celebrated the 4th of July by dressing ship and working all day and night.  The Arctic summer is so short that full advantage must be taken of the continual sunlight.  As a result, work goes on around the clock, seven days a week, holiday or not.  Plans called for ASHLAND to remain at Thule for two or three weeks, but in less then a week ASHLAND was underway again.

USS WHITEMARSH (LSD-8) had an unfortunate encounter with ice off the Labrador coast, ripping a large hole in her starboard side.  Thus it became necessary for ASHLAND to relieve WHITEMARSH.  ASHLAND left Thule the morning of 10 July heading for Saglek Bay, Labrador.  USCCG WESTWIND was to escort ASHLAND through the ice on the first leg of her journey towards Saglek Bay, and the other ice breaker, USS ATKA (AGB-3) was to join us later.

During the stay at Thule the weather had been excellent. The only excitement had been provided by drifting ice.  Several times the ice drifting with the tide would completely surround ASHLAND and the other ships alongside shutting them off from the rest of the world.  Once underway the weather changed and by 2300 that night the fog and ice were so thick that further progress was impossible.  The next day, Saturday, 11 July, the fog changed to snow but ASHLAND remained ice bound.  Snow continued to fall throughout Saturday and through the early hours of Sunday.

Better weather arrived with the ATKA Sunday morning and ASHLAND was able to resume her voyage through the ice, escorted by two ice breakers.  It was rough work even with two ice breakers as the wind had closed up most of the leads that had existed on the trip north.

Monday, 13 July, ASHLAND again encountered heavy ice and fog and had to lay to.  This time ASHLAND was frozen fast in the ice until late Thursday afternoon. Then with improved visibility the two ice breakers again took up the task of breaking a path through the ice for ASHLAND.  It was slow, hard work, and several times ASHLAND became stuck in the ice.  ASHLAND was considerably wider than either ice breaker and often there was not enough room for ASHLAND.  It is a rather eerie feeling to have both engines turning over at two thirds speed yet the ship be wedged so tightly in the ice that it was stuck fast.  When this happened one of the ice breakers would have come back and "break out" ASHLAND by circling ASHLAND and breaking up the ice holding her fast.  Wednesday and Thursday were in the same pattern with ice and weather forcing all ships to lay to from one o'clock Wednesday (0100) to ten (1000) morning.  Finally at 0200 (two in the morning) ATKA, WESTWIND and ASHLAND cleared the ice pack.  Shortly after that ASHLAND went alongside SETON HALL VICTORY to take on need fuel.

The fueling at sea in Arctic waters was at least an unusual operation.  Not only was it necessary for ASHLAND to go close alongside SETON HALL VICTORY and run our own hose to SETON HALL, but several times during the fueling ASHLAND and SETON HALL drifted uncomfortably close to ice bergs.  When this happened it was necessary for ASHLAND to use very slow speed and gently as possible move both ships away from the ice bergs.

ASHLAND completed fueling early in the afternoon and departed for Saglek Bay, Labrador while SETON HALL VICTORY joined the convoy to be escorted to Thule by ATKA and WESTWIND.  It had taken ASHLAND seven days to go 196 miles through the ice pack.  Now relatively clear water was ahead and ASHLAND made good speed to Saglek Bay, arriving there on the 21st of July.  St. John's Harbor at Saglek was free of ice except for one grounded berg when ASHLAND arrived, but WHITEMARSH served as a grim reminder of what could happen.  It was a very sobering sight to see a sister LSD heeled over while feverish efforts were being made to effect temporary repairs to the damaged hill of WHITEMARSH.

The Underwater Demolition Team personnel and the U.S. Army personnel who had been aboard WHITEMARSH transferred to ASHLAND on 22 July.  The transfer of equipment from the super deck of WHITEMARSH to the super deck of ASHLAND had to wait until WHITEMARSH was able to be righted. While waiting, advantage was taken of the mild weather to send a recreation party ashore (hot dogs and two cans of beer (jb).  All Hands participating enjoyed a chance to stretch their legs ashore and some of the more hardy members to the crew even took a dip in one of the small lakes not far from the harbor. (The author left out the snow-ball fights.(jb)  Some of these hardy souls were ENS H.C. FISHER, JR., LTJG A.L. LOFTIN, JR, LCKR J.J. PHILLIPS, MEEKER, DK3, MC QUATE, SK2, CANCRO, SN, BURROWS, SN, LEE, SN, KUHN, SK3 and BANOWITZ, SH3.

