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.
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).
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.
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,
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.
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.