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WAGB-278 Wind Class icebreakers

At the time of construction, the Wind-class icebreakers were the most powerful and most advanced icebreakers in the world. Seven such icebreakers were built for the US Navy and the US Coast Guard. These were considered warships and were equipped with twin five-inch gun mounts. The Wind Class icebreakers were built as a line of diesel electric-powered icebreakers. Their hull was very strong with a top speed of 16.8 knots and they were capable of moving up to 13 feet of ice. These were the Staten Island, Northwind, Eastwind, Southwind, Westwind and the US Navy Burton Island and the Edisto. In addition the Labrador was built by the Canadians. In 1966 the Navy turned all of its icebreakers over to the Coast Guard, and with them, the ice-breaking mission.

Shell structural failures experienced by icebreakers, principally Wind Class ships, had always been cause for concern. On several occasions of simificant shell damage, the oppotunity was taken to perform metallurgical examination on cropped-out hull plate. These analyses were invariably characterized by comments such as, “extensive brittle fracture”, “indicative of brittle cleavage type failures”, or “highly notch–sensitive”. In at least one instance it was noted that catastrophic failure would have occurred had it not been for the local nature of the load and the lack of a significant tensile field beyond the immediate damaged area.

The plate material from the WIND Class icebreakers is unnormalized Navy High-Tensile Steel (HTS) conforming to the HTS specification in effect in 1943. The combination of poor notch-toughness, low operating temperatures and impact is considered responsible for brittle behaviour of the plating during failure. Normalizing of the plate material in the laboratory] resulted in a marked improvement in notch- toughness properties. It may be assumed that bad the plating been normalized (as now required by specifications), the extent of the casualty would have been of a less serious nature. The HTS specification has included normalized plate since it was introduced in 1953.

On 04 September 1954, the U.S. Navy icebreaker USS Burton Island (AGB 1) and the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker USCGC Northwind (WAGB 282) became the first two ships to transit the fabled Northwest Passage through the ice-choked M’Clure Strait. During the 1840-50s, Superintendent of the Naval Observatory Cmdr. Matthew Fontaine Maury concluded that a Northwest Passage must exist and that it must be occasionally ice free. By reviewing log books of whaling ships, Maury noticed references to designs and markings on harpoons found on captured whales in the Atlantic that indicated they were from Pacific Ocean whalers. Maury correctly surmised that the whales must be using the Arctic as a transit between oceans. Since whales must come up to breath, there had to be a passage through the Arctic that was occasionally ice-free.

On 21 August 1954 the icebreaker U.S. Coast Guard Northwind sailed on a classified mission, west to east, and navigated through McClure Strait, and became the first ship to ever make the Northwest Passage. It was accompanied by the U.S. Navy icebreaker, Burton Island. After these two ships conquered the McClure Strait, they met with the Canadian icebreaker Labrador going east to west. After meeting the Northwind and the Burton Island, the Labrador continued her journey down the west, through the Panama Canal and became the first ship to circumnavigate North America.

Staten Island (AGB-5) was built by the Western Pipe and Steel Co., San Pedro, Calif., and delivered to Russia under the Lend-Lease program on 24 February 1944 and served that country as Severny Veter (Northwind). The ship was returned to the United States at Bremerhaven, Germany, on 19 December 1951 and commissioned there on 31 January 1952 as Northwind (AGB-5), Lt. Comdr. Edmund L. Andronik in command. Originally built as an icebreaker, the ship arrived at Boston, Mass., on 25 February for overhaul and fitting out as a unit of the United States Atlantic Fleet. Her name was changed to Staten Island on 15 April 1952 to avoid confusion with the Coast Guard ship Northwind. 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, by a previous agreement with the Coast Guard, was recommissioned in that service as USCGC Staten Island (W-AGB-278). Staten Island was struck from the Navy list on 1 March 1966.

Burton Island was the sixth of seven Wind-class heavy icebreakers built by the Navy in the 1940s. 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.

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.

Edisto (AG-89), at the time one of the world's most powerful icebreakers, was launched 29 May 1946 by Western Pipe and Steel Co., San Pedro, Calif.; sponsored by Mrs. George B. Gelly; and commissioned 20 March 1947, Commander E. C. Folger in command. She was re-classified AGB-2, 28 January 1949. From 1949 through 1960, Edisto continued her indispensable support to exploration in both Arctic and Antarctic. She supplied bases, reported ice packs and floes; took part in oceanographic, hydrographic, geological, coast and geodetic, and hydrophone surveys and Arctic convoy exercises.

Southwind (WAG-280) was laid down on 20 July 1942 at San Pedro, Calif., by the Western Pipe & Steel Co.; launched on 8 March 1943; sponsored by Mrs. Ona Jones; and commissioned by the U.S. Coast Guard on 15 July 1944. From her homeport in Boston, Mass., Southwind served briefly along the coast of Greenland (6 October–8 November 1944), where German forces had been landing teams to set up stations to provide weather forecasts to the Third Reich during World War II. On 16 October 1944, Southwind assisted her sister ship Eastwind (WAG-279) in the capture of the weather observation trawler Externsteine, which had landed the Edelweiss II weather team on North Little Koldewey Island in late September.

Southwind was decommissioned on 23 March 1945 and transferred to the Soviet Union under the terms of lend-lease on 25 March. Renamed Admiral Makarov in honor of the designer and builder of the world’s first ocean-going icebreaker, the ship operated in the Soviet Navy north of Russia and Siberia for four and one-half years before the Soviet Union returned her to the United States at Yokosuka, Japan, on 28 December 1949. The vessel was repaired at Yokosuka and, on 28 April 1950, was renamed Atka (AGB-3). She was commissioned at Yokosuka on 1 October 1950.

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

Westwind (AGB-6), a steel-hulled, twin-screw icebreaker, was launched on 31 March 1943 at San Pedro, Calif., by the Western Steel and Pipe Co., and transferred to the Soviet Navy on 21 February 1945 at Seattle, Wash., under the lend-lease program. Renamed Severny Polyus by the Russians, the icebreaker remained in Soviet hands through the end of World War II. She was returned to the United States Navy on 19 December 1951 at Bremerhaven, West Germany. Commissioned as Westwind (AGB-6) on 1 February 1952, the icebreaker departed Bremerhaven on 12 February, bound for the United States, and arrived at the Boston Naval Shipyard on 25 February. Decommissioned on 13 March 1952 and turned over to the Boston Naval Shipyard for custody on that day, Westwind was transferred to the United States Coast Guard on 19 March. Westwind (AGB-6) was struck from the Navy list on 8 September 1952. Redesignated as WAGB-281, Westwind subsequently operated in the waters off Greenland and Newfoundland in the 1950's. Eventually shifted to the Great Lakes, Westwind continued in Coast Guard service into 1979 on those bodies of water.

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Page last modified: 18-04-2019 14:30:23 ZULU