WHITEMARCH was finally in a condition to righted late 24 July.  The remainder of the equipment was then transferred to ASHLAND and early on the 25th ASHLAND put out to sea headed for Resolution Island.  Enroute to Resolution Island ASHLAND rendezvoused with the ice breaker USS STATEN ISLAND (AGB-5).

STATEN ISLAND and ASHLAND reached the vicinity of Resolution Island early on Sunday 26 July.  Ice conditions in Sorry Harbor prevented the entry of ASHLAND.  It was therefore decided to attempt to load the 16 Army LCM's while laying to off Sorry Island.  The ice fields were to extensive to attempt to load the LCM's into ASHLAND's well deck with ASHLAND underway and the water was too deep to permit ASHLAND to anchor.  A long low ground swell was running and it was necessary to keep ASHLAND headed into the swells.  To do this a two line was passed to STATEN ISLAND and the ice breaker attempted to keep the bow of ASHLAND headed into the swells during the loading operation.

It was a difficult operation at the best as there was considerable relative movement between the water and stern.  Early in the operation the pennant on the starboard hoisting cable broke and operations were delayed several hours while the pennant was replaced.  Repairs were completed late in the afternoon and loading operations resumed.

The relative movement between the stern and the swells caused waves to surge up the well deck making loading difficult.  The two U.S. Army LCU's were loaded without too much difficulty.  Loading the U.S. Army LCM's was a very difficult.  The LCM's were loaded with various cargo and the coxswains were not familiar with the tricky job of handling their craft in the well of an LSD in fairly heavy weather.  Also, the coxswains did not understand the necessity of entering the well promptly when signaled to do so. As a result, the loading of the LCM's proceeded slowly.

Throughout the loading the relative motion of the stern and the swell caused the stern gate to work.  The working often resulted with the shock absorber systems stopping the drop of the stern gate with a jerk that shook the entire ship.  After one drop the 13/4 inch pennant on the port shock preventer parted.  Shortly afterwards the starboard shock preventer fitting pulled out of the stern gate.  It was decided to suspend loading operations as soon as the Army LCM that was leaking and had only one engine, could be docked in the well.  This was accomplished and the stern gate raised. All hands were relieved to see the stern gate come up and ASHLAND start winding her way through ice to open water.  The rest of the Army LCM's were sent back to Resolution Island to wait until ASHLAND could enter Sorry Harbor.

ASHLAND, escorted by USS EDISTO (AGB-2) made several attempts to enter Sorry Harbor on Monday 27 July but each time the ice was too thick and heavy.  Another attempt was made that evening.  This time, ASHLAND escorted by EDISTO, actually entered the mouth of Sorry Harbor.  Unfortunately the ice conditions changed with the tide and heavy ice made it impossible to force an entrance to the harbor.  It became necessary to turn around in the narrow confine of the harbor entrance while almost completely surrounded by ice.  Valent work by the ice breaker EDISTO and superb performance by all hands involved on ASHLAND accomplished the seemingly impossible maneuver of turning ASHLAND and standing out of the harbor.

Our troubles were not over even after we turned around.  A five knot wind kept setting ASHLAND down on a grounded iceberg at the harbor entrance.  Surrounded by large, medium, and small ice floes ASHLAND could not make much speed ahead even escorted by the ice breaker.  ASHLAND did manage to slide by without hitting the ice berg.  It was far too close for comfort, however.  It was rumored that one of the crew managed to spit on the iceberg from the port wingwall as ASHLAND went by the iceberg.

The next morning, Tuesday 28 July the ice conditions in Sorry Harbor changed for the better with the change of the tide and ASHLAND and EDISTO were able to enter Sorry Harbor.  Once in the harbor the remainder of the Army LCM's were loaded without too much difficulty.  It was, however, necessary to keep one off the stern during the loading to push away the small floes that kept trying to enter the well.  The loading was completed that afternoon and EDISTO escorted ASHLAND out of Sorry Harbor.

All hands were glad to see the last of Sorry Harbor, it is rightly named.

