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USS Seadragon (SSN 584) Sailed Arctic Waters Following Log Book of Early Explorer

Since the historic surfacing of the USS Nautilus (SSN 571) at the North Pole on Aug. 3, 1958, submarines have demonstrated the ability and utility of operating in the Arctic, and under the ice. Today, submarines routinely transit between the Atlantic to Pacific oceans through the Arctic.

USS Seadragon

The nuclear-powered submarine USS Seadragon became the first ship to negotiate the Parry Channel through the Canadian Archipelago. Seadragon left Portsmouth, N.H., on Aug. 1, 1960, and went up the Greenland-Labrador slot through Davis Strait and Baffin Bay. She entered the Parry Channel Aug. 15 at Lancaster Sound, proceeded through Melville Sound and McClure Strait to complete the channel passage on Aug. 21. Once through the Archipelago, the Seadragon continued northward to the pole, and then to Hawaii. This chart shows the other successful expeditions to navigate the Archipelago. U.S. Navy photo

Another Arctic pioneer was USS Seadragon (SSN 584).

On her 1960 voyage, Seadragon followed a more direct Northwest Passage than previous voyages by nuclear submarines Nautilus, USS Skate (SSN 578), and USS Sargo (SSN 583).

USS Seadragon

USS Seadragon commanding officer Cmdr. George Steele II, USN, confers with officers and scientific personnel on the voyage through the Parry channel. U.S. Navy photo

Seadragon had to dive when it encountered a 74-foot-long, 180-foot-deep iceberg in Baffin Bay between Greenland and Labrador. Later it encountered a larger iceberg, 879 feet wide and 1,471 feet long, and had to dive down more than 300 feet to avoid it. The sub’s voyage would take it through Lancaster Sound, Barrow Strait, Viscount Melville Sound, and McClure Sound, which, together, is known as the Parry Channel. It was named for British Sir Edmund Parry, who entered it in 1819, seeking the elusive Northwest Passage, but was eventually turned back by heavy ice. Seadragon’s skipper, Lt. Cmdr. George P. Steele, USN, used Parry’s logbook as the best information available to help guide the ship through the area, which was virtually uncharted. Seadragon completed her submerged transit of the Northwest Passage, the first by any vessel through the most direct Parry Channel, on Aug. 21, 1960, and headed to the North Pole.

The Northwest Passage route proved not only to be navigable by submarine, but shorter than transiting through the Panama Canal.

USS Seadragon

A periscope view of the ice in the Davis Strait from USS Seadragon. U.S. Navy photo

At the pole the crew took some time for recreation, playing baseball. A trip around the bases following a home run was literally a trip around the world, with the base runner arriving 12 hours later. After the polar visit, Seadragon made a stop at the scientific research station located on a drifting ice island called T-3 before heading to Nome, Alaska, where she moored alongside the Coast Guard Cutter Northwind (WAGB 282). One notable passenger on this voyage was the Canadian Naval attaché to Washington, D.C., Cdre. Owen Robertson.

It would not be their only visit to the pole. On July 31, 1962, Seadragon joined sister ship USS Skate at the North Pole. Like Seadragon, Skate was not unfamiliar with the Arctic ice. She had surfaced at the pole on March 17, 1959,

USS Seadragon

The underwater TV camera mounted on the bow of USS Seadragon shows the ship’s sail and periscope on closed circuit TV. Just below the surface is the Parry Channel. White areas are bubbles of air rising to the surface. U.S. Navy photo

Seadragon carried the first undersea video tape recorder to monitor the “ceiling” of the ice above. The compact recorder was solid state, using transistors instead of vacuum tubes.

USS Seadragon

Thirty-nine icebergs in the Davis Strait show as white dots on the Seadragon’s radar. U.S. Navy photo

The nuclear-powered Seadragon is the second U.S. Navy submarine to bear that name. USS Seadragon (SS 194) sank more than 82,000 tons of enemy shipping and damaged 90,000 more during World War II.


Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...