The next few days were spent laying to or steaming at slow speeds off Resolution Island waiting for the ice conditions at the entrance to Frobisher Bay, Baffin Island to clear.  Finally on Sunday, 2 August ASHLAND and LST 503 rendezvoused with STATEN ISLAND (AGB-5) off the entrance to Frobisher Bay and the ships attempted to make their way through the heavy ice.  Further progress became impossible about 1500 and all ships stopped to wait for the change of tide to open up the ice.

About 1800 a few leads started to open up in the ice and the three ships got underway again.  By 0100 the next day, 3 August, we stopped again, but early in the morning we were underway again.  Finally around noon on the 3rd fairly open water was reached and STATEN ISLAND went back to escort more ships through the ice while ASHLAND and LST 503 proceeded toward the upper end of the bay.  On the way the ships had to pass through the very narrow and dangerous Bartlett Narrows.  This was done with no damage but considerable nervous strain late the night of the third.  Shortly after midnight ASHLAND anchored in the upper reaches of Frobisher Bay and immediately started to unload the Army landing craft and vehicles.

ASHLAND remained at Frobrisher Bay several days repairing Army landing craft.  While at Frobisher Bay some of the officers and men had an opportunity to visit the Eskimo village there.  (LTJG Peterson does not mention that some of the crew purchasing Eskimo dogs and smuggling them aboard the ships. The dogs were discovered after we had put to sea and were tossed overboard. jb)  The Eskimos were wards of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and one of the Mounties guided each tour of the Eskimo village.  Two of the RCMP provided a vivid bit of color when they wore their red dress uniforms to dinner with the Commanding Officer.

Soon USS RUSHMORE (LSD-14) arrived to relieve ASHLAND and on Saturday, 8 August, ASHLAND moored alongside RUSHMORE to transfer cargo and personnel to RUSHMORE.  Finally on Sunday, 9 August, ASHLAND started down Frobisher Bay, headed home.  Home was a long ways away, but it felt good just to be headed home.  Fortunately the ice off the entrance was much less than it had been the week before and by Tuesday morning, 11 August, the major ice worry for ASHLAND was the numerous ice bergs that float so majestically and dangerously in all the northern waters.

On the return tip ASHLAND had to stop at St. John's Newfoundland to deliver an Army light tug from Frobrisher.  ASHLAND also stopped at Argentia to fuel and pick up additional cargo for the return trip.  ASHLAND arrived at Argentia on 14 August and had to remain there until hurricane "Barbara" passed clear on 16 August.  ASHLAND then left for New York, arriving on 20 August.  Two days liberty in New York helped ease the tension built up during the long northern cruise.  ASHLAND left New York on Saturday, 22 August and returned to Norfolk on Sunday, 23 August.

Bluenose '53 had taken ASHLAND away from Norfolk for over two months, most of which was spent in Arctic regions. ASHLAND steamed over 10,209 nautical miles in this period, much of it through ice and fog.  Indeed it is believed that ASHLAND wove her way through more Arctic ice in that period than any other PhibLant ship in any similar period.  Working in the ice is dangerous at any time and when it was over everyone aboard ASHLAND felt that we were might fortunate to have come through with as little damage as we did.

The foregoing article was authored by LTJG PETERSON, Navigator.  "I don't remember for what reason the article was written but I do remember typing it in that little office just outside the Captain's quarters."

"I also have a scar on my head from this trip.  The Ship's Office was down below at this time and when the word was passed that the first ice bergs were in sight, the office was vacated and everyone was running topside to take pictures of this event.  Unfortunately, my having come from shore duty at the Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, I was not too familiar with water tight hatches.  You can see what is coming.  While running through the passageway I neglected to duck as I ran through the hatch.  You're right, my forehead connected with the top of the hatch and my next stop was sickbay where I had my head shaved and the bleeding stopped.  I was not one of the first to see the ice bergs.  I also remembered to duck anytime I went through a hatch after that, walking or running."

Credit for the survival of this article goes to Gene Miller, who brought a copy home and passed it on to be shared with his shipmates and others.

MILLER, Gene J. (the former MIELOSZYK, Eugene J., YN2) reported aboard USS ASHLAND (LSD- 1) on June 14, 1953, just in time to make the Blue Nose '53 Arctic cruise.

Distributed by: USS ASHLAND LSD Association, Inc.
Posted May 5, 1998
Updated December 27, 